Cutscene: Reading The Path

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IC Date: January 31st, 2010

Characters Involved: Shiori Hibiki

Shiori emerged from the depths of sleep to a song without words.

She knew this place. She had been here... how many times before? A premium box seat in an opera house, covered by curtains that tinged the light a subtle shade of blue. The air was thick, almost suffocating, and her limbs felt listless and heavy. Somewhere out there on the stage, a woman sang an aria for the soul, while Shiori slumped in her chair, staring glassily at the gigantic nose of the man seated on the other side of the table.

"Welcome, once again, to the Velvet Room," Igor greeted her. As always, the seats around the low table were arranged such that Shiori could see nothing behind Igor but vague outlines shrouded in shadows, including one which looked relatively human-shaped, standing still and silent. Not the oppressive darkness of the Dark Hour, but merely an absence of sufficient lighting.

One day, Shiori vowed to take a peek at what lay beyond. One day...

But Igor was speaking again. "Are you well? It has been quite some time since we last spoke, has it not?" A cackling laugh. "You have certainly grown in experience since then. Rest assured that no matter what happens in the waking world, we of the Velvet Room shall remember what has already come to pass." He waved a hand lazily. "Have you been diligently strengthening your ties and connections with others? Remember that it is only through maintaining your emotional links with those around you that you may be able to seek out the truth."

Shiori nodded. Was it just her imagination, or did Igor's movements and gestures deliberately bring attention to his nose?

"Excellent, excellent," Igor chortled. "Your progress through the different aspects of yourself has been most instructive to witness. Few have had the opportunity to discover the consequences of the roles they play. And, of course, you have been provided with substantial evidence of the importance of your emotional connections."

Did he actually breathe through that thing? Did he even need air?

"However, I must warn you that the path you tread will not be easy," Igor continued. "A great many obstacles will bar your way, not least of which comes from within." He swept an arm over the table, and three cards appeared face-down in a row. "We are, of course, happy to assist you on your journey, provided you abide by the contract you have agreed to."

Nod, nod. Why did he even have such a huge nose? Was it something he had since birth? Was Igor even born, or was he... created, somehow? And when the mysterious being who willed the Velvet Room into existence made its inhabitants, was making Igor's nose so big part of the plan?

"Then let us study the road you travel. Where did you come from?" Igor made a languid gesture, and the card on his right, Shiori's left, was flipped over, revealing a picture of a king on his throne, but upside down. "The Emperor, reversed. What was to be a leader, strong and bold, has instead become a tyrant, cruel and controlling; a bully, without any real authority. To follow such a one is to be led astray; to become one is to be cast down, ineffective, accomplishing nothing but regret."

Regret. Shiori had, until quite recently, often wished that she could go back in time to change the past. Even now, even after she knew the consequences of such actions, she didn't know if she was strong enough to resist that temptation, should it come to her.

Igor continued relentlessly, his usual grin still fixed in place. "But if you had not had that experience, would you be the person you are now? Who are you? Where are you?"

The card in the center was flipped. A heart, pierced by three swords, upside down.

"The Three of Swords, reversed. Pain, betrayal, and anger... but with no hope of respite. A friendship that never was, a relationship begun on a false foundation, never changing, always inflicting suffering and sadness. Who are these friends hurting you so much, I wonder? Who are you hurting?"

Shiori stared at the picture on the card. A heart, pierced with blades. A friend, as close as sisters, as far as strangers. Did Shiori really understand her? Or was the closeness just an illusion? Did she even want to be understood, or was it just a cruel game to her, dictated by whimsy?

A boy, gentle and trusting, turning away to walk in the shadows. Who was he now? Did Shiori know him anymore? Had it been love, or merely pity?

The final card was turned. A man holding several swords and walking away, but leaving two behind. Again, the card was upside down.

"And finally, the Seven of Swords, reversed once more. Where are you going, and how do you get there? To escape from your troubles, taking what you will, leaving what you cannot take... for no purpose and no benefit. All your efforts to achieve your goal will be for naught, as plans go awry and the results never quite seem worth the sacrifice."

Depressing. What was the point, then? Why try so hard, why struggle to do the right thing, if it was going to end up like that? Shiori tried to think, but it was so hard to do so, and she could do nothing more than focus on the nose looming large in her vision.

"Your path will be difficult, and fraught with danger," Igor said, without changing his cheery, crackling tone. "I can sense your doubt, your despair... but also your determination. As such, I shall ask you once again: are you prepared to abide by the contract you have chosen of your own free will?"

Slowly, feeling as though a great weight was pressing down upon her, Shiori nodded.


Shiori blinked owlishly.

"Friends," she finally said. "Need to do it for my friends. For the people I've met, who've formed connections with me. For the ties I've made."

Igor cackled. "A most interesting answer. It speaks much about who you are." He picked up the Three of Swords, his first physical contact with the cards since the reading began. "Even if the answer you have may not be the answer you seek."

With a flick of his wrist, the card shot up into the air, spinning rapidly. Shiori could glimpse different pictures on its face, after-images that blurred into one another in her vision as the card spun faster and faster until it abruptly burst into flames-

Shiori shot upright in bed, heart pounding. That dream had been important, she knew. There had been... the Velvet Room, that much was certain. Something about... fire. Determination. Friendship. A reward. A new Persona.

A very, very large nose.

Shiori pressed a hand to her temple. "Dammit, Igor," she muttered.

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