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Kill the Joker: AnotheR Game

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I think God made a mistake when he created me.

 

After all, it should be ILLEGAL to be born this cool. Destined for greatness, bestowed with crazy talents, and practically oozing with charisma!

 

That’s me, Sanguine Sims .

 

A wise man once said “Redemption is fickle thing.” You know, redemption. Second chances, forgiveness, the works. You can’t just expect someone to truly forgive you if you’ve done nothing to show that you’ve improved from what you’ve done. And redemption isn't something set in stone either, which makes it harder to earn. To this day I’m not actually sure if that’s what “fickle” means but we’ll roll with it. I was never that great at having an extensive vocabulary (speaking of which: woah! I just used a five syllable word, go me!).

 

But in all seriousness, can you even ask for a second chance if you were never given that first chance to begin with?

 

The world may never know.

 

Depressing notions aside, you should get to know me more! Just who is this "Sanguine?" Well, I live a fairly normal life. I do my job, I get paid, and I spend it all the moment I get home. I wouldn’t consider myself anyone too special in the grand scheme of things, though I am very likable in my humble opinion. I’m just your relatable, common, everyday protagonist you’d see on the streets. Cue a montage of me dancing and finger-gunning gorgeous folks in said streets.

 

And what’s my job? Well, I’m a detective. Don’t get me wrong, just because I’m narrating right now does that mean that I’m the “World’s Greatest Detective” or anything like that. I'm not even the world’s second-greatest detective, or the third, or the fourth. Not even the world’s sixty-ninth-greatest detective. Though that would be nice.

 

I’m more of a half-decent detective myself. Like I said, I do my job, and I do my job right. But not stellarly, just… Decently. Though no one calls me “half-decent detective” except myself. It’s usually “Detective Sims” or “Mr. Sims” or “shut up, asshole!” Y’know, whatever works best for the situation. Half-Decent Detective is just a name I coin myself. I don’t consider myself an “Ultimate” Detective, just a half-decent one. Nothing wrong with being humble, eh?

 

Doesn’t change the fact that I think that I’m hot shit either way. But can you blame me? Admit it, you fell in love with me within the first hundred words or so, don't be shy.

 

But no matter what, something never sits right with me. In a world full of master detectives who can solve cases with the bat of their eye and master serial killers who can kill tens or hundreds of people without mercy…

 

What am I doing here? And how do I belong?

 

 

Wait, hold on. I gotta explain what “here” is first.

 

Well “here” sure as hell ain’t my apartment. First off, this mattress is WAY too cushy. And when I sit up and look around, this room is way too furnished and way too organized to be my apartment too. And it’s quiet. Too quiet.

 

So in summary, I’m in some weird fancy room I don’t recognize. Fun.

 

Maybe I should go back to bed. When I wake up, I’ll be back in my cozy apartment complex, ready to start a normal work day as usual. This is probably just some weird dream.

 

I lie back down, but a high-pitched voice chirps at me, jolting me back up.

 

???: Hiya hello hey! Good to see ya awake!

 

Sanguine: WOAAAAH! WHO’S THERE?!

 

Oh shit, someone’s in my room! I knew this kidnapping thing would happen eventually, but I didn't realize it would happen this soon! The government would have to take me out in some sort of assassination plot. They knew I was too powerful for them. It’s fight or beat the hell out of your kidnapper, Sanguine!

 

A different voice speaks. Not at me, but at the original voice. They have a duller, lower voice, but it oozes with condescension. 

 

????: Roxie-san, please. You’re scaring the house guest. For the eighteenth time.

 

Roxie?: I just spoke to them, Usher-onii-chan! You’re way too hard on me sometimes.

 

????: That’s Usher-san to you , Roxie-san. Don’t call me your “onii-chan.” That's disgusting.

 

Roxie?: Ruuude. You're no fun.

 

Usher?: "No fun" is my specialty.

 

I get back up and look around. There’s no one in my room. But where’s the voice coming from?? Oh fuck, those 100-year-old object legends were true, weren’t they? This bed is possessed!

 

I grab the nearest thing to me- a grey rectangle- and raise it at the bed.

 

Sanguine: Alright, cursed bed! Lemme whack the spirit out of you!

 

Roxie?: Bed? We’re not in the bed, dumbass! Check the freaking tablet you’re holding!

 

Usher?: Roxie, don’t call our house guest a “dumbass.”

 

Roxie?: This clown really thought we were in the bed though. Like, how stupid can you be?

 

Usher?: Give him some slack, he just woke up and he’s confused about his whereabouts, and we’ll give him none of the answers he would like to know right now. How unfortunate.

 

Yeah, I can definitely feel the condescension from here.

 

But the high-pitched voice (the one that called me a “dumbass,” excuse you) said to check the tablet. ... The one I’m holding. Ohhhhh. I lower it to look at it. There’s a white screen on it for now, with two icons on the screen, one pink and one gold. I guess one icon for each voice.

 

Sanguine: Uh, who are you two, exactly? I keep hearing the names “Roxie” and “Usher” be thrown around.

 

Roxie?: Well I was gonna introduce myself first before you yelled at me!

 

Sanguine: Then do it now, silly!

 

Roxie?: Right, right! Don’t nag on me like Usher-kun-

 

Usher: Usher- san

 

Roxie: Usher-tan does all the time, like he’s my dad or something. My name’s Roxie, your number one caretaker at the Midnight Manor!

 

Sanguine: Hi there, Roxie-san.

 

Roxie: Hehe, sup.

 

Usher?: (sighs) Roxie-san, you’re forgetting a lot as usual. But we’ll get to that. My name is Usher, your other caretaker here during your stay. Roxie-san and I are equals… For some reason.

 

Roxie: Hey, what’s that supposed to mean!

 

Usher: Anyways, there are some key details you must know before exiting this room. Keep this tablet with you at all times if you can help it. It is key for communication with us and others, as you can see now. It also contains key information as your stay here continues. Second, in regards to your stay, you are staying here at the Midnight Manor with seventeen other teenagers for an indefinite amount of time. More information to follow.

 

Sanguine: Hold on, indefinite?!

 

Usher: More information to follow. Third, there is only one rule as of now. Failure to follow this rule or any other rule established in the future will result in certain death. You are prohibited from revealing your real name to any of the others in this manor. You are to use an alias, as does everyone else. You will not know anyone’s name, nor will they know yours.

 

Sanguine: So… Are you gonna mind-wipe me into forgetting my own name?

 

Usher: What? No.

 

Sanguine: Cowards.

 

Roxie: I know, I know. What a shame, right?

 

Sanguine: What, so I gotta make my own codename or something to use? Ooh! How about “Hot Shit.” Or “Mr. Sexy?” Oh, oh. I've got it now. "The One and Only Kamisama." Which one do you prefer?

 

Roxie: Personally, I like “Hot Shit!”

 

Sanguine: Yeah, I think that’d work the best. 

 

Usher: Thankfully, we have already chosen an alias for you, so you will not need to undergo the… Mental energy needed to create your own.

 

Sanguine: Dang.

 

Usher: Mr. Sims, you are now no longer Sanguine Sims in this manor.

 

Sanguine: Thank god, that dude was a real prick.

 

Usher: You are now-

 

Roxie: (cuts Usher off) Protagonist! Congrats, Protagonist-san~. But you’ll always be Hot Shit in my heart. Mwah!

 

Usher: (sighs) Way to kill the moment.

 

Roxie: You would know of all people. Er, or of all something.

 

Protagonist: I’m now… Protagonist…?

 

Roxie: Thaaat’s right! And you’ve got a whole new world of folks to meet! But remember, if you reveal your real name to anyone at all, chop chop, snip snip! Accidents and slip of the tongues count too! So check yourself before you die a horrible death at the hands of us and wreck yourself!

 

Can they stop emphasizing this death thing? It’s freaking me out.

 

Protagonist: Okay then?

 

Not that I minded the name “Protagonist” though. I felt cool and special this way. Just… Throwing away the name I’ve lived with for… Uh, a long time? Just like that?

 

Really makes you think.

 

But there’s no time to get philosophical, Roxie's right. I’ve got new people to meet and new people to adore!

 

Roxie: That’s all folks! Over and out!

 

Usher: Roxie-san, stop ending all of your messages with copyrighted pop culture quotes-

 

Roxie: I AM THE LAW!

 

The voices cut off.

 

Roxie and Usher said to keep my tablet on me at all times… What’s on here anyways? I wonder if it’s got any games.

 

There are only two apps for now. One is a messaging app with a chat bubble and the other is an app with masks on it. The masks were your standard ancient Greek drama masks, one happy, one sad. I open the messaging app, but it’s empty. And the app with the masks only showed “previous call: 1 minute ago.” These don’t look like games, so this tablet was useless for now. At least it told me what time it was, which was 11:47 AM. I never got to sleep in this late.

 

I check out my room really quick. The bed was fancy and comfy, the bed stand had intricate wood carvings, a lavish, velvet sofa was aligned against one of the walls, and there were expensive-looking paintings hung up on the walls. Usher mentioned that I was a houseguest, so I wonder if I’d get in trouble or face financial consequences if I broke any of this expensive furniture. I’ll risk it later.

 

The closet was expansive (which was filled with my clothes, weird), and the bathroom was pristine clean too. Yeah, that wasn’t gonna last for long.

 

I take a look at myself in the full length mirror. I look the exact same as I remember, with my Gucci(™) SWAG glasses still on my face, my bright red hair a mess, and my sloppy outfit still put together from the last I remember.

 

Again, it should be illegal to be this cool. Thanks, God.

 

The two mentioned that there were seventeen others here. Guess I gotta get out of my room first if I wanna meet them.

 

I hesitantly stepped out of my room and slowly close my door. When I look around, there are eighteen other doors here, including mine, nine on one side and nine on the other. Were the others in their rooms…?

 

Another person slowly gets out of the room across from me. They see me and quickly walk towards me.

