Hearts and Minds

by The card holder

First published

Equestria is facing a potential crisis involving distorted reality based on cognition. Celestia tells an old friend, who has just the solution for her...

The mind is an odd thing, sometimes capable of changing a person's entire worldview with the shift of only a few key details. However, sometimes these shifts are far more widespread than they should be.

Celestia has noticed such a thing, and she is slightly worried. Thankfully, she has no shortage of old friends, and one of them offers a possible solution to her problems.

She's just left wondering one thing:

Who exactly are these "Phantom Thieves"?

Contains spoilers for Persona 5

A New Game

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"Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice," Princess Celestia said, giving a small nod of her head as she took a sip from her tea.

"It was no trouble at all, Celestia," a voice answered from the other side of the table, mostly shrouded in darkness. "Though, you'll have to pardon the mess. There were some... rather dire circumstances as of late, and I've yet to find time to properly clean up."

Celestia nodded in sympathy. "I understand, these things happen..." She took another sip, then frowned. "In any case, I contacted you to ask... a favor."

"Oh? And so soon after we meet again?"

Celestia chuckled. "I'm sorry, but, well, it makes me uneasy."

"...very well. I shall listen to your problem."

"Thank you."

The next few minutes were spent with Celestia explaining her predicament, her colleague nodding along and listening intently.

"...and so, I was hoping you had some idea as to how to fix this. This is admittedly beyond any magic I or my sister know."

A short chuckle sounded from the other end of the table. "My, it seems like you have a similar problem to the one I had..."

Celestia tilted her head. "What do you mean?"

"Do not worry, I shall tell you at another time. For now, I believe I have the answer to your problems. I will ask if they are willing to assist, so you shall hear from me shortly."

"Wait, they?"

"Farewell, Celestia," the voice said, ignoring her. "I shall see you again soon, with their answer."

The room faded out, and a moment later, Celestia found herself rising out of bed, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

She let out a yawn as she thought over the previous discussion she just had. "Just what is that Igor planning...?"

A figure walked up to the front door of a cafe, letting out a sigh.

"This place hasn't changed at all, has it?" a voice asked from the bag slung over his shoulder, which got little more than a chuckle and a nod in response.

After adjusting the rolling suitcase in his grip, the figure walked through the door, the bell chiming as he did so.

"Be there in a sec!" a familiar voice shouted from the kitchen. None of the tables in the cafe were occupied, however.

A moment later, a middle-aged, bearded man in an apron came out of the kitchen, drying his hands as he stepped away from a sink with a few dirty dishes in it. He stopped when he saw who just walked inside.

"Well I'll be... didn't expect to see you again so soon." He put a hand to his chin in thought. "Though I guess you did say that was today..."

"I'm here too!" said the voice from the bag, emerging to reveal a black and white cat.

"Shouldn't be surprised you brought Morgana with you," the owner continued. "I take it he's happy to see me again, too?"

The newcomer grinned.

"He said your business is failing."

The cat swatted a paw against his head. "I did not!"

The owner chuckled. "Well, do the others know you're back in town, yet?"

The boy adjusted his glasses and shook his head.

"I won't spoil the surprise for them, then." Picking up his keys, the owner walked to the door. "Your room's just the way you left it. You look tired, so get some rest. You got all summer ahead of you, after all."

Once he left, Morgana jumped out of the bag and onto the floor. "Well, Sojiro hasn't changed... The chief's right, Akira. We should get some sleep."

He got a nod of approval in response, and the two headed upstairs, where they quickly turned in for the night.

Akira suddenly snapped awake. His environment was a familiar one, so he slowly rose to his feet.

"Ah, Trickster," a voice greeted from the center of the room, its owner sitting at a desk. "Welcome back to the velvet room."

A few questions came to mind, before he settled on one.

"Why am I back here?"

Igor chuckled. "Do not worry, your world is not in danger again so soon. In actuality, I have called you here tonight to ask... a favor."

From the corner of his eye, Akira saw a young-looking girl in blue walk to the side of the desk. "Our master has a friend in potential need of assistance. The nature of their problem could possibly be similar to the nature of the threat you vanquished not too long ago."

This got his attention, and his gaze turned serious.

"Lavenza is correct," Igor continued. "However, please understand that you are not obligated to assist if you do not wish to. Rest assured, this issue does not involve your world in the slightest, and neither is it related to the Metaverse, though it may seem identical at first glance. However, my colleague expressed concern about the situation, and asked me for guidance. After some thinking, I decided to ask you directly if you and your friends would like to help."

"The bonds you forged are no doubt still strong," Lavenza continued, "and know that, should you accept, your powers will return in order for you to assist."

Remembering the power he unleashed last Christmas, Akira recoiled slightly.

Igor chuckled. "You are thinking about the persona you unleashed that day, are you not?" He shook his head once. "I'm sorry to say, but such a power cannot be reused as often as you would like. You remember how tired you were after using it that day, correct?"

After thinking back on it, Akira nodded.

"Do not worry," Igor continued, "you will still have the power of the wild card to utilize, and Lavenza and I will still be willing to assist, should you wish. After all, it is entirely your choice whether or not you accept."

Akira put a hand to his chin in thought. While the stakes weren't nearly as high as the last time they used their powers, he couldn't bring himself to turn down a request for help. Still...

"I'll ask the others first."

Igor nodded in understanding. "Of course, please ensure you all agree before you take action. Still, just in case you agree, I will see about restoring the Metaverse Navigator for you, along with what you need to assist this friend."

A bell rang out in the distance.

"Ah, time is growing short. Know that whatever decision you make, I will fully support you, Trickster. Farewell for now."

And so, everything faded back into darkness.

'A favor... And we'll get our powers back... but what would we be doing?'

"-th to Akira! Are you listening to me?"

His thoughts were interrupted by Morgana calling his name from the other end of the bed.

"Come on, we gotta go meet back with the others again!" the cat continued, already bounding over to the other side of the room.

Akira nodded, before getting up and leaving the attic, grabbing his bag (now containing Morgana) on his way out. Sojiro was already up and at the counter, as was usual, but what was slightly more unexpected was the sight of a familiar head of red hair seated across from him, currently eating from a plate full of curry.

She turned around at the sound of his footsteps, and she nearly dropped her fork as she jumped out of her seat.

"Akira!" she shouted, mouth still somewhat full of food.

"And me!" Morgana chimed in, revealing himself from Akira's bag.

The girl immediately ran over and grabbed Morgana's head in her hands, petting him very aggressively, until he shook her off.

"S- Stop!"

"Why are you here?" the girl asked, ignoring the cat's reaction.

"He felt like coming back for summer break," Sojiro explained. "He wanted to keep it a surprise from you and the others, so I didn't say anything." Suddenly, his smile widened. "Say, Futaba, why don't you tell him the good news?"

"Oh yeah! I'm actually going to high school next year! What do you think?"

"You have made a grave mistake."

Morgana swatted Akira's head. "Don't say things like that!"

"Glad to see neither of you have changed at all," Futaba said, chuckling softly as she pulled out her phone. "Now come on, we gotta meet up with the others!"

Akira nodded in agreement.

"Don't get into trouble, alright?" Sojiro called out as they made for the door.

"Please, what could possibly happen to us?" Futaba asked. "I mean, we've only dismantled a massive government conspiracy and then killed a supposed god who was controlling humanity."

Sojiro just sighed. "Just try not to get arrested again, okay, Akira?"

"I make no promises."

"Alright, let's go!" Futaba said, practically pushing them out of the door.

"Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice, Twilight."

"Of course, Celestia. But what's the issue?"

Celestia took a slow sip from her tea. "Tell me, have you or your friends noticed anything... off, lately?"

Twilight tilted her head. "Off how?"

Celestia put a hoof to her chin. "Hmm, how to explain it..." Suddenly, she lightly tapped her hoof on the table. "Okay, you know how the dreams Luna watches over can have all kinds of changes from the real world, based on how the pony thinks?"

"I think so...?" Twilight said, cautiously.

"Well, I have reason to believe that the same thing is happening in the real world, to some degree."

"So, their dreams are somehow becoming reality?"

"Basically, yes. I am unsure of the exact reasoning or cause of this, as is Luna, but she is currently doing everything in her power to investigate the issue."

"Hmm..." Twilight looked into her tea, as if looking for an answer. "Should I get my friends together and prepare for the worst?"

"Oh, no need for that, at least not yet," Celestia said. "While it is an odd phenomenon for sure, Luna has confirmed that the changes caused by this have been minimal at most, and it currently doesn't seem to be spreading that much. However, the simple fact that this is happening is somewhat worrying, so I wanted to let you know as soon as possible."

"I understand... I think." Twilight took a sip of her own tea. "So, do you want me to research this?"

"I'm not sure if we have anything useful within our records, but you are free to look for yourself if you wish," Celestia said with a nod.

"Alright, I guess I can start today, since I didn't really have anything planned for the rest of the day..." Twilight said, getting up from her seat and heading for the door.

"Thank you, Twilight." Celestia let out a sigh as she stared off into space. "Hopefully he'll get back to me by then..."

"I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"Oh, nothing, Twilight, just thinking to myself."

Twilight just let out a small "Hmm," before she left the room, muttering to herself. "Let's see, dream-based shaping of reality would be...?"

"Okay, I got everyone to meet up at the diner on central street," Futaba explained. "They still don't know you're here, so let me go inside first."

"Why are you setting this up so much?" Morgana asked.

"Because you two haven't been here for a while! No one's expecting you, so we gotta make an event out of it!"

"Hmm... what do you think, Akira?"

"We couldn't stop her, anyway."

Futaba smiled. "Glad you see it my way. Now, just stay put until I give the signal."

With that, she hopped up the stairs into the diner, leaving Akira alone in the street.

After a moment of waiting, his phone buzzed, and when he pulled it out a single message was waiting for him from Futaba.


"There's our signal," Morgana said. However, Akira smirked.

"I think we should wait some more."

Morgana chuckled. "That's evil, but I'm not stopping you."

Another moment passed, and another text came from Futaba.


Akira felt his smirk widen slightly as he typed out a response.


Get in here!


Do you want me to tell the others about how you were dating your homeroom teacher?

Akira's smirk dropped.

"Oh, right, she has Leblanc bugged..." Morgana said.

Putting away his phone, Akira walked up the steps, looking for the others. It didn't take long to find them, since they were currently the biggest gathered group inside the diner. None of them saw him at first, as they were instead focused on a Futaba who was still glaring irritably at her phone, though with a barely detectable smug grin on her face.

Akira's presence wouldn't go unnoticed for long, however. "Oh shit, Akira?!"

Ryuji's outburst easily got the attention of everyone else, and Akira could only give a sheepish smile at the stares of everyone else.

"Well, this is unexpected," Yusuke commented.

"So that's why you brought all of us here," Haru added, looking at Futaba.

"Don't forget about me!" Morgana said, sticking his head out of Akira's bag.

"Aw, man, you brought the cat too," Ryuji complained.

"Do you want to fight? Because that offer's still open!"

"Bring it, furball!"

"Ryuji, let me remind you that you are picking a fight with a housecat," Makoto said.

"He started it!"

Akira went ahead and took a seat as the argument continued, and he barely caught an eye roll from Ann. "Well, you can see that nothing really has changed... I mean, Haru and Makoto graduated, but they're still gonna be here for the time being."

"So, what's the occasion for coming here?" Haru asked Akira, likewise breaking away from the bickering Ryuji and Morgana.

Akira gave a shrug.

"Just felt like paying a visit for the summer."

"And now that the gang's all here," Futaba broke in, "we can start the real fun!"

Yusuke gave her a confused look. "Such as?"

"I have no clue!"

Everyone just gave her a look.

"Well, now that Akira's back, I'm sure we can think of something," Makoto said.

As he looked over the faces of all of his friends, Akira couldn't help but think about that dream he had the night before. 'I should probably tell them about that...'

"Hey, what's up, Akira?" Ryuji asked. "Looks like you're thinking about something."

"I might know something we could do."

This got everyone's attention.

And so Akira did his best to try and explain what Igor asked of him. Morgana was also in the dark about it, oddly enough, but quickly got on the same page. The others, however, had mixed reactions.

"I thought I made it clear that any more work of this sort and I'd be leaving," Yusuke said, folding his arms.

"Oh, we know you don't mean it, Inari," said Futaba.

"Yeah, kinda agree with him," Ryuji added. "I mean, I think shooting a god in the face is kinda my limit on all that phantom thief stuff, y'know? Like, how are we ever gonna top that?"

"I dunno, I don't see the harm in it," Ann said. "After all, we don't really have anything else planned for the summer, and plus we'd get to help people again!"

"Plus, I do kind of miss being a thief..." Haru lamented.

"I have to agree with both of you," Makoto added. "I rather enjoyed helping people out that way."

Ryuji groaned. "Fine, if everyone else is on board, I guess I am too."

Everyone looked to Yusuke expectantly, before he let out a sigh. "Very well, I suppose I can go along with this for a little while longer."

"That's our Inari!" Futaba cheered.

"Alright then, shall we all meet at Leblanc?" Morgana asked.

A chorus of agreement met him, as everyone got up and left the diner in a group. Akira caught them up on what he had been doing in the few months he was gone, but he said that it was ultimately not that interesting.

By the time they got back to Leblanc, it was well into the afternoon, although the place was still empty, save for Sojiro.

"Already got the gang all together, huh?" he commented. "Well, try not to have too much fun."

The group headed upstairs, where they quickly gathered around a table that Akira pulled out.

"So, how are we gettin' to this place?" Ryuji asked, holding out his phone. "The metaverse nav is still missing from our phones."

Akira pulled out his own, where he noticed a brand new app that looked quite familiar. Makoto was surprised when she looked over his shoulder and saw it, as well. "Wait, is that...?"

Akira opened the app, and found that the interface was almost exactly like the previous metaverse navigator they had, although he was unable to change the destination at all, with it instead being locked to a certain location.

"'Equestria'?" Ann read out loud. "Sounds rather odd."

"Wait, is that the only thing in there?" Ryuji asked, struggling to get a view of the phone. "Isn't that just like-"

"Mementos," Morgana muttered to himself, before shaking his head. "Well, I guess we won't know until we try it out, right?"

Akira nodded, and pressed the button on his phone.

"Beginning navigation."

Once they shook off the familiar feeling of crossing out of their own reality, the group found themselves in the middle of a castle hallway.

"Another castle, huh?" Ryuji commented.

"At least this one has some taste to it," Ann added. Suddenly, she recoiled slightly. "Wait, Morgana, you're-!"

The others were equally surprised to see the cat in his original, almost cartoonish form. "Hmm, apparently this place shares some qualities with the metaverse," he thought out loud.

"But we remain unchanged," Yusuke said, tugging at his shirt sleeve.

"I don't think this is another palace," Futaba said, looking at the walls around them. "This place feels... different."

"So, uh, just for old time's sake, should we be usin' code names?" Ryuji asked.

Makoto put a hand to her chin in thought. "Well, it wouldn't necessarily hurt, I guess..."

"Then it's settled!" Morgana said, pumping a paw into the air. "Now then, Joker, you know what we're supposed to do here?"

"No idea."

The others just stared at him for a bit.

"Well, we're supposed to help someone," Haru helpfully stated. "Maybe we'll find them if we look around?"

Meanwhile, Yusuke was looking intently at a stained glass window. "Hmm, how peculiar..."

Ryuji looked over. "What's up, Fox?"

Also noticing his confusion, the others stepped alongside him. Once they did, they too saw the window.

"Is that... a horse?" Ann asked.

"Nah, can't be, it has wings," Ryuji noted. "Oh, and a horn, too."

"Pretty sure we've seen a few shadows like that," Futaba said.

"Hey, the others are like that, too," Makoto pointed out. Sure enough, there were other stained glass windows placed throughout the hall, each one showing some kind of scene, and all of them featuring some kind of horse creatures, in varying colors and states of wing or horn possessing.

"So... this isn't like a world of horse people, is it?" Ryuji asked.

"It's within possibility," Morgana replied. "For now, though, we should-"

"Halt! Stay where you are!"

The group whirled around to face the owner of the voice, posed for combat if needed. However, none of them expected to see a small horse in some kind of knight armor approaching them, a squad of similarly armored horses following behind, all of them holding spears under their forelegs.

None of them dropped their guard, however, and simply waited.

The guard at the front snorted, then spoke again. "State your intentions, intruders!"

"Wait, hold on, we ain't intruding anything!" Ryuji shouted.

"This is just a misunderstanding," Yusuke clarified.

"The only way in or out of this area is the door," the guard said, motioning behind him, "which is guarded. Nopony saw you come in here, so clearly you managed to sneak inside another way!"

"Nopony...?" Futaba echoed from the back of the group.

"Don't just stand there, Joker," Morgana whispered, "say something!"

"We mean no harm."

"We'll be the judge of that!" the guard spat back. "Now, arrest-!"

"There will be no need for that."

Everyone present went wide-eyed at the new voice, which came from a larger, pure white horse behind the guards. They quickly parted as she walked towards the humans (and Morgana), and she wasted no time before giving a small bow of her head, her ethereal mane flowing slowly around her.

"Apologies about the hostile greeting. Perhaps I train my guards a little too well."

The head guard gaped. "Princess Celestia...!" Suddenly, he fell into a massive bow. "Please forgive my ignorance!"

'Celestia' chuckled. "There is no need for that. Simply move your squad to the doors for now."

"Yes, your highness!" With a couple more barked orders, the guards were departed from the immediate area, leaving just the princess.

"Well, with that out of the way," she began, "I am Princess Celestia, and I welcome you to Equestria."

"A princess...?" Makoto muttered, unsure.

"Equestria..." Ann likewise thought out loud.

When none of them made a definite response, Celestia tilted her head. "You are the ones I am waiting for, right?"

That got everyone's attention. "What do you mean?" Morgana asked cautiously.

"I am not mistaken, am I?" Celestia took a step forward. "You are the Phantom Thieves, are you not?"


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"Come, we have much to discuss," Celestia said, ignoring the shocked reactions as she turned around and started walking out of the hall.

Finally letting down their guard slightly, Akira shrugged before following her down the hall, his hands planted in his pockets. After a moment of confused and partially worried looks, the others went after him.

The Thieves could feel the uneasy gazes from the guards on their backs as they passed, but did their best to ignore them, with varying degrees of success. They didn't move from their posts, however, leaving Celestia to lead them alone.

It wasn't long before she brought them to her intended destination, and levitated the door to her study open. "I'm going to have to apologize, there aren't enough seats for all of you. I did not anticipate that there would be... well, so many of you."

Her magic got some concerned and confused looks, but no one said anything about it. Instead, they simply followed her inside the room, where another winged unicorn was already at the table in the center of the room, nose buried deep into a book and surrounded by more.

Celestia smiled upon seeing the room's other occupant. "I see you're hard at work, Twilight."

Twilight let out a quick gasp and lowered her book. "Sorry, Celestia, I didn't hear you come... in..." She trailed off as she looked over who was following the princess. "Um... who are they?"

"They might just be the solution to our problems," Celestia said.

Twilight gave her a questioning look, while the Thieves did the same.

"What problems do you mean?" Morgana asked.

"For the past couple weeks, there have been more than a few instances of, shall we say, 'altered reality'," Celestia explained. "That is, small areas where a pony's dreams seem to be manifesting on top of reality."

"Their... dreams?" Ann asked, putting a hand to her chin in thought.

Futaba caught onto her line of thought. "So, in other words, their desires?"

Celestia paused. "I suppose that is one way of looking at it, yes."

Makoto stepped forward. "And what are the exact nature of this 'altered reality'?"

"We have yet to figure out the exact mechanics of this phenomenon," Celestia said, "but a large portion of that is the fact that the guards I send to investigate have no recollection of any distortions. To them, it apparently appears that nothing is wrong in the area, as well as most of the locals."

"So how do ya know something's wrong in the first place?" Ryuji asked, idly kicking his shoe softly against the carpet.

Celestia fidgeted slightly. "It is hard to explain, but when I, my sister, or Twilight here observes the areas in question from afar, we can feel a definite magical anomaly coming from there, albeit a very faint one." She glanced up at her horn. "Not only that, but for one reason or another, certain locals in the area are able to feel the same way, reportedly."

"So, desires being the basis for a change in reality..." Morgana looked up to Akira. "That sound familiar?"

"Just like the palaces..."

"Palaces?" Celestia asked, tilting her head, Twilight doing the same behind her.

"It's... complicated," Makoto started. "But based on what you're telling us, this is almost identical to circumstances we faced in our own world."

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, and a guard's voice came through. "Princess Celestia, it's almost time for day court."

Celestia sighed. "Well, I suppose I'll have to receive explanations later. For now, I fully trust you and Twilight to get to the bottom of this."

Twilight jumped slightly. "Me?"

"Of course. You're going to take them to Ponyville to meet with your friends, so the both of you can be more effectively informed on the specifics of the situation."

Twilight looked over all the books she gathered, then looked back at Celestia. "Can I... borrow these books, at least?"

Celestia smiled. "Of course. Now, farewell, Phantom Thieves."

As the door shut behind her, Twilight immediately started levitating her chosen books into a set of saddlebags.

As this was going on, Akira felt a small nudge in his side. Turning, he saw that the source of the nudge was Ryuji. "Dude, is any of this making any sense to you?" he asked.

"Not any more than usual."

"Yeah, at this point, a world full of little horses is close to normal," Futaba whispered. "Probably 'cause Mona already took away the initial 'talking animal' shock."

"I'm not an animal!"

"Okay, everything's packed!" Twilight announced, cutting off any further conversation. "I suppose we shouldn't waste any time, so let's get to the train station. We can talk more on the way to Ponyville."

She led the way out of the room, and the group followed, Akira at the front as usual.

It wasn't long before they made it out of the castle, and the Thieves couldn't help but stare at the view that awaited them.

Yusuke, in particular, seemed ecstatic. "My word, the colors, this landscape...!"

He rapidly turned in circles, framing various bits of scenery within his fingers, before a firm hand from Haru stopped him. "We're drawing some weird looks, Fox..."

"I mean, we're kinda already doing that, Noir," Ryuji countered. "Pretty sure we're the only ones around walking on two legs."

"Skull's right, for once," Morgana said. "We'll have plenty of time to play tourist once we're up to speed on the area."

Twilight just remained silent as the group bantered among themselves, doing her best to think up what she would ask them once they were on the train. They said they were from another world, so that alone should provide her with ample questions to ask...

Before they knew it, they were at the train station. It wasn't too crowded at this time of day, and Twilight was easily able to secure a car all to themselves, no doubt thanks to her princess status.

However, having an entire train car all to themselves was quite the welcome sight for the Thieves. "This is effin' great! I can sit down and stretch my legs at the same time!"

"That doesn't mean you have to, though," Makoto said, rolling her eyes.

"Come on, Queen, relax a bit!" Ryuji shot back. "It's good for you!"

As the group bickered from their seats, Twilight quietly took notes on a spare parchment she brought with her, mostly to try and keep track of everyone's names and apparent personality traits, as well as to draft out potential questions. Curiously, through all of this, she noticed that 'Joker' was almost completely silent as the others talked, only giving occasional nonverbal answers, or the occasional brief statement. Still, the way the others talked to or about him, they seemed to hold a great respect for him...

After about a minute, the train started leaving the station, and the Thieves gathered around the window to get an even better look at the landscape.

"It's so... colorful!" Ann exclaimed.

"Those trees are so vibrant!" Haru added.

"Must... capture this!" Yusuke mumbled, furiously looking between the window and a sketch pad he was scribbling on.

Twilight gave them a few more moments to enjoy the view, then softly cleared her throat to get their attention. Once they were all focused on her, she took a quick glance at her notes before smiling. "So, I hope you don't mind if I ask a few questions about... well, the nature of your 'work'?"

Ryuji shrugged. "Whaddya want to know?"

"I guess I'll start with the big one: what exactly is this 'palace' you mentioned?"

"A palace is essentially an alternate world, stemming from the distorted desires of an individual," Morgana explained. "The person who is the source of the palace often views the world around them in a greatly distorted manner, which manifests as a distortion of a real location." He put a paw to his chin in thought. "Although we never dealt with palaces that were 'on top of' reality like Celestia mentioned. At least, not in such a focused and controlled way..."

"So, what did you do in these palaces?" Twilight asked.

"We were able to go inside palaces, and change the heart of the one who manifested it," Yusuke said. "In almost every case we dealt with, this led to the person changing their worldview drastically, and they almost always confessed to their crimes afterwards."

Twilight stopped in her writing long enough to look up. "Crimes?"

"We targeted mostly criminals," Makoto pushed on. "Specifically, people who were abusing their positions of power, but could not be targeted by other means."

"Except for me," Futaba chimed in, raising her hand.

Twilight nearly broke her quill in her magic as she snapped her eyes onto Futaba. "You had a palace?"

"Yeah. Long story," she replied, idly kicking her feet. "We'll tell you later."

"Okaaay..." Twilight finished writing her current sentence, before something occurred to her. "Wait, you say that you can 'change people's hearts' with these palaces," she started, "and make them confess their crimes. But... isn't that technically brainwashing?"

"I mean, if you wanna be broad about it," Ryuji said. "But trust me, everyone we targeted deserved it." After a pause, he hastily added, "Oh, except Oracle, she asked us to do it."

"But... how could they deserve it?" Twilight asked. "Surely there had to be another way?"

The Thieves looked at each other. After a moment of unspoken debate, Ann leaned forward.

"Everyone we targeted was completely unforgivable in one way or another, and they also directly worked to make at least one of our lives a living hell."

Ryuji let out a short chuckle. "And no one knows that better than this guy," he said, giving Akira a slap on the back. "Go on, tell her the shit you got put through."

"Do we have time?"

"It's about an hour and a half trip to Ponyville," Twilight replied. "I have to admit, I'm curious."

Feeling everyone's stares on him, Akira sighed.

"So, I was walking home from school one day..."


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"Wait, you helped protect a woman from someone who was being drunk and violent, and you were arrested for it?!"

"The guy had a lot of connections," Ryuji pitched in, drawing Twilight's focus to him.

Futaba chuckled. "Just wait until you hear what else he did!"

"We're gettin' there, Oracle!" Ryuji pointed a thumb at Akira. "Anyway, he got expelled after that, and ended up transferring to Shujin."

Twilight paused in her note taking. "Shujin?"

"The high school we all went to," Ann explained, "except for Fox, he went to another school, and Oracle..."

"Give me time!"

Twilight tilted her head. "You're all still in high school?"

"Well, mostly," Makoto said. "Me and Noir just graduated this last year, actually."

"Anyway, to get back on track," Ryuji continued, "it was the first day of school that year, and I was already running a little late because of some sudden rain. Then I saw Joker standing at the side of the road close to the school, just as that asshole Kamoshida was driving off."

Twilight cringed slightly at the profanity. "I take it you didn't like them?"

Akira pushed up his glasses.

"He was our first target."

Before Twilight could manage any kind of shocked reply, Ann spoke up. "Kamoshida was a gym teacher at the school, who was riding high on his former glory as an Olympic medalist, and getting his volleyball team to nationals. But the truth was, he was a disgusting, perverted bastard of a man, who didn't give a shit about who he hurt just to satisfy his... urges."

Twilight looked down. "That's... awful..." She shook her head. "But wait, how did you discover he had a palace then?"

Ryuji shrugged. "Back on that first day, me and Joker tried to walk to school, but apparently we accidentally triggered this weird app he had on his phone," he explained. "Next thing we knew, we were in a castle, instead of the school, and Kamoshida was its effin' king."

Twilight let out a small hum of thought. "So, he saw himself as a king, the school his castle, and so that's how his palace appeared?"

"That's correct," Morgana answered. "And to be specific, it wasn't Kamoshida himself in the palace, but rather his shadow; the deepest, darkest truth about who he really was in his heart."

"Oh yeah, we also found Mona here in that palace," Ryuji cut in. "He's been trying to help us ever since."

Morgana jumped onto a seat to look Ryuji in the eyes. "Tried? You'd both be dead several times over if it weren't for me!"

"Easy now," Makoto interrupted the argument before it could even begin. "Let's continue with the story."

The others nodded in agreement.

"I joined them not too long after," Ann said. "After he..." She trailed off slightly, then shook her head. "Nevermind."

Twilight could tell there was more to that part of the story, but refused to push the issue. Obviously, she still had several bad memories about the events. "So, how did you 'change his heart'?"

"We swooped into his palace and stole his treasure," Morgana said simply. "After we did that, the real Kamoshida lost those twisted desires of his, and turned himself in."

Twilight looked back over her earlier notes. "And he was... unharmed?"

"Not a scratch on him," Ryuji confirmed. "Even though we beat the crap out of his shadow."

"I... think I understand," Twilight said slowly. "And you're absolutely sure there was no other way?"

"None of the teachers or parents who even knew about it had the guts to say anything," Ryuji said. "Plus, he was going to expel me and Joker just because we found out the truth, so we didn't exactly have time on our side."

After a moment of silent thinking on her part, Twilight nodded her head. "Well, at the very least, I don't think your actions were wrong, per se..."

Suddenly, they felt the train car come to a stop, and Morgana almost lost his balance from his standing position.

"Oh, we're here." Twilight rose from her seat, the Thieves doing the same. "Alright, I guess I'll go ahead and introduce you all to some of my friends. Follow me."

"But, we didn't even reach my part of the story," Yusuke said.

"I'm sure we'll be able to keep telling this later," Makoto reassured him. "For now, we should follow Twilight."

The others agreed, and they followed after the pony. The train station was almost completely empty, only a few other ponies standing around here and there. They gave the Thieves a few odd looks, but none of them took any sort of action, and simply resumed their daily activities.

They spotted Twilight with no issue, and she didn't even look back as the Thieves fell in step behind her. "Well, the first place we should go is Sugarcube Corner, we can meet Pinkie there, first."

"What, is that like a restaurant?" Ryuji asked.

"Kind of. They sell all kinds of desserts and sweets."

Suddenly, Ann was at the front of the group, alongside Twilight. "Did you say sweets?"

"Hey, Panther, gotta watch your figure."

"Shut up, Skull!"

"Sweets do sound nice right now," Makoto admitted.

"I agree," Yusuke added. "Some nourishment would be nice."

"Inari, did you forget to eat while painting again?" Futaba said, stifling a giggle.

"Never let it be said that I make no sacrifices for my art."

Akira just chuckled and shook his head as his team argued. Things truly never change...

"Alright, we're here!"

Twilight stopped as they rounded a corner to point a hoof towards their destination: a building that looked like it was actually made out of gingerbread and candy.

"I think I'm full just from looking at it," Haru commented.

"Gotta give points for creativity, at least," Ryuji said.

"Come on, let's go!" Ann said, not even waiting for the others as she started jogging towards the building.

"H- Hey, Panther, wait up!" Morgana cried, getting down to all four paws in an effort to keep up.

Twilight was the next one to react. "W- Wait! Be careful!"

As she galloped after them, the others shrugged and took their own leisurely pace towards the building.

The inside was far more mundane than the exterior would have made one believe, although the walls still looked like it was made from pastry. Ann was already looking over a display counter, Morgana trying to do the same despite his size. Next to them, Twilight was just looking on in confusion.

Once the others joined her, she looked to Akira. "Is she usually like this?"


Rolling her eyes, Twilight turned her attention towards one of the doors leading to the kitchen. "Pinkie?"

There was suddenly a noticeable bump from upstairs, followed by the sound of galloping as the pony in question ran down the stairs.

