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X-DREAMERS [mission 03: Shadows of an Island]

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[Lara Rochelle - Shadow World - A world of cognition]


Oh, those backhanded insults aren't getting him anywhere. She can feel it off of Stan behind her- he's definitely a hair's breadth from jumping forward and telling this other Stan off. Still, she closes her eyes and gives herself a moment to process. Lara knows she needs to remain level headed, calm, in control. She already looks weak with the blood on her clothing, any submissive body language would prove fatal were things to go awry. 


She's no stranger to manipulative tactics, even used a few herself to get out of a few situations. But she's not entirely sure what this Stan thinks he'll gain by coming after her confidence like that.


Two can play at that game. 


Lara relaxes back into the couch and raises her eyebrows, keeping her thumb over the safety of her gun and maintaining direct eye contact. "Mm, so what you're saying is that these are Stan's true feelings, is that right?" She looks up and down. "I'm impressed you have the gall to call me dirty, just looking at your raiment." The left corner of her mouth pulls up a little bit. She keeps her recessive arm rested on the top of the couch and keeps her breathing slow and steady. "Perhaps you're correct at how little I know of you. That goes both ways, doesn't it?


She hears a small whimper from behind her- Utakata. Is he waking up? It seems as if he's still  barely conscious, as she hears nothing else from him. Please, Utakata, do not interrupt this.


She lifts her feet a little bit so she can switch them around, and once they're crossed again at the ankle, she places them back on the ground. "As much as I'd love to pick you apart, I have more courtesy than that. If you're Stan's true inner thoughts... Then I will show as much respect as I possibly can." She pauses. "Although I suppose your extensive history with women explains quite a bit of the realm here, yeah?" Her left hand waves idly at the room and Shadow Stan's garb while her right thumb taps the safety button idly as she takes a pause. "Well then, Stanley Westley, I suppose I'm the same as all of the others, hm? A silly little girl, blinded by love, someone to be robbed and left broken? While you walk off with no remorse?" Her eyebrows raise again as she allows a small frown to cross her face. 


Sure, what this version of Stan hurt. But she chooses not to continue a battle of insults at her own boyfriend unless necessary. After all, if these really are Stan's thoughts, then no matter how much it hurts her, she's not going to go for the jugular. She's going to play this little game and get what she needs to know to get the three of them out of here. If that means she learns how Stan truly feels about her?


So bloody be it. 


It's on her now.

Looks like we're in for a hell of a confrontation.


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The shadow puts his hands to his hips and laughs. A deep-hearty bellow. "Ya'll got some fight in you, darlin'. It's a shame he's treating you like this. You're pretty special, actually."


Lara wasn't phased by the revelation at all, and that brought a smirk to Stan's own face. This doppleganger was trying to sell the shock factor, but neither of them were buying it. They might have a chance yet. He takes a step forward. It's hard at first, but becomes easier. "Tell me something I don't know, bucko. I think about my ghosts every night. The dark thoughts, the perversions, the regrets... I'm not some immature kid anymore trying to raise hell in a world where nobody understands me."


"You're right," the shadow replies, eyes full of self-satisfaction. "You know you don't care. It's--"


"--safer that way," Stan completes at the same time. Damn... whatever this magic was, there was nothing he could hide. "You're every disgusting part of me, I agree. Everything is a game to me, and I'm the one who wants to sabotage my relationship."


He walks forward with tensed shoulders, confronting his mirror self, then turns back to Lara. "I'm sorry. I'll understand if you'll have nothing to do with me, because I... don't want to get too close to you."


The shadow brings a hand to his own chin, doing little more but observing, even if Stan had his teeth bared and fists clenched. "I see you're trying to move the conversation onto your own terms. Taking control of the situation by force and playing the selfless martyr. Can't you see she can handle herself?"


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[Lara Rochelle - Shadow World - Tell me something I don't know]


Lara raises her eyebrows, maintaining a straight face as she looks between Stan and his mirror self. Well, that’s some news, she thinks to herself. And yet she doesn’t find herself particularly shocked. Hurt, yes. But shocked? Not entirely. She knew what she was getting into when she chose to confront Stan that day. She knew that, no matter how close she got, there was always the risk of him turning tail and running, as Henry did.


They always run. Maybe Amanda was right- Lara does have a type. 


Even so, it’s imperative that she keep her head. This is not the situation to lose her voice. It’s not the situation to run, break down, cry, or any combination of the above. Focus, Lara Rochelle. Remember, level head. Keep poise, keep control. Do not let him see you hurt. Do not let him see your weakness. Whatever you do, do not let him win.


First, she turns to look at Stan- her Stan, the one she knew as an upbeat man who liked tinker with things. It seems that her suspicions a few days ago were correct- he did seem to hide a lot under that persona of his. She closes her eyes, relaxes the arm with the gun, and takes a deep breath. Once she opens her eyes, her gaze meets his, looking into the center of his eyes as if she would a target. 


Your mirror self is right about that, hotshot.” She pushes against her knees and stands up off the couch. “There’s no need to cover me here. I’ve been broken several times.” She turns her head to meet the gaze of the other Stan. “Today, at the age of twenty-two, and before that at the ages of nineteen, seventeen, and nine.” Lara pauses, placing her gun to her side and going back to the real Stan’s gaze. "If you think I’m going to cut you out of my life over this, you’re mistaken. I’ve kept people in my life despite worse.


Then she turns to face the shadow Stan yet again. “And if you think I’m just going to allow myself to be broken? At the revelation that Stan never really loved me?” She lifts up her right arm so that the pistol is facing the poorly dressed shadow. “Then you, good sir, are sorely mistaken.” Her head tilts to the side as she raised an eyebrow. “As to what you think you’ll gain from this…” Her eyes narrow. “I’d be quite interested to know.


Behind her, Utakata shifts just a little bit in his sleep. His hand starts grabbing at the ground. He lets out an audible exhale as his brain begins to wake up. He may not be awake yet, but the fluttering in his eyelids makes it clear that he's going to wake up in a rather odd and very tense situation. "Hnnnnh.......?" The softest noise emerges from his throat.

I'm not surprised
Not everything lasts
I've broken my heart so many times
I stopped keepin' track. 🎵


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She would still know,” Kuu replies, eyes wide at Rufus’ sudden violent tone. Perhaps the bounty hunter is displeased at the circumstances of their current situation, but the Shinigami is briefly confused by the anger in the blond demon’s voice.


Before he can think to ask, however, Rufus directs his attention to something else, and Kuu turns just in time to watch a fabric of black cloth fly off into the distance, stirred by the waterside winds. The voices that had been speaking only a second earlier -- and that he had droned out in his brief sulk -- now return in full force, as the waiter presents himself with brilliant red eyes and a booming speech, already prepared.


It is entertaining, and perhaps goes way over the Shinigami’s head. He is interested in only a couple things, to be realistic, and the idea of another dimension’s busy police does not sound entirely appealing.


No,” Kuu says, firmly, before he remembers his manners. “Thank you. Thievery is a crime.” 


Clockblocker shakes his head. Kuu always made decisions too quickly. In some cases, that trait was something he could respect, because Kuu never waffled. It was a refreshing change from dealing with bureaucracy at times. Now, though, it’s a pain. He didn’t say that we’d be stealing anything, Kuu, he implied we’d be fighting, he says. 


He doesn’t trust Joker. “Phantom Thieves” is a catchy name, and he always respects good names, but it and “Joker” hardly sound like the kind of names that heroes would use. His money’s on the standard “villain fights another villain to steal that villain’s power source” plot. Saying that out loud won’t help them, though, and the best thing to do now is stay close to the situation. I’m listening, he says. Hi Listening, I’m dad. My name’s Clockblocker. What’s your plan?” 


I’m glad you asked, Clockblocker!” Mona didn’t have the decency to stifle his snort of amusement. Joker gave him a cursory glance, briefly debating the merits and consequences of stuffing Mona’s mouth full of sand before he could blabber to Skull, then he turned back to the partygoers with a friendly smile. “You see, we are experts of this anomaly Amanda is using to keep the agents captive,” Joker continued. He effortless leaped off the table and landed gracefully onto the sand. “This anomaly I speak of goes by many different names and may be bound by varying universal laws. To our knowledge, Amanda referred to this world as the Shadow World so for convenience I’ll do the same.” Joker stuck a hand in his pocket as he paced around in front of the small crowd. Xander, who had recently arrived on the scene, dismounted Sieghorse and began listening intently. 


We’ve explored the Shadow World to some degree,” Joker said. “It follows a pattern we’re familiar with. People who are brought into the Shadow World unwillingly are trapped within small worlds that reflect the darkest parts of their mind. These worlds are inhabited by shadows of their hosts who not only share their appearance but also their greatest fears. The only way for someone to escape the Shadow World is for them to accept their Shadow as a part of them. If they refuse to do so then…” Joker halted in his tracks. “Their Shadow will manifest into a monster. So!” Clasping his hands together, Joker spun on his heel to face the crowd. “That’s where we—and hopefully you—come in! Rescue everyone who got dragged into the Shadow World, stop their Shadows if we have to, find Amanda, and then ‘convince’ her to keep in her lane.” Casually, Joker fiddled with the scissors poking out of the cusp of his jacket. “We have the means of entering the Shadow World and a general idea of how to locate everyone who was just dragged in. All we ask is you accompany us. Do you have any other questions?


So if we go in willingly we don’t need to worry about our own Shadows? Sounds pretty easy,Clockblocker said, trying to sound casual. It wouldn’t stop him if meeting these ‘Shadows’ was a possibility, but it was something he’d rather avoid. Whatever the ‘darkest parts of his mind’ was - he had enough issues and fears that he couldn’t pick out any one thing - he was sure that he didn’t want it to be exposed to everyone. It wasn’t a power, but the best he could compare the Shadow World to was a Master/Shaker, and Masters were the worst.


I’m pretty good at ‘convincing’ people to do things, he said. After a brief pause, he decided that the goodwill and synergy from telling Joker about his powers would likely be worth it. He wasn’t entirely happy about it, given how much of a benefit having one’s powers concealed could be, but he was used to his power being common knowledge and it would likely come out anyway. If I touch something, I can freeze it in time for thirty seconds to ten minutes. I can’t control how long it lasts or know when it’ll wear off. The short version would do. To demonstrate, he pulled a piece of paper from behind a panel in his armor, dropped it, and poked it with his toe about a foot from the ground, freezing it. He stepped onto the paper, balancing carefully to avoid falling off of the slightly angled surface. There were easier ways to show off, but what was the point if it wasn’t at least a little flashy? 


Eh, not exactly,” Joker said, rocking his hand back and forth in an “iffy” motion. “Us Phantom Thieves do have experience with this sort of world.” Joker lowered his hand. “You won’t have to worry about facing Shadows with us around.” 


Then that’s settled.” Xander stepped forward. Sieghorse, with his reigns wrapped neatly around his master’s wrist, followed a foot behind him. Hovering next to Sieghorse was Xander’s communicator—it remained unchanged from the previous mission with its white color and smiling red-text face. “I tried to track and call my fellow agents on my communicator, but the connection fell through.” The communicator made a small, digital whine. Xander ignored the cube and instead opted to turn towards the Phantom Thieves. “I’ll place my trust in you—For now. “—if it means rescuing everyone Amanda kidnapped. I hope that you honor that trust.” 


Rufus, with his arms stiffly crossed over his chest, let out an undignified huff. 

Don’t look at me like that, Dennis,” he said, turning his head away. “I’m not as stupidly obedient as Kuu, but I know a bad deal when I see one.” Rufus dropped his arms and glared at Joker. “Listen, I was willing to join XDRE for some cash, but this is starting to get above my paygrade. I like getting the job done nice and easy and this—” Rufus gestured vaguely at the surrounding area. “—isn’t what I signed up for.


Dennis worried his lip, suddenly regretting being so quick to lend his and for telling a stranger about his powers.

I might have been a bit quick to jump the gun. Sorry, but this is a bit sketchy. I’m not going to take my chances with it.


Kuu, the shinobi-looking fellow Joker assumed, had not yet answered but based on the look on his face it seemed like he agreed with the others.


Well, alright then.” Joker bowed down and made a waving motion with his hand. “The exit is that way.” The trio did not appear to appreciate Joker’s theatrics, but that didn’t matter to him. Quietly, they walked away from the table and waded through the crowd of party-goers. 


It’s a bit funny actually,” Joker said, straightened his back. “We came here expecting to team up with XDRE and yet we end up having to rescue all but one of them. But none of that matters!” Joker clapped his hands together looking as pleased as one could underneath a face mask. “Your agreement is all we need.” He turned to face Xander. One of our members, Oracle, has located where in the Shadow World all of Amanda’s captives ended up. According to her readings, there’s three different realms that formed in accordance to Amanda’s captives arriving in the Shadow World. There are other creatures that lurk in the Shadow World so we should split off into small groups of, ah, let’s say three or so to ensure we don’t attract the wrong attention. I’d want at least one Phantom Thief to go with each group as both a guide and to fill you in on the many things I’ve yet to mention and… hm.” The small crowd around him wasn’t really a crowd, was it? With the trio of strangers gone, there was only one other person besides Mona and himself. Earlier when they were pranking Rufus, Joker had counted a significantly higher number of XDRE agents and outworlders. Had Amanda really kidnapped the majority of outworlders at the party? How unlucky. 


We’re going to need some backup,” Joker said. With a quicky flourish, Joker pulled the scissors out of his sleeve, snapped them open, and cut a large, person-sized hole seemingly out of the air itself. As soon as Joker pulled his scissors away, a blue swirling portal opened where the air had been cut. From it four people stepped out onto the sand. As the last person exited, the portal slowly closed until it completely vanished from sight. 


These are some more Phantom Thieves,” Joker said, gesturing towards the four people. “They’ve been monitoring the Shadow World for some time now.” Holding his hands formally behind his back, Joker turned towards his fellow thieves. “Time is of the essence, so I assume you’re all caught up on what’s going on?


Yeah, I’m caught up on the fact that there was a party that you didn’t invite us to!” the blond hair man yelled. He pointed an accusatory finger at Joker who stared down at it smugly. “I didn’t come here to party,” Joker said slowly. “You’re aware of that.” 

Yeah, well…” The blond man deflated. He huffed to himself then pointedly turned away from Joker. “Staring at screens for hours is boring, man. Really boring. I’d prefer to be doing something else!” Joker hitched an eyebrow, but made no further comment. The blond man, suddenly realizing there were other people around, instantly perked up. 


Oh hey! You sir must be an XDRE agent!” he said. He proudly stabbed his thumb into his chest. “You can call me Skull. I’ll bash the heads of anyone who gets in our way, got it?” 


Very comforting,” Mona mumbled under his breath.

From behind Joker, a man in with a sleek fox mask slithered forward. 

You’re Xander,” he said flatly. He casually strolled up to the agent and began indiscreetly feeling up his armor. “You’re a king, aren’t you? I read about you in some of our files. Yes, you look very regal.” The man tried to grab Xander’s chin, but his hand was hastily slapped away. “Have you ever considered modeling?


Fox.” The single warning from Joker was enough to cause Fox to tilt his head in the direction of his leader’s voice. He glanced at Xander once more, fingers twitching, but he relented and took several steps backwards.


You’ll have to forgive him,” Joker said, shooting Fox a knowing look. “He’s not good with personal bubbles.


You can call me Oracle,” introduced a young girl with long tangerine locks reaching to her hips. Clearly used to Skull’s shenanigans, Oracle put her hands on her hips and nodded. “Last time I got a good scan, I detected three groups of activity in the Shadow World. First one,” she said as she held up her index finger, “it appears that the Shadow was already taken care of. There’s two people there, and something else that’s- weird, but I can’t describe it.” Oracle scanned her gaze across everyone she was addressing. Not seeing any questions so far, she turned to Joker and nodded.


Second,” she continued as she raised another finger, “we’ve got another small group in another realm- or rather…” She paused. “There’s one person in there, and it seems like they’re on the move. Something is going after them, I think the Shadow has already taken its real form.” Then Oracle crossed her arms over her chest. “We have one more group, and it’s big in comparison. We’ve got three people in there, it looks like there’s a Shadow already starting its little mind games… I detected another presence there, but if it’s a Shadow, it’s dormant. We’re going to need the most people there.


Oracle held up a finger, cocking her head to the side. “Hang on. I’ve got one more thing.” She gave a grin with this as she said, “Lucky for us, Amanda isn’t in any of these three realms. It looks like she also got separated! Although….” To this she frowned. “There’s another realm in there. Since it’s just Amanda in there, we just need to keep a close watch while we grab the others. As long as she stays put, we should be able to get everyone, kick some butt if we have to, apprehend Amanda and get out of there!” She grinned and gestured to her fellow thieves, “As Joker said, we’ve got your back. I’ll be taking the biggest group since it could get pret-ty messy in there.


Now hold on, Oracle.” Joker raised his hand. “There’s a small problem with your plan. The number of XDRE agents I reported being here earlier has decreased significantly. We don’t have the numbers to safely enter all three worlds.” Joker rubbed his chin thoughtfully and began pacing in the sand. “Perhaps we can split up into groups of three, enter two of the portals, and then converge later in the third portal. We’ll have a big enough group by then to deal with whatever is plaguing that world.” Joker shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe one of your fellow agents will get a persona. That’ll make the fight easier.” 


Persona?” Xander frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t know what that is.


Satisfied with the new plan, Joker turned on his heel and pointed finger guns at Oracle. “I’m going to open up two of the portals now. Oracle, you know the most about the Shadow worlds that were made and what’s in them so you should decide on the teams.” Joker pointed one of his finger guns at Xander. “Also, explain what a persona is to this fine gentleman here. If this mission is anything like normal, we’re going to be running into some personas.” With that said, Joker pulled out his scissors. Xander, still confused, turned to Oracle expectedly. 


Sure thing, Joker!” Oracle replied with a grin as Joker got to work. “Personas are what we’re going to be using to fight the Shadows that are in there. They’re not too far off from each other, really, but a Persona is what comes out as a result of accepting your Shadow as a part of you. Like a Shadow, it’s a person’s true inner thoughts and feelings, but it’s much tamer and easier to control.” She quietly fidgeted with a lock of her long amber mane as she looked to meet Xander’s eyes. “We are able to fight without them, but it’s a little trickier, since personas have more powers that we don’t. Hence why we’re here.” She smiled at Xander. “I hope that helps!


Xander nodded solemnly, quietly letting Oracle’s words sink in. Both she and Joker had already established that there were Shadows in the world along with the kidnapped agents and that they manifested from the kidnappee’s psyche. If the Shadows were based on a person’s inner thoughts and feelings, then…!


If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying that these Shadows that are keeping my agents captives are the same Shadows that can turn into Personas?” Xander asked, frowning. “You said that Personas come from Shadows, but can the Shadows be beaten without them turning into Personas?” This wouldn’t be the first time one or more agents was affected by the magics of powers of another world and, unfortunately, it would likely not be the last. If it was possible to keep the agents from being afflicted with the powers of an outside world, Xander would like to take that option.


Oracle nodded in response. “Yes, that’s possible! The only time Shadows can turn into Personas is if the person whose Shadow it is accepts it. Most of the Shadows we fight don’t seem to have a person attached to them, so we just knock them out and they disappear. As for if the person still doesn’t accept their Shadow even after we fight it… Well…” She frowned. “In this case, it won’t kill them, but they won’t gain a persona either.” Then she shook her head. “Not sure if that was the answer you were hoping for… There’s also the chance of not meeting your Shadow at all.


I wasn’t worried about meeting my Shadow,” Xander said, shaking his head. “I was more worried about those who had been taken.” Oracle’s explanation did assuage some of Xander’s concerns. Oracle had confirmed that there were Shadows lurking in the worlds the agents had been taken too, but if there was a decent chance of no Personas forming then that was good news. The idea of some of the agents, especially the newer ones who had just entered the multiverse recently, having to face a manifestation of their own fears and feelings was unnerving to say at the least.


With his question answered, Xander idly tugged Sieghorse’s reins towards him. The horse inched forward, ears flicking with interest.


You said we were going in groups, yes?” Xander looked towards Oracle. “Where will we be heading?


Oracle took a second to think, and frowned. “Hm. It’s going to be a little tricky figuring out the teams, but… We’re going to want two groups, since we have fewer people than I expected. Those guys who left could’ve made a third group, but that’s okay! What we’re going to do is go to the smaller realms. The one with the most people should be okay for now, I do detect a presence there that doesn’t feel like a Shadow, but it seems to be a part of one of the hostages.” Oracle gave a nod of her head. “Let’s see, there’s six of us in total. Two of us, Mona and myself, can take care of navigating the Shadow fights, so we’re going to be in separate teams.” Then she scanned her gaze over Skull, Fox, Xander, and Joker. 


With that, she shifted her weight and looked at the group more closely. The one with the demon features seemed to have some sort of powers, but it was Fox, Skull, Mona and Joker whose powers she knew best. So…. “I’ll take Fox and Skull with me.” Oracle glanced at the two lads and nodded at them. Then she looked at the remaining two. “Joker, Xander, you’re going with Mona. Sound alright?


Hey, I ain’t going to complain about spending time around from Mr. Hairball over there.” Skull threw his arms around the back of his head, staring down cheekily at Mona. “Last time we were stationed together he bit my hand.


I did not!” Mona snapped, glaring at Skull as best as a cat could. Skull stuck his tongue out at Mona which prompted the cat to hiss at him, his fur standing on end.



The single word from their leader was enough to make both Phantom Thieves quiet down. Joker delicately tucked the dimensional scissors back into his jacket as he strolled towards the group. Behind him, there were two portals hovering an inch or so above the ground. Both of them were at least 6 feet tall and wide enough for a person, and even a horse, to pass through.  


Joker gave a cursory glance towards the group and then clapped his hands together loudly. 

We should be set then,” he said, then turned to face Xander specifically. “All of us Phantom Thieves have communicators to allow us to speak to each other no matter what dimension we’re in. We unfortunately do not have a spare, but you’ll be with two of us and Oracle is good at keeping track of where everyone goes.” Lifting his hand, Joker pointed towards the small cube still floating at Xander’s side. “You said your tracker failed before, but if you try it once we get into the Shadow World, it might give us some indication of where to go.” 


Of course,” Xander said with a single nod. “My communicator struggles to make connections with others of its kind across dimensions, but it works perfectly otherwise. If the other agents still have their own communicators then I believe I should be able to track them once we go through the portal.

An invaluable asset,” Joker mused to himself softly. “If that’s all, then we shouldn’t waste time.” Waving for the others to follow, Joker walked towards one of the two portals and took a step into it. His foot vanished the moment he stepped foot into the portal. He glanced over his shoulder, nodding his head towards the portal, before turning around and walking forward until his body disappeared completely. 