 

I check him out for a moment. He has pushed up black hair, wearing an orange ornament and a microphone attached to their cheek. Aside from that, he looks like a typical preppy high schooler that you’d see in movies. The kind the lead female would admire from afar that would ultimately become the source of that sweet first kiss and a high school romance by the end of the film. Could that mean-

 

???: Are you even listening to me?

 

Protagonist: Eh?

 

???: I said hi, what’s your name. And you didn’t respond. You know, like an asshole.

 

Protagonist: Oops, m’bad.

 

???: (shakes head) Whatever. (Looks at Protagonist up and down) Great first impression. You wouldn’t happen to know what the hell is going on here, would you? Or are you the bastard coordinating this kidnapping?

 

Protagonist: Woah, woah, chill! I’m as clueless as you are, bucko.

 

???: My name is- (stops for a moment) My name is Flare , excuse you.

 

Protagonist: What’s with that hesitation?

 

Flare: I was about to reveal my real name, but I remembered that was against the rules. So I caught myself. It’s nothing big, got it?

 

Protagonist: Nah it’s cool, m’dude.

 

Flare: And what is your name? I’ve been asking you since the moment I saw you.

 

Protagonist: Really? That sounds lowkey romantic, not gonna lie. Hm, maybe we were meant to be! And this is what this whole manor shtick is all about. So, whaddya say? Am I moving too fast, or are ya ready to-

 

Flare: For heaven’s sake, what the hell is your name!

 

Protagonist: Ah- Protagonist!

 

Flare: (groans) Oh, of course. You’re the important one around here.

 

Protagonist: Me? Important? You flatter me. (bats eyes through sunglasses)

 

Flare: I did not mean that in a good way.

 

Protagonist: Hey, important is important. I’ll take it.

 

Flare: Ugh, whatever.

 

A voice comes out of my tablet. It’s Roxie and Usher again.

 

Roxie: Hello hello! As you meet new people, the list of connections will become more available! Check it out!

 

Usher: … You have a new app. That's what you should check out.

 

Flare: You had to listen to them too?

 

Protagonist: Uh, yeah. It’s how I figured out about this whole thing.

 

I pull out the tablet. The first icon is now a black circle on a white background. I tap it.

 

There’s a whole list of question marks, but there are two spots where there aren’t question marks, but names. “Protagonist” and “Flare.”

 

I tap on my alias first, but nothing happens. So I try Flare’s name next. Their information pops up.  

Flaresprite by erythsea

Flare

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 176 lbs

Birthday: 7/02

Personal Quote: “Don’t you know who I am?”

 

From that personal quote, this guy seems like a total ray of sunshine. I couldn’t help but notice the “unknown” parts. Identity and alliance… Identity must’ve meant their real name, but what did alliance mean? Like… Good and evil or something?

 

Flare: I see.

 

Protagonist: You see what?

 

Flare: Well, it’s nice to meet you Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: (grins) You too, Flare-san!

 

He extends his hand out. I shake it for one second too long, which clearly bothers Flare.

 

Flare: Uh, well. We have sixteen others to meet, why don’t we go look for them together and make this more efficient?

 

Protagonist: You wanna go with me? Looks like we were truly meant to be! (swoons)

 

Flare: Not like that . Geez, why do you always have to make things so weird? I barely even know you-! (shakes head) You know what- let’s just go.

 

Heheh, I think Flare likes me.

 

Flare heads to the door at the end of the hallway and pushes it open. I wondered what would be behind that door.

 

MET: 2/18

Chapter Text

Whoever owns this place clearly is here to flex on us with how rich they are, god damn.

 

Like, seriously? As if the rooms weren’t bougie enough, the living room we walked into was HUGE, with a glass chandelier at the top of the high ceilings and the manor extending several floors up. The walls were adorned with patterned gold wallpaper. Talk about expensive, sheesh. And I thought I was living the high life in my humble abode.

 

Flare: Christ, what a rich fucker we have here. Who owns this place? And why? No one needs this much money.

 

Protagonist: (looks around) Honestly? Agreed.

 

Velvet sofas make a square shape in the center of the living room, and in the middle, a short boy stands there. He’s next to a small table with a vase full of bright yellow flowers.

 

Protagonist: Woah, are they real…?

 

I reach out to touch one. It feels soft and fragile in my hand. Yep, definitely real. The boy next to it nods.

 

???: Mhm. Chrysanthemums.

 

Upon further inspection, he’s rather… Short. His eyes are closed with heavy dark circles underneath, and he wears baggy clothing. He’s got a bright yellow streak in his dark hair as well. It looks more like he’s sleeping while standing up had he not spoken to us, which is a skill I need in my life.

 

Protagonist: Oh, yo there! What’s up?

 

???: Mm…

 

Protagonist: Uh, hello?

 

???: (rubs at eyes) Whuh… What do you want…?

 

Protagonist: Just wanted to say hi!

 

Flare: You were just talking to us, after all.

 

Protagonist: What are you doing standing here by yourself? You like the flowers?

 

???: (shrugs half-heartedly) They’re neat I guess. I just figured that uh…

 

His voice trails off.

 

Flare: (places hand on table) That what?

 

???: …

 

Flare: Hello??

 

???: Nngh… I’m sleepy.

 

Flare: No you aren’t, we’ve literally been knocked out for who knows how long! (snaps in front of his face) Wake yourself up already.

 

???: Nyeh, got me there.

 

Protagonist: Hey, good cop bad cop style. What’s your name, kid?

 

???: Uh… Gear? Gear. That’s it. I dunno why I’m named that, cuz I hate machines. Why can’t we just use our real names?

 

Protagonist: Eheh, well… We’ll die if we do that.

 

Flare: To be fair, a gear doesn’t have to correlate with machines. You could like biking, or it could be a state of mind, or-

 

Gear: Or none of those.

 

Protagonist: Gear! Awesome, sick name. I’m Protagonist, and that’s Flare-san.

 

Flare: I was talking .

 

Protagonist: I know.

 

Gear: Protagonist, Flare… Neat. I knew standing here and waiting for people to just come to me would work.

 

Protagonist: Oh! So you’ve met everyone already?

 

Gear: Mhm. So now I can go to sleep, finally. These sofas look comfy.

 

Flare: Fine, whatever. We just needed your name, that’s it.

 

Gear: Keheh… You’re a real asshole, Flare-kun. Were you ever hugged as a kid?

 

Flare: (sneers) Can it, worm.

 

Protagonist: Wow, okay! This got heated real fast. Way to go off on a positive note.

 

Gear: Maybe that’s why he’s named Flare, kyaha~

 

Flare: I said can it!

 

Protagonist: Y’know what? We’re just gonna… Go somewhere else for now. Enjoy your nap, Gear-san!

 

Gear: Nyeheh.

 

I drag away Flare by his hand and enter the first door I see. It’s across from the door leading to our bedrooms.

 

Gear seemed like a nice enough kid, which is good, but I had no idea what Flare’s problem was. Even though he gets really defensive, I had a feeling he wasn’t hiding anything. He was just naturally like this.

 

Flare: Thank goodness, that kid was getting on my nerves. I hope everyone else isn’t like him.

 

Protagonist: Pshaw, knowing you, everyone’s gonna get on your nerves somehow.

 

Flare: (snaps) And what do you know? You barely know me!

 

Protagonist: (smugly) My point exactly.

 

Flare: I have half a mind to turn around this instant and leave you alone!

 

Protagonist: But you’re the one who said this would be more efficient.

 

Flare: Yeah- Well-

 

Protagonist: Hey look, a dining room!

 

The hallway led to a large dining room, with long tables covered in white tablecloth adorned with vases and candles, as well as an extensive kitchen in the back. I see two people talking in the kitchen, so I headed their way.

 

One of them has bright red hair tied back, while the other has green hair swept to the side.

It looks like it’s Christmas or something.

 

Flare: What was that?

 

Protagonist: Did I say that out loud?

 

Flare: (presses fingers to sides of head) Yes, yes you did.

 

Thankfully, the two didn’t notice us, since they were in the middle of having their own conversation.

 

Red: No no, I insist! I feel at home in the kitchen, so I can cook meals for everyone. It shouldn’t be your burden!

 

Green: (laughs lightly) No, it’s fine, really. I wouldn’t want to trouble you either. And I can handle it myself, don’t worry.

 

Red: At least let us take turns! It would be unfair to make you cook for eighteen every day, especially if you don’t want to.

 

Green: There’s no problem, seriously. Please, don’t bother yourself, I’d feel really bad if you did.

 

Red: Still, taking turns would be a fair enough compromise, no? We could alternate! Please, I insist!

 

Green: Er…

 

I can tell Green over there is pretty uncomfortable. I’d better step in.

 

Protagonist: Yo! Sup. Neat place this is, huh?

 

Red: Oh, hello there! Swain-san and I were just talking about our meal status here. There’s no food prepared, but there are plenty of ingredients to make anything you want!

 

So Green is named Swain?

 

Swain?: I offered to cook, but Puppet-san wants to as well.

 

Puppet?: Please, it’s not just a desire! It would be my honor to cook for such lovely youth as yourself!

 

Swain?: (laughs lightly again) You’re not much older yourself, judging from your information in the app. We’re not children, Puppet-san.

 

Puppet?: Ah, well, my point still stands! Let me cook! Please! … Pretty please?

 

Flare: Hold on, so you’re Swain (points to Green), and you’re Puppet? (points to Red)

 

Puppet: That’s right! My greatest pleasure to meet you.

 

Swain: (nods) Yeah.

 

Puppet: And tell us your names in return, kind gentlemen!

 

Flare: (flattered) Well, my name Flare. It’s quite… Refreshing to meet you.

 

Puppet: (goggles glint and grins) I’ll take that as a compliment, Flare-kun.

 

Swain: (nudges Protagonist) And you?

 

Protagonist: Ah! Protagonist, at your service. (curtsies a little for added dramatic effect)

 

Puppet: Protagonist-kun! Lovely to meet you!

