(Note: This is a Persona fan fiction - I do not own Persona, merely writing in homage to such a great work of mystery and fantasy.)

PART I – Realization

“I am thou, and thou art I…”

“Wh…Where am I?”
I rose to my feet, clutching my head in agony. There wasn't much to what memory I had before finding myself here… I had been playing a video game when my TV had suddenly died on me. I was prepared to pull an all-nighter, but I must've drifted asleep. Hard to believe though, with the headache I had. I really need to quit drinking coffee just before midnight.
The room I was in looked vaguely familiar – I would probably recognize it if it weren't for all the damned fog. The room was small – a white desk over by a weird door in the corner was the first thing I noticed. There was a battered old computer on it, but it was very evident it wouldn't function. I examined the machine, hoping to find some easy problem to fix to get it working, but to no success. I heard an echo which distracted me: it sounded close to a groan – a laugh maybe? Frowning, I moved on and continued searching the room. I looked to my feet and backed away from the desk in shock – I was almost stepping on what at first appeared to be trading cards on the ground. They looked similar to something I collected religiously – but all the pictures were cut out, and the writing illegible. In the upper right corner of each of them featured a small black skull. Familiar with the cards didn't stop a small shiver run up my back.

“From the sea of thy soul, I come…”

I was beginning to theorize what had happened – I must have fallen asleep and was having a dream about being in my room – the surroundings began coming more and more into focus and the objects appearing all fit: a clothes bureau, the TV cabinet, and my bed. I shook my head and nervously chuckled… I had gotten myself all worked up. I opened the door next to my desk to go out into the kitchen, only to again stagger back in a panic.
Where there should be the rest of the house was a void of slowly moving space –black and vibrant red bands moved toward the door in a mesmerizing fashion, but beyond that, I couldn't see anything else – the bands would grow larger, only to pass over my room. My gaze whipped to the the window over my bed to see the same lines now visible outside, with black outlines of the woods that should have been there. I quickly threw myself onto my bed and scrambled for my pillow – rather, the object I kept underneath it. Grabbing metal, I was glad that this room “copied” everything about it, and withdrew under the pillow a small hunting dagger I purchased when I was eighteen.
That laugh again… this time I was sure it was a laugh. I flushed angrily as I stood up to compose myself, unsheathing the weapon.

“I am the one who shed light on thy path…”

I sneered, deciding that this was a place I didn't want to remain in any longer. I advanced on the doorway once more. Looking down, I took a careful first step, testing the way for solid ground. My foot connected with something just that – the way ahead began forming into a spacious hallway of dark wooden planks and linoleum tile. Occasional mock-oak doors also popped up, and soon the way was lit with small chandeliers, occasionally with two or three bulbs burnt out. I fastened the sheath onto my belt and kept my dagger handy, taking my first steps into what I would come to realize as a labyrinth.

PART II – Accusation

I traversed the hallways, taunted by the same laughter as before. I followed it, hoping that once I reached it, that this nightmare would end. Every now and then, I would come across a room similar to my own, with a small treasure trunk inside – much like the very one I used to store my yearbooks. Inside, I would find something that once belonged to me – one had a thick water bottle, another had a black notebook, a fountain pen… one even had a shoddy, wooden sword I had made almost ten years ago. I even remembered the day I broke it.
Eventually, I found my way to stairs – a clue to something that had been on my mind for a long time. The maze was constructed with pieces of wall and gateways that looked astonishingly like the inside of my home when I was in high school. It was, however, a single story building, and definitely not constructed in any fashion like what I had traversed. The stairs were made of rough two-by-fours, maybe wide enough for a single person to walk up. There was even a white paint job coating most of the stairs, with just the underneath showing it's original tan color. I looked up the stairway to see a large set of doors at the top. With each way behind me leading to a dead end, and the laughter louder now than ever, I proceeded up the stairs, and burst through the doors. I found myself finally outside, a large wooden deck before me with the outlined black forest beyond that. The red and black lined sky continued to drift overhead, with no explanation of the illumination over the entire deck. A busted porch swing sat in the far back corner, and what looked like stairs leading down to some form of ground was off the the far left. A round thermostat was on the opposite side of the deck as well, but the needle was spinning wildly in circles, stopping occasionally to spin the other way. Various potted plants lined the edges of the deck, and though some of the shrubs had grown big, the stems and limbs were shriveled and brown – even the potting soil was dry and cracking.
My stomach moved uneasily, and my mind began to wander, wondering what on earth I was experiencing. Soon, though, none of those thoughts mattered, as the source of that almost forgotten laughter echoed loudly in my ears.