It’ll be a quick adventure!” Mona said, scurrying towards the portal as fast as his tiny cat legs let him. “We’ll be in and out in twenty minutes!” Xander raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Thirty maybe,” Mona said, correcting himself. “Come on!” The cat leaped through the portal, disappearing instantly. Xander stared at the portal, pressing his lips into a thin line. Joker nor Oracle actually pinpointed which agents were where or what the contents of the Shadow Worlds were. It was unnerving to set off into the unknown; for missions Xander usually had a well-researched report to go off of, but he had no such support now. It somewhat reminded him of when he first went to Valla what with him teaming up with people who could very well be enemies off into unknown territory to face a threat he did not fully comprehend. The thought wasn’t comforting, far from that actually, but it did make the situation feel familiar. With a deep sigh, Xander pulled at Sieghorse’s reins and walked forward into the portal. 

Once Xander and his steed had disappeared, Skull let out a loud dramatic whine. 

Ugh, what are we even standing around for?” he asked. He kicked at the sand before violently stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Come on, let's go! I want to hit something! That Amanda lady has been a real piece of work.

You’re a brute,” Fox chided. He glared at Skull, but followed him towards the portal nevertheless. As he walked, he glanced at Oracle from the corner of his eye. “I must admit, I am not as informed about this mission as I’d like to be. Do you have any idea of what Amanda hopes to accomplish by using the Shadow World or does she really have no idea what she’s stumbled upon?

Good question, Inari,” Oracle said with a slight frown. “From what Joker said, she did some serious research on this whole place, but has little knowledge about the Shadow World itself.” She turned on her heel to face the two masked thieves directly. “So it’s very likely we have the advantage here. Gotta stay sharp!” With that, she nodded and addressed Fox and Skull. “Well, let’s go. We’ve got some agents to save.

If that’s okay with you, Skull,” she teased, playfully sticking her tongue out at him as she turned back to face the portal. 

“‘If that’s okay’?” Skull frowned “What are you going on about? Of course it’s okay!” He snorted aloud as he tilted his chin up. We’re going to beat up some Shadows and save some people! How is that not okay?” 

Without any warning, Skull grabbed both Oracle’s and Fox’s wrists and began dragging them towards the portal. 


Come on! We gotta get moving!” Skull said, ignoring Fox’s protests about him “grabbing him too hard”. With a wild grin, Skull slung his companions into the portal and then, with an excited whoop, jumped in after them. As soon as Skull disappeared from sight, both of the portals vanished without a trace. The lingering crowd of party-goers stared on, wondering if they had simply hallucinated what they saw or if this was some sort of elaborate production by the hostess they had yet to understand.

Edited by Mikasa361

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Someone...or something...was talking. It started as an indistinct sound, more like the ringing of bells than anything, and filtered slowly into something comprehensible.


“I hope you’re planning on getting up,” the voice said. “This world doesn’t seem dangerous, and I have spent too long waiting on you.” 


Illidan felt something nudge his side.


Ugh, goddess, my head... Illidan sat up, his wings sore from having been lying on top of them for god-knows-how-long...


"WHAT THE ****?!" In moments, he was back on his hooves, Warglaives drawn, ready to defend himself if he needed to. What was this strange thing in front of him?!


Oh, good.” It drew itself up to its full height, folding its hands inside of too-stiff robes. “I am going to find my human. You are welcome to come along. It is probably safer that way.


Illidan grimaced a little before lowering the Warglaives to his sides (but keeping them out still - just in case). "...you know, scaring people like that is a good way to wind up in a grave." He cautiously followed the mysterious creature. The most he could tell from its aura was that it was not humanoid, but at least it didn't seem hostile.


I am spren. I cannot die.” It turned away from him and strode off in one direction with purpose in its step.


The way it said that so calmly was enough to put Illidan more on-edge. I just had to jump into the portal and try to play damn hero again. At least this time it was Xander rescuing him instead of the other--


Oh, goddess, Xander!! The king was probably worried sick about him! Yeah, now hindsight was coming back to bite him, hard, and Illidan began mentally kicking himself for being too quick to act.


You are worried as well,” the creature said without breaking stride. “It is in your language. Mm...the way you move. Body language, that is it. What is it about?


...does nothing escape this creature? He was unnerved, but Illidan saw no reason to lie.


"...someone I care about deeply. I fear I may have worried him." He paused. "...and I won't lie, I am worried about him, as well. I hope he's okay..."


Truth is good,” it said, its tone oddly pleased. “Lies have their place, but truth is what brings power. Understanding.” It paused briefly. “Xander, yes? The king with the world of Progression. Capable. Does he trust in your capability?


Illidan stammered for a good few seconds before shutting his mouth. He truthfully didn't know how to answer that, because even he didn't know the answer. In a sense, he felt like that was a question that only Xander knew the answer to.


The creature hummed, a sound like tapped glass, and paused at the crest of a hill. “Hm. Odd. Right, there is...a camp. The place where he would most likely be. Left...the battlefield continues. But there are people here now. Interesting.” It turned to him. “Which way?


That was... actually a good question. Camps were typically safe spots, but Illidan knew from personal experience that they could also be overtaken by enemy forces. Likewise, those present in the battlefield could be allies, but they could also be enemies that survived whatever had happened here. Illidan grimaced at that last thought - the stench of blood hit his nostrils still, and it was never a stench he could fully get used to.


He was not going to chance that camp. If those people were enemies, so be it. "I say left. If the people in the battlefield are allies, then they could be helpful against any enemies that show up."


The creature nodded. “Very well.


Away from the spren and the half-demon, within the heart of the abandoned battlefield, a portal opened. Three figures stepped out of the portal and onto the blood-stained ground. Joker, who was leading the trio, squinted his eyes as he tried to peer through the thick mist obscuring his vision. He could scarcely see anything in the distance save for the silhouettes of abandoned weapons stuck forcibly in the ground and torn battle flags still proudly waving in the wind. 


I’ve seen prettier Shadow Worlds,” Joker said. His nose scrunched instinctively as the scent of dried blood and decay hit him. The glowing portal shut behind the group just as Joker spun around towards his companions. 


Agent Xander, you said that your cube could lead us to your fellow agents,” Joker said. “How’s that going?” Xander sat on top of Sieghorse with his communicator floating in front of him. He tapped the cube’s surface, casually dragging his finger across the cube as he switched between screens. 


It seems like there's interference.” Xander frowned. “The tracker’s map is showing up, but the static is making it impossible to read.” With a sigh, Xander pressed a button to put the tracking on standby and waved the cube away. The map on the cube vanished and was soon replaced by the cube’s normal, smiling face as it hovered over towards Xander’s shoulder. “I’m afraid we might have to search for my agent the old fashioned way,” Xander said. He tugged at Sieghorse’s reins which stirred him out of his stupor. The horse lifted his head, ears flickering attentively. 


Is that so...” Joker hummed to himself. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, unsure of how to proceed. “Mona?” Joker glanced over towards his fellow Phantom Thief. “You’re our eyes here. Do you have any idea which direction we should head towards first?


Mona nodded at Joker. “I’m gonna say we go right. I’m picking two beings in that direction.” His ears twitched a little. “Far enough I think out of the battlefield. Let’s get out of here.


Two, huh? That could be an agent and their Shadow, but it could also be something else entirely.” They had to be careful when it came to Shadow Worlds. There was no telling what sort of creatures they could run into especially considering the unpredictability of the multiverse. 


Ready yourselves,” Joker said. He brushed his fingers along the edge of his mask. “There’s no telling who’s up there. We must be prepared for a battle to break out at any moment.” Taking Joker’s words to heart, Xander held Sieghorse’s reins in one head so he could properly unsheathe Siegfried. The divine weapon burst to life, glowing a brilliant violet as white sparks eagerly danced on the blade’s surface. 


With a sharp flick of his hand, Joker motioned for the others to follow as he began walking towards the direction Mona pointed towards. “Agent Xander, do you know which agent this world would belong to?” Joker asked idly as they walked. “While we do have information about your organization, we spent more of our time researching Amanda than your people.” 


Xander shook his head. “We had a few newcomers attend this mission,” he admitted. “I don’t know enough about their backgrounds to make an educated guess, and the fog is too heavy to make out any distinguishing features.” 


That’s unfortunate,” Joker said, clicking his tongue. “Mona, I assume you and Oracle didn’t find anything that could explain who’s world this is, did you?” At the end of the day, they were probably going to figure out who’s Shadow World they had ended up in, but having a head’s up could prove useful should they have to help someone overcome their Shadow.


Mona nodded again. “Well, I do see a few things that tip me off. The boy- Telinar?- was wearing some sort of suit, right? Well check out that flag over there,” he said as his arm pointed in the direction of a flag on the battlefield. “The symbols on the flag over there match what’s on the jacket he was wearing.” He looked to the left a little. “There was a camp off this way, and we detected something there. Though the two I detected just now are a little closer to us.” 


I recognize that symbol.” Xander narrowed his eyes at the flag waving gently in the wind. It was dirty and tattered, making the symbol on it almost impossible to read; however. Xander could make out the pattern well enough to recognize it as the same one one Tien’s jacket. “You’re right.” Xander leaned back in his seat. “That symbol is on the jacket of one of my agents, but he’s still relatively new. I don’t believe we have a complete file on him yet, so I can’t tell you what to expect. 


Telinar was an agent? Joker expected as much, considering he had been hanging out with the other XDRS agents and that they were all terrible at hiding their powers, but the confirmation was helpful. He quietly filed the information away to the back of his mind. The people Mona had detected were visible now. Well, semi-visible. Amongst the mist, Joker could make out the silhouettes of what appeared to be two people. They clearly weren’t human if the giant wings and strange symbol-like head were any indication. If Joker had learned anything, those were clear indications of the two strangers being Shadows, and yet he did not attack. He and the other Phantom Thieves had ran into many strange characters since they entered the multiverse. Joker had to think twice before pulling out his Persona on just anyone he ran into. A more diplomatic approach would suffice for now.


Hey!” Joker raised a hand and waved it high in the air. “Are you two lost?” With his other hand, Joker discreetly lowered it down towards his hip where his gun was. Should the entities prove to he malicious, he’d be able to get a few shots in before calling in Arsene for backup.


Well that was subtle. Mona shook his head in dismay. Though he was willing to send out Zorro if these two got startled to the point of attacking, maybe he didn’t have to go yelling like that. Joker…. If they attack and it’s your fault, you’re going to bed extra early tonight.


Oh good, Yosuke,” the symbol-head said in a startlingly matter of fact tone. “Xander, and…” it cocked its head at Mona. “Milk Cream, was it? I thought there was something odd about you.

Illidan sighed in relief. "Xander, oh thank the goddess. Not going to lie, I, uh..." He groaned. "Jumping into that portal and trying to play damn hero again was not my brightest idea." He laughed nervously. "Still, I'm glad you're here."


No, it wasn’t. You should think before running head first into danger.” Xander’s words were harsh, but there was no heat behind them. “Still…” Xander sighed, then shook his head. “I am… it’s good that you’re unharmed.” Xander’s shoulders sagged with relief, and his hands silently fiddled with Sieghorse’s reins.


Above that, you’ve found someone else.” Joker removed his hand from the handle of his pistol and took a step forward. “Someone who hopefully isn’t a Shadow.” The strange’s being’s head wasn’t anything like Joker had seen on other Shadows. Shadows came any many forms, but this one was too friendly and had a too significant symbol on them for Joker to assume they were like any normal Shadow.


It seems like neither of us knew about each other,” Joker said folding his arms across his chest. The strange person only knew Joker’s alias from the party. It seemed like they had been there. “Who are you exactly?


I’m called Fractal.” It placed a hand on its chest and bowed ever-so-slightly. Its robes didn’t fold naturally as it moved--they almost seemed to be made of sheets of glass. “I am a Cryptic, a truthspren. You’re looking for my bonded human.


Mona. I’m not Milk Cream, that was an alias.” Mona replied as his tail stiffened. He looked up at the strange cloaked pattern. “I figured you weren’t a Shadow, but I did find you weird.” His tail continued to twist as his tiny arms crossed over his chest. “Bonded human… Telinar? And what exactly is a truthspren?” Looking at its cloak, and everything else…. Was this an effect of the distortion?


It was very, very odd.


Illidan smiled at hearing Xander's relief that he was okay. Now maybe they could focus on what to do here. "I'm not going to lie, I'm also curious as to what a 'truthspren' is." He glanced at Joker. "And I'm a little behind on the details, so... I'm assuming we're here to rescue somebody? Probably some fellow agents, considering what all happened before I decided to be an idiot."


You assumed correctly.” Joker uncrossed his arms and then placed his hand on his chest with importance. “We’re the Phantom Thieves and we’re here to help.. We’ve been chasing Amanda, the woman who kidnapped all your friends, for some time now. We came here to rescue one of your friends while another one of our team’s rescues someone else in another world. Once everyone is safe. Once everyone is safe, we plan to meet at a rendezvous point before going to confront Amanda directly.” 


Besides you, several other agents were captured,” Xander added helpfully. With it now confirmed that Fractal wasn’t hostile, Xander lowered his sword. As though it knew its master’s intentions, the red glow enveloping Siegfried dimmed down. “There’s another agent here that needs to be rescued, everyone else who attended the party with us needs to be rescued as well.” Xander tapped his fingers against the side of the saddle. “It seems I was the only one fortunate enough to not get trapped in one of these strange worlds.”


Speaking of which…” Clasping his hands behind his back, Joker spun on his heel towards Fractal. “I don’t know what a truthspren is, but if you’re not a Shadow then you’re an ally. The name’s Joker, by the way, Yosuke is the name I stole from a friend’s friend.


I am a sapient representation of the mathematical truths that govern the universe,” Fractal said matter-of-factly. “A cognitive being, like all spren. Drawn by truth and lies. A scholar. A traveller. And yes, Telinar is a name my human uses. From what I have gathered, this world is born of his fears, yes? It feels…” It--she? The voice emanating from the pattern-head sounded distinctly feminine--trailed off, humming in a considering tone. “It feels like him. Polluted and drenched in fear, but him. I do not believe I like it.” 


Fractal hummed in bell-like chimes for a moment longer before seeming to refocus. “Joker, Mona. More facets, I believe. Much like Telinar. I look forwards to allying with you. Now--” she pointed in one direction. “Can we find my human?


Mona nodded at Fractal’s response. “Yes, it is from his fears and his insecurities.” He paused to take one more look up and down. “Yeah. Let’s go get Telinar out of here. I’m not detecting any Shadows right now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any a few minutes from now. Let’s get going, everyone.” His tail once again stiffened as he started moving forward- he had a bad feeling, a feeling that this would be too easy.


He wondered how Oracle and her group were faring. At least he had the reassurance that if they managed to get through this area quickly, they could make it to the third world with no problems. 


Still, Mona didn’t like it.


Illidan couldn't help the smile at the name "Phantom Thieves". Still, they were here for a reason, and that reason was rescuing their fellow agent and getting the hell out of dodge before things got bad. And if his instinct was right, things would most definitely get bad. "I'm with Mona on this. The sooner we get Telinar and get the hell out of dodge, the better." There were still more kidnapped agents out there, and Illidan had the sinking feeling that they weren't having it as easily as everyone here was.


Right. The quicker we get out of here the quicker we can rescue the others and get to Amanda.” Joker pointed towards the direction Mona had initially lead them towards. Through the fog, Joker could make out the vague shapes of what appeared to either be some sort of building—or a wall or tent perhaps—standing proudly in the distance. 


The captured agent is over there.” Joker lowered his hand down to his side. “If we’re lucky, we won’t have to fight anyone. Well?” Joker motioned his head towards the direction of the silhouettes. “Shall we?



The destination, as it turned out to be, was a military camp, or rather the remements of what was once a military camp. It didn’t appear to have any modern facilities or equipment as far as Joker could see. It was hard to distinguish any details within the fog, but the camp reminded him of some of the sets he had seen on television or movies starring a fantasy, if the strange glowing lamps were any indication of mythical features, or medieval setting. The camp was devoid of Shadows or any other lifeforms as far as Joker could tell, but he knew better than to assume that they were safe.


Mona, do you know where we should head towards?” Joker asked, sparing a glance down at his partner. The sooner they found Telinar, the better.


Mona paused to scan the area. “Not too far, should be to the left. He’s close, I wonder if he’s hiding...” That last part he mused aloud. “Still no Shadows either.


The camp remind Illidan of those the Alliance and Horde used back home. "If he is hiding, it won't take long for me to find his aura." He loved his Spectral Sight for that reason. "Can't blame him if he wants to hide, though, considering this place is made of his deepest fears and all."


Fractal hovered a few steps ahead of the group, standing in the entrance of the camp. She was making a low, soft sound like the fading echo of a tolling bell. Then, abruptly, she spoke. “Found him.


She moved forwards in an action too fluid to be called a dash, but it certainly was a quick glide.

Tien’s directionless anger had faded into an odd, uncomfortable simmer. A too-familiar simmer, the kind of twisting feeling in his gut that he’d always gotten after Amaram had been particularly threatening in a meeting. It threw him off, just a little.


And he still hadn’t found Fractal, no matter how much he searched the camp. Maybe she was out on the battlefield.


Tien shuddered involuntarily. He storming hoped not, but if she was...he’d have to take it for her. For the sake of--


He rounded a corner and abruptly located his spren at the camp’s entryway. 


Fractal!” Tien blurted out, relieved, and ran forwards to meet his spren halfway. She pulled up short--full-bodied, this was the Cognitive Realm after all, that explained some things--and opened her arms to let him crash into her with a hug. “You’re okay!


I’m okay,” Fractal repeated, combing one hand through his hair. “I have found others. Look.

Tien pulled away and turned his gaze in the direction she pointed in. Oh, there was Xander with odd demon horns--was that just a thing that happened?--the winged demon guy he was pretty sure Xander liked, a creature that reminded him of Milk Cream--perhaps the cat had another Cognitive Form too?--and--


Yosuke,” Tien said without thinking, “what are you wearing?


Mona laughed at the use of Joker’s fake name. But he remained quiet as he watched the two interact.


They’re my work clothes,” Joker said easily. He splayed out his arms and twirled on the spot so Tien could get a better look at his outfit. “Everyone in my little organization has one. Even Mona to an extent.” Joker inclined his head towards his fellow Phantom Thief. 


You’re unharmed.” From behind Joker, Xander strood forward from on top of his stallion. “Good. That’s one last thing to worry about.” 


You’re unharmed for now.” Joker lowered his arms back down to his side. “There’s still a potential problem.” Joker’s tone grew more stern as he walked towards Tien. “You haven’t seen anyone who might look like yourself around here, have you?” Joker gave a cursory glance around the area, looking for any sign of Tien’s Shadow or any other potential Shadow that would attack on sight.


Tien blinked, jerking back in surprise. “You--you know about that? Is that normal here?” He paused for a beat, then reached into his jacket. “...But, yes, there was...it--he--it turned into this.” He brought a card out of some inner pocket and held it out so Joker could see.


He…. Telinar faced his Shadow on his own….?” Mona froze. “Did…. You didn’t fight it, did you…?” Sure, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility…. But what kind of tank was this boy if he was able to--


Ah,” Tien blinked, startling again. “Right. I lied about my name, I’m Tien.” Fractal made a bell-like sound that he’d grown to recognize as her laugh, and he swatted her arm. “Um...I don’t think I fought it? Definitely not physically, at least.


Don’t worry about it,” Joker said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Neither of us were being forthcoming with who we were. I only took that ‘all exposure no pay’ waiter gig as a coverup so I could keep an eye on the party and make sure this—” Joker gestured towards the camp. “—didn’t happen. Yosuke was a fake name.” Joker pressed a thumb squarely on his chest. “You can call me Joker. It’s the alias I go by as a Phantom Thief. If you’d like to know my actual name you’ll have to catch me after we get you out of here.” Joker cracked a small grin then winked.

Which actually might not be that long if you’ve already dealt with your Shadow,” Joker continued. He stared intently at the card Tien held between his fingers: card XVIII, the Moon. It was the same card Mishima had. Strange. Joker hummed to himself, tapping his chin contemplatively before glancing up at Tien. 


This world that we’re currently in is a reflection of your memories and feelings,” Joker explained. “Typically worlds like these are inhabited by beings known as Shadows. These Shadows are based on your own emotions and insecurities and will likely seek you out. Normally, Shadows have to be fought physically before you’re free from them, but if you’ve already accepted your Shadow as a part of you then a fight wouldn’t have had to happen and that’s…” Joker cocked his head to the side, raising a fist to his mouth as he stared at Tien inquisitively. “Well, I wouldn’t say it’s unheard of, but most people aren’t able to accept the darker parts of themselves so quickly.


Tien blinked again, several times in a row, as he processed that sudden flood of information. His instincts had been right about Yosuke--no, Joker--being a spy after all! He felt a small surge of pride that almost immediately transmuted into flustered embarrassment as the other man winked at him.


Inhabited by Shadows...Cognitive beings that sought you ought, drawn by emotions and feelings...It’s just like spren! This is like Shadesmar after all!


Shadows are based on your own emotions and insecurities.


And he was a Lightweaver. The order of the Knights Radiant that gained their powers from facing truths about themselves, things they avoided, things they didn’t want to admit.

Tien couldn’t help the smile that grew on his face, and he couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled up in his throat until it burst out and he doubled over from the force of it.


Tien bursting into laughter startled Illidan, badly, causing him to leap backwards several feet. This time he managed to relax before drawing the Warglaives, but he was still none too happy about the sudden outburst. He let out an indignant growl, upset at having been spooked a second time.


If Mona had pronounced eyebrows, he would have raised one. “Is…. Is he okay?


Sieghorse’s ears flattened against his skull at the abrupt noise. Xander quickly rubbed the nape of the stallion’s neck and whispered a few, soothing words to calm him. “Tien?” Xander furrowed his eyebrows in worry. “Are you alright?


I didn’t think it was that funny,” Joker mumbled under his breath. He wasn’t even trying to live up to his namesake; he was just giving the exposition needed for Tien to understand the situation. Tien’s eyes didn’t have the telltale yellow glow of Shadows or anything of that sort, so it wasn’t like he was possessed or something. “Oi, Tien. You’re making everyone concerned. Are you alright?


I’m, I’m good,” Tien gasped out. “Sorry, hang--” another giggle erupted from him. “Hang on a moment.” He took a deep breath and let out a couple more snickers before finally seeming to calm down. “It’s--that’s just--it--” he waved a hand vaguely, losing the words, and glanced to Fractal.


“Lightweavers speak Truths,” she explained. “This was...mm…” She glanced back at Tien in turn. “Like swearing an Ideal?” 