 

Puppet gives me a big hug. Finally, some physical contact! This is the content that I’m here for.

 

Puppet: Please, if you have anything you’d like to eat, just let me know! I can whip it up in a jiffy!

 

Swain: Or, uh. Let me know. That works too.

 

Protagonist: No worries, I can cook for myself, but thank you for the offer!

 

Puppet: (beams) My pleasure!

 

Flare: We should probably wait until we learn more about our situation here before we start worrying about cooking and food.

 

Puppet: But food is vital for survival, no?

 

Flare: I mean yeah, but… Well, that’s not what I meant.

 

Protagonist: Though could I ask you two something?

 

Swain: Sure-

 

Puppet: Of course! What do you need to know?

 

Protagonist: What else is there to explore here? If you guys know, of course. See, Flare-san and I just woke up.

 

Puppet: Oh, you poor things!

 

Swain: This is the ground floor, which has this place, our rooms, and the living room.

 

Puppet: There are four floors total, including this one! Try giving it a look, there’s everything you could ever want to have and could never imagine to have in a house! It’s safe to say I’ve never lived in a place like this, haha.

 

Swain: Mm, same here.

 

Protagonist: Awesome! Thanks so much, you two.

 

Puppet: My pleasure!

 

Flare: Yes, thanks for your help.

 

A domesticated Flare? Guess you just gotta rub him the right way that Puppet did by being super nice and Swain did by being… Super lowkey. But they seemed nice too! We’re off to a good start with these folks.

 

Puppet: Mhm!

 

Swain: Yeah, no problem. Let me know if you need anything. We’ll just continue our. Cooking talk. If you need us.

 

They return to their conversation, and we return back to the living room. Gear is gone, so I guess he really did go and take a nap or something. And since he had met everyone, he didn’t need to hang around in the living room either.

 

Puppet mentioned that there wasn’t anything else on this floor, and that everything else was on the three floors above us. So the only way to advance was to go up. I look up to the ceiling of the manor at the chandelier again, curious of what was to come. The doors, the stairs, this whole manor was filled with mystery.

 

… Wait, stairs? Ah geez, does that mean we have to seriously climb three flights of stairs to get to everything? That fucking blows. Please say there’s an elevator somewhere in this rich ass mansion. They could at least afford that around here if whoever owns this place is oh-so rich.

 

NEW INFORMATION:

 

Gear

Gender: Demiboy (he/they)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 15

Height: 5"3"

Weight: 123 lbs

Birthday: 10/30

Personal Quote: “Boring… I think I might fall asleep.”

Puppet

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5’6”

Weight: 163 lbs

Birthday: 4/06

Personal Quote: “It’s important to believe in everyone around you, especially yourself!”

Alias: Swain

Gender: Agender (they/them)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 16

Height: 5’2”

Weight: 104 lbs

Birthday: 3/28

Personal Quote: “A quote from me? But I’m no one special, really. Honestly.”

 

 

MET: 5/18

Chapter Text

First flight of stairs done, no sign of elevator. Again, this blows. There better not be anything of importance on the top floor in this case.

 

I look down over the railing at the living room. It’s neat to see how these floors connect. Just like the first floor, there’s two ways you can go, left or right. But on the right side, there are two doors. So Flare and I head left first to put off the oh-so stressful decision-making. Instead of a hallway, the door leads to an expansive room, with rows of chairs in a sloped formation and an elevated platform at the bottom. The room is a dark, crimson red. It’s a theater.

 

Though the room is big, I can hear a faint voice singing. It’s coming from the stage.

 

Flare: Who is singing? (looks around)

 

Protagonist: Another person to meet, clearly.

 

We walk down to the stage, and the voice becomes clearer. They aren’t singing anything in particular, just a melody of “la”s. Still, it sounded nice.

 

The voice is coming from a kid with a baseball cap sitting on the edge of the stage, his legs swinging as he sings.

 

Protagonist: Hey! What are you singing?

 

???: Huh? Oh! Hiiii! (waves) Love your glasses. Very classy!

 

Protagonist: Hell yeah, I knew these were a good investment.

 

Flare: (clears throat) Hello.

 

???: (makes a peace sign) These theater acoustics are beautiful! Really appreciate whoever owns this place going the extra mile to accommodate things. 

 

Protagonist: No kidding. We could hear your voice all the way from the top row!

 

???: Ooh, how’d it sound? I bet it sounded good.

 

Protagonist: It did, actually!

 

???: Knew it~!

 

Protagonist: Though what were you singing?

 

???: Ah, nothing of importance. It was from a musical I liked. It’s from the west, but it’s still very unique today! Though I didn’t play the part of the character who sings that tune. I played a different character.

 

Flare: You mean you were in that musical?

 

???: Yep! At least, when it was showing. I’m a bit of an actor myself, haha~ I don’t know why I have to go by an alias when I’m sure everyone recognizes my face already! (gives a grin and a peace sign)

 

Flare: I have never seen you before, ever.

 

His bright face immediately falls into a frown.

 

???: Oh. I see.

 

Protagonist: Hey! I’m sure someone in this manor recognizes you, right?

 

His face lights up again, stars literally appearing in his eyes.

 

???: Oh, yeah! A short girl with blonde hair, oh! And another guy with black and red hair!

 

Flare: We haven’t seen anyone like that.

 

Protagonist: (nudges Flare) That’s because we’ve met a total of like, three people.

 

Flare: Okay, fair.

 

???: They’re good people, I know it. You should get to know them!

 

Flare: What were their names?

 

???: Hm... (sticks out tongue playfully) Don’t remember.

 

Flare: (rolls eyes) How thoughtful. Could you at least tell us your name? Unless you've forgotten that too?

 

???: Why of course! The name’s Nebula, the world’s greatest star in the making! 

 

Flare: (unimpressed) Well, it’s nice to meet you, Nebula-san. Good luck on… Your endeavors in acting, I suppose.

 

Protagonist: (nudges Flare) Would it kill you to at least pretend to be a little impressed?

 

Flare: I’m not really into the theater scene, so I wouldn't know. 

 

Nebula: Thankfully, I am! Now quick, I need your names to fill out this collection of aliases.

 

Flare: Protagonist and Flare.

 

Flare has… zero chill.

 

Nebula: Sweet, thanks! If you’d like, you could stick around and listen to me sing some more. I'm always open for an audience. 

 

Flare: No, we have more people to meet.

 

Nebula: (shrugs) Your loss. 

 

Protagonist: Bye Nebula-kun! See ya later!

 

Nebula: (waves) Byyyye!

 

Flare leads the way out of the theater. Once we’re out of there and the door is completely shut, he starts talking.

 

Flare: Ranked, I’d say I like Puppet-san the most. Then Swain-san, then Nebula-san, and then Gear… Kun.

 

Protagonist: Where do I fit on that list?

 

Flare: I’m not answering that.

 

Protagonist: C’mon pleaaaase? I'm the guy who met you first! I must have some special privileges or somehting! I gotta know what you think! Is it cuz you don’t wanna say it to my face? I won’t get mad if I’m behind Gear-kun even.

 

I cling onto Flare adoringly, and he just scowls at me. Hey, it’s something.

 

Flare: Not. Answering.

 

Protagonist: (holds tighter) Please, Flare-san? I’ll do anything!

 

Flare: Then- Tell you what. We meet everyone, then I’ll tell you where you stand. But you can’t get offended.

 

Protagonist: Awesome, you’ve got a deal! I’d never get offended at what anyone thinks of me.

 

The right side of the second floor has two doors.

 

Protagonist: Which to choose, left or right?

 

Flare: Does it matter? (walks through the left door)

 

Guess it doesn’t. But that’s what I like about Flare, he’s so impatient~.

 

The room inside is a sterile white, with a curtain partially covering a small bed and a rolling table next to it. Across from the bed, there’s a counter with a sink and a cabinet over it. A girl with hair in a side bun is looking through an open cabinet.

 

???: Pain meds, cough medicine, headache pills, ugh, where’s the good stuff?

 

Protagonist: What are you looking for?

 

???: (ignores him) Sleeping medicine… Oh! This is some good stuff.

 

She pulls out a small, clear pill container, shaking it a little. When she turns to us, I notice I can’t see either of her eyes, one covered by an eyepatch, and the other covered by some bangs.

 

???: Secobarbital. Actual sleeping medicine, but even a little more than half a milligram can kill ya. Fun, right?  

 

Flare: Hold on, give me that! (snatches the container) You’re only allowed to use this only prescribed use. It’s dangerous otherwise!

 

???: Well you don’t see any doctors or pharmacists around here, do ya?

 

Flare: My point exactly. Don’t go around handling shit that can easily kill you. Or others, for that matter.

 

???: Death doesn’t phase me, young man. (reaches for the container) 

 

Flare: Oh, edgy. I’m so scared of you. (raises container up) Don’t fuck around like that!

 

???: Heh, someone’s bothered. You must be fun at parties.

 

Flare: I don’t go to parties.

 

???: (crosses arms) Did you really admit that out loud? That's sad. 

 

Protagonist: Look, all Flare-san’s saying is just to be careful! We wouldn’t want anyone to die or get seriously hurt in this place.

 

???: Sweet of you to try and care, hun. But trust me, I’ll be fiiine.

 

Flare: What, are you some licensed pharmacist yourself?

 

???: Nah. I just know what I’m doing.

 

Flare: What are you then?

 

???: Soldier. Name, not occupation. (extends both of her hands out) The pleasure is all yours.

 

Protagonist: (takes hand and shakes it lightly) Nice to meet you, Soldier-san. I’m Protagonist!

 

Soldier: Protagonist, huh? Aw, I’m jealous, I wish I was named Protagonist. (tosses hair aside) But alas, I’m merely a Soldier. 

 

Protagonist: Soldier’s a cool name regardless!

 

Soldier: Yeah, yeah. Being dispensable sure is cool. (points to Flare) And Protag-kun mentioned that your name is Flare?

