Persona 2: Innocent Sin Novel translation

Persona 2: Innocent Sin Novel

 

Anna Yoshizaka, a former short-distance runner with a promising future ahead of her, had to give up her athletic pursuits after a hit and run accident and has lost all hope for the future. She left school mid term and lives in lethargy, but one day she comes across Joker, a mysterious figure from rumor spread around the city. Joker tells her he wants her to join the Masked Circle, an offer Anna can’t refuse. Then, before Anna appears the positive, strong willed Yukino Mayuzumi. While she detests Yukino for interfering with the Circle’s schemes, she also finds herself drawn to her somehow. If all goes according to the plans of the Masked Circle, the town will succumb to destruction and all order will collapse…

This novel, first in the series, presents a new perspective to the hit video game Persona 2.

 


Character Profiles

 

Anna Yoshizaka: Once a short-distance runner with a promising future, an injury from a traffic accident cuts her athletic career short. Upon meeting Joker and joining the Masked Circle, she receives the title of “Lady Scorpio.”

 

Yukino Mayuzumi: A freelance photographer. A strong-minded and tomboyish older sister figure. The type of person who can’t resist helping others, she also interferes with Anna’s plans. Can summon her Persona, Vesta.

 

Joker: A figure from urban legend who grants your wish when you summon him by calling your own number on your phone. This entity is the leader of the Masked Circle. 

 

Prince Taurus: A “vain and deeply insincere” man, according to Anna. Once a mediocre one-hit-wonder, he is now the popular producer who is also known as Ginji Sasaki. 

 

King Leo: An eerie man who always has half his face covered with a mask, and constantly says cryptic things. He holds a hatred for Maya Amano, and relentlessly stalks her.

 

Queen Aquarius: A beautiful woman who hides sinister thoughts. She is also the actress Junko Kurosu. She made an agreement with Joker in order to preserve her beauty and youth.

 

Tatsuya Suou: Third year at Seven Sisters high school. Anna’s former classmate. A cool guy that prefers solitude, he feels out of place among the rest of his class. Can summon his Persona, Vulcanus.

 

Lisa Silverman: A second year student at Seven Sisters high school, she always follows Tatsuya around. A member of the group MUSES, which is produced by Taurus. Can summon her Persona, Eros.

 

Maya Amano: A contributing editor for the teen magazine “Coolest” and Yukino’s partner. Has strong trauma and fear surrounding fire. Can summon her Persona, Maia.

 

Eikichi Mishina: A second year at Kasugayama high school who calls himself Michel, he is both a vocalist in a band and a gang leader. Is overly self-conscious and a narcissist. Can summon his Persona, Rhadamanthus.

 


 

Prologue

“–––Yoshizaka. Do you have any interest in transitioning to middle-distance races?” I can barely even remember the face of my middle-school coach, but that remark and voice are the only things that remain clearly in my memory. Probably because I was asked so many times. Since I’d done well enough as a short-distance runner in middle school, it seemed like my coach was adamant about having me become a star mid-distance runner. I continued to decline. It didn’t suit my personality. Practice is too demanding. I don’t have the stamina. What came after that again? I had multiple excuses prepared. I can’t remember them all.

 After awhile, my coach stopped bringing it up.  I’d break my own record over and over again anyway. Around the time I moved on to high school, I’d been burdened with the title of “Rising Star of the Track team”.

I loved the instant a race started. From the moment I got into starting position, the surroundings and colors would blur out like an old photograph. The only thing I could see is the path stretched out in front of me. My entire being concentrates on the starting signal, lunging forward the instant I hear it. After that I can’t hear anything. I can’t see anything. Even if another runner and I are neck-and-neck, I don’t pay attention. The victor is decided within mere seconds. The instant I break through the tape at the finish line, the sounds and colors return.

Because the thrill of that moment came to an end, I couldn’t even begin to think about running long races. My muscles instantly become sore from overuse, and everything else felt good in comparison. Other than experiencing that feeling of tension, it wasn’t worth it to continue mid-distance racing. I surely don’t have the stamina. Physically, but even more so mentally.

At the meeting’s end, a lower classman ran over to me. It’s Noriko Katayama, who’s a year below me. Noriko bounced by my side energetically, then girlishly presented me with an embroidered towel.

“Keep it up, keep it up~! Aim for the olympics!!”

I chuckled dryly at Noriko’s perky childishness. The olympics? Don’t make me laugh.

While I outwardly pretend to handle things well, I barely shared that thought. I was the girls’ high school level record holder, and was even recognized as the track and field’s “most outstanding talent of the decade.” When it came to the idea of competing at an international level, it was never an unachievable dream.

Someday…

People all over the world won’t be able to look away from me, displayed on their TV screens. Thousands of people will cheer for me as I take the lead, breaking through the tape that marks the finish line in a magnificent display. That day will come. Eventually.

Definitely.

I truly believed in that.

I was such an idiot.

No one knows what’ll happen tomorrow. I tried to get back to happier days. Even now, I sometimes have dreams. Dreams of a confident victory, pride swelling in my chest as I cross the finish line and break through the pure white tape. But this time, at the race’s end,  the sounds and colors don’t return. When I look around, there’s no one there. The people who were cheering, as well as the other competitors, are all gone. I stand alone, in a monochrome field.

When I happen to look down, my right leg is split open. Within this colorless world, only my leg gushes with vivid red blood. Before my eyes the pool of blood rapidly grew, and I was drowning in a sea of my own blood. I’d let out a scream, and that’s where I’d wake up.

Why would I still have this dream? I no longer have any attachment to running. I don’t understand what I’m feeling. And because I don’t understand, I don’t think about it. I soak in languor, fixedly watching the time pass by. Those are my favorite times. Day after day, I doze off while I wait for the world to end.

 


1

“……would you do? Huh? Anna? Anna-senpai.”

Knocking into the table in front of her, Anna Yoshizaka was finally pulled from her daydreaming.  When she looked up, she was met with a gentle-faced boy with wavy brown hair. Despite the dyed brown hair and piercings, the boy had a baby face and was hardly intimidating.

Upon noticing his attempt to talk to her, Anna spat out a “What.” The baby-faced boy, Mitsuo Shimazaki, looked visibly upset, his lips curled into a sour expression.

“Jeeze, you’re awful. ‘The hell. I’ve been tryin’ my hardest to talk to you, but you’re totally ignoring me. You’ll make me cry,” He imitates wiping tears away to accompany the exaggeration.

Mitsuo is a persistent guy. While most tried their best to avoid talking to Anna, known for being callous and asocial, this boy didn’t care.

The setting is Club Zodiac, in Yumesaki district. The area is a popular hang-out among high school students. The inside of the club isn’t very spacious, and it was packed today. The booming bass shook the entire building, and the venue was enveloped in a haze of cigarette smoke.

“What story?” Anna asked in an uninterested tone. Mitsuo ceased his mock crying, then leaned himself across the tabletop.

“Listen carefully now. Joker, the story about Joker.”

“Joker? Like from a deck of cards?”

“No, no. You’re telling me you seriously haven’t heard anything about it, Anna?” Mitsuo wagged his finger vigorously. “It’s a rumor that’s been going around lately. A-Ru-mor!” He enunciated the last part in a staccato beat.

Anna took a cigarette out of her jacket pocket and stuck it between her lips, losing further interest.

Mitsuo loved rumors. Anna couldn’t understand it. Why would you concern yourself with the business of others? All the people who visit the club––no, even with people who don’t frequent the club, it’s the same thing. Everyone’s starved for rumors. Everyone’s eager to gather rumors about people they don’t even know and gossip gleefully with their friends. Your average ghost story, an uninteresting blunder, an obvious and nonsensical lie, or some celebrity’s scandal. It doesn’t matter what it is. You’re subjected to constant blathering of “hey, have you heard……?” so that people can feel some sort of solidarity with one another.

“It’s an interesting story, but also pretty freaky. When you dial your own number into your cell phone, normally you’re just told that the line is busy. But without even knowing it, this is how you connect to Joker. And then when you ask ‘Where are you Joker?’ you’ll hear a voice, and Joker will appear right behind you……aaaaaggggghhh!” One of the club’s regulars had accidentally bumped into him from behind, causing him to scream.

Anna brushed her bangs out of her face, and exhaled a thin plume of smoke, asking, “What’s Joker?”

“I’m not really sure. The school newspaper is in the middle of finding that out.”

There are two high schools in Sumaru City. There’s Seven Sisters high school that Anna attends, and Kasugayama high school, in Hirasaka district. Seven Sisters, frequently referred to as just “Sevens”, is said to host a student body that excels in both studies and sports. On the other hand, when compared to Sevens’ prestige, Kasugayama (nicknamed “Cuss”) has a shoddy reputation, and is a rival school of sorts.

Mitsuo is a member of Sevens’ school newspaper. Anna is somewhat acquainted with the boy, having had exchanges regarding some apparent “Tragic Star of Seven Sisters High School” article. After many attempts to drive him away, it looked as though he’d finally given up on the interview, but even still she’d continue to get pestered. The boy had nonchalantly stated “It’s because I’m a fan of yours.”

“According to the rumor, he’s apparently a terrifying boy who wears a mask. Upon summoning him, he’ll grant the caller a wish. However, if the caller doesn’t have a wish to tell him, he’ll steal your ability to dream, turning you into a shadowman.”

“Shadowman?”

“Dunno exactly, that’s just what the rumor says. I actually tried testing it out but nothing happened. Either Joker wasn’t interested in me or he’s been busy with all the other calls he’s been getting……one of those two.”  Mitsuo laughed. “And so that’s what I was asking you, if it were you, what would your wish be? What would you do? If it’s true and you could have anything, what would it be?”

Anna didn’t reply. She muttered “ridiculous” as she put her cigarette back in her mouth. Some girls who were listening in nearby drew closer. It seemed they were interested in Mitsuo’s gossip.

One of the girls began excitedly speaking of one of her friends who had summoned Joker, so she wanted to try it herself but ultimately couldn’t find the courage. The girl trilled on gratingly like a little bird. Anna stood up.

“Huh, you leaving, Anna? Hey wait, please wait!” Anna made her way to the exit, without sparing a glance back at Mitsuo’s flustered voice. The laughter from the group of girls seemed to deliberately become louder. Anna felt relieved as she walked away.