He nodded rapidly. Exactly like that. This would make it…” he tilted his head consideringly, his gaze wandering back to the group. “Fourth Ideal, third truth, but it’s not an Ideal, so...well, long story short, I’ve faced the ugly parts of myself before.” He paused for a beat, then added, “Sorry for alarming you all.


After listening to the explanation, Illidan was glad that he hadn't faced his own dark side. He wasn't entirely sure if he could. He wasn't sure if anyone could. "So. Nothing to fight here, basically. Let's get out of here before that changes."


Well that’s a relief,” Joker sighed. He rubbed the nape of his neck, feeling the stress slowly melt away. If Tien had already handled his Shadow then that meant that they were effectively done in his Shadow World. Oracle and her group would undoubtedly had a much harder time with their mission, meaning Joker and his merry band would have to wait around until they were finished. Not a bad plan. Illidan was right, they were ready to go unless—


Tien,” Joker’s tone grew serious. “After your Shadow disappeared, did you hear a voice or see someone else? Besides us or Fractal, I mean.


Tien frowned slightly as he thought back. A flash of light...and yes, a ghostly image before another flash of light had swallowed it. He nodded. “Yes, I--a woman, I think, though not human. Accompanied by two smaller beings.” He looked at his card again, tracing the golden glyphs on the center moon. “...Nomon, Mishim, Salas…


Joker exchanged glances with Mona. He didn’t recognize the names given, but it certainly sounded like Tien encountered his Persona or another Shadow. Joker had known it was a possibility for the people taken to obtain Personas, but it hadn’t been a certainty. If there was even the slightest chance that Tien did have a Persona, he needed to be prepared.


This doesn’t always happen, but sometimes after someone beats their Shadow the Shadow takes a new form,” Joker said. “We call these new forms Personas and they—well. Perhaps it would be easier to just show you.” Joker took a few steps away from the group least he startle them. He grasped the side of his mask and, with a casual wink to Tien, yanked it off his face. Behind him, a column of blue flames burst from the ground and spiraled upward. Two black wings sprung from the pillar of fire as the flames began to collascend into a floating humanoid figure. Within seconds, the fire dissipated completely, revealing Joker’s Persona.


This is Arsene.” Joker gestured towards the winged-being behind him. Arsene stared down at the small group around him and bowed his head down respectfully. “Arsene, like all Personas, embodies my personality and feelings. Personas have abilities of their own, primarily for fighting or healing. They stick with you even if you leave your Shadow World. So if that woman you saw was your Persona, you’ll be seeing her again sometime in the future.


Mona sighed. “Always had a flair for the dramatic, didn’t he….” Then he sighed. “Exactly like Joker said, Personas are the embodiment of your true self. Each one has a different Arcana to it, mine being Magician.” He summoned his Persona in the same fashion Joker had, the caped figure appearing in a blue column of flame behind him. “Zorro!” 


Zorro moved towards Arsene and casually proceeded to punch it in the face. 


Personas can hit each other, fun fact,” Mona said with a chuckle. “They’re very similar to Shadows, just with more control.


Tien stared at the show of power with wide eyes, covering a laugh with one hand when Mona’s Persona moved to punch Joker’s. It was...well, it was certainly an interesting thought. He gave his card another considering look before finally tucking it back in his pocket. 

His other hand reached out to grab Fractal’s. Personas sounded a bit like spren, and he knew how those worked; or, at least, he knew how his worked. Fractal was his best friend and only confidant. She was his and he was hers, bonded at the soul. She could not die unless he killed her.


He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about having another one of those.


He wasn’t totally sure what Arcana meant, either, but he could probably ask about that on the way. 


That’s good to know,” Tien nodded, squeezing Fractal’s hand for comfort. 


Illidan wasn't quite sure what to make of the entire "Persona" thing. To him, it sounded a lot like a demon hunter's inner demon, only... more controlled, in a sense. In a way, he was jealous. Still, he fidgeted a little, eager to get going.


It took a surprising amount of willpower to not spin around and punt Mona into a wall for that unnecessary display. As Joker rubbed his cheek, where Zorro had punched Arsene, he thought he could hear Xander mutter “Dear Naga, they’re children,” softly under his breath.


You can usually feel what happens to your Persona,” Joker said with as much grace as he could manage. Arsene flapped his wings indignantly but didn’t retaliate. With a glower, Arsene raised a hand and performed a rude gesture. “So I wouldn’t suggest putting them in dangerous situations. Still, we have bigger issues at hand.” Joker quietly reattached his mask to his face, causing Arsene to slowly fade into obscurity behind him. “If there’s no more issues here, then we can head to the rendezvous point in the biggest Shadow World. We’ll wait there until Oracle’s team has finished up their world and, hopefully, we’ll be able to deal with Amanda soon after.


I’ll contact Oracle and her team and check up on their status. If everything is good we should be heading to another Shadow World very soon.” Stuffing a hand into his pocket, Joker pulled out a pair of dimensional scissors. Ducking down, Joker snipped the air a few inches above the ground and allowed his scissors to glide upwards by several feet. When he closed the scissors, a glowing portal had formed from where he had cut. He skillfully twirled the handle of the scissors around his finger before nodding the group towards the portal. “After you.


Still laughing, Mona stepped forward and hopped through the portal.


Tien and Fractal cocked their heads in almost eerie unison, especially considering Fractal’s twisting pattern of a head. Tien unlaced his fingers from Fractal’s as she stepped forwards, circling around the portal with an air of intense interest before gliding thorough. 


Tien paused next to Joker before he stepped through the portal. “I have a lot of questions about several things. I...I hope we can talk about those later.


I’d love to chat later, once this has all been resolved,” Joker said softly. The way Tien and Fractal tilted their heads at the same time was oddly cute. Joker found himself strangely endeared by it. “I’m sure you have lots of questions that have yet to be answered.” 


Tien smiled at him, sudden and bright. “Yeah. Alright, then. See you on the other side.” He took a deep breath as though steeling himself and stepped lightly through the portal.


Behind him, Xander rode Sieghorse over towards where Illidan stood. 

Hopefully this next rescue will go better than last mission’s,” Xander said idly. Logic dictated that he hurry through the portal. After all, the sooner they rescued the other agents the sooner they could get to Amanda and put her in her place; yet, Xander paused for a moment. “You are okay, aren’t you?” Xander had assumed Illidan was uninjured when he first saw him, but, well, it didn’t hurt to check up on him.


"...yes, I'm fine. Nothing really attacked me; I just got startled a couple of times." Illidan averted his gaze a little - it felt nice to have someone actually concerned for him. "I'm glad nothing's popped up yet..." Though, knowing our luck, it's only a matter of time, he added in his thoughts. He gave a small smile to Xander. "The portal awaits. Shall we?"


Illidan’s smile was enough to elicit a soft chuckle out of Xander. “Of course. We have people waiting on us.” With Illidan’s safety secured, Xander pushed his concerns to the back of the reaches of his mind and ushered Sieghorse through the portal.


Not far behind Xander was Illidan. The half-demon stepped through the portal, as well.


Everyone was safely through the portal. Joker stopped swinging the scissors in his hands. It was tempting to try and pull out his phone to see how well Oracle and her team were doing, but Joker was well acquainted with how poorly communications were between worlds. At the very least, they would find Amanda soon and by finding her they’d finally put a stop to her using Shadow Worlds, the Metaverse, and everything else for her own selfish deeds. 


Joker stepped through the portal and it closed behind him, leaving Tien’s Shadow World behind.


Edited by Mikasa361

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Enterprise ~ A Ghostly Grey World









She smelled and heard them-



-- and then her eyes snapped open. The world was so very grey and empty. This wasn't where she'd been seconds ago, she realised.


She stood atop a roiling sea, tinted red. Blood. Enterprise sucked in a breath between gritted teeth. She looked up.


The sky, it was so - ethereal. Eerie. Unreal. It was a ghostly grey, like the skies she dreamt of. Not the wonderous skies of new lands; rather, the otherworldly grey of her worst... memories. Dreams. She knew she'd lived some of them, and some felt so real she woke up half-expecting ghostly grey.


And now here she was, atop a bloodstained sea with a ghostly port upon the horizon. There was nothing that she could see beyond it, as what lay beyond was obscured by a phantasmal mist. Enterprise glanced quickly over shoulder. She wished she hadn't; in the distance, too-familiar explosions rent the seas. Again.


Enterprise shuddered involuntarily. She started by skating across the water, before breaking into a run. Somehow, the port drew her forward. Horror welled up when she started to see the corpses.


There were humans and shipgirls alike, floating limply on the sea. She recognised many of the ships. She should. She had sunk them. And their lifeless eyes bored into her soul. She heard them screaming - remembered their dying breaths - she saw her Union sisters in arms falling - she couldn't she couldn't they were gone--


She fell again, tumbling onto the dock. The scents of smoke and blood were strong in the air. Enterprise's heart pounded as she staggered back to her feet. The carrier's eyes darted around, picking out blast and burn marks. More corpses. She couldn't - she tore her gaze away. She didn't recognise the humans, though a lot of them had attire resembling Sakura nationals. A halting laugh. Were her failures back to haunt her? Not all of the humans looked Sakura... and the lifeless ships at the dock were a mix.


And yet something called her deeper into the damaged, nigh-lifeless port. It urged her on. Screaming for her; crying her name.

Edited by DuskOfTheStars

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This ain't right, Stan was certain. C'mon, think!  His mind was still hazy from the sudden shift in scenery, but he forced himself to activate his eye implants and glance at some past photos. The blanks in his memory began to fill. The information he stole from Amanda... Most of her documentation was about the Force Monster, which was the last thing he remembered seeing before waking up in this room. The Force Monster she had acquired long before she discovered its ability to rip open rifts to the Shadow World (which was, he had noted earlier, before she caused a bunch of crimes in the multiverse), and Amanda's knowledge itself of the Shadow World was barren at best. The only things known about it were that it was a parallel universe teeming with monsters reflecting human emotions.


Nowhere in the instruction manual did it say that he'd be facing something wearing his face, knowing everything he was thinking. Still, Stan stood a little straighter while his doppelganger spoke with Lara. He looked over at her. Was she putting on a front, or was she really serious about overlooking his flaws? She was taking this all a lot better than he expected, even going as far as to acknowledge her intent to stay. 


"Well, there's more to the story. The truth is..." the shadow replied, "Lara Rochelle, I really do love you."




Lara raised her eyebrows when she looked between the two Stans. “You…. You do….?” Her tone remained calm, controlled, and flat. But internally, she did feel a warm flutter at the idea. If this was Stan’s true self, as this man claimed….


Lara Rochelle Croft. You don’t know if it’s the truth, he could be lying….


The shadow's voice lowered to a quivering whisper. "I used to have a love of my life, and you remind me so much of her I want to cry. Even what you just said... Willing to stick around even after you know all this..."


Stan raised his gun and pulled the hammer back with an audible click. It was just a Shadow World monster. You can't just say that after that whole speech about betrayal, dammit! You're making me sound like--


Lara leaned back against the couch and held the hand with her pistol straight. “Hm, interesting information,” she replied, her eyes narrowing further. “Rather interesting way you twist things around as well.


Nnnnnh…..” Utakata’s eyes opened as he sat up. As the haze in his mind started to clear, he looked around and his brain registered that he was in a place he did not want to be. A squeak emerged from his throat as he tried to crab-crawl backwards. “W-w-what the hell-?” And yet, as he tried to escape, something prevented him from doing so. 


Shadow Stan shook his head in the negative. "I know I sound like a narcissist trying to give you whiplash and I won't fault you for thinking that. The most insecure people are the ones who want to have power over how others feel. But it's true -- I'm struck by your eyes which have the look of someone who would face Hell head on. Not only do I like that, I didn't know I needed that until I met Chanel."

Chanel…? Lara thought to herself. They were similar? More importantly…. He also lost someone he loved that dearly…? How similar are we?

"I'm going to stop you right there, officer." It was so, so hard to muster the power to start talking, but once he did, his words poured out. "I can let you show off my kinks and step all over my insecure relationships, but I will not allow you to disrespect the dead. Don't talk about her while dressed like a stripper stroking your boy toy.


Again, the shadow laughed at his threat. Horns appeared to blossom from its head, shedding rose petals as they grew. The flowers were so red it almost reminded Stan of fresh blood.  "In the end, I guess I'm just an old man looking for cheap thrills, getting all nostalgic over photographs. Most of my life I drifted around the Sol system, adding things to my collections, then running away once the water got too hot. After I killed Chanel, I ran away like I always did."


Stan fired. One bang, its sound dampened by the velvet in the room. The bullet ricocheted off a horn, leaving a crack on impact. "I ran first to another planet, then into another universe where I settled with my new collection of friends at the XDRS, away from my past." The shadow didn't seem to notice the injury at all. It nodded to the figures of the other agents, who rose to meet him. He smiled so widely his eyes squinted shut. "Thank you for your understanding, Lara. If only this man, myself, could be equally as understanding."


Lara sat up much straighter in her couch. Her grip around the grip of the gun tightened. He… Killed her….? “The devil do you mean-” She regained her composure and shut her mouth, refusing to speak any further. Now was not the time to be blowing up. 


"Pretending you're me is just one sick joke, isn't it?" Stan began to mutter, more to convince himself than anything. "Getting cucked by myself... Even you admit you're not me -- and I'd rather be anyone else but you right now!"


 "Fine by me. I'll keep you here forever and add you to my collection of favorite toys!" The shadow snapped its eyes open, irises practically glowing yellow while dark energy flowed around its body, obscuring it. The swirling mass of darkness grew and grew until it threatened to get too big for the alcove, then solidified into a heavy mass that crashed back down, crushing the bed with its weight. Stan slowly backed away from the rising form. It was built like an old world bovine, with a heavy neck and chest, and harnessed in leather like one -- but everything below the bull's head (cracked horn and all) appeared to be muscular, furless, and human with the exception of steel hooves for feet and an exaggerated mechanical arm. Even crouched on all fours, it looked huge, and perched atop the back of the beast was a tiny doll-like monster resembling Xander. 


"I don't think we have much choice but to book it," Stan told Lara and Utakata, then scrambled right over the velvet couch. "Run!"


"You can't keep running away from your problems, Gulliver!" the shadow screeched. "I'll chase you through every dimension!"





Cuck cuck it's Cuckles, the knuckle thrower
Independent cuckold, magical cuckholder


Edited by TehUltimateMage

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[Lara Rochelle and Utakata - No Running This Time]


A lot of the things Stan's shadow said hit a little too close to home. But what really hits Lara hardest isn't that Stan loves her, or the fact that he'd wanted to keep that love held at bay. No. It's the fact that he'd loved someone so hard only to have killed her. Is that really something Lara can relate to? To love so hard only to lose them at your hands.... Stanley, we may not be too far apart after all. 


Perhaps. If she'd let her mind wander, she would go back to her last love, Amanda Rose Evert, just two years ago. Had it been that long ago? Sometimes it feels as though that expedition were only yesterday, the day her heart broke for the second to last time. The day she swore never to let herself get too close to anyone like that ever again. 


And yet. 


She'd allowed herself to fall for Stan like she'd fallen for Amanda. She's not entirely sure how that's supposed to make her feel. 


Right now is not the time for the mind to wander. She notes that Utakata is awake, and briefly she glances at him before Stan denies his shadow for the final time. The beast that emerges does nothing but disturb Lara, causing her to jump to her feet and hold the gun forwards. "I don't think we have much choice but to book it," says to them both before jumping behind the couch. "Run!"


Lara turns her head to look at him. "Are you mad? Stanley, where the devil are we going to run to?" She tries her damnedest to hide her ever-rising panic at the realization of how small this place is. Any sort of rational thought has already slipped out of her left and right ears. "Even if we do find somewhere, this shadow of yours won't let us-"


"Then we fight it." Utakata says matter-of-factly as he stands up next to her. The discomfort of discovering his surroundings is, for now at least, gone.


Lara turns to face the older brunette. "Are you bloody mad????"


"Oh, maybe a little," Utakata replies, "but there's no other choice." This he says as he feels his skin start to burn, as if he'd jumped through a wall of fire. The familiar orange aura of his jinchūriki form start to take shape. He's not quite ready for Version 2 yet, but if he can give himself a boost... "Unless you want me to cover both your asses, in which case I guess you two will have to get out of here. Trust me, I'm more than ready to give it a shot."






Mona doesn't really like the feeling he gets when he leads the group through a series of little dungeon rooms. "Joker, doesn't this remind you of....?" He thinks aloud as the group approaches a door. His eyes widen as he detects the presence of a large Shadow behind it, as well as three other bodies. Whatever is happening, clearly the fight has already started. "Okay, we need to slip in carefully. The Shadow is back there, we don't know if rushing in will jeopardize their safety in there. Ready? Let's go." He hops up some decor and quietly opens the door. He beckons with his tail for the others to follow as he slips into the room. 

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IAyCL0u.png SMRyRMw.gif


< STATUS: Stable; Wary >

< LOCATION: Stan's Shadow World >

< AGENTS: Illidan, Tien, Stan, Lara, Utakata >

< OTHER PARTICIPANTS: Joker, Mona, Sieghorse, Fractal, Shadow Stan >


"Yes," Joker said as soon as he stepped out of the portal. "This dungeon looks a lot like Kamoshida's palace, doesn't it? Let's just hope the resemblance ends with the decor." Xander wasn't sure who Kamoshida was, but based on the hallway they just entered Xander didn't think he wanted to know.


The portal closed behind them soon after the last person entered. Sieghorse's clacked loudly against the marble floor. Xander's hands unconsciously gripped Sieghorse's reigns tighter as he gazed up at the photographs hanged all along the walls of the hallway. They were all, much to Xander's disturbance, of a prurient nature. Most of them were women posing so indecently that it made Xander feel perverted for simply looking at the pictures. Xander was ready to bow his head, hide his blush, and try to ignore the nature of the Shadow World, but one photo in particular caught his eye. It was him. He recognized the room he was standing in. It was his bedroom back in on base. He had been stripped down to just a common white blouse and black pants. He was sitting down at a desk, his lips pursed like they were moving. There was nothing inherently wrong with his pose, especially since he could recall numerous times he spoke to other agents while in casual clothing, but the framing of the picture and the strange focus it had on the open dip in his shirt made it more... provocative. Along with him, there are other photos taken of agents, all framed as though the viewer had taken them without the subject's consent. 


The room suddenly felt a lot warmer. Xander cleared his throat, unnerved. He could make a guess about which agent the Shadow World belonged to, but he didn't even want to entertain the thought. Joker had evidently also realized the intimate nature of the hallway. He had an unreadable expression upon his face for several seconds, before shaking his head.

"The sooner we beat the Shadow the sooner this world disappears," Joker said. Xander couldn't tell if Joker was simply trying to keep the mission going, attempting to ease the group's rattled nerves, or both. Xander decided not to dwell upon it and simply nodded before following Mona into the room ahead.


The Shadow was easy to spot. A large bovine, bearing the appearance of a strange chimera between bull and human, towered over three figures Xander immoderately recognized. Xander's paladin immediately kicked in. With a loud "Hyeah!" Xander whipped Sieghorse's reigns, propelling the horse to run in front of the agents.


"Keep behind me!" Xander shouted. He pulled Siegfried from its sheath. The sword glowed a bright violet. White sparks ran along the blade's surface as though the sword itself was eager to fight. Sieghorse raised its head proudly, ears perked up attentively. Glancing at the beast itself, Xander couldn't help but feel repulsed. It was a hideous creature equipped in tightly bound leather bands. On the top of it was a strange puppet-like creature. It bore a resemblance to... was that puppet supposed to be him? No, no, he couldn't think about that now. Xander pushed his violated feelings down and gripped Siegfried's hilt tighter.


Behind Xander, Joker pulled his model gun out of his pocket.

"Mona! Get ready!" Joker snapped his fingers. "Persona!" Within an instance, Arsene appeared behind him in a flash of light.

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[Enterprise & Shadow Enterprise] ~ A Shadow Upon the Port?




As she got closer, the water became redder. She could taste the tang of blood now, mixed with the odour of seawater. It's a scent she knew too well -- no can't be can't can't be can't be WEAK --


With a gasp, she snaps back into a familiar, rigid position. She had let her guard down, and so she looked around. Yet the carrier saw nothing but a lifeless port filled with the corpses of her failures -- but she has to keep going, keep going. Something calls her. She hurries even more now, refusing to look up to the ghostly grey sky.


By the time she reached the docks, she couldn't see any more of the Sakira ships she'd slain. No, instead her fellow Eagle ships were there. All of the fallen. Every last one of them, bleeding and leaking like they'd taken their dying breath only moments before. Enterprise forced herself to tear her gaze away as her breathing quickened. But the walls weren't safe. The walls were spattered with blood and oil. Enterprise tensed up. Not now. Not now not now not now ---


She ran down the hallways, her footsteps loud in the otherwise-silent port hallway. 


Enterprise almost slammed into the door. She didn't by only a few inches. But the door was open. Unlike all the other doors. Enterprise peered inside, and instantly regretted doing so.






Inside, a version of herself with yellow eyes was crouched over a familiar corpse. Two others lay nearby. Her sisters - Yorktown, Wasp, Hornet... they're all -- Enterprise can't --


"Oh... you're here. Come on, then. Unless you can't handle this~?" 


-- right. That other Enterprise with piercing yellow eyes. They're hard to look away from, now that she's made eye contact. And those eyes felt like they were gazing straight into her soul.... Enterprise tried to still her shuddering, and realised she'd taken a few steps into the room.


"Aw, look at you! You really think you can hide anything~?"


"Who... are you?" Enterprise ground out between stiff jaws.


The other her dropped Hornet's corpse like a rag-doll, before circling around to block Enterprise's exit. The move forced Enterprise to walk further into the room, and her yellow-eyed doppelgänger came closer. But she was still blocking the way out.


"I am you. You are me. But I... am the worthy self. The true self."


Enterprise growled and summoned her bow.


"So violent, hm~? Tsk, tsk. But you were never able to be rational, were you?" The other Enterprise narrowed her eyes. "Because we have... many things to discuss~"


Enterprise's blood ran cold.


"Hm. You and I. Weapons born to war, yes?" At Enterprise's slight nod, the other smiled nastily. "Yet... you set yourself up to fail. Protection? Ahah! Some protector you are, 'pride of the Eagle Union!' Let me see..." The Shadow paused, to count on her fingers. "Lexington. Hammann. Northampton. Yorktown. Wasp. Houston. Hornet. Chicago. Laffey. How many more should I list~? A protectoress can't protect the dead." The yellow-eyed Enterprise's lips curled. "But that ties back to your first mistake. A weapon. Not a guardian. And yet you lost yourself in your own little dream~"


Enterprise suddenly felt the other Enterprise grab her tie. She had no time to cry out before she was roughly yanked closer to the other Enterprise.