 

Flare: Yeah, that’s me.

 

Soldier: Good to know. You two are a pretty fun couple, heheh. 

 

Flare: We’re not dating.

 

Protagonist: Yet.

 

Flare: Stop that!

 

Soldier: Kyaha! So cute.

 

Flare: (flusterd) Uh, changing the subject, what’s behind that door?

 

Soldier: Eh, just a garden greenhouse whatever of sorts. It’s where the door on the right leads to.

 

Protagonist: So in the end our choice didn’t actually matter all too much.

 

Soldier: Y’know what they say, F is for futile, as in, “your life is futile.” Kyaha!

 

Flare: Edgy once again.

 

Soldier: Heheh.

 

Protagonist: We’ll see you around, Soldier-kun.

 

Soldier: Oh, you will. 

 

How ominous. 

 

We leave Soldier behind and head to the garden. The walls and ceiling are made of glass, and there’s a lush green everywhere, but something sees off. Even though the walls are transparent… I can’t see a thing through them.

 

I can see through the glass, yeah, but I can’t see that far thanks to a dense fog.

 

Protagonist: Bad weather day?

 

Flare: Perhaps, but… Fog shouldn't be this close to us. We should at least see through some of it. Something feels off.

 

Protagonist: Maybe that’s just you. Or maybe it's just a really powerful fog machine. 

 

Flare: I’m just being cautious. Nothing wrong with that.

 

Protagonist: Let’s focus on this garden instead! What’s in here, more pretty flowers?

 

???: Some. There’s also some vegetable plants, as well as herbs for cooking, tea, and medicine.

 

Protagonist: Huh? 

 

I turn to the voice behind me. There’s a girl wearing a pink and orange coat covering the majority of her body. She wears a medical mask too, covering everything but her eyes.

 

???: I’m no licensed practitioner, but I know my plants.

 

Protagonist: Hiya!

 

Flare: Judging from the comment, I see you’ve met Soldier-kun too.

 

???: (sighs) Yeah, she found some medicine that you really should not be tampering with. It could be easily poisonous in the wrong dosages.

 

Flare: Sounds about right. I was telling her that too. 

 

???: At least nothing here is too harmful. No poisonous or dangerous plants here, just ones that smell nice and cure headaches. Of course, everything is harmful in the wrong dosages.

 

Flare: Thank goodness. I don’t want everything here to be a death trap waiting to be consumed. What’s your name, anyways?

 

???: Pearl. And yours?

 

Flare: I’m Flare.

 

Protagonist: And I’m Protagonist!

 

Pearl: Self-centered much?

 

Protagonist: Eheh, I didn’t exactly name myself. (shrugs)

 

Pearl: You’re right. Those two- Roxie-san and Usher-san- did. They give me bad vibes. I don't really get these names. Like, why are you Protagonist?

 

Protagonist: I wish I could tell you. 

 

Flare: Glad we’re on the same page. Just who are those two?

 

Pearl: Guess we’ll find out later.

 

Suddenly, there’s a high pitched noise coming from the ceiling, and then it starts… Raining?

 

Pearl: They’re watering the plants automatically. We just happen to be here at the wrong time. But it’ll end soon enough.

 

Flare: Bleh, I’d rather not stay here any longer in that case.

 

He brushes past Pearl, and I shrug at her and walk past too.

 

Just around the corner, the door opens, and someone walks in. He’s tall and wears a brown hat.

 

???: Ah shit, what the fuck? It’s raining in here. Hold on.

 

He extends his arm out, and I see a second person with this guy. A shorter person, with long hair of different shades of brown.

 

Long: A-Ah… Thank you, Wolf-kun.

 

The water dies down, and they enter. I walk up to the two.

 

Protagonist: Hey there! Is your name Wolf? 

 

Wolf?: (scowls) Oi! What do you want?

 

Protagonist: Just wanted to introduce myself- Well, ourselves! (gestures to Flare)

 

Wolf?: What, you in on this kidnapping scheme or somethin’? You with those freaky voices? 

 

Protagonist: Nope. Just as clueless as you are.

 

Flare: At least, that’s what he says.

 

Protagonist: And that's what he says. Okay, but seriously, don't suspect us. We're innocent! 

 

Wolf?: And what about you, fucker?

 

Flare: The name’s Flare. Don’t call me such obscenities. . 

 

Wolf?: I’ll call you whatever I damn well please, fucker.

 

Flare: You picking a fight with me?

 

Wolf?: You really think that’s a good idea?

 

Protagonist: Okay, yeah, sorry Flare-san, but I’m gonna have to agree with this guy over here. He’s taller and way more… Muscly than you are. No offense.

 

Flare: I could take him down in a verbal fight any day.

 

Wolf?: That’s not how the real world works.

 

Flare: Oh really? Point to me when politics have been settled by fist fights.

 

Protagonist: Uhhh Charles Sumner. Though he was caned, not beaten by fists. Still that’s something physical.

 

Wolf?: I dunno who that is, but I bet he lost that fight for being such a fucking smartass. 

 

Protagonist: He did! He also had no cane and was defenseless as a result, so that ended up as well as you would think.

 

Long: Please… Um, let’s not fight.

 

Wolf?: (takes a deep breath and calms down) You’re right. Sorry, Spring-chan.

 

Spring?: I-It’s okay, but… It’s only been one day. Stay safe, please? (takes a step back)

 

Wolf?: Yeah. I will.

 

Protagonist: Wolf and Spring?

 

Wolf?: (snaps) Fuck off!

 

So much for staying calm. 

 

Spring: Y-Yes… That’s us.

 

Wolf?: Um, right. I’m Wolf.

 

Spring: (looks to the side, not looking at anyone) … Spring.

 

Protagonist: Nice to meet you two! I promise I won’t pick any fights with y’all. Or anyone here.

 

Wolf: Makes you better than that fucker over. (nods to Flare)

 

Flare: Ugh, don't-! ... Whatever.

 

Protagonist: Don’t mind him! I think we form quite the power couple ourselves, honestly.

 

Wolf: You’re dating?

 

Protagonist: God, I-

 

Flare: We are not!

 

Protagonist: Yet.

 

Flare: Stop saying that! I barely know you!

 

Protagonist: Maybe if I keep saying it-

 

Flare: I'm gonna stop you there. Stop saying it.

 

Wolf: Well, whatever floats your boat. Just don’t pull any shit like this ever again, go it fucker? And if either of you lay a hand on Spring I will personally rip your spinal cords out of your backs.

 

Flare: What’s your deal with her?

 

Wolf: Why you-

 

Spring: (pipes in) W-We’re childhood friends!

 

Wolf: … Yeah. That's it.

 

Flare: Then why bother using aliases? Don’t you know each others names then?

 

Spring: Um… (hides behind Wolf partially)

 

Wolf: No. We don’t. And I don’t have the slightest idea why. But don’t doubt our friendship, got it?

 

Flare: Yeah, yeah. This whole thing is just suspicious. Why can’t we remember actors’ faces? Childhood friends’ names?

 

Protagonist: And we’ve barely even met half of this group.

 

Wolf: Just leave us fucking out of it. 

 

Flare: Right. Let’s get going Protagonist.

 

Wolf and Spring step to the side as Flare confidently walks past them. I wave at the two with a small grin, saying “sorry ‘bout that”  for Flare mentally. Wolf scowls, and Spring nods slightly. I follow Flare o nto the next floor.

 

NEW INFORMATION:

Nebula

Gender: Genderfluid (he/they/she)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5'5"

Weight: 141 lbs

Birthday: 5/29

Personal Quote: "A star is born - that star being me!"

Soldier

Gender: Demigirl (she/they)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5'7"

Weight: 132 lbs

Birthday: 9/19

Personal Quote: "Heh."

Pearl

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5'4”

Weight: 95 lbs

Birthday: 4/04

Personal Quote: "What? No."

Wolf

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 196 lbs

Birthday: 8/17

Personal Quote: "Fuck outta here. I don't wanna see your face."

Spring

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5'1"

Weight: 112 lbs

Birthday: 3/20

Personal Quote: "Hm..."

 

MET: 10/18

Chapter Text

Time for the third floor.

 

This time, the two doors were on the left, and the one door was on the right. So right it is!

 

The door led to a massive library. It was two floors more than anything, with tall bookshelves stretching towards the ceiling.

 

Flare: Look at all these books! I wonder what's in here?

 

Protagonist: (nods) I wonder as well. (sighs loudly) If only I could read.

 

Flare gives me a weird look.

 

Flare: You're… illiterate?

 

Protagonist: Haha, what?? No! No, I swear! It's a joke dude! I'm not being serious, haha. I can read… Totally.

 

Flare: I'm not sure if I'm convinced. Your inflections tell me otherwise.

 

Protagonist: I read your profile! There! See? I can read.

 

Flare: Ah, right. (not convinced) 

 

???: Can you stop talking about your literacy skills in a library ?

 

A tall, skinny guy with glasses walks up to us. They're already carrying several thick books. Weird flex, but okay.

 

???: If you can’t read, you don’t have any business in a library. You’re disrupting my thoughts.

 

I enjoy how they’re more bothered about being disturbed over the possibility of an eighteen-year-old being illiterate. I just find that neat.

 

Protagonist: I'd assume you can read? Pfft, show off. Don’t have to flex your knowledge on us or anything.

 

???: (pushes up glasses) I'd certainly hope you had some sort of competence… Er, reading, as a high schooler.

 

Protagonist: And what if I couldn't? Gonna read your books to me? Teach me something new? (bats eyes behind sunglasses)

 

???: (frowns) I mean, I can't imagine you'd be terribly interested in Newton's ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,’ to be frank.

 

Protagonist: … Yeaaah, you win. Can't fake interest in that. Rest assured, I can most definitely read.

 

???: Hm, I'd thought so.

 

Flare: Why would you read that? Do you hate yourself or something?

 

???: Because I haven't read it before, and this library just so happened to have it. Might as well use my time here to do something productive and learn something new.