When she exited the building, she was greeted by the pale moon hanging in the night sky. As Anna began to walk she stumbled a bit on uneven pavement, then steadied herself with a wall. She clenched her teeth, then let out a sullen sigh. An onlooker would be able to see that Anna was lightly dragging her foot along. She’d been told that the effects of the incident would never go away. There was no hindrance to her everyday life. But sometimes she still feels like a grotesque failure.

To escape the public eye, she retreated into a dark alleyway. The foul stench stung her nose. A fat cat fished for leftovers among restaurants’ food waste. As soon as the cat saw Anna, it meowed loudly at her before running away. Anna definitely didn’t usually take this road. She didn’t know why, but she felt like killing some time here tonight. Since the brightness of the main street didn’t reach this far, it’d be easy for anyone to forget about this place.

She leaned against the wall and took another cigarette out. It was only when she lit it and took a drag that she was able to calm herself down. After a long smoke she threw the cigarette on the ground and crushed it underneath her shoe. While readjusting the bag on her shoulder, she suddenly remembered the story from earlier.

It’s a rumor. A-Ru-mor.

That obnoxious staccato. How stupid. Everyone wants common topic of discussion, so they fabricate rumors to entertain themselves. Joker? What a dull children’s tale. It’s complete nonsense.

Anna stuffed a hand into her bag and tore out her rarely-used cell phone. She promptly dialed her own number. As she pressed it up to her ear, she sighed at how stupid she felt. What’ll happen? Her thoughts and her actions contradicted each other. She hadn’t drank, but she was certainly acting drunk. She was acting like an idiot. She didn’t believe the stories of the school newspaper even a little. What the hell was up with her?

She couldn’t hear anything.

Waste of time, she grumbled, pressing the end call button.

Ring, ring, ring…

Suddenly, her phone rang. Startled, she clutched her phone tightly. What…was that noise? She’s probably just hearing things. No, the phone’s definitely still ringing.

No way. This can’t be. When you dial your own number into your phone, you’re supposed to hear a tone that indicates that the line is busy. But that didn’t happen. With a click sound, the ringing was cut off. Completely dumbfounded, Anna stared at the phone screen. She pressed the phone to her ear once more and inhaled slowly.

She couldn’t hear anything. However, she could sense that someone was on the other end.

This wasn’t an accident. She was definitely connected to someone right now. But who?  Anna asked in a hushed voice, “Are you Joker?”

From the other end came a deep laugh. It was cold as it resonated clearly. Anna nearly dropped her phone, but she quickly caught it.

“Where are you? Joker.”

“Behind you.”

The voice didn’t come from the phone, it came from behind her. Anna took the phone away from her ear and whipped around. She saw a slender silhouette, blocking the alleyway. She could faintly make out the waxy white figure in the dim light. A wide smile. A delicate purple pattern under the single eye depicted. From both sides of his headpiece stuck out peculiar decorations. Along with the mask, his bizarre guise made Anna flinch.

“I am Joker. What is your wish?”

Anna was speechless. Impossible, for such an absurd rumor to be true. She must be dreaming. Anna silently stared at the strange figure.

The mask’s mouth laughed. The corners of the lips turned up, a menacing red. Joker slowly took a step forward, and lightly spread out both arms.

“What’s wrong? Are you not aware of the rules? Those who summon me and have no wish face judgement. Their ability to dream is taken from them and their existence is forgotten by others, rendering them a living corpse––that is, a shadowman.”

It’s the same. It’s the exact same story Mitsuo told.

Anna didn’t find this very funny. She felt like she was being pranked. Her expression remained frozen, unable to look away from that smile.

––She didn’t have a dream.

By summoning Joker, she’d made a grave mistake. It was finally setting in that this was all real.

“What is your wish?” Joker repeated his question. Anna shook her head slightly. Joker’s voice had a trace of amusement when he said, “Can’t say? If that’s the case, then in accordance with the rules, you must forfeit your vitality. Surrender your ability to dream to me…”

“…I don’t,” Anna replied, “I don’t dream.” When she said that, she was finally able to calm down a bit.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t have a dream. Ever since an accident I had, that sort of thing’s been completely useless to me.”

“Accident?” Joker asked in return.

She’d made an unnecessary comment. Anna remained silent.

Joker brought a slender finger to the chin of the mask in contemplation, and after some time, spoke up. “I see. You’re Anna Yoshizaka of Seven Sisters high school. It was a traffic accident that brought your athletic career to an end…”

“Why the hell do you know that?” Anna asked in shock.

Joker ignored her question, and instead said, “Since that’s the case, your wish has been decided. Your leg will be healed and you shall run once more.”

Anna stared at Joker unblinkingly. To be able to run again? To be able to return to her best life? Did Joker think that Anna would be so tearfully overcome with emotion that she’d pledge her allegiance to him on the spot? Joker motionlessly observed her reaction.

However, Anna was calm. Joker’s proposal didn’t excite Anna.

She’d be able to run again. She could be the ace of the track and field team again. That’s what you’d think Anna would want, but she couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm at the thought. Instead, the idea felt akin to something getting in the way of a good night’s sleep.

It was unnecessary assistance. She’d gotten used to her apathetic life, so going back seemed like a pain in the ass.

“I have no need for anything like that.” Anna spat out. Joker seemed shocked.

“Is that not your desire? To be showered once more with attention, to be able to grasp glory in your hands…”

“That’s worthless,” She immediately hissed in reply. She readjusted the bag on her shoulder and took a step back as she stared at Joker. “I might jump at the offer if it were right after the accident happened, but now I don’t care.”

“You don’t want to run?”

“No.”

It wasn’t a lie. She wasn’t trying to show off.

She’d been hit by a drunk driver, and her right leg had been fractured in small pieces that day. Something inside Anna broke. It wasn’t her leg, it was her spirit. Anna grew comfortable with hopelessness. Joker probably could heal her leg completely, but he wouldn’t be able to heal her spirit. If she couldn’t have that, she couldn’t run.

Joker remained silent for quite some time. When he began to speak again, the condescending tone had disappeared.

“Nothing? There isn’t anything you desire?”

“No.”

“What about revenge? Not even ruining the life of the man who hit you with his car?”

“Not interested,” Anna replied bluntly.

She never said she didn’t resent the perpetrator. She remembers wanting to kill the man right after the accident occurred. But now that feeling’s faded. She didn’t forgive him. She’s come to feel indifferent about the accident itself.

Anna was tired. Standing across from Joker now, she could tell that the negative energy from before had fizzled out. It wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, the change of atmosphere was welcomed.

“––I refuse.”

Anna stared at Joker’s mask. Reflexively, a bitter laugh escaped her mouth. “I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to run and revenge is too much work. Until the world ends, I don’t want to do anything. I just want to sit back idly and watch as everything comes to an end. That’s all.”

Joker looked at Anna’s face. Somehow, his expressionless mask seemed sad. Eventually, he murmured, “Why don’t you come with me?”

“……Huh?”

“Could you lend me your power? There’s a plan I want to execute. Would you care to participate?”

“……What?”

It was a sudden proposal. Anna was suspicious.

“What do you mean? Aren’t you after people’s ability to dream? I don’t have that. I mean it. As far as cooperation goes, I couldn’t possibly…”

Without a word, Joker held out his hand. It was an unexpectedly delicate hand. Bewildered, she took his hand. She didn’t know why she was doing this. Disregarding whether or not she’d even be able to leave. Even still, Anna had automatically taken his hand in her own. Joker’s fingers were thin and cold.

“Starting today, you are a member of the Masked Circle. In order to fulfill the In Lak’ech, you will lend your power,” Joker whispered.

Masked Circle. In Lak’ech. These were unfamiliar words. Anna furrowed her eyebrows. Suddenly, a bright light pierced her eyes. It seemed like something exploded around them. Anna reflexively shut her eyes and attempted to shake free of Joker’s grip. However, he was unexpectedly strong, and she was unable to shake him off.

The only shock was the light. She couldn’t hear anything. Not the exploding sound, nor the clamoring of passersby.

She tried opening her eyes, and she gasped. Their surroundings had completely changed. If she remembered correctly, they had just been standing in a dark alleyway. The stench of garbage, the stray cat roaming around, in a narrow back alley.

Now, Anna found herself in what appeared to be an unfamiliar reception hall. Beneath her feet, an intricate mosaic of a mandala was depicted on the hard floor. A similar mosaic was seen on columns that were placed irregularly in the room, which made the perspective ambiguous. There weren’t any walls visible, nor a ceiling. Anna was standing in the center of this massively spacious room, all alone. Before she even knew it, her hand was free and Joker had vanished.

Surveying her surroundings, unable to get any sense of direction, she had a strange feeling about the overwhelming size. Anna cautiously began to walk forward when suddenly, a blue shadow appeared before her. Anna suppressed a shriek. It swayed like a flickering flame as it slowly materialized. A skull. Anna stared at the crystal clear blue skull floating in front of her.

 “––In the underworld shines a skull.”

She could hear a distant voice. It resonated through the air and was immediately pierced into Anna’s brain. Anna clutched her head. She couldn’t look away from the ominous skull. The skull bared its teeth in what appeared to be a smile.

“––Among the heavens shines a holy cross.”

She felt a splitting pain in her head, and Anna was unable to stop herself from screaming.

“––You are the one chosen to represent Scorpio, and I shall accompany you.”

The world began to spin.

No, it was probably only Anna’s senses that became off. Her perspective wasn’t fixed. The ground beneath her began to shake. She was tossed around inside the vortex. Suddenly, a tremendous power arose from deep within her. The impact had her blood boiling in seconds. Some sort of enormous power tore through the shell of her heart and lept out.

And in an instant, the phenomenon ceased.

She noticed that the blue skull had disappeared. Beside Anna now stood Joker.

“What…..what the hell…was that just now?”

“You have obtained the power of a Persona. Your other self that follows you like a shadow. You have been bestowed with a new power.”

Anna cautiously brought a hand to the back of her neck. It felt hot, as if she had a fever. Compared to before, everything was much clearer.

“A Persona……what the hell……”

The question that began to escape her lips was cut off. In the blink of an eye, the mysterious reception hall had disappeared. Anna stood alone in the dark alleyway. Joker’s form was nowhere to be found.

––Was that a dream?

Anna picked up the fallen cell phone by her feet. There was a record of her sending a call to her own number. It wasn’t a dream.

She can still clearly remember Joker’s cold grip.

The backstreet was messy, as though a strong wind had torn through it. Now though, she felt a gentle breeze. It carried a scent of a flower that Anna didn’t know, and immediately made the stench of the trash around her disappear.