"Warships were never born to fail. They were born to succeed. The successful sail. The failures... sink~ So you tried to protect useless failures, hardly worth any self-respecting Navy's time?" A finger brushed a tear away from Enterprise's eyes. "Ah-ah. Mistake. Warships are not born to be so weak. And if you were born to fight, and sink - you very well shouldn't have had the urge to protect." A disgusted scoff. "But then, you never could be rational. Look at you cry because you can't accept the truth."


Enterprise struggled, but another harsh pull on the tie kept her close.


"No, we're not done. Not now. Let's see... your 'sisters.' You feel so close to them, don't you~?" Enterprise felt herself be shaken roughly. "You idiot child. Stop your crying!" This time, the other Enterprise slapped her hard across the face, but Enterprise's defensive shield of emotionlessness only crumbles further. "Crying will not get you out of here. Immaturity will not finish this chat faster, so listen to me. You were built to the same design as them - or, in Wasp's case, a similar design. And that was all it took? Really... such a weak girl, for one who claims to be so strong. You wanted to die when they died. You were a failure~ Again, a broken warship ought to sink. It ought to be scuttled. And that's exactly what happened. Yet you cannot accept that, hm~?"


"N... no... St-stop..."


"Silence!" The other Enterprise tapped her nose - before flicking her finger into Enterprise's lip at just the right angle to cause her teeth to wound her own lip as Enterprise struggled desperately to hold onto any control. "Now. Your tears. You call yourself a warship, yet... you feel. And you regret your duty? You shake in fear at something you should have forgotten long ago? Weak~ They may scream, but they simply have human bodies. They were not people. None of those you tried so hard to protect were people. They were all ships. Tools. A broken tool, a dysfunctional tool - those are to be thrown out. Wouldn't you agree~? After all... you aren't a person, either - just a tool for actual people~"


Enterprise was shaking and sobbing by now. She wanted to get out - she couldn't - couldn't couldn't couldn't - away away away out of this place -- trapped -- The shadow looked faintly disgusted.


"Since you can't be rational... how about a little analogy~? Imagine Subject A is a ship who's part of a two-ship class. Now, Subject A is moderately successful, as she should be. She doesn't have nightmares about girls she's sank - as this is her job. Her purpose. She does not scream for her sister. Her sister failed~ Her sister wasn't worth the equipment to drag back to port. Not worth repair efforts." Shadow Enterprise's eyes flashed. "Don't you remember? A broken bow should be scrapped~ The only things left of value are its components. But people nurtured your silly little notions~ And you were a fool to listen. You are not a person. So stop - crying. You are a decorated warship. Grow up. Let go of these... emotions and dreams." There was bile in the last words.


Enterprise was sobbing uncontrollably now. "No... no... let me - me ... leave me..." she whined in a soft, broken tone. The hand holding her tie dropped her, and she landed in a heap. The atmosphere changed.


And for one moment, Enterprise was left to sob. ... Until she heard a shout. She felt someone loom over her.


"Are you a baby?!"



Through the tears in her eyes and her own fractured sobs, Enterprise could make out that the yellow-eyed doppelgänger grew in size. Her rigging appeared - no -- it wasn't right. Her ship body -- but it pushed itself through her flesh, turning her into a grotesque mix of steel and woman. Tentacles, black with yellow eye markings where suckers should have been, oozed out of the monstrosity's hull.



And a tentacle grabbed Enterprise. She struggled and sobbed as it swiftly lifted her off the ground, taking her face-to-face with the monstrosity. The tentacle squeezed tighter and tighter as the monster observed her, becoming so tight she could barely gasp for breath. Her ribs seared with pain, and she could barely see anything through the haze of tears. The tip of the tentacle forcibly pulled her head upright.


"Such a useless little girl~" the monster that had formerly taken her shape sneered.



Edited by DuskOfTheStars

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Illidan Stormrage, Lord of the Illidari
<Status: Stable; Confused>
<Location: Stan's Shadow World>
<People: Xander, Tien, Stan, Lara, Utakata, Joker, Mona, Sieghorse>
<Enemy: Shadow Stan>




Stepping out of the portal, Illidan immediately recognized the nervousness in the air, and was distinctly confused. "Why are you guys so uncomfortable? It's not like there's anything deadly in here--"


The aura of a large, vaguely bovine creature in his Spectral Sight changed that tune awfully fast. "...well, never mind that. Good thing I love a challenge." He drew the two Warglaives of Azzinoth, watching as Xander - once more - selflessly dove into the fray.


Then he watched and waited for an opening...




...and dove straight at the bovine creature, whose features were all but lost on the blind Demon Hunter, both Warglaives aiming to slice it apart. Here was to hoping it worked...

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Nothing Oracle had seen back at home came close to the sight of the couple of bodies on the ground. There wasn’t much blood, she thanked the heavens, but… There was enough to make her stomach lurch. The heat made the smell that much worse. But the bits of blood stained the yellow and brown of the adobe walls, all over the domed roofs, scattered all over the place. Minus the blood, the little marketplace almost reminded her of….


No. Now was neither the time nor the place to think about that right now. 


She closed her eyes and allowed Necronomicon to help her scan the area. “Straight ahead somewhere is the Shadow…” Oracle spoke as her eyes opened back up. “Our target is somewhere to the right…. Down this road, to the right, they should be there.” Then she looked at the two lads behind her. “You guys good? Inari? Skull?


Skull had his hands shoved into his pockets. He slouched as he took a few steps forward, kicking a pebble in an attempt to ease the eerie silence in the road.

This place sucks,” Skull said, frowning. “How come most palaces can condense someone’s, I don’t know, self-loathing or gross desire to use water instead of milk for cereal into a casino or castle and this palace—” Skull opened his arms then spun around in a circle. “—just goes straight to corpses in an alley filled with blood!

First off, this is not a palace.” Fox brushed past Skull as he strolled by him. He squinted at Skull, his disappointment bare upon his face. “You weren’t listening were you? This is a Shadow World. They work less like palaces and more like the worlds the Investigation Team deals with.” Skull rolled his eyes, but that didn’t deter Fox in the slightest. “Secondly, there’s a certain charm to this world, isn’t there?”

Skull sputtered. “Are you for real?” His face grew a bright red. “What’s ‘charming’ about bodies littering the ground and blood splattered on the walls?” 

Perhaps it’s not actual bodies,” Fox said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Maybe the bodies are just metaphorical. Same goes for the blood, the heat, and even the architectures. None of this exists outside of this Shadow World and it never did. It’s all…” Fox’s breath hitched. “Symbolic.” 

Symbolic my ass,” Skull said. “It’s a bunch of corpses in a road. You’re just being weird.” Skull blew a raspberry in Fox’s direction. He spun on his heel, deliberately turning his back to Fox. “I’m fine.” Skull said to Oracle. “He’s—” Skull glanced over his shoulder at Fox who was staring at one of the domed buildings like it was a prized piece of artwork. “—he’s probably fine.” Skull shook his head. “Let’s just head to the target, yeah?

Oracle nodded and grinned. “Ya know, you two fight like an old married couple,” she teased as she moved forward. She really didn’t like the look of this place, but having Skull and Fox around sure made it a lot more entertaining. Whether it be Fox overanalyzing every single thing or all of that flying over Skull’s head…. It made her feel much less uneasy. “Let’s go, boys.

The further along they went, the less bloody it was, which was quite nice. At the very least, it would make Skull stop complaining about how this world “gives me the effin’ creeps”. 

That didn’t stop Fox from admiring every oddly shaped splotch of blood on the walls, though. 

Luckily, they didn’t have too long of a journey. Oracle took note of an inn, one with much less gore and death than the alleyway. Which, considering how little there was there, she was relieved to think that was saying something. Though briefly she wondered how many bodies there were in other areas on this world.

Oracle did not want to find out. 

Okay, this looks like the place. The person must be here.

Here?” Skull frowned disapprovingly as he drank in their surroundings. “Really?” There were still—ugh—corpses sprawled across the ground, but there was a significant absence of them compared to the road they had arrived in. The only building worthy of note was an abandoned inn, or was it a tavern? Fox had made a few comments about the city resembling a more Medieval or fantasy setting. Skull couldn’t confirm Fox’s suspicions (because he wasn’t a nerd), but he had to agree that the city, based upon the architecture, clothing on the corpses, and the objects they had come across, didn’t appear to be modern. 

Are they in the inn?” Skull asked, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. Fox was preoccupied with staring at what appeared to be two halberds leaning against one another near a wall. Skull could already hear him mumbling something about “artistic value” which was a clear indication that he wasn’t paying attention. Good grief.

Without waiting for an answer from Oracle, Skull walked towards the inn cautiously. Whoever they were looking for must be hiding. Skull was more familiar with palaces than Shadow Worlds, but from what he understood, whoever was trapped in this current Shadow World probably had no idea what was going on. The poor thing must be scared and confused. Impassioned by the thought of rescuing the poor victim, Skull cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted. “Oi! Is someone here? We’re not here to hurt you; we’re here to help!

Oracle was about to respond until Skull started yelling. Typical. She shook her head. “Skull, scaring them isn’t going to help.” Cautiously following suit, she called out in a much softer voice, “Hey, it’s alright. We’re not in cahoots with that monster, don’t worry. Even if one of us is a little loud.

"...oh thank the Twelve." Temeraire visibly relaxed after having been scared stiff and lowered her daggers to her sides. "Don'tcha know scarin' a girl's a good way to wind up in a grave, man? ...anyroad, I'm just glad to see livin' people again... well, other than that freakshow out in Emerald Avenue, of course."

Huh?” Furrowing his eyebrows, Skull spun around and pointed an accusing finger at the cat girl who emerged from… somewhere. “Are you for real? What are you talking about?” Skull shifted his finger towards Oracle. “We basically said the same thing! Why am I the ‘loud’ one when you were shouting as well? What kind of double standard—

Emerald Avenue you say?” Fox approached the group, hands held behind his back. He briskly pushed past Skull, eliciting a “Hey!” out of him, as he made his way to the stranger. “I believe we arrived near there.” Fox exchanged a knowing glance with Oracle. “There was a monster there, yes? A big one.” Fox tilted his head in curiosity. “You wouldn’t have happened to have encountered a copy of yourself, Miss…?

"Temeraire. And now that you mention it, yeah. Looked just like me right down to every strand of fur on the tail, but... the eyes. Those eyes were downright creepy, all yellow and glowy-like. I don't know what I did, but I somehow pissed her off and she turned into that thing outside." Temeraire paused. "...y'all were smart to come in through Ruby Road's entrance. I don't think the freakshow saw you."

Oracle rolled her eyes behind her goggles. “My voice was much softer, Skull. And you know it.” Shaking her head again, she sighed. “I’m glad you didn’t bash through the door again though.” 

She smiled at Temeraire. “I was able to tell where it was… Figured best way to get to you was through where we landed.” Then she sighed. “Did the other you say anything? Something along the lines of ‘I’m a shadow, here I am proceeding to spill out your worst insecurities’?” Oracle could detect that the shadow couldn’t be that close, so she figured it was safe enough to ask. 

Temeraire shivered a little. "You have no idea. Kept sayin' things that only I'd know. At first I thought it was some stupid 'dark side of the soul' auroch s****, but... well, she dismissed that awfully quick. Mentioned that she was the part of me that I tried leavin' behind, or something like that."

Shut it!” Skull positively growled at Oracle. “I’ll bash down all the doors I want. What are you going to do about it, huh? Nothing!” Skull stamped one foot onto the ground. “You ain’t going to do nothin’!” 

Ruby Road,” Fox mused to himself. He seemed completely oblivious, or rather intentionally ignorant, to Skull’s raving. “So you know where we are?” Behind Fox, Skull muttered another “You’ll do nothing,” under his breath. Fox, masterfully once more, ignored him. “I assume you were paying attention to all the road signs when you arrived so this place is somewhere you’ve been before, correct?” Fox had imagined that they were in some sort of metaphorical world of Temeraire’s creation, like most worlds were, but it appeared as though things were more concrete than that.

"Do I know where we are? Hells yeah I do; we're in Ul'dah, the Jewel of the Thanalan Desert. Or, at least, it certainly looks that way, though I'm fairly certain that the last time I was here in the city, it wasn't stained with blood and littered with corpses." Temeraire groaned, partially in frustration. "It's gotta mean something, I just know it. Anyroad, I know the city like the back of my hand, so of course I'd know all the roads and alleyways."


Temeraire then looked at the blond-haired boy. "...wow. That's mature. By Byregot's beard, man, don't blow a fuse..."


Nah, that's normal,” Oracle replied with a shrug. “Joke’s on him, he’s fun to piss off,” she chuckled. “Anyway, the thing is, there’s a very good likelihood we’ll have to face that thing since it’s…. Well… You. Luckily, you’ve got us just in case that has to happen.


Oh I’ll show you pissed off,” Skull hissed. He began aggressively rolling up his sleeves, but in his haste he began to have trouble pushing up the leather. He mumbled incoherently under his breath. “I’m going to be pissed all over you, jerk.” 

Yes,” Fox said, nodding along with Oracle’s comment. “The only way for you to leave this world unharmed, and for this world to stabilize as a whole, is for you to face the monster your shadow self has become and accept it as a part of you.

Oh yeah, that part sucks.” Skull’s earlier agitation had seemingly melted away completely. “You shadow probably said some pretty scary things, right?” Skull roughly shoved his hands into his pockets. “Shadows are a mirror of yourself. Specifically, the parts of yourself you want to forget ever existed.” Skull couldn’t see the monster currently, but he could hear a faint shriek in the distance. He turned his head towards the direction of the sound, and narrowed his eyes. “Seeing as your shadow already turned into a monster, you’ve already denied it’s a part of you, yeah?” Skull glanced back at Temeraire. “If you want to get out of this mess, you’re going to have to do like Oracle and Fox said accept that thing as part of you, but don’t worry!” Skull’s hand shot out of his pocket. He sharply pressed a thumb onto his chest and grinned wildly. “We’re here to help you! If that thing tries to hurt you, we’ll put it in its place!” A pause and then. “Oh yeah!” Skull blinked rapidly. “We haven’t told you our names, right? Well like I said, that’s Oracle and Fox.” Skull pointed to the aforementioned thieves. “I’m Skull! Nice to meetcha.” 

"Kinda hard to accept it as a part of me when it's a heckin' huge and very angry bird-like freak. I'm guessin' we gotta beat it into submission first." Temeraire's grip on her daggers tightened. "Which is fine by me; this is hardly the first thing I've had to drive my daggers into. Unless that thing decided to stalk some other road in Ul'dah, it should still be out in Emerald Avenue, which should give us plenty of room to fight." She sure hoped that thing hadn't moved, otherwise they'd have to spend time finding it.


We’ve got you covered there,” Oracle replied, pointedly ignoring Skull’s aggression. He’d get over it soon enough. “We don’t have as big a party as we normally do, but I’m sure we can manage.” She gave Temeraire a wave. “Hi, nice to meet you! I don’t think it’s moved much, but if my persona is telling me right, it’s pacing around Emerald Avenue a lot trying to find you. So whatever we do, we should get a move on- oh right. Personas.” She sighed. “I got ahead of myself. When I say Persona, I’m talking the manifestation of your true self- if you do accept your Shadow, you’ll get one. We usually use it to fight Shadows, like what is out there right now. That’s…. The basic explanation, but you’ll see soon enough what I’m talking about.” 


Yeah!” Skull pumped his fists enthusiastically. “All three of us got Personas. They’re how we’re going to help you beat that big bird down. Here, let me show you!” Without giving Temeraire a chance to respond, Skull ripped his mask off his face. A column of blue flame flared up behind him. From it, a skeletal figure standing on top of a small pirate ship appeared. The flames quickly dissipated, leaving the skeleton in its wake. It was adorned in a pirate’s outfit with clothing that clung to its skeletal body.

This is Captain Kidd,” Skull said proudly. Upon being mentioned, Captain Kidd grabbed the brim of his pirate hat and dipped it politely in Temeraire’s direction. “He’s my Persona! Your Persona, if you get one, probably won’t look or fight like him, but that ain’t the point! The point is he’s here to help, just like we are. We’re going to pluck every feather off that stupid bird and get all of us out of here!” 

Temeraire's eyes lit up. "Hells yeah, now we're talkin'! That freakshow won't even know what hit it!" She felt a lot better now, even though the shadow-bird-whatever-it-was had gotten the jump on her in Sapphire Avenue. The idea of getting a Persona of her own intrigued her, as well - what would it look like? What would its powers be? Would it be anything like a Primal?

Temeraire shook her head slightly, dismissing all the questions in her head and raising her daggers slightly. "I say we need to find that bird and clip its wings."

Well, we’ve got what we need, and now we have you,” Oracle replied with a grin. “Let’s go! Follow me, I can detect where it is with my Persona!” With that, the small orange-haired girl turned on her heel and walked out of the inn. 


Emerald Avenue was… empty. For how much Temeraire hyped up her shadow, Skull couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed by the lack of action they faced thus far. There we no other shadows or monsters wandering the city like there usually were in palaces or similar worlds. The avenue was devoid of almost everything. There were a few bloodstains, as there was everywhere else, but, oddly, no bodies. The corpses must have been something that were created along with the world as opposed to being victims of Temeraire’s shadow. It was a little reassuring to know that the shadow hadn’t actually killed anyone, but it didn’t make the bloodstained city anymore enjoyable to be in.

So,” Skull began, dragging out the “o”. “For a big bird it does seem to be hiding pretty well.” Despite the shriek from earlier, Skull had seen no indication of the shadow being anywhere in sight.

Be on your guard,” Fox warned. “There’s no telling what kind of power it possesses. For all we know, it can be hiding in plain sight” 

It should….. Be here….” Oracle replied, her voice trailing some as she walked. “Gotta admit, it’s keeping me on my toes. But according to my Persona, it should… be…

Temeraire didn't let Oracle finish before tackling and shoving her out of the way. Moments after she did, the bird-like shadow swooped down where Oracle had been standing. "...gods, that was far too close. Sorry 'bout the rude awakenin'."

No… Problem…” Oracle grunted before getting back up. Unfortunately, Temeraire had accidentally knocked her onto the ground, but she was fine. She took a good look at the shadow and ripped her mask off, the familiar spaceship form of Necronomicon taking off and moving backwards. “I’ll help you from here! Fox! Skull! Go ahead! Temeraire, keep your distance unless you think you can fight too!

"Like I said, this ain't the first beast I've skewered on daggers. I can fight, all right, and I ain't goin' down without one." Temeraire gripped her daggers tightly.

She attempted briefly to get a read on the Shadow. It was blurry, she couldn’t see anything. “Damn it! I can’t get a reading…

"Trying to figure me out, sweetheart? It's gonna take more than some fancy doohickey to do that." The voice was undeniably Temeraire's, and at the same time wasn't Temeraire's. The Miqo'te's ears fell flat when she realized the Shadow could still speak; if that wasn't unsettling, then she didn't know what was.

When Temeraire threw her daggers, trying to strike the bird's wings, she missed, letting out a quiet "dammit" under her breath.

Son of a-” Oracle sighed from within the Persona. If only there was more she could do…. Why couldn’t she get a good read on this one?

What a hideous creature,” Fox said. He had found the strange city oddly beautiful, but this thing? This hideous beast? There was nothing remarkable about the disgusting jeering bird hovering above them. It deserved nothing more than to be permanently grounded.

Persona!” A flash of blue burst from behind Fox. A large man decorated in traditional clothing leaped out of the flames. Fox lifted his hand and pointed at the bird flying overhead. “Goemon, strike!” The Persona turned towards the bird and, with a flick of his wrist, sharp, shards of ice flew towards the bird. The bird flew out of the way just in time, leaving the ice to simply scrape against its feathers. Fox let out a soft hmph! “You won’t be so lucky next time,” he hissed, glaring at the bird.

Hey, hey, we don’t got time to mess around,” Skull said. He hummed to himself contemplatively then suddenly perked up. “Hey, Tem! You said this wasn’t the first bird you’ve skewered, yeah? How about a little assist?” On cue, Captain Kidd waved his arms in Tem’s direction. Her body sparkled as new strength was imbued into her being.

The Shadow-bird then reared up for an attack, aiming right at Skull. ...well, not so much an attack as it was the Shadow straight-up abducting him. "You and I are goin' for a little flight. Try and keep up, sweethearts!"

God dammit-” Oracle swore before her Persona lowered to the ground, a few tentacles hanging from the bottom. “Everyone hang on! We’re going after them!

"Don't need to tell me twice. Just lookin' at it, it looks like they're headed for Sapphire Avenue." Temeraire braced herself a little - if she knew herself (and she did), then this Shadow was toying with them like this was some sort of sick game.

You sick monster!” Fox growled. He gripped the side of Oracle’s Persona least he get dropped. It was some distance from the ground and the last thing he wanted to do was for Skull and Oracle to have to scrape what was left of him off the ground and ship it back to the rest of the Phantom Thieves. The thought only sent shivers down his spine. 

Goemon!” Fox raised his arm in the direction of the beast. His Persona appeared behind him with frost beginning to cover his hands.

Hey, hey! Fox…” Skull smiled nervously at his fellow thief. “Maybe don’t fire while we’re in the air. Fox?” The Phantom Thief let out a cry as Goemon flung shards of ice at the bird. Skull screamed. “Ah! Yusuke!” 

The ice narrowly missed Skull. Shards flew harmlessly through the air, but most of it imbedded itself deep in the bird’s flesh.

There was a loud screech as the Shadow bird inevitably ended up dropping Skull down towards the pavement of Sapphire Avenue. Some of the ice shards had hit a wing, forcing her to land.

Skull fell screaming. 

Dammit!” His body spun slowly in the air, the world becoming a blur before his very eyes. “Dammit!” The word became a mantra to him as he continued to descend. He couldn’t see! How could he possibly break his fall if he couldn’t see? He could sense Captain Kidd falling alongside him, patiently waiting for an order. “Grab something!” Skull shouted, waving his arms aimlessly in the air. Captain Kidd nodded, or at least it looked like he nodded, and reached for the nearest solid object. 

Skull felt his descent be abruptly interrupted. Captain Kidd snatched him by his shirt and pulled him towards him. Skull felt himself lurch forward and land with an undignified plop! onto something rubbery and with a spring. His body lurched downward, but did not break through the material. Instead, his body was thrown back up and he violently rolled downward, off of the material, and into a pile of crates. The breath was knocked out of him. His body broke through the crates, and he was soon laying on the ground in a crumpled heap. His entire body ached. It almost hurt to open his eyes. What had he even landed on? One of those banner things they used for shade in old-timey marketplaces? That’s certainly what it felt like. Skull attempted to push himself onto his feet, but he quickly fell back down. He let out a pitiful cough. “I’m… okay.