 

Flare frowns at that. Does he hate smart people? Or maybe he's attracted to morons, and if that's the case, I've got just the guy for him.

 

Flare: What's your name, anyways?

 

???: Glasses.

 

Flare: Right, aliases…

 

Glasses: I'm afraid I'm not so willing to give up my real name and my life for the sake of quenching your curiosity. Perhaps we'll learn each other's real names soon enough, once we learn more about our situation. But for now, aliases will have to do.

 

Flare: I guess so, yeah. Mine is Flare, by the way.

 

Protagonist: And mine is Protagonist!

 

Glasses: (nods head slightly) It's nice to meet you both. Now if you excuse me…

 

Glasses brushes past the two of us, sitting themselves down at a table and opening up a thick book to read.

 

Protagonist: What was that about?

 

Flare: What was what about?

 

Protagonist: Why'd you ask for his real name?

 

Flare: (frowns) I thought I knew him from somewhere.

 

Protagonist: From where?

 

Flare: I don’t know, okay? Just… A gut feeling.

 

Protagonist: My gut says I’m hungry.

 

Flare: Really don’t care. But Glasses-san does raise a point. We really don’t know much about our situation, do we? We all just woke up in this strange- this-

 

Protagonist: The Midnight Manor.

 

Flare: Again, don’t care. And all of a sudden we have these two strange voices talking to us? We don’t even know what they look like! And what’s this about identities and alliances?

 

Protagonist: I think you’re overthinking things. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

Flare: We could die, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, but you’re probably overthinking things. If we were to die, we’d probably be dead by now.

 

Flare: I suppose so. No bother stuffing us up in this ritzy mansion or anything.

 

Protagonist: Manor. Though... What's the difference?

 

Flare: A manor is the most important house out of many. A mansion-

 

Protagonist: I didn’t actually expect you to know, smarty-pants.

 

Flare: It’s common knowledge, is it not?

 

Protagonist: Nooo… Do you own a manor or somethin’? You secretly hiding out your massive inheritance on me?

 

Flare: What? No! I’m a middle class citizen, just like anyone else.

 

Protagonist: Oh, good. Hate for you to get eaten once the proletariat finally arise in revolution and eat the rich.

 

Flare: … What?

 

???: No offense, but could you guys keep it down? It’s a library, after all.

 

????: Don’t mind him…

 

Flare: Who’s there?

 

The voices came from some computers. There are two rows of them, and a tall, blonde boy stands next to one of them, while someone in red is seated at one of the computers. Around them is a short, stout, blonde girl in white.

 

Flare: Computers…? That means outside communication!

 

Flare rushes over. Guess I should follow, of course~.

 

The boy? In red speaks up.

 

Red: Um… Sadly, no! There’s no internet here. At all.

 

White: We’ve tried accessing the internet… No luck.

 

Flare: What? Then what’s the point of there being computers if you can’t access the internet?

 

The blonde guy answers that question. He’s twirling the wire from his headphones around his finger, seeming more interested in that than us.

 

Blonde: There’s a huge music base downloaded, so if you wanted to listen to anything, these computers have it.

 

White: It does have its perks…

 

Red: Oh! Lots of episodes from your favorite shows, too! I can watch all the anime I want, eheh.

 

Blonde: Yeah, that’s neat.

 

Red: Do you like anime, Dust-san? (points to the girl) What about you, Carmen-san? Oh, and what about you two? (turns to Flare and Protagonist)

 

Carmen?: I’ve never watched anime before… But I definitely would be curious.

 

Red: Ah, I could show you! We can start with my favorites- do you like magical girls?

 

Carmen?: Magical… What?

 

Flare: (turns nose) As if I like anime. I don’t have time to waste on children’s play.

 

Red: (deflates) … Oh.

 

Protagonist: Don’t mind him. He can be quite the grouch.

 

Flare: What? Would you rather me lie instead?

 

Protagonist: We've been over this before.  Rather you be just a tad more sensitive, Flare-san.

 

Flare: Ugh.

 

Protagonist: But to answer your question! Personally, I’m not super into anime, but I like watching it from time to time. I spend more of my time on video games.

 

Flare: Don’t even get me started on those.

 

Dust?: Video games?

 

Carmen?: I’ve never played those either…

 

Dust?: Wait, seriously?

 

Protagonist: Yeah, that’s what I use my free time- and money- on these days.

 

Red: I think these computers have some games too…! But of course you couldn’t connect online and play, so hope you like single player mode.

 

Dust?: Fine by me. These bad boys of mine don’t need any internet, just charge, so I win.

 

The blonde kid, Dust, probably, takes out a small, rectangular device and flips it open. It’s like one of those… Really old phones, but big. I vaguely recognize it, but… Wow, that’s so out of date?

 

Protagonist: Seriously? You’re into that kinda old stuff? I’m more into the more modern stuff, like Elder Scrolls XXIII.

 

Flare: You could just say 23.

 

Dust?: (frowns) Did you really spend your money on that? The originals are much cheaper and far superior, anyways.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, well, I like my video game graphics hyperrealistic. Makes me feel like I’m really in it. Like LARPing, but without actual people to play with.

 

Dust?: At the cost of legitimate gameplay, clearly.

 

Flare: Are you two arguing over video games?

 

Dust?: Yes. I thought that was obvious.

 

Carmen?: Um… (looking back and forth) I’m so confused…

 

Rose?: Honestly? Me too. 

 

Flare: God, please don’t tell me you’re a NEET.

 

Dust?: Mm… Not that I’m aware of, no. Awfully rude of you to accuse me of unproductive because I happen to like video games that are older than 10 years old. Or video games in general.

 

Flare: Say that again, but listen to how pretentious you sound. You’re definitely a NEET.

 

Protagonist: (places hands on Flare's shoulders) Haha, Flare-san, love ya, but can you not get into a fight with literally everyone you meet?

 

Flare: What are you talking about?

 

Protagonist: I’m saying to chill the fuck out right now.

 

Red: Ah, no worries. It’s exciting to see bright personalities here! It’s an honor to meet you two.

 

Flare: Glad someone appreciates it. What’s your alias, anyways?

 

Red: Rose! And before you ask- Please just refer to me with neutral pronouns! They, them… Yeah.

 

Flare: Oh. Understood. Nice to meet you, Rose-san.

 

Rose: (beams) Likewise! Um…

 

Flare: Flare.

 

Rose: Flare!

 

Protagonist: (gestures to the girl) And Rose-san mentioned you were Carmen?

 

Carmen?: (nods) Yes, that would be me. Nice to meet you. (bows slightly)

 

Protagonist: And you? (turns to Dust?)

 

Dust?: … (busy playing video games)

 

Protagonist: Helllo? Earth to... You!

 

Dust?: Huh? Oh. Yeah. I’m Dust.

 

Protagonist: Great! Pleasant first impressions with ya, Dust-san. Y'know... Video games. 

 

Dust: I shall assume that’s sarcasm.

 

Protagonist: Sorta, but first impressions are always important.

 

Flare: You clearly care so much about them.

 

Protagonist: You’d be surprised, Flare-san~.

 

Rose: What’s your name? You haven’t told us yet!

 

Protagonist: Oh! Right, sorry. I’m Protagonist!

 

Rose: Woah… So cool! I feel like I’m in the presence of someone important right now!

 

Protagonist: Aha, nah. But I do appreciate the glory.

 

Rose: It’s um, it’s very nice to meet your Protagonist-senpai! You as well, Flare-san! (bows)

 

Flare: Hold on, what’s with those honorifics?

 

Protagonist: (basking in glory) Heheheheh I’m not complaining.

 

Rose: Well, with a name like Protagonist, you’ve gotta be important, right? The most important! It’s only right I treat him as such! I’m sure he’s destined for an epic and exciting adventure- I’m so jealous!

 

Protagonist: Aw, shucks. You flatter me so, Rose-san.

 

What a sweetheart. … Did they mean it though?

 

And GOD no one’s called me -senpai before. Feels good, man.

 

Flare: I feared as much. Of course he’s the one named Protagonist.

 

Dust: Maybe Protagonist will save us all… Or some plot like that.

 

Protagonist: Trust me, I can’t be that special! Never was, never will be. But by all means… Do keep calling me senpai. I shall gratefully eat up my fifteen minutes of fame.

 

Rose: Gotcha, Protagonist-senpai!

 

Protagonist: Eheheh.

 

Flare: Alright, don’t get too big of a head, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Oof.

 

Flare literally drags me by the ear away from Rose and Dust. I wave gleefully at them. Rose returns the enthusiasm and Dust doesn’t look up from his game. Carmen waves slightly. I realize Rose and Carmen were the ones Nebula was referring to. He was right. They’re good folks, I’m sure of it.

 

Flare drags me out of the library, and we’re back out in the halls. I give him a grin.

 

Protagonist: Jealous?

 

Flare: Quiet, you.

 

Protagonist: Aw, you don’t gotta be. I can call you Senpai if ya want.

 

Flare: We’re the same age.

 

Protagonist: This implying that if we weren’t, you’d like me to…?

 

Flare: Let’s just-!

 

Flare drags me into one of the doors across from where we were. We're greeted to bright lights and… A lot of machines?

 

Okay, that's a bit dramatic. As usual. But it's not a mechanized room, all the machines are controlled by people. They're exercise machines.

 

There's a small rack of towels to the side next to a water cooler and a tray of fruit. Whoever owns this place really went the extra mile here. Is anyone actually gonna use these things? Aside from me, obviously. I heard I was ripped. That I was shredded.

 

Someone is in the room, in fact, but they’re not using any of the machines. They’re looking at a mirror that covers the entire side of one of the walls. Wait, he’s just looking at himself. Geez, how self-centered, who would do such a thing?

 

They have short, silver hair with a noticeable cowlick sticking out of the otherwise neat hair. From their reflection I can see that they wear a surgical mask, similar to Pearl’s, but it’s pale with no pattern. Their eyes are a bright gold, and they wear a blue suit with pink accents. Overall a pretty fancy guy.