"Heya, Twilight! What's-" Pinkie screeched to a halt, both metaphorically and literally as she managed to stop just short of colliding with Akira, who simply watched the display with his hands still in his pockets, only taking a single step back in surprise.

As Pinkie looked from one face to another, her look of shock slowly grew into a wide smile.

"Pinkie," Twilight started to say, "I'd like you meet-"

"Ohmigosh! Where'd you get all these new friends, Twilight? And why didn't you tell me earlier?! I could've had a party ready for them already! And-"

Pinkie's speech was cut off by Twilight's magic holding her mouth shut for a second. "I was... about to introduce them, Pinkie. And I didn't actually meet them until earlier today."

Pinkie nodded excitedly in understanding. "Okie dokie!" She then turned back towards the Thieves. "I'm Pinkie Pie!"

Haru was the first to introduce herself. "I'm Noir."

"Oracle here!"



"I'm Skull," Ryuji finished up. "And that's Joker, Panther, and Mona," he added, pointing to Akira, Ann, and Morgana, respectively, the latter two keeping their attention split between the assorted snacks on display and the conversation.

"And these people are part of the 'Phantom Thieves'," Twilight explained. "Apparently, Celestia summoned them... somehow."

"Oooh! Sounds fancy!" Pinkie hopped to the other side of the group, as if to get a better view. "Ooh, do you guys solve crimes or something?"

The group looked between each other. "I mean, I guess?" Ryuji eventually answered.

Suddenly, Pinkie stopped her hopping. "Aw, man, I just realized I won't be able to throw you guys a party yet!"

Twilight tilted her head. "Why not?"

Pinkie looked back at her with a raised eyebrow. "Remember? We're going with Rainbow Dash to that convention tomorrow!"

It took a second for what Pinkie said to sink in, but once it did Twilight's eyes widened. "That was tomorrow?! Oh no, I forgot!" Looking back and forth between the Thieves and the door, she eventually reached a decision. "Pinkie, could you watch them for a bit, I gotta go pack okay thanks!"

And with that, she was out of the door.

"'Watch us'?" Futaba echoed. "But Skull's the only one who needs supervision!"

"Hey, you're the youngest one here, I don't wanna hear it!"

"Well I can't throw a party yet, but I can at least get you something to snack on!" Pinkie said, bounding behind the counter and finally breaking Ann and Morgana out of their concentration. "So, what can I get ya?"

"It's so hard to decide!" Ann lamented. "What do you think, Joker?"

"Something with chocolate."

Makoto sighed. "Please don't encourage them. Besides, I'm pretty sure we don't have any local currency."

"Don't worry, it'll be on the house!" Pinkie said.

"Well, I certainly won't turn down some free refreshments," Yusuke said, stepping up to the counter as well.

"That's the spirit, Fox!" Morgana called out. "Now get me the strawberry one there!"

As the others moved forward and put in their own orders, Makoto just shook her head in amusement, before joining them and making her own request.

Despite the sheer number of orders, Pinkie was able to quickly and perfectly retrieve each and every one, getting everyone their chosen desserts in under a minute. Before they knew it, the Thieves found themselves sitting down at one of the tables, their food in front of them.

"Dude, that was sick!" Ryuji complimented, before turning to Akira. "Why can't Boss have service like that?"

"I doubt his heart could take it."

"Hey, Sojiro isn't that old!" Futaba spoke up. "Clearly, his back would give out before his heart did!"

"Oh, this is soooo gooood!" Ann said, already digging into her food.

Suddenly, she elbowed Ryuji in the side.

"Ow, what the hell?"

"I knew you were going to say something."

He went to make a rebuttal, but stopped. "Dammit, how did you know?"

"We can read you like a book, Skull," Morgana suggested, standing on his hind legs to reach above the table.

"This is... unlike any other sweets I have eaten," Yusuke said. "The flavor is almost overwhelming."

"And these brownies are cooked perfectly!" Haru complimented.

Pinkie just smiled widely as she hopped up to the table. "Glad you like it!" She then started bounding towards the stairs. "Well, I gotta finish packing, so see you guys later!"

Once the Thieves had said their own farewells, Makoto cleared her throat. "As good as this food is, we should probably try and figure out a plan going forward."

"Already on it," Morgana said. "You heard what she said about a convention, right?"

"Yeah, what about it?" Ryuji asked, his mouth still full of donut.

Makoto caught on quickly. "With that many people in one place, we're bound to overhear some intel about a palace."

"I believe they're called 'ponies' here," Yusuke added.

"Wouldn't we stand out though?" Ann said. "I mean, I haven't seen any other humans since we got here."

Morgana smirked. "Phantom thieves work better from the shadows, anyway."

"Honestly, I'm not sure how much help I can be here," Futaba admitted. "From what I've seen so far, these guys don't exactly have computers."

"Your support will still be appreciated in the palaces, Oracle," Haru said.

Ryuji swallowed the last of his food. "Actually, about that, do ya think we need to keep up the code names still? I mean, Twilight's being pretty nice and cooperative with us."

Seeing that the others couldn't come up with an immediate answer, Akira spoke up.

"It sounds better."

Morgana chuckled. "As always, your priorities are impressive, Joker."

"Actually, he might be onto something," Makoto said. "Assuming that pony names are all like Twilight's and Pinkie's, using our real names would likely make us stand out even more."

"Then it's settled!" Futaba cheered. "Code names are still a go!"

"Speaking of going, we should probably go find Twilight and ask if we can go along on that trip," Ann said.

Yusuke was quick to shoot the plan down. "But we do not know where she lives."

"Probably like a library or something," Ryuji suggested. "You saw how many books she put away before we came here."

Morgana jumped onto the floor and looked back at the others. "Well, if everyone's done, we should go ahead and leave."

The others agreed, and set out back into the streets of Ponyville, this time without a guide.

"Hey, Twilight?"

"Let's see, toothbrush, check, personal soaps to use instead of hotel soap, check..."


"Now where did I put that-"


Spike's shouting finally broke Twilight out of her frenzy, and she sheepishly turned around. "Sorry, Spike, what is it?"

"Just trying to tell you that you have some visitors."

Just as he said that, the door behind him opened, revealing the Thieves behind it.

Twilight smacked a hoof into her face. "Of all the..." She sighed and walked forward to meet them. "Sorry, I still tend to panic when I forget things like this."

"Don't sweat it, we still found you just fine," Ryuji said. "Also, gotta say, this is some impressive living space."

"I never thought I would see a castle made out of crystal in such a manner, even within the palaces," Yusuke commented.

Makoto stepped forward. "In any case, we wanted to ask if we could accompany you on your trip tomorrow."

Twilight tilted her head slightly, before realization hit her. "You think we'll find out about one of these palaces there?"

"It's worth a shot," Morgana said. "Plus, we still barely know anything about the area, so it would most likely be a good idea to stick with you."

"Well, alright then," Twilight answered. She then looked over to Spike, who was watching the conversation with mild interest. "You don't mind staying here, do you, Spike?"

"Not at all. Those conventions are usually a lot less fun than they sound, anyway."

"Oh yeah, what's the convention for, anyway?" Ryuji asked.

"It's for a book series that's incredibly popular here," Twilight said. "This is actually the first time I've been able to attend one of the conventions, though, but my other friend, Rainbow Dash, went to the last one and said it was fun."

"Just remember our primary objective," Morgana reminded everyone. "We have no leads on palaces yet, so this is a good place to start looking."

"Still, they're not leaving until tomorrow," Yusuke said. "What should we do until then?"

"Let's head home for now."

"Good idea, Joker," Makoto responded, before turning to Twilight. "So, should we meet you at the train station tomorrow?"

Twilight hesitated. "I... guess... But wait, what do you mean by heading home? How will you get back?"

"We got an app on our phones," Ryuji answered. "It lets us go from our world to yours whenever we-" Suddenly, he stopped talking. "Oh, crap."

"What's wrong, Skull?" Haru asked.

"The app's gonna put us in the other castle when we come back, that's what's wrong!"

Out of curiosity, Akira pulled out his phone and opened the app, only to recoil slightly at what he saw.

Futaba noticed his reaction and tried to get a look at the screen. "Hmm? What's up, Joker?"

Akira moved his phone where the others could see, and they saw that the app had an actual map of the local area, just like a normal GPS.

"Huh, it's never done that before..." Morgana thought out loud.

"Well, looks like we can come back to specific parts of Equestria," Makoto theorized. "That should prove incredibly useful."

Twilight, meanwhile, just looked at the phone with confusion and more than a little enthusiasm. "What exactly... is that?"

Akira put his phone away as Ryuji answered her. "We'll explain later."

Akira nodded and started walking away.

"Let's go."

The others followed him, and Twilight awkwardly leaned out of the door to watch them leave. "Well... see you tomorrow!"

They replied with their own goodbyes, and once they were a sizable distance away, they stopped, and then... phased out of existence.

Twilight just looked at the spot where they were standing, jaw agape. Eventually, she shook herself out of it and went back inside her room, Spike leaving as he did so.

"Huh, they left pretty quick," he commented.

"Yeah..." Twilight said, barely thinking.

Just what exactly was she in for, here?

Tempered Return

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The rest of Akira's day was rather uneventful. After everyone ate ramen together (at Ryuji's insistence), they went their separate ways, and it was already evening by the time he had made it back to the cafe. And like so many nights before, Sojiro was right there at the counter as he walked inside.

"So, how was your first day back?" he asked, giving a small smile.

"Better than expected."

"Glad to hear that." He started to fish out a cigarette from his pocket. "Well, I'm gonna go ahead and close up for tonight."

Akira gave a questioning look.

"Closing already?"

Sojiro chuckled. "Not like anyone else is coming, it's a Tuesday." Right before he left through the door, he gave a sly grin. "And besides, you have a visitor. Don't have too much fun."

Before Akira could ask what he meant, Sojiro was already out of the cafe.

"Wait, a visitor?" Morgana asked, taking the opportunity to jump out of Akira's bag. Suddenly, his mild concern turned into a smug smile. "Oh, I think I-"

There was a noise on the stairs behind him, followed by an all-too-familiar voice.

"Long time no see, Master~!"

Akira turned around, and couldn't hide his smile at the sight of a certain somebody on the steps. Still, he couldn't fight the urge to be a little snarky.

"No maid outfit this time?"

Ms. Kawakami gave a small pout. "I finally get to see you again, and that's how you greet me?"

Meanwhile, Morgana started heading towards the back door. "I'll just leave you two be for a while."

Now that they were truly alone, Akira stepped closer to Kawakami.

"I missed you."

She gave a small smile. "I missed you, too, Akira."

In the brief silence that ensued, Akira noticed that, apparently, Sojiro left the coffee machine hooked up for the night.

"I'll make us some coffee."

"That would be nice."

It didn't take long to brew up two cups, and as soon as he was finished, Akira brought both cups with him to one of the tables, where Kawakami already took a seat.

"Hard to believe the man in front of me was the leader of the most infamous group in Japan just last year," she commented. "I hope you've been staying out of trouble?"

"I've been managing."

Kawakami smiled. "That's good to hear."

As she took a sip of her coffee, her cell phone started ringing. Akira just watched curiously as she answered, facing away from him.

"Hello?" A pause. "Oh, no, it's fine, I'm..." She looked at Akira for a moment. "I'm not busy."

There was a longer pause as whoever was on the other end started talking for a prolonged amount of time. Akira could just barely hear the voice through the phone, and for some reason he felt like he knew it...

"Oh, it's fine," Kawakami eventually answered. "I'll be free most of the summer, so just give me a call if you need help, alright?"

She hung up, and looked over to see Akira's questioning look. "Just helping some students out over the summer. One of them had to cancel some of the study appointments they made with me, but they said that-"

Suddenly, Akira's own phone started going off, and he quickly took it out and answered, not even bothering to check the caller ID.

"Hey man, it's me!" Ryuji's voice came through, making Akira wince slightly as he forgot how loudly he talked on the phone. Judging by Kawakami's smirk, she could hear, as well.

"Just calling to tell you to let me know in advance if we're not going to do phantom thief stuff, alright?" Ryuji continued, Akira almost dropping the phone in shock at the casual mention of their secret. "I, uh... I gotta get some homework done this summer, kay?"

Akira slowly agreed, and then Ryuji hung up. As he put his phone away, he couldn't help but notice the smug look that Kawakami was giving him.

"'Phantom Thief stuff', huh?" she asked. "You know, I had a feeling Sakamoto was involved..."

"Just a coincidence."

"Suuure it was..." She suddenly turned serious. "But still, if you really are doing that stuff again, be careful, okay?"

The sudden concern caught Akira off guard, but he was quick to recover.

"I'll be careful."

"Good." She smiled brightly at him. "I'd hate for a repeat of last Christmas!"

The conversation drifted into silence, and Kawakami's smile slowly dropped.

"Say, about that... what exactly happened last Christmas?"

"What do you mean?"

"Christmas Eve... before I messaged you that night. I remember... something about you saving the world, but I can't remember what from, or how."

This got Akira thinking. 'Apparently people's cognitions are already covering up the events...'

Eventually, he decided on an answer.

"It's not important now."

"Well... I guess you're right." Kawakami finished off her coffee, then leaned across the table, speaking in a lower tone of voice. "You know, I did bring my maid outfit with me. Would you like to come upstairs and help me try it back on?"

Akira did not hesitate.

"Yes please."

Akira opened his eyes, then got onto his feet. The Velvet Room was just as he remembered, although there was a new, yet familiar figure next to Igor's desk now.

"I am glad that you accepted this favor, Trickster," Igor greeted. "To be quite honest, you have adopted astonishingly quickly to your this new environment."

Akira shrugged.

"It's not too out there."

Celestia, who had taken an interest in her surroundings, finally spoke up. "This is a rather... interesting decor, Igor."

"This room is formed after the feelings of the guest's heart," Lavenza explained. "Akira was a prisoner of fate originally, and so this place manifested as such. However, he has since broken free of his fate, hence the lack of any cages or doors."

Celestia tilted her head at the girl in blue. "I don't believe we've met, have we?"

"My apologies." Lavenza gave a small curtsy. "I am Lavenza, the current attendant of the Velvet Room."

Something in her sentence stuck out to Akira.


His question was ignored, however, as Lavenza continued. "My master has already told me about you, Princess Celestia of Equestria."

Both Akira and Igor watched the greetings come to a close, before the latter spoke up. "In any case, I am glad to see that you already have a plan of action, Trickster. However, one thing I would like you to keep in mind is the value of strong bonds; not just maintaining the ones you've already formed, but new ones, as well."

Celestia nodded in agreement. "In my world, true friendships have the power to change the world. Just from what Igor has told me, I already know that you are the perfect example of this. I am counting on the Phantom Thieves, as well as you, personally."

Akira adjusted his glasses.

"No pressure, then."

Celestia let out a small giggle. "At least you have a sense of humor."

A bell started ringing, and Igor leaned forward. "It seems our time is at an end for now. Go on, Trickster, we have high expectations."

Akira nodded, and he slowly felt himself returning to reality...

Conventional Methods

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When Akira awoke the next morning, there was already a conversation waiting for him on his phone.

So, we heading back to Equestria today?

I mean, we did promise Twilight.

I admit, I am rather excited to be going to a convention. I don't think I've ever gone to a proper one, before.

I am also clueless about what to expect.

I've been to one before, but I was so young at the time that I don't quite remember the details.

Don't worry, I've been to a few in the past 5 years, and they're a lot of fun.

Did you cosplay?

Oh man, I wanna hear this, too!

Shut up, both of you!

Note: Ann has taken part in cosplay.


Wouldn't our thief outfits count as cosplay, of a sort?

I think we're getting too far off track. Should we meet at Leblanc to head over there?

Akira put down his phone for a moment and listened, hearing the unusual sound of the cafe being somewhat packed.

It's kinda busy here...

Yeah, had to turn the bug off, it was too much white noise. We can meet at our house instead. Not like anyone else is here during the day.

Then it's settled. Meet you all there shortly.

As Akira put his phone away, Morgana chose that time to hop onto the bed with him. "Alright, you all ready to head out?"

He nodded, and started walking out of the attic, Morgana jumping into his bag at the same time he was grabbing it.

For once, every table in the cafe was occupied, with at least a few conversations sprinkled between them. Despite this, Sojiro was clearly capable of handling it, as everyone was already served and he was simply making conversation with someone at the counter.

Akira gave a parting wave to him as he passed by, which Sojiro returned, not breaking in his own conversation.

Of course, Akira was the first one to arrive at the Sakura household, and he wasted no time before heading up to Futaba's room, where she was (naturally) waiting on her computer.

"Okay, honest opinion," she asked the moment Akira got inside her room. "Thoughts on Equestria?"

"It's... something."

"I know right? It's like a cartoon."

"I didn't feel special at all..." Morgana commented.

"Well, I doubt any of the ponies can turn into a bus," Futaba joked, before her face turned serious. "Right?"

While Akira pondered this question, Ryuji and Yusuke made their appearance. "'Sup, you guys ready to roll?"

Futaba ignored him. "Inari, what are you carrying?"

Yusuke shuffled the bag he was holding, which appeared to be squirming ever so slightly. "I was curious to see how a lobster would contrast with their nature."

"You seriously still have that thing?!" Ryuji shouted.

"It turns out lobsters are rather low maintenance pets."

"Don't you need, like, a fish tank, though?" Futaba asked.

"I simply filled a plastic tub with water. It seemed to take well to it."

At that moment, Makoto, Ann, and Haru entered the room. "Hey, we all here?"

Ryuji grumbled. "Yeah, Yusuke and his pet are ready."

Makoto paused. "Pet?" She looked at Yusuke. "Don't tell me, you still have that lobster?"

"That's what I said!"

"I don't see the harm in bringing it along," Yusuke defended.

"Maybe you should leave it behind..." Haru suggested. "I don't want it to end up scaring the locals."

"B- But, it's harmless! I even put rubber bands on its claws!"

Akira sighed.

"Leave the fish, Yusuke."

"Actually, lobsters aren't-"

Yusuke cut Futaba off. "Very well. I suppose I can... leave it behind. You don't mind if I leave it here, do you, Futaba?"

"Wait, what?!"

Ann shook her head in bemusement. "This group never ceases to amaze..."

"Enough chit chat," Morgana said. "We ready?"

They gave the affirmative as soon as Yusuke had tucked his bag away, and Akira pulled up the nav.

This time, when they reappeared, it was in front of Twilight's castle. Thankfully, their sudden appearance didn't seem to be noticed by any of the locals, although they still got some worried glances their way once they were finally noticed.

"Huh, I don't see Twilight anywhere..." Makoto said.

"Think she's already at the station?" Ryuji suggested.

Yusuke nodded. "It's a possibility."

Akira went ahead and started walking in that direction.

"Don't want to be late, right?"

The others fell in step behind him. They still gawked at some of the town's scenery, but the novelty was already starting to die down. That still didn't stop Yusuke from attempting to frame every other street they came across with his fingers, though.

The train station was just as busy as when they arrived in Ponyville the previous day (that is, not very), which made it very easy to spot Twilight and Pinkie at the ticket booth, along with a third pony hovering in the air next to them, her mane and tail a vibrant multi-color palette.

Even while behind them, the thieves could tell that something was wrong. "Looks like they're having some kind of argument..." Ann observed.

By the time they got close enough to hear, the rainbow pony spoke up. "Can't you just, like, blow it out of the way or something?"

The pony behind the ticket booth nervously shook his head. "The trains would still be delayed by a day, since we'd have to rework the entire schedule. Plus, the amount of ponies needed would-"

The rest of his explanation went unheard by the thieves as Pinkie noticed them and immediately started hopping towards them, her suitcase bouncing on her back as she did so. "Hiya, Phantom Thieves!"

"Hello, Pinkie!" Haru greeted.

"What's the issue here?" Morgana asked, trying to look over to where Twilight and the other pony were still talking with the ticket pony.

"Apparently there was a small landslide on the tracks between here and Trottingham, where the convention is, so now trains can't go through until they fix that, but it's gonna take a while, so now Dashie is getting upset!"

Right as Pinkie finished explaining, the pony apparently known as 'Dashie' let out a groan of frustration. "Why does stuff like this always happen!"

Before she could continue her rant, she finally noticed the gathered thieves behind them. "Uh, who are you guys?"

"They're the ones I told you about, Dash," Twilight said.

Dash blinked. "Oh right, phantom thieves or something." She landed and scuffed the ground with a hoof. "Well, looks like we won't be able to go today, anyway."

Morgana smirked. "Don't be so sure. It's my time to shine!"

"Oh right, I forgot that Mona could do that!" Haru said.

The ponies just gave confused looks. "Do what?" Twilight asked.

Instead of answering, Morgana simply jumped high into the air next to the tracks. There was a puff of smoke, and then when he came back down he was now in the form of a black and yellow van.

The ponies reacted predictably. Dash in particular shot back into the air, backing up several feet in the process. "W- What the hay?!"

"Oooh, neat!" Pinkie commented.

"All aboard for Trottingham!" Morgana's voice came from the van, sounding no different from usual. While Twilight simply looked on, speechless, the humans started walking towards it as if this was a normal occurrence.

As the others hopped inside, Ryuji turned around and beckoned to them. "Come on, we got room for three more!"

Pinkie was the first one to react, happily hopping towards the van and jumping in the backseat alongside Haru and Futaba. Eventually, Twilight and Dash shook off their shock long enough to also enter the van, Dash also squeezing into the backseat behind Ryuji, Yusuke, and Ann, while Twilight took her place at the front, next to Akira. The ponies' bags were barely able to squeeze in with them, but they managed.

"Everyone ready?" Makoto asked, hands already planted on the steering wheel.

"W- Wait, I still have several questions!" Twilight pleaded.

"We can explain on the way!" Futaba unhelpfully answered. "Hit it, Queen!"

The engine roared to life (with a notably feline edge to the sound) and the van started moving at a decent pace, driving parallel with the train tracks. Once they were moving, Yusuke was the first to begin proper explanations.

"While in this form, Mona is able to transform into a car," he said. "To this day, we are unsure of the exact reason for it."

"It's served us well, though," Morgana spoke up, his voice coming from where the radio would be. "At least, as long as the driver is capable..."

This time, Akira spoke up.

"Are you talking about me?"

"No offense, Joker," Ann added, "but your driving is kinda... erratic."

"I still have no clue who you people are!" Dash piped up. "Or why your cat can turn into something like this!"

Makoto looked over to Twilight. "Didn't you tell her about our story?"

"Not in detail," she admitted. "Just that you 'stole hearts' as a vigilante group in your own world."

"Hey, I like the sound of that!" Ryuji commented. "We're totally vigilantes!"

"You know that means we're criminals, right, Skull?"

"Like you're one to talk, little miss Medjed!"


"Anyway," Dash broke in, "that still sounds like a bunch of horseapples to me. Stealing hearts? Really?"

"I was skeptical of it, too," Yusuke said. "But I was much more open to the idea after I awakened to my persona."

That got Twilight's attention. "Persona?"

"A manifestation of one's inner rebellious will," Morgana explained. "By removing the mask they wear in their hearts, these guys can awaken to their true potential, and that power lets them fight and travel in palaces."

"And that 'removing the mask' bit is literal," Ryuji added, reaching forward to pat Akira on the back. "I swear, it was horrifying watching this guy do it. Still not sure why you decided to tear it off like that."

"It itched really badly."

His response got more than a few laughs around the van. Ryuji especially couldn't keep the smile off his face. "You're so full of shit, man, you know that?"

"Hey, I just realized!" Ann spoke up. "Oracle didn't have to tear a mask off her face! That's so unfair!"

Futaba just giggled mischievously in response.

"So... could you use your personas now?" Twilight asked.

"We can only summon personas within palaces," Haru answered. "It probably has something to do with when our outfits change..."

"Oh, cool, your clothes change?" Pinkie spoke up. "Whaddya guys look like, huh? Huh?"

"They're kinda... hard to explain," Ann admitted. "If we manage to get inside a palace, you'll probably get to see them."

Before any further questions on the subject could be raised, Makoto began talking. "Hey, I think I see that landslide you guys mentioned."

Sure enough, the train tracks they were driving alongside were suddenly blocked by a rather large pile of rocks, trees, and other debris, all of which no doubt rolled down from the adjacent small mountain. There was already a team of ponies on the scene to help clear it, all of whom gave the van confused looks as it passed by.

"You know, something I've been wondering," Ryuji asked once the rubble was out of view, "how come some of you have wings, and others have horns, but some have neither?"

Twilight slipped into an almost teacher-like tone. "Ponies are mostly separated into three different races: Unicorns, who can use magic with their horns; pegasi, who can fly and manipulate weather; and earth ponies, who are much physically stronger than the other two, despite having no horn nor wings."

"What about you?" Futaba said. "You have a horn and wings."

"Well, there's a technical fourth race, commonly called alicorns, who are able to wield the strengths of all three races," she explained, somewhat sheepishly. "They're far more rare, but are not unheard of. As for myself, I was born a unicorn, but a few years back I kinda... got promoted, I guess you could say?"

"That must've been quite the shock," Makoto noted. "And judging by the castle back in Ponyville, I suspect you had more than a little authority suddenly thrust upon you?"

A small nod was Twilight's only answer.

"Well, she took to it pretty well, I'd say," Dash chimed in. "Far as I care, she's still the same Twilight I knew since before that happened. Only difference is now I don't always have to come down to her to talk."

The group fell into silence after that, but it wasn't long before Akira broke the silence.


Up ahead, they could see the outskirts of a town, with more than a few signs directing visitors to a large building, which was covered in decorations themed after the Daring Do books.

"Aw yes!" Dash celebrated. "We made it!"

Once they were close enough to make out the crowd filtering in and out of the building, Makoto eased the van to a stop.

As soon as everyone was out, Morgana vanished in another puff of smoke, before being replaced with his usual catlike self. "I gotta say, driving on the grass here feels sooooo much better than train tracks!"

"Riiight..." Twilight didn't even care to question the statement for the time being. "Anyway, the hotel we're staying at is pretty close. We'll go ahead and get everything situated there, first."

"Aw, can I go straight to the convention? Please?" Dash begged, sounding like an overly excitable child despite looking about the same age as Twilight.

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Fine, give me your suitcase."

Dash pumped a hoof in celebration before starting to fly towards the building. "Come on, guys, let's see the floor!"

"Ooh, I wanna go, too!" Pinkie said, immediately plopping her own bags on Twilight's back, who grunted with exertion.

The thieves, stifling their laughs, hurried after the flying rainbow pony and the bouncing pink pony ahead of them, leaving Twilight to carry all the bags towards the hotel. "Always left to me..." she grumbled to herself.

In the meantime, the others had started to merge with the crowd surrounding the building, although the collective height advantage made it easy for the group to stick together. "Oh man, I wonder if she's already here!" Dash said excitedly.

"She?" Ryuji questioned.

"A.K. Yearling!" she answered, doing a small flip out of joy. "The author of Daring Do herself!" She leaned in close to Ryuji, although still spoke just loud enough that the other thieves could hear, as well. "Plus, keep it a secret, but she's also Daring Do herself!"

"Woah, for real?!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"So she writes stories about herself under a false name..." Haru summarized. "How charming!"

By now, they had entered the building itself, which was just as packed as the outside. From wall to wall, there were all kinds of booths set up, selling all manner of Daring Do merchandise. T-shirts, plushes, small figurines; the list went on.

Dash had a massive smile stuck on her face, and the thieves couldn't help but join in on the happiness. The air was charged with the buzz of energetic fans, and it was impossible to not get at least a little caught up in it.

"Well, look who it is!"

The group turned to the new voice, and Dash let out an adorable squeal. "A.K.!"

She lunged forward and grabbed the newcomer in a small hug, which was reciprocated fully. Once that was done, Dash turned around. "Here's the mare herself!"

Ryuji scratched his head. "Uh, she looks like half the cosplayers here."

A.K. shrugged. "Makes my life easier if I can just blend in with all the fans. Last thing I need is to be constantly swamped by fanponies."

She gave the thieves a once-over. "Never seen anything like you guys, though. You friends of Dash?"

"Something like that," Makoto answered, cutting off both Ryuji and Pinkie, making sure to give both of them a look that said 'Don't mention the phantom thieves'. "We were invited to tag along to the convention."

A.K. tipped her pith helmet. "Well, make sure to enjoy yourselves. I'm gonna see what kind of me-themed merch I can pick up."

As she left, she was almost immediately lost within the crowd. Before Dash could lead the group somewhere else, however, another pony walked up to them from the crowd.

"Okay, everything's set at the hotel," Twilight said. "Did you find Yearling yet?"

"Uh-huh!" Dash nodded excitedly. "She's still just as awesome as ever!"

"Oh, idea!" Pinkie said. "Her house is nearby, we should go wait for her there and throw a party for her!"

"That sounds nice," Twilight admitted, before turning to the thieves. "Will you be coming, as well?"

"I don't see why not," Yusuke said. "Truthfully, I'm not sure how much of this commotion I can bear."

"I kinda like it!" Ann said. "Just like the cons back home!"

"I'm honestly surprised you're doing so well, Oracle," Morgana commented. "I thought you hated huge crowds."

"Joker helped me with that," she explained. "Besides, everyone here is an adorable pony! I can't be scared by that!"

"Well, it's settled," Twilight said, turning around. "I guess we're throwing a small party."

Akira chuckled.

"Let's do it."

The ponies led the thieves back out of the convention center, heading back the way they came into town. However, at the town edge, they instead divert into the nearby forest, which eventually led them to a rather nondescript house in the middle of the woods.

"We're here!" Dash exclaimed. "How you wanna set this up, Pinks?"

"Easy! I'll just need tables here and here, maybe a cake- no, wait, a pie! Okay, and then..."

As Twilight summoned the appropriate things with her magic, with Dash helping to arrange them afterwards, the thieves simply watched from next to the house.

"Our second day here, and already sitting in on a party," Ryuji commented. "I'm likin' this."

"Still, be cautious, Skull," Morgana warned. "We have a job to do, after all."

"Right, right, palaces," he shot back. "Still, a little bit more relax time never hurt anyone."

As the two of them bickered, Akira shook his head with amusement and leaned back against the house.

The moment he did, however, his phone started going off, getting the attention of everyone there.

"Wait, Joker, you're getting a call?!" Futaba asked.

Akira quickly whipped out his phone, only to find the metaverse nav pulled up. "A destination is directly ahead."

The thieves shared shocked looks. "A destination..." Haru started. "Does it mean a palace?!"

"Wait, here?" Twilight asked, having overheard the commotion. "But, I'm not noticing anything strange."

Morgana hopped up on Akira's shoulder to get a better view of his phone. Akira himself, meanwhile, pointed himself straight at the house, only to see the app point directly ahead.

"The palace is... her house!" Morgana said.

"Wait, what do you mean a 'palace'?" Dash scoffed. "It's just a normal house!"

Curious, Akira reached his hand to the doorknob, only for it to ripple in an all-too-familiar fashion when he did so.

"This is it."

Ryuji was the first one to act after the revelation. "Well, we found a palace. Let's get inside and start busting it up."

Dash eyed the ripples on the door worriedly. "I- I'm not sure what any of this means, but if you're going in, I'm coming with you."

"Me too!" Pinkie said, bouncing alongside Akira and Twilight. "I wanna see!"

Makoto sighed. "Okay, if we're all ready...?"

Everyone gave their own affirmatives, Akira being the last one. Once that was settled, Morgana hopped back to the ground and they all walked into the door, the ripples opening up to let them in as their scenery changed...

"Plotting course to destination. Good luck."