*

The next day, Anna caught up with the ever-cheerful Mitsuo at Club Zodiac. As soon as Mitsuo heard Anna’s voice, he perked up. “Anna-san!” he exclaimed, following her around. Anna brushed him off coldly.

“I’ve got a story.”

“You have a story for me!? Wooooah, I’m deeply moved! Hey everyone, Anna has a story to tell me!!”

“Shut it,” Resisting the urge to pummel him, she thrust a finger in his face. “I don’t want others to hear. This way.”

She led him over to a spot in the corner of the venue. Mitsuo skipped as he followed.

Sitting down in a narrow seat, she cut straight to the point.

“About yesterday’s Joker story. I want to hear it in full detail.”

“Huh? Why? You didn’t seem interested.”

“Forget about that. Tell me.”

“No way, you wanna try it out?”

She didn’t tell him she’d already tried it. Anna glared at Mitsuo in silence.

“Okay, okay, I was joking. What do you want to hear?”

“Where did the rumor start? When did it begin to spread around?”

“I don’t think it was too long ago. I heard it about 10 days ago. The source of that is confidential but….eh, I’ll spill. It was the same member of the school paper. Just like with me, Chikarin told me about the guy.”

“––Do you think Joker actually exists?”

“Of course, no doubt.”

“Why? Don’t you think it’s a crazy rumor?”

“I mean, I guess…”

She might be able to get clues about Joker’s true identity. However, contrary to what Anna had anticipated, Mitsuo laughed and went on about something else.

“Do you know the curse of Seven Sisters high school?”

“……huh?”

“Well, since you don’t come to school anymore I figured you might not know. Sevens is cursed, and it’s said that if you wear the school emblem, your face gets all messed up. That’s why I haven’t had it on me recently. Here,”

Mitsuo pointed at the pocket of his uniform. The emblem, with its seven star design, was certainly missing from its usual spot.

Anna was getting annoyed. What an idiot. She hadn’t heard this story at all.

“I don’t care about that rumor. I want to hear the one about Joker……”

“Strange rumor, isn’t it? I’d normally think it was nonsense. But, that’s not the case this time. Don’t you think fewer Sevens students have been coming here recently? Like Yuka and Koji-senpai, who are regulars, no longer come in. It’s because their faces have been deformed. They’re always wearing bandages on their face. Must suck for that to happen if you’re good looking…….”

It’s no use. This was a complete waste of time.

Giving up on getting info out of Mitsuo, Anna stood up from her seat. Looking at Anna with desperate eyes, Mitsuo quickly interjected, “Why d’you think that is? Why would a rumor like that spread around?”

“……”

“When I first heard that rumor, I did some thinking. It’s such a stupid rumor, and no matter the credibility, something like that would have to be totally made up. It would make more sense for whoever created it to say ‘their face gets a rash’ instead. And somewhere along the way the rumor became exaggerated……that’s what I think.”

Anna looked at Mitsuo again. Anna thought he was rambling pointlessly, but it seems that wasn’t the case. Mitsuo had a serious look in his eyes. There was something he was trying to convey.

“That sort of thinking is normal. But, this is different. Given that precedent, the rumor wasn’t spread. It’s the opposite of that. Usually, there’s someone to first start the rumor, when in fact there wasn’t.”

Anna furrowed her eyebrows. As expected, listening intently to Mitsuo’s stories was a waste of time. What he was saying was nonsensical.

But––he was reliable with serious matters. Moreover, something clearly frightened him. He was talking faster than usual, flustered and even somewhat panicked.

“Plenty of other rumors have been passed around too. Like, Cuss high’s school emblem has become a charm that wards off evil. Because of that, Cuss students and Sevens students have swapped in terms of popularity. Keep an eye out in here. Those Cuss guys might use this change to their advantage……”

Anna looked out across the dance floor. Several boys in school uniforms were hanging around. The blue uniforms were undoubtedly those of Kasugayama. A group of girls were giggling and fawning over some nearby Sevens boys.

“Things’ve been a little weird lately. Multiple rumors have been coming true. Before this, I’d laugh these rumors off as lies, but they keep coming true. It’s like something’s awoken in Sumaru City––Some people are saying that some sort of power that turns rumors into reality is at play.”

“No way……”

Anna’s expression stiffened. What an outrageous suggestion. There’s no way something as absurd as that could happen. But, she couldn’t deny the possibility. Anna had recently met Joker, a figure who shouldn’t have been more than an urban legend.

“But that’s just a theory. I have a feeling that someone with bad intentions spread the Joker rumor. But I have no clue what their goal is. Be careful, Anna. A rumor passing around might just screw you over.”

Mitsuo stood up. Anna gnawed on her lip.

A city where rumors become reality. A city where urban legends are actually true.

Is something like that even possible?

*

There were multiple rumors circulating throughout the city. If you wear the Sevens emblem, your face will become disfigured. Cuss high’s school emblem has become a lucky charm of sorts. The ramen shop in Hirasaka deals weapons behind the scenes. Hanako appears in a Sevens’ bathroom. The bronze statue of Sevens’ principle wanders the courtyard at night…….

These are nothing but silly rumors. Normally, one would laugh at these rumors without a second thought, and forget about them within a few days.

But now, things were different. People in the city took these rumors seriously, whispering to one another, exchanging information, and becoming delightfully frightened by their contents. It wasn’t only young people, but even adults took these rumors seriously, discussing urban legends.

It was just as Mitsuo said. The rumors weren’t based off of reality, the rumors created reality. A greater power was at play in this city.

Anna continued to think about Joker.

That wasn’t a dream. Currently, in Sumaru city, urban legends weren’t merely legends. The one at the center of this mystery is prowling in the city’s shadows.

But, Anna hasn’t had any changes. That weird power from before––Persona––she hadn’t felt that since the initial experience. In an instant, it was like a raging beast had awoken, but now it seems to have fallen back asleep. Why is that? And Joker. If he really exists, why hasn’t he shown up? When he told her to lend him her power, what did he mean?

Unable to figure out a clear answer, the next few days were unbearable. So once again, Anna slipped back into her regular apathetic life.

Anna was in her bedroom, laying down on her bed and flipping through a magazine when her cell phone suddenly began to ring. It’d been a while since she’d heard the ringtone. There are very few people she’d given her number to. With a jolt, she put the magazine down and sat up on her bed. The monotonous electronic tone continued to ring from inside her bag. Anna got off her bed and picked up the bag that was lying on the floor.  When she took her phone out, she checked the caller ID. Anna thought about the possibility of the number displayed being her own. If it was, what would she do? If she answered the phone then, she’d have no idea what to expect…….

However, the number was unfamiliar. Feeling relieved, Anna pressed the button to accept the call.

“Anna Yoshizaka-san, right?” The voice of an unfamiliar man spoke.

“……And you are?”

“I’m not the sort of person to give out my name. Let’s go with Taurus.”

It was a strange call. This had to be a joke.

Anna was about to hang up when the guy who called himself Taurus rapidly interjected,

“Hey, don’t hang up. This is a call from the Masked Circle.”

“……Huh?”

“At 9pm tomorrow, you’ll come to Club Zodiac. Inside, there’s a special members only door. Let me know when you come. Enter that door and go up to the third floor. We’ll be waiting in the VIP room.”

“……Hold on a second. What the hell is this…….”

“Don’t be late.”

The one-sided conversation came to an end as he hung up.

Was this a prank? No, the voice on the phone definitely said “Masked Circle.” The same thing Joker said that night.

Unsure of what to believe, she made her way towards Club Zodiac the next night. As Taurus had said, the door to the VIP room was in an inconspicuous place within the club. Despite her frequent visits, Anna hadn’t noticed the door until now. There was a man dressed in black that stood by the door, but upon seeing Anna’s face, opened it without a word.

After she passed through, the door silently closed behind her.

The corridor was illuminated by red light. Though separated by only the door, she could no longer hear the commotion from the dance floor. Anna walked through the dead silent hallway.

She made her way across the winding hallway, then up the stairs. When the massive door in the deepest part of the third floor opened to her, Anna stood petrified with fear.

She would’ve never guessed that a room such as this could be in Club Zodiac. On the deep red carpet were leather sofas and a marble table. It was like some company’s executive office. It was vastly different from Club Zodiac’s teen-oriented decor.

There were three figures in the room. They each sat on their own sofas. Anna’s gaze slowly slid across the room.

On the right end was a man wearing a black shirt and a flashy tie. In the middle was a man who wore a strange mask that covered half his face. On the left end was a beautiful woman.

“Welcome, Lady. We’ve been expecting you,” said the man on the right end.

She’d heard that voice before. It was the “Taurus” she spoke with on the phone. Both his expression and voice came off as insincere to Anna. The masked man in the center seemed completely indifferent. The woman was probably in her mid-twenties. There was a bewitching aura to her. She had rich black hair that flowed in gentle waves. She threw a frigid glance at Anna for a second before immediately darting her eyes away.

Joker wasn’t here. She instantly thought she’d been deceived. Upon reading Anna’s body language, Taurus spoke up.

“We are the leaders of the Masked Circle that serve Joker. Joker is not here.”

“……What do you mean?”

“He seldom appears before us. Unless you have something else you need to do, we will hold a ceremony for your induction into the Masked Circle’s duty. Up until now it’s just been the three of us––Lady, you’ll be the fourth.”

Anna lowered herself onto a vacant sofa.

“Could you stop with the “Lady” crap? It really doesn’t suit me.”

“We don’t use our real names here. All members are called by codenames. We’d like to call you ‘Lady’. Do you object to this?”

“Guess not.”

“Let’s introduce ourselves. King Leo, Queen Aquarius. I’m Prince Taurus.”

The man named “King Leo” still didn’t look Anna’s way. With the right side of his face concealed by an expressionless mask, he seemed like the least approachable of the group. Queen Aquarius gave Anna a small nod, her attitude arrogant. It was clear that she looked down on Anna.

Taurus seemed to be in a good mood, and Anna turned her attention back to his smiling face. Despite his somewhat handsome face and well-tailored clothing, he somehow still came off as sleazy and gave off bad vibes. He seemed like the type to be in the night entertainment scene, or even be a pimp.

“At last we have assembled all four of the zodiac signs required. We welcome you, Lady Scorpio.”

Scorpio. Anna remembered her vision of the blue skull. During that time, she’d definitely heard a voice. The one chosen to represent Scorpio. Anna, who was born a Scorpio.

“Do you have any sort of connection to the Scorpio sign?”