 

???: Salutations.

 

Protagonist: Whuh- You saw us?!

 

???: Well, yes. It is a mirror, after all? I can see you clearly.

 

Protagonist: Aha, right. I’m used to being such a master of stealth.

 

Flare: No you aren't. 

 

???: (nods) Of course.

 

Flare: What are you doing here, um…

 

???: Duke.

 

Flare: Duke-san?

 

Duke nods. He hasn’t actually turned to look at us, and instead he eyes our reflections in the mirror.

 

Duke: Merely exploring. I had no intention of using the machines themselves. ‘Fraid I’d rip my suit.

 

Their… Tone? Voice? Changed for a moment. 

 

Protagonist: Your suit would get shredded? Why? You secretly buff or something? Are you the hidden bara in our group? 

 

Duke: Wut. I mean-

 

There it is again!

 

Protagonist: Kidding, kidding!

 

Flare: Teasing isn’t fun, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Neither is picking fights every five minutes, Flare-san. (sticks out tongue)

 

Flare: Whatever.

 

Duke: What I meant to say is… The physical force exerted by me and my suit would be too much too handle, and as a result, this expensive suit of mine would surely be ruined. It's very expensive. My apologies.

 

Protagonist: Hey, you got nothing to apologize for!

 

Duke: I merely lost my composure for a moment. My-

 

Flare: We get it.

 

Duke: I see then. You two mentioned your names were… Protagonist and Flare?

 

Protagonist: Yep! (flashes a peace sign) Protagonist.

 

Flare: (rolls eyes) Flare.

 

Duke: Lovely to meet y’all- Um, you two. Absolutely fantastic, yes.

 

Flare: Yeah, I’m sure.

 

Duke: Your tone sounded awfully sarcastic.

 

Flare: Gee, I wonder why.

 

Duke: You’re doing it again.

 

Flare: I’m aware? That’s kind of the point of being sarcastic.

 

Duke: Ah, I see.

 

Time to do what I do best- divert the conversation before Flare physically fights someone. Gosh, it’s only been a couple hours, but what would he do without me? Haha.

 

Protagonist: Hey, Duke-san! What’s through that door?

 

I point to a door on the same side as the mirror. The door itself isn’t a mirror, of course. That would just be cruel.

 

Duke: More athletic activities. There’s quite the large pool as well as a room set aside for what I believe to be relaxation, possibly.

 

Protagonist: A pool and spa! Sweet.

 

Duke: It’s quaint enough, in my opinion.

 

Flare: (eyes shift to the side) Do we have swimsuits to swim in, though?

 

Duke: (presses finger to where his mouth should be) Well, I don’t recall bringing any swimsuits with me here, or anything for that matter. Nor did I find any swimsuits at the pool. Now that would be a sanitary nightmare. There are however, some towels.

 

Flare: Oh, so no swimsuits, no swimming?

 

Duke: Well I haven’t fully examined my room yet. Perhaps there will be our swimsuits in our respective rooms. Or perhaps those two voices, Roxie and Usher, may provide us some with need be.

 

Flare: Well I haven’t checked my room for swimsuits either, but… I don’t think I’ll need to request one if the latter is true.

 

Flare has no need for a swimsuit and feels uncomfortable on the topic of swimming. Hm… Wait… Does that mean…?!

Protagonist: Flare-san, you’re a skinny dipper?!

 

As soon as I say that, I’m flicked upside the head by Flare.

 

Protagonist: Ow!

 

Flare: Excuse me, Duke-san. Nice to meet you. But excuse us for a moment.

 

Duke: Of course. Nice meeting y’a- You two.

 

Flare doesn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye to Duke before he drags me into the mirror door, leading into the pool.

 

Flare: Why the hell would you say that, much less in front of someone we have literally just met?! Now Duke thinks I’m a freak!

 

Protagonist: What, the skinny dip comment?

 

Flare: Yes! That was completely uncalled for!

 

Protagonist: … So was I right?

 

Flare: No! Furthest from it!

 

Protagonist: Well I don’t think Duke was that bothered…

 

Flare: Maybe not out loud, but he definitely was internally judging not just me, but you as well for asking such a moronic question!

 

Protagonist: Dang, well my teachers always said that there’s no such thing as stupid questions.

 

Flare: Well they were wrong, clearly.

 

Protagonist: I mean, probably. I haven’t had a teacher in years.

 

Flare squints at me, confused.

 

Flare: How old are you again?

 

Protagonist: Same age as you. Eighteen. Why?

 

Flare: Hm…

 

Protagonist: Hm?

 

Flare: I’m starting to think you really are illiterate.

 

Protagonist: Hey! Well, fine. These games are for two players. I’m illiterate, and you’re a skinny dipper. Dream team of the century. Sound fair?

 

Flare: What? No!

 

Protagonist: Well what would you rather be then?

 

Flare: Well I don’t want to be illiterate-

 

Protagonist: Skinny dipper it is!

 

Flare: I don’t want to be that either! I’m neither of those!

 

Protagonist: Well that’s no fun if ya don’t choose.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san, don’t you realize why I was so concerned in the first place? And it’s NOT because I’m a skinny dipper.

 

Protagonist: Probably, but I like hearing it from you first.

 

Flare: I can’t swim, asshole! And I don’t want to swim!

 

Protagonist: Woah!

 

Flare: Yeah, go ahead and judge-

 

Protagonist: Nah, I figured that out already.

 

Flare: PROTAGONIST-SAN!

 

I cackle. Flare was so cute and easy to read honestly.

 

???: You can’t swim? Then whatcha doin’ in a swimming pool? You’ll sink or swim out here!

 

A girl shorter than the two of us bounds up to us. She has short black hair, tan skin, and big brown eyes. She’s got a goofy grin on her face too.

 

Flare: I just needed to be… Anywhere but where I was before because a certain someone embarrassed me.

 

Protagonist: That someone was me.

 

???: Haha, nice.

 

Flare: Don’t encourage him.

 

???: Encouraging is kinda my thing, honestly!

 

Flare: Okay, well. Don’t encourage him at this specific moment with what just happened.

 

???: I can work with that! I like your sunglasses, dude.

 

Flare: (sighs) That will have to do.

 

Protagonist: Aw, shucks. Thanks.

 

I look around. The pool is big and expansive, with two sections. One was a shallow end, while another had deep waters sectioned off into lanes.

 

Protagonist: So this is where Flare-san can’t swim, huh?

 

Flare: I should have never said anything.

 

Protagonist: Hey, no shame in anything! I can’t swim either, y’know.

 

Flare: What?! Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?

 

Protagonist: To be fair, I’ve known for like, ten minutes. We can be “dumb fucks who can’t swim” solidarity!

 

???: Aha… Unfortunately I can’t be a part of that. I can swim.

 

Protagonist: Damn, first being literate, now swimming? Everyone here just loves to flex on us.

 

???: Oops, m’bad. I’ll unlearn how to swim!

 

Protagonist: Nah, you’re good. You could teach Flare-san and I how to swim though… I’m winking behind these sunglasses.

 

???: Hey, that sounds cool! Okay, so first-

 

Flare: Protagonist-san didn’t mean right now! We have more important matters, like meeting everyone in this manor.

 

???: Ah, that too. Swimming can wait! I should introduce myself, huh?

 

Flare: That would be helpful. My name is Flare, by the way. And this here is Protagonist.

 

Protagonist: Hi!

 

???: Well, my name is… Uh, truth be told, I don’t know how to pronounce this! Say-ree-za?

 

Flare: Huh?

 

???: Spelled… C-E-R-E-Z-A. I have no idea what that means.

 

Flare: Oh. Ce-ray-za. Spanish for cherry.

 

Cereza: Ohhhh, sweet! It was kinda awkward introducing myself to the others, since they had no clue either. But now I know, so thanks so much, Flare-kun!

 

Flare: Ah, well… It’s no problem, honestly. My school required we take an additional foreign language course aside from English, so I chose Spanish.

 

He’s not even bothered by the -kun. Hmmm, now I know what I gotta do to earn Flare-kun privileges, hehe.

 

Protagonist: I can barely speak one language, dude. You’re like, a supergenius!

 

Flare: (lifts head up a little) I’d like to think so, yes.

 

Protagonist: Have you been holding out on meeee?

 

His confident looks immediately turn into a scowl again.

 

Flare: I’ve barely known you for a day. I don’t even know your name!

 

Protagonist: I'm Protagonist.

 

Flare: I meant your real name! 

 

Cereza: Isn’t that the fun of it all though? Like a scavenger hunt!

 

Flare: This is nothing like a scavenger hunt.

 

Cereza: I hope we get to learn about all this identity stuff soon. I’m curious!

 

Flare: (checks out tablet) It looks like we have… Two more to go.

 

Cereza: Oh, have you met Blanche-chan? She’s so nice!

 

Flare: Who?

 

Cereza: Guess that’s a no. Lucky me for guessing right! Well, she’s over there. In the spa.

 

Cereza points to a door on the other side of the pool.

 

Protagonist: Guess that’s where we’re headed next. Thanks, Cereza-kun! Is that okay with you?

 

Cereza: More than okay!! (gives a thumbs up)

 

Protagonist: Sweet! See ya around!

 

I wave goodbye to Cereza, and Flare and I head to the spa where this supposed Blanche figure is.

 

As I enter the spa, the air smells like fresh herbs, and there’s a faint sound of water flowing. There’s several beds to the side that can be folded or bent, probably for massaging or something.

 

The walls are pure white, which makes a girl almost blend in with the walls, if not for the pink flower ornaments she wears on her head. I can only see the back of her. Is this… Blanche?

 

Protagonist: Hello?

 

Supposedly Blanche turns around, but when she does, she reveals a veil covering almost all of her face. The only thing I can see is a small smile with pursed pink lips on her pale skin. I can’t see through her veil. She’s dressed almost like a bride, but the bottom of her dress is torn apart. Weird… But I dig it.