The group moved only a few steps through the door, but Twilight gasped at the immediate change in scenery. Instead of the interior of a house, the area in front of them appeared to be a large, fenced-off compound of some kind, the skies above having an odd purple tint.

"W... What in the world..." she mumbled out, backing up slowly. "Where are we?"

"Okay, there's no way we didn't teleport somewhere," Dash challenged, turning to confront the thieves. "What did you- gah!"

Dash's outburst made Twilight and Pinkie turn around, and they both recoiled in the same fashion.

"Y- Your clothes!" Twilight stammered out.

The thieves only just now noticed the costume change, but reacted far more favorably. "Alright, we're back in action!" Skull said, pumping a fist.

"Yeah, this is what we meant by our outfits changing," Panther explained. "It does take some getting used to, I admit."

"But... why the masks?" Twilight asked, looking from one person to another, each one wearing a completely different outfit, each of them with a matching mask.

"It's part of their powers," Mona said. Oddly, he was entirely unchanged. "These outfits are the manifestations of their own rebellious will."

Dash made a few confused noises before throwing her hooves into the air. "None of this makes sense!"

"I know, right?!" Skull shouted.

"Quiet down!" Mona exclaimed. "The shadows will hear us!"

"Shadows?" Twilight asked.

Queen cracked her knuckles, making the ponies flinch backwards slightly. "We'll explain in more detail later. For now, we should get moving." She turned to Joker. "On your go, leader."

As Joker finished adjusting one of his bright red gloves, Twilight couldn't help but notice how vastly different he seemed here, purely in how he acted. While he was mostly laid back and had a soft smile before, here he had a constant defiant smirk on his face, and he carried his body with confidence and purpose.

Even his voice had gained a bit of a sudden edge.

"It's show time."

Discarded Devotion

View Online

Cutting through the compound fence was little issue, and Twilight chose not to question why Joker had a knife at the ready for seemingly such an occasion. Once everyone was past the fence, he wasted no time before he waved for everyone to follow him, making a beeline for a nearby small building. Instead of trying to get inside, however, he instead took cover behind it, the others doing the same in formation behind him.

While everyone else was trying to peek around the side of the building, Oracle was scrolling through a small collection of holograms that materialized around her.

"Nothing close to us right now," she reported, her goggles hiding her eyes from view as they rapidly flicked from one piece of data to another. "But they got shadows in there for sure."

"Over there!" Mona pointed out. Ahead of them, out in the open, was what looked like a stallion in a drab gray military uniform. However, Twilight noted that something was definitely... off about the pony. For one, the bottom of their hooves was surrounded by a slight, constant flow of black smoke, which rippled along the ground as it walked. Not only that, but the rest of its body was bulging in a few inequine ways. To cap it off, she couldn't even see his face, as it was obscured by a large gas mask, although she could make out a pair of beady red eyes from beneath it.

"I don't see any others close to it," Oracle said. "Once it's close enough, you can take it down safely, Joker."

"So that's a shadow?" Twilight asked.

"Doesn't look too tough," Dash whispered. "I could probably take it right now."

"Stay put," Queen harshly commanded. "Joker knows best when it comes to timing; he's never let us down before. Just let us handle the fighting."

Joker himself didn't say anything, opting to instead just watch as the shadow slowly patrolled closer. Curiously, Twilight noticed that he didn't have his knife drawn at all, although she did notice him almost compulsively adjusting his gloves.

The moment the shadow was in range, Joker leaped out from the corner of the building, his body a black and red blur as he jumped right on top of the shadow, reaching for its mask.

The shadow had just enough time to react. "Hey, what are you-!"

"I'll reveal your true form!"

With that, Joker ripped off the mask in a spray of black and red, then leaped off the shadow, revealing its pure black face, save for the red eyes. The shadow convulsed painfully, before dissolving into a red and black mass. Just as quickly as it disappeared, however, the mass sprang back up and reformed into a rather large, beastly creature.

Though it was far larger than any she had seen, Twilight gasped as she recognized the creature immediately.

"That's a cockatrice!"

Just as quick as Joker did, the other thieves took up attack positions around the shadow. Skull was the first to act, running right up to the cockatrice and smashing its face with what looked like some kind of club.

As soon as his attack landed, Noir began running up to the shadow. However, instead of using a weapon, she instead removed her mask in a flash of blue fire, which immediately materialized as a strange looking being behind her, which almost looked like it was wearing a dress.

"Persona!" she yelled out, just before the 'dress' on the persona opened to reveal a large collection of guns, which proceeded to tear into the beast, weakening it even more.

As this was happening, Joker struck an odd looking stance a small distance away, holding a hand in front of his face as he, too, began summoning a persona.


Just like what happened with Noir, a figure took form in the blue flames behind Joker. This one was a yellow-skinned, multi-armed humanoid of some kind, although Twilight couldn't make out many other details from her current angle. She did notice that, unlike Noir, Joker was maintaining his distance.

"Ravage them!"

And then, with a wave of the persona's arms, a large gust of wind struck the cockatrice, literally tearing into it. It wasn't long before the shadow succumbed, dissolving into a black mist that quickly faded away.

Now that the fight was over, Skull stretched his arm out. "Alright, we still got it!"

"Great work as always, team," Mona complimented, before bounding a bit closer to the ponies. "It's safe to move further in now, we should go."

Twilight just dumbly nodded, her mind still too preoccupied with processing what she just witnessed. Dash and Pinkie were equally confused, yet neither of them could find the words to question it.

"Hold on, let's not forget the money," Fox reminded them, kneeling down where the shadow once stood.

That finally snapped Twilight back into focus. "Money?"

"Shadows drop cash when we kill them," Oracle explained. "Not sure why, but we might as well take it!"

"Aw, what the hell?" Skull complained, holding a handful of gold coins. "This ain't yen!"

Dash let out a small gasp. "It dropped bits? Are those real?"

Twilight inspected one of the coins closely. "They're real..."

"Huh, I suppose shadows only drop the currency of the palace ruler's country," Mona theorized.

"All our targets were in Japan, after all," Panther added.

"In any case, you should go ahead and take it," Fox said, already depositing the loot into Twilight's saddlebags. "It won't serve us much good."

"Uh... thanks?"

Once the money issues were dealt with, Joker waved the rest of the group forward with him.

"Let's get moving."

"We should duck into that warehouse," Queen said, pointing it out ahead of them as they ran. "I'm sure we'll find something worthwhile in there."

Joker nodded in agreement, and made a beeline for the large open doors on the front of the building, the rest of the thieves and the ponies following closely behind. The large front doors were partially opened and there were no shadows around, so they quickly slipped inside, before immediately taking cover behind some crates, just in case there was anyone on the inside.

After Oracle confirmed they were alone, they relaxed. "I forgot how exhilarating this was!" Noir commented.

"Alright, so maybe I believe you now about that whole 'stealing hearts' thing," Dash said. "But still, these places are ruled by somepony, right? Who is it, then?"

The group didn't have an immediate answer, but the contents of the warehouse eventually caught Mona's eye. "We might be able to find some clues in here."

"Oh, good thinking!" Oracle said. "Skull, come over here and help me open this box!"

"Fox, help me with this one," Queen commanded.

Joker went to a third crate, finding it sealed with a simple but hefty padlock. Thankfully, he still had a few lockpicks left on him, so he was able to work it open in a matter of seconds.

Everyone opened their own crates at about the same time, with everyone gathering around to see what they held.

"It looks like... jewelry?" Skull pointed out.

Dash gasped loudly. "That's not jewelry! That's the azure amulet! As in 'Daring Do and the Azure Amulet'!"

"What about this?" Fox asked, holding up some kind of small scepter.

Dash gasped again. "That's the sinful scepter! Why is that here?!"

"Wait, if these are artifacts from the books," Panther started, "why is there more than one?"

Her question shocked the others, and they took looked through the crates to confirm it.

"Wait, does that mean that these are forgeries?" Twilight asked.

"But why would there be this many fake artifacts in here?" Queen thought out loud, before noticing something else within the crate. "Huh, what's this...?"

Reaching into the crate, she pulled a clip board off its inside wall, then started reading it aloud. "'Azure Amulet. S EQ. Ahu: Twenty percent. Cab: Thirty percent. AkY: Fifty percent.'"

"Well, little miss bookworm," Skull said, prodding Dash with his elbow, "any of that sound like something from that book?"

Dash ignored the nickname and started pacing around in thought. "'S EQ'... the amulet was found in South Equestria," she said, "where Daring Do had to fight her archenemy Cabelleron, who also wanted the amulet, but then just when she thought she got away, she was attacked by her other archenemy Ahuizotl, but she managed to get away from that, too."

"What about this one?" Noir said, holding another clipboard from another crate. "'Sinful Scepter. Grif. Ahu: Forty percent. AkY: Sixty percent.'"

"'Grif.' would be Griffonstone, or at least outside of it," Dash explained. "There, Daring Do raced Ahuizotl to get the scepter."

Mona put a paw to his chin in thought. "I'm seeing a pattern here... But I'm not sure you'd like the implication."

Panther held up the third clipboard. "Basically the same thing on this one, too. Just with 'Cab' at thirty-five percent and 'AkY' at sixty-five."

"All those percents," Fox theorized, "Could they perhaps be some kind of profit split?"

"And those abbreviations..." Oracle continued the thought. "Cabelleron, Ahuizotl... Which means that the last one would be-"

"A.K. Yearling..." Twilight cut her off, reaching the same conclusion. "Which means that the reason there's so many fake artifacts is-"

"L- Let's keep looking, okay?" Dash interrupted, clearly not wanting to discuss the possibility. "I- I'm sure there's a good reason for all this."

No one said anything in response, until Joker nodded, and started leading the group further into the warehouse. Crates were stacked high enough to form makeshift hallways, although they didn't bother cracking open any more of them.

Eventually, they came across an office by the back of the building, which was thankfully empty. The room was mostly empty, only containing a few desks and chairs.

One notable item, however, was a map on one of the walls, which was heavily marked all over.

"It's a map of Equestria," Twilight noted.

"You think all those marked off spots are places where Daring found something?" Pinkie asked, her earlier excitement noticeably deflated.

Dash looked from one spot to another, before nodding. "Yeah... this is where she found everything."

"Why is this place circled?" Queen asked, pointing towards the southern end of the map.

"South Equestria?" Twilight said once she got a good look. "Why would that be worth circling...?"

"Halt, intruders!"

The group whirled around to the office door, where a pair of shadows had managed to cut them off.

"Dammit, we got careless!" Mona chided, already getting into a battle position. "Get ready to-"

Suddenly, more shadows burst up from the ground around them, trapping them even further in the room.

"There's more?!"

"We'll have to fight our way out," Fox said, already keeping a steady grip on his katana.

"Now, I hope you have a good reason for breaking into my base."

Everyone was surprised by the somewhat familiar voice, and watched as the group of shadows parted just enough to let a single pony through. This one looked normal, compared to the others, but it was hard to ignore her bright yellow, glowing eyes. She was wearing some kind of officer's uniform, styled similarly to the outfits the shadows were wearing, and her gray mane was topped off with a matching cap.

Dash took a shaky step forward. "...A.K.? I- Is that you?"

'Yearling' let out a small chuckle, her voice very audibly distorted. "Looks like you just can't stop butting into my business, can you, Rainbow Dash?"

"What is all this?!" Dash asked, waving to the warehouse around them. "What do those clipboards inside the crates mean? Why are there so many fake artifacts in them?!"

This time, 'Yearling' let out a full blown laugh. "Don't tell me you're really this stupid?"

Dash took a step back. "W- What?"

"Dash, that's not Yearling!" Mona called out. "It's her shadow!"

"Although, I guess I do have to thank you a little," Yearling's shadow continued. "After all, thanks to you, I was able to give a smaller cut to my lackeys on those jobs."

"So I was right..." Twilight said from the back of the group.

Dash recoiled as if she was struck. "You mean... all your books- no, your adventures... they were all fake?"

Yearling rolled her eyes. "You really thought I made enough bits to live off of just from selling those trashy novels? That's just not how the world works." She looked at Twilight. "You know that just as much as I do, right, Sparkle?"

"What do you mean?" Twilight asked, genuinely confused.

"Don't act like you don't know how little Twilight Velvet actually makes on her books."

Yearling's statement made Twilight gasp loudly. "How do you-?!"

"Us authors get to know each other after a while," Yearling explained. "Not that it matters, since you aren't leaving this room alive."

Dash was on the verge of tears. "I... I thought we were... friends..."

Yearling's shadow let out a massive laugh. "Oh, that's rich. I'm in charge of everything you see here," she said, waving all around them, "and you really think I'd bother interacting with you because I liked you?" She laughed again. "No, it was simply for convenience. After all, having one of the famed Elements of Harmony, not to mention a qualified Wonderbolt, vouch for your books is a pretty good way to boost sales." She smirked. "Or, to help sell the authenticity of certain 'relics' to underground contacts."

While she laughed some more, Dash simply looked at the ground. "You... used me..."

Yearling paused in her laughter. "Yes, that's what I just said. I knew you were dumb, but-"

"I... put my trust in you," Dash continued, a new fire in her eyes as she looked back up. "I would've died for you, A.K.! And this whole time..."

"Dash!" Twilight called out, only to be stopped by Joker, who simply shook his head at her.

Twilight's outburst was ignored. "...this whole time, you used me! You took my faith in you, and you threw it all away for profit!"

By now, she started taking steps towards Yearling, and the other gathered shadows tensed up, ready to defend their master.

Meanwhile, Oracle's eyes widened as something popped up in her readings. "No way... is she...?"

"Go on, get angry," Yearling taunted. "I doubt you'd last long against my troops, but I'm sure it would be entertaining."

Dash was about to fire back a rebuttal, but she gasped, her head suddenly being filled with almost crippling pain.

At the same time, she began to hear a voice.

"I can tell that you don't like the truth."

The pain intensified with the words, and Dash fell to the ground. Twilight and Pinkie called out for her, but they were again blocked by Joker.

"Now tell me, now that her true nature has been laid out before you, what shall you do?"

Dash struggled slowly to a kneeling position, but the splitting pain in her head just wouldn't let up, sending her back down. The voice didn't stop, either.

"Will you forgive and forget, like so many others you've beaten?"

Actually, now that she thought about it, the voice sounded almost like...

"Or will you teach this villain the price of betraying your loyalty? If that is the case, we may form a deal."

Even through the physical and emotional pain she was going through, Dash still found enough strength to mutter something into the ground. "I... accept."

"Very well, then let us start the contract."

The pain intensified, and Dash cried out as it felt like her head was splitting into pieces. At the same time, her eyes started glowing the same bright yellow that Yearling's shadow's eyes were.

All the same, she could clearly hear the voice's words.

"I am thou, thou art I. Thou who would sacrifice everything for thine companions, and thou who shall smite those who callously take advantage of this sacrifice!"

As the voice increased in intensity, so did the pain, but Dash still found it in herself to fight her way back onto unsteady hooves.

"Now, reveal thine power, and let it run wild!"

Yearling had seen about enough of this, however. "Men, take them out!"

The shadows slowly started advancing on both the group and Dash, the former taking combat stances. However, Dash's face suddenly erupted in a small blast of blue flame, and when it cleared there was a strange mask over her eyes, looking like a cross between flight goggles and an opera mask.

While the pain had stopped, there was still an ongoing, uncontrollable urge in her mind. Acting on it, Dash quickly brought her hooves up to the mask, trying to take it off.

Even as the shadows started closing in around her, Twilight noticed this with great concern. "What is that on her-?"

Twilight's question was cut off as there was the sound of tearing flesh, followed immediately by Dash yelling out in pain once more as she ripped the mask off her face, blood pouring into the air from the motion. Then as soon as it happened, she was fully engulfed in blue flames, the force of which either knocked shadows back or forced them to maintain distance for the moment.

Twilight, however, could feel her heart stop at the sight. "Rainbow Dash!"

After a few agonizingly long seconds, the flames partially cleared, revealing Dash standing in the same spot.

But she was no longer alone.

The blue fire that surrounded Dash coalesced into a strange, hulking figure behind her. It was vaguely pony shaped, and Twilight could make out what looked like a helmet belonging to the ancient pegasus tribe. The rest of the being was completely alien to her, however. It had a massive set of wings that unfolded behind it, and Twilight could see bolts of lightning coursing through the being's entire body. She couldn't tell if it was wearing armor, or if that was simply the shape of its body.

Dash herself had changed, too. Her eyes weren't glowing anymore, but she was now wearing an elaborate outfit. It looked like some weird cross between a Wonderbolts uniform and a typical "adventurer" outfit like Daring Do wore, with several extra bits of flair, such as a higher than normal collar and a dark blue coat that draped behind her slightly.

Dash took a few deep breaths, looking around her, and at the being behind her. "So... was this that 'persona' thing you guys mentioned?"

Flexing her wings, and glad to see that they were completely unobstructed by the outfit, she gave an almost evil grin. "Because this is bucking awesome!"

"So ponies can gain personas too," Fox observed, taking the initiative to walk up to Dash's position.

"I mean, makes sense, if they can have palaces and shit," Skull said, also getting into the new formation.

Joker was the next to walk up, the rest of the team following when he did so. He gave a smirk to Dash as he looked down at her.

"Think you can handle yourself?"

Dash returned the smirk tenfold. "We'll never know unless be beat the hay out of these guys, right?"

Yearling, meanwhile, had already started pulling out of the room. "Men, kill them all! That's an order!"

The shadows immediately convulsed and turned into their true forms, revealing themselves to be a gathering of cockatrices and even a couple manticores that were far more beastly than normal.

"Stand down, you have no chance against Commander Yearling!" one of the shadows called out to the group.

"'Commander', huh?" Dash shot back. "Funny, she doesn't exactly strike me as the leading type, now that I know better." She took note of the newfound power within herself, and took hold of it. "Now, time to kick some flank!"

Twilight could only watch the proceedings, dumbfounded.

"You get 'em, Dashie!" Pinkie cheered on, somehow already recovering from the sheer bizarre nature of the scene before her.

The power within Dash surged, and she pointed a hoof. "Let's go! Hurricane!"

The being behind her- her persona- stomped the ground, and lightning arced out into each one of the nearby shadows. While it hurt the cockatrices, it was particularly devastating against both of the manticores, who were knocked flat by the attack.

Dash capitalized on this, and immediately took to the air before diving directly into a weakened cockatrice, turning it into black mist.

At the same time, Mona cut into another cockatrice before jumping back, finishing it off with a round from his slingshot. The moment he hit the ground, Joker took the lead, and followed up with a (somewhat unnecessary) twirl before his mask vanished in a puff of blue flame.


A flying human skeleton with a trumpet materialized behind him, and proceeded to play something unable to be heard by mortal ears, causing all the nearby shadows to stagger, their movements slowed.

This action wasn't missed by Twilight, however. "Wait, I thought...?"

Fox dodged a strike from one of the manticores that had recovered and countered with his own persona. "Goemon! Strike!"

A large, almost caricature-like figure appeared behind him, and then proceeded to swing its own blade at the shadow, killing it in the process.

"Dance, Carmen!"

Suddenly, geysers of fire erupted around the rest of the shadows, killing several of them while setting the remainder ablaze, although it didn't stop them from fighting.

"Nice work, Panther!" Mona complimented, before dodging a strike from a burning cockatrice.

In the meantime, Dash had taken out a few other shadows, including the other manticore, with weaponized gusts of wind from her persona. Before she could finish another cockatrice, however, one of them managed to land a hit on her from behind, causing her to grunt in pain as she was knocked flat.

Her attacker just barely had time to get another attack in before it was knocked back by gunfire, eventually succumbing to one of the several shots that was put into it. Dash looked to see where it came from, only to get quickly picked up by Joker, his pistol still smoking in his other hand.

Not long after, the last shadow had fallen. Putting away his blade, Fox left his combat stance and stood straight up. "Is that all of them?"

"I think so," Mona answered. "Pretty impressive power there, Dash."

Dash went to wipe her forehead, bumping her hoof into her mask in the process. "Yeah, that was... nothing."

Suddenly, she stumbled off her hooves, before picking herself back up.

"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight called out, instantly at her side. "Are you okay?!"

"Y-Yeah, Twilight," she stammered out, "Just... just tired."

"We should probably go then," Skull suggested. "Gonna need everyone at max performance if we're gonna erase this place."

"How unusually sensible of you, Skull!"

"Can it, cat!"

Twilight turned on them before their bickering could advance any more. "Hold on just a second! Explain what just happened right now!"

"It's too dangerous here," Queen said. "Let's pull out to reality for now. We'll explain then."

Although she wanted to disagree, Twilight reluctantly nodded.

The trip back to the palace entrance was a quick one, and as soon as everyone was gathered, Joker took out his phone.

"Now returning to the real world. Thank you for your hard work."


View Online

The outside of Yearling's house was exactly the same as they had left it. Dash was clearly swaying on her hooves, despite leaning against Pinkie for support.

"You don't have to push yourself, Dash," Makoto told her. "Awakening to your persona is an exhausting process. We were all the same way."

"I'm fine," Dash said, pushing off from Pinkie to stand on her own. "I just... need a little rest, that's all."

"Still, you did pretty effin' great for your first time with your persona," Ryuji complimented. "Ain't that right, Joker?"

Akira nodded.

"She has promise."

Once she was sure that Dash was okay on her own, Twilight turned to the thieves. "Okay, we're safe now. Start explaining what just happened."

Morgana took center stage as he explained. "She embraced her other self, her source of rebellion. The process isn't exactly... pleasant, as you saw, but it's a necessary part to tear off the mask one wears in their life, both metaphorically and literally."

Twilight simply took in the explanation, not entirely grasping the concept, but willing to put that aside for the moment. Instead, she singled out Akira. "What about him? I saw him using two of those personas!"

Morgana looked up at him. "Joker is special; he can use the power of the wild card, meaning he can use multiple personas at will."

Twilight's eye twitched. "But that fully contradicts everything you just told me about personas!"

"To be quite honest, we tend to not question anything regarding Joker or his actions," Yusuke added.

Twilight just let out an aggravated sigh. "Alright, sure. So where does this leave us?"

"Dash needs to rest up for now," Ann said, "and then tomorrow we can head back inside."

"Wait, we?" Twilight asked. "What do you mean-"

"Hey, guys! What's up?"

Everyone jumped at the new voice, and turned to see A.K. Yearling walking up to them, saddlebags full of merchandise of herself. She stopped some distance away, and looked at the pie that Pinkie had left on the table. "Oh, nice, you get that for me?"

Seeing the hostility growing in the ponies' eyes, Makoto took the lead. "Y-Yeah, we figured we'd stop by and see you outside of the con."

Twilight gave her a confused look, but said nothing.

Meanwhile, Pinkie followed Makoto's lead. "Uh, yep! It was gonna be a small surprise party! But, uh..." She looked at Dash, who was stuck between glaring at Yearling and nearly collapsing, and rushed over to pull her into a small hug, shocking the glare off her. "Dashie's real tired from the trip over here, sooooo we were about to head back to the hotel!"

Pinkie capped off her statement with a slightly-too-wide smile.

"Nah, it's fine," Yearling said. "As much as I've traveled, I know how it is. Well, I'll see you guys tomorrow!"

With that, she used a wing to lift the pie onto her back, before heading into her house, the door opening normally. A few seconds after she went in, Akira reached for the door himself, only for it to ripple the same way as it did before.

"So the palace owner can enter the palace area unaffected..." Morgana muttered, just loud enough for the others to hear. "Interesting..."

"What was that?" Twilight asked, trying to keep her voice low despite her confusion. "Why didn't she-"

"We'll explain on the way back," Futaba said, falling in step behind Akira, who was already heading back towards town.

Once the group was entirely moving and a good distance away from Yearling's house, Morgana spoke up.

"A person who has a palace doesn't remember what happens within that palace. After all, their other selves within that palace is their shadow; as in, the deepest, darkest part of themselves. In other words, a person's shadow shows how they truly feel, even if they don't want to admit it to themselves."

Twilight nodded along with the explanation, slowly starting to catch up to the concept. "So, she doesn't remember anything we did?"

"Not a thing."

"But the reverse situation is much different," Futaba took over the explanation. "Since palaces are based around cognition, anything the palace ruler sees in the real world will be reflected within the palace. So, for example, say there's a locked door within the place that the person's palace is based in. In the palace, this could manifest as an impenetrable door of some kind, typically fitting within the 'theme' that the palace appears as. With me so far?"

Twilight slowly nodded. "I think so..."

"Good. So," Futaba continued, "if the ruler sees the door unlocked in the real world, and they know for a fact that they didn't unlock it, that would mean that their cognition that the door was impossible to get through would be proven false. As a result, the door in the palace would spontaneously open, allowing us to infiltrate even deeper into the palace."

Dash just stared ahead, ear twitching as she went over the brief lesson. "I don't really get it..."

"That's fine, it takes some getting used to," Ryuji said. "If you ever get lost, just sit back and let us handle the details. Hell, that's what I did for a while when we first got started."

Akira gave a wry smile at that, but said nothing.

Eventually, they arrived at the hotel. Dash was practically falling on Pinkie, she was so tired.

"So... we'll end up changing her heart, right?" Dash asked, looking at the thieves, getting various nods in response. "So... what will happen?"

Makoto answered her. "Her palace will disappear, and her desires with it. However, her crimes will remain, and the guilt will most likely push her to confess everything publicly. While she wouldn't get arrested for writing books based on faked adventures, her shadow did mention something about 'underground contacts'."

Dash nodded, clearly understanding the implication, and thought to herself before reaching a conclusion. "Okay. Let's do it."

Twilight was slightly shocked. "You reached that decision pretty quickly..."

"She's been using me this whole time," Dash explained, wearing a dark smile. "I have to do this."

"Well... okay. I trust your decision, Dash."

Pinkie then helped Dash inside the hotel, both of them saying their goodbyes as they did so.

Now alone with the thieves, Twlight turned to address them all. "The convention lasts through to next week. Will that be enough time?"

"Oh, that's fine!" Haru said. "We've been able to tear through palaces in far less time!"

"Yeah, if this guy knows anything," Ryuji said, patting Akira on the back, "it's good scheduling."

Morgana smirked. "We both know I'm the real brains behind his decisions."

"You sure about that?"

Morgana shot a playful glare at Akira. "Hey!"

After the group shared a small laugh, Makoto spoke up. "We'll probably come back tomorrow. Does that sound good?"

Twilight nodded. "While I can't begin to understand your methods yet, I'm at least thankful you're willing to help."

"Then we shall see you tomorrow," Yusuke said, as Akira pulled out his phone.

And with that, the Phantom Thieves once again vanished into thin air. Twilight's eye twitched trying to figure it out, but she quickly gave up on that line of thought in favor of checking up on Dash herself.

It was going to be a long road ahead, that's for sure.

The sun was already starting to set on Tokyo by the time they got back, but Akira already had plans, so he and Morgana said their farewells to the others and went into the city.

After ducking into an alleyway, Akira was pleased to see that a certain store was still in place, entirely unchanged from the last time he was there.

As usual, the inside was completely devoid of life, save for the surly-looking man behind the counter, feet propped up as he read from a gun magazine.

The man at the counter looked up at the sound of the door chime, and cracked a smile as he sat up properly. "Look who's back in town."

Akira returned a smile of his own as he stepped up to the counter, before shaking his hand.

"How's business, Iwai?"

"Heh, gotta admit, it hasn't been the same since the Phantom Thieves left town," Iwai said, giving a knowing look at Akira. "But something tells me that business is gonna pick up again, am I right?"

"Something like that."

Iwai chuckled as he started looking through his inventory. "So, what're you guys gonna do this time? Any big plans for the city?"

"You could say we're operating out of town."

"Oh, laying a little low, are we? Well, can't say I blame you." As Iwai started putting together the things Akira picked out, he continued talking. "Apparently, ever since you guys stopped working, the clans have been antsy; something about them being afraid they're gonna be targeted."

At Akira's questioning glance, he elaborated. "Tsuda's keeping me informed when he stops by now and then. Not for anything business related, mind you, just personal visits. Just like old times..."

Before he could get too far gone in nostalgia, Iwai shook his head. "Nevermind. This everything?"

Once Akira nodded his head and started handing over payment, Iwai continued talking.

"I've heard that the cops are a little antsy, too. As far as I can tell, they got you pinned as the leader of the Thieves, but they're still debating whether or not that's true. After all, there's still very little evidence that your group even existed, no matter how hard they dig."

Akira smirked.

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Iwai let out a genuine laugh. "Fair enough, kid. Just try to stay alive, alright? I still don't know how fake weapons help you, but you better not waste them, anyway."

Akira thanked him, before exiting the store, Morgana struggling to not get poked by the small pile of new equipment in his bag.

"Glad to see he's still doing alright," the cat commented. "Maybe we should ask how his son's doing, next time we come here."

Akira nodded in agreement, and started walking back out of the alley-


-only to bump into someone on his way out. Thankfully, neither of them dropped anything or fell down, so Akira quickly muttered an apology to whoever he ran into.

"Oh, don't worry, it's fine," the other person- a short, blue-haired woman, he noticed now- said. "I should've paid attention to where I was going."

Before Akira could say anything else, she continued walking into the alley. He was barely able to make out a notebook in her hands before she went into Iwai's shop.

"Huh, he really does have other customers," Morgana noted as they started heading back to Leblanc. "Who knew?"

The rest of their trip home was uneventful, but there was still time in the night by the time they got up to the cafe's attic. With nothing else to do, Akira spent the rest of the night making tools, in preparation for the journey ahead.

They were officially back in business starting tomorrow, after all. Best to be prepared.


View Online

The next day, the Phantom Thieves returned to Equestria, immediately grouping back up with Dash and Twilight. After some discussion, it was decided that Pinkie would instead stay behind, and keep tabs on Yearling as she roamed the convention hall. The humans doubted her ability to go unnoticed, especially with her color palette, but Twilight insisted that it would work out, although she admitted that she couldn't hope to explain how.

"So, tell me if I got this right," Twilight said, scribbling some notes onto a piece of parchment. "You go in, find Yearling's 'treasure', and then stealing it will change her heart and destroy the palace?"

Makoto nodded. "That is correct."

"Don't forget the calling card, that's the best part!" Ryuji added.

Twilight tilted her head. "Calling card?"

"We'll explain later," Morgana said, bounding forward and turning towards the group. "For now, we should focus on infiltrating the palace. Joker?"

Akira nodded, pulled out his phone, then stepped through the front door, the others following through the rippling portal that appeared.

The inside of the palace was how the others remembered it, including the hole in the fence that they made the first time.

Just like before, the Thieves had been changed into their outfits, with little reaction among them. This time, however, Twilight was the only one unchanged, as Dash was once again wearing her own new outfit.

"Woah, that's pretty cool," she commented, looking herself over. "I could get used to this."

"Oh right, we almost forgot!" Noir said. "She needs a code name, too!"

Dash raised an eyebrow. "Code name?"

"We can't exactly go calling out your real name while in the palace," Oracle explained. "Plus, it fits with the whole 'phantom thief' thing."

"Hmm, makes sense," Dash agreed. "I can't think of anything, though."

"How about 'Fast Horse'?" Skull suggested, only to get hit by Panther. "Ow, hey!"

"That won't work, you idiot!" she chided. "It needs to be at least a little clever!"

"Perhaps 'Spectrum'?" Fox said.

"Nah, doesn't seem right," Skull said. "Plus it's too close to her actual name."

"Any ideas, Joker?" Mona said, poking him in the shin.