“So, you finally made it! It's about time!”

A black mist began to seep from underneath the floorboards of the deck across from me. The once formless smoke began to solidify and take shape – dark shoes with white-etching lines, white tube socks disappearing under long blue carpenter jeans. A tucked in forest-green long-sleeve with a black shirt under it – a familiar metal pendant on a steel chain laying over them. Following the chain, I looked into what I could only describe as the mirrored reflection of my stunned face – dark brown hair, goatee, even the mangled glasses he pushed up his nose. There was something scary about the figure – it wasn't a reflection. It moved on it's own, without mimicking my current motion… yet it seemed so much like me… except for it's haunting, bright yellow, pupil-less eyes fixated on me.

“What do you want from me?!” I yelled, swinging my knife as my arms waved from my distress.

“It's always about what people want from you, isn't it?” the doppelganger retorted with a smile. I stood still, letting a familiar shiver creep back, as I tried to figure out what he meant… he explained with a malevolent grin, and feigning concern, “You're doing enough to get by, and yet, everyone has all these expectations of you. You're the real victim here – people's lives should center around you!”

“W-What?!” My legs almost gave out from the accusation, but the sting of the thought made me rise back in anger, “Why the hell do you mean by that?!”

The figure chuckled to himself before continuing, “You do what you want, when you want – because you couldn't care less what happens, so long as it doesn't affect you. Screw the world! You stopped caring about it when it stopped being favorable and starting being fair.”

My fist clenched the dagger I held tight, my teeth grinding in aggravation, “Fair?! What are you talking about?!”

“You don't remember? The day you realized you just couldn't live in your own fantasy anymore, and became the cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch you are today? …The day your grandfather Henry died?”

“YOU FUCKING BASTARD!” It took amazing self control to keep me from running at the figure and slicing him up right then and there, though that control was becoming short in supply. The figure however didn't stop there – he laughed it off and continued with his analysis, “The meaning of life is to one day drop dead and be forgotten – and you learned that lesson when you were so young… But now all you have to do is mention Grandpa Henry and you instantly get all the pity and sympathy you want. You were robbed of your childhood so you live life day to day without worry because you feel that life owes you this debt.”

“Stop that! That's not true! I'm constantly worrying about my life-”

The figure feigned surprise by putting his hand to his mouth, “Oh, I'm sorry! You do worry, that's right! You worry every day that your fantasy will end – that you'll have to deal with that dreadful thing called reality! And that just like the day you discovered it, once you do deal with it, you'll forget about all that you loved and all that you cared for. All that matters to you will drop dead too!”

Shaking my head, I struggle for the words to disagree with him, but my voice continuously fails to make a sound. “Look on the bright side… the longer you live in the fantasy and keep from dealing with it, the more likely it will be that they won't drop dead – YOU will!”

“Shut up…” my voice was just a whisper, the slight mention of mortality sending my once furious demeanor into a cowering child.

“It's certainly nice to get everything you want without any effort though – just feign a good pity story about your 'fear of dying' and how much you miss your dear ol' grampy, and everything comes up me!”

“No…” I whimper, my strength slowly returning to my hand.

“No? What do you mean, no? It's always worked for you in the past, hasn't it? You haven't felt the need to do anything, ever! This is all owed to you! Friends, Grades, Money… Yet when reality keeps seeping in, showing you that life is fair – your happiness comes the price of being miserable.”

“Shut up! What do you know about me, anyway?!” my nostrils flared as I began yelling, tears rolling down my face. “What are you?!”

The figure laughed, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “Why, I'm you. Your shadow. There's nothing about you that I don't know – How your childhood was taken from you so you take from everyone else to make good on a debt that can never be repaid. Why you constantly escape into your video games instead of furthering your career. Why you keep your friends around instead of a job application. Why you feel the need to have a girlfriend.”