“Scorpio is one of the essential star signs needed to form the Grand Cross. Your arrival here was part of the natural course.”

Anna scowled. “But…I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s the point of recruiting me?”

“To accept you as a member of the Masked Circle.”

“What’s the Masked Circle?”

“Haven’t you heard the rumor circulating the city? It’s an elite secret society created by Joker. That is the Masked Circle.”

––Rumors again.

But even so, the answers she wanted were right in front of her.

“……Is Joker the one influencing the rumors?”

Taurus glanced at the other two. Anna asked again, “Is the Masked Circle responsible for making rumors come true?”

“What do you mean?”

“In this city, rumors are becoming reality. That’s your guys’ plan, right?”

Queen Aquarius gave a soft laugh. King Leo remained expressionless. Taurus, seeing the reactions of the other two, answered with an air of importance.

 “Recently in Sumaru city, rumors certainly have been coming true. The Masked Circle is involved in strengthening the circulation of rumors. However, Joker is not connected to the existence of this phenomenon, and the same can be said for the Masked Circle. Although we use the rumor system, the one who created it was not Joker.”

Assuming this to be true, then is someone more powerful than Joker observing Sumaru city and toying with its inhabitants? Who the hell is doing this, and for what purpose?

“In any case, you were chosen by Joker as one of the leaders of the Masked Circle. Be sure to fulfill your duty.”

“Don’t recall saying I’d join.”

“If that’s the case, then why did you come here?” The one asking wasn’t Taurus this time, it was Queen Aquarius. She had a sneer on her face. “Joker granted your ideals and you compensate for that by swearing your fidelity to him.”

At this point, she couldn’t take anything back.

“……Ideals, huh……”

She didn’t remember having anything granted. Anna clearly remembered saying that she didn’t have a dream to fulfill. Joker must have excused this.

“What did you wish for?”

Aquarius narrowed her eyes. She was beautiful, but made a cold expression. Anna got the feeling that she’d seen an expression like that somewhere before. That’s bizarre. Anna was certain she hadn’t met this woman before.

“Do tell us. What ideal did you have granted?”

“Queen……” Taurus said this as if to try and stop her, but his tone wasn’t very forceful. For some reason, this made Anna question their power dynamics.

When Anna remained silent, Queen Aquarius laughed mockingly, causing the back of her sofa to droop.

“Would you like to keep it a secret? It’s useless. You can try and hide it, but sooner or later it’ll be exposed. The ideals and desires you keep hidden within you will all be revealed……you want to trample over others, betray your friends but still succeed, sell your soul but still become the best……the feelings you hide under your everyday smile will all be revealed. Your true colors will come out, dripping in the greed that you don’t want to acknowledge. That’s what it means to serve Joker.” Her tone was mocking, but also seemed somewhat self-deprecating.

Suddenly, this woman’s name came to Anna’s mind. She recognized her. She’s Junko Kurosu, an actress. Since she didn’t care much for the entertainment industry, she hadn’t remembered right away. But, she wasn’t mistaken. Junko Kurosu. If Anna had to, she’d say that the actress’ licentious private life was discussed more than her actual talent as an actress.

For a famous actress to be a part of the Masked Circle––moreover, a leader in the Masked Circle, was unexpected. Anna remembered something that Mitsuo had been chatting about with others in Club Zodiac once.

“––It’s not Junko Kurosu. That rumor about her getting plastic surgery. After all, she should look much older than she does. My old man’s been a long time fan. He showed me his prized photo album of her from years back. She hasn’t changed at all. She’s become less classy, but she still looks just as young. Even though she’s rumored to have a kid that’s almost grown, she should at least be in the second half of her thirties, her skin is smooth……when you look at all that she feels more like a demon than just someone staying beautiful……”

Since Anna wasn’t interested, she’d ignored him. Now, being this close to the actress herself, Anna could see what Mitsuo meant.

Junko Kurosu was beautiful. There wasn’t a single wrinkle around her eyes, and her skin was vibrant and youthful. Her beauty was that of someone in their twenties. Even with multiple top-quality cosmetic procedures, it’s hard to believe this level of youthfulness could be achieved.

––She really obsessed over her looks.

Growing old is such a terrifying thing. Whether she’d have to trample over others, or sell her soul, she’d do it to gain eternal youth.

Anna reflexively turned her eyes away from Aquarius’ face. She felt bitterness well up in her stomach. To be obsessed with losing dreams is an awful thing. Junko Kurosu’s beautiful appearance was the exact opposite of her irredeemably ugly personality. Anna couldn’t stand to look her in the face.

Not just Aquarius, but Taurus and Leo as well. All the people gathered here used Joker to grant their desires, and devote their loyalty to him as compensation.

She remembered what Joker told her. “You don’t dream of running?” No, she didn’t. With as much ugliness as this group has exposed, it’s best to be transparent. If she didn’t wish for anything, then it couldn’t become corrupted.

With all the unpleasant things Anna felt, she stayed on alert. Queen Aquarius, or Junko Kurosu, forced a nervous laugh.

“Please don’t say pretty things about not having dreams or desires. Scorpio symbolizes hidden passion. You’ve put on a cool face at this table, but burn with desires more intense than anyone else. That is the fate of Scorpio.”

Anna turned away. Believing in horoscopes at her age was ridiculous.

“First of all, if you truly hold no dreams or ideals, then Joker shouldn’t have shown interest in you. Followers of the Masked Circle present their Ideal Energy in exchange for having their desires granted. In order to fulfill the In Lak’ech.”

“In Lak’ech……?”

Joker had definitely said that word.

“You don’t know anything about it, do you?”

Aquarius shrugged her shoulders. Taurus began to explain.

“‘I am another you.’”

“……Huh?”

“‘In Lak’ech’ means ‘I am another you’ in Mayan. That’s the name of a mystical book. It hasn’t been published yet. Collecting Ideal Energy and evolving humanity to a new stage……that is the goal of the Masked Circle.”

“Like a religious group.”

When Anna muttered that, Taurus smiled wryly.

“Whatever makes sense to you. It is much more than a religious group, as we aim for salvation. For now, we’ll give you this.”

A blue object appeared in the palm of Taurus’s hand like magic. Anna gasped. It was a transparent blue skull. The same as in her vision––Anna glared at its sunken in eye sockets as it bared its teeth in a smile.

Anna shuddered. Taurus stood up and shoved the skull towards her.

“This is the Crystal Skull of water. The Scorpio sign is associated with the element of water. You will fill this skull with people’s Ideal Energy. That is what Joker wants.”

Anna received the skull, accepting the task.

It was lighter than it looked, and felt chilly in her hand. The skull was skillfully chiseled, the workmanship elaborate.

“Your first job will be an induction ceremony that will be held in three days.”

“Induction ceremony……”

“A ceremony for those who’ve recently joined the Masked Circle. It shall be conducted here at Club Zodiac.”

“Is Club Zodiac the Masked Circle’s nest?”

“You need to remember how to use words a little. What do you mean nest? This is one of our bases of operation.”

She hadn’t known. And none of the kids dancing and partying below had any clue about this. Just what is going on in this building?

“What will I need to do?”

“When the time comes, you’ll know. The Crystal Skull should tell you.”

Anna lowered her gaze from the skull. This way, the well crafted object wasn’t the only thing in her sight. Anna still couldn’t feel that overwhelming power she had experienced in that mysterious hall in the slightest. When that incident came to mind, Anna spoke up.

“I’ve got a suggestion.”

“And that is?”

“Rumors are coming true in this city. If that’s the case, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to use that? ‘Gather plenty of Ideal Energy’ and ‘fulfill the plan of the Masked Circle’ and such……why not just use the rumor system?”

“I see. A very wise proposal, Lady Scorpio.”

Taurus narrowed his eyes. Anna became uncomfortable, feeling like she’d said something stupid.

“Unfortunately, that’s impossible. You say that rumors are coming true in this city, but that’s not quite accurate. The correct statement is ‘there are rumors that come true.’”

“……There are rumors that don’t come true?”

“Exactly. There’s a sizable amount of people who’ve discovered the rumor system as a means to grant desires. For example, a man spread a rumor to have a roll of banknotes fall from the heavens on a certain day of the month.”

“An understandable wish.”

“Oh come now, that’s a ridiculous story. The rumor unexpectedly circulated. It spread because other people want to reap the benefits. In fact, there were many who skipped school or their jobs and looked up at the sky all day. But the rumor did not come true, and those who believed it only saw a bunch of idiots.”

“Why is that? What’s the difference between rumors that do come true and those that don’t?”

“I don’t actually know myself. Whether a rumor comes true or not may depend on the will of whoever’s making them come true.”

“Someone……huh. Who? It isn’t Joker, is it?”

“Presently, there is a power surpassing human intellect that has control over Sumaru City. Whether it’s a god or a demon, we humans have no way of knowing,” Taurus said jokingly, in an exaggerated tone.

The Crystal Skull grew slightly heavier in the palm of her hand––at least it felt like it did.

Before she even knew it, it seemed that Sumaru City had transformed into a bizarre city. In this city, certain kinds of rumors come true, and a mysterious masked figure spreads despair……

She didn’t feel the terror. She only felt an intense dreariness.

Taurus looked at Anna, giving her a smile that seemed to say, “Joker has high expectations for you. Don’t screw up.”

 


2

On the day the accident occurred, there was a light drizzle of rain.

Anna was rushing on the way back home from school. Not only had her club activities gone late, but the weather was bad and it was already dark out. Since the walk signal had turned green, she started to cross the street.

Then, it charged into her. A speeding sedan.

She remembered the headlights, that were like a monster’s eyes. She felt like she was going to scream. The umbrella and bag she’d been holding were sent flying. Once Anna’s body had been tossed into the air, she slammed into the ground. She couldn’t remember anything. She immediately lost consciousness with the first impact.

An ambulance called by a witness brought her to the hospital. She wasn’t in serious condition since she hadn’t hit her head, but there was a compound fracture in her right leg.

The assailant had attempted to flee right after, but because the witness had memorized the license plate number, he was quickly apprehended. It was a middle-aged office worker. Being extremely intoxicated, he was in no condition to comply with the investigation.  As one would expect from a hit and run, he was confused, but when he heard about Anna’s condition, he spoke in an unclear, drunken voice, “She isn’t dead? What, she isn’t dead? So there wasn’t anything for me to run away from then.”

The doctor performing Anna’s medical examination spoke in a mechanical tone, “It’s unfortunate that you were injured to this degree, but there is a silver lining. You’ll undoubtedly recover. Be patient and do your best in rehabilitation. You may develop a bit of a limp, but it should pose no inconvenience.”