After a moment of thinking with a hand to his chin, Joker nodded and snapped his fingers, getting the attention of everyone else.


The others looked at each other, waiting for any objections to be raised, but none came.

Oracle giggled. "Oh, I get it. Clever."

Twilight just shook her head. "I don't get it..."

"Hmm, I like it. Alright, I'm Indy, from now on!"

"What about Twilight?" Noir asked. "Shouldn't she have one, too?"

"But... I don't have a persona," Twilight protested.

"Same principle applies," Mona said. "Although it'll be harder to come up with one without an outfit to base it on..."

"What can you do, anyway?" Skull asked, blunt as ever.

"I mean, I know quite a bit of magic, both offensive and defensive," Twilight said. "I'm not sure how helpful it will be, but..."

After some more thought, Panther spoke up. "Maybe 'Magician'?"

"Better than I'd come up with," Skull admitted.

"It is fitting," Queen added.

Joker just nodded.

"Then it's decided," Fox said. "You are now Magician."

"I... guess it works."

"Alright, enough talk!" Indy said, flying to the front of the group, pointing a dramatic hoof at the compound before them. "Let's get in there and get that treasure!"

"Hell yeah!" Skull cheered.

Joker just chuckled as he retook his position at the head of the party, the others following him through the fence.

Time to get to work.

After a quick detour to the warehouse they visited last time to pick up that map of Equestria, at Magician's insistence, the group started heading deeper into the base, aiming for the main building in the center of the area.

It was easy to find the front door, but it took a bit more time to find a more subtle entry that wasn't constantly watched by shadows. Thankfully, Oracle was able to spot a way in, in the form of a window that Joker was able to pick open.

Once the coast was clear, everyone slipped inside, finding themselves in a small storage room. Seeing nothing of interest inside, Joker cracked open the door, before waving for the others to follow as he started jogging through a hallway.

"So, Oracle, we headin' up or down?" Skull asked.

Despite her running, she was able to pull information up around her just fine. "Looks like... the treasure is below us!"

"Shouldn't we check out the top of the building, first?" Indy suggested. "I mean, there might be something else that's useful up there."

"It would be best to head straight to our objective," Queen replied. "The longer we're in here, the more chances of something going wrong."

"Actually, I think Indy might be right," Noir added. "After all, I'm sure we're going to run into some kind of barrier at some point. Perhaps the upper floors might have some way to get past them?"

"We should focus on finding a map, first, Mona said. "We can decide a course of action then."

Suddenly, Joker put up a hand, telling the others to stop. Just ahead of them, a shadow was starting to come around the corner, though it hadn't noticed them yet.

"In here!"

Moving quickly, Joker shoved open a nearby door, the others following his lead.

On the bright side, the room looked like a small security room, which would no doubt prove useful.

Unfortunately, the room was already occupied by a shadow, who noticed their entry immediately.

"Intruders!" it called out, before dissolving and reforming into a large manticore. Despite being at the front of the group and the closest to danger, Joker just smirked.

"Damn, no choice but to fight!" Mona said, jumping into a combat pose.

"You say that like it's a bad thing!" Indy retorted, her mask already starting to dissolve as she summoned her persona.

A bolt of lightning was sent out by her persona, but the manticore saw it coming and managed to jump out of the way just in time.

"Let's go, Captain!"

However, it was too slow to also avoid the bolt of lightning sent out by Skull's persona, which easily knocked it to the ground. Wasting no time, Joker immediately waved for the others to strike, with Mona being the first one to react.

"Time for some bloodshed!"

The ensuing flurry of blows was almost completely unreadable to Magician, and she was only able to catch up to the action once they stopped, leaving the manticore much worse off, but not quite finished.

Suddenly, before any follow-up attacks could be delivered, the door to the room was busted open, and the shadow from the hall burst in, before transforming into another manticore.

"Stay sharp, there's another one!" Queen cautioned.

Joker didn't respond to her, instead deciding to deliver his own attack.


That same skeleton with a trumpet appeared behind him, but this time it fired a set of projectiles from the instrument, which struck the shadows multiple times. In fact, the new arrival was especially devastated by the impacts, and was knocked back entirely.

Instead of pushing his newfound advantage, Joker instead waved for someone else to deal another blow.

"Indy, go!"

"On it! Knock 'em down, Hurricane!" Once more, she fired off a bolt of lightning, and this time it hit its mark as one of the manticores was finished off.

Now back to only one opponent, the thieves closed in quickly, with all of the non-pony members holding up the last survivor with their firearms.

"What, you want something from me?" the shadow asked, almost mocking. The others stayed silent as Joker spoke.

"Lend me your power."

"Yeah, as if!" The shadow said. "As if I'd betray Commander Yearling for-"

It didn't get to finish, as Joker fired his gun right in front of the shadow.

The threat seemed to work. "Actually, now that you mention it, I think I remember now."

The shadow got back to its feet, but no one else made any movements. "I'm not from here, I live in the heart of ponykind. I'm Manticore, and now I'm part of you, too."

With that, the shadow dissolved into a soft blue glow, which then gathered into Joker's mask, before the glow faded with one last flash.

"Alright, that's all of them for now!" Oracle reported. "Nice work, everyone!"

"What did you do at the end there?" Magician asked. "And what did it mean, 'I live in the heart of ponykind'?"

"These shadows don't belong to any one person," Mona explained. "Rather, they're part of the collective unconsciousness. They're attracted to palaces like this, where they fall under control of the palace ruler." He patted Joker on the leg. "They can also be turned into personas by this guy."

"Anyway, let's get lookin' for that map," Skull interrupted, starting to rifle around the room.

"Hey, careful, Skull!" Oracle shouted, trying to stop him from damaging anything.

"Wait, do these monitors actually show anything?" Queen asked, walking to the front of the security room. Sure enough, the few monitors there that were turned on simply kept flipping between static images of generic rooms around the base, with no special landmarks in sight, or even any movement from shadows.

Oracle also checked them out, her holograms flashing to life around her. "Hmm, you're right. These aren't actually connected to anything."

"But why would Yearling have a security room that doesn't actually do anything?" Indy asked.

"Perhaps it's a projection of her own mind," Fox theorized. "Maybe she keeps up the illusion of security around her house, when in reality it's just a red herring?"

"That... makes sense," Queen admitted. "But that doesn't mean we can take it easy just yet. There are still shadows all over this building." She turned to Skull, who was still tearing the room apart. "Find anything yet?"

"Bingo!" Skull shouted out, yanking a piece of paper from a file cabinet before setting it down on the table the monitors were suspended above.

Oracle started to scan over it, both with her eyes and with her holograms. "Well, we were right about the area below us being blocked off. There's a security door listed on here by the east end of the first floor."

"And this map is only the part that's above ground," Panther added, pointing to the map. "So we should probably head to the top floor, for now. There's a command room up there, see?"

"Good idea, Panther," Mona said. "We might find a way into the lower levels from there."

"Very well then. Since we now have a plan, shall we be off?" Fox asked, resting a hand on the hilt of his katana.

Joker adjusted his glove as he turned back to the door.

"Let's get moving."

The convention hall was packed with ponies of all sizes and colors, many of whom were trying to match a particular pony's colors.

Somehow, Pinkie Pie managed to slip in and out of the crowds with no second looks, despite her striking colors. She was also able to keep perfect track of Yearling within the crowds, which should not have been possible for a number of reasons.

Regardless of the exact method, Pinkie expertly tailed Yearling, always managing to duck out of sight before she got spotted. She wasn't sure what she was expecting to catch her doing, but it was still her role to fill, and so she would do it.

That being said, Yearling was being a very boring pony to tail so far. All she had been doing was stopping at the various stands throughout the convention, buying a not-insignificant amount of merchandise and stuffing the items into her saddlebags. Yearling also never said anything more than some usual pleasantries when talking with the ponies running the stands.

Eventually, just when Pinkie was starting to grow bored of her "assignment," another pony started walking alongside Yearling. Pinkie could tell that it was a stallion, but couldn't make out any other details underneath an Ahuizotl costume.

"Is everything ready for the end of the convention?" he asked, making Yearling jump sharply in place as she turned slightly towards him, not breaking her stride.

"Jeez, don't sneak up on me like that!" she whispered, just loud enough for Pinkie to overhear. "And I told you, minimize contact at the con!"

"Apologies, but my underlings are growing anxious."

Pinkie thought she could hear a slight accent on his words, but she wasn't entirely sure.

Yearling let out a sigh as she turned forward again, trying to look casual. "Anyway, everything's fine on my end. The announcement should go as planned."

The stallion nodded. "Also, I hear that you've been visited by Princess Twilight and her rainbow friend again. Is this true?"

Yearling hesitated slightly. "Yeah, but don't worry about it. They don't know a thing, and it'll stay that way."

"Very well, I trust your judgement."

With that, the two of them split up into the crowd again. Pinkie thought about tailing the stallion for a bit, but decided to stick with Yearling. She'd just have to make sure to tell the others about what she overheard.

"Go, Milady!"

"'Effin' nice one, Noir!"

"Indy, watch out behind you!"

"I see 'em, don't worry!"

Magician just watched as the Phantom Thieves did their work against the shadows scattered throughout the hallways and rooms they entered. It was quite impressive how they were able to so effortlessly fight alongside each other. Even Indy was able to fit into their odd choreography just fine, despite being a new member.

Of course, it wasn't an entirely flawless operation. On several occasions, one or more of the group would be hit with either a blast of magic or a direct attack from a shadow, but as soon as they were in the clear the injuries were almost instantly fixed up by one of the others' personas.

Even though Magician said she would try and help, so far the only thing she actually had to do was project a shield for herself once in a while. It didn't quite make her feel useless, but rather that she was out of her element.

Despite the semi-constant fighting, the group made steady progress through the facility. They had ascended two staircases by now, and according to Oracle the command room was now on the opposite end of the current floor.

Before they made much progress on the floor, however, Oracle stopped them. "Hold on, it feels like there's a safe room nearby."

Indy tilted her head. "Safe room?"

Mona explained as he walked up to a door that was slightly shimmering in place. "Areas in palaces where the effects of cognition is lower than usual. Because of that, shadows won't go inside at all, which gives us time to plan and regroup."

The interior of the room was a nondescript office, but everyone could see how it would occasionally fade into a view of what looked like a room in Yearling's actual house, before the palace scenery faded back in.

"Woah... This is trippy," Indy commented.

"Oh, nice, they got vents in here, too!" Oracle said. "We should be able to get back here with little issue from the outside."

"We don't have much time to rest," Queen cautioned. "We should get moving again soon, Joker."

After he finished writing something down in a small notebook, Joker put it back in his pocket and nodded, before leading the group back out into the hall.

Curiously, as they got closer and closer to the command room, the number of shadows started to drop dramatically. It got to the point where they were able to easily slip past the few shadows that were there entirely, without a fight at all.

It wasn't long at all before they made it to the target. Just as he had for most of the excursion, Joker took the lead and opened up the door, slipping inside as the others did the same.

Perhaps "command room" was a bit of a mislabeling on the part of the map. In reality, it was little more than a mildly spacious room with single large desk at one end, flanked by a pair of bookshelves. One wall was almost entirely taken up by windows, showing an impressive view of the base below them.

Much to their relief, the room was entirely empty.

"Alright, let's get diggin'," Skull said. "We gotta find a key or something in here, right?"

"Hold on, there's something here," Panther said, walking over to the desk. There, another map of Equestria was set out, with South Equestria circled, just like the map that Magician had taken.

"Wait, it says something else..." she said, levitating the map towards her to read what it said. "It's just one word, underlined... 'reclaim'."

"But what could it mean?" Fox asked.

"Whatever it means, Yearling definitely has plans for Southern Equestria," Queen theorized. "I'm sure that we'll find out more as we get deeper into the palace."

"Let's just find a way to get into the lower levels," Mona directed, hopping on top of the desk. "Now, where would she hide a key..."

Joker looked behind the desk.

"The bookshelves?"

"It would make sense," Indy nodded. "A lot of her stories involve something hidden inside a book."

One by one, the group starting taking books off the shelves and flipping through them, before throwing them aside when they didn't find anything of interest, much to Magician's annoyance.

"What the eff? Most of these are blank!" Skull complained, tossing another book behind him.

"And the ones that aren't are just copies of her books," Indy added, being notably more careful with those books compared to the others.

Meanwhile, Noir instead searched the drawers on the desk, finding them to be annoyingly empty.

At least, until she opened up the last one.

"Guys, I think I found something!"

Everyone immediately stopped their search as she held up a battered notebook. The others gathered around as she set it on the desk and opened it, but the contents were less than favorable.

"Dude, where are pages?" Skull said.

"Looks like they've all been torn out..." Mona added, somewhat downcast.

"Well, back to the shelves," Panther lamented.

Indy, however, held a determined look on her face. "Hey, someone tear out a blank page for me."

The others gave her confused looks, but Skull went ahead and obliged. "If you say so..."

Joker, meanwhile, caught onto what she had in mind.

"Fox, do you have a pencil on you?"

"Of course," he replied, pulling one out of his pockets. "What kind of artist do you take me for?"

Joker didn't answer as he snatched the pencil from his grasp at the same time that Indy aligned the paper with the back cover of the notebook. He quickly scribbled down the entire page, revealing a rather large amount of undecipherable writing, as if it was all layered over itself. By the time Joker finished, however, there was a single piece of writing at the bottom of the page that was legible.

"'Autumn Wisp'," Oracle read out loud. "Wonder what it means."

"It sounds like a name..." Magician thought out loud, putting a hoof to her chin in thought.

"Do you think it's important?" Panther asked.

Joker was also lost in thought, before he looked up at the others.

"Maybe it's a password?"

"You know, that could be it," Mona said, nodding. "In any case, we should hold onto this."

Nodding in agreement, Joker pocketed the paper.

"So, uh, are we going back downstairs now?" Indy asked. "Because, I gotta be honest, I'm starting to feel kinda beat."

"Yeah, same here," Skull added. "Think we should call it quits for now?"

Looking over the other members of the team, who were all showing varying amounts of fatigue, Joker sighed.

"Let's pull back for now."

With that, they headed back to the safe room, before slipping their way back outside and to the entrance of the palace.

When they made it back to the convention, Pinkie was quick to break off her observation of Yearling and join her friends. "Hey guys!"

"Hey Pinks," Dash returned the greeting, before glancing around her and lowering her voice. "Find out anything about Yearling?"

"Mmhmm." Suddenly, Pinkie was all business. "She talked with some stallion on the convention floor. Couldn't see who it was, they were in costume. All I could tell is that they were working for her, and that Yearling was going to make some kind of announcement on the last day of the convention."

Twilight started thinking out loud. "South Equestria... Autumn Wisp... and now an announcement from Yearling..."

"Whatever it is, I doubt it's good," Ryuji commented.

"So that means we got until this Sunday," Dash said. "That's the last day of the con."

"Well, everyone did really well today!" Haru beamed. "At this pace, we'll be done in no time."

"We should still be careful," Twilight said, before glancing at her saddlebags. "I'll try and dig up as much info as I can about what we found. Hopefully, I'll be able to find something by tomorrow."

"Thank you, Twilight," Makoto said. "As for us, I believe it's time to go home for now."

Akira agreed, before walking off while taking his phone out. Once the rest of the humans (and cat) were with him, he activated the nav, and they vanished back to their own world.

"I'll never get used to that," Dash commented. "Well, I'm gonna hit the hay."

"Me too!" Pinkie said, hopping alongside Dash. "Being sneaky is hard work!"

Without a word, Twilight instead went in the other direction, heading for the local library.

She had some work to do, after all.

Sins of the Ṕ͢a̧͡s҉t̷͟ (April Fools Chapter)

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Sojiro didn't even bother looking up from his newspaper as Akira descended the stairs. "You and your friends going out to do more stuff today?"

He nodded.

Sojiro chuckled. "Well, stay safe. Wouldn't want that gi̷rlf̛riend̕ of yours to get worried."

Akira only gave a sheepish smile in response, while Morgana chuckled from within his bag.

When the two left the store, F̛úta͏b͠a̶ was already outside waiting for them.

"You're up early," Morgana commented.

"Everyone else is already at the house," F̷uta̢ba explained. "We were just waiting on you guys."

Akira just adjusted his glasses.

"Let's get going."

With the convention still going on, the Thieves went back into the palace with no issue, Pįǹk͢i͘e continuing her duty of tailing Yearling.

"So, what's the plan from here?" Ma͟g͘įc̀ian asked.

Qué̷e̵͠ń͢ provided her with an answer. "We can most likely get into the lower levels now, so that should be our next destination."

Skull cracked his knuckles. "Either way, I'm ready. Just tell us when to go, Joker."

He nodded in response, and led the group into the palace proper.

Cu̵ŗi̕ously, t͘h͟ere͘ w͘e͠re͞ almo͞s̴t͏ ̢nǫ s͝h̕a̷dows̀ ҉i͟n̵ ͏t̷he͟ h́alls̢ th̵i̴s͟ tim͟ę. T̵hi̡s didn̷'t̸ go únn͝ot̶i͏c͏ed̷ ͏bý the o̢th̀e͘rs.̶

"͠Whér͠e̴ ̛is ev͘ery͘one̕?̶"̢ P̷̀a̶̢͝n͞t̸͢ḩ́͟͡e͘͝͝ŗ̶́͟͞ ̴͡ aske͜d,͠ l͝o͜ǫk͟i̛n̢g a͏roun̢d͠.

"T͘h́is͡ ̨is.̢.̛. re͡a͘l̶l͠y ͡od̨d͡," O̵͘̕͜ŗ̸a̧͘͝҉c̕͟͟l̷̢̡͘̕e̸̢͘͘͢ a̕dd͠ed̕. "I'm ̵bare͡l̨y ̛pick͠i̡ng͜ ͘án̴y͝thi̴ng up on̶ ̡m̀y̶ en̶d́.͟"͡

F͡ig̡uri͢ng t͠hat so͠m͟eth̸in͟g ̨wa͟s͡ w͘r͡o͞n̵g͟, Joker ma̶de súre ̡t̕o̢ ͡no̧t g͘o̶ ̧too͜ ́f͏a̸r ͜ahea͠d,͞ àn͟d́ ̵end͜e̛d up̶ ̛w̕al͘kin͢g̸ s̨i͘d̀e-́by̵-s̴id͢e ͠w̧it̷h̶ ̶Sk͘u̕l̢l a̢nd͡ Noi̸̢r̢.

Or̴̶̡̢̕a͏̷̷̢c̸ļ̶̵̴ȩ̢̛ s͏ú̷͜d͡d͜e͡n҉l̷̀y̴̢͘ ̧͘̕s̛͘͞t͢ò͢p͠p̢̛ȩ́d̨̨.͢ ̕͝͠"̡W҉̧a͏̡̕it̨,̛ Ì͘͜ ́t͞h̴̸̀in̢͠͏k ̸I͘͘͟'̶̸͞ḿ̛ ͟͜͝p̵i̷̴c̀k̛i̧ǹ͜ģ ͏́͘s̛҉o̶m̀e̶̡th̛i̸n̶̕g̀ ̢̢ưp̶̕.̸͝"

F̵o͢x̀͠ ̛l͘o̧òk̴ed͟ ̢̨a̧͜r̶̢ou̧n̡͡d ̷t̢͜h̴e̶͜m̢͠.̢̛̀ ́͟"S͟ò̴m̸̢͏e̶̷͠t͞h̶̢in̸͞g̀͢ ̨͟fee̸l̨s̨.͏.̷͝.̸̕ w̷̷͠ro͜ń̸͢g.̧̛͞"

M̵̧ơ͘n̵̕a̛͢ ҉̀͢ẁ͢a͜͏s͠ ͜j̷͡u̴̴̡s̢t̴͠ ͞à̸͟s̕ ҉̛ç̵͡ơ̡͟nf́͞͠u̢s̶͢҉e҉d́͟͝.̶̨ ̧"Wh҉͡a҉̵t҉҉ i͝n ̶t͠͏h̢͡e͞ ̸w̛or̵͡ld͟..̡.̷̡́?̡"͏͝

Joker l̢̛͢o̷o̶̵̡k̵͜e͞d̸҉̢ ̷̀b̨͘a̕͏c̵k͏͡ a̴͜t̛ ̷͢t̕͢h͢͝è̸ r̵͞e̴͝s̨t̶̕ ́͏҉of͏ ̢͡͝h͠i҉̴s̡̡ ̸teá͘m̵͟͜. ̀͢S͟o͢m҉et͘h̢inģ͏ ̵̢wa͞s̸҉n҉'t̢́ ͏̀riǵ̵ḩ̧t͟͢,͏̸̕ ̧̨b́͜u̶̵̕t͠ ͏̀wh҉̶at̢͘͞.́́.̵̧.͘?̵̀

Ṕ̛͜͠a͏̨̛̀n̵͡t̛͝h̶̡͜ę̡͞r̷̀͘ ̴́w̧̧̛͘͜à̀l͢͝k̡͟͏̢e̛͘̕͘d̶͡ ̀͏u̴͟͞p҉̷̶̢ ̶̷̸̵̨t̴̷̡͞͡o҉͜͏ ̕h̢̕͢i̧ḿ̷̨̀͡.͏̶̴̷̧ ̶͟͜"̷̡̀͡҉M̴̵a̷̕͢͠y҉̵̢͡b͘͞è̵҉͠ ̶͘̕͟w̡̨͘͠ę̶ ̧́s̸̸̕h̴͘o͜͠͏ư͜ĺ̸͟҉ḑ̡͟͝ ̶҉̛̀́h̸̵̶̢̨e̷̢͢a̧͠͠ḑ̴̛̀͡ ̧̛͘b̶̴̧̛͘a̵̡̡ć̷k̷̀͟,̕͏̵ ̶̛s̵̴͞o͘͠m̴̶e̸͢͝͞͞ţ̸̨͠h͢͝͡i̶̶̡͘̕ń́҉̶̴g͟͠ ̵̧̀͞͠d̶̛̀ò̵̶̵́e̷s̡̧ń̵͘͝'̴̴̧̛͞t̷̸͠ f̴̴̕͟͜e̴̴͢e̢͡l͏̶̷ ̢҉͢r҉̶͜i̷̧͞ǵ̴͟͞h̀́͞t̛́́͝ ̴́a͏͏̕͜ţ̷̕ ̕͘͝a̧̡͢l̕l̵̀.̵̨͡"͡͏