Ryu-- Skull!” Oracle cried as her fellow Thief fell to the ground. “Dammit, you sick little---” She carefully lowered the other two to the ground. “Okay, this is war. Fox, you able to land another one of those? ’ll toss Skull a potion when there’s an opening.

Temeraire cringed when Skull hit the crates. "...damn, that had to hurt. Now I'm mad." Temeraire held a dagger in one hand and proceeded to make some gestures with both, each one bearing some sort of significance...

...and then she proceeded to dive-bomb the Shadow with her daggers. The minute the attack connected, the Shadow screeched and convulsed as it was electrocuted by lightning.

Whoa! That HAS to be one of the weaknesses!” Oracle remarked. “....Crap. Maybe we shouldn’t have hit the Shadow in the air…” She sighed. “No matter! Gimme a sec, I’ll try and get a read and see what else I can find.

I’ll cover you!” Fox shouted. He leaped off of Oracle’s Persona and ran in front of it, shielding Oracle. Goemon appeared behind him, running a hand over his pompadour. The quicker they could keep the Shadow grounded, the better.

Temeraire, allow me to assist!” Fox yelled. He and Goemon snapped their fingers in unison. Like before, Temeraire’s body began to sparkle as new power was granted to her. The effect lasted a shorter amount of time this time, almost as though the spell was weaker. “That should make it easier for your attacks to land,” Fox supplied helpfully.

Argh, I still can’t get anything!” Oracle cried, quite frustrated at this point. 

The Shadow let out another screech, sending a blast of wind out to attack. Temeraire was quick to leap up into the air and land on a nearby awning. "Better watch that wind... Figures a flyin' Shadow would be able to control it."

“On it,” Oracle replied as she quickly took to the air to dodge the wind attack. “Fox, watch out!” She cries out in dismay, noting that this time he might not be able to dodge the attack. 

Fox had been wholly unprepared for the gust of wind sent in his direction. He didn’t have time to grab onto something before the wind thrusted him backwards, sending him thrashing in the air before his back collided with a wall. He let out a dry gasp, coughing profusely as he slid down the wall and fell down to his knees. Goemon was at his side immediately. He kneeled down and patted his user’s back as Fox continued to cough. 

That—hurgh—was most unexpected...


"...okay, now I'm gettin' really mad." Temeraire made a couple of very different gestures with her hands, similar to the ones that had fueled her lightning attack, and then struck the Shadow with what appeared to be ice coating the daggers.


Once more, the Shadow screeched in pain. "Don't get comfortable... You think fighting me will win this? You'll just add on to your guilt!"


Skull, Fox,” Oracle called, “I’m getting a reading! It looks like the shadow is weak to Electric and Ice attacks!” Inside her shadow, she smiled. Finally, she could put her persona to good use. 


Nearby, Skull had finally managed to push himself onto his feet. He leaned heavily against Captain Kidd’s shoulder as he took a wobbly step forward. 

Thanks for the head’s up, Oracle,” Skull yelled. Fox, still slumped against the wall, gave a half-hearted thumbs up. Skull turned his attention back towards the Shadow. His grin melted into a scowl.


Will you shut your trap, already?” Skull hissed. He shoved a hand into his pocket and retrieved his model gun. “You—” The hammer clicked. “—are such an annoying little brat! We’re going to put you ten feet under, y’hear?


"I'd love to see you try." With that, another blast of wind shot out - a far stronger one.


Temeraire was caught unprepared and sent careening headlong straight into Oracle (screaming all the way). "S****--!! ...sorry, Oracle... Bloody freak caught me off-guard..."


AGH!” Oracle cried as not only did Temeraire crash into her, but the gust of wind sent her spinning and crashing into the nearest building. “Ow….. It’s okay, but cripes that hurt. Are you okay?


Fox had slumped over to a crate that safely blocked him from the wind, but Skull was not so longer. He managed to keep his footing, grinding his teeth together as the wind cut through this clothes. Blood blossomed from the deepest cuts. As soon as the wind died down, Skull’s entire body was riddled with various scratches and shallow wounds.


You think you’re smart, eh?” Skull hissed. He swung his gun around his finger. “Well, I’ll show you a thing or two!” He ceased spinning in his gun, grabbing it by its handle. With a vicious yell, he began running straight towards the Shadow.

"...I'll be fine, Oracle, but this Shadow ain't gonna be fine for much longer." With that, Temeraire drew out her daggers, made the gestures, and went for another ice attack, causing the Shadow more pain.

I’ll show you what’s for!” Skull, still running at the Shadow, aimed his gun directly at her. Although the gun was just a model, bullets came flying out of it muzzle as soon as Skull pulled the trigger. From behind Skull, Fox had finally regained his footing.


Persona!” Goemon stood at ready as Fox raised his hand towards the Shadow. “Mabufu, now!” Frost coated Goemon’s hands as icicles began to piercing out of him skin. The air around Fox grew chilly as the ice in Goemon’s hand grew larger. With a wave of his arms, the icicles flew through the air and went barreling towards the Shadow.


And that had done it. With the last round of attacks, the Shadow was beaten, forced to reassume the appearance that Temeraire had. Just as she'd said, the eyes were an eerie yellow. "So you beat me, big deal. It don't change a thing..."


It doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t,” Oracle said with a grunt, “that doesn’t make it okay for you to bully people to get your point across. Suck it, bird of death.


Ugh, shut your trap.” Both Skull and Fox walked over towards where the bird had landed. Both of their Personas had faded away by the time they arrived. Skull shoved his model gun back into holster before raising his arms over his head to stretch. “You ain’t nothin’ tough,” Skull yawned. “We’ve fought much worse than your like before.


Temeraire.” Fox turned towards the aforementioned Miqo’te. “Now is the time to accept your Shadow as a part of you. If you continue to deny her then this—” Fox waved out towards the decimated city around them. “—will persist. You are the only one strong enough to truly defeat this Shadow.


Temeraire looked down nervously. "...well, you ain't wrong there. And I think I know what she's gettin' at. Truth is, I hate killin' people. It feels just bloody awful to me, and it makes me feel all guilty and junk. There were... a lot of deaths involved with a certain bad deity where I'm from, and I feel guilty knowin' that I could've stopped it but didn't for whatever reason..."


"...mmkay, maybe I did take it too far with the tempered people. Those ones had no choice. I ain't budgin' on the Flame guards and the Ul'dahn citizens, though--"


Temerare raised her hand to stop her Shadow. "You don't have to. I kept tryin' to forget the past as if that would make me feel better, as if the guilt would cease to exist. But that guilt's a part o' me. I guess it's time I grew up."


"...heh. Finally."


A flash of light, and the Shadow Miqo'te is gone, replaced by an image of a creature Temeraire recognizes all too well. A woman with two pairs of feathered wings from her back and a third pair on her head, with talons for both hands and feet (although the talons making her feet looked similar to stiletto boots now that she saw it up close). Nearly every feather on the woman's body was a bright green color.


Another flash, and just as quickly, the woman was gone, replaced by a shimmering card. Temeraire takes it, and looks at the design. It looks like one of those game wheels, with an aetheryte crystal as the pointer and with each emblem of the Twelve on the edge. The aetheryte pointed to Byregot's emblem in particular, and clockwise from there was each deity's emblem in turn - Rhalgr, Azeyma, Nald'thal, Nophica, Althyk, Halone, Menphina, Thaliak, Nymeia, Llymlaen, and Oschon - before coming back to Byregot at the top. Behind the wheel is a simple gradient of color, cyan at the top, violet at the bottom.


The design was pretty, but now Temeraire was confused. "...what just happened? Where'd the Shadow go? And... did anyone else see the same thing I saw?" Temeraire could've sworn she'd seen the Lady of the Vortex, Garuda, before the card had appeared.


That,” Fox said, strolling up casually towards Temeraire. “Was your Persona. By accepting your Shadow, it has shed the negative emotions it was born from and become a part of you just like Goemon is a part of me. It will protect you, now and always.” 


Skull whistled. 

I ain’t trying to start nothin’, but that persona was looking pretty fi—mmph!” Before Skull could finish what he was trying to say, Fox had turned around and slapped his hands over his friend’s face.


Do not,” Fox began slowly, his voice chillingly low. “Soil the beauty of something as magnificent as emotion incarnate with your lewd fantasies.” Skull forcibly pulled Fox’s hand away from his mouth. 

Alright, alright, I get it!” Skull said, raising his hands in surrender. “I’ll keep my mouth shut. Yeesh!” Fox glared at him with narrowed eyes, but spoke no further. Skull rolled his eyes, mumbling something incoherent under his breath. 


"You mean to say that my Persona just so happens to look identical to the Lady of the Vortex? Hot damn, my Persona's essentially Garuda herself!" Temeraire grinned. "Still, I'm glad that nasty business is over and done with. Now what do y'all say we beat feet outta here and find my friends?"


Well,” Oracle interjected, “hang on. I’m detecting a new Shadow world…. Not too far from where I’m detecting everyone else.” Her eyes widened from behind her mask. “Oh no, that doesn’t look good. There’s only one person there.


Fox cocked his head to the side curiously.

Another Shadow World..?” He asked. He lifted his hand and began tapping his chin thoughtfully. “How curious. So there must have been someone else as the party who had the potential to create a Shadow.


Wait, ain’t that bad?” Skull said. He glanced worriedly between his three companions. “If there’s another Shadow World, then what? Do we just head there? What meeting up with Joker? Surely he and Mona would have noticed the new world pop up too!


"Maybe we should head out, y'know? I don't know about all y'all, but we'll probably have an easier time if we rendezvous with your friends. Maybe my friends are with 'em." Temeraire crossed her arms and shrugged her shoulders, more than eager to get out of this reflection of Ul'dah.


Yeah, let’s get out of here, we need to give some backup. If I’m sensing right, Joker should be at the other dungeon. ….and I’m sensing something very faint at this new site.” Oracle shook her head. “I hope it’s not a Shadow, but I can’t risk it. We need to go see this new world, then we can catch up with Joker.

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Posted (edited)



"Xander!" Stan gasped. For a moment he thought the knight on his horse was just another shadow world apparition, from the monstrous dark presence of Sieghorse and the horns on his head. Was this a theme of the area of some sort? He doesn't need to be told twice to stumble back almost as far as the door. The shadow swings its massive head from side to side, tearing into the walls with its horns as if it were paper. Moving impressively quick for its size -- though with little finesse -- it slams its face into the floor in an attempt to crush Utakata's annoying red aura. The ninja manages to get out of the way in time, and all the shadow does is manage to rip up a bunch of the hardwood flooring.


The shadow quickly forgets about him. Its  attention is pulled towards one of the bold newcomers, the biggest one in its sight. The minotaur charges Xander, twisting its head to be able flip the man and his horse with its horns, aiming to use the momentum to trample the others too. But--


Like a dart -- a massive, purple, winged dart -- a shape flew forward and pierced the bull right between the eyes. Illidan stabs right through it, appearing on the other side. Everything is silent for a second, then the bull-creature stumbles forward and crashes to the ground, leaking red and black smoke from its wound while it shrank like a deflating balloon.


Stan blinks a couple times at the anti-climatic resolution. He was actually, honestly, completely stunned at how easy that was, and in the awkward moment he lets out a laugh. It seemed like the shadow was like himself after all -- putting on an intimidating face but having little substance to back up that bravado.


Its bluff called, the shadow lays still on the ground. It was in human form once again, yellow eyes fixed on the mechanic. Stan didn't know what compelled him to approach, only that he instinctively knew he had to. He knew, on some level, that if he turned his back on the shadow, it would only grow more powerful. Sure, he was afraid (for many reasons, even, including pain both physical and psychological), but, it felt like everyone -- pictures included -- was looking at him, expecting him to do something.


His footsteps on the creaking floor are incredibly loud as he closed the distance and once he is close enough, he crouches down.


"Do you love her?" his double mutters to him.


"Yes," Stan admits, voice soft. "I do love her, from the depths of my heart."


"Damn cuck," the mostly naked man spits, although he was wearing a smile. "We're not even talking about the same person, are we?"


Stan snorts, then chuckles. "You're me, and so of course you see through my bull. There's people I care about, a lot, in this new world we're living in. Even though I try to keep my space, it doesn't change the fact that there really are people who care about me, too. Chanel taught me that it was possible for me to care, and Lara taught me to remember how it feels to be cared for."


The shadow closes his eyes and begins to breathe peacefully, satisfied with the answer.


"Nice horns, by the way," he adds, which prompts the shadow to snap its eyes open. Stan flinches back a little from the action.


"Thanks. You want 'em?"


"I think I'm good."

"Too bad. I'm you -- they're yours."


The last thing Stan sees is his own smug smile (a spitting image of what he sees in the mirror every morning) as his shadow self dissolves into light and leaps towards his heart. He cups a hand over the spark and soon he too is enveloped in a light almost too bright to look at. When it fades, Stan finds the shadow's furry cloak over his shoulders and a... card on his chest where his hand had been. He gingerly touches the protrusions on his head, then, in a panic, pats down his clothing to make sure the shadow didn't give him the... less tasteful gear as well.


The yellow of his eyes quickly fades back to a familiar green just as he turns to Lara. "I don't know how much of that you heard, but thank you."

Edited by TehUltimateMage

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Custom Persona Moon.png


Tien decides he doesn’t much like this Shadow Realm almost immediately. The dark, creepy ambiance reaches a level of unsettling he didn’t even realize he could get to when paired with the--paintings? Disturbingly skilled paintings, things that look like they had been created with someone with Memory skills on par with Tien’s--but not the kind of things Tien would ever want to make. He keeps his eyes fixed on the floor after the first couple he passes, his burning curiosity dampened by embarrassment. This is a really odd worst fear.


Fractal, nonhuman as she is, has no such problem. The few times Tien glances up again, she’s looking at one picture or another with innocent curiosity. Once or twice, she leans over and starts a couple of questions that make Tien bury his face in his hands and mumble “I don’t know and I don’t want to talk about it.” He barely even wants to think about it.


“The sooner we beat the Shadow the sooner this world disappears,” Joker announces. At this point, a Shadow would be a relief.


When they go into the next room, Tien’s immediate, reflexive thought is that he really doesn’t want to know what his Shadow would have looked like. Xander snaps the reins of his horse and charges forwards with a shout of “Keep behind me!” (Tien is all too happy to do so), drawing his sword in a crackle of energy. Tien’s breath catches; he Memorizes the image without thinking.


Next to him, Joker summons his Persona. Tien takes one step back into the hallway, two, three, thoughts racing.


He’s not sure what conclusion he’s coming to beyond oh, this is bad when Illidan divebombs straight through the creature and leaves it deflating in a blast of smoke, revealing...another Stan. Right. Shadows. Of course. Very odd worst fear considering what he’d thought Stan was like, but--that’s the point, isn’t it? It was what Tien thought of him. Not what he was actually like. 


He is very, very tempted to approach close enough to hear what Stan mutters to his double. That’s what he’s been taught to do, after all. But he doesn’t. He knows he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to overhear his conversation with his Shadow, and so he lets Stan keep his peace. 


A bright light, and--


Stan has horns.


Tien’s eyes dart between him and Xander. Apparently that is a normal thing around here, as he certainly doesn’t remember that happening with his Shadow. Someone would have told him if it had, right? Right. Fractal would have asked about it at the very least. 


Stan approaches Lara with a smile. Tien starts to breathe normally again.


“That was a lot smoother than these things normally go, isn’t it?” he comments softly to Joker, managing a smile. “Seems like we’ve been pretty lucky.”

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[Lara Rochelle - Shadow World - The Power of the Heart]


Lara watches in silence as Stan faces his shadow. The softness in his voice, the way he speaks to his other self.... Her heart warms. Lara watches with softened eyes as she listens to Stan's words- how he loves her, much to her surprise... Chanel taught me that it was possible for me to care, and Lara taught me to remember how it feels to be cared for. Lara places one hand to her heart as her lips curl upwards, just a little bit. 


He.... Loves me. 


Lara feels the pressure behind her eyes as she tries to fight back tears. While Chikako had given her minimal makeup, there had been enough mascara that Lara would be embarrassed to have it running down her face. It's already enough that the dress she just bought is bloody and ruined.... As well as Stan's poor jacket, it had been a rather nice one. 


Stan turns to her, the only unfamiliar feature on him being the horns on his head. But those eyes..... Those beautiful green irises that had enticed her from the moment they met. They sparkle brightly when he looks at her. "I don't know how much of that you heard, but thank you." Stan says this with more warmth than she'd heard in his voice... ever. 


That causes Lara to smile back at him, tears welling up but not falling. She closes the few steps of distance between them and snakes her arms around his waist, placing her chin on his shoulder. Lara turns her head to press her lips against his cheek, giving him a tight squeeze. "Stanley.... I heard every last word. And you never, ever cease to surprise me, hotshot." She presses her cheek to his, closing her eyes for a moment and taking some time to breathe. This whole thing had been an emotional rollercoaster, and to finally be able to take a break and get some catharsis... Wonderful. "Stanley... If anything...." I have you to thank. "I think you've taught me a thing or two, too." She lets out a deep breath and takes a step back, giving Stan a warm smile as she quietly uses a finger to catch the tears from her eyes. "Love, it means more than you know to hear everything you've said."


Then she looks at the blood that stains Stan's jacket. "Ah.... Your.... jacket...."

I could never love you more than I do right now.





[Utakata - Shadow World - Does anyone hear that voice?]


Utakata seethes as his chakra wave fizzles out. The fact that Illidan just ****ing suplexed that shadow??? ONE PUNCH???? ONE GODDAMN PUNCH????? Utakata closes his eyes and lets out a breath through his nose, deciding it's not worth sending Saiken on anyone today. Instead, he turns to look at Lara and Stan, and his expression softens. He has to admit, as many grievances as he has with Lara.... He has to admit that it's nice seeing those two happy. 


Of course, that moment is cut short with a loud rumble as the floor gives out under Utakata, Lara, and Stan. Utakata yelps in surprise, but is unable to get out of there as the floor caves and collapses. 


He finds himself falling....




Until he lands flat on his hind end. He lets out a small "ouch" and looks around at his surroundings. It's eerily familiar, and he doesn't like it. What he sees reminds him of a rather twisted version of his village. It's empty, sure, but it's all there. Buildings, marketplace, all of it. In fact, what makes his heart stop is what's right in front of him.


The house he grew up in. His eyes widen as he bolts to his feet. It's the exact same as he remembers it, except the windows are covered. His mother never liked having the kitchen windows closed, if he remembers right....


"You finally showed up...."


Utakata looks around, his eyes wide with panic as he looks at Lara and Stan. "D-did you just.... hear that?"

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More corpses.


Oracle didn’t like the theme of some of these dungeons, at least most of the ones she knew didn’t have dead people throughout. She wouldn’t dare say she preferred what Joker told her of Kamoshida’s dungeon over these, though. But briefly, she wondered what the other dungeon Joker went to was like. Was there as much death as there was for Temeraire’s dungeon? Or this one?


She had noted the village the group had to go through in order to get to this building, and it seemed fairly normal, if very out of place. Was there another Shadow in the works?


Such a useless little girl~” A voice rang from- was it outside? Was it somewhere else in the building? It was hard to tell from just listening, but she didn’t like that. The Shadow they were looking for was here, and Oracle needed to point out where it was. So she closed her eyes behind her mask and took a deep breath. It was in a room down one of the hallways, not too far away. So Oracle pointed in the right direction and nodded.


 “This way!


"Yech-- And I thought my shadow world was bloody." There were definitely a lot more corpses here than Temeraire was comfortable with, but she swallowed her vomit down. She couldn't allow herself to get squicked out now. She began to follow Oracle without another word (although the words she'd heard the unknown voice say made her sick to her stomach).


Yeesh, what’s with all the bodies?” Skull asked. He scrunched his nose at the stench, the scent of corpses and oil permeating the air. “Maybe I’m just used to palaces, but I didn’t think Shadow Worlds would have this many corpses in them.” Skull knew the bodies weren't real, but that didn’t mean they didn’t disturb him. How many messed up people were at the party? No normal person would have so many corpses in a world that was a reflection of their emotions and thoughts, right?


It does not matter.” Fox pushed past Skull who let out an annoyed “Hey!” as he passed. “There is no reason for us to dwell upon it. We know our objective and that’s all we should focus on.” He followed after Oracle with Skull trailing not too far behind him.


As they passed through the battle-damaged hallway, they had to avoid more corpses underfoot. Soon, however, they found a door still half-open. Were they to look in, they would find a monstrous fusion of ship, woman, and unearthly kraken strangling a white-haired woman with a tentacle. Blood was smeared across the ground, as though the Shadow's transformation had crushed a few corpses. In addition, the monster didn't seem to notice them.


Oracle closed her eyes and grinned as she immediately got a good read on it. “Okay folks! Anyone got fire? This one is weak to fire and resistant to anything water-based.” Luckily, there was another persona user here, she hoped this would be easier than the last fight. “Anything else is fair game! Go kick some ass!


"Fire, huh? I guess it's time to crank up the heat." Temeraire made two gestures with her hands before striking the Shadow with a blast of fire. She fumbled a bit with the aim, but at the least, she managed to hit her target and not hit any allies, so that was a plus. Hopefully.


You are aware of our movesets,” Fox said, glancing over at Oracle. “Skull and I won’t be able to do much more than support if that’s the case.” With a snap of his fingers, light burst behind Fox and faded away to reveal the form of Goemon. He stared down at his user with his arms crossed. “Goemon, Sukukaja!” With a synchronized wave of their arms, Fox and Goeman summoned a wave of sparkling light to envelope Temeraire. The light disappeared within seconds, but the new energy imbued within her stayed. 


That should make you faster!” Fox called over to Temeraire. “That is settled. Skull, could you use Tarukaja to—
I got a gun!

There was a crate towards the side of the doorway. Skull, in his ecstatic haze, needlessly kicked a hole into it. He pointed his gun straight at the Shadow while Captain Kidd, who must have been summoned when Fox was talking, stood imposingly behind him. “Zionga, now!” Captain Kidd winked at the monster with his eye before snapping his fingers. Electricity sparks from his fingertips before a bolt of lightning jumped from his hand and began barreling towards the Shadow. Just as the lightning came flying towards the Shadow, Skull yelled as he shot several potshots at the Shadow.


The Shadow took multiple hits in quick succession, screaming in pain and rage. The force of the attacks had loosened her grip, and the white-haired woman fell to the ground. She lay there as the Shadow hissed. The Shadow's body was covered in burn and scorch marks. A shout. The Shadow summoned a wide blast of water, aiming it at all of her opponents.