She was scared to ask questions. Staring intently at the cast on her leg, she finally mustered up some courage. Ensuring there was no quiver in her voice, she struggled to ask, “—I do track and field. Will I be able to run again?”

The doctor didn’t respond right away.

“—I’m afraid not.”

He spoke frankly, giving a clear explanation.

“To continue as an athlete would be impossible. But, a mishap like this could be a blessing, if you think about it. It’s not unusual for these sorts of incidents to end much worse.”

For one month after being discharged from the hospital, Anna would go in for rehabilitation. But when she got to the point where she no longer needed to use crutches, she stopped going in for treatment. Since she wouldn’t be able to run anyway, she figured whatever they’d do would be pointless.

For awhile, she also stopped going to school. She’d shut herself in her room, listening to music with her headphones on and vacantly passing time. This, however, made her mother cry, so she reluctantly started going back to school. Three months had passed since the incident.

As soon as she set foot in the classroom, her classmate’s shocked eyes were cast upon her. Everyone’s gazes pierced her, making her skin crawl. Some girls with bewildered expressions timidly approached her.

“—Good morning, Yoshizaka-san.”

“—Oh, feeling better now?”

“—It’s been awhile. You seem to be doing well.”

Their reception was like an awkward school arts festival.

Without saying a word, Anna just looked around the classroom. Some other student’s bag was in her usual seat.

“—It’s because I changed seats.”

“—Your new seat’s over there.”

The classmate looked embarrassed as she pointed at a lone desk that stuck out, all the way in the back of the class.

Without a word, Anna made her way back and lowered herself into the seat. Everyone else had lost the nerve to say anything else, and just observed her from a distance.

She hadn’t come back. Irritated by her classmate’s annoying behavior, which felt like salt in the wound, Anna thought to herself.

She had never come back after all. To school.

Everyone looked over at her. Their faces showed sympathy, but on the inside they were laughing. The truth was that they found this horribly amusing. With her athletic career cut short by a traffic accident, the tragic heroine had made her debut.

Was she supposed to be moved to tears? If she bit her lip and hung her head, would everyone weep for her? What a joke.

Anna was untalkative and bad at socialising with others to begin with, and was the type to have few friends. She felt a bit out of place in her class. She’d garnered national attention as a short distance runner, and there were many who envied her. Of course nobody expressed it publicly, but the reality was that people were invested in Anna’s accident.

She heard the whispering. Maybe they wanted her to hear the things they were saying.

—pathetic.

“—It’s a tragedy that you had to stop running ‘cause of the accident. It’s just like in a drama or a manga, isn’t it?”

“—but isn’t she unexpectedly composed? You’d think she’d be more depressed.”

“—if it were me, I’d wear myself out from crying. How does Yoshizaka-san stay so composed? She’s the same as ever, I don’t understand.”

During lunch break, Noriko Katayama, a lower classman in the track and field club, had heard the news of Anna’s return and came running to her.

When she saw Anna, she cried, “Onee-sama!”, tears streaming down her face. Noriko looked much more like the tragic heroine in this situation.

This was all a joke. Annoyed, Anna coldly drove Noriko away.

In the end, she’d only come back to school for a few days. Anna began to skip school. She’d leave her house with her bag, and wandered aimlessly around town to keep her mind off of returning to school. Before long, after being invited by a kid she’d become acquainted with at the arcade, she started visiting Club Zodiac regularly.

Up until that point, Anna had never had anyone from track and field to consistently hang out with, but after she’d entered this sort of venue for the first time, she quickly became familiar with it.

At first, Anna was seen as just another unimpressed, out of place regular, but soon enough that perception changed. Anna, who had trouble starting conversation with the other regulars (though occasionally, there were laid-back exceptions like Mitsuo), became the talk of the club because of the intrigue surrounding her. Anna overheard a group of boys with pimply faces as they whispered to each other.

“—That Anna chick is seriously dangerous.”

“—She has a deadly look in her eyes.”

“—I’m not on drugs, man.”

“—Whatever you do, don’t get into a fight with her.”

Anna blended into Club Zodiac. The venue was dimly lit, and the loud music made her thoughts melt away. There were tons of people who were enjoying themselves, but no one in this space was truly open to one another. It was a space where she didn’t have to think and could abandon herself to the music, where she could go off into a corner and smoke while aimlessly killing time.

If an earthquake were to suddenly strike, the whole place would be crushed and everyone would die—it was a daydream Anna often indulged in.

She didn’t think about suicide. It was too much effort.

She wondered if she even could die. A death like sleep, without suffering, without being conscious of it. That’s how she’d stagnate and pass her time everyday, until the day Mitsuo told her the rumor, and she came across Joker.

*

Anna would always go to Club Zodiac. Sitting alone in a seat by the wall, she let her gaze wander. Tonight wasn’t particularly crowded. Several customers were streaming on and off the illuminated dance floor like fish.

It was a sight she’d become familiar with, but it looked different from before. Now, she knew the hidden side of the store.

But for the time being, she wasn’t thinking about that room upstairs. She knew that this was one of the bases of the Masked Circle. Despite that room being the meeting place for the Masked Circle, she doesn’t yet know how to feel about all of this.

Anna slowly looked around the store.

Amongst the customers should be several participants in tonight’s ceremony. How about that girl with the shrill laugh over there? Or the boy in the seat over there who’s possessively putting his arm around a girl’s shoulders?

Well, it didn’t really matter. It wasn’t Anna’s business, who joins the Masked Circle, who is hiding what desires.

She was reaching for her drink when it happened.

“Onee-samaaaaa!”

She heard the familiar voice from far away. She turned her bored face towards the sound. It was Noriko Katayama, running up to her.

She probably wasn’t used to these kinds of stores. Her face was stiff with anxiety. With her childish face and lack of style, she was very out of place. Even worse, she was wearing Sevens’ track and field uniform.

A number of customers giggled while looking at them. Noriko stopped in front of Anna, took a deep breath, and spoke in a voice that almost sounded like she was crying.

“Fi-finally I found you……I, I went around and asked everyone……I was told that you come to this store a lot…… I went to look for you right away. I was wondering where on earth you could be since you don’t come to school anymore.”

Her voice was sweet. Anna was annoyed.

Anna ignored her and took a cigarette out. Then, as if she’d come across a monster, Noriko let out a scream and began to tremble.

“Ple-please stop that Onee-sama! Smoking is a delinquent sort of thing! Please stop drinking alcohol as well! It’ll destroy your body, and you’ll never be able to run again……”

Anna inhaled smoke from the cigarette, and exhaled it in Noriko’s face.

Noriko’s face scrunched up. She rapidly blinked her big eyes as tears welled up.

“……Onee-sama, you idioooot!”

Shouting like a child, Noriko ran off.

Anna sighed and put out the cigarette, and downed the rest of the alcohol in her glass. It was disgusting. It was that weird girl’s fault.

“You’re real cool, Anna-san. That girl was a second year, Katayama-san, wasn’t it? She seems a little pathetic though……” Came Mitsuo’s voice, who had apparently witnessed the scene. When Anna glared at him, he replied with a fearful “sorry,” then ran away.

How irritating. Why was she constantly pestered by these people? Why couldn’t everyone just mind their own business?

As Noriko opened the door to leave, she passed new customers as they entered. A group of five. Two of them wore Sevens uniforms, one wore a Cuss uniform, and two were older women……

Anna’s eyes stopped on the boy wearing the Sevens uniform. She recognized his face.

It was Tatsuya Suou. Anna’s classmate……no, former classmate.

Anna was a little surprised. This was unexpected. This was the first time she’d seen his face around here.

Tatsuya had a similar situation to Anna as a student. He didn’t fit in with the rest of the class, and was always distant with others. He barely has any friends at school, and he has a reputation of being an oddball. She didn’t think he’d be the type to hang out at this sort of place.

Following Tatsuya closely was a girl wearing a similar Sevens uniform. Her appearance indicated that she was white. Blonde hair, blue eyes, white skin, long legs. Her looks made her stand out. Anna’s seen her a few times at school and Club Zodiac. She’s definitely a second year student.

The boy with the Cuss uniform had blue dyed hair and came off as a narcissist. He glared across everyone in the store with eyes that were looking to pick a fight, rolling his shoulders back. He seemed too self-conscious.

She couldn’t tell much about the last two. Both were women in their twenties. One woman wore a two-piece outfit with a bold design and knee-high boots. The other one had a more rough style. Neither of them looked like office workers, but they also didn’t seem like university students. Altogether, it was an odd assortment of people.

If Tatsuya saw her, it could turn into an awkward situation. But still, it wasn’t that big of an issue. Although they were in the same class, they’d never really spoken to each other.

Both Tatsuya and Anna are the type to hate concerning themselves with others’ business. Even if Tatsuya did notice her, he’d undoubtedly pretend he didn’t recognize her and walk past.

Anna took out another cigarette. There was about 30 minutes until the start of the ceremony. Is it possible Tatsuya’s group came in order to join the Masked Circle……?

Anna put the cigarette in her mouth, but the second she lit it, it disappeared.

The feat happened in the blink of an eye. Before she knew it, one of the women in Tatsuya’s group had come up to her and snatched the cigarette away.

Anna stared at the woman. The woman looked down at Anna with a harsh gaze.

She looked to be an orderly woman. She wore a black turtleneck under a grey jacket, and yellow pants. With her eyebrows tensed, she truly seemed strong-willed. Because she was tall, being looked down on gave her a sense of intimidation.

“Quit overdoing it. It’s not cool.” The woman said in a threatening tone.

Anna sighed, unamused. She’d rather be anywhere else now. This woman was the type to be in a public morals committee.

She acts like an older sister, thinking she has authority over those younger than her, gloating with self-satisfaction.

“Who’re you?”

“Me? I’m Yukino Mayuzumi.”

“Why are you fussing over me? Why not just leave me alone?”

Anna took out her box of cigarettes from her pocket. The second she placed one in her mouth, the whole box went missing this time. The look on the public morals officer’s face was angrier, and she’d crushed the box in her hand.

“You’re Anna Yoshizaka, yeah?”

The woman had guessed correctly, and Anna furrowed her eyebrows.

“I’ve seen a picture of you. When you were at an inter-high school meet. Why’d you……”

Not listening until the end, Anna stood up. Tonight’s been nothing but weird customers. Noriko, this woman, she was fed up with it all. Why won’t they leave other people alone?