“Stop it! You don't know anything!!!”

“Don't I?” The figure chuckled to himself and opened his arms wide, “I'm you - I obviously must! Especially if your being so defensive about it. You've spent so much time in your fantasy that you realized no one is there with you – no one is as carefree as you are – you're alone. You're afraid that you'll die alone and wind up like your rotting old grandfather. If anything, you'll settle for being a memory of the guy who sucked the money out of your friend's wallets.”

“THAT'S BULLSHIT! If I'm going to be nothing of a memory, it would be a memory of someone who was there for them!” For once, I felt I had a solid defense against the man's accusations, only to be shot down once more.

“You want to believe that, hell, you do a good job shooting for that – but your so scared of being forgotten that you'd settle for the lowest thing possible, so long as you're remembered! In the end, it's your own damn fault anyway! You're scared of being alone, dying alone, yet you never let anyone get close to you – you're afraid - you don't want people to see the real you.” The figure laughed and brushed his bangs back, “You don't want them to see me.”

“No… you're…” It was a last moment of conscious effort against the shadow, and without knowing the consequences, let my final retort be my undoing.

“You're not me!”

PART III – Confrontation

With those words came a terrible laughter. The shadow of myself began to resonate with the ominous dark mist that spawned it. Winds came from seemingly nowhere and an oppressive energy dropped me to my knees – the doppelganger was completely shrouded by the now growing fog, which wound up becoming the size of half the deck in width and two stories tall. The fog began to clear around the clone of me after a few seconds, revealing a gold-encrusted chair, and a robed, plump man sitting atop it. The face of the man was unkempt, a beard unattended to, with wine dripping from his lips. A gold and jewel encrusted crown on his head, and a robe of shining velvet with steel plate underneath. One hand held a goblet, presumably of wine, the other, a large staff – a scepter – as tall and thick as a small tree. The hair was shaggy and unruly – untamed for years, presumably. The king-like figure glared down at me and began to move his scepter.
I struggled to keep myself on my knees – I wanted to lay down, and submit to the ungodly amount of oppressive energy shackling me.

“I am a shadow… the true self.”

The scepter was inches away from my head. I knew that if I didn't do something, this force would likely be the death of me…

“Your life is in debt to me – it's time to take what is owed!”

The scepter rose with incredible speed, the wind of such helping me rise to my feet involuntarily. Without thinking, I dived to the side, feeling a second rush of wind beginning to pull me back as the scepter crashed down into the deck.
I didn't feel well enough to stand, but what was left of my consciousness struggled to persevere. My eyes darted wildly, looking for a part of him to strike – finding the legs in front of the chair. Taking my dagger in hand, I began my charge.
A familiar rush of wind pulled me up, my feet almost fully leaving the deck – I was close enough to strike, however, and let my dagger carve into him. With a wild slash, the blade struck true, but found a metal barrier between the blade on the weak flesh underneath.
The scepter, however, didn't have that obstacle, and the butt of the mace collided with the side of my body as the king attempted to brush me away. As I landed on my stomach, the dagger I had kept going, and slid off the deck.
Again, a rush of wind – I glared up at the king as his new plan was to impale me like an oversized bug – I rolled out of the way and once more evaded his attacks. The pain from the collision, however, was finally making itself evident – my entire back began to sting, from head to toe. I scrambled to my feet before the king had the opportunity to attack again.
I had no weapon, but maybe I had an escape – a quick round of observation showed me otherwise – the doors I entered through were now missing, and the stairs off the deck were too close to the king to risk using. The rush of wind became familiar, and I instinctively began to dodge the strikes, one after another. The deck was in horrible shape, but there was still plenty of room to maneuver.
One strike of the scepter sent shards of wood flying into the air, giving me an idea. After diving out of the way of another strike, I picked up a piece of plank – it was as long as a spear, and I hoped it would sail just like a javelin. My first through was a bit off, missing the left shoulder. My second, however, stuck into the king's kidney.
The colossus roared in agony, and wound up for another strike – a cleave. The scepter was too big to jump over, so without no other option, I dropped to the ground as quickly as I could. It wasn't quick enough.
The scepter collided with my right side, and from impact, I bounced off my left and squeezed under the attack, rolling onto my back. I yelled out in pain, knowing that the strike broke bones in my right arm. I struggled to stand, but my right leg was in bad shape as well. With desperation, I grabbed another shard of wood and threw it with all my might, left handed. It wasn't enough force to spear the king, but it splintered it's way into the king's wrist on his scepter arm. The weapon dropped, and threatened to crush me underneath, so with a final dive, I landed, screaming in pain, but away from the falling instrument. The king lobbed the contents of his goblet at me, as well as the goblet itself. The liquid splashed near me, and ate through the deck almost instantly – the goblet cupped overhead before bouncing away, remnants of the acid unable to drip onto me.
I took one last stand against the king – clutching my arm as I walked closer.