Oracle managed to dodge the blast and maneuvered around to reach the woman that the shadow dropped. No doubt, by her clothes and by the look of the shadow, this was her shadow. Oracle figured it would be best to approach her carefully, as she wasn’t sure what this woman was capable of, or if her being frightened again would alert the shadow. So she lowered to the ground, dismissed her persona, and gently lowered herself to a knee so as not to frighten the woman further.


Hey…. Hey are you okay? Don’t worry, we’re here to help you. Can you stand?” Oracle made sure to keep her voice soft and steady, comforting. This woman was terrified, it was best to not offer a hug, but to keep some distance and appear harmless. 


Enterprise shook. It was all too much too much too much-- The cold, the blood everywhere, the memories --


-- a voice cut through her thoughts, her meltdown-induced sensitivity causing her to spook for an instant. Worry - but… that voice was so calm. It reminded her of Vestal for a moment, and her mind latched onto the lifeline of calmness. Something far from the chaos that was overwhelming her.


Though there was still far too much going on for her brain. Yet, she could hold onto something that wasn't her nightmares. That alone was… really, after she recovered, she wouldn't know how to put it. It was like the soothing presence of something that was dear, but yet chronically under-available. Her breaths steadied. Slowly. But it was there.


The Shadow’s delayed reaction to the onslaught was enough to give the Phantom Thieves ample time to dodge her attacks. Fox slipped under a splash of water harmlessly. With a snap of his fingers, Goemon raised his arm. Shards of ice burst from his hand, chilling the room around them. “Persona! Bufula!” The shards of ice sharpened until they had needle-like points. With a shout, Goemon waved his hand, sending small spears of ice soaring towards the Shadow. 


Skull had not ceased his barrage of bullets. He whooped and hollered, blasting bullets straight at the Shadow’s deformed body. 

Your aim is terrible!” Skull laughed, ducking under another wave of water. “How about we show you a thing or two about aiming, eh?” From behind Skull, Captain Kidd slammed his foot down onto the wooden floor and grinned wildly at the Shadow. “Let’s go! Mazionga, now!” Electricity course all the way up Captain Kidd’s exposed skeleton. He winked at the Shadow with his single eye before pointing his cannon arm straight at the Shadow. Smoke burst out of the cannon as an electrified cannon ball flew straight towards the Shadow.


Temeraire, too, managed to dodge the tidal waves. "Is this all? This is gonna be too easy." With that, she figured it was time to give summoning her own Persona a go. "Let's go, Garuda - time to see if your winds are as fierce as those of your namesake." She didn't know the names of what Garuda was capable of, but then again, she felt like she didn't need to.


Temeraire made the same gestures as last time and sent another blast of fire towards the Shadow. "I just got one hells of an idea. Garuda, use your winds to fan the flames!"


A strong blast of wind was all it took to make one single blast turn into an absolute firestorm. Temeraire had a feeling that this Shadow wouldn't last too long if their onslaught kept up the pace.


There was a horrible, metallic screeching. Flames flickered. The faint sounds of explosions within the hull could be heard. The Shadow seemed unsteady, but her face was marred by a snarl of hate. Yellow eyes glared at the group as the Shadow summoned forth a great tidal wave, before blasting it at her opponents.


However, it seemed that the Shadow's injuries were wide open. In her rage, the amalgam Shadow didn't even pay heed to her defences. Instead, she'd launched a forceful attack, with a bloodthirsty look to her face.


The wave was too great for either of the Phantom Thieves to dodge. Skull leaped over a nearby crate and took refuge behind it. Captain Kidd tried to squeeze in with Skull, but the harsh waves raged overhead, causing the water to pour down over them and knock them off their feet. Coughing profusely, Skull wobbled onto his feet with Captain Kidd not too far behind him. As he wringed the water out of his clothes, he spotted Fox collapsed on the floor nearby. The boy coughed up a lungful of water, his nose burning from the salt water.


I will be fine!” Fox said between fitful coughs. “Just… spare me a minute.
Geez Fox, this is the second time you’ve been knocked down today,” Skull said, cocking his gun. “Guess we gotta show Miss Ship Lady what happens when she messes with us, eh?” In a flash, both Skull and his Persona ran out of cover and pointed their firearms straight at the Shadow. “You’d be a lot hotter if you weren’t trying to kill us!” Skull shotted. “You seemed to enjoy what we gave you last time, so why not an encore? Mazionga!” Skull and his Persona fired at the same time, sending a barrage of normal and electrified bullets hurling towards the Shadow.


On seeing another tidal wave, Temeraire scrambled for cover, as well, taking refuge behind a few crates, as well. Of course, the crate she was directly behind was empty and thus light enough to get swept in the tide, taking Temeraire with it and forcing her out of hiding (and into the wave's path). "...gods... now I'm gettin' mad."


Of course she couldn't go with fire all the time. That'd be too predictable. She decided, instead, to make the gestures for a lightning attack and dive straight at the Shadow with her electrified daggers. It probably wouldn't do as much damage as fire would, but it would be something, right?


Despite her body emitting a lot of smoke from damage, the Shadow wasn't deterred. She summoned another tidal wave, aiming at the ones she'd been fighting. Her hull creaked. The Shadow herself rattled with rage.


In hindsight, getting close to the Shadow hadn't been a bright idea. Before she could react, the latest tidal wave swept up Temeraire quickly and sent her careening headlong into several crates. The entire ordeal left her dazed - it was going to be a bit before she got her bearings back.


After emptying his lungs of water, Fox had pushed himself back onto his feet with Goemon’s aid. Both he and Skull had enough wit about them to take cover among nearby wooden pillars that shielded the worst the wave had to over. Skull, his back pressed firmly against the pillar, slid down onto the floor. He took in a deep breath, feeling a familiar ache set in his body. With a glance to the side, the caught sight of Temeraire sprawled amongst a pile of crates. 

Temeraire!” Careful not to slip on the wet floor, he ran over to her side. “Are you alright?” He asked, as he kneeled down and tried to help her sit up.


Fox wasted no time walking out from the protection of the pillar with Goemon right at his side. 


Enough of this!” he shouted over the thundering waves. “Persona! Bufudyne!” Goemon waved his hands. Ice materialized in the air right in front of the shadow. It quickly grew into a large, glistening crystal that floated delicately in the air. Goemon held out his open palm in front of his face and then, with a single harsh glare at the Shadow, closed his hand into a tight fist. The crystal shattered, sending shards of ice straight into the Shadow’s chest.


The Shadow screamed as the shards pierced her chest. Darkness oozed outward, devouring more and more of the monster. And then it decayed. The remnants all collapsed into themselves….


And the Shadow retook her original form. She was near-identical to the white-haired woman she'd been trying to strangle. The only difference? Faintly luminescent yellow eyes that seemed to look right through you, into somewhere darker.


"...do you really believe that useless carrier will be in any state to accept me~?" The Shadow's voice lilted a bit. Mocking. Her eyes hardened, and she met the others with a glare, before looking away when they returned the eye contact.


Oracle looked over and glared back at the Shadow. “No thanks to you, she’s not doing well.” Then she shook her head and smiled at the woman. “Hey…. Hey, it’s okay. Your Shadow is weak. Are you alright? Are you okay to stand? I can help you up if you want me to.” Gently, Oracle offered her hand and pressed against her knee so she could get up at a moment’s notice. Her smile was warm and gentle. “What’s your name?


Enterprise recoiled a bit at the Shadow's insult, memories stirring in her mind. Memories that this world mimicked her nightmares of. The girl's voice broke Enterprise's spiralling thoughts again, asking her her name 


Name. Yes. A simple, factual question. One that she didn't have to delve into the parts that scared her for. Enterprise's brain pulled for the resources to answer. The distraction. "...my name..." she managed between slowing, but still hard, breaths, "... Enterprise. Hull CV-6."


Enterprise…” Oracle nodded. “You can call me Oracle! We’re gonna try and get you out of here, alright? There’s just one thing we need you to do, but I’m gonna need you to breathe first, okay? Just focus on your breathing.


Temeraire finally began coming to from her dazed state. "...augh, dammit... that wasn't my brightest idea..." She saw that the Shadow was in its humanoid form, just as hers had been after beating it. "Oh, hey, we won. How about that?" She let out a dry laugh. They made this "Persona" thing look easy!


For real?” Skull glanced over his shoulder to see the Shadow’s hideous form had dissipated, leaving the form of a drenched girl laying helplessly on the floor. Were they in better circumstances, Skull just might have commented on her looks. “We did do it!” Skull fist pumped into the air. “Hell yeah! Now come on, get up!” Kneeling down beside Temeraire, Skull offered his hand to help her up.


Temeraire gladly took Skull's hand and was helped up. "...thanks." She took a look at both the defeated Shadow and the girl it resembled, and decided to stay back and watch. This was not her conversation (and she wasn't the best at calming people anyway).


A task. That was something Enterprise was used to. It took several minutes, but eventually she managed to pull herself somewhat together. Her breaths were still a bit ragged, and she still felt everything pressing down-- but at least she wasn't completely falling apart anymore. "What… do you need me to do?"


It won’t be easy,” Oracle replied, “but we need you to face your Shadow and accept her. If you can do that…. she won’t become that thing again. But….. it has to be something you’re willing to do.” She smiled at her. “Only when you’re ready, alright?


Enterprise froze for a moment. She… that thing…. Shadow… they called that… a Shadow? Shadows and Sirens, both monsters - one from beyond the stars, another knowing one's mind….


... weren't they both enemies to be taken down? She had to had to had to stop this Shadow. The Shadow that had tried to kill others. She couldn't wait. And with that thought, Enterprise stood up.


One foot in front of the other. Closer. Closer. Closer. The Shadow whipped around - Enterprise saw her, and averted her gaze. She heard the Shadow laughing. The doubts and fears broken free in her mind began whispering. She couldn't - she had to.


"You're back. Wasn't once enough~?" the Shadow leered, looking Enterprise up and down. Enterprise swallowed, all of her worst inner demons hounding her in that moment. She couldn't breathe -- she had to. With effort, she managed to pull together the broken shards. The mask she wore. The illusion of calm. And when the Shadow opened her mouth, words tumbled out of Enterprise's instead. Chasing each other, running all around and not letting a single soul by. Fast, faster, fastest --


"I -- they -- I failed them, and I wanted to protect but I couldn't and it hurt -- I was -- I saw them die, I killed -- I won't forget their screams. I won't forget that moment when they tried to bring those ships home." Enterprise's mouth grew dry. "I had to kill, faster, stronger. ...maybe I wanted to have them back -- I failed to protect so many, and I see them -- every, every, every --" She panted. The mask was breaking. It couldn't. With a shuddering breath she continued. "I had to be perfect. Had to do it all - everything well -- because the way I acted was wrong and I couldn't make it right -- I died once because - because I couldn't be of any more use! They ..

the people… let me sit there broken for so long - broken and…." She can't stop now. She can't. She can't. "They let me sit there hurting -- so long so long -- because I was too broken! I fought and I fought, and that's all I know how to do -- I - I -- I miss them miss them miss them -- oh, Creator… it hurts. I don't know how to fix myself- I don't know how I should be - I… it hurts, all of it hurts to remember…. A-all…!" Enterprise's breaths grew more ragged, but she couldn't stop the jumbled words anymore. "-- they didn't want to see me feel - I wasn't - wasn't a person…! -- it all hurts… all of these… all of me…. I was… all of those things… killing, protecting, failing, acting wrong… all those memories- that pain-- mine--!! My --!"


"...so you could face me at long last." The Shadow's voice was strangely calm. It was missing all of her lilts and sneers. Instead, she seemed empty. Her tone was blank.


Enterprise's heavy breathing was interrupted by a flash of light. The Shadow disappeared.


And there, in her place, a woman sat atop a shattered wooden hull which, were one who knew a shipgirl to look closely, would seem to be attached as though it were rigging. Both were spectral, and spectral water leaked down from them. The woman's long hair was saturated and her clothes torn, revealing discoloured patches of skin; the hull looked like that of a fluyt, but badly battered. Its long masts were broken and its sails torn to shreds, while its bulging hull had broken and shattered boards in several places. The woman's skin had an unearthly pallor, even accounting for the ghostly appearance of the two bodies. One of the woman's legs hung down off the boat, foot yet suspended off the ground, while the other foot was anchored on the battered hull.


Another burst of light, and a single, gold-bordered card took the apparition's place. The card fluttered lazily to the ground, landing face-up. XX. It depicted the silhouette of a woman sat in a ship, holding a golden… fleece?


It is done.” After Enterprise’s monologue, the atmosphere had grown too somber for Fox’s taste. Hands clasped together, he slowly walked up to Enterprise from behind. “You’ve accepted your Shadow as a part of you,” he said softly as to not startle her. “This world will cease to be once we leave it, but your Shadow will become a part of you, now and forever.” Fox stopped a foot or so away from Enterprise. He inclined his head towards her. “You did well in accepting your Shadow, but if you need any more help, we’re here for you.


Well that wasn’t too bad!” Skull said abruptly from the other side of the room. Grinning widely, he gave Temeraire a friendly nudge with his elbow. “Not as long as a fight as yours, eh? At least this time I didn’t get dropped fifty feet from the ground or whatever, but, uh…” Skull looked down at himself. His clothes, positively drenched in cold water, were suctioning to his skin like they were skintight. “Eurgh!” Skull grabbed his arms and rubbed them furiously. “It’s freaking cold! I hope the next person we rescue has a fear of blankets and heaters because I need to warm up!


"Yeah, not as long a fight... But certainly no less dangerous! I thought I was gonna drown, but..." Temeraire waved one arm. "Bah, it's in the past now. I wonder how many more o' these kinds o' worlds there are..." For a moment, Temeraire looked at her own Persona's card once more. Was everyone's card different, she wondered...?


She could probably ask that after all the near-death situations blew over.


Oracle closed her eyes. “There’s one more Shadow, plus something else lurking in that area. The others should be heading there- let’s go to this final world and meet them there.” Then she took a deep breath. “Let’s go- this way.” Oracle turned on her heel and started walking out of the pier, in the direction of the village, but not quite. She veered left- down a slope that led to somewhere very, very cold.


Enterprise couldn't tell whether her brain was on autopilot or if the breakdown had left her drained. Either way, with scarce any idea of how to respond to Fox's commentary (and offer to help her), she opted for a quick nod. As the others left, Enterprise followed them. To a slope, where as they descended further a chill set in. She pulled her coat up. Something inside her felt tired, but she wasn't done yet. There was still another enemy….


Edited by Doctortear

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The battle ended before it even began. 

A single slice through the beast’s stomach and it fell to the ground, poofing into smoke to reveal the battered form of Stan’s shadow. Siegfried’s glow dimmed as Xander slid it back into its sheath. He let out a sigh, idly watching Lara and Stan converse. Behind him, Joker clasped his hands behind his back and smoothly strolled up besides Tien.


Oh I wouldn’t say we’re in the clear just yet,” he said. He slyly glanced over at Tien. “Just wait a second. Nothing ever finishes this cleanly.”


Almost as though on cue, the flooring collapsed. Lara, Stan, and Utakata were standing right above the cracks in the flooring. The agents watched as their friends fell tumbling down in the darkness. The floor continued to crack, wood giving way as the hole on the other side of the room began slowly growing. Sieghorse let out a startled neigh. He backed up, hooves clicking against the ground. Xander glanced worriedly behind him, but the exit had seemingly disappeared, leaving everyone trapped in the room.


There’s no way out!” he called over his shoulder. He glanced around the room, checking to see how fast the hole was caving in. The hole was only getting closer.


Ah, Tien thought in a blank, half-detached way that was only marginally better than panicking. I see. I ruined it. Alright, what options did he have? No exit. Could he Soulcast an exit, or a more solid floor? This was the Cognitive Realm, after all, he’d done similar tricks before, if rarely. Let’s see. Hadn’t heard voices whispering, so Fractal needed to translate. How much closer was the hole? 


...Not much, surprisingly. His mind was working overtime. Tien opened his mouth and called for his spren. One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. The floor came closer. Three heartbeats, Fractal gripped his hand. Four heartbeats, she began to whisper the translated thoughts of the world around him. Five heartbeats, six heartbeats, seven heartbeats and Tien took a breath and glowed with Stormlight. Eight heartbeats, and he opened his mouth to convince the world to change. Nine heartbeats, halfway through a sentence--


Ten heartbeats. The floor gave out under him. His thoughts scattered. He fell.


No sooner had he heard Xander call it out that Illidan became airborne to avoid the hole. Good thing he had wings... but then there was the predicament of Xander being on horseback. Saving him in the bazaar had been one thing, but Illidan knew his limits and he knew he wouldn't be able to save both Xander and his steed.


Seeing Tien fall in as well only made the situation that much more dire.


Amongst the panicking agents, Joker stood idly. He shoved his hands into his pockets and very casually strode over towards the growing hole. 

If there’s one thing I learned about these Shadow Worlds in particular it’s that the only thing that can hurt you are Shadows, not the environment they dwell in,” Joker said. He kicked a small broken piece of the floor into the hole. He watched it silently as it fell down into the abyss. If it hit the ground, it made no sound once it did so. “I can’t say it’ll be painless, but we’re all getting out of here alive.” Joker spun around on his heel so he could face the remaining agents. “I’ll see you all on the other side!” With a wink, Joker backflipped into the hole and descended into the darkness with Arsene flying down after him. 


Xander was speechless.

The boy had jumped into a hole. Their guide just tried to be cheeky with them and then jumped into the dark abyss that swallowed the other agents whole. Of course, Stan’s little perverted dungeon was just a reflection of his thoughts and desires so it only made sense for everything in the dungeon, including the hole, to not be bound by normal logic. It made some sense in some strange way. Still, watching a teenager backflip into a hole was not something Xander ever thought he’d get used to seeing.


Gods…” Xander squeezed the bridge of his nose between his fingers. Strangely enough, this wouldn’t be the second time he jumped into a seemingly endless pit at the behest of someone else and even more strange that had happened before he knew about the multiverse. At least he had some experience with this. Sieghorse reared his head up, his ears flattening against his skull as the cracks in the ground crawled closer towards him. Xander mumbled a string of curses under his breath. His mind made up, Xander pulled at Sieghorse’s reins hard enough to redirect his attention. Sieghorse stilled almost immediately. His ears perked up instantly and curved towards Xander attentively. 


So be it,” Xander said softly under his breath. Mona likely already knew what to do, so Xander lifted his head up to where Illidan was anxiously hovering. “We don’t have any other options, so we might as well follow his lead.” Without skipping a beat, Xander yanked at Sieghorse’s reins and ordered him forward. The stallion’s training and trust in his owner was more than enough to overcome his instinctual fear. He galloped forward, jumping from broken stone to crack before leaping fearlessly headfirst into the waiting darkness.


Illidan couldn't help the sigh that escaped his lips, but if Xander was that confident that they'd survive the fall, then it couldn't be helped. He'd heard of adventurers from Azeroth that had survived worse. He dove down, confident that his wings would help break his own fall, at least.




No sooner had Lara let go of her embrace had the floor finally given way under her, Stan, and Utakata. Stan grabbed onto her again just as the wood snapped with a deafening crack and fell into the void, and for a couple seconds Stan found himself in freefall, first through darkness and then through a bright, wet mist.


He landed nearly flat on his back while protecting Lara, and while it was painful, it didn’t feel as deliberating as it should have been given the height. With a groan he rose from the ground, making sure that all his limbs worked, then dusted off his clothes — including his new cloak. Through the fog he could see the rounded shapes of concrete buildings, sort of like the rundown cities of Vespa, but dotted by overgrown trees instead of Venus’ oppressive sandscapes. In front of him stood Utakata and a thump behind him caused Stan to whip around and see Tien fall and another unfamiliar kid land lightly on his toes. It wasn’t long before the rest of the group from above landed a lot more gracefully than Stan himself did, including Xander’s beast of a war horse. 


Feels like we’re still in the Shadow World,” Stan cautioned Lara, if only to force himself to look away from Xander. “Does this look familiar to you in any way?


She’d winced when she saw Tien land. “...Oh Lord, is Tien alright? That looked like it hurt.” Then she paused, sighed, and turned back to her boyfriend. “No,” Lara replied, “But look…. Seems familiar to Utakata over here. See the panic?” 


Just as he did when they first landed in Valla, Sieghorse landed gently on the ground. His hooves clacked softly against the dirt. Xander peered down at his steed’s legs, checking for any possible injury. Sieghorse stood strongly on all four legs with not a limp in sight. Xander sighed with relief; a single leg injury, no matter how small, could be devastating for a horse. He leaned down to pat Sieghorse reassuringly on his flank. The stallion nickered in response, his tail flickering attentively.  


With Sieghorse’s health assured, Xander straightened himself upright.

Is everyone alright?” he asked. He quickly surveyed his surroundings, taking in the Hoshidan-like architecture and searching for familiar faces to make sure everyone was accounted for. Stan and Tien appeared to be staggering, likely because of the poor landing, but Lara, Illidan, Joker, Mona, and… no. Xander narrowed his eyes. Where was Utakata? 


Tien let out a groan, pain sending throbbing pulses up his arm. Oh, he’d landed badly on that...had he heard a crack? “Fractal?”


A presence at his side almost immediately. “Here. Human arms do not bend that way, yes?”


Tien looked over and winced. “No, they certainly don’t.” He held Fractal’s hand with his unhurt one. Had he released all his Stormlight in that fall? What a waste. Or maybe he’d just used it all up healing when he landed.


He wasn’t sure if that idea was worse.


Regardless, he took a breath of Light and watched the glow rise from his skin. He stretched out his arm, the pain numbing, being replaced with vibrant energy as flesh and bone knitted under his skin.


Shame about his jacket, though. He’d liked this jacket (it was one of his last links to the other world that was home, one of the last threads he had remaining of Roshar, and now now now--)


Tien shook the thought away and pulled himself to his feet with Fractal’s help. “I... is everyone okay? Joker? Stan, Lara, Xander…” Yes, yes, yes, yes, and, at the end of the line with panic growing on his face… “...Utakata?” 


Utakata drowned out whatever other noise he heard. His body had started to tremble as the knob of the door turned and the door opened. He looked in panic until he noticed a child walk out and smirk at him. There was a yell from inside, but the door closed before Utakata could pinpoint why it was familiar. Then he felt much, much more relaxed.


...Haha, no. 


Instead, the chills went up Utakata’s spine as he saw something that made him sick- the child had the same kimono Utakata wore at the age of five, the same waist-length hair, the same lotus hairclip. Utakata paled at this, taking two steps back. “Wh-what- what the hell are you?