The Yukino Mayuzumi woman’s voice called out to Anna from behind her.

“You’re not mad?”

Anna stopped and looked over her shoulder.

Did she want her to be angry? Strange woman.

“I don’t like being bothered,” Anna replied, then made her way to the exit. As she tried to slip past the group, her eyes met Tatsuya’s for an instant. It looked like he wanted to say something, but ultimately kept quiet.

Anna left Club Zodiac. An unpleasant feeling spread in her chest like a black smoke.

Yukino Mayuzumi. Anna’s least favorite type of person. The type full of confidence, who would firmly believe she could never be wrong. Despite her appearance, her mindset was that of a stubborn PTA mom. “You’re not allowed to smoke, you’re not allowed to frequent these kinds of stores, I can’t say why, but I’m only thinking of what’s best for you” is something she’d say.

It was irritating and unbearable. She hated it. People like that, with encouraging eyes. People whose faces overflow with unyielding confidence, without even a trace of doubt.

—It would be best if those people disappeared.

*

In the end, Anna didn’t return to Club Zodiac that night after rushing out. She’d abandoned the induction ceremony she was told to come to. She was prepared to be reprimanded.

The next day, she promptly got a phone call from Taurus. The three other leaders of the Masked circle had gathered in the VIP room. As per usual, Joker was not present.

“Have a seat.”

When Anna arrived, Taurus spoke to her in a tone more harsh than the last time. Doing as he said, she sat down. Immediately, he began his attack.

“Why did you neglect the ceremony last night?”

“No particular reason.”

“Just ‘no particular reason’? Because of your departure, we had a serious problem.”

“Problem?”

“You’ve probably met them. Tatsuya Suou and Maya Amano……”

Anna was reminded of the woman that made her stomach churn from yesterday.

But, her name wasn’t “Amano”. She’d definitely called herself “Mayuzumi”.

“Who’s Amano?”

“—A witch.”

The voice that replied came from a different direction, and Anna turned to face it.

It was King Leo. Resting his chin in his hands on the armrest, he looked at Anna.

This was the first time she’d heard his voice. It was a hoarse, sullen voice.

Just like the other day, the right half of his face was concealed with a mask. The long hair that hung over his mask could’ve been bleached, natural, or extremely pale and dried out.

Judging from the uncovered half of his face, he looked to be in the later half of his twenties, but as evidenced in Queen Aquarius’ case, his real age was unknown. His face was pale, and he had prominent cheekbones.

Out of everyone else here, this man was the one Anna knew the least about. Taurus was a vain and deeply insincere man, Aquarius was a woman with corrupt ambitions, those were for certain. But what kind of character Leo was remained unclear.  He had narrow, sunken in eyes that gave a ruthless and sinister impression. He was the type that she didn’t want to acquaint herself with, if possible.

“Witch…….?”

Having trouble understanding the meaning of his words, Taurus answered.

“Maya Amano is a journalist for an information magazine. It seems she became acquainted with Suou and the others while in the middle of covering rumors spreading around the city.”

The image of the mini-skirted woman in Club Zodiac came to Anna’s mind.

A journalist for a magazine? Anna could accept that. She figured her attire was too distinctive for an ordinary office worker.

“They are enemies of the Masked Circle. They’ve been said to be Joker’s greatest threat.”

“Why’s that?”

“There’s a reason. An old reason. Joker harbors an intense hatred for them. As we fulfil the In Lak’ech, revenge shall be enacted on them. That is Joker’s wish.”

“Revenge?”

“Well, I don’t know the details. At any rate, they intend to sabotage our plan. From here on out, they will be an interference. You should at least memorize their names and faces.”

She couldn’t care less about the affairs of Suou and Amano. Anna only felt animosity towards one individual.

“And Yukino Mayuzumi? She also a journalist?”

“Mayuzumi?……..Ah, she’s a photographer. She works for the same magazine that Amano does.”

A photographer. Anna wasn’t impressed by her occupation. She hated photos. Photos mercilessly expose the things people want to keep hidden. She hated those who made a career out of photography even more. They chase after people who’ve met misfortune, trample on others’ privacy, and assault you with their inconsiderate camera flash. Her first impression of the woman, with her brash interference, was strengthened further. Just the thought of Yukino Mayuzumi’s strong-willed face irritated Anna.

Anna made a sour expression. Aquarius mockingly asked, “Lady, do you resent this Mayuzumi woman?”

“Not really.”

“Your face doesn’t say ‘not really’. You had a frightening look in your eyes just a second ago.”
“None of your business.” Anna turned away from her.

Aquarius looked disappointed, but Taurus changed the subject.

“Lady, you need to make up for your failure at Club Zodiac. Our next objective is Kasugayama high school.”

“Cuss?”

With that said, there was a boy wearing a Cuss uniform in Yukino Mayuzumi’s entourage. Anna remembered the blue haired boy as overly self-conscious and a narcissist.

“What’s up with Cuss?”

“There’ll be a school festival. The student council is hosting a masquerade. We’ll steal the Ideal Energy of the students that gather there.”

“I will go,” King Leo interjected.

Taurus looked startled. Anna thought he seemed quite scared of Leo.

“No, Leo, surveilling the high school students is Lady’s duty. The place you need to go is……”

“Do you order me?”

 Leo’s voice was quiet. More than quiet, he sounded careless and indifferent. However, Taurus frantically shook his head.

“No, that wasn’t the plan. Of course, it would be reassuring if you accompanied her. Lady going alone would be worrisome.”

Anna tried to glance at King Leo’s expression, but she could only see the profile of his mask, so she couldn’t make it out.

By nature, Anna didn’t like doing things with others. Much less with a man she didn’t know what to think of. As much as she’d like to complain, Anna had no say in the situation.

“My my. What a tough situation.” Aquarius said, voice laced with laughter.

At this point, Anna couldn’t figure out if she was talking about the mission itself or about her teaming up with Leo.

*

It was the ideal weather for an autumnal school festival.

A cheerful sign announcing the school festival leaned against Kasugayama’s front gate, which was adorned with colorful paper streamers. The normally dull school had a cheerful atmosphere, with music playing in the background.

“This is the art club. Please check us out!”

“We’re the volleyball club, the match will start soon!”

“We’re running the refreshment booth!”

The students of Cuss were in high spirits, inviting guests over loudly and handing out flyers. Students from other schools as well as parents came to visit.

As Anna passed through the school gate she was greeted and given a flyer.

It announced the masquerade party. It was being hosted by the student council in the gymnasium. Entrants must wear the masks distributed to them by the student council.

Along with an illustration of a mask was writing that said “we await your participation!”, as well as a remarkably large signature by the student council president, Yasuo Inoue. Anna carelessly crumpled the flyer up and shoved it in her pocket.

Will Leo show up? Anna looked around but couldn’t see anyone that resembled him.

Instead, several strange kids caught her eye.

Strange—but nothing about their behavior was off. Their attire was unremarkable and they weren’t causing any commotion. Rather, they were completely immersed in the environment, and didn’t stand out at all. Even still, something about them seemed weird to Anna.

Although some students wore the Cuss uniform, some of them wore other schools’ uniforms and some were in casual clothes. The groups consisted of both boys and girls. There were kids walking alone, and some in a group.

Though they all had different clothes and behavior, they all shared the same peculiarities. Their expressions showed a complete lack of vitality. Their eyes were vacant, and it looked like they weren’t thinking of anything. They passed by like ghosts.

It was the same with those in groups as well. On the surface, it appeared they were chatting with each other about something, but upon closer inspection, there weren’t any conversations being formed. Their sentences were random, and spoken without any intonation.

Their faces were covered in a black shadow. Anna’s eyebrows furrowed lightly.

They’re shadowmen. Those who, according to the Masked Circle, have had their Ideal Energy leached from them.

It was different from what Anna had expected. In order to fulfill a dream, the ability to dream is relinquished.

For a second, Anna remembered her hatred for Joker’s methods, but immediately reconsidered.

Whatever. It wasn’t any of her business.

It’s not like Joker forced those people to call him. They get their wish granted, and become servants in return. They didn’t deserve sympathy.

“Lady Scorpio?” A breathy voice asked.

Anna turned her head to see a pale, skinny boy standing there.

He wore a Cuss uniform. The glasses he wore matched his studious appearance.

When Anna stared at him wordlessly, he nervously asked,

“Uh……You’re Lady Scorpio……right?”

When she nodded in response, a grovelling smile stretched across his miserable face.

“Ah, I thought so. I heard that an executive of the Masked Circle would show up today. I apologize, I was planning on meeting you at the school gate, but got caught up in some things……oh, I’m Kasugayama high school’s student council president. My name is Yasuo Inoue, and I’m a second year. I’m honored to meet you.”

He held his hand out to give her a handshake. Anna didn’t acknowledge the gesture. The student council president withdrew his hand awkwardly, and continued in an increasingly grovelling tone.

“The Masquerade starts at 2. There’s still some time left. Um……I’d like to talk with you about something. Would that be alright?”

Inoue led Anna to the side of the school building, where others couldn’t see.

Once alone, Inoue lowered his voice.

“We almost had an issue with today’s school festival.”

“Issue?”

“Do you know Tatsuya Suou?”

The instant she heard that name, the face that came to mind wasn’t Tatsuya’s, but Yukino Mayuzumi’s.

Anna erased the image from her mind and nodded.

“He, accompanied by his colleagues, tried to infiltrate our Kasugayama high school in order to put a stop to the school festival. What an outrageous idea! Of course, I wouldn’t allow such a thing. How could I allow this? I love this school. I won’t allow those elite Sevens snobs to defile my school……”

Inoue laughed a laugh that rang from the back of his throat.

“And because of that, using my quick wit, I locked them up. In the basement of this school is a bomb shelter. I heard it was used during the war. It normally isn’t used at all, but a rumor about it’s been spread. It’s terrifying. The grudge of the people who died in there long ago remains, and once you enter you can’t find the exit……the grudge is definitely with them right about now. Indeed, I lured them into the trap I set. Heh heh…… until the end of the Masquerade they won’t be an issue.”

Inoue looked at Anna expecting to be praised, but Anna made no indication that she was paying attention.

The student council president’s expression changed to disappointment, but he quickly recovered.

“Well then, I have a request. You have the crystal skull that collects Ideal Energy, right, Lady Scorpio?”

Anna nodded.

“Uh……could you lend it to me?”

“Huh?”