“You'll never accept me… You can't live with me knowing I'm you! It's why I exist! Your greed, sloth and gluttony are evidence to my being! You'll never be rid of me!!!”

I picked up one last wooden shard and struggled up the side of the chair, continuing to hear him ramble. It had all been true, to a sense…
I never aspired to become anything great – I just wanted my life back before I understood death. Because of that, I never worked hard, I never tried my hardest… I felt robbed. I felt that life owed me a great debt for taking the life of someone so precious to me yet at the same time, giving me the most important lesson in life – that all good things must come to an end.

“Good things must come to an end, and one day, I'll have to live up to the fact that I will to. It may not be today, it may never happen… All I can do is make my life and the lives of others as happy as they can be… Life's to short to not be happy – so you should find pleasure in everything you do. Sadly, it won't work out that way… but it's worth trying.” By this time, I had reached the arm of the chair, and standing on it, I could look the king in the face. His was contorted beyond all belief…

“You live that way, and your life will be short and meaningless…!”

I shook my head, “That's a fear I have, but not what I believe. I was told to worry about my life first, then work on happiness later, be it mine or someone else. It's hard to survive when there's unhappiness and contempt in my life, even if it's not directed at me… but by not focusing on surviving, I'm just making others more miserable around me… and I can't live like that. It's just taking time to realize that that's what I'm doing.

“Life isn't fair – it's just the opposite. It takes from you what you love most, and gives you the lessons you'd rather not learn… but all is necessary to help be the balance in others lives. One must live in reality and fantasy, not one or the other. Too much reality would drive a person to madness, where too much fantasy would make the person oblivious to the consequences of doing just that.

“While it will take me time to learn and adapt… I really have no other choice…”

With a swift strike, I lunged the wooden shard into the king's neck, and staggered off the chair, as the creature began writhing in pain, evaporating into black fog. When it cleared, and I had the strength to stand once again, I was looking myself in the eye – the doppelganger standing, motionless.

“…I have no other choice but to accept the truth. I didn't like doing it, but I do feel I took from others… I even regretted doing it and tried avoiding it at times… But without them, I couldn't have made it this far in life. The lessons they've taught me, the moral support. They wouldn't have helped me if they thought I was a lost cause. They believe in me to one day stand on my own two feet. I can't let them down…

“So yeah… everything of what you said may have been true. Even if I don't like admitting it… you knew what I felt like… what I thought of. You really are me. You're a me I don't like showing, hiding it away from the world… I put on a facade to feign being worry-free. I struggle to hide feeling alone, feeling helpless. But I don't notice how often people are already helping me. Really, it's up to me to stand up – I already have all my friends and family waiting for that to happen, some ready to support me as I stand. And if I ever worry about falling… I just need to ask for help. They'll be there as I would for them – it's what friends are for. So, you may be me… but you're a me that needs to stop worrying so much, and just act… I need to just act.”

The shadow nodded to me and vanished in a bright blue light… before I could catch a glimpse of the figure before me, I felt the warmth of a gentle kind soul watching over me… I felt safe for the first time in a long while. I felt it safe to collapse right there and rest – the pains of battle had grew numb and were almost nonexistent… I passed into a great slumber where a man in shining armor stood watch over me, making sure my recuperation went uninterrupted.

The strength of heart required to face oneself has been made manifest…
Ian had faced his other self.

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