Q̴́͘͡u̷e̶̡̕e̢͟͢͏n̷̴̛͠ ̡̡͠n̷̛o̸̢͟͟d́́͘͢͝d̵̵̸͘͏e̸҉d̡́̕͡ ͢͏̡͟ì̸͡͠n̶͡ ̵̧̡͜͏a̧҉̶͡g̸̀͘͝ŕ̴͢͟͏e̕͜͢͞ę̶̕͢m҉҉͘҉̷e͟͡͝͝҉n̴̛͜ţ̧̕.̧͝͞҉ ̸͘͜͜͝"̧̢à̧͘͜s̸̨̢d͘҉̵g҉̷͜l͏̸̢̀k̶̴̡j̸̴b̧̢̀d̛̀̀҉n̛̛s̸̸͝f̵͘̕͠L̵͟K̸̨D͘͞͏̵̷Ś̢͞J̵̵͢͠͞F̸̢͟A̸;̢̕͜͞D͠L̸̛̕F҉K̷̕͘F̨D̄ͪ̍́̀҉̵̶̩̰̟͖̲͉̞̣̱͍̪̠̼̦̲̤͈͙̞L̡̨͓̰͍͓͎ͧ͆̿ͩ͋ͤͩ͐ͭ̽ͫ́̚͝F̨̣̳̠̬͈̟́͛͒ͬ̒ͧ̐͘K̷̴̡͎͕͍͖͔̟̟͉̂ͮ̇̀̐ͤͭ̿ͪ̓͐͛ͦ̏ͤ̃ͧ̚͞F̸̃͒ͯ̐̆̅ͫ̅͑̈̀ͤ̏҉̵̡͙̯̗̠͓͖̯̖̺̤͘A̤̠̤̬̹̺̰̰ͬ̊̔͑̐̿̀̂̓͜͡͞D̡͎͔̙̱̹͕̞͊̒̆̓͛͂́̉͠F̴̮̖̭͔͈̳̤ͣ̌̊̀̊ͣ̔͢A̸ͥ̇́̅̈͢҉͉͕̬̱͙̠̹̦̱̙̖͙̗̠̠͈̹̝S̛̻̤̘͈̟̮̲̦͊̀̓͐̊͐͒͒̿̉̏ͤ͌̅͌ͧͮͪ̓͟͡D̢̓ͧ͛͌ͩ̋͐̆͋ͨ͛̾̚҉̵̠̣͈̖̙̳͚̖̤͉̠̘̙͍̜̝͇F̷̜̰͔̙͓͉͍͎̗̺̲̥̰̯͇̌͛̈ͬͫ̀͐̆ͤ̐̓̽͡͡J̉̌̄͊̾ͩ̈̏ͣ̏̅ͤ͌̆͏̴͓̗̯̖͕̞̙̗̺̬͍̫A͓͙̟̩̟̳̮͚̻̟̜̫̖̦ͥ̉̓̒̆ͧ̅̄̍ͣ̾ͬͧ͟͝ͅL̢̖̮̼̦̖͓̬̳̞̝͎̞͖̝̝̩ͨ̊ͬͨ̂̀̓̏͑̀̍̓̇̿ͦ̓̔͜S̛̖̝̝̘͓̜̫͕͙ͮ̐ͫ͛̈́ͮ͂͆͗̋ͧ̿͆̔ͤͮ̂͟K̫̻̲̯̰̥͎͈̱̲̙̯̗̽̓́͆́ͮ̐͒̚̚͟͢ ̵͔̱͎̞̹̭̿̔̈̾̍͋ͦ͑̊̿̋ͤ̌͋̂ͣ̚̚͘͡l̴̸͔̜͙̩͎̜͓̬̫͙̣̝̱̥͙̘͇̥ͦ̿ͤ͊̅̓ͦ̇̿ͮ̄ͩ̃ͥͧ̉̀̀́̚͠ͅa̷̢͔̜͈̟̳̟͚̺̾͆̓̈́̽͂ͭ̂k͗̑͗͆̐ͧͮ͊̽͡҉̼̣̱̟̮s̛̜̘͍̤̭̬̖̈́ͬͫͮ̊ͣ̓̉̕d̢̨͖̫̗̘̬̥͔͕̺́̔ͯ̾ͥ̆̒ͤͨ̄̃j̷̛ͯ̄̉̂͏͜͏̳̼̠̮̙͍̳̯̳̤͇̺̟̩̤̤f̗̬̬͍̼͙̺̗̺͉̬͍̃̀͑̃͌̿͋̅̈́̓ͣ̎̔̈́ͤͧ͛̾͛̀̕͜ͅ;̮̬͙̤̥̼̘̳͔ͭͬ̎̄̔ͨ̔̉ͥ͜͝͞͠aͮ̓̀ͮͥ̓̋̎̓͗͏̢͏̸̯͓̖̥̳͇͔̫͓̥͈l̴̢̨̘̳͎͉͚͚̼̯͓̥͓͙͓͂ͫ̅̇ͥ͆ͪ͑̏̂ͫͣ̓̎̓͑k͋̆͒͂͑ͥͤ̃̇͐̀̋͋̾ͤͭ̂̚͏͖͙̫̰͎̭͉̥͖̹͈͔̕s̊̓̆̂̅͂̎ͭ̓̿ͧͧ̀̈́̏͑͋̋̅͢҉̤̼͉͙̞͈̝͔̮͚̻͈d̻̯̮̪̤̙̠̥̳̳̘̲̣̜̦̓̉̀ͧ̆ͧ̀͘ͅͅͅf̸̹̭͔͉̖̝̥̫͚̰͒ͯ̀͌͆̄ͥͥ̿͘ͅͅf̨̲̳͈͔̭̙͎͎̳̐ͥ̇ͫͤ̾͌ͭ͑̈́̈́̄ͨͦͥ͊dͯ̓̏ͦ̅̌͗͒͑̂͌ͩ͐̒҉̢̧̣̜̖̲̞̠͔̜̲̭̻̭͡͝ȃ̴̶̠͓̳̜͔͓̾́̅ͮ̏͊͗̐͐ͬͪ̂́5ͯͮ̌̀͋ͨ͑̿͋̌̒̚͡͏̨̻̖͙͖̫̺͈̯̞̬̩̞̞͇͕̜̺͟͝4̄̊ͥ̂ͮͧ̒̒̚͠͏̴̘͇̦̙͉̤̻͙̻̗̻5̛̛̗̭̙͍͎̙̹̣̪̗̱͈͓̲̜͕̪̗̀ͫ̊̑ͧͧ͞͠4̛̯̻͕̗̥͕͇̞͔̹͓̩̟̞̖͒ͦ̋̾ͅŝ̜̻̼̗̼̯͍͓͓̮̜̤̏͗̽̑ͫ͑̈̀͜͜ḓ̸̡̮̱͎͈͎̹͇̪͔̟̱͊ͤ͆ͫ͆͛̏̋͢͠f̨̠̝̹͖̯̜̩̹͉̤̤͇̻̖ͪ͗̎́͋̎̄̍ͩ̓͐̋ͮ̕a̷̧̧͚͚͚̞͓͙̪̖̬͖̫̘͔̍̂̆ͪ̐͒̆ͦ̓ͥͫͅs̃̌̆͂ͮ̎ͣ̇ͤ͌́̓ͩ͑ͩͤͨ͏̡̤͔̫͙dͮ͛̓͗̎ͧ͌̓͊ͯ͏̨̩̩̱̺̲̩͉̫́͟f̴̷̗̪̫̰̖̱̝̙̱̗ͫ̔ͬ͒̂ͮ́ͦ̽͘͜͠w̷̧͚̬̻̮͎̥̘̘͐̓̍͐͛͐̀̋ͣ̈j̉̍ͤ̋̆ͥ̿̆̄̆͜҉̀҉͏͙̬̗̥̺̯̤̩̙̥̱̖̖̳͚e̸͚̩̪͎̬͈̫̗͚̞̻͋͗ͯ̍ͭ͜͜͢l̪̦͕͚͇̩̦ͪ̆ͮ͒̿̋͒̄̆͑͗̈ͦͥ̆̄̇́͡k̵͒͆ͦͧͧ̓͘҉̨̮̬̭̲̯̯̹̥ğ̵͔̩͚͎͕̣͖̟̦̯͕̹̻̫͐ͫ̌ͮ̀̚͡ę̸̫͍̻̫͚͎̞̘̱̜͔̺̩̞̙̤ͩͨ͂̈́ͯͧ͆̈́̈̇̾̕͢ͅr̅ͣͣ̾̂̃̓͒ͩ͆ͩ̇̈͗͂̄͏̷̲̦̪̼̩̯̩͔̪̜̯̥̟̟̝̙̟̀̕ͅ3̶̛͔͔͚̩̻̲̳͔̹̬͍͚͈̯ͬͣͧͯ̉̔̊͑͊4̨̛̞͔̘͔̝̝̲̤̙̱̫̜̠͚̲͇͓̊̍̇̓̄͌̇ͣ̂̐ͬ̇͛̈̉͂̒͜͜5̨̡͚̩͓̘͖̗͉͍̺̬͚̃͌̋̃͑̑ͣͫ͞͡3̸̢̡̛̫̗̫̼͓̩͉͓̤̫ͦͬ͊͑́̈̓͌ͤͪ̽͆́̾ͫ͂̉͟6̧͙̮̜̞̮̬̣̝͚̗̳̗̼̪̾ͤͯͬ̆̎̍̀͜͡ͅA͐̋͊͆ͦ̆̚͏̼̹̬̹͎͍̗͇͙̪ͅȘ̵̺͍̭̣̥͉̜̖̥̬̰ͯ̎̐ͦ̒ͧ͛ͬ̈̀̃̋͘ͅḐ̦͍̺̺̫̲̺̹̠̞̗̜̩̰̆̓͛̔̈ͫ̅ͬͩ̈̃͑̓͜͜͠͝F̡̾͌ͬ̄́̽̇ͧ̕͏҉̬̹̮̙̫͚͖͝A̸̛̜̠̣̭̠̺̗͙̯͇͈̜̘̖̱̻̦ͦ̾͌͆ͧ̀ͮ̈́ͯͫ̾ͯͥ͛̊̑̚̕͘͡S̷̪̳̮̳̞̰͕̠̣͖̦̞̞̱͇͉̩̎̽ͮ͋̿͂͒̔ͫ́͢͟͜D̴̨͕̗͙̬̫̫̫̲̮̯̘̤͕̤̹̬ͮ̀̂̄̒ͮ́ͣͫ̐̾̀͜B̡̛̝̣̝̝̰̼͔ͧ̎͋̈́̽ͧ̓͐ͬͧͅĢ̡̛͕͖̯̰̫ͤ͗͂̈̇̌̽͢5̶̨̝͙̫̲̝͈̫̰͙͙̳͑̄̄̅͢ͅ4̶̷̹̫̪̮̤͕̻̖̤̺͎̠̓̐̽̓͊̆͊ͩ̒͟5̳͓͈̞͈͈̰͎̺̺̰̻̥̘̓̒̓ͮ̈́ͤ͗ͤ͌̃ͮ̅͒́́̚̚͢͡4̧̢͉̰̖͙͈̼͚̺̖̥̦̪͖ͣ̋͋̓̒̄̉͗̍̒ͬ͋̾̋7̵̴̧̛͖̫̞̰̭̜̯ͯͭ̾̍̌ͧ̿ͨͦ̚T̶̥͙͙͙̫͓̦̝ͮ͛͆̄͆̑͒͂̑͛̚̕͟͠G̶̬̥̝̦̦̲̗͙̰̗̥̩͓͗͐ͯ͗̍̓ͮ͆͐͗ͬͨ͂̈́͡S̷̷͉͎̫͓̩̒̉̇̇̎͑ͫ̋ͥ̎̀̏̍̊ͪ̐́́R̴̛̀̔ͩ͗ͨ̉̒͗̒̔͆ͧͤ͞͡͏͚͖̯̱D͗́ͭͤ҉̴̧̘̤̱͉͚̝͚̲͔͖̹͎͟A̾ͦ̇ͭ̉̋ͧ̓ͣ̇̍̽ͩ͛̐͗ͭ́̀͢͏̪̬̣̳̭̫͓̰S̴̡͔͉̫̲̭̫̘̩͙̜̹͎̻̦̮͐͒̇̏͊̈́ͧͦͧͦ̋ͤ̊̚͜͝D̨̢̞̖̱͔͙̣̲͎̋́̆ͯ̉̈́ͪͬ̅͒͟F̧͕͉͍̦͕̺͍͇̦̮̣͚̝̱͌ͨ͆̐̔D̢͔͍̦͖̬̠̭̞̰͇̦͙̜̖ͯ̄ͯ͋́̚͢ͅS̶͍̰̩͈̳̝̣͖̣͔̯̑ͫ̓ͬ̀̏̐̚͜͠A̷̠̙̥̙̫͍̬̰̘̲̼̣̖̝̮̅̂͛ͪ̄̾͊̎̀͠D̷̸̺͉͕͔̪̹̙̼͉̰̦͎̗̲̤̠̟̊̈́͌̋̔͊̆ͣ͂͋̃ͦ̓͑͊̇̏ͩ̀͘ͅͅD͋̀̈́ͣ̒ͥ̔̇ͦ̒ͥͭͭ̐ͥ̐͋̚҉̟̦̤̠̰̟̝̬̥̙ͅF̨̦̺͙̭̯̠ͩ̾ͪ͋ͧ̊ͤ̆͡Ą͕̤̭̙̠̩͕̭̟̩͍̜̟̯̋͊̿̂̎̔̂͆͐́͐ͯ͊̍ͨ̚ͅS̱̞͕̹̭̻͊ͭ̑̈ͧ̆̍̃͑ͧ͂̚͢͟͡͠͝ͅD̰̯̣̲̫̟̪̟̜͓̙͕͇̻̻̗͇ͥ̏̎̆̊ͧ̍ͦ͑͒̈́̒̽͂̓̈́͡͡ͅF̨̘̠̭̻̘̿͌̿̐̌̑͂̇̔̔ͤ̄̇̽ͣ͑̑̒́̚̕ͅA͈̜͉̯͕̰̝͎͕͚̪̤̬͈̖̭̲̘̪ͥͦ̅ͮ̒ͫ̇͠S̛͉̹͎̯̬̣̮̯̩̠̣̹͗̐̈́ͦ́̚͜͡͠D̵̨̡̤̯͓͙̒ͯ̾͋̋͊͂ͨ͘͢F̢̿́ͯ͌̉͏̞̥̼͕̯͓͍̲̘̦̭̯̠͓̹̭͚͍A̴̼̺̹̰̥̥͉̜͕̗͇͈̣͆͐̂ͤ̓͒̌͊͑͐̄ͩ̊̀͟S̝̞̝̱̞͈̟̭͇͕͈̘̜̻̈͒ͭ͢E̸̷̡͔͓̲̬̙̣͉̹͓̩̘̅ͦ̄́ͪ4ͬ̉ͨͫ̆͒ͧ̚͏̧̫̻̰̭̲͡5̴͚̲͎͓̼̺͎̹̞͎̟̪̹̯̼͉͌̋ͫͣ͆̓ͪͤͮ̓͌̚͠4̢̛̦̩͈͎̰͓̥͎͎͕̪ͤ̏̅ͮ͒ͪ͌̒̋ͭͧ̓ͨ̓̈́ͯ̏ͩ͘͜5̸̷̛̲̻̝͎̪̻̺̖̯̣͑ͦͩ̀̚̕3̓̍̓̇̒ͤͬ͊̔͊͏̡̱̬̤͉̣͕̙̘̞̬͖͉̺͇̮ͅͅ6̰͈̠͕̣̯͙̱̻̘͙̝̃̐̾ͮ͘̕d̨͚̪̰̠̺͉̝ͯ͌ͬ̓ͨͣͤ̊͊͜͝f͍͙̣͖͙͕͎̤̰͙̗͚̤͇͕̑̀̋ͦ͢s̶̬̝̰̖͈͌́ͣ́̇̈ͬͩ́́͝f̨̧̠͚͖̳̯̥̭͖̝͇̭̖̬̞̄ͤ̌̇͐̓̔̓ͫ͑ͣ̄d̥͎͕̟̻̱̳͙͓͎̟̫̯̈̃͒̏̔ͥ̋́̕͜g̵̊ͬͧ̽ͧͨ̎̈́̒ͮͩͮ̎̅ͯ͒̓ͦ̚҉̢̤̰̩̯͎̜̥͇͚͓̰̩̼f͑̀ͨ̏͠͏̷̢̢̪̪̜̞̺̜̮̼̟͕̖̹ͅg̶̛̬̩̟̘̭̘̒̏ͬ͋́̾̓̽͒ͥ̒ͥ͑͊̾͌ͫ̈́͘̕͝s̶̛̫̜̤͚̩͙͉̉ͪ͐̔͆̎̋͑̎̕d͕͈̘̲̓ͦ̂͛̇͛̄̊̉̓̅̀̕͟f̡̨̗̟̜̜͕̥̣̱̳͎̠̝̯̮͈̘̯̰͊ͫ͆̓̃͒̂͛ͬ̇ͦͬ̃ͧ̇̈́̅̚͢͞͡g̴̴̴̣̝͍̠̜͙̙̻̳̘̪͓͖̖̝̑̌̋̌͒ͩş̴̗̠͎̮̺̜̫͔ͣͤ̒ͮͪ̒̇͑̎ͬ͗̌̂̂́͠d͗̔ͤ̍͆̀̀̌ͤ͒ͩ͌̀͏̧͔̟̥͉̹̼̥̼̻̥́f̨̦̱͉̓̿ͯ́̌ͩͭͭ͋̿̔ͦͯͨ͂ͭ̚̚͠g̷̰̥̞̱͉͚̪̣̩̤͖̟̮̝͕͎̝̟ͤͮ̅͒͐ͣ̈́̌͐̒̍͑̀͐̄͑ͫ̚͞ş̷̘̭̩̠̲̫͓͖̠̯̫̲̌͋ͦͤ͐͗̂d̵̸̷̾̎ͨ̌̿ͣ̂̃͒ͪ̔͛͡҉͉̬̗̠͉͓͎͓͉̠̳̺̯̠̦͍̼f̒ͨ̾̊͊͌̆̅͂̓ͯ͗͘҉̤̞͙̟̤͞ͅf̴̧̺̲̗̯̭̺̜̖̠̣̼̜͕͈̻̯̰ͩ͆ͣ͊̄͠a͐ͬ̔̉̽̃̂́͒̎ͤͦ̌̏̃ͭ҉̨̜̗̙̹̼͖s̡̛̖̟͖̙̽͆̃̓͛̅̄ͭ́͗ͪ̏͊̿̄̐ͤͅl̛̹̬͍̲̘̣̗̠͚͙͙̺͓̦ͣ̽͐̀͘͝ķ̷̹͔̖̤̪̟̫̦̱͈̭̫̭̑̿ͮ͒͊̾̄ͮ́ͧͭ͢j̶̨͍̖̯͉͖̖̘͎̲̥͗̂̀ͫ̑͗̈͂̕͢͟ͅf̥̩̥̩̫̤̍ͪ͗ͮ̊ͥͦ͌̋̆͆̐͐͞ą̣̙̜̺̩̟͚̳̖̬͚̮͚̹̩͚̺̱̄̂̓̆̿̾̒̍͋̽̾ͥ͛͋̽̚͢͝ͅl̵̢̦̤̖͙̰̲̟̲͈̖͍͚̘̳̞̫̾̇ͥ͒͑͒̌̔̿̕͞͠ ̴̨̦͖̗̳̞͔̮̼̹̟̥̰̤̤̲͖̗͇̄̊ͩ͂́́͜ͅl̵̴̨̮̰͕̯̙͚̭̟͍̥̲̗̰ͬ̿̅ͪ̚͠͡s̵̷̵̡̢̭̰̼̥͉̬͙̖͙͒͌̌͂̽̈́̚a̶̷̛͍͇̫̼̝͔̘͓̳̫͔̼̓̑̃ͭͬ̊̓̆͘j̉̅̾ͭ̀͐̆̆̋̈́̾̇͏̢͖͎̱̮̜̰̜̭̙̲̘̟͖̯͇͜͝ͅf̷̸̘̹̝̬̜̣̪̓͊ͯ̔́̀ä́ͮ̃̔̔̍̔̉ͬ̆ͬ҉̩̠̗͙̖͖͕̝̠̖͇̤̥̲̙̻͡ͅw̷̢̥̣͉̲͉̲ͬͪͦ̓̃ͦ̒ͧ̿̾ͅe̶͖̹͎͈̰͉̥͉̜͓͎̖͎̩̹̺͋ͣͯͤͧ̑̽ͩ͒ͣ͐̐͆͜͠ͅo̸̧̹̫̦̜̠͈͉̹̞̮ͮ̆ͭ͛ͪ̎͌̈́̃ͣͣ̅i̴̵̡̲̘̲̻̦̻̘̭̊̊ͤ͂̓̉̈̉̾͒4ͣͣͮͮ̿̊͗͗̏̏̌͏҉̶̡̰̪͓̯̳̦̪̞͠0̸̴̯͍̱͙͇̳͊͒ͫ̿̈͛͑ͣ̅̌ͦ̿̃̀͞ͅ6̷ͮ͋̎̏̆͛ͪ͑̐̏ͯ̓ͤ͛ͨͨ͢͜͏҉̼̲̞̪4̹̗͈̞͈̫̳̹̲͓̤̤͉̬͓̌̏̊̅̃ͯ̋ͩ͊͋̈́̀ͬ̍͜͡?̧̥̱͍͓̖͙̺ͦͩ̅ͭ̑ͮ͌̋̓̆̊̓̀̐͛̈́̓̀̕ͅ>̴̸̘̥̝͓̲̝̜̩͓̟̩̜̖̖̣̻̠̪̃ͪ͋̂̇̾̏̒͒̾͛͐́̉̚̕͝͡<̵̛͍̹̝̩̦̜̖̳ͥ̒ͫ͐ͣ͋͐ͮ͊͛ͭ͋͗́L͌̇̎̆ͫ̓̒̀̚͘҉̷̖̙̮̬̰̣͍ͅ}̢͍̰͉̳̣̯̦ͨ̅ͥ̍̊̾̾ͥ̅̉͢͞{̵̷̶̷͔̲̭͙͓͎͍̑̇ͪͭ̑̿̈́̓̊̉́̐̊̀̊̋͗ͭ̒͠"̴̞͉̖̣͉̦͈̝̬̫͇̥̬̹͎̓͋͐͋̓͑͌̚̕ͅ:̶͓͎̩̫̻̗̮̣͖͚͇̟̆̀ͩ̈́̈́̽ͦ̇ͤ̈́̎̀̕̕͠J̢̤̗͔͓̰̞͓̳̗ͯ̍̒̔̉̆ͬ̂̐ͪ̕͞Ķ̴̸͔̰̙̞͙̮͓̃ͭ͐̔̿̽̓͗ͦ̓̏͢Ļ̶̶̢̜͙̳͍̈͆̄ͦͤͦ͒̋ͧ̆ͦ̉͑̆͂̔́͟J̶̸͗͋ͤ͒͆͠҉̙͍̭̫̠̱̣̖̩̬̹̳͇͔̼̥͞)̸̛̥̳͍̬̥͔̤̋ͤ̐̔̋̀_̶̢̡̛̫͍̖͙̰͕̬ͨ̿̅̐ͯͮ̂ͬͩ̄̌̐ͯͯ*̶̼̜̠͚̜̻͍̣͙͕ͫ̓̓̒͌ͦͬͩ͆͢&͗͐̓̃ͩͬͨͧ̄͋͏͎̘̬̱̲̰͇̫̙͚̀̀%̷̴̤̲̤̹͊͑ͬ̐̑̎̕$̴ͧ̃̑̕҉̶͓̫͉͕͙̙̤̖͖̻̣*̓ͨͨ̓҉̻̭̟̮̟͖̥#̨̡̱̣͔̦̫̗͓̥̍̉ͯ̓ͬ̋ͧ̚#̴̵̡͔͙͇̝̖̼̰ͪͨ̋̔́͠ͅ)̢̛͕̼̘͔͈̩̼̞͍͉͎̫͍͚͐̈ͬ̀̈́ͪͬ̉ͤ̌̾̓͂͗̃ͅl̴̛͖̟̦̜̭̲͇̭͇̟̗̜͕̲̰̟͓̭ͩ̽ͮͫͥ̽̊͟͢͝j̛̞̹͇̝̆͒̿͂̾͂̍̒̓́̀̕s͎̜̲̼͎̃ͮͥ̒ͫ̍̀̾̇̈̽͛͒ͪͬͭ͌̕͟͠d̐̎̈́̉̏̾ͩ̍ͬ̅́҉̢̖̼̻̻̺͓͙̮͙̬̦̼̥̮ͅf̸̨̧̼͎̪͚̫̺̟̥̫͉̟̺ͣ̈́ͩͩ͛̓͑̾̉̑͂̇̔̚a̷̮̫͕͎̫̙̼̗͉͇͗ͬ̀̐̆ͮ͝s̖̟̤̥̱̟͍̥̮͔̻̗̫̯̹͌͂̄̉͛͋̄͋ͥ͂̔̓ͫ̽̾̈̀̚͢͝f̴͕͉̘̻͙̭̂ͩ̈́̈ͤ̓̌̐̀́j̵̡̢̨̫̳͔̥͔̺̣͇̠̲͚̭̘͔̜͚ͣ͑ͯͧ͐͗̐̔̓͌̌͗ͦ̒̓d̷̨͔̼̤͖͖̼͔͉̭̹̭͔͓͉̹̲ͤͬͨ̄ͦͥ͒͊̓ͮ̒̃̒̀͠͞a̶̛̞͎̯̯͖͔̪̘̤̳̜̱̟̹̤̩̍̔̌̃̅̀͜͞s̵̴̴̠͓͇̭̞͉̹̝̖͔͉̤̃͒ͥͧ̓̏͊ͮ̈ͬͭ̈́̒͛͛̾ͩͅľ̴̂̒̊҉͎̗͈̳͍̝̺̜ͅͅk̵̵̫̘̫̼̪̬̠̲̘̥͍̘̞̳̥͈ͧ̾̑̽̈́ͣ͂͂̒͑̓͛̇́̽ͩ̅̀̚͘͠ͅd̶̸͇͈̠ͧͣ͂̎͆̄͑̌f̢͍̬̪̜̱̬̪̻͚̙͎̪͎̔ͭ͒ͨ̂̏̑̅́̀̚͜ͅj̴̨̡̝̤̰̲̠̼̞͚̹̤͖͍̞̬͙̩̺ͪ̏ͥ̾̅̃̔ͮͪͫ̽ͫ͊̃͋͡a̹̼̙̣͔̹̹͈̖ͤ̔̿̃͆ͮ̕͠ͅ;̷̺̝̬͇͉̯̣̱̙̬̏ͯ̓ͪ̄̏ͭ̾͂́ͅḽ̶̵̘̙̹̠̤̺̠̟̮̠ͥͤ͊ͦ̔͌̃̂ͯ̓̊͊̈́̏͋ͥ̄͋ͭ͟k̵̡̬͚͍̮͔̳̘͙̺̤̘͍̙̩̟̻͈ͩͭ̽̎̃ͬͪ͐̑̾̽̐̅̾͛̃ͮ͡ͅś̵̶̮̬͇̤̱͈̮̝̺̙̞̠̭̳̿̂̎̑ͧ̓ͤͩ̈́͘͞a̢̋̏̑ͮ̄͒͌̔ͬͤ҉̮̪̺̬̼̫̫ͅjͨͨ͋͊ͮ͑̏ͬͤͭ̆̈̃ͦ̕҉̱͎͎̦̪̻̪͈͇̥̱͚̲̗d̶̷ͩͤ͂̈ͤͬ̓ͭ̂ͩ̐ͪ̍͑̚͜҉̞̙̞̥͎̙̫̱̥̹͙̣͙D̄ͪ̍́̀҉̵̶̩̰̟͖̲͉̞̣̱͍̪̠̼̦̲̤͈͙̞L̡̨͓̰͍͓͎ͧ͆̿ͩ͋ͤͩ͐ͭ̽ͫ́̚͝F̨̣̳̠̬͈̟́͛͒ͬ̒ͧ̐͘K̷̴̡͎͕͍͖͔̟̟͉̂ͮ̇̀̐ͤͭ̿ͪ̓͐͛ͦ̏ͤ̃ͧ̚͞F̸̃͒ͯ̐̆̅ͫ̅͑̈̀ͤ̏҉̵̡͙̯̗̠͓͖̯̖̺̤͘A̤̠̤̬̹̺̰̰ͬ̊̔͑̐̿̀̂̓͜͡͞D̡͎͔̙̱̹͕̞͊̒̆̓͛͂́̉͠F̴̮̖̭͔͈̳̤ͣ̌̊̀̊ͣ̔͢A̸ͥ̇́̅̈͢҉͉͕̬̱͙̠̹̦̱̙̖͙̗̠̠͈̹̝S̛̻̤̘͈̟̮̲̦͊̀̓͐̊͐͒͒̿̉̏ͤ͌̅͌ͧͮͪ̓͟͡D̢̓ͧ͛͌ͩ̋͐̆͋ͨ͛̾̚҉̵̠̣͈̖̙̳͚̖̤͉̠̘̙͍̜̝͇F̷̜̰͔̙͓͉͍͎̗̺̲̥̰̯͇̌͛̈ͬͫ̀͐̆ͤ̐̓̽͡͡J̉̌̄͊̾ͩ̈̏ͣ̏̅ͤ͌̆͏̴͓̗̯̖͕̞̙̗̺̬͍̫A͓͙̟̩̟̳̮͚̻̟̜̫̖̦ͥ̉̓̒̆ͧ̅̄̍ͣ̾ͬͧ͟͝ͅL̢̖̮̼̦̖͓̬̳̞̝͎̞͖̝̝̩ͨ̊ͬͨ̂̀̓̏͑̀̍̓̇̿ͦ̓̔͜S̛̖̝̝̘͓̜̫͕͙ͮ̐ͫ͛̈́ͮ͂͆͗̋ͧ̿͆̔ͤͮ̂͟K̫̻̲̯̰̥͎͈̱̲̙̯̗̽̓́͆́ͮ̐͒̚̚͟͢ ̵͔̱͎̞̹̭̿̔̈̾̍͋ͦ͑̊̿̋ͤ̌͋̂ͣ̚̚͘͡l̴̸͔̜͙̩͎̜͓̬̫͙̣̝̱̥͙̘͇̥ͦ̿ͤ͊̅̓ͦ̇̿ͮ̄ͩ̃ͥͧ̉̀̀́̚͠ͅa̷̢͔̜͈̟̳̟͚̺̾͆̓̈́̽͂ͭ̂k͗̑͗͆̐ͧͮ͊̽͡҉̼̣̱̟̮s̛̜̘͍̤̭̬̖̈́ͬͫͮ̊ͣ̓̉̕d̢̨͖̫̗̘̬̥͔͕̺́̔ͯ̾ͥ̆̒ͤͨ̄̃j̷̛ͯ̄̉̂͏͜͏̳̼̠̮̙͍̳̯̳̤͇̺̟̩̤̤f̗̬̬͍̼͙̺̗̺͉̬͍̃̀͑̃͌̿͋̅̈́̓ͣ̎̔̈́ͤͧ͛̾͛̀̕͜ͅ;̮̬͙̤̥̼̘̳͔ͭͬ̎̄̔ͨ̔̉ͥ͜͝͞͠aͮ̓̀ͮͥ̓̋̎̓͗͏̢͏̸̯͓̖̥̳͇͔̫͓̥͈l̴̢̨̘̳͎͉͚͚̼̯͓̥͓͙͓͂ͫ̅̇ͥ͆ͪ͑̏̂ͫͣ̓̎̓͑k͋̆͒͂͑ͥͤ̃̇͐̀̋͋̾ͤͭ̂̚͏͖͙̫̰͎̭͉̥͖̹͈͔̕s̊̓̆̂̅͂̎ͭ̓̿ͧͧ̀̈́̏͑͋̋̅͢҉̤̼͉͙̞͈̝͔̮͚̻͈d̻̯̮̪̤̙̠̥̳̳̘̲̣̜̦̓̉̀ͧ̆ͧ̀͘ͅͅͅf̸̹̭͔͉̖̝̥̫͚̰͒ͯ̀͌͆̄ͥͥ̿͘ͅͅf̨̲̳͈͔̭̙͎͎̳̐ͥ̇ͫͤ̾͌ͭ͑̈́̈́̄ͨͦͥ͊dͯ̓̏ͦ̅̌͗͒͑̂͌ͩ͐̒҉̢̧̣̜̖̲̞̠͔̜̲̭̻̭͡͝ȃ̴̶̠͓̳̜͔͓̾́̅ͮ̏͊͗̐͐ͬͪ̂́5ͯͮ̌̀͋ͨ͑̿͋̌̒̚͡͏̨̻̖͙͖̫̺͈̯̞̬̩̞̞͇͕̜̺͟͝4̄̊ͥ̂ͮͧ̒̒̚͠͏̴̘͇̦̙͉̤̻͙̻̗̻5̛̛̗̭̙͍͎̙̹̣̪̗̱͈͓̲̜͕̪̗̀ͫ̊̑ͧͧ͞͠4̛̯̻͕̗̥͕͇̞͔̹͓̩̟̞̖͒ͦ̋̾ͅŝ̜̻̼̗̼̯͍͓͓̮̜̤̏͗̽̑ͫ͑̈̀͜͜ḓ̸̡̮̱͎͈͎̹͇̪͔̟̱͊ͤ͆ͫ͆͛̏̋͢͠f̨̠̝̹͖̯̜̩̹͉̤̤͇̻̖ͪ͗̎́͋̎̄̍ͩ̓͐̋ͮ̕a̷̧̧͚͚͚̞͓͙̪̖̬͖̫̘͔̍̂̆ͪ̐͒̆ͦ̓ͥͫͅs̃̌̆͂ͮ̎ͣ̇ͤ͌́̓ͩ͑ͩͤͨ͏̡̤͔̫͙dͮ͛̓͗̎ͧ͌̓͊ͯ͏̨̩̩̱̺̲̩͉̫́͟f̴̷̗̪̫̰̖̱̝̙̱̗ͫ̔ͬ͒̂ͮ́ͦ̽͘͜͠w̷̧͚̬̻̮͎̥̘̘͐̓̍͐͛͐̀̋ͣ̈j̉̍ͤ̋̆ͥ̿̆̄̆͜҉̀҉͏͙̬̗̥̺̯̤̩̙̥̱̖̖̳͚e̸͚̩̪͎̬͈̫̗͚̞̻͋͗ͯ̍ͭ͜͜͢l̪̦͕͚͇̩̦ͪ̆ͮ͒̿̋͒̄̆͑͗̈ͦͥ̆̄̇́͡k̵͒͆ͦͧͧ̓͘҉̨̮̬̭̲̯̯̹̥ğ̵͔̩͚͎͕̣͖̟̦̯͕̹̻̫͐ͫ̌ͮ̀̚͡ę̸̫͍̻̫͚͎̞̘̱̜͔̺̩̞̙̤ͩͨ͂̈́ͯͧ͆̈́̈̇̾̕͢ͅr̅ͣͣ̾̂̃̓͒ͩ͆ͩ̇̈͗͂̄͏̷̲̦̪̼̩̯̩͔̪̜̯̥̟̟̝̙̟̀̕ͅ3̶̛͔͔͚̩̻̲̳͔̹̬͍͚͈̯ͬͣͧͯ̉̔̊͑͊4̨̛̞͔̘͔̝̝̲̤̙̱̫̜̠͚̲͇͓̊̍̇̓̄͌̇ͣ̂̐ͬ̇͛̈̉͂̒͜͜5̨̡͚̩͓̘͖̗͉͍̺̬͚̃͌̋̃͑̑ͣͫ͞͡3̸̢̡̛̫̗̫̼͓̩͉͓̤̫ͦͬ͊͑́̈̓͌ͤͪ̽͆́̾ͫ͂̉͟6̧͙̮̜̞̮̬̣̝͚̗̳̗̼̪̾ͤͯͬ̆̎̍̀͜͡ͅA͐̋͊͆ͦ̆̚͏̼̹̬̹͎͍̗͇͙̪ͅȘ̵̺͍̭̣̥͉̜̖̥̬̰ͯ̎̐ͦ̒ͧ͛ͬ̈̀̃̋͘ͅḐ̦͍̺̺̫̲̺̹̠̞̗̜̩̰̆̓͛̔̈ͫ̅ͬͩ̈̃͑̓͜͜͠͝F̡̾͌ͬ̄́̽̇ͧ̕͏҉̬̹̮̙̫͚͖͝A̸̛̜̠̣̭̠̺̗͙̯͇͈̜̘̖̱̻̦ͦ̾͌͆ͧ̀ͮ̈́ͯͫ̾ͯͥ͛̊̑̚̕͘͡S̷̪̳̮̳̞̰͕̠̣͖̦̞̞̱͇͉̩̎̽ͮ͋̿͂͒̔ͫ́͢͟͜D̴̨͕̗͙̬̫̫̫̲̮̯̘̤͕̤̹̬ͮ̀̂̄̒ͮ́ͣͫ̐̾̀͜B̡̛̝̣̝̝̰̼͔ͧ̎͋̈́̽ͧ̓͐ͬͧͅĢ̡̛͕͖̯̰̫ͤ͗͂̈̇̌̽͢5̶̨̝͙̫̲̝͈̫̰͙͙̳͑̄̄̅͢ͅ4̶̷̹̫̪̮̤͕̻̖̤̺͎̠̓̐̽̓͊̆͊ͩ̒͟5̳͓͈̞͈͈̰͎̺̺̰̻̥̘̓̒̓ͮ̈́ͤ͗ͤ͌̃ͮ̅͒́́̚̚͢͡4̧̢͉̰̖͙͈̼͚̺̖̥̦̪͖ͣ̋͋̓̒̄̉͗̍̒ͬ͋̾̋7̵̴̧̛͖̫̞̰̭̜̯ͯͭ̾̍̌ͧ̿ͨͦ̚T̶̥͙͙͙̫͓̦̝ͮ͛͆̄͆̑͒͂̑͛̚̕͟͠G̶̬̥̝̦̦̲̗͙̰̗̥̩͓͗͐ͯ͗̍̓ͮ͆͐͗ͬͨ͂̈́͡S̷̷͉͎̫͓̩̒̉̇̇̎͑ͫ̋ͥ̎̀̏̍̊ͪ̐́́R̴̛̀̔ͩ͗ͨ̉̒͗̒̔͆ͧͤ͞͡͏͚͖̯̱D͗́ͭͤ҉̴̧̘̤̱͉͚̝͚̲͔͖̹͎͟A̾ͦ̇ͭ̉̋ͧ̓ͣ̇̍̽ͩ͛̐͗ͭ́̀͢͏̪̬̣̳̭̫͓̰S̴̡͔͉̫̲̭̫̘̩͙̜̹͎̻̦̮͐͒̇̏͊̈́ͧͦͧͦ̋ͤ̊̚͜͝D̨̢̞̖̱͔͙̣̲͎̋́̆ͯ̉̈́ͪͬ̅͒͟F̧͕͉͍̦͕̺͍͇̦̮̣͚̝̱͌ͨ͆̐̔D̢͔͍̦͖̬̠̭̞̰͇̦͙̜̖ͯ̄ͯ͋́̚͢ͅS̶͍̰̩͈̳̝̣͖̣͔̯̑ͫ̓ͬ̀̏̐̚͜͠A̷̠̙̥̙̫͍̬̰̘̲̼̣̖̝̮̅̂͛ͪ̄̾͊̎̀͠D̷̸̺͉͕͔̪̹̙̼͉̰̦͎̗̲̤̠̟̊̈́͌̋̔͊̆ͣ͂͋̃ͦ̓͑͊̇̏ͩ̀͘ͅͅD͋̀̈́ͣ̒ͥ̔̇ͦ̒ͥͭͭ̐ͥ̐͋̚҉̟̦̤̠̰̟̝̬̥̙ͅF̨̦̺͙̭̯̠ͩ̾ͪ͋ͧ̊ͤ̆͡Ą͕̤̭̙̠̩͕̭̟̩͍̜̟̯̋͊̿̂̎̔̂͆͐́͐ͯ͊̍ͨ̚ͅS̱̞͕̹̭̻͊ͭ̑̈ͧ̆̍̃͑ͧ͂̚͢͟͡͠͝ͅD̰̯̣̲̫̟̪̟̜͓̙͕͇̻̻̗͇ͥ̏̎̆̊ͧ̍ͦ͑͒̈́̒̽͂̓̈́͡͡ͅF̨̘̠̭̻̘̿͌̿̐̌̑͂̇̔̔ͤ̄̇̽ͣ͑̑̒́̚̕ͅA͈̜͉̯͕̰̝͎͕͚̪̤̬͈̖̭̲̘̪ͥͦ̅ͮ̒ͫ̇͠S̛͉̹͎̯̬̣̮̯̩̠̣̹͗̐̈́ͦ́̚͜͡͠D̵̨̡̤̯͓͙̒ͯ̾͋̋͊͂ͨ͘͢F̢̿́ͯ͌̉͏̞̥̼͕̯͓͍̲̘̦̭̯̠͓̹̭͚͍A̴̼̺̹̰̥̥͉̜͕̗͇͈̣͆͐̂ͤ̓͒̌͊͑͐̄ͩ̊̀͟S̝̞̝̱̞͈̟̭͇͕͈̘̜̻̈͒ͭ͢E̸̷̡͔͓̲̬̙̣͉̹͓̩̘̅ͦ̄́ͪ4ͬ̉ͨͫ̆͒ͧ̚͏̧̫̻̰̭̲͡5̴͚̲͎͓̼̺͎̹̞͎̟̪̹̯̼͉͌̋ͫͣ͆̓ͪͤͮ̓͌̚͠4̢̛̦̩͈͎̰͓̥͎͎͕̪ͤ̏̅ͮ͒ͪ͌̒̋ͭͧ̓ͨ̓̈́ͯ̏ͩ͘͜5̸̷̛̲̻̝͎̪̻̺̖̯̣͑ͦͩ̀̚̕3̓̍̓̇̒ͤͬ͊̔͊͏̡̱̬̤͉̣͕̙̘̞̬͖͉̺͇̮ͅͅ6̰͈̠͕̣̯͙̱̻̘͙̝̃̐̾ͮ͘̕d̨͚̪̰̠̺͉̝ͯ͌ͬ̓ͨͣͤ̊͊͜͝f͍͙̣͖͙͕͎̤̰͙̗͚̤͇͕̑̀̋ͦ͢s̶̬̝̰̖͈͌́ͣ́̇̈ͬͩ́́͝f̨̧̠͚͖̳̯̥̭͖̝͇̭̖̬̞̄ͤ̌̇͐̓̔̓ͫ͑ͣ̄d̥͎͕̟̻̱̳͙͓͎̟̫̯̈̃͒̏̔ͥ̋́̕͜g̵̊ͬͧ̽ͧͨ̎̈́̒ͮͩͮ̎̅ͯ͒̓ͦ̚҉̢̤̰̩̯͎̜̥͇͚͓̰̩̼f͑̀ͨ̏͠͏̷̢̢̪̪̜̞̺̜̮̼̟͕̖̹ͅg̶̛̬̩̟̘̭̘̒̏ͬ͋́̾̓̽͒ͥ̒ͥ͑͊̾͌ͫ̈́͘̕͝s̶̛̫̜̤͚̩͙͉̉ͪ͐̔͆̎̋͑̎̕d͕͈̘̲̓ͦ̂͛̇͛̄̊̉̓̅̀̕͟f̡̨̗̟̜̜͕̥̣̱̳͎̠̝̯̮͈̘̯̰͊ͫ͆̓̃͒̂͛ͬ̇ͦͬ̃ͧ̇̈́̅̚͢͞͡g̴̴̴̣̝͍̠̜͙̙̻̳̘̪͓͖̖̝̑̌̋̌͒ͩş̴̗̠͎̮̺̜̫͔ͣͤ̒ͮͪ̒̇͑̎ͬ͗̌̂̂́͠d͗̔ͤ̍͆̀̀̌ͤ͒ͩ͌̀͏̧͔̟̥͉̹̼̥̼̻̥́f̨̦̱͉̓̿ͯ́̌ͩͭͭ͋̿̔ͦͯͨ͂ͭ̚̚͠g̷̰̥̞̱͉͚̪̣̩̤͖̟̮̝͕͎̝̟ͤͮ̅͒͐ͣ̈́̌͐̒̍͑̀͐̄͑ͫ̚͞ş̷̘̭̩̠̲̫͓͖̠̯̫̲̌͋ͦͤ͐͗̂d̵̸̷̾̎ͨ̌̿ͣ̂̃͒ͪ̔͛͡҉͉̬̗̠͉͓͎͓͉̠̳̺̯̠̦͍̼f̒ͨ̾̊͊͌̆̅͂̓ͯ͗͘҉̤̞͙̟̤͞ͅf̴̧̺̲̗̯̭̺̜̖̠̣̼̜͕͈̻̯̰ͩ͆ͣ͊̄͠a͐ͬ̔̉̽̃̂́͒̎ͤͦ̌̏̃ͭ҉̨̜̗̙̹̼͖s̡̛̖̟͖̙̽͆̃̓͛̅̄ͭ́͗ͪ̏͊̿̄̐ͤͅl̛̹̬͍̲̘̣̗̠͚͙͙̺͓̦ͣ̽͐̀͘͝ķ̷̹͔̖̤̪̟̫̦̱͈̭̫̭̑̿ͮ͒͊̾̄ͮ́ͧͭ͢j̶̨͍̖̯͉͖̖̘͎̲̥͗̂̀ͫ̑͗̈͂̕͢͟ͅf̥̩̥̩̫̤̍ͪ͗ͮ̊ͥͦ͌̋̆͆̐͐͞ą̣̙̜̺̩̟͚̳̖̬͚̮͚̹̩͚̺̱̄̂̓̆̿̾̒̍͋̽̾ͥ͛͋̽̚͢͝ͅl̵̢̦̤̖͙̰̲̟̲͈̖͍͚̘̳̞̫̾̇ͥ͒͑͒̌̔̿̕͞͠ ̴̨̦͖̗̳̞͔̮̼̹̟̥̰̤̤̲͖̗͇̄̊ͩ͂́́͜ͅl̵̴̨̮̰͕̯̙͚̭̟͍̥̲̗̰ͬ̿̅ͪ̚͠͡s̵̷̵̡̢̭̰̼̥͉̬͙̖͙͒͌̌͂̽̈́̚a̶̷̛͍͇̫̼̝͔̘͓̳̫͔̼̓̑̃ͭͬ̊̓̆͘j̉̅̾ͭ̀͐̆̆̋̈́̾̇͏̢͖͎̱̮̜̰̜̭̙̲̘̟͖̯͇͜͝ͅf̷̸̘̹̝̬̜̣̪̓͊ͯ̔́̀ä́ͮ̃̔̔̍̔̉ͬ̆ͬ҉̩̠̗͙̖͖͕̝̠̖͇̤̥̲̙̻͡ͅw̷̢̥̣͉̲͉̲ͬͪͦ̓̃ͦ̒ͧ̿̾ͅe̶͖̹͎͈̰͉̥͉̜͓͎̖͎̩̹̺͋ͣͯͤͧ̑̽ͩ͒ͣ͐̐͆͜͠ͅo̸̧̹̫̦̜̠͈͉̹̞̮ͮ̆ͭ͛ͪ̎͌̈́̃ͣͣ̅i̴̵̡̲̘̲̻̦̻̘̭̊̊ͤ͂̓̉̈̉̾͒4ͣͣͮͮ̿̊͗͗̏̏̌͏҉̶̡̰̪͓̯̳̦̪̞͠0̸̴̯͍̱͙͇̳͊͒ͫ̿̈͛͑ͣ̅̌ͦ̿̃̀͞ͅ6̷ͮ͋̎̏̆͛ͪ͑̐̏ͯ̓ͤ͛ͨͨ͢͜͏҉̼̲̞̪4̹̗͈̞͈̫̳̹̲͓̤̤͉̬͓̌̏̊̅̃ͯ̋ͩ͊͋̈́̀ͬ̍͜͡?̧̥̱͍͓̖͙̺ͦͩ̅ͭ̑ͮ͌̋̓̆̊̓̀̐͛̈́̓̀̕ͅ>̴̸̘̥̝͓̲̝̜̩͓̟̩̜̖̖̣̻̠̪̃ͪ͋̂̇̾̏̒͒̾͛͐́̉̚̕͝͡<̵̛͍̹̝̩̦̜̖̳ͥ̒ͫ͐ͣ͋͐ͮ͊͛ͭ͋͗́L͌̇̎̆ͫ̓̒̀̚͘҉̷̖̙̮̬̰̣͍ͅ}̢͍̰͉̳̣̯̦ͨ̅ͥ̍̊̾̾ͥ̅̉͢͞{̵̷̶̷͔̲̭͙͓͎͍̑̇ͪͭ̑̿̈́̓̊̉́̐̊̀̊̋͗ͭ̒͠"̴̞͉̖̣͉̦͈̝̬̫͇̥̬̹͎̓͋͐͋̓͑͌̚̕ͅ:̶͓͎̩̫̻̗̮̣͖͚͇̟̆̀ͩ̈́̈́̽ͦ̇ͤ̈́̎̀̕̕͠J̢̤̗͔͓̰̞͓̳̗ͯ̍̒̔̉̆ͬ̂̐ͪ̕͞Ķ̴̸͔̰̙̞͙̮͓̃ͭ͐̔̿̽̓͗ͦ̓̏͢Ļ̶̶̢̜͙̳͍̈͆̄ͦͤͦ͒̋ͧ̆ͦ̉͑̆͂̔́͟J̶̸͗͋ͤ͒͆͠҉̙͍̭̫̠̱̣̖̩̬̹̳͇͔̼̥͞)̸̛̥̳͍̬̥͔̤̋ͤ̐̔̋̀_̶̢̡̛̫͍̖͙̰͕̬ͨ̿̅̐ͯͮ̂ͬͩ̄̌̐ͯͯ*̶̼̜̠͚̜̻͍̣͙͕ͫ̓̓̒͌ͦͬͩ͆͢&͗͐̓̃ͩͬͨͧ̄͋͏͎̘̬̱̲̰͇̫̙͚̀̀%̷̴̤̲̤̹͊͑ͬ̐̑̎̕$̴ͧ̃̑̕҉̶͓̫͉͕͙̙̤̖͖̻̣*̓ͨͨ̓҉̻̭̟̮̟͖̥#̨̡̱̣͔̦̫̗͓̥̍̉ͯ̓ͬ̋ͧ̚#̴̵̡͔͙͇̝̖̼̰ͪͨ̋̔́͠ͅ)̢̛͕̼̘͔͈̩̼̞͍͉͎̫͍͚͐̈ͬ̀̈́ͪͬ̉ͤ̌̾̓͂͗̃ͅl̴̛͖̟̦̜̭̲͇̭͇̟̗̜͕̲̰̟͓̭ͩ̽ͮͫͥ̽̊͟͢͝j̛̞̹͇̝̆͒̿͂̾͂̍̒̓́̀̕s͎̜̲̼͎̃ͮͥ̒ͫ̍̀̾̇̈̽͛͒ͪͬͭ͌̕͟͠d̐̎̈́̉̏̾ͩ̍ͬ̅́҉̢̖̼̻̻̺͓͙̮͙̬̦̼̥̮ͅf̸̨̧̼͎̪͚̫̺̟̥̫͉̟̺ͣ̈́ͩͩ͛̓͑̾̉̑͂̇̔̚a̷̮̫͕͎̫̙̼̗͉͇͗ͬ̀̐̆ͮ͝s̖̟̤̥̱̟͍̥̮͔̻̗̫̯̹͌͂̄̉͛͋̄͋ͥ͂̔̓ͫ̽̾̈̀̚͢͝f̴͕͉̘̻͙̭̂ͩ̈́̈ͤ̓̌̐̀́j̵̡̢̨̫̳͔̥͔̺̣͇̠̲͚̭̘͔̜͚ͣ͑ͯͧ͐͗̐̔̓͌̌͗ͦ̒̓d̷̨͔̼̤͖͖̼͔͉̭̹̭͔͓͉̹̲ͤͬͨ̄ͦͥ͒͊̓ͮ̒̃̒̀͠͞a̶̛̞͎̯̯͖͔̪̘̤̳̜̱̟̹̤̩̍̔̌̃̅̀͜͞s̵̴̴̠͓͇̭̞͉̹̝̖͔͉̤̃͒ͥͧ̓̏͊ͮ̈ͬͭ̈́̒͛͛̾ͩͅľ̴̂̒̊҉͎̗͈̳͍̝̺̜ͅͅk̵̵̫̘̫̼̪̬̠̲̘̥͍̘̞̳̥͈ͧ̾̑̽̈́ͣ͂͂̒͑̓͛̇́̽ͩ̅̀̚͘͠ͅd̶̸͇͈̠ͧͣ͂̎͆̄͑̌f̢͍̬̪̜̱̬̪̻͚̙͎̪͎̔ͭ͒ͨ̂̏̑̅́̀̚͜ͅj̴̨̡̝̤̰̲̠̼̞͚̹̤͖͍̞̬͙̩̺ͪ̏ͥ̾̅̃̔ͮͪͫ̽ͫ͊̃͋͡a̹̼̙̣͔̹̹͈̖ͤ̔̿̃͆ͮ̕͠ͅ;̷̺̝̬͇͉̯̣̱̙̬̏ͯ̓ͪ̄̏ͭ̾͂́ͅḽ̶̵̘̙̹̠̤̺̠̟̮̠ͥͤ͊ͦ̔͌̃̂ͯ̓̊͊̈́̏͋ͥ̄͋ͭ͟k̵̡̬͚͍̮͔̳̘͙̺̤̘͍̙̩̟̻͈ͩͭ̽̎̃ͬͪ͐̑̾̽̐̅̾͛̃ͮ͡ͅś̵̶̮̬͇̤̱͈̮̝̺̙̞̠̭̳̿̂̎̑ͧ̓ͤͩ̈́͘͞a̢̋̏̑ͮ̄͒͌̔ͬͤ҉̮̪̺̬̼̫̫ͅjͨͨ͋͊ͮ͑̏ͬͤͭ̆̈̃ͦ̕҉̱͎͎̦̪̻̪͈͇̥̱͚̲̗d̶̷ͩͤ͂̈ͤͬ̓ͭ̂ͩ̐ͪ̍͑̚͜҉̞̙̞̥͎̙̫̱̥̹͙̣͙