 

Blanche?: Hello there.

 

She has a pleasant tone in her voice, but… It’s kind of distant as well. At least that’s the vibe I’m getting.

 

Protagonist: Are you… Blanche?

 

Blanche: Yes, that is me. Pleased to me your acquaintance.

 

Protagonist: Hi! My name’s Protagonist, and that’s Flare.

 

Blanche: It’s nice to meet you.

 

Protagonist: What do you think of this place, Blanche-san?

 

Blanche: This manor is definitely very… Expensive. It feels almost wrong to touch anything here, much less use it.

 

Protagonist: No kidding. Whoever owns this place has to be loaded.

 

Blanche: Certainly.

 

It falls silent for a moment. I can tell she isn’t one for conversation.

 

Flare: What about this spa?

 

Blanche: I do like the aura this place gives. Out of all the places here, this feels the most spotless, I’d say. The most pure.

 

Protagonist: (looks around) Yeah, I definitely get that vibe.

 

Truth be told, I had no idea what she was talking about. Pure feeling? What does that mean?

 

Flare: Have you met the others?

 

Blanche: I have.

 

Flare: Well, what do you think?

 

Blanche: It was nice to meet them as well.

 

Flare: … I see.

 

I have to get this conversation up SOMEhow. 

 

Protagonist: Hey, Flare-san, don’t we have one more person to meet?

 

Flare: Yep, and one more floor to explore.

 

Blanche: The top floor is rather bare.

 

Flare: Oh, great. It’s almost over. And then we can learn what the hell is going on.

 

Blanche: Language.

 

Flare gives a Blanche a quizzical look.

 

Flare: … Uh-huh. Anyways, it was nice meeting you, Blanche-san.

 

Blanche: You as well.

 

Flare: We’ll head out now and leave you be. We’ll see you hopefully soon.

 

Blanche: Farewell, Flare-san and Protagonist-san.

 

Flare: Mhm.

 

Flare and I leave the spa and Blanche, and then we return to the main area.

 

Flare: Blanche-san… She was weird. What kind of teenager corrects another teenager on language? And she just kept repeating herself.

 

Protagonist: Maybe she’s really religious or something. That’s a thing, right? Not swearing? 

 

Flare: I guess, but I didn’t get that vibe from her. She probably would’ve referenced some sort of God at least once.

 

Protagonist: We can ask her later when we get the chance. But for now, let’s meet this elusive last person!

 

And with that, we head up the stairs to the top floor.

 

NEW INFORMATION:

Glasses

Gender: Nonbinary (he/they)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 6'0"

Weight: 134 lbs

Birthday: 6/28

Personal Quote: "I think it's impossible for a person to know everything, so I take comfort in still being human. ... How does that sound."

Rose

Gender: Agender (they/them)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 154 lbs

Birthday: 12/17

Personal Quote: "It's always nice to stop and smell the roses... Unfortunately I'm way too busy right now!"

Carmen

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5’0”

Weight: 152 lbs

Birthday: 1/18

Personal Quote: “My life without music… Would not be a life at all.”

Dust

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 16

Height: 5'8"

Weight: 142 lbs

Birthday: 3/21

Personal Quote: "If only I could... No... But what about...!" (He didn't hear the question.)

Duke

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alias: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 153 lbs

Birthday: 8/03

Personal Quote: "I personally believe that y'all- I mean, you all! That's what I said. Definitely."

Cereza

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5'3"

Weight: 132 lbs

Birthday: 6/08

Personal Quote: "According to all known laws of aviation..." (This quote has been truncated due to its length)

Blanche

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5'9"

Weight: 127 lbs

Birthday: 5/29

Personal Quote: "Some things are meant to stay pure. Take a white dress, perhaps."

MET: 17/18.

Chapter Text

Finally! The last floor. Thank god Blanche said it was pretty bare, and she was right. There’s only two doors, one that points to the side and one that points…

 

Protagonist: Outside?!

 

Flare: Yes, because our key out of this place is a four floor drop.

 

Protagonist: Dang.

 

Flare: Let’s not get our hopes up. Let’s see what’s on this side, first.

 

Flare walks to the side door, and I follow him. When he opens the door, it looks like a storage room of some sort, but… It’s empty. There’s nothing in it. Strangely there’s no dust or cobwebs… Or the real Dust, haha.

 

Protagonist: Weird.

 

Flare: Useless.

 

He shuts the door.

 

Flare: Okay, now the real door of interest.



Protagonist: See? You’re interested too, Flare-san~!

 

Flare: I know it’s not an exit, unlike you. But… Just what is it?

 

Flare heads to the door facing the outside, and I can’t help but have a tinge of excitement as we get closer and closer. But Flare was right- it couldn’t be that easy to escape, right? The dude named Usher said that our stay here was forever, so there’s no way we could walk off the top floor and leave this place.

 

Still, it was neat to imagine that there’d be some sort of slide down to the ground to ride on, and then we could all leave and act like nothing happened. … I still wanna be called Protagonist-senpai by Rose though.

 

But of course, when Flare opens the door, we’re greeted to a simple balcony. A thin screen acts as walls, but it’s semi see through. Which doesn’t even matter because it’s still a bunch of fog around us. Sigh. Flare was right.

 

What’s more important is the elusive final figure standing in the balcony. Their back is turned to us, but I can see their brown hair and red and pink outfit. They’re rocking it, honestly.

 

I don’t even say anything before this person speaks up.

 

???: Hello.

 

Protagonist: Oh! Hi! How’d you know we were here?

 

???: (doesn’t turn around) I heard the door, obviously.

 

Flare: Oh, right.

 

???: Have you explored the rest of this manor? What do you think?

 

Protagonist: It’s ritzy, but… Hey, are you the one running this place?

 

???: As if. This place… It’s far too suspicious and far too fake. I detest that.

 

Protagonist: Suspicious? What about it is suspicious?

 

Flare: Isn’t it obvious? How we got here with no memory, those weird voices, saying our stay here was for forever? Isn’t that pretty suspicious?

 

???: Your friend is right.

 

Flare: My name is Flare.

 

???: Ah, right. And what’s your name?

 

Protagonist: Who, me? You still haven’t turned around.

 

???: Who else?

 

Protagonist: Uh, what about you?

 

???: Why would I ask myself my own name?

 

Protagonist: Dude, just cut the mysterious crap and turn around. I gotta record your name or alias into my tablet so we can figure out what’s going on!

 

???: If you insist.

 

The guy turns and shows his face, finally. There are small marks between his hot pink eyes and he gives us a frown. How friendly.

 

Protagonist: That’s more like it! The name’s Protagonist, by the way.

 

???: Protagonist. I see then.

 

Protagonist: So? What about you? As the saying goes, “gotta catch ‘em all!” As in, give us your alias.

 

Flare: Yeah, yeah.

 

???: My alias… It’s Spade. Even if we went by our real names, I’d likely refuse to reveal that to you, so I find an alias much more comfortable.

 

Protagonist: (grins) Well, if you’re comfortable that’s much more important! No matter-

 

I get cut off by a voice chirping from our tablets again. It’s Roxie.

 

Roxie: Hello hello hello! Everyone knows who everyone is, so get your asses over to the theater! Now the real fun finally starts.

 

Usher: Who put you in charge of announcements?

 

Roxie: Uh, me. Duh.

 

Usher: Well that was a mistake.

 

Roxie: Hey! Why you-

 

The voices cut off.

 

Flare: It’s about time, isn’t it? What do they even want?

 

Protagonist: Probably about this whole alias thing, and whatever these question marks with identity and alliance stuff mean.

 

Spade: Impressive.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, cuz I read them. Hear that, Flare-san? I can read.

 

Flare: I never doubted you could.

 

Protagonist: Hm, I don’t know about that.

 

Spade: (clears throat) Either way… Shall we go?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! Let’s go, Flare-san, with our new best friend Spade!

 

Spade: Absolutely not.

 

He quickly passes us, leaves, and exits the balcony.

 

Protagonist: Ah well, was fun while it lasted.

 

Flare: We’re literally going to see him in two minutes. What was that for?

 

Protagonist: Thought it’d be nice to make friends.

 

Flare: I was talking more about Spade-san’s conduct.

 

Protagonist: Ooh! Hey! Flare-san, that reminds me.

 

Flare: What?

 

Protagonist: Remember when you said that once we meet everyone you’d tell me where I stand on your rankings of everyone? How’d that turn out? What place am I?

 

Flare: Uh… You remembered that?

 

Protagonist: ‘Course I did! I was curious, after all.

 

Flare: Well…

 

Gottem.

 

Protagonist: Welllll?

 

Flare: I’ve made a decision. You are… My favorite.

 

Protagonist: Whaaaat? Really?!

 

Flare: Everyone else kind of gets on my nerves. In fact, you do as well. But you’re… The least?

 

Protagonist: Aw, you’re too nice, Flare-san!

 

I give him a big ol’ hug. I know he’s lying and that he’s just saying this to be nice to me so he doesn't upset me. I'm an ugly crier. But hey, I’ll definitely take it, heheh.

 

Flare: (flustered) Yeah, yeah, well. There’s your answer. Should we go?

 

Protagonist: Yes! Real best friends!

 

Flare: Uhuh… Yeah.

 

I grab his hand and we run down to the second floor.

 

Flare: H-Hey!

 

Since we were on the top floor, we were the last ones to reach the theater. Nebula is the first to great us.

 

Nebula: Hey, hey! Good to see ya again, sweets!

 

Protagonist: Hey, Nebula-san! We’re not too late, are we?

 

Nebula: Nah, just waiting on you! Take a seat.

 

We sit down on the front row, the others scattered in the rows behind us. Nebula sits with us.

 

Nebula: And what’s with all the formalities? Call me something cuter like… Hm… Oh! Nebby! That’s cute!

 

Flare: Nebby...san?

 

Protagonist: Or Nebby-kun, if you’d like!