“Ah, uh, of course it’s fine if that’s not allowed.”

Inoue was afraid of making her upset. He spoke in a nervous tone.

“But, If you were to lend it to me, I definitely think you’d be satisfied. I want this school festival to be an absolute success. Up until now my school has been made fun of, but this is my chance to prove that we’re superior to Sevens. I really didn’t want to go to this kind of school. If it weren’t for my health getting worse on the day of entrance exams I wouldn’t go to this kind of school. It’s unreasonable. After all, it was only one day that my condition worsened, and my true abilities aren’t suited to this third-rate school that I was forced to attend, and after this my future will be uncertain. Meanwhile, those jerks got into Sevens by pure luck. Don’t you think that’s funny? Don’t you think? I cannot excuse such injustice. I studied unrelentingly to no reward, and those guys don’t have to do anything to look good. No, it’s not just me. There are others who think so too. I must make this school festival a success for those unfortunate students. If it’s a success, then no one will call us scum anymore. Kasugayama high school will surpass Sevens, and become a first-class school……”

His logic was inconsistent, but he spoke enthusiastically. Behind his glasses, his beady eyes began to glimmer.

Anna turned her head back to see a crowd people flowing through the school gate. Leo was still nowhere to be found. What should she do?

“Lady Scorpio, I am loyal to the Masked Circle and Joker from the bottom of my heart. Because of that, I trapped Suou’s party in the bomb shelter, without regard to my own safety. If you lent me the Crystal Skull, you absolutely wouldn’t……”

“I get it.”

The boy’s incessant chattering was irritating. Fed up, Anna grabbed the bag.

If Leo wasn’t going to show up, then she didn’t have a supervisor. She supposed she could act as she wanted. This student council president seemed small-minded, but also seemed very willing. If she left the work to him, then she wouldn’t have to do anything to obtain Ideal Energy.

Anna took out the Crystal Skull, imposing the task on the student council president. Inoue’s eyes glimmered deviously.

“Incredible……so this is a Crystal Skull……Thank you so very much, Lady Scorpio. I will do my best not to betray your expectations.”

Inoue held the Crystal Skull above his head reverently, then bowed deeply and turned his back to Anna.

Ardently, he ran off in the direction of the gym. After seeing off his fleeing form, she turned her heel.

For now, she was able to save herself some of the work. The rest was up to him, regardless of how he displayed his ability. It was more or less confirmation that she could go home.

Anna remembered the bomb shelter he spoke of. Anna looked down at her feet.

Was there really an enormous cavern hollowed out beneath her? A bomb shelter that was used during the war?

Was Tatsuya Suou and his team really imprisoned there right now? Was that strong-willed expression of Yukino Mayuzumi’s twisted in fear and distress? Unable to find the exit, frantically walking around in the dark, clawing at the solid walls of rock with their nails……

Well, it wasn’t her business. Anna shook off the grim vision that had popped into her head.

Whatever they were doing wasn’t any of Anna’s concern. As long as the mission with the Masquerade was a success, Anna’s work was complete.

When Anna went back to the lively schoolyard, she almost didn’t notice. Before she knew it, looming near the wall of the school building was King Leo, looking over at her.

As per usual, a mask concealed half his face, and a long coat enveloped his tall figure. If he were downtown, he’d probably draw attention to himself, but today was different. Since people were milling around wearing masks distributed by the student council for the Masquerade, his mask didn’t stand out at all. Anna approached Leo, and stopped a few steps away. Leo’s lips formed a cruel smile as he looked back at Anna.

“The Masquerade begins at 2,” Anna informed him, but he had no reaction.

“I left the crystal skull with the student council president. He seemed willing. He also seemed to be more capable of handling it than me.”

Leo nodded silently.

Anna was losing some of the wariness she had for him. She wasn’t criticized for giving up the Crystal Skull, so she felt a sense of relief. Compared to Taurus’ nagging, he appeared to be a companion that was easy to deal with.

Leo asked, “You seen the witch?”

Witch. He meant Maya Amano. Anna shook her head.

“It sounds like they’re in the basement.”

“Basement?”

“There’s a bomb shelter. The student council president trapped them in there.”

Leo stared fixedly at the ground as if to see through it.

“Why do you call her a witch?” She asked casually. Leo’s lips slowly twisted into a smile, as if he were laughing.

“That woman……” His tone was exceedingly carefree.

But Anna hadn’t yet realized what Leo was trying to do.

He arduously lifted his arm, grabbing hold of the mask that covered his face.

The half of his face he had hidden was now visible.

Anna gasped. The right side of his face had been horrifically burned.

The scar from the burn was hideous. The discoloration of his skin was reddish-brown, like lava. He was missing his right eyeball, all that remained was a gaping black eye socket.

“I’d call her a demon,” Leo said in an eerily pained tone, as he gently stroked the skin with his fingers.

Anna couldn’t say anything. Completely dumbfounded, all she could do was stare at his unsightly face.

“Ten years ago in the summer……at Alaya Shrine. The witch and the brat called on some demons to attack me. The girl shouted from inside the shrine. The brat appeared out of nowhere. A demon burst out of the brat’s body and sprang at me. There was fire……flames burst out like a serpent, and stuck out like a bright red tongue……it was blazing hot. I can’t forget it. That pain I felt……”

It was awful.

She was late to realizing it.

Leo’s voice was tinged with passion, and it was difficult to understand him with how rapidly he spoke. The instant his voice jumped to a shrill tone, his hand quickly reached out and seized Anna’s neck.

There was no room for escape. Within a second, Anna, with her throat squeezed in Leo’s large hand, had the back of her head slammed against the wall.

Sparks scattered in her vision. Leo gripped her neck with one hand effortlessly, brought his indulgent face close to Anna, and burst out laughing in a hoarse voice.

“Don’t you interfere. They’re killing me. I’ll do as they did to me, I’ll set them ablaze until their skin is charred and peels off of their faces, until there’s nothing left but bone. You hear me?  It’s the voices. Tzitzimitl has the nerve to ridicule me. It’s the voices, the voices! They have the nerve to order me around!”

Her throat was being constricted so forcefully that tears began to well up. She couldn’t breathe. She was tacked to the wall like an insect specimen, her feet dangling midair.

He’ll kill her.

She was terrified. She wasn’t afraid of anything, is what she’d previously believed. But now, Anna was covered in goosebumps from the terror she felt.

Not for the premonition of death. King Leo peered at Anna point-blank with his one eye, which evoked a purely visceral, primitive terror. His pupil was the size of a pin, an evil look. It was not the eye of a sane person.

Anna remembered the whisperings of some boys she overheard in Club Zodiac. “That Anna chick’s real dangerous. She’s got a dangerous look in her eyes.”

She wanted to tell those naive boys. Ask them if they’d still say that upon seeing this scene. Compared to this psycho bastard, Anna was a perfect, sensible person.

Just before she was about to pass out, Leo let go of her, seeming to lose interest.

Anna’s body was lowered down slowly.

Her knees suddenly buckled, and she collapsed. Air rushed into her lungs. She coughed violently as tears ran down her face.

During Anna’s coughing fit, she finally understood. The reason Taurus had panicked, and Queen Aquarius sneered. Leo’s job wasn’t to oversee Anna. It was the opposite. It was far too dangerous to leave this man unchecked, so the task fell on Anna.

Gradually, Anna’s coughing fit calmed down. Anna lifted her face, wiping her tears away. But, Leo had already disappeared.

*

At the entrance of the gym, boys wearing the Cuss uniform were lined up.

“To enter, please wear your mask.”

It seemed to be the student council. Ignoring him, Anna tried to enter the gym.

“Ah, you there. Hold on, you can’t go in without a mask……”

Anna glanced over at him.

When the serious-looking student met eyes with Anna, he suddenly became flustered. He probably had orders from the student council president.

“Ah, sorry, never mind. Please carry on.”

He hastily left Anna’s side. The iron door before Anna opened up.

The intense beat made the air vibrate. A laser beam flew around the dim dance floor. All the parts of the machine were in place. The masked guests danced to the music.

Anna avoided people as she advanced further into the gym, then went up the narrow spiral staircase in the stage wing.

She continued along the overhanging catwalk above the gym. Since there was no one else in the area, she could observe the scene below.

It was a considerable success. The high school students’ dancing was a lively exchange. Seeing everyone wearing their white masks looked strange from above. A blue gem glittered on the forehead of each mask.

Anna scowled at the clamor of the music, rubbing her arm.

—Why?

In general, people were bustling around and fervently moving their limbs as they danced, but no heat was being circulated.

How was it cold in here? It was as if they were dancing in a giant refrigerator.

The song changed. A tumultuous breakbeat track. Because the sound was distorted and there were multiple reverbs, a much more abnormal rhythm could be heard.

Someone came out on the front stage. The student council president. He was holding the crystal skull Anna lent to him reverently with both hands.

Inoue was triumphant. Even from a distance she could see his face flushing with pride.

He shouted something as he touted the crystal skull above his head. He probably called out for attention, but his voice was drowned out by the music.

The demeanor of those dancing changed. Their movements became stiff. It wasn’t just one or two people, but everyone who was gathered here, everyone’s limbs began to crack when they moved, as if they’d suddenly forgotten how to dance. It looked more like they were puppets being manipulated on strings rather than dancing.

Anna returned her gaze to the top of the stage. The student council president shook the skull furiously over his head, and opened his mouth and laughed.

Suddenly, a light flashed in the skull’s eyes.

Placing her arms on the handrailing, Anna rested her chin in her hands and surveyed the gym.

The masked crowd raised their arms and continued to dance as if they’d gone mad. Blue light surged from each of the gems embedded in the forehead of the masks towards the Crystal Skull held by the student council president.

Many beams were emitted towards the Crystal Skull. The Crystal Skull absorbed the beams, and the sparkling of the gems increased drastically.

—Is that the Ideal Energy? People’s ability to dream. For Joker’s collection.

While watching the scene, the student council president’s behavior became strange. Up until now, his reaction has been very unexpected.

His triumphant face quickly changed into a pitifully tearful one. His face distorted in fear as he continued to hold the Crystal Skull with both hands raised above his head in a banzai-like position.

During this time, the lights emitting from the masks converged at the skull in succession. The skull became so bright that it looked like an explosion. As bizarre as it was, it glowed beautifully.

Inoue had no ability to control the Crystal Skull. Anna realized this too late. At this rate, they needed to collect energy from people before Inoue got burned.

That was when it happened. A sharp voice tore through the music.

“Anna?!”