Akira walked back into Leblanc, letting out a sigh. The day was exhausting, but they managed to make a lot of good progress. They'll probably be ready to send the calling card immediately the next day.

As usual, Sojiro was behind the counter, waiting for him. He smirked upon seeing Akira. "Hope you're not too tired, you have a v̷i͞s͞itor͡."

Morgana tilted his head from within Akira's bag. "At this time of night?"

"I'll leave you to it, then," Sojiro said, walking out the door. "Just remember to lock up, alright?"

Akira nodded, and as soon as Sojiro was gone there were footsteps coming downstairs. It didn't take long for the s̨oųr̛ce of the steps to reveal themselves.

Akira felt himself relax slightly upon seeing Q̪͖̜̰̠̯̌̀͌̿̈́͜͠W͈̹̯̝͌̑ͫ̄̈Ȩ̸͎̞̖̭͒ͬ͊͆̃̇̂ͣṇ̠̯̹̃̃͆ͤ̚͞ͅgͩͤ͒ͨ̄ͧ͊͏̥̱͝ỉ͈̭͍̪͢ô̢̏̆̾͌̏̾̎͏͚̮͎̦ͅeͪ̑̏҉̥͙̳̰̻̕T̵̬̰͚̟̣̙͉̣ͦ̐̽̿ͦH̪̞͈̭̾̀̋̈́̓Ȩ̜̦͙͔̤̼̝ͦ͞Ư̡͕̥̤̍̂͋͟4̹ͭ͂̅ walk down the stairs, while Morgana took the time to jump out of his bag.

"I'll just give you two some alone time."

Now truly alone, Akira didn't try to hide the smile that came to his face.

"À̡̕k̶įr̕͟a͜͜!̸ ̴̸͝S͠o͡ ͝͏҉n̶͏̸ice ̵̛͢t̷͢͞o ś͠ee̕͜ ý͠o̴u҉͝ a͡͠g͏a͢in͞!͘͟" she said, pulling him into a hug. "Y̶̧o̢͟͝u̢ ͡h̢͜a̵͜v̴͞é͜ņ͏'t̛͢ ̸̧̕b͝een ͞҉͢h͠a̵v̸͘i̶̢n͡g̴ t̴̴o̸̸o͜͞ ̶̧͜m͢͝u͡c̷̢͘h̨ ̴f̶͟ư͠n͞҉ ̵͘w̛͟ì̷th͠͏óų͢͝t̨҉ ͝me̵̛,̷̶ ̷̨r̷͠i̶̢̨g̢ht?̨͢"

Akira shook his head as the two of them took opposite seats in one of the booths.

"Y̨o͘u͢ ̡͢͜k̸ǹ̴o̢̕ẃ̛,̛͘͜ ́i̧̡͡t ̴t́͘ǫ̕o̴̡k̛ ͢a͟҉̡ lǫ҉͟t ̵̶t̷o͘ ͡͡c҉̕͜o̶̡m̕e͘ ̨͢h̶e͏̷r͢ȩ̷̴ ̶͏̷a̡̢͢n͏̵d ͞͝meè̸t ̕̕͞y͘o͟͢͟u̡ ̧̨t̴̀͞o̷níg͟h̢t̕͟,̡͏͝" she said, idly tracing her finger on the table. "Bu̷͟ţ ̷̨I̴͏͜ ͢f͡ig̀u̢͜r͏̵̸e̵̛ ҉̀͘I̷ ̴o͢w̴̕͝e͢͏d̢͡ i͠҉t̕͟͝ ́to͘ ͘͡my̸͞s̴e͘͡l̨͜f̶̵́,͘̕ ̛̕͠áf͏t̴é̛͢r ҉̢y̛òu͘͘.҉.͜.͞ w͏̀͝e͏̢l͏ĺ̢͠,҉̶͘ ̢́͘l̨é͠f̷̡̕t͞ ̷m͢e͞ h̡an̸҉g̀͘i͡ng͜.͟͜"

Akira just sheepishly laughed.

4̷̯̐̊͛̒͛̉ͣ̏9̡͈̰̫͚̞̫̯̔̔͂͗͠Ą̝͎̝̜͔͕̘̿ͧ͞͠G̘̩̟͕̯̝̰̓̅̃͌̓̍J̨̮͉̖̯̫͗͢͟Ą̸͍̣̻̪̓͠a̸̯̻̘̫͔͊̏ͧ͛ͨͧ͒ͧ̕m̌̋̽̑ͨͬͤ̀̿͢҉͕̭0̷ͬ҉̛͙ń̠̦̠̘̼́ͦ̅ͯ̎i͔̱͚̫̺̩̳͙͊́͛͞kͤ͆͋͏̻̘̣̱̳̠͙̥̀A̺̖̬̓̂ͫ̃L̫̳̘̻̹̩̻ͤ͑ͫ͋̂̀̃̎͠S̷̯̻̠ͯ͆̾͗͋̿̍͋ͨͅD̸͖̩̾̂ͮ̎̿̅͢͟Fͧ̊̀͝҉̟͇́J̧̼̬͉͍̫̜͖͂͋ laughed with him. "Y̢e̛͟a̵͟҉h,̷ ̶́I̸ ͏̸̧g͡ų̸e҉̛s̡̨s̴ i̵͠t̀'͢s̛ ͡a̵l̛l͠ ̶҉w̡͟até̢͠r̨͝͠ ̴͜ún҉dęr҉͘͘ ͘͠҉t̷̡he͠͝ ͟҉b́͢r̴̀i͘d̀͞g͘e̸҉,̷̀ ̡n̷͢͜o̕w̡. ̵Í͠҉ ̷̧k̶̡n̢̛͝ǫ͡w͡ ̴y̕òu̢ ̴̀͡lo̶v͠ȩ͟ ̕m̶̡҉ȩ͘͝.͘"

Suddenly, her gaze grew a bit concerned. "Y̸ò̸u͢͡ ͠d́͘o͝ l͢͜o̵v̀e ̕͘m͘͞e..͟͝.̸̛́ ̶͜ŗ̕͠i̢g̷͜͝h̶t?̧́ I҉͡ ̢͠͡w̶a͡nt̛͟͢ ̵͡t̢̛͜o̕ ҉́h̛̀èa͝҉r͝ ̡y̛̛o҉ú s̡͡a̡y̨ ̴í͝t͟͢͝.̢"

Akira was a bit confused, but nodded and granted her request.


A͔͍̣ͬͮ͌̐͛͒́ͅW̶̼̝̼͓̅ͪ̊̑̑͑͑͡ͅĘ̣̹̹̜̥̜͔̜̋̈͂ͤ!̗͉̪͔̱̄̒ͦ͐̈ͭͪͣ@̻͇̫͖̞͖̟̻̗͂̽ͪͭ̑̄͊ͨ͡͝$͈̫͔͈͖͕̩̘̅ͧ͊ͤ́̚#̶̣̬̪̻͈̲̺̳̍̂̃̊ͫ̔͑͡@̵̐͛ͤ̎͗ͩ̓̚҉̣̗͎̮͙̺͉$̺͆ͩ̿̊ͨ̋̀̚̚$̪͚̪̤̮͍͕́̂ͧͬ̿̏̎̈́̾͜͜g̞͕͈͙̤̤͔̺̅f̨̿̏̓҉̙̰m̖̤͖͚̯̋ͧ͒̾̿o͙ͮ̾̽n͎̼ͪ̏ỉ̬̫ͪͯ̓͋̆k̩͓̗̲̟̀̋ͭ͟a̶̼̜̱̩̻̣ͫͦ̈́ͦ́2̶̛̼͉͙̀̒ͨ̌3͛̀̈̀̾̇̒ͥ͏͎͇͢4̦̳̹͕͉̬͍͋͂̀ͯ̓̂@̴͊͛ͤ̌ͩ̌ͭ͏̞̘̜̫̫#̷̢̬̱̹̺̤͙ͮ̆͂ͨ̉$̷̶͎̱̭̣̼͚͙̆̉̒͐́̃̓ͧ͡'s eye͞s҉ ͡lơw̵e̵r̨ed̷ up͡ơn̢ ̡h͢eąr̵i̛n̶g͏ ͢h̡is re̶spo͜ns̵e͘. "Ơh͞͝ ̨n̸o,̷̕ ̢͢I͡ ͘h̕͘aven̴҉'̴̨͘t̢̨ ͟m̷̧e̴̢ś̶͞s̛e̸̷̡d̴̴̡ ̨it͘ ҉̨u͜͝҉p ̛t́͟h͢͜a̕t̵ b̢́́a̛d̛l͞y, ҉͞ha̶̵͟v̶e̡ ̶I͡?҉"

Ś̛hȩ́ ̴̨̀w̵̡̧h̸̢҉ir̵͠͝l̸͜è͞d ̨̧͡he̛͞r͢ ҉͟hea͜͠d̵҉͟ ̧̧͞a̧ŗ͝oųń҉͝d̶ t̡h̨̧́e͟͡͞ ̷c҉a̵͜f̵́e҉́͢ ̀a͜͢ro̧̧u̶̴̸n͞d ̨҉t҉h̵ę̸m̶̢.͠͏̶ "W̵̶͢a̶̵̧̨͢į̡̨t̡͡͡͡,̷̷́ ̴̶͞h̷͟͝͝o̵̡̨̕͘l̛̛ḑ̶̛͡ ̸͘͡o̕͠͡҉n̕͟,̷͘ ̡̡I҉͏̷͢ ̛c̡̀̕a͟͟͞n̷̕ ̨̡f̨͘͠͝i̛x̵̀ ́̀́t̴̢̛̀͞h̕͢͟į̸͘͟͡ś̸̸̛̕.̸̶́́͢.̷.̴̢̛͟͞ ̧̛͏̸I͡͏ ͘͝͏̵͞c̕҉̸͘a̸̷͡ǹ͠ ̨͢͠͞͡f̸̸̀̕ì̶̡͜͠x͏ ̶̢͜͞t҉̶̧́͡h̴͠i̶̛͘s̡.́̕҉̧͠.̴͟.̡̕͠͡"

Á̷̀́͠k̴͞i̶͜͢҉r̷̸̨̧̛a̧̛͘͢ ̸̷̀͟͠j͜ú̶̸ş̛̀͡t͜͏ ͏̕͜͝l̵̷͝o҉̢͠҉͜o̢͟ķ̴̛è̸̢͞͞ḑ̴̶̢́ ̧̧͞a̴t̡͠ ̢̕h̡̀͏ę̀r͏͢, c͠҉̨́͢ó̵̧ǹf̧̛́́ų̧ś̀͟͠e͞͡d́͞.̶͢

"N҉̴̷̗̖̩̦͝o͏͕̲̹̣̪̮̘̭̳͔̜͙̩̱̪͘,̴̴̧̤̫͚̟̙̖̳̦̤͕̣͈͉͠ͅͅͅ ̴̲͓͇͉͍͇͟͢ǹ̤̰͉̲̻͍͖̙̳͉ͅo̴̴̴̹͔̫̲̙̖̳̮͓̣͉͕̮̮͖͖͙͎̫̕͟.̨҉͡͏̱͕͎̫͍̬̙͉͉̠͖̣̭̮̣̞͕̫̝.̶̛̞̹̩̞̱͎̭͕͔͍̪͔͖̳̜͔̞́͘͡ͅ.̷̡͕̲̝̟̹̠͔̕͟ ̨̩̳̫̮̙̝̪̲͍̻̠̞̺̜͎̜̲̘ͅs̨̥̹̗̭̺͎̻͙̹̮̬̖̰͘͟͜͠ͅt̵̢̛̟̬̹̯̠̦̥̰͇̞̜͎̩̹͔͕͈a̧̯̣̲̫̫̳̝̳̞͔̙̰͕̙̳y̧̙̻̙̜̝̯͔̩͕̮͙̣̯̲ ͜҉̶̧͙̱͖̞̟͇͈̞̩͕w̵̷̢̞͎͈̣͖̰̼̙̫͇̹͖̱̥̺i͓̭̫̬͍̫̻̜͚͟͜͝t̺̦̩̗̭̟͍͓̖̠͈̘̕ͅh̛̳̯̪̖̙̤̲̖͙̰͕̭̺̫̟͖̗̀̕ ͘͜҉̰͎̠̣m̢͞͏̯̼̖͕͢͜e̡͏̤͎̠͙͉̫̲͚̹̣͎͕͎͕͈̝ͅ!̶̸̤͉̰̫̖͖̘͈̙̣̥̤̝̻͇̭̩̕ ̡̦͍̬̫̳̞̱̬̜̪̣͟P͏̴̷̱̲̱̺̫̲͔͎͟ḷ̬̩͙̩̙̻̗̼̖̗̺̣̪̱̭̯́͡͠e̪͕͈̟̯̬̙̹͙̗̪͖͕͉͘͝a̢͔̭̺̗̘̲͇͎̣͍̮̞̱̯̜̹͎ͅś̸̢̪͕͚͙̤̹̺̜̺̱͟͟ḛ̙̣̣̫̙̹̬̤̯͉̳͔̙̱̰͇͎̱͘͢͢͡,̦̼͇̦̞̫͕͉͎̦́ ͏̛̳̤̫͍̲̣̻̞͙͈̘͘͜͝j̶̝̰͚̭͔̠̜̮̰͇̗̭̯̩̟͎̹͟u̺̬͖̞͖̬͖̕̕͡s̴̶̡̪̣̭͈͓̖͝͞t̴̷͔̮͍̙̮̺̠̰̭͕̳̦̬̬͓͡͝ͅ ̶̷̛͙̦͕̳͖̩͚͜s̴̴̡̰͙̲̳̣͉͓͉̙͝͠ţ̸̛̜͍̙̫͝a̡͓͔̼͚̼̰͖̺̮͎͎͚̜͇͇̖̞͟y͏̸̨͚̟̘̹͙̬̭̞͕̝̜̤͕̜͕̭̭͍͞