 

Nebula: Or Nebby-chan! Kyaha!

 

Flare: Uh, I’ll stick to Nebula-san for now.

 

Nebula: (pokes out tongue) Your loss.

 

Protagonist: Hey! You excited, Nebby-kun?

 

Nebula: For what?

 

Protagonist: Y’know, for this whole presentation thing! From Roxie and Usher!

 

Nebula: Oh, right! I was here the whole time, so I was the first one here! I win~.

 

Flare: Congrats?

 

Nebula: Thank you!

 

Flare: (changes the topic) Well, since everyone else is here, shouldn’t they be getting started soon?

 

Cereza: You all just got here, what’s with the impatience?

 

Soldier: Doesn’t hurt to be curious, eh?

 

Wolf: I want to know what these bastards want from us. Who are these “Roxie” and “Usher?”

 

Duke: They seem to be our hosts.

 

Wolf: No shit, but what do they look like? What the hell do they want?

 

Pearl: And what was with that part about staying here forever?

 

Wolf: I swear to fuck if they try to hurt us…

 

Spring: Mhm…

 

Glasses: What are these tablets for? They’re essentially bricks right now.

 

Carmen: What do you mean by that?

 

Dust: (checking it out) Yep, useless.

 

Carmen: Ah, I see then.

 

Swain: More importantly, who’s keeping us in here? Who owns this place?

 

Spade: Roxie and Usher?

 

Swain: Well… Yeah, but who exactly are they?

 

Spade: Guess we’ll have to find out, won’t we?

 

Puppet: Have no fear! I’m sure we’ll all be alright. You all seem like a good group of people, I can feel it!

 

Blanche: I’m flattered.

 

Dust: What do you think? (turns to Gear, whose eyes are still shut)

 

Gear: Mnn…

 

Dust: Gear-san, are you asleep?

 

Gear: (eyes still closed) Nope. But I wanna look like it.

 

Dust: I… See.

 

Gear: I’m listening to you guys speak. Carry on.

 

Puppet: Well, if Gear-san insists.

 

Rose: I’m so curious! Will we get the answers to these burning questions?

 

Flare: It’s officially been a good while. Where the hell are they?

 

???: Say no more!

 

That high pitched voice…

 

Protagonist: Roxie!

 

Roxie: Already got fans, huh? Take that Usher-kun~.

 

Usher: Sigh.

 

Wolf: (stands up) Show yourself!

 

Soldier: Or don’t, and stay gone forever. Whatevs.

 

Roxie: Well since you don’t-

 

Pearl: Oh, can it and show yourselves.

 

Roxie: Alright, fine! Just make up your minds!

 

Usher: Enough games. Let’s get this started.

 

The lights in the room go out. Eep, I hate the dark!

 

Protagonist: AAAAAH!

 

Flare: What the fuck?! Protagonist-san?!

 

Protagonist: I-I’m okay, haha!

 

Roxie: Lights, cameras-!

 

Usher: Action.

 

A bright light shines down on the stage. It was empty before the lights went out, but now, two figures share the spotlight.

 

Their backs are turned to us, but I can see that one of them is short with brown hair in a ponytail, while the other is taller with blonde hair in a short ponytail.

 

Cereza: It’s them!

 

Spade: About time.

 

Roxie: Better late than never! Now then, to protect the world from devastation!

 

Roxie, the one with brown hair, whirls around to reveal herself. She strikes a pose, but…

 

What’s with her face?

 

Or rather, why doesn’t she have a face????

 

Half of her face is covered with half of a mask, like one of those Greek drama ones. She’s wearing the happy one, but on the other side of her face is nothing. Literally, nothing.

 

Oh god, those “when she was six she was born without a face” stories were TRUE all along.

 

Dust: Huhhh??

 

Gear: Wow, I’m so shocked.

 

Dust: Your eyes are still closed!

 

Gear: Nyeheh.

 

Roxie still keeps her pose, waiting for something, apparently. Despite our outcries, she groans, drops the pose and nudges Usher.

 

Roxie: Oi, Usher! We choreographed this and everything!

 

Usher: No, YOU choreographed that. I’m not doing that.

 

Roxie: Well you went with the first part.

 

Usher: I thought that was cool, personally. But I’m not going to quote some children’s cartoon you like to appease your code.

 

Glasses: Her what?

 

Usher: Sigh, hold on.

 

Usher whirls around gracefully, a hand up. Like Roxie, half of their face is covered with the sad drama mask, and the other half is blank. Suddenly the app icon where we could contact those two made a lot more sense.

 

Duke: (clearly shocked) … May I ask why y’all- you two don’t have faces?

 

Roxie: Wow, rude. Do you go around asking everyone why they have a face? And while we’re at it, why don’t you have a mouth?

 

Duke: I-I have a mouth!

 

Roxie: Sounds like something someone without a mouth would say.

 

Duke: Are you hearing yourself? How could I talk without a mouth?!

 

Roxie: (shrugs) I dunno, I’m doing it pretty well.

 

Usher: Roxie-san, for once, PLEASE let me speak. With my nonexistent mouth.

 

Roxie: Okay, okay. If you insist, heehee.

 

Glasses: What's going on here? At least answer our questions.

 

Usher: Well, what would you like to know?

 

Glasses: What’s with your faces? How can you emit sound? Why did you reference Roxie-san as having “code?”

 

Usher: Clever hearing, Glasses-san. I can answer all of those questions in one sentence.

 

Glasses: And that is?

 

Usher: Easy. We’re not human, we’re robots.

 

Dust: What?

 

Gear: That was two sentences.

 

Wolf: Oh, you’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me. You’re not even the real hosts?

 

Usher: Well, technically we are your hosts.

 

Roxie: But there’s a host hostin’ us!

 

Spade: And who would that be?

 

Usher: Mm, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question.

 

Soldier: Why not? They someone in this room or something?

 

Usher: No comment. Any other questions?

 

Glasses: Well, yes. Why are we here?

 

Roxie: Oh, finally, an interesting question.

 

Rose: Yeah, tell us why we're here!

 

Usher: That is, however, quite the loaded question. Where do we start?

 

Roxie: Well for starters, look at the person next to ya! Take a good look at your peers.

 

I look at Flare and Nebula, then above me to where Cereza is sitting. The others around me do the same. I knew who these people were, or at least their aliases. What about them? What about me? What did they see in me that was special?

 

Roxie: There’s a fifty percent chance the person next to you is a serial killer.

 

Puppet: (stands up immediately) What?! No way! That’s not possible!

 

There’s a fifty percent chance Flare is a serial killer… And there’s a fifty percent chance I’m one as well. But I don’t recall killing anyone, so I think I’m good. But if anything, that only raises Flare's chances of being a serial killer… Oh gosh, what if he is? What do I do? Turn him in? Where? Do I talk to him at all? Can I trust him? Is this what these robots want, for us to judge our newfound buddies like this?

 

Glasses: That’s completely idiotic. Why would you put nine serial killers in the same room, much less with nine other innocent people? You’re just asking for disaster.

 

Usher: If it makes you feel better, the other nine of you are world-class detectives.

 

Glasses: No, I feel as if that makes things much worse, as that only heightens the tensions in this manor.

 

Ohhhh. Guess I fall into the detective category, huh? But not exactly the “world-class” part. I’m just doing a day job, after all.

 

So what’s Flare then? I guess I can’t know yet. He has a puzzled look on his face.

 

Swain: Is that what alliance means? Whether we’re a serial killer or a detective?

 

Roxie: Bingo! Smart kid.

 

Wolf: Hold on, the nerd is right. What the fuck’s your problem, lumping us together like that? You want some of us dead or something?

 

Glasses: I suppose I’m the nerd.

 

Spring: Um… You’re the only one wearing glasses. So yes, Wolf-kun thinks you’re a, um… Nerd.

 

Glasses: Mm, fair.

 

Flare: Don’t jinx it like that-

 

Roxie: Why, that’s exactly it, Wolf-kun~.

 

Wolf: (hesitant) Exactly what…?

 

Roxie: (extends arms out) This is a killing game, folks! Population, you!

 

Duke: E-Ehhhh?!

 

Cereza: A what?!

 

Dust: This is not a game! Is this some kinda prank? Where are the cameras?

 

Usher: No, this is not a prank. You are not being “punked,” as you teenagers would say it.

 

Pearl: Nope. No way. This can’t be real. Fuck this.

 

Roxie: Yes! Definitely! Believe it, baby! Fuck yes! Killing rules!

 

Carmen: Technically, to nine of us, it does.

 

Spade: (snaps) Not helping.

 

Carmen: My apologies.

 

Usher: First off, you all go by aliases in this manor, but you all have your own real names as well.

 

Roxie: But you’ve also got ya detective or serial killer identity too!

 

Usher: The first part of this killing game is that factor. None of you know each other’s name or one another’s true alliance and identity.

 

Roxie: But to the lucky duck who’s able to correctly piece together it all… They’ll get a super awesome epic advantage in this killing game!

 

Pearl: I honestly could give less of a shit about what we go by or who the person next to me is. What the hell is this killing game? What do you want from us?

 

Roxie: Your wacky number on your credit card, the mystical expiration month and year, and the magic three digit number on the back.

 

Nebula: Well that's... (counting on figures) Hey, wait, you’re trying to steal from us!

 

Pearl: That is not what I meant.

 

Usher: And that’s not what we meant either. We have no interest in your monetary value.

 

Duke: Oh, good.

 

Usher: The way this killing game works is that we cycle through two weeks.

 

Roxie: The first is the No-Killy Period! You’re not allowed to kill anyone during this time! Buddy up with your peers! Try to figure out each other’s identities!

 

Usher: And if you kill someone, or even attempt to do so, you will face severe consequences. The person you attack will be cared for, provided they’re alive.

 

Roxie: And this is my favorite part. By the end of the No-Killy Period we’ll have a Revealing Ceremony! That’s where you guys get to pick which serial killer and detective