Anna looked down at the dance floor. The face that she couldn’t possibly forget, that she despised, looked up at her in shock.

Yukino Mayuzumi. The photographer who’s an ally of justice.

She was with Tatsuya and the others. It appears they’ve escaped the bomb shelter. They’re a stubborn bunch.

“What are you doing here? You should get out of here quickly!” Yukino said in a worried tone. She pointed at the people who continued to dance,

“Look. Their energy is being absorbed and they become like shadows. There’s no time for a detailed explanation, but you need to leave as soon as possible. It’s dangerous.”

“I’m aware.”

Yukino’s concern was annoying. The interference. That fake-considerate expression.

The skull that the student council president was holding became increasingly brighter. The boy accompanying Yukino—the blue-haired narcissistic Cuss student—yelled as he rushed up to the stage.

“Yasuo! What are you doing? That skull, let go of it!”

“G……..get away!”

Yasuo screamed and then staggered as he disappeared out through the stage wing. He continued to hold on to the Crystal Skull.

“Hey, wait!”

The boy scrambled to pursue Inoue. Yukino looked at her companions, then at Anna, but ultimately decided on chasing after the boys.

Once again, things become more troublesome. Why couldn’t they have just stayed quiet in the bomb shelter?

Anna dragged her heavy legs and descended from the catwalk.

*

Upon exiting the gym, Anna looked up at the towering school building in front of her.

She realized it was where Inoue was located. Rather, it was where the Crystal Skull was.

The path taken by the skull was depicted by a blue line displayed on Anna’s retina. It’s upstairs. The student council president was headed towards the rooftop.

Anna entered the school building and climbed up the stairs. She could feel the skull’s power surge stronger as she approached it.

She made it to the top floor. However, when she tried to open the door to the rooftop, someone grasped her shoulder from behind.

She looked back to find Leo. She had no idea where he’d been up until now, but she hadn’t noticed until he was right behind her.

Half of his face was once again covered by a mask.

“Inoue went to……” She tried to explain, but Leo cut her off.

“The witches will catch up soon. Let the small fry deal with them.”

“But……”

Without listening to what Anna was saying, Leo handed over a white mask.

It wasn’t one of the cheap looking masks that the student council had handed out. It was a lot like the one Leo was currently wearing.

There was a blue crest engraved in the forehead of it.

Without any explanation, Anna understood.

It was a scorpion crest. The Scorpio mask.

Anna tried pressing it to her face. It gently clung on.

The mask controlled her personality. Something inside Anna changed the moment she concealed her face. Anna’s personality, her failure as an athlete, retreated into the depths of her unconsciousness, and a colder, more powerful mentality awakened.

Lady Scorpio. Anna knew that it wasn’t merely a code name, that when she put the mask on another personality appeared.

 

There’s Yasuo Inoue.

He was muttering something with his back pressed against the chain-link fence. Fearing the Crystal Skull, he was trapped in a panic. His eyes were bloodshot behind his glasses, and froth clung to the edges of his mouth. Lady Scorpio and King Leo looked down at his state from above the entrance to the roof. It was the ideal position because they could overlook the rooftop while remaining in the blindspot of those on the roof.

Just as she heard what she thought were hurried footsteps, the door swung open. The blue haired boy from before leapt out. Tatsuya’s party followed right behind him.

“Yasuo! You bastard! Whatever you’re planning, turn everyone back to normal!”

At the boy’s intimidation, Inoue began some excuse in a quivering voice.

As the scene played out, the exchange between the blue-haired boy and Inoue quickly broke down. Inoue yelled something in a shrill voice.

The air trembled. It was more akin to the roar of a beast than anything human, as if intending to destroy the listener’s spirit.

“Come, Persona!”

At the same time he cried out, Inoue’s body was enveloped in a blue light.

The blue-haired boy flinched for a second. However, his body released a tremendous fighting spirit a moment later.

His fighting spirit immediately formed into something human-like. Glowing limbs bent gracefully, then attacked Inoue. Inoue was sent flying and tumbling.

At the same time, Tatsuya Suou sprung into action. A figure resembling a god of war clad in gold armor appeared from his body.

A fire attack. It was a bright red whip aimed at Inoue.

Inoue wrenched his body away, narrowly avoiding a direct hit, and at the same time he sprung back up, he shot back a blade of wind.

The sound of cutting into flesh was heard. The blonde girl had received the slice and collapsed.

Maya Amano spread both arms out to protect her. From Maya’s body sprung a goddess emitting a light pink aura. The figure had a comforting, gentle smile.

A sparkling spray came from the goddess’ fingers. The gentle rain struck, and healed the injured girl……

 

“Is that……a Persona?” Lady Scorpio muttered, looking down on the fight.

King Leo let out a muffled laugh from behind his mask, and muttered something. However, Anna couldn’t make it out.

Anna shuddered. The average person wouldn’t be able to perceive such high speed movements, but Anna was mesmerized.

The scene was unimaginable. It couldn’t be of this world. It was a fierce battle of legend……it was beautiful.

This is the power of Persona.

The complexity of the self, a flurried transformation like a kaleidoscope.

 

With a sharp yell, Yukino unleashed her Persona.

Her Persona was the embodiment of a ferocious empress. She backed Tatsuya up with an orange pillar of flame aimed at Inoue.

The victor was obvious. It didn’t take long. Inoue was overwhelmed, cornered, and finally collapsed to his knees.

Tatsuya’s party didn’t finish him off. They surrounded him and asked him something. More than likely, they were interrogating him about the Masked Circle or the Crystal Skull.

Lady Scorpio leapt out. Her body moved before she could think. Her injured leg moved with ease. In fact, it seemed to move better than when she was an athlete.

The leap wasn’t something a human was capable of. Maybe it was from the Persona battle she’d witnessed—or maybe the scorpion mask attached to her face that had pulled out a dormant power. Without making a sound, she landed directly behind Yukino and the others.

Everyone turned around simultaneously. Yukino’s expression stiffened in shock as she cried out.

“An……na?”

With a single lash of her whip, she took back the Crystal Skull that had rolled away from Inoue.

“Anna. You’re Anna, aren’t you? That mask……you couldn’t possibly……what the hell is going on?”

Yukino was uncharacteristically flustered.

Lady didn’t look over there. For some reason, she couldn’t look.

The personality repressed by the mask was made aware of the distress. Yukino’s voice was……terrifying.

Lady lightly shook her head, brushing off those useless thoughts. As long as she took back the Crystal Skull, she had no more business at this school. It was time for her to leave.

A horrible scream rang out.

When Lady turned towards the sound, she was speechless.

Inoue’s body was burning. Flames erupted out from the center of his chest, and he swung both his arms around desperately in a grotesque dance.

The incident only lasted momentarily. Where the fire came from was unknown. The student council president was suddenly engulfed in flames, becoming a human-shaped pillar of fire.

His screams of agony soon disappeared. He was no longer in any condition to use his voice. His body, now a carbonized stump, lurched forward and collapsed. In an instant, his dried-out body crumbled and dissolved with a dry sound.

A woman’s scream rang out.

“No……Nooooo!”

The scream sounded like it tore up her throat.

It was Maya Amano. The woman that Leo called a witch was screaming and cowering.

The blue-haired boy, flustered, held out his hand for her, but it was no use.

“No……Nooo……ahhhh…..I’m scared……I’m scared, dad……I’m scared I’m scared dad dad dad……!”

Maya covered her ears with her hands, continuing to raise her voice in a panic. Her voice sounded like a little girl’s.

Someone had suddenly burst into flames before their eyes. It was reasonable to feel fear, but even so, Maya’s reaction was abnormally intense. It was as if she was the one who was set ablaze.

A loud laugh rang out. The voice was heart wrenching, tinged with a metallic quality.

“Witch, Cursed Star, do you remember?”

Before she knew it, the man with the lion mask had descended and stood next to Lady. He was the one responsible for turning Inoue into a pillar of flame. He probably intended it as a warning to Maya.

“The things you both did ten years ago……the fire that night was beautiful, wasn’t it……even now it’s seared into my brain. With my right eye melted, I’d say it’s sufficiently burned into my memory.”

Maya’s screaming stopped. She became limp, and appeared to lose consciousness.

“This is merely a warning. When it’s your turn, it won’t be such a meager fire. Witch, Cursed Star, you bastards will go to purgatory. Your fate is in his hands. You can’t escape it. Look forward to it, for the flames I ignite will be beautiful. It’ll be just like that night ten years ago……I’ll ignite a fire so lovely it’ll sear itself into the depths of your brain……”

Tatsuya stood as if to protect Maya, and glared at Leo. Leo burst into laughter again. His laughter scraped at their eardrums, as if irritating a nerve.

Then, Yukino shouted as if to suppress the laughter.

“Anna……Are you insane? Did you willingly join the Masked Circle!?”

Her voice was thick, full of both surprise and fury.

Lady still didn’t look Yukino’s way. No matter what, she was unable to look over there.

—Was she scared?

Am I afraid of Yukino’s gaze?

That’s stupid.

She didn’t want to admit that. Lady Scorpio endured the annoyance, and with her eyes still averted, muttered something to Leo.

“Leo, don’t get involved with that woman.”

While taking a step back, she gave a warning.

“Yukino Mayuzumi—I’ll take care of her. She’s my kill. Don’t get in my way.”

She didn’t know whether or not Leo agreed. With no time left to make sure, she quickly turned away.

“Wait, Anna!”

The last thing she heard was Yukino’s furious voice.

Lady pursed her lips tightly, then vanished.

 

Translation notes:

There’s mention of Noriko’s use of “onee-sama” on her Megami Tensei wiki page:

 

“In the Japanese version, Noriko calls Anna Onē-sama (お姉様), a very respectful way of saying “older sister”. In Japan, it is common to call young people who are older than you “big brother/sister” (for older people, it’s “uncle/aunt”) as a form of respect or admiration even if they aren’t related, which can be compared to calling someone “mister” or “miss/ma’am” in the West. The fact that there isn’t much of an age gap between Noriko and Anna and the use of the -sama honorific demonstrates how devoted Noriko is. The American release translates it as “big sis”, implying that they are related even though they aren’t.”

 

I decided to keep the original Japanese term here since I feel “sister” or “big sis” doesn’t aptly describe Noriko’s feelings towards Anna.

 

Also, just some reminders: Tzitzimitl is one of the demons, and “Cursed Star” is a term Leo uses in the official English translation that I assume is in reference to Tatsuya.

 

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