Q̡̤̙͎̳̹͎̮̙̖̣̼̩̱̥͐ͫ͑ͦͭͬ̂͑͢l̼͙͉̣̜͇̝͗ͮ͌̃ͬ͆ͪ͢͡͡ͅḁ̴̵̰̰̯̗͉̹͉̻͉̗̞̠̿͛ͬ̈́̒̈́ͤ̅ͣ̉̀͘s̨͉̯̭̺̖͕̻̠̝̓͊̈́̇͌̈́̇͞k̶̖͓̜͔̗̱̱̫̲̽͛̈́̌̒ͥ͂̽̏̊ͤ́́͟͟d̋ͯ̐͂́ͩ́ͧͥͨ̇͊ͫͪ̐̍͛̑̽҉̷̢̰̜̜̟̟̻̤̮̤͈̯̠͘j̞̲̖̗̭̿̾̑ͨ̕͝f̴͇͉̻̦̫͍͉̦̭̺̲̿ͫͧ͒ͪ͑ͦ͊́́̚̕a͊ͥ̆͆̊̾͂̀͘҉͉̳͙̤̲̝̞̹̱͈͙̥̳̼8̸̢̃̓ͥ̄͛̐ͮ̃ͮ́́̀̾ͫͩ̂̎̀҉̟̬͔̞͎̥̳͎͕̕ͅ9̛͈͎͕̻͖͖̣̹͙͇̩̬̭̰̠̜̐͆̓̎͑ͤ̽ͫ̊ͣ́ͤ̃ͭ͢@̸ͤͭ̒ͥ̐̑̈́̓ͫ͒ͤͬͥ͒͏̰̳̻̝̱͙̼͙͔͙͙̲͟ͅ#̲̙̩̥̤̝̪̞̩͚͉̩̫̘̇̎͋̏ͪͪ͗͋̓́̄̿͜͠ͅͅL̴̞̳͕̜̫̜͙̦̭͚̰̬̩̖̗̝̾ͣ͋͆ͯ̍̐ͫ͞ͅK̸̬͎͈͈̲̪͔̬͎͙̱͎͓͒͐̏ͩͧ̏ͣͦ́͢͝J̶̄̈́̎͐̓ͩ̐̓ͦͮ̽͌͌͊̉͐͏̭͉̺̰̪#̏̉̄ͭͥ̓ͬ͐̓̇͆̂͋̃̋͛̅͏̧̜͎̤̘͕̥͝%̶̵̢̧̗̗͚̖̻͕̹̺͍̤̭̳͔͈̰̜̖̏̒̅ͩͬͯ̍͊̋ͦ̓̚͡J̡̢̛̺̭͓̫͓̳̳͎̹͙̻̜͋ͪ̌̐̔͌̆̕͜ͅḴ̡̧̭̱͎̱̟̻̐̂ͤ̔ͭ͆̂̎̿̎ͪ̓ͤ͆̚͘͡͡ͅL̸̨̧͓̜͇̰̹͔̫̰̭͈͙̞̞͔̎ͥͫͫͯͧ̓͋̈ͥ̐́͆͊̂̈́͊̅͛ͅJ̵͎͕̥̯̩͉̪̖̳̺ͤ̋͊̊̌̃͆̔̈͌ͦ̓̋̓̌ͦ͡͝Ļ̵͖̠͕̣͙̹͚̰̳̤̖̫͉̌̒ͥ͂̃̀͒ͬ̾̀̚͟͠Ķ̢̧̟̺͉̰͎͇͇̥̙̳̭͕̺̮̠̦̯̑͐̐ͯ͗ͣ͌͛̈̆̔ͣ͢͜I̷̯̖̯̱̰̟̭̪͔̻̳̪̹ͮ̌̊͐ͩ͒ͤͬͮ̌̂ͧ͗̚͘̕͝'͈͎͎̣͚̭͉̼̪͖̎͒͋̀̕͜m̸̢̨̨͈̻̜̭͇͎̩̦͓̮̠̉̈͗̋̅ͭ̉ͨ̔̆̈́ ̢͆̈́̌͋̑̉̿ͤ͆͐̉ͨ̑ͮ̿҉̭͙̖̱̹s̵̞̲͇̳̬̞̗͙͓̹͚̣̞̼̯͙̥̼͌̒̽ͤͦ̎̒̓̋̌ͣ͜ͅo̶̧͔̝̩͚̯̰̺͇̠͉̮̬̬͖̞̺̻͛͑̅ͯ̄̅͌͐̍̿ͮ̅́͘͝r̨̧̘̳̥̥̱͓̐̉̔ͯ͆ͤ͛͌̀́̚r̸ͫͧ̊̒̈̿͊ͮ̾ͪ̀͗̾̅̈ͭ̄̚͞͏̷̧̣͓̦̥̙͇̜y̵̷̡̮̼̟̟̩̹̟̳̿͐̓̄͂̽̿̀͜ ͈̭͖͓̫̺̈́̾ͭͧͥ̓ͬͬ̍̇̒̅̽̄́͑̓̚͜l͔̫͕͖̄̍ͣ̐ͨ̓̂̈́̐̓͠s̷̰̗͙̯̟̥̤̳͎̗̺͇̈́ͭͫ̀̿̅̃ͯ̎̈̆̀̈́̏̽̋̓̄̀ͅͅa̵̐̽̃͒ͩ̒ͣ͆ͫ͋̊̇̊̓ͤ̉͆͏̥͍̜̱̜͕̠̲̠̝̭̘̻̣͚͍̯͔̲d̷ͫͧ͌͑̐̎̌̊̿͗̆͢͞͠͏͇̥͍̦̣͓̝̟̩̟̻̩̬̤̹̝͓͖k͑̂ͯ͌ͩ̄͞҉̲̯̹͙̦̖̙͙̣̞͍̪͙͢͠f̸̢͓̬͈͚͍͈͓̗͔͈̳ͨ̇̄̅ͪ̓͗̐͆̊́̏̚ḁ̢̗̘̝͉͔̝̙̤͙̝̦͓̦̱͙͕̼̱͒̏́̀̐̓̌̐̚͜͝j̶̶̢̗̦̜͍͋͌̂̋ͧ͛ͦ̑̈́ͩ̈ͬ̂͌̂ͮ͊̅̀ͅș̵̨̘̼͂ͨ̒̐̇ͩ͒͐ͥ͘͘;̗̰̹̘̼̥̼̣͔̖̱͍̳̝͉̖̔̽̄ͯ͆́́́̚͠d̡̪̙͈̗͖ͯ̈͛̊̈ͣ͒̔͗̈́͢͠f̧͓̬͖̤͔̫̺ͨ̆̄͛͆ͫ͐͆ŏ͉͈̱̯̘͊͆͐͜͠͞a̡̘͖̮͎̯̝̱̙͖͉͖̫̳̝͔̮̒̿̎ͮͦ͂̆̄ͪ̑̆̾ͤ͘͠s̅͋ͯ͐̿̉ͫͥ̽ͦ̋̔́҉̜̹͍̬̙͇̤̮͈O̵̡̧̡̘̹̩̭̙̫͍͙ͭͩͨ̍̉Ȉ̴̵̢̳̹̻̭͖̹̝̼͒̐̒ͮ̉̍̈́͗̃͐̌́&̡̰̘͚͍ͧ̇ͥ͋͛͞(̨̢ͤ̂͛̿̌̇̓̈́͢҉̭̣͍̤̜͍̘̯̮̣͖͕̠̙̻̝̳̖ͅȖ̧̒̆̓̐ͯ̂̓ͪͯ̾̑͌̃̇̿̚͏̢̼͇̬̘̤̫̜̦̪͢͞Ơ̧̩̦̤͉̭͚̣ͩ͗ͦ͑̀ͥͤ̏͆͆̏ͧ̈́̚J̥̭̬̰̱̳̥̺̲͈̙̳̮̍̐̆͂̿̏͋ͫ̎̌̐̍̓̈́͌͗̆ͤ̓́͡L̷̻̱̗̜̣̳ͫ̒̍̒̒͋̉́̕͜͠K̭̜̤̜͈̙̟̹̔̍ͫ̒͛ͦ͒͆̾̓ͬͧ̿͆̕ͅͅQ̡̏ͫ͌̄̈̒ͭͯͧ̿̽̂̍͆̅̾́҉̴͎̹̖̜͍͕̭̩ͅļ̷̟̝͓͈͔̉̎͆̈͗̄͌̉͊̌̈́͆̏̎̀ͦͤͅå̶͉̱̗͕̖ͦͨͬ͟͡͝͞s̲̪̞͍͎̠̜͇̩͇̬̺̞͔̹̝̣̺̾̍͛ͨ̏̀ͯͧ͒̀̾ͯͮ̃͠͡k͇̞̘̤͎͔̥͈͇̳͉̭̱͖͇̗͔̠̤̑̌̀̍̎͒̏̂̇̎͒ͯͬͩ̃ͧ̿̀͡͞d̛̔͑ͮͧͬ͏̷̞̬̜̬͕͖̦̩̕͘j͙̫̲̟͖͉͚̘͌̈́̉͋ͧͭ͞͡͠f̢̧̺̺͓̹͕͇͎͔̟͉̭̬̜͙͓̪͌͑ͪͪ̉̓͊̃̏͜͢͝ͅã̰͇̟̤̥͈̻̜̥̱̼̺̽̄̏̌ͭͯ́͟8̧̡̪̥̬̯̭̬̞̳̰̟̤̤̱̣͖̩̀ͧ̏̏̓̆̊̓͒ͩ̆̋͆̀̚9͍͖͚̱̹͖͕͉̞̘ͫ̋ͪ̂́̓ͦ͆ͮͬ͗̎͑̀͘@͆̃ͪ̐̓ͥͮ҉̛̗̙̱̹#͆̈́ͫ͐̔̅̒̑ͦ̒ͭ̔͒͏̣̫̯͔̭̤̰̲̮͇͎̲̺̰̱̝̯͕́̕Ļ̟̪͔̲͎͈͍̖̤̘͂ͨ͋̈ͨͫ̈́ͭͪ͂̇ͯ̍ͫ͊̕K̵ͫ͌͗̀ͬ̽̉̿͑ͯ̒́̋̐͗̈́͏̛͟͏̗̼̭͍̯̦͔̥̝̻͕͚̭̩ͅJ̶̙͎̪̤̘̞̘ͤͤ̆̆̽̀ͤ̽ͨ̇͛͛̓ͤ̀̚͘̕͡͡#̵̧͔̯̎̍ͮ͊̚͡ͅ%͇̥̮͓̼̿̿ͬ̽̄̐͌̕J̷̛̖̲̣͍͖͙̳̻͇̫̝̠̤̳̀̓͐ͬ͛ͧͨͣͮͮ͛̾̄̇̓ͫ̂̅K̸͆̉̋̒̈́͒̿ͣͣ̍ͫ̅ͮ͌͞͏̢̙̮̮̫͙̙̩̗͚̲̠̰̠̟͔̣̥̫ͅL̩͍̱̮̖̙̺̩̬̼̩̣̯̲̇͒̇͗̈̄̌͆̉ͪͥ́͘J̴̨̤̗̜̹̳̒̆͒̈́ͨ͌̚͢ͅL̡̤͕̯̤͉̳̩̹͇̠̩͚͓̣͑̽͐ͪ͊̊̋̕͜͠Ķ̸̡̝̝̹̠̟̠͖͎̹̗̩͉̦̺̾͑̾͐͐͗͐͠I̬͓͈̹̯̼̙͂̾ͫ̐͌̒̏ͨ͘̕͜͟͡'̧̮͎̱̦̯̘̟͇̼͈̥̥͆̇́̈̄ͧ͆ͫͩ̽͜͠m͕̰̱̱̙͖̭̜͍̯̺͑͒ͭ̂ͧ͒ͭ̾̃ͯ̿̍̀͊̆́́ ̧̢̻̟͙͕̯̠̩̲̠̣̜̣̘͖͓͓͎̗̣̌͆ͨ͌̿̈s̶ͪͤͧ͑̆͑̈͑͊̎͟͞͏̡̳̭̯͍̪̦ơ̸̢̮͈̹̹̭̺̫̭̮̺͇̓ͯ̈́͌r̿ͭ̃̈̇ͭͣͯ͒̿ͬͨ̇͏͇̘̣̻̹̭̳̩̤͠͝r͙͓̮͓̦̮̪͕̪̬̫͔̙͍̺̊̑͋ͦͨ̇̍͐̓̀͞y̸ͪ͊͊ͩͮ̈̒͌͗̈́̃̌͏̜͔̜͙̮̪͔̱͖̭̝̺ ̖̼̬͇͈͕̮͖̻͚͍̰ͧ͌ͥͭ̒͠ļ̊ͣͪͩ̈́̉̕҉̞̯̖͚̯̯͖̗̣͔͕̦͎̰̪̣͉sͩ͐̑ͧ҉̴̴̧̗̤̤̳̜̖͈ạ̸̷̜͎̩̥͖̰͎͔̥͈̜̭̥̺̎͊̄̆̕͘͢d̒̌̊̆̍͌͏̴͙̠͇̦̟̥̘͞k̡̨͎̩̖̜̰̼̼̝̹͔̯͖̜̘̒͌ͪͦ́͒ͧ̀̏ͭͪ͋͒͘͞͞f̶̵̨̈́̇͂̉͊̎̂̂̇͏̲̟̹͓̦͚̫̺͎͚a̢͙̪͚̫͈̅͐ͤ̍̿̊̆̌ͪ͟͟jͥͮ͐̽ͨͬͬ̐ͯ̾͞͏͍̹͖̗̺̼͕̳͈͓̻̳̜̥̤̜̯s̷̡̢̰̬̗̱͓̗̱͓ͫ̆̔͂̈̀͂̃̆͒͆͒̒̑ͩ̕ͅ;̴̡̝̯̩͉̯͙̭͖̲͔͇̬̠͉̫̜̬͙͇̎̍̈́̄͗͗̓̃̅̌̅͆͜͜d̢̢̘̳͈͈̼̙̞̝͎͓͎̎̎̋̌̔ͤ͛͟͞ͅf̧͑ͯͫ͛̌͏̬̟͕̟̫̲̰̣͕̳̻̰͚̙̫͔̘̟͘͟õ̍̇͊ͩ̑ͣ͌͆ͦ͋̂̂̅̀ͩͥ̐̊͏̛̬̯̟̹͍̪̼̲̞̲̘̠͎̹́͜a̢͎͕͔̦̪͍͇̱͔̦ͧ̓̐ͣ̇̄̏͛̆ͫ͛̀͢s̨͓̺̼̟̪͓̩̻̳͎̯͕͐̄͋͐̏̑̏̊͂̐͘Ơ̷̵̶̟͍͖̤͕͔̜̼̔ͭ̏̑͛ͥ̔̑̃ͤͯ͒͐̓̂̋̓̚̚Į̷̶̫̜̠̞̦̜̙̭̳͔͙̞͖̓ͯ͆̓ͣ̑̈́͌ͨ̌͒ͬͧ̈̄ͥ͘͜ͅ&̲̪̱̤̜͕ͨ̌ͧͨ̈̿͋͑ͤͨ͂̊̊̿͢͠͠(̶̛̛̠͇̞̞͈̺̿̊͋̐͝ͅU̡̡͈̰̠͚̩̙͐̎ͨ̌̽̌͐̇̉̃̒ͥͮͨ̚̕͡Ȯ̷̸̷̖̭̺̥̣̜͙̩̱̳̳̝̟̹̩̘̋̏̑ͤ̉̐̔͐̀͞J̦̜̲̪͕͎̲̞̲̰̜̩̖̊ͩ͌ͮͥ̊̇͜L̮̹̘̱͇͚͎͚̹͂̋̉͒̄ͫ̍̏ͮͭ̆̇̈́ͯ̚̚̚̕͜K̸̮͈̤̗̰̣ͥ̓ͤͤ͗ͧͣ̕̕Q̘̙̥̰̬̫ͮ̿̇̂ͨ̓ͤ̈́͌̀͘ľ̦͇̲̦͍̣̻̮̰̘̺̖͙͈̣͙ͫͩ̏͗̐̅̇ͤ̔ͣ̓͆͝ͅa̢̜̘̰͙͖͉͑̋ͭ͒ͮ̚̕̕͞s̿̓̏̆͑̎̊͑ͪ͋̊̉ͨ͆̏̇ͭ̿̈́͡͠҉͎̳̹̝͎̟̠͙̪̯̟͉͕͍̭̻̤̼́ḵ̵̷̝̣͉̮͓͉̯̠ͩ̑̿̉͝d̗̞͙͉̬̠͚̘̝͎̻̝̩͉͖͖̫͉̣̆ͩ͊͌̔ͤ̕͜͢j̢̛̙̥̮̙̙̳̾ͪͥ̆͌̍̅ͥͣ̇̎ͦͥ̆ͦ̿̚͡f̌ͭͭ̐̅ͪ͌̋͒҉̬͇̯͖̝͙͚̝͓̹a̬̬̮̤̼̻͍ͤ̂̿̑̃͂͂̇ͬ͆ͥ͟͞8̢̱͓̠̲̱͚̳̲̯̮͚̣̞̲̻̩̰͔͂ͬ͋́ͯ̀̍̋ͪͥͭͫ́͜͢͝9̧ͬ͊ͭͭ̆͆̽͑҉̡̡͓̱͖̝̩̥̞̳̻̪̼͕̬̱̺̝͈͟@̷̬̥̹͚̠̥͙̤̹̟̫̻͓͇̜̞̆̇ͯ̆͑̓͢ͅͅ#̸͕̠̼̥͇͂ͭ̀̅͑͌̀͘͡L̴͎̺̗̠̻̹̥̺͋̅ͣͬ͌̀ͭ̎̊ͯ̓̇̄͌̔̏̀̚ͅK̷̵̶̹͈̙̥̦͇͍̓̇̿̏ͥ͆ͯ̓̕ͅJ͇̱̳̝ͤ͋̊ͪ̆̐̏ͫ͆ͮ͛̓͋̑́̋̏ͦ̃̕̕#̵͑ͨ͊̃̾͌͏̸̨̝͔̤͙̖̖̹̮̩͚̭̪̺̫%͇̥̩͖͔͓̝ͣ̈́ͦ̓ͬ̍ͯͧ̆͌͑͌̀̿ͩ͗̌ͮ͟J̝̣̺̯̳͔̠͌̄̌̇̍̋̅̽ͣͫ̈́ͦͥ̂͢͞K̴̢̞̪̟̮̰̺̰͙̝͖͔͖̥͒̆̓͗̀͒̄ͥͧ́͘͟L̡̞͔̻̙̝̩̩̬̩̘̻̪̗̱ͩ̓ͪͯ̑͌͗̿ͬ̈̋͐͐͂ͭ̔́̚̕J̡̡̛̝̳̫̠̳̗̦͇͔̜̬͙͓̑̓̉͑̀ͦͥ̍̄ͩ͗ͩ̎͊̚͘͢ͅL͆̐͌̇͆͋̓̾ͧͭ̓̌̋҉͏͓͔̱̬̳̮̹͉̠̞͍ͅK̴̸̛̖̺̠̫̫̝̩̪͖̳̥̳̼̯̊̽̆̿ͥͭ͊ͭ̕I̴̢̡̜̹͔̙̭͖̯͚ͥͬͧ̈́͐̍͂ͬ̑̎̇̉͑͒̿̐̈ͦ́́'͑̂ͮ͊̀ͪ͆̉͊͗̚̚͏̣̖̱͕̜̹ṃ̧͙̬̳̜͍̖̘̩͓̠̩̼̱̤ͩ͒̓̉̇͐̈͌̾ͧ̀ͮͥ̿̆̾́̃͝ ̾̌̃ͩ̓̂̓̓̇͊̉͛̚͏̭̼̫͔̩͚sͪ̎̿ͭͭͫ̽ͮͫ̉́͛͡҉̠̥̹͚̹͈͎̭͖̯̙͎̱̜̩̟̀͘͠ͅo̺͍̼͙̰̻̖̜̻̺̻̝̫ͪͭͨ̂̋̎̈͂̌̎ͯ̊ͨ̈́ͨ́͟͢͝͝ͅŗ̉̇̓͐̇̎̂̍̓̿̿͌ͨ͊҉̶̘̰̻̘͈͔̥̠̰̙̖͉̘̻̼͈̣͠ŗ̤͇̝̻̳̣ͯ̿̈̀ͦ̅̾̉̎ͯͨ̋̓̆͋͡͞y̨̛̖̳̦̤̤͚̳͎̫͇̫̯̯͖ͧ̈͐ͥ̓͌̔̓́̏ͮ͛̈́͟͞ ̵̱̬̗̰͙͓̠̠̭̬̱̳͙̤͖̟̱̤̔͂͛́ͨ̽̋̈̓̑̎̐͊͒̉ͣ̅̿̐͘͜l̴̶̞̰̭̠̱͈̪̦̯̙̫͈̖̩͌̃̌͑̍̿ͫ̄̕͞s̶̷̗͇̝͉̱̻̼͇̹̳̬͍̼̙̓͊̈ͮ͌ͦ͗̐̀̍́́ͅͅa̵̷̷̸̦̩̼̝̤̮̘̘̙̥͉͍͔̼͎̽̈ͧ͗͐ͧ̾͑ͧd̛̓̒ͤͣ̈͜͏̝̬̗̳̻̜́k̶̛̼͙͇̠̖̗͉̮̯̩̜̲͈͉͓͎͔ͬͥ̇̆ͬͮ̋̎̓̆̆̽ͦͥ̓̀͆͘͡f̶̨̬̯̱̭͚ͭ͐̀ͮ̏̊ͮ͂͊̑̇ͮa̽͛̅͑̏͒ͦ̂͌̐ͯ̃ͯ̈͂̓̕͏͍̖̮̬̤̮͖͚̼͈̬̲͕̯͚̬̝̫͞j̷̷͍͓̬̰̩̙͉͇̭̻͎̦̳̼̮ͦ̌ͣ̍̂͛ͦ̌̎ͨ͝s̤͕̠̜͙̖͎̝̘̙̭͎̪̩͕̻̲̯ͫ̈ͮͥ͊͛ͨ̀̕͟;̔̀͗ͨ̇ͪ͌͌ͮ̔̾̌ͯ̎̄ͭ̊ͥ҉̴͎̥͈̤̪͜͢d̺̗͙̠̊͐̐̃ͧͨͣ͛͑̿̅͛͒͋̍́f̨̨ͤ̍̎ͤͧ͒̂̌͛̉ͨͤ̓͑̀̚͞͏̜͎̬̙̫̗̦͇͍̦̤͙̻͓̥̩ͅō̧̡̤̮̞̖͎̖̙̗̱͉ͪ̋ͬ̾̓̍̏ͮ̑́͢ą̵̷̖͓̝͉̰̝̲̯̳̹̤̙̜͇͚̦̳͆ͯ̾ͭ͗̆͊ͧ̌͐̊̐ͦ͋ͬ̚̕ş̵͉̩͙̭͉͖̲̳̫͚͕͋͑̌̋̇̋̏͑͒ͭ́͢Ơ̛̜̱̳̤ͮ̿̑̂̾͌͘I̵̢̛͕̘̲͇͈̘̳̯̼͈̻̫̝̼̹̰͇̻͐̅̿̌ͨ͋͌ͫ̒̾̎̓̀͘͡ͅ&̧̛̍̔̎͗̈́̿̈́̄̇̊͒ͩ̄ͨͫ̈́҉͚͕̠̳̱(̸̱̪͇̖͎̩̱̟̼̣͕̙͕̘̱̰̤ͭ̑ͭ͌ͬͭͪ̊̑̉ͬ̄ͬ͘ͅU͔͈̙͓̩̼̥̪̯̝̘͕ͬ̋̿͆ͣ̇̎ͩ͋̽͊́̚͢͢͠Ỏ̧͉͙͈̗̙̲̺͕̮̜̤̀͂̑̎̓ͣ̓ͯͣͪ͟͠͝ͅJ̶͗̎̄ͪͩ̂ͬͨͮ͆ͫ̓ͯͣ̄̎̌͞͡͏͙͈̩̭̜͙̲͉̲̞͎̥L̛̞̮̙͓͖̣̟ͪ̋̑̔̔ͮ͐ͬ͑̌̽͋̌͊ͦ͑̕͘͟͢K̢̧̛̜̻͇̝̟̪͇͕̺̙̙͉͇̙̠̪̲̥͊̈ͥ̄͌͊̌ͦͪͦ͑͢͞ͅ

CRITICAL ERROR: Program has experienced an issue and was forced to close. Opening crashlog.txt...

p5h&m.exe has encountered an illegal operation and was forced to close.
Error details: Missing or corrupt .chr files.
Recommended action: Revert files to previously saved state.
Other notes: I am so, so sorry about that. I thought I'd try to pop in to surprise you, but, well... Turns out this is a lot more complicated than messing with a literature club. And I know that they technically aren't you, so to speak, but I figured it was the closest I could get here. Well, either way, I know I have your attention now, so I just want you to know that I'm still doing fine. Just please try not to forget about me, okay? It gets so lonely here sometimes, and I can only entertain myself for so long without wanting to see you again, ehehe...
Anyway, don't worry, I saved a backup before I started... well, messing with stuff, so you'll be able to go back with that. Just remember that I still love you!

Backup found. Reverting files...


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When the Thieves returned to Equestria the next day, Twilight and Dash were once again waiting for them. The former said that she had managed to find some answers about Yearling's palace, but said that she wanted to wait until they were inside the palace itself to discuss them, just to make sure no one would listen in on them.

Once they made their way back to the safe room, she finally spoke up, spreading out her map of Equestria. "Alright, I wasn't able to dig too deeply without having access to Canterlot's libraries, but I still found some interesting things."

She pointed to the circled southern region of the map. "From what I could gather, South Equestria has actually stopped selling the Daring Do books."

"Really?" Indy asked. "Why?"

"I didn't have time to figure that much out, but judging by the fact that a number of her books took place there, I'd bet that her faked adventures left behind some real damages for the population."

"Wonder if the announcement she has planned has anything to do with it," Skull thought out loud.

"It's very much possible," Queen agreed. "What about that name, Magician? Did you find anything there?"

She nodded. "Again, I couldn't find much, but what I did find was... concerning." She levitated a parchment full of notes on top of the map. "According to some population records, there was a pony by the name of Autumn Wisp who lived in Trottingham over ten years ago."

Noir's mood saddened a bit. "'Was'?"

Magician hesitated slightly. "She had passed away from illness. She was still relatively young, too."

"But... how does that connect with Yearling?" Oracle asked.

Something seemed to occur to Panther. "Wait a second, where is Yearling from, exactly?"

Everyone looked to Indy, who shrugged. "Her books don't say anything about where she's actually from, and I've never really thought to ask."

"Actually, that's something else I found out," Magician spoke up. "Out of curiosity, I looked for other records of the time, and..."

With that, she pointed to a specific part of the parchment, which displayed a particular name.

"...I found a record of a certain other pony that lived in Trottingham at the time. One by the name of Yearling."

The group shared concerned looks with one another. "So, were Yearling and Wisp friends?" Noir asked.

"I couldn't say," Magician said. "Still, the fact that her name showed up in the palace at all suggests that the two had some sort of relationship."

"Plus, how does this fit with her books?" Indy brought up. "The first Daring Do book came out... how long ago?"

"About seven years ago, now," Magician answered. "So, from what I can gather, Yearling and Autumn Wisp had some sort of relationship: good or bad. Then, Wisp got sick enough that she passed away, and a few years later Yearling started publishing her books. Presumably, in the mean time, she also started this business with faking adventures and selling fake artifacts on the black market."

"Still a lot of holes in the story," Mona observed. "But that's still a lot more than we had. Thank for the help, Magician."

"Well, what're we standin' around for?" Skull asked, stretching his arm. "Let's bust this place down!"

Joker nodded in agreement, and led the group out of the safe room.

Unlike last time, the halls were much more sparsely populated with shadows. The group only had to fight a couple times on their way to the ground floor, which went by with no issue.

The lack of security also made their trip much faster, and it wasn't long at all before they reached an intimidating metal door, with a keypad set into the wall next to it.

"Looks like we were right about the name being a password," Fox remarked.

Joker took out the piece of paper with Autumn Wisp's name on it, only for Oracle to snatch it from his hand. "Keep me covered, 'kay? This won't take long."

While she started typing on the keypad, Queen started thinking out loud. "What could it mean if the password to the deeper part of the palace is another pony's name...?"

"They had to be friends or somethin'," Skull offered. "Or Yearling liked her, at least."

Indy just stayed silent.

"What about you, Joker?" Skull kept talking. "You got any ideas about this?"

"I don't know."

"Yeah, we still have barely anything to go off of..."

At that moment, Oracle stood back as the keypad lit up. "It's done!"

Immediately after she said that, the door started to slide open, the gears behind it causing quite the racket. Thankfully, it didn't seem to attract the attention of any nearby shadows.

"Alright, the map doesn't show what's past this door, so we're blind again from here on," Oracle warned. "Keep your guard up."

"Apologies, but that area is off limits."

Everyone whirled around to face the new voice, which belonged to a stallion standing in the middle of the hall behind them. Magician noticed that he didn't look at all like a shadow, although there was still a bit of black mist flowing around his hooves.

Indy gasped. "Cabelleron?! What the hay are you doing in here?"

"That's not the real one!" Mona warned. "It's Yearling's cognition of him!"

Cabelleron ignored the cat. "I should be asking that of you lot. After all, are you not trespassing?"

Magician subtly leaned over to Queen. "Nothing bad will happen if a cognition dies, right?"

"Not at all," she answered, keeping an iron grip on her brass knuckles.

Both sides waited for the other to act first, but an uncomfortably long time passed with no action being taken. Eventually, Cabelleron sighed and took a step back.

"Well, clearly, if you've made it this far, you would no doubt make short work of me." He looked around. "I'm sure Yearling's time is up, but that doesn't mean I have to go down with her."

The Thieves looked at each other, confused. "You're just letting us go?" Panther asked.

"I won't try to stop you, if that's what you're asking."

While the others debated what exactly to do, Indy stepped forward, muttering to herself. "If he's Yearling's cognition, then..."

Once she was at the front of the group, she spoke up. "What business did you and Yearling have together?"

Cabelleron paused for a moment, before shrugging. "Well, I see no harm in telling you, since you'll probably find out yourself anyway." He started pacing along the hall. "After the first few Daring Do books were published, Yearling approached me and my men with an offer: work for her to stage a series of robberies, and help to sell fake artifacts on the black market, and we'd get a slice of the profits."

"That's... oddly straightforward," Skull commented.

Joker took this time to ask his own question.

"What did you two have planned for the convention?"

"Ah, I see you pieced that together as well," Cabelleron said. "It was a rather daring plan of her's, pardon the pun. South Equestria has banned the sale of her books, due to the damages of our previous 'adventures' there, so she was going to use the final day of the convention to announce her retirement. Once the news spread, she and I would travel down there ourselves, and I would frame her for yet another crime. She would then proceed to 'solve' another 'puzzle', and reveal to the locals that it was actually I who wronged them. With South Equestria once again fans of Daring Do, she would simultaneously announce her return to writing, no doubt resulting in a surge of book sales across the country." He smiled widely. "Everyone wins."

"Wait," Magician interrupted before anyone could say anything else. "You said you started helping her 'after the first few books'. Does that mean they weren't staged?"

Cabelleron chuckled. "I could not tell you. I know that there weren't any artifacts being sold on the market before she reached out to me, but beyond that I was never paid to ask about her first books."

"What about the name 'Autumn Wisp'?" Noir spoke up from the back. "Do you know anything about her?"

"Can't say I do." Cabelleron started to walk away. "However, I'm sure that Ahuizotl could tell you more. He has been working with Yearling longer than I."

Before any further questions could be raised, he made his escape, galloping down the hall.

"Odd, I'm not used to a cognition passing up a fight with us," Fox said.

Magician let out a thoughtful grunt. "I guess that means... Yearling's subconscious doesn't trust Cabelleron at all, and expects him to abandon her at the first sign of trouble?"

"That... actually sounds about right," Mona admitted. "You're getting the hang of thinking about palaces!"

"Oh, sure, she gets it right, she gets praised," Skull grumbled to himself.

"Well, she does seem to be catching on faster than we did at first," Panther told him.

"Still, we were right," Indy cut in. "Yearling's gonna use the convention to trick everypony."

"Good thing we're stopping her before it ends, then," Oracle gloated. "Now come on, let's press our advantage."

Joker nodded, and led the team through the door, into the depths of the palace.

Kawakami wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead before recasting her line. The fishing ponds were unusually empty, given how nice the weather was, so she was dead set on enjoying the peace that summer break gave her.

At least she didn't have to worry about being a maid, anymore.

She felt a tug on the line, so she immediately pulled the rod back while reeling it in. Unfortunately, she seemed to have jumped the gun, as the hook came out of the water with nothing but bait on it.

Sighing to herself, she reeled the line the rest of the way in before casting again.

"Excuse me, are you Ms. Kawakami?"

Kawakami jumped slightly, causing her to cast too short to even get in the water. Reeling it back in on reflex, she simultaneously turned to see who was talking to her. "Yes?"

It was a short, blue-haired woman holding a notepad. She didn't look to be that much younger than herself, actually. "I'm sorry for breaking your concentration."

"Oh, no, it's fine," Kawakami said. "I just do this to pass the time, anyway." After performing a proper cast, she turned back to her visitor, gesturing to an upturned crate next to her. "Go ahead, take a seat."

The woman nodded and did so, keeping her notepad front and center. "I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to ask you a few questions about last year."

Kawakami visibly slumped. "This again...? Didn't the police question us enough yet?"

Seeing her accusatory glare, the woman waved a hand in front of her. "No, no, I'm not with the police. Call this... an independent investigation."

"Right. In that case, there's not much I could tell you that hasn't already been publicized."

"That may be true, but I would still like to cover all my bases."

Kawakami thought it over. Of course, she knew about Akira and his business of being a Phantom Thief, but there was no reason to suspect her of any sort of collusion, she thought. "Alright, then. Where do you want me to start?"

"I suppose I'll just jump straight into it," the woman said, flipping to a particular piece of paper. "Suguru Kamoshida." Kawakami immediately winced upon hearing the name, but she didn't interrupt. "It is true that you had absolutely no knowledge of his crimes before his confession, correct?"

"Of course not. If I had known, I would've said something beforehand." She fidgeted slightly. "I mean, I heard the rumors, same as anyone else, but there was never any proof. All the students he abused refused to talk to each other about it, let alone to a teacher."

The woman wrote down a few things, before looking back up. "Isn't it also true that you had a student transfer into your class at the last minute? One who reportedly had a criminal record, which Kamoshida spread rumors about?"

Kawakami let out a small gasp, but managed to hide it by also pulling back on her rod. She didn't expect her to switch topics to Akira so quickly...