His child self frowned in a mocking manner. “You know, sometimes you’re such a moron it hurts. Of course you know who I am. I’m you. Are you gonna face me this time? Or are you gonna run away again, just like you did six years ago?” 


Utakata’s eyes widened. “What….?” The child even had the same voice Utakata did as a kid.


You heard me, boy, I’m you.” The child took a few steps forward and smirked. “Probably surprising how small I am, isn’t it? And yet that look of panic on your face- you know.” 


Utakata took two more steps back. “Y-you’re lying…. Y-you’re-


The childhood you wish you had, is the correct response.” The child rolled his eyes- the color of a certain citrus- and stepped forward to shove Utakata to the ground. “But that’s not the biggest thing rattling around in that empty head of yours, isn’t it?” The child shifted to a young woman, with long wavy blonde hair. The irises remained the same pale yellow. “Of course, I could be the student you failed too, or anyone else in your life that you abandoned. Because let’s face it, you always do.


Shut…. shut up….” The panic in Utakata’s voice rose as he tried to scramble back. Hotaru…. No, it couldn’t be. Of course, as quickly as it shifted, it returned to child form. 


Hm. That got to you real good, didn’t ya?


Lara knit her eyebrows together. She was learning a lot about this man, and she didn’t even have to have a conversation with him.


Tien winced in silent sympathy, taking a step or two back in an attempt at offering privacy--and yanking Fractal with him by the back of her too-stiff robes when she tried to lean forwards instead. Storms, he was suddenly so glad his own confrontation with his Shadow had been mercifully private.


"Utakata!" Stan shouted, trying to inject some sense into the shinobi. "Your shadow's just trying to rile you up into rejecting it!"


Don’t let it intimidate you!” Joker briskly passed the agents with Arsene floating closely behind him. They had just arrived and already the Shadow was trying to goad its creator into rejecting his identity. Joker bit his lip. It was working far more quickly than expected. “Everything here is a part of you,” Joker said. He raised his arms and motioned towards the abandoned village they stood in. “All of this is just a reflection of your emotions and thoughts. Nothing here can hurt you unless you give it the power to.” Joker slowly took a step forward. “You’re speaking to a phantom, your phantom. Don’t trick yourself into rejecting it. You must find the resolve to accept it! That’s the only way to make this all go away!


Utakata couldn’t register what anyone else was saying- all that he heard was his own voice. All he felt was the panic rising in his chest, and all he could see was the child looming over him. His eyes widened as he attempted to scramble backwards, only to have the boy catch up with him, lean down, and cup his cheek with his hand. The boy pouted and cocked his head to the side mockingly. “Tsk-tsk, you should really listen to your friends there- if you can even call them that.” He smirked. “But you were never one to listen to people who didn’t have control over you, were you? Well… Isn’t that why you ran away after you killed Master Harusame? So you could no longer be the Mist’s little puppet?


Stop... Please, back away and leave me alone-” Utakata pleaded. 


But the child did not listen. “You know I’m right, Utakata, because you’re me. There’s a reason people being used as weapons gets under your skin- because ever since your tool of a father, you were to take on that damned beast. You were always meant to be that village’s weapon, and look around? We’re all alone here. Because you’re alone, and you will always be alone.” The hand on Utakata’s cheek moved slightly down the side of his face, making Utakata’s skin crawl. Then he felt a heavy SLAP across his face, causing him to yelp and collapse to the side. “Isn’t that why you had a master? To get that support you so craved. That’s why you took on Hotaru as a student in the end- for the validation you always wanted. So that you had someone you could control. You want to be the master, but you’re nothing more than a puppet!


Tien’s breath hitched. His own Shadow’s voice echoed in his mind. He used us!...I want to find everyone who ever hurt us and watch them crumble! He remembered...something like this. He knew what it felt like to be--to be--but not like this. It hurt to watch. It tugged at him. He wanted to help… he felt himself take an unconscious step forwards before Fractal gripped his hand. She held him back this time. What could he...what could he… 


For Stan, this was getting painful to watch. He nearly turned away from second-hand embarrassment. He could care less about what the shadow was saying about Utakata, and, now that it wasn't his own past getting laid bare, the whole thing felt needlessly melodramatic. Spinning the chambers of Lara's revolver and cocking back the hammer of the gun, he pointed it coldly at the child. By pulling the trigger and having the bang echo through the landscape, Stan wanted to cut to the end of this nonsense, or at least, give the ninja a beat to recover.


That fired Utakata up- humiliate him like this? In front of his teammates? How dare this brat. It was as if his mind snapped back into focus. He sat up, bringing himself to his feet, towering over the child and stomping his foot against the ground. “That’s enough! None of that is true, and if you were me as you so claim, you wouldn’t say such utter crap!” He’d lifted his left hand so he could smack the child across the face, but-


The child smirked. “Now I had been hoping you’d say that.” The child started to change in both voice and size as he changed into a grotesque monster. The thing was a large six-tailed snake, three of its tails chained to an almost lifeless clone of Utakata, which made Utakata’s stomach churn. But without warning, the snake’s tails twitched and it sent the clone forward, colliding with the real Utakata and sending him flying several meters back. Then the snake turned to face the others. “Now you’re next, I can’t wait to make puppets out of you!


Illidan bristled at seeing the monstrous beast. Why did he always get the freaky ones? No matter; it'd fall before his Warglaives either way. He drew the infamous green blades, still stained with the blood of one Shadow, and flew up to strike at the serpent before him. If all went well, this Shadow would fall just as fast.


The snake let out a loud cry as Illidan did so, falling limp. It needed some time to recover on that one. 


Lara took that opportunity to take out the guns Stan upgraded and fired a shot at the snake- which caused it to writhe in pain. She grinned and looked at Stan. “Oh baby, I like these,” she said to him. Then she glared at the snake. She fired another shot with the other gun, to her dismay not doing as much. Still, the damage had been done. 


"Thank me later, when we're done with pest control," Stan replied, but returned her smirk. With all the backup they had now, it looked like they were in a good place to turn the tides, even though when he looked down, he realized his chambers were empty. 


You're more resourceful than that, Stan told himself, though in a way it felt like the words weren't his own. I am thou, and thou art I...


Mona grinned as he sent out Zorro- about time he had a fight. Closing his eyes, he scanned the large snake, and he let out a wide grin when he did so. “ALRIGHT! I hope you guys have guns ready- because this thing is weak to ‘em!” He narrowed his eyes and took a second. “As well as Ice and…… Huh? Illidan?” He blinked. “Ooooookay.” 


He realized he couldn’t find his gun. “Rats! Let’s see- Zorro! Garula!” Zorro sent out the attack, but not only was it too far to the right, it doesn’t seem like it did much to the snake. “DRAT,” he spat. “Joker!


I hear you!” Joker yelled. Arsene didn’t have much range when it came to ice attacks. In fact, his abilities were exclusively physical and curse based meaning Joker was going to have to rely on himself. He quickly unflipped the latch to his holster pulled the model gun settled within it. He flipped the gun around his hands skillfully before clicking the hammer. “I got your back!


Siegfried was slowly drawn out of its sheath. It burst to life once more, a dangerous violet grow emitting from the blade. Sparks flew off from the blade, eager to lash out at whoever drew too near. Xander raised his hand slowly into the air and, as he did so, the ground began to raise. In the immediate vicinity, hard blocks of dirt and stone emerged from the ground. 


Take cover if you need to!” Xander called to the agents. The makeshift covers should provide protection if the Shadow attempted to lash out at whoever was hiding behind them, but the soil was weak and without strong foundation. Xander doubted the covers could last more than a single hit or so, but they were all he could work especially since the abandoned buildings around them looked equally frail.


Take a step back. Another. A third, fourth, fifth. Whatever you do, don’t break into a run. There is no safety to run to here, despite the cover. Tien’s breath came in shallow starts, eyes wide. Almighty, he was so, so glad he was used to facing truths about himself, that his Shadow was only another version of the Truths he’s sworn. This--this--he didn’t know what he would have done if he’d had to face something like this on his own.


He didn’t know what he was doing now, either. He wanted to run. He wanted to do something. He didn’t--he didn’t know what he could do. Soulcasting? Xander had seemed to do it easily enough…But this wasn’t Shadesmar, it was Utakata’s own warped fears. It was likely as not that if his Shadow thought to act, its will could override Xander’s and reset the landscape; or, more importantly, override Tien’s, leaving him with nothing but dun spheres. Not worth draining his Stormlight for unless things turned drastic.


Was this drastic?


He didn’t know. He didn’t-didn’t-didn’t know, and Fractal at his side could not hum in his chest like she did in the Physical Realm and the Cognitive Realm meant he didn’t have her weaponform, not as Blade nor staff nor life saving shield--


Tien wasn’t a fighter, storm it all!




“I’m not a fighter,” Tien whispered out loud.


Little Lightweaver, did we not just have this talk?


Utakata opened his eyes and rolled onto his stomach as he helplessly watched. Physically he was fine, mentally he was recovering, but something in him told him to stay the hell down. “Dammit,” he wheezed, “my….pipe….” It was over near Stan’s foot, next to an empty container. He looked at it in dismay. “Shoot….


Stan heard Xander's warning and from the corner of his eye he saw the dirt walls rise. However, the acknowledgement from the masked kid that all of this was in someone's head, in addition to the calmness blanketing his mind, made him feel nearly invincible. The card pulsed in his breast pocket. He took a moment to pick up the pipe and the emptied soap container, unfazed by the chaos around him. He barely knew anything about Utakata, but the desire to run away... It was something that he could sympathize with. 


Against his desire to rush in and be the hero and the pulsing near his heart, he knelt down in front of the fallen ninja. "The rest of the team is busy snake-wrangling. Maybe you are a snake, and I don't really care. Maybe you can't stop thinking about the past, but in the end, nobody cares where you're from. You're with the X-Dreamers now." Stan, admitting to himself how brash he sounded, was never really good at giving pep-talks. But he could at least try and instill some of his carefree attitude in the other man. "It's what you are today that counts. The feelings exist in your heart, but the reality is that nobody is here to control you, and nobody here exists to be controlled. Be a kid. Be a teacher. Be our friend. Your choice." He took a breath. "Once that monster hits the ground, I want you to find your own truth.


That was enough validation. He managed to resist the tears putting pressure on his eyes. That didn’t stop the anxiety-induced tremble his body was caught in, however, and he closed his eyes to take a few solid, deep breaths. Be a kid. Be a teacher. Be our friend. Your choice. Those were the kindest words said by an almost stranger. Utakata didn’t want to believe the things his shadow had said, but… In a way, they were his truth- that of a past self he couldn’t help but wallow in every single day of those six years he wasted wandering about. 


It was time to make his own truth, something new. 


Wasn’t that something Ren had told him some time back? Take big changes as a chance to start fresh?


The corners of his lips tugged upwards a little and he looked up at Stan, making eye contact with his nose instead of his irises. “...Yeah. I… Um…. Damn, was I ever good at emotions? ...Thanks. I… Needed that.” While his hands still shook, just faintly, Stan’s words did ground him enough to knock him into reality. There was a fight going on, and it needed to be ended, right? “....Well? Time to go kick my ass.” He graciously took back his pipe and container, frowning in dismay that the tube was empty. “Ah- I’ll sit the rest of this out unless ya need me, don’t wanna go all beastie until I gotta.” 


The snake woke up and let out a roar of rage. Its tails holding the clone swung, sending the clone around the battlefield. Lara attempted to do a backflip, but before she could jump the clone smacked into her and sent her a few feet. She mentioned a few not-Countess-like words and laid there for a moment, thankful she put her guns in the holsters before she tried to dodge. Utakata winced- that looked painful.


"Lara!" Stan yelled in concern, but the chaotic movements of the shadow meant that one of the tails was heading his way. Standing protectively in front of Utakata, he raised his hands to protect his head from the hit. Somehow, he managed to hold his ground against the strike... even if he realized afterwards that his heels had been sunk a few centimeters into the dirt.


Mona managed to dodge, but using Garula again did nothing. It missed, and Mona cursed. 


Tien yelped and released Fractal’s hand to try and dive behind one of the covers. Didn’t make it in time. The clone hit him hard, at just the right angle against a rock to break his arm for the second storming time that day, and Tien let out a gasp of pain. Storms… he all but gasped for Stormlight, the cool energy working its way into his body. 


It reminded him of home. Not in a good way, either. Of battlefields, scrambling through a mesh of bodies and weapons and trying to stay at the fringes desperately, so desperately, so often failing, with the Light augmenting his speed, his stamina, keeping him on his feet by soothing away his injuries--there were so many things he had only lived through because of Stormlight.


And Fractal. Stormlight and Fractal.


Where was Fractal?


Tien scrambled to his feet, broken bones knitting together, and frantically scanned the landspace for the shape of his robed Cryptic. No, no no no--there, oh thank the Almighty--he scrambled towards her. 


Illidan tried to fly to dodge the tails. He managed to dodge the clone, but mistimed his movements and was sent flying by one of the tails themselves. That was going to leave a mark. Nonetheless, Illidan was back on his hooves and tried to shoot the Shadow with an Eye Beam.


And he cursed in a demonic language when it missed.


Xander didn’t bother dodging out of the way. As soon as he saw the snake wind itself up for an attack, he lifted his hand up once more. Another taller cover quickly expanded from the ground in front of him, completely obscuring him from the Shadow’s few. From the corner of his eye, Xander spotted Joker duck dive behind one of the covers just in time to dodge the attack. The barrier in front of Xander was sliced cleanly in half. The stone crumbled before him. The broken top slowly slid downward, plummeting to the ground in a cloud of dust. 


Xander reamined unphased even as the force of the impact drew up a gust of wind and rustled his hair. He yanked on Sieghorse’s reins, eliciting a whinny out of him as he galloped out from under the cover. He held Siegfried in an upright position in front of his chest. The sparks dancing along the blade turned to a deep crimson. They coalesced into a single line of electricity building at the base of the blade. Just as he was about to send the electricity flying, he saw movement as his allies were flung around like ragdolls why the serpent’s tail. Xander mumbled a curse under his breath and quickly pointed his sword away from its intended target. A bright, hot red laser soarded off of Xander’s blade and launched itself towards a building beside the monster. The tiles on the buildings roof hit by the impact were singed, stained black. Xander’s grip on Siegfried’s hilt tightened as he watched Joker miss several potshots in the beast’s direction. Should he have made more barriers, or were the sheer amount of them clogging up the battlefield?


The snake yelled and its tails spread, sending a rush of water over the battlefield.


The second attack was crueler than the first. It came too fast for Xander to dodge undercover. Harsh, cold water washed over him. Sieghorse buckled to his knees, and Xander was sent careening into his neck. The water drenched them to their very bones, leaving them shivering and immobile. Joker, who had attempted to exit cover right before the attack, was in a similar predicament, sprawled helplessly on the ground.


Lara whimpered as she was blasted with cold water. Mona failed to dodge as he too was drenched.


Illidan had bent down to start flying again, but the water was too fast and caught him, as well.


Tien reached out for Fractal and only barely brushed her hand before the water hit, tearing him away from her and sending him tumbling in a soaking-cold yelp.


The snake really didn't give them a chance, did it? Stan tried to defend against this attack as well, but the frigid waves seemed to paralyze him to his core and wash him away.


Utakata watched as everyone else was knocked down by freezing cold water. He had been lucky to not have it as bad, but he was terrified for everyone else. Were they going to be okay? Was he screwed? Were they screwed? What was he going to do?


Okay. That’s **** it. He stood up and cracked his knuckles. “Okay you six-tailed son of the Fourth Mizukage, you’re mine.” Utakata cracked his neck and prepared himself for what was about to come. “Saiken! Ok!


That feeling of his skin setting on fire once again came, but this time it felt as though someone was making that fire hotter and hotter. A loud yell arose from Utakata’s lungs as his form began to change, into the form he once promised to never use again. But he had to- he had to! If he wanted friends, he had to help! That kept him through the pain as Saiken took control.


Saiken hadn’t taken on the largest form, but he still met eye-stalks to eyes with the giant snake. Saiken let out a loud squelching noise as one of his tails lunged to grab one of the tails the snake used to keep the clone restrained and pulled at it. The snake screeched, but it couldn’t resist when Saiken pulled. The snake went flying over Saiken’s head and past everyone else. As he turned, the snake lunged to bite at Saiken….. only to get a mouthful of mucus. Saiken hissed and sent acid in its face, causing yet another screech of pain. 


Now, Utakata thought, all six of Saiken’s tails grabbed all six of the snake’s tails, and with one whip the snake was slammed against the ground. He did this not one, not two, but six times before the snake was down.


The snake started to dissipate as the child was left behind, face down on the ground. Utakata started to suppress Saiken as his form once again returned. “...Damn,” he whispered as he approached the child.


The child looked up, yellow eyes looking sunken and exhausted. 


Utakata looked down at him and sighed. “Get up.” Pause. “Now.”


The child moved to a sitting position and frowned. “Will you deny me again?


Utakata shook his head and went down to a knee, meeting his own eyes. “No. I won’t give you- myself- that power again. You’re right, how I feel about myself now is based on the past. I won’t ever able to get over it completely.” Then he shrugged. “But it’s time for a new truth, yeah? Stan was right- I need to stop worrying about what I was, none of that matters. So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to move forward and be a better man, save the melodrama. Sound good?


The child nodded, and Utakata wrapped his arms around his form. In the child’s ear, he whispered, “Thank you. Please, let me forgive myself. Let me make my own truth,” It felt as if there were a lump in his throat when the child dissipated, leaving behind a card that fit in the palm of Utakata’s writing hand. He looked at it, it had some strange symbol on the bottom- his pipe in the top corners and…. Hotaru in the bottom corners. He pressed it close to his chest, and he mused, “so this is what it feels like to let go. Feels…. Good. Feels good.


Oh, hey, the snake was gone. That was...good? Yeah. That was good. Tien coughed up water and wiped at his face, unsure if there were tears starting to slide down his face or if it was just more water. He should probably be happy for Utakata. Probably encourage him. Something. But he was cold and damp and he needed an anchor


Tien reached out, mumbling weakly. Fractal…?”


Not quite.” The agents and Phantom Thieves were scattered across the village. Most were now coughing up mouthfuls of water or attempting to help one another regain their footing. The warm hand clutching Joker’s own was unexpected to say the least. Telinar, no, Tien appeared to be someone who mostly kept to himself or at least anxious around others if Joker was to go on his interactions with Tien on the beach. Tien was obviously looking for his friend, Fractal she called herself, for comfort. Joker couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt that Tien had blindly latched onto him instead of the one he was looking for. 


Tien blinked. Not Fractal, but someone. Fractal would, had to be fine--(“I cannot die unless you kill me”)--any anchor would do in the meantime. “Oh,” Tien said dazedly, registering who it was, “pretty boy.


...Storms, had he said that out loud


Can you sit up?” Joker asked kindly. Resisting the urge to cough, Joker sat himself up into an upright position. He gently tugged at Tien’s hand as an offer, not a command, to be helped up. Joker wasn’t sure if Tien was too distressed to accept help from someone he barely knew, but there was no harm in trying to make him comfortable.  


Well, at least he was kind enough to pretend he hadn’t heard. Tien let Joker help him to his feet. “I...yeah, I...thank you.” If he wasn’t letting go, Tien wasn’t about to either. He rubbed his face again with his other hand. “Shouldn’t have said anything earlier,” he mumbled. “Asking for trouble.


He still wished he’d done something to help. He still wanted to cry. More than that, he still wanted to go home. Thank you,” Tien repeated absently, starting to scan for Fractal. Something...he needed something. His hand tightened around Joker’s subconsciously. His rocks? Would a rock help? He dug into his pocket, his hand closing against one at random. Solid...solid, here, real and grounding…


...The other boy’s hand, warm against his own…


It was probably for the best that Tien was too exhausted to bother getting flustered about his feelings. Instead, he just leaned against Joker for support.


Tien pressing himself against Joker’s side was all the reassurance the Phantom Thief needed. He squeezed Tien’s hand reassuringly. 


You don’t need to apologize for anything,” Joker said. He pressed his back firmly against the stone wall behind it and immediately regretted it. The covers Xander had constructed were made of packed soil and rock. They were sufficient barriers against the worst of the snake’s attack, but they weren’t immune to being drenched. Joker could already feel the wet dirt sticking to the back of his jacket.  “You might not want to lean back,” Joker said, shivering involuntarily. Arsene rushed to its user’s side. It kneeled down beside the two boys and held out its hands, quietly waiting for Tien’s permission to lift him up.


Tien nodded to the Persona, shivering slightly--and not just from the cold. Before it completed its gesture, he caught sight of a flash of warm colors. “Ah--! Fractal!


His spren perked up and hurried over, managing to appear more haggard than Tien had ever seen her and still manage to move with her inhuman grace. “Tien! You are alright? You are not harmed? You--” she paused and seemed to notice the way he was pressed against Joker. Ah. You are forming bonds. This is good.


Heat rushed to his cheeks. “I--uh--mrm.” Tien coughed awkwardly and didn’t quite answer.


Nothing wrong with building a few social links,” Joker said with a shrug, In a show of good faith, Joker wrapped his arm around Tien’s shoulder and patted it lightly. “That and, you know, sharing body heat. We’re trying to warm up a little.” Arsene perked up. 


If you wish to warm yourself, I can call someone to assist,” Arsene said helpfully. Joker chuckled lightly. 

That’s okay. You don’t need to—

I can summon Queen.

What? Why? So she can run me over with Johanna?” Joker shook his head. “No, Arsene. Really, I’m okay—

I can summon Panther.


Don’t you dare!” Joker said, pointing an accusing finger at his Persona. “Ugh, she was the one who suggested I dress up as a waiter in the first place.” Joker, very professionally, blew a raspberry. He removed his arm from Tien’s shoulder and crossed it over his chest along with his other arm. “As annoying as it was, I suppose it wasn’t too bad. I got to meet some fine people.” Joker butted Tien with his elbow with a casual wink.


Tien’s cheeks flushed, and he grinned back unsteadily, resisting the urge to hide behind his hands. It seemed like interactions with...whatever you called them; Persona, spren, seraphs; were the same everywhere


Utakata looked behind him at everyone who was recovering. His eyes softened and he felt his jaw tense- I could have prevented this if I weren’t in such a panic…. But he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. No no, don’t be stupid. You reacted as normal, right? He wanted to go to people and help, but found himself awkwardly fiddling with the tassel on his pipe. What could he say to people? Thank you for helping? I’m sorry? I can’t heal but hope you’re okay? Those all sounded…. not good. Almost condescending, really.


He looked at Lara, who weakly adjusted herself so that she was sitting. “Are we bloody finished here?” She muttered under her breath.