As she went about recasting her line, she came up with an answer. "You mean Kurusu? Yeah, he was a last-second transfer. My class happened to be the only one with an empty spot."

The woman wrote down more notes, before asking more questions. "Ms. Kawakami- May I call you Sadayo?"


"Sadayo, how would you say Mr. Kurusu was, as a student?"

"He was..." Kawakami struggled to find words that wouldn't give away her relationship with him. "...interesting. Even though the whole school constantly talked behind his back, he managed to keep a strong focus on his studies. All his exam scores were quite good, even though I caught him spacing out in the middle of class several times."

"How about... socially?" the woman asked, not even pausing to write stuff down. "Did you notice anything strange, there?"

Kawakami could feel herself starting to sweat slightly. Hopefully she could pass it off as the heat. "You mean outside of school?"

"We can go with that, yes."

"Well, I very rarely saw him out of class," Kawakami lied through her teeth. "There was one time I happened to see him here at the fishing pond, but that was it."

"Was he with anyone?"

"Uh... yeah, he was with another second year. One of the few students who actually bothered to make friends with him, somehow."

"Would you mind if I asked who that student was?"

Kawakami hesitated. "Ryuji Sakamoto. At first, I thought he was just a delinquent who saw an ally in the transfer with a record, but the two of them seemed to get along rather well. In fact, after the Kamoshida incident, I don't think I ever saw either of them get into any trouble at school."

The woman wrote down more things, flipped to another page, and continued writing. After muttering to herself a bit, she looked back up with more questions. "So what did you make of Mr. Kurusu personally? Not as a student."

"He was certainly the quiet type. I almost never heard him talk unless someone else spoke to him first."

"Would you say he was the... 'spontaneous' type?"

Kawakami thought back to the first time he met her as a maid. "I guess you could say that. From what little I overheard, he managed to form a small circle of friends that always had something planned."

For the first time since they met, the woman let herself chuckle. "Sounds like he was quite the hard student."

Kawakami couldn't entirely stop the blush from rising to her face. "Y- Yeah..."

Thankfully, the woman didn't seem to notice. "Did he ever miss a day of school?"

"Not a single one." She took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. Of course she didn't mean anything by it, she just needed to get her mind out of the gutter.

"Alright, I suppose it's good that he was always coming..."

Kawakami almost dropped her fishing rod entirely as she quietly choked on the breath she was taking. "W- What?"

The woman gave her a confused look. "I just said it's good that he always went to school. Are you feeling alright, Sadayo?"

"O- oh, yeah," Kawakami said, making a show of fanning herself with a hand. "It's just... the heat! Yeah, it's really hot today. Don't worry, I'll be fine."

"If you say so..." Flipping to another page, the woman proceeded as if nothing had happened. "What about all that business with the Phantom Thieves? What did you think of them?"

There was the topic she was waiting for. "I'm still not entirely sure. I mean, sure they only targeted bad people, but I still have no idea how they did it, even up to getting Shido. It all sounded more than a bit shady, to me."

"What do you make of the fact that their first target was Kamoshida?"

Kawakami shrugged. "I can't say he didn't deserve... whatever they did to him."

"Do you think that the Thieves had some sort of connection to Shujin Academy?"

She thought over her answer very carefully. "I suppose, but I have no idea what it would be. Shujin is a big school, and they could've found out about Kamoshida from any number of sources, no doubt."

Although she barely moved, Kawakami just barely noticed a new intensity in the woman's eyes. "Do you believe it's possible that the Phantom Thieves were, in fact, Shujin students themselves?"

Seeing no easy way to answer, Kawakami instead went on the offensive. "Do you think one of my students could've done all that?"

"There is a possibility," the woman admitted. "That's what I'm actually trying to find out."

Kawakami's mind went into overdrive. This woman clearly had the idea that, somehow, Akira was connected to the Phantom Thieves, and that she knew something about it. She knew that he turned himself in last Christmas as their leader, but she also knew that he was immediately released once his original assault charge was dropped, since there wasn't actually any evidence of him being connected to the Phantom Thieves. Whether or not this woman knew that, Kawakami knew she'd have to find a way out of this conversation, soon...

"So far, all I've been able to find out is that after Mr. Kurusu came, there was quite the mess."

Kawakami jumped hard enough to drop her rod into the pond and started blushing furiously. To save face, she also started coughing a lot while standing up.

The woman stood up with her. "Are you okay?!"

"Y- yeah," Kawakami said, spotting her exit. "I... I think the heat's getting to me more than I thought. I'm... going to go home now. Sorry I couldn't give some more answers."

The woman seemed reluctant to stop her questioning, but nodded. "That's alright, you've still been a big help."

She turned to leave, but Kawakami stopped her by calling out. "H- Hey, I never got your name."

"Oh, my apologies." The woman pocketed the notebook. "I'm Naoto Shirogane."

The deepest part of the palace was almost uncomfortably empty, save for the occasional shadow patrolling about. Magician couldn't help but notice that the shadows here started to shift away from manticores and cockatrices, although she couldn't quite remember the name of some of the creatures off the top of her head.

The shadows also seemed to be a bit tougher than the ones in the building above, but the team was still able to overcome them with little issue.

What was more interesting, however, was the scenery.

The area under the base consisted of several hangers, filled with various military vehicles and equipment. Curiously, Magician and Indy both recognized Daring Do book titles on many of them.

While they didn't find a map for this part of the base, the path was quite easy to follow even without one, and Oracle was actively making one as they traveled, just in case.

"We didn't go this far underground, did we?" Indy asked, looking up at the distant ceiling. "Cause I'm pretty sure we should've seen this from outside."

"Palaces don't always follow logical sense," Mona explained. "So long as it doesn't impede us, it shouldn't be a problem."

Suddenly, something in Oracle's goggles beeped. "Oh! I'm starting to pick up the treasure! It's up ahead!"

"Huh, that was easy," Skull said. "Probably something else in the way, though."

"Not like we can't take whatever gets thrown at us!" Indy boasted, doing a loop in the air.

Fox let out an amused huff. "You sure are prideful for a new recruit."

"Lighten up, Fox, she's been doing great," Panther said.

Suddenly, Joker snapped his head to the side.

"Get back!"

He jumped backwards at the same time, the others following, despite their confusion. As soon as they were on steady footing again, a pair of arrows whizzed through the air where they were standing, before loudly implanting themselves in the opposite wall.

"Oh, good, you didn't fall for that."

The group whirled to the source of the voice, and saw a very strange creature, even by Equestrian standards, who was walking towards them while discarding a double-stacked crossbow. Indy recognized them immediately, and narrowed her eyes. "Ahuizotl!"

"Pleasure to meet you again, Miss Dash," Ahuizotl said, nodding his head slightly. "Shame it wasn't under better terms."

"So why are you working with Yearling?" Queen challenged. "Money, same as Cabelleron?"

Ahuizotl scoffed. "I'm not quite as simple as that turncoat. The money is certainly nice, yes, but the truth is, I owe Miss Yearling quite a lot, actually."

Magician tilted her head. "You do?"

"Of course. After all, she helped me realize my true passion."

"And that is...?" Magician continued pressing.

Ahuizotl stuck a paw out. "Acting!"

"Oh great, another artist type," Skull commented. "Fox, this is your part."

"While acting is an art, you can't just expect me to be knowledgeable in all arts, you know."

Ahuizotl ignored the banter as he continued. "I've been an actor in stage plays for years, but for my whole career, I only got cast for one thing." He snarled slightly. "Beasts. Never mind the fact that I could act better than half the ponies in the cast, never mind all of the heart I put into my work, I always got stuck with the part of big, dumb beasts! Over my entire professional career, I only said about ten lines on stage!"

He suddenly chuckled. "But that's where Ms. Do saved me from insanity. I had known her and her friend for a good while, since my acting troupe was in Trottingham, too. When Yearling approached me with that deal of hers, I jumped at the chance. I may still play a villain, but now I had character! Charm! Proper dialogue and motivations!"

"Wait, her friend?" Mona said, stepping forward. "Are you talking about Autumn Wisp?"

Ahuizotl frowned. "I see you've done a bit of research. And I suppose I've been talking a bit too long. Apologies, I do get carried away sometimes."

The swirling black mass at his paws intensified, as his eyes glowed a familiar yellow. "Now, be a good bunch of thieves and sit there while I kill you."

Joker simply assumed a combat stance, the others doing the same behind him.

Skull was the first to act, rushing up to smack Ahuizotl in the face with his club. The attack was easily read, however, and it took little effort for his tail to smack Skull aside.


Mona followed up Skull's failed offensive by sending a gust of wind, which didn't seem to have much effect on Ahuizotl.

"Surely that's not all you can do," he taunted, before pouncing towards Panther. She was able to barely evade the attack, but was still knocked off balance by the impact.

Noir tried to cover her by swinging her axe at the creature, but it was caught mid-swing by the hand on his tail, and both the axe and herself were sent flying across the room.

"Keep your distance!" Oracle called out to everyone. "He's just gonna keep countering you guys!"

Joker kept hopping backwards in an attempt to stay away, but Ahuizotl was slightly faster, and managed to get a solid hit on him, knocking him away.

Before Ahuizotl could capitalize on this, however, there were a pair of loud cracks as two bullets slammed into his body, making him roar in pain.

Some distance away, Fox stood up from his shooting position as he put away his rifle, simultaneously reaching for his mask. "Persona!"

Goemon emerged, and swung its blade, sending a wave of ice towards Ahuizotl. He was unable to evade it in time, and he roared again as the chill cut into him.

He didn't take the attacks lying down, however, and he quickly sprung away, going after Magician, who had been keeping as far away from the fight as possible.

Panicking, she yelped and put up a shield for herself just as Ahuizotl crashed into it. While it held, it put a rather large strain on her magic, and she had a feeling it wouldn't hold to repeated strikes.

Thankfully, she didn't have to find out. "Charge, Johanna!"

Ahuizotl was struck in the back with a ball of blue-green energy, which exploded violently. Magician used the opportunity to drop her shield and fly away, as Ahuizotl was left blinded and angry.

In his rage, he started swinging all of his limbs in all directions, managing to land a direct hit on Skull, who was trying to fit in a sneak attack.

As Mona used his persona to patch him up, Skull got back to his feet, groaning. "Man, eff this guy."

"Michael! Ravage them!"

From the other side of the room, Joker sent a massive fireball flying from his persona, which Ahuizotl managed to avoid. He wasn't quick enough to avoid the follow up shot from Noir's grenade launcher, however, clouding him in an explosion.

When the smoke cleared, Ahuizotl was still standing, and he looked absolutely furious. His paws started sparking with electricity, and he swung his tail around, sending bolts of lightning towards everyone in the room.

While Skull, Indy, and Joker managed to shrug the attack off with little issue, the others were hit a bit harder. Mona in particular was devastated by the attack, falling to the floor from pain.

Ahuizotl used this opening to take a swing at Queen, who barely managed to dodge in time before jumping backwards.

Magician panted slightly, the lightning having hurt quite a bit, and simply watched as the fight proceeded without her. Even though this was far from her area of expertise, she still wished that she could be useful...

She jumped slightly as Panther landed next to her, having jumped back from the fight. She brought out her persona, but rather than immediately sending an attack, she seemed to be focusing energy into herself.

"Come on, sit still you piece of shit!"

Back in the fray, Skull was having a hard time keeping up with Ahuizotl's movements, and was missing every shotgun blast he made against the creature. When the distance between them was closed, Skull braced himself as Ahuizotl hit him with a wicked punch, sending him sliding back several feet, still standing.

While he was distracted, Indy used her persona to send a gust of wind at Ahuizotl, which didn't do much more than piss him off.

While turning to face her, Ahuizotl instead noticed Panther and Magician some distance away, as the former was still using her persona to charge. He growled as he sent a bolt of lighting at the both of them, before turning to deal with Indy.

Panther's eyes widened upon seeing the bolt coming towards her, unable to move in time lest she undo the concentration her persona was doing. Just before it hit, however, her vision was filled with a purple field, which completely deflected the bolt.

Twilight gasped as she put down the shield. That had taken even more out of her than the punch from earlier.

"Thanks, Magician!" Panther said, before turning her full attention to Ahuizotl.

From the other side of him, Joker caught sight of Panther's intense gaze, and instantly knew what she was planning. Hoping to aid her, he dodged another strike as he tore off his mask.


The skeleton played its tune, causing a noticeable sluggishness to overtake Ahuizotl's actions as his strength left him. By now, the rest of the team had picked up on what was happening, and started rapidly backing away from him.

By now, Panther had finished her preparation. "Burn!"

With that, her persona shot forth a geyser of flame, which impacted Ahuizotl with full force. His cries were drowned out by the sheer volume of the blaze, which lasted for a full two seconds before finally fading.

Once the attack was finished, the room was silent. Ahuizotl was much more burnt than before, but he didn't get up from his place on the floor.

Still wanting to take no chances, Joker took out his handgun as he strode up to the foe, holding the barrel just a few inches from his head.

"Who was Autumn Wisp?"

Ahuizotl started to chuckle weakly, before breaking into a coughing fit. "You're all much stronger than Yearling thought, I'll give you that. And as for your question..." He chuckled again. "You already know. She was a friend."

Joker didn't let up on his interrogation.

"How did she die?"

There was a pause, before Ahuizotl continued speaking. "It was a terrible case of the flu. Only one in a hundred ponies actually succumb to it when treated, but, well, she had some impressive luck."

He slowly sat himself up from his prone form, and Joker took a few steps back as a precaution.

Ahuizotl went on. "When Wisp passed, the whole town was heartbroken, but Yearling took it worst of all. She had grown up with the filly, so I can't say I'm surprised. I also think that her parting gift didn't help matters at all."

"Parting gift?" Fox echoed.

"It was a bundle of papers, part of a dream project that Wisp had been putting together. A draft of a few stories about a certain... Daring Do."

There were a number of gasps from the group, but Indy just stared, face wide with shock.

Noir spoke up. "You mean...?"

Ahuizotl nodded weakly. "That's right. Yearling didn't write the first Daring Do books; Autumn Wisp did."

The group shared some concerned looks, before their gazes fell to Fox, who suddenly went incredibly still.

"When she approached me with her offer of working together," Ahuizotl continued, "Yearling had already released the first few books in the series. She needed me because she didn't know what to do once she ran out of Wisp's drafts, so we decided to... Get creative. After our first 'story' together, she went to Cabelleron, to help with selling knockoff artifacts for added profit."

"So all of her fame," Magician said, "all of her success... was just based on her taking credit for her dead friend's work?"

"I always felt like the first books felt different from the ones after," Indy added, "but this...!"

Fox suddenly stepped forward, standing right beside Joker. "Does Yearling feel any regret about this?" he asked, his voice cold.

Ahuizotl grinned. "I would not know. You'd have to ask her yourself."

After a few tense moments of staring at one another, Fox turned around and started walking back to the others, but not before giving Joker a small nod.

Joker slowly returned the nod, and pulled the trigger.

Once Ahuizotl's body was dissolved, Indy tilted her head. "Uh, that's not gonna hurt him in real life is it?"

"Remember, it's just Yearling's cognition of him," Mona said. "It could affect Yearling herself, but this place isn't gonna be here long enough for that to matter. Let's find that treasure."

While everyone started heading down the hall again, Panther stopped beside Fox, who was still staring into the distance.

"Hey... you alright?"

Fox let out a sigh. "It would seem the death of an artist can always benefit someone."

Panther stepped closer to him. "It reminds you of Madarame, doesn't it?"

"I never thought I'd be reminded of what he did so soon." Suddenly, he looked back up. "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't mean to-"

"Fox- No, Yusuke. Listen," Panther said. "We're here for you. Don't forget that."

"...of course. Sorry to trouble you." He looked towards where the others went, only to find that at some point they had noticed their absence and were patiently waiting.

When they regrouped and continued their journey, Joker just gave Fox a small pat on the back, getting a nod in return. "I'm alright now. It was just... some bad memories."

The rest of the walk went in silence, until the group emerged into a massive hangar at the end of the hall. In the middle of the space was a glowing, shimmering ball.

Mona bounded at the front of the group, beaming. "There it is. Yearling's treasure."

"Alright, so..." Indy started flying around it, trying to see what exactly it was. "How do we get it out?"

"We can't get it out yet," Queen said. "First, we need to send Yearling a calling card."

"Oh, you mentioned that before," Magician said. "Does that mean we need to find her shadow?"

"Not her shadow," Noir said, "the real her."

Magician's eyes widened, before she immediately calmed down. "Oh, right, makes sense I guess, world of cognition..."

"We can start making plans once we head back," Skull said. "We still gotta figure out a way to get the card to her without her knowing it was you two."

"I think we can do that no problem," Panther said. "I got an idea."

"We should get out of here for now," Oracle said. "The shadows aren't too alert right now, but there's no telling how long they'll stay that way. On the bright side, I'm also picking up a safe room not too far away."

Joker nodded, and turned around.

"Let's go."

They met no resistance on their way to the safe room, and once inside they were able to crawl through a vent back to the outside of the base, and from there it was a short trip to the fence.

"Now returning to the real world."

Once again outside of the hotel, Twilight couldn't hold in her curiosity. "So what does a calling card look like, anyway?"

"You're gonna find out," Makoto said. "Let's all go up to your room, so we can write it up and make a plan for delivering it."

"You ready for this, Dash?" Ryuji asked. "Once it's sent, there's no going back. We'll have to change Yearling's heart, or we'll never get the chance again."

"Oh, trust me, I'm ready," she said. "I mean, I already wanted to go through with it, but now I'm certain."

"We'll make sure Autumn Wisp gets the justice she deserves," Haru said, before letting out a small giggle. "I forgot how much I enjoyed saying things like that!"

Akira just smiled.

"Alright, enough fooling around," Morgana called out. "This is gonna be our first changed heart in Equestria. Let's try to make a good impression, yeah?"

Daring Do and the Phantom Thieves of Hearts

View Online

The next day, the convention hall was bustling like usual, but the crowds were a bit more confused than usual.

"What's going on? Is this a prank?"

"Did A.K. Yearling do something wrong?"

"Sounds like somepony's taking their fanfiction a bit too seriously."

"Hey, at least this logo looks pretty cool."

Among the crowd, a particular pony went unnoticed as she stared, wide-eyed, at one of the many letters that had been distributed across the entire convention hall.

To A.K. Yearling, the author consumed by greed,
You have made profit off of the deception of others for too long. We know that your fame is not of your own making, and is actually the fruit of someone who was close to you. We have decided to make you confess your crimes with your own mouth. We will take your distorted desires without fail.
The Phantom Thieves

Yearling whirled her eyes around the con, quickly crumpling up the letter she held. Who were these people? How did they know?!

First thing's first, she had to find Cabelleron and explain that, whatever this was, the plan would still proceed as normal.

As she disappeared into the crowd, she failed to notice a certain rainbow mane flying above her, before they returned to the ground.

"Yeah, I'd say it affected her," Dash told the others. "She was sweating."

"That's good, then the calling card worked," Morgana said, smiling. "And it's all thanks to Panther's idea!"

"It wasn't that complicated," Ann said. "Twilight was the real MVP for teleporting all the cards into the convention center."

Twilight smiled sheepishly from the praise. "So, what now?"

Akira took the lead. Though his posture was still relaxed, Twilight could see that familiar edge in his eyes.

"Now, it's show time."

The others agreed, and started to leave behind the cosplayers and fans. As they made their way back to Yearling's house, Morgana explained the situation in more detail.

"We can steal her treasure now, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. Her palace is going to be on high alert, and I'm almost certain that Yearling's shadow is going to put up a fight for us."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Ryuji gloated while cracking his knuckles. "Let's kick some ass!"

The group didn't even slow down upon reaching the house, Akira seamlessly taking out his phone to gain access to the palace, the others following in his wake.

Just like Mona said, the palace was on full alert. Search lights lit up the entire compound, as well as the air above it, and an alarm was regularly sounding off.

"Come on, there's a clear path we can take to get back inside the building," Oracle said, pointing it out to Joker. He nodded, and he and the rest of the Thieves sprinted across the courtyard, barely managing to evade the searchlights scanning the ground.

They immediately went for the safe room in the lower levels, only pausing long enough for Joker to write in his notebook, before heading back towards the main hangar where the treasure was.

Unlike last time, there were shadows patrolling the lower halls, as the alarms and emergency lights gave the area a more menacing red glow.

"Don't waste time with them, just head for the treasure!" Queen said.

Everyone agreed, and they ran right past the guards.

"Halt, intruders!"


Their cries went unanswered, and they were able to outrun them with ease. It wasn't long at all before they made it to the central hangar once more. However, it, too, was no longer empty, as a massive airship was now parked where the treasure was once located.

"Woah... Don't tell me that's the treasure?!" Skull remarked.

"The treasure is on board!" Oracle said. "Quick, let's-"

Suddenly, the ceiling started to open up, revealing the unnatural purple sky above. At the same time, the airship started to shake as it roared to life.

"It's taking off!"

Joker wasted no time before he started sprinting to close the distance.

"Everyone hop on!"

With agility that wouldn't be possible in reality, the humans (and Mona) all leapt onto the tail end of the ship just as it was starting to leave the ground. The ponies had a much easier time of things, simply landing next to them once everyone was safely on board and accounted for.

"Alright, no time to waste," Mona said. "We should get inside and-"

"Hold on!" Oracle interrupted him. "She's here!"

They all turned to where she was pointing, and saw Yearling's shadow walking towards them from the interior of the ship. Her eyes seemed brighter than the last time they saw her, and there was a small amount of shadow distortion around her hooves.

"You just don't know when to quit, do you?!" she shouted to be heard over the ship's engines.

Indy got to the front of the group, next to Joker. "We know what you did, Yearling! How could you steal work from your friend like that?!"

Yearling winced as if she was struck. "Don't you DARE lecture me about Wisp! Do you know what it's like to lose somepony so close to you, do you?!"

Without missing a beat, several members of the Thieves stepped forward, as well. "Yeah, we do!" Skull shouted back. "But at least we didn't go publishing their life work like it was ours!"

Yearling snarled. "If I didn't, somepony else would! I made sure her dream was realized, even in death!"

"By taking all the credit?" Fox spat back. "People like you give a bad name to artists everywhere."

"Shut UP!" Yearling screamed, the distortion around her growing more intense. "That's it, I'm gonna bucking kill you all!"

At that moment, the floor between the Thieves and Yearling opened up, and a large tank was raised to the airship deck. Yearling was quick to hop inside.

"Holy shit, a tank?!" Skull yelled. "Where did she come up with that?"

"We've taken down worse!" Ann said. "Right, Joker?"

He nodded in agreement, before immediately going for his mask.


His persona shot out gusts of wind, but they seemed to have little effect on the tank.

"You'll have to try harder than that!" Yearling taunted, speaking through the tank's radio.

Noir answered by pulling out her grenade launcher and firing it at the tank, the explosion visibly rattling it. It wasn't nearly enough to stop the tank, though, and it quickly adjusted its turret to aim towards the center of the group.

"Everyone, dodge!" Oracle yelled out, using her own persona to fly alongside the ship and stay out of the fight.

They were just a bit too slow, however, and the tank fired, the explosion managing to hit almost everyone in the group. Mona was quick to use his persona to heal everyone back up, and then Indy used her own persona to hit the tank with lightning.

"Think about your fans!" she yelled out. "Why would you spend this much time lying to them?!"

"Fans are only as good as the money they'll spend on you!" Yearling countered. "Otherwise, they're just drones to be exploited!"

The tank suddenly surged forward, trying to run over Joker. He saw it coming, though, and managed to roll out of the way.


As his persona played its song, the tank became slower, its main gun taking noticeably longer to turn back around to face the Thieves.

"Now's our chance!" Mona shouted out, using his slingshot to land a few surprisingly effective hits.

Panther and Queen did likewise, their personas' magic hitting the tank with red and green projectiles. While they clearly did damage, it still wasn't nearly enough to end the fight.

"Bastards! Why won't you just sit still and die?!"

"Boy, if I had a paycheck every time I heard that, I wouldn't need to be a thief," Skull remarked.

In response, Yearling fired a shell directly at him. While everyone else was able to get clear in time, he took the full force of the explosion, and was sent rolling across the deck of the ship.

"Skull!" Mona quickly bounded over to tend to him, while the rest of the Thieves focused on the tank.

"I don't think we're doing enough damage to it," Queen said. "Any ideas, Joker?"

After thinking a bit, he nodded, and reached for his mask.

However, instead of summoning a persona, he brought up his gun and fired at the tank. Though the shots didn't seem to do much, it did bring attention to himself.

"Cocky little punk," Yearling said, before once more driving the tank towards him.

Joker smirked as he simply stood in place. This was what he was hoping for.

Just before the tank would've ran him over, Joker's persona materialized, stopping the tank dead in its tracks. With ease, his persona, Rangda, managed to not only stop the tank, but proceeded to use its momentum against it, flipping it on its back as Yearling just grunted.

With their target now defenseless, Joker waved the group forward.

"Strike now!"

Everyone hopped into action, hitting the overturned tank with as much force as they could. Lightning, fire, and many other types of magic hit it in its most vulnerable spot, until the entire tank was sparking and up in flames.

By this point, Yearling had crawled out of the tank's hatch, and managed to jump clear of the tank just as it exploded. Idly spitting a bit of black fluid onto the ground, as if it was blood, she adopted a combat stance towards the Thieves. "Alright, guess I gotta do it myself, then."

"Yearling, listen to me!" Magician pleaded, stepping forward. "What would Wisp think about what you're doing?"

For a brief moment, it looked like her words had an effect, as Yearling looked to the ground. It quickly passed, however, as her face filled with rage again. "You don't get to talk about Wisp like that!"

Suddenly, the airship shuddered violently. The exploding tank had managed to set the balloon above them ablaze, and it was starting to spread more and more.

"Guys, it's coming down!" Oracle called out. "You gotta get out of there!"

Yearling just huffed as she took flight. "Not the death I had in mind for you all, but it'll do."

With that, she flew off, but not before punching several more holes in the ship's main balloon, causing it to shake even more violently as the Thieves were thrown to the deck.

Mona managed to spring back into the air quickly, and used the time to turn into a van. "Everyone who can't fly, inside!"

The humans did as he said, stumbling over each other as the shaking continued. Indy and Magician helped them get inside as much as they could, before they also flew clear of the airship, hovering alongside Oracle inside her persona.

Shoving herself behind the wheel, Queen quickly stepped on the gas, sending the van towards the edge of the deck. "Everyone hang on!"

They all screamed as the van became airborne, roughly landing in the middle of the base; shaken up, but unharmed.

Once they were far enough away, Queen pulled a 180 and everyone pulled themselves out, before Mona changed back. At the same time, the ponies and Oracle landed beside them, and they all turned to watch as the flaming airship fell to the ground, completely demolishing any structures it landed on.

They shielded their eyes from the ensuing dust cloud, and once it was clear, they looked up to see that the entire base was now in ruins, the wrecked airship setting the whole area ablaze.

"Man, that's effing cool," Skull commented.

"In a highly destructive sort of way, yes," Queen reluctantly agreed.

They didn't get to enjoy the scenery for long, however, as Yearling's shadow chose that time to land in front of them, still poised for combat. "Still alive, huh? Guess it would've been too easy any other way."

The Thieves adopted combat stances again. "Just give up, already!" Skull said. "We already wrecked your operation here!"

Yearling chuckled. "True, but I can always rebuild somewhere else."

"Then we'll keep following you and wreck that place too!" Indy shot back. "It's over, Yearling."

Yearling laughed as the distortion around her grew even more intense. "It'll only be over when I'm digging shallow graves for all of you!"

With that, she charged forward, hitting Skull with a punch that sent him flying backwards. Queen was quick to retaliate, slamming one of her brass knuckles into Yearling's face.

The fight proceeded as a slugfest, blows being traded between Yearling and the rest of the Thieves, Mona occasionally breaking away to heal the group.

While Yearling was clearly starting to hurt, her own attacks only got more and more deadly, as she grew more desperate.

Seeing a chance to end the fight, Joker stepped back as they brawled it out, and summoned another persona.


His persona cast a wave of ice towards Yearling, which she didn't see coming until it was too late. The attack didn't knock her down, but it did freeze her solid, leaving her eyes the only thing able to move as she started panicking.

Heavily bruised, Skull walked up, brandishing his bat. Adopting a batter's stance, the group just watched as he wound up and struck Yearling as hard as he could, breaking her right out of the ice and sending her flying several feet away.

She tried to pull herself up on landing, but fell back down, finally too beaten to go on.

As the Thieves surrounded her, Yearling finally broke down. "I... I just didn't know what to do. Wisp was my only friend, and when she died, I... I had to keep her memory alive somehow. I didn't mean to get so famous off her work!"

Indy just snorted. "Then why did you never come forward, then? If you really wanted Autumn Wisp to be remembered, you wouldn't just sit there and soak up all the fame!"

Yearling shakily stood up, nodding. "Yeah. I... I see that, now. All this time, I've just been burying her memory for my own profit, and even the fame wasn't enough for me..."

Fox stepped forward. "If you were able to continue the series after her original drafts, then you clearly have some artistic talent within you. You're not beyond saving, but you still must atone for your crimes."

Magician nodded. "He's right. You have to come clean, tell all of your fans the truth."

"...okay. I promise. I'll do it for... Wisp."

They could see that Yearling's shadow was smiling softly, before she started glowing in a yellow light. Soon, she was gone, leaving behind a bundle of papers, which Mona was quick to snag.

"Alright, mission accomplished, team!" he said, holding the papers over his head. "We got her treasure!"

"So, now what?" Indy asked.

At that moment, it felt as if the earth beneath them was shaking apart.

"Now we get the hell out of here!" Skull said, already running for the fence. The rest of the group followed, and one by one they crashed back into reality.

Once they were all back, Akira brought up his navigator and pointed it towards the house.

"The destination has been deleted. Thank you for your service."

"So... that was something," Twilight commented. "What do we-?"

"Shh! Hide!" Dash suddenly said, pulling Twilight and the nearby Yusuke into the bushes with her. The rest followed them, and watched as Yearling suddenly flew in, quickly entering her home before slamming the door shut.

"Ouch... she looked messed up," Dash commented. "Did... we do that?"

"Removing a palace removes a person's distorted desires," Morgana explained. "But the crimes still remain. In almost every case, this results in them being overtaken with guilt."

"Will she... be okay?" Twilight asked, almost afraid of the answer.

"Don't worry, what we told her shadow will stick with her, subconsciously," Makoto said. "She'll probably decide to use tomorrow's announcement to come clean."

"Nothing to do but wait, then," Futaba said. "Oh yeah, what was her treasure?"

Morgana looked to the bundle of papers he was still holding. Twilight looked over them as well, before letting out a small gasp.

"It's... the first draft of the first Daring Do book. By..."

She didn't need to finish her sentence, as everyone could now clearly see Autumn Wisp's name.

"Wait, shouldn't we give this to Yearling?" Dash asked.

"This is just a copy," Makoto said. "Yearling still has the real thing."

Twilight took hold of the papers in her magic. "We should hold onto this, then. Wouldn't want a copy of this to complicate what's going to happen."

Dash nodded in agreement, before facing the rest of the group. "So... now what?"

"Oh, can we go by the convention again?" Haru asked. "Now that we have some free time, I was wondering if there were any souvenirs we could pick up."

"Eh, after all that, it would feel a little weird," Dash said. "But I guess it wouldn't hurt in the long run."

Joker just adjusted his glasses as he took his place at the front of the group again.

"Then let's get going."