Mona shook his head. “I have a feeling…. Everyone look out, it’ll be a bit windy.” He summoned Zorro to send a blast of wind at the soaking-wet crew. For the most part, this dried them off. He himself shook a few times, feeling much more refreshed. “Better?


Illidan sighed, then flew into a coughing fit. "Never thought I'd almost drown..." There was a scary thought.


Sieghorse did not appreciate anything that had happened in the last five minutes. Xander had unmounted him moments after the battle had ended. The stallion was standing with his legs sprawled apart. His fur was puffed and frizzled from Mona’s spell. His saddle had been drenched after the attack, and looking at it now Xander could tell it was still soggy to the touch. Xander realized drearily that he was likely going to have to unsaddle Sieghorse and ride him bareback for the rest of the mission.


Yes, thank you,” Xander called over to the Phantom Thief. Sieghorse raised his head towards Xander’s direction almost as though to challenge his claim. Xander shook his head as he lifted his hand and carded his fingers from his mostly dried hair. Gods, he needed a brush or a comb. As did everyone else, Xander realized upon looking over at his companions. They all looked winded save for, oddly enough, Utakata. “Is everyone safe? Any injuries we need to concern ourselves with?


Tien shivered against the blast of wind, flinching slightly. It did help, though; at least he wasn’t soaking anymore. “I’m alright. Thank you.” Thank the Almighty for Stormlight, more like… 


Lara shook her head. “No. I’m fine, I just need to sit down somewhere warm.” Utakata frowned and shook his head as well. He needed a place to be alone, but had a feeling that wasn’t going to happen for a little while. 


Mona waved off his own injuries. “We have a few healing items if anyone needs it. And frankly, we might all need a little something.”


"Any healing items for my pride?" Stan groaned while sitting up, holding his head, squeezing his eyes shut. Thankfully, he hadn't hit his head on anything during the flood, but the shock of the cold water gave him one heck of a headache. He snapped his eyes open, then gave his whole body a little shake. The cat-creature's wind spell did manage to blow off quite a bit of moisture from his clothes, but like Lara, he still felt quite cold. Taking one sharp breath in, he willed himself to hop to his feet in one fluid motion, no procrastination allowed. "Lady birthday is chilly," he stated, smirking at Lara, "and my own body's too cold to keep her warm." He winked.  "This could be a good time to set up camp and get our bearings. I don't know about you guys, but I'm positively exhausted."


Lara smirked back and made an exaggerated shivering gesture. “Brrrrr.


In true Stan fashion though, his words did not match his actions. He didn't appear tired at all as he strutted over to one of the abandoned houses and searched for some splintered wood that didn't seem too damp, and even less so when he made a small pile near the group. The older man knelt down and felt his breast pocket for his lighter, then cursed when he realized that both the kindling (well, papers of lesser importance) and the lighter itself were still too wet to work. The card in his pocket seemed to be pulsing again, trying to get his attention. When Stan took it out, he imagined for a split second tearing it into a bunch of pieces to start his fire for Lara. That plan was tossed pretty quickly, given that the tarot card didn't feel like paper at all in his hand. 


Stan swore it was almost asking him to call its name, so for once in his life, he obliged and followed the instruction. "I summon thee, King Minos."


Something seemed to break free from a glass barrier inside his mind. A shape materialized behind him much like it did for the masked kid, still aetherial but taking the silhouette of a man with horns and hooves, who appeared for three seconds then waved his hand towards the pile of wood. Immediately, it caught ablaze, and the spirit vanished. Agilao was the name of the skill. 


Tien stifled a yelp as the Persona appeared, almost clinging to Joker as he startled. Yes, he knew Stan had a persona now, but it was still--surprisingly. And it seemed like such a frivolous thing to use part of your soul on…


Fractal leaned over to him. “You,” she reminded him, “use my Bladeform to carve things.”


Hm. He did, didn’t he. Fair enough.


Utakata could feel the exhaustion when Stan mentioned everyone was tired. He himself wanted to go to a cave and cry, but to his dismay there were no caves. The homes around them were damaged, if not completely soaked. While he hadn’t been impacted by the water, his body trembled a little with the rising anxiety that started to return. With it came the embarrassment, the shame, and all else. But he kept his jaw set, refusing to allow any more of his emotions to come out today. 


Lara signed and looked down at her dress. “I’m freezing, but it seemed to do a damn good job cleaning out the blood. Not that it matters, this damned thing is ruined anyway.” She frowned. “Ah well, everyone made it out alright, so I can’t complain too much.” Before she could come up with anything else to say, however, she heard a low rumbling from some distance away. A few meters away, the ground caved in again, thankfully not near anyone in the group. 


When it seemed safe, Lara quickly walked to the edge of the hole and peered in. This time, the debris left a walkable slope, much to her relief. And yet to her dismay, it appeared that this world was all too familiar to her. She placed a hand to her stomach and took a few steps back. “Oi…” Then she stiffened her back and took a deep breath. “Looks like there’s caves down here. We should be able to find one and warm up. And with luck, a place to start a good fire.



Edited by Mikasa361

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[Lara Rochelle - Shadow World - Ghosts of my past]


They'd taken a second to warm up in a cave next to the wreckage. Sitting next to Stan, Lara pokes at the fire, the feeling of warmth keeping her from wanting to run back into Utakata's dungeon. She cuddles up in Stan's now-dried jacket, noting Utakata returning to the fire. His eyes are rimmed with red, and her heart sinks. 


After all, she'd been the one to suggest having a group come to this bloody party with her. She'd been the one who dragged this entire group into her troubles, and now at least four people have had their secrets exposed, as far as she knows. Nobody else had really talked about their worlds much, and she doesn't blame them. Lara takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, trying to cover herself with the jacket. Part of her, however, can't help but think about what would've happened had she gone by herself. Would things have gone according to Amanda's plan? Would things have gotten to this? Would she have survived?


This she does not know. But it beats having the burden of feeling like it was all her fault. 


"You never have to be cold, my Lara, if you don't want to be."


Lara suddenly feels chills run up her spine. She immediately stands up, not paying attention to the reactions of the others. That voice.... She hadn't heard that voice in.... ten, no.... twel- fourteen years? "Mother?" Looking around, she doesn't see anything. There's no particular direction that the voice comes from either- it sounds as if it had been from everywhere and from herself all at once. She really... doesn't understand what's going on. 


"Anaya, I've gone and mucked it up again. You don't understand, everyone I fall for something disastrous happens. Everyone I get close to, something happens and someone gets hurt."


If Lara hadn't felt her hairs stand on end before, she certainly would feel it now. She looks around and tries again, without results, to find the source of the sound. None of this is right to her- had the others been hearing these things too? 


"Winston.... You're telling me... Father's dead?


I'm sorry, Lady Croft. They hadn't been able to find him. He's most likely passed."


Memories. They're all her memories. Lara's eyes widen as she turns towards a long cavern path. During her turn, she notices looks of concern, but she stomps her foot to the ground and picks up running, her heels flying off during her first couple of bounds. She can hear "LARA!" coming from Stan as she proceeds to run down the path. Somehow, it's not as cold as she'd thought it would be, but even then she keeps running. 


Forward, forward, forward, up some stairs... Until she reaches a monastery. All of this world reminds her of fourteen years ago, and she's not liking it. When she pushes a door and walks in, she notices something that makes her blood run cold. There's a taller woman, dressed in the same suit jacket and skirt that her mother had worn when she'd died. The figure turns around, with the same yellow eyes the previous shadows had worn. 


The figure smirks. "About bloody time. Welcome, Lara."






Oracle teleports her group into the world she'd detected. She walks with Skull, Fox, Temeraire, and Enterprise up a set of stairs and into some sort of monastery. Someone is already there, frozen in place as she sees the Shadow at the top of the stairs, into what seems to be a rather fragile looking floor. She faces the group and places a finger to her lips as she moves in the direction, moving into a small hallway so she can watch the scene unfold. 



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Posted (edited)



Illidan Stormrage, Lord of the Illidari
<Status: Stable; Slightly worried>
<Location: Lara's Shadow World>
<People: Xander | Tien | Stan | Lara | Utakata | Joker | Mona | Sieghorse>
<Potential Enemy: Shadow Lara>




He was never more thankful to be used to the cold. Seems I do have something to thank that blasted undead freak for, after all. Even so, his wings had curled inward on instinct in an attempt to conserve body heat.


He was honestly just glad to still be in one piece. He hoped Temeraire was okay - as far as he knew, she was still gone.


The sound of Lara standing up reaches him, and he stands in response. He'd needed to move, anyway, but then he heard her moving, quite quickly at that. "Lara, wait--" Illidan growled under his breath when she didn't listen, and swiftly but cautiously followed, a few paces behind. He was sure he heard other voices, too, but he paid them no mind.


Eventually, they came upon what was unmistakably a monastery - Illidan recognized the basic structure - but the voice inside sounded... just like Lara?


Another Shadow?! Good grief... how many Shadows were they going to run into?! This was the third one today...






Temeraire Rhowa, Warrior of Light
<Status: Stable; Worried and relieved at the same time>
<Current Class: Ninja>
<Location: Lara's Shadow World>
<People: Oracle | Skull | Fox | Enterprise>
<Potential Enemy: Shadow Lara>




Upon seeing Oracle motion to be quiet, Temeraire blends in with the shadows and follows her into the small hallway, putting her skills as a ninja to work. Looking in, however, she recognized the person who was (figuratively, thankfully) frozen in place.


That's Lara! Thank the Twelve she's okay...


Temeraire knew, however, that if she pissed off her Shadow, she wouldn't stay okay for long...

Edited by hikarinomemori

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< STATUS: Stable; Tired >

< LOCATION: Lara's Shadow World >

< AGENTS: Lara, Stan, Utakata, Illidan, Temeraire, Tien, Enterprise >

< OTHER PARTICIPANTS: Joker, Mona, Oracle, Fox, Skull >


The dim flames from the campfire did little to warm the cave the agents took shelter in. Nohrian weather was not kind especially considering how little the sun shined and how frequently lightning storms ravaged the sky. Winters in Nohr were downright cruel, leaving the land barren and sending chills even into the sanctuary of Castle Krakenburg. Having experience over three decades of such harsh cold, Xander would have thought he'd be able to handle the the cold on the mountain top. He couldn't. He really, really couldn't.


A gust of wind blew into the cave. A chill ran up Xander's spine, causing him to shiver involuntarily. He spared a weary glance at Sieghorse who was standing seemingly unphased a few feet behind him.

"At least someone is content with the cold," Xander mumbled under his breath. He envied the few peoplemainly Illidan and Larawho didn't seem too bothered by the situation. All the other agents were huddled together, seeking warmth from the campfire as a comfortable silence reigned over the cave. Everyone was sitting together in quiet camaraderie. It was almost peaceful.


Lara abruptly stood up. Xander's eyes drifted up from the lazy flames, attracted by the sudden motion. Lara's face grew pale, her expression growing to one of panic. A few of the other agents were roused by her alarm. Xander frowned as Lara began to grow more frantic. The cries of the other agents didn't seem to reach her as she began running into a tunnel. What in Naga's name was she doing? Xander could only assume it had something to do with her connection to the Shadow World. He wasn't entirely familiar with the logic or rules of the world, but he was certain Lara could be hearing or seeing things that were invisible to the rest of them. Xander shook his head of his thoughts. No, now was not the time to speculate; Lara couldn't be left alone in such a dangerous place.


Xander quickly stood up, mounted Sieghorse, and accompanied the other agents in following Lara's trail. The mountain was far less abandoned that Xander had originally thought. At the peak of the mountain stood what appeared to be an ancient monastery. The marble stone that made its foundation appeared to be relatively undamaged. The building vaguely reminded Xander of some of the castles in Hoshido, massive, impressive structures that stood against the march of time for hundreds of years.


A flash of black and red sped past Xander.

"Lara, don't!" Joker had rushed in front of the group just as Lara encountered her shadow counterpart. The shadow's yellow eyes gleamed dangerously at the group. "Don't let her confuse you!" Joker continued. "She's just a reflection of your own thoughts and feelings. She can only hurt you if you let her!"

"You know yourself better than anyone else here," Xander added, his voice booming loudly over Joker. "You cannot let a mere phantom sway you into betraying what you already know."


From across the other side of the monastery, Xander heard a loud, exasperated sigh. 

"Another one?" a boy with a skull shaped mask sigh aloud. "Listen, lady!" He pointed directly at Lara. "If you reject your shadow, all that will do is cause it to turn into a giant monster that we'll all have to fight and guess what? Even if we beat the monster, we'll have to fight it again if you don't accept your shadow, so don't you dare reject it." The boy stomped on the ground. "Y'hear me? Trouble will only happen if you let it happen! You can do better than that!"

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It’s cold in the cave. Tien never did like the cold. The warmth of the fire, of Joker pressed against him, and of his own heated blush, those help--though he could do without the last one--but not enough. Not nearly enough.


He still kind of wants to cry. He’s been feeling tears prick at his eyes off and on for the past...how long? Since the last battle ended, at any rate. But not here. Not now. Not in front of everyone, and not while they’re still stuck here.


He squeezes Fractal’s hand--he isn’t brave enough to hold Joker’s--for comfort. At least in this world he can hold his spren, instead of her just hovering as a shifting pattern. She’s humming, now, a faintly familiar song. He thinks it’s the one Mother sang to him and Kaladin when they were children.


...He misses his mother.


As though that thought is a catalyst, Lara bolts to her feet. “Mother?


She all but whispers the word, looking around slowly. Tien only barely catches it. Her gaze settles on the long cavern path forwards, and barely a moment later she’s dashing down the path. Several calls of alarm sound out, the loudest from Stan, and almost simultaneously half of them are on their feet and scrambling after her with the other half close behind.


Tien’s part of that second half, following in the wake of Joker’s nigh-instantaneous leap to his feet, but it doesn’t take long before they’re all at the end of the tunnel, where--


Tien’s breath catches. Those same yellow eyes again, set in Lara’s face. Always the same shade, on his and Stan’s and Utakata’s and now hers. Unnervingly identical in their coloring.


Joker and Xander are already yelling encouragement, trying to cut the battle off before it even begins. A third voice chimes in, utterly unfamiliar to Tien, saying basically the same thing, if in a much less...sensitive way.


But will that help? Will that help, when the Shadow hasn’t even begun to speak yet? They’ve started to encourage her, sure, but you can’t help as much when you go in blind.


Old instincts. Trained into him for the sake of another man’s power. Be quiet. Listen. Figure out the motivations. Work out their game. 


He may have learned them in someone else’s name, may have used and wielded them in ways he wasn’t comfortable with but had to--that didn’t mean they weren’t useful.


So he would be quiet. He’d listen.


And then, for the first time in a while, he’d speak his mind.

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[Lara Rochelle - Shadow World - But in fact, I am you]


Lara is frozen in place. Meeting the eyes of her Shadow, she should have known this would happen. She should have guessed that she'd be facing another Shadow. And yet, it slipped past her that she even had hidden inner thoughts. Oh bloody hell, as if things couldn't be any worse.... She takes another step back, her body trembling as she looks this shadow in the eye. No, no, it can't be me, it can't....


"Lara, don't!" Someone's voice- is that that waiter she had seen? - chimes in from somewhere behind her. "Don't let her confuse you! She's just a reflection of your own thoughts and feelings. She can only hurt you if you let her!" She knows, she knows, but-


"You know yourself better than anyone else here," Xander's voice calls, much more loudly than the other man's. "You cannot let a mere phantom sway you into betraying what you already know." Yes, yes, but from the way this witch is dressed---


Then, from somewhere to her left, she hears an exasperated sigh. 


"Another one?" a young man's voice shouts in a rather vulgar manner, "Listen, lady!" When she turns her torso to address him, he's pointing very rudely at her. "If you reject your shadow, all that will do is cause it to turn into a giant monster that we'll all have to fight and guess what? Even if we beat the monster, we'll have to fight it again if you don't accept your shadow, so don't you dare reject it." He stomps "Y'hear me? Trouble will only happen if you let it happen! You can do better than that!"


Oracle face palms. "So much for being sneaky...."


Lara furrows her eyebrows. "Dear God...."


The Shadow frowns and crosses her arms over her chest. "Now what kind of pest is he...?" Then she smirks. "No matter. Because no matter what, you will never be able to look yourself in the eye, will you? Surely not after the people you failed to protect. You certainly remember last year, do you not?" She transforms into a rather stout looking man, and Lara recognizes that face. Kent. She changes again to a slender blonde woman, dressed exactly as Lara remembered. The same woman who attacked her just some time ago today. Amanda. "It's a shame, truly. Had you been more competent, you would have protected them. Amanda wouldn't be the fiend she is now. And what of you? Would you still be with her? Would you have left her because of the man who left you in a time of need?" She then turns into a small, slender young man with a mop of chestnut hair and round, nervous looking green eyes. Henry. "Face it, Lara, it's your fault he left you. And your fault the people you care about die."


Lara shudders when she looks at Henry's face. "It's better he left, we'd both have been miserable had he stayed. We were never a good match."


"Ah sure, keep telling yourself that. But you can't deny it's made you more insecure.... What of that Stanley you're fond of? Aren't you afraid he'll leave you like Henry did? After all, you hadn't fallen as hard for Amanda, as you did for either Henry or Stanley.... Did you? Must be the green eyes, like Amanda said, hm...."


"Are you going to let her treat you like that?" Oracle waves her fist in the air. "She's you, Lara, don't let her rile you up!"


Lara continues to shake, looking the shadow in the eye as she transforms back into the state Lara first saw her.




"You'll never admit it. But I, Lara-love, am you."



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So that’s the game. Shame. Failure. Being left behind. Protection. 


He can work with this.


...But there are other things he needs to say first. Things he’d learned the hard way. He can speak from the heart, speak from his pain. “Lara…” He steps forwards. “The truth hurts. I won’t pretend it doesn’t. It hurts and you hate yourself for it. But you can’t fight the truth, and you can’t run from it forever. I tried.” The last two words are a whisper to himself. He swallows hard. Brings his voice back to normal volume. “You have to face it. It will burn. It will ache. It will hurt. It will…” Tien takes a shaky breath. “It will make you stronger. And here, where denial brings us a monster to fight? It’ll be a whole storming lot easier in the long run.”


One more breath. Bring it back. Encourage her. “You know yourself. You know you tried your best. You did the most you could, and…” He trails off for a moment. Swallows. “And it didn’t work.” Takes a deep breath. “So what? It’s done, immutable, unchangeable. It’s part of you. It’s made you stronger. This is your life! This is your path! This is your past! It’s you, and it’s what you can grow past!”


Please let this work please let this work please let this work… 

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Illidan Stormrage, Lord of the Illidari
<Status: Stable>




Temeraire Rhowa, Warrior of Light
<Status: Stable; Annoyed>
<Current Class: Ninja>


<Location: Lara's Shadow World>
<People: Xander | Tien | Stan | Lara | Utakata | Joker | Mona | Sieghorse | Oracle | Skull | Fox | Enterprise>
<Potential Enemy: Shadow Lara>




Wow, someone was brazen. Still, Illidan merely watched the Shadow, even as she presumably shapeshifted. In his Spectral Sight, the aura was the same, with only the basic outline shifting into each new form in turn.


He didn't say it out loud, but he knew what it felt like to feel incompetent. Even so, his way of feeling incompetent was linked to that blasted brother of his. As far as he was aware, Lara had no such siblings. So he kept silent, tightly gripping his Warglaives, watching to see whether he'd need to fight or not.


"Ugh, gods dammit, Skull." Temeraire came out of the shadows after Skull's little stunt. "What part of 'be quiet' don't ya bleedin' get?" She pinched the bridge of her nose. "No, no, that can be saved for later." She then turned to look at Lara. "Tien's right, Lara. Runnin' from the truth ain't gonna do squat - believe me, I tried that too. Thought that I could bury the past by pretendin' it don't exist, but... it just plain don't work like that. Yeah, the past hurts, but facin' it lets ya come out stronger in the end."

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[Utakata - Shadow World - Impressive, man]


He hadn't been the first to get up and rush to Lara's aid. 


But he'd be damned if he wasn't one of the quickest to make it up there and slip into one of the side hallways. Across from him are some oddly clothed characters, masked and seem to have the same idea as he does- slip and hide away somewhere. 


That, of course, is completely ruined when the boy with the skull mask starts yelling. Ugh, the yelling. Utakata does not appreciate the yelling or the stomping one bit. But one by one everyone starts shouting at Lara. 


Why couldn't he be back home, lying against a tree in the peace and quiet? Why does he suddenly have to give a damn about other people? He blames Hotaru. It's all her fault that his ability to care for other people got kickstarted again. Why couldn't he just skip all that and exist? It'd surely be less effort. And yet, she gifted him with an entire chest of spoons to care about people, and for that he also thanks her. 


Then Tien starts talking. 


“Lara… The truth hurts. I won’t pretend it doesn’t. It hurts and you hate yourself for it. But you can’t fight the truth, and you can’t run from it forever. I tried. You have to face it. It will burn. It will ache. It will hurt. It will… It will make you stronger. And here, where denial brings us a monster to fight? It’ll be a whole storming lot easier in the long run.”


He pauses, as if to think. “You know yourself. You know you tried your best. You did the most you could, and…” Pause. “And it didn’t work. So what? It’s done, immutable, unchangeable. It’s part of you. It’s made you stronger. This is your life! This is your path! This is your past! It’s you, and it’s what you can grow past!”


He has to admit, he had no idea Tien was capable of such a speech. 


Damn. It. 


Utakata lets out a sigh of some emotion- he has no idea if it's annoyance or something else. But he glances at Tien and then to Lara. "He's right. You never wanna look yourself in the eye, it takes a lot more effort than is necessary sometimes. This time you have to look yourself right in the pupils and face yourself. What Stan told me is right- who gives a damn about your past? It doesn't matter anymore, you are who you are now because of it. And Tien's right in that it's made you stronger! Whenever you're ready, look yourself in the eyes and tell yourself that it doesn't matter anymore!"


He really hopes he doesn't have to fight anymore today.


God. Please. If you're real.




[Amanda Evert - Shadow World - Lurking]


She quietly lurks from the stairs below. To her luck, none of them have noticed her. 


God damn it all! All of her plans have been thrown through the paper shredder! Now she has to play it by ear, and oh boy does that bother her to no end. Perhaps if she can distract at least one of them, she could go up there and punch Lara in the face. If she could distract the man in the kimono somehow, she could probably knock him out and get him out of the way. 


But boy is it satisfying having Lara's inner thoughts being displayed to everyone, including herself. She could be satisfied enough with the sheer humiliation of that. 


But then she'd be lifted up by solidarity or some other sappy crap. 


No, Amanda has to do more damage.


So she lurks, looking for an opportunity. If she could just knock out the kimono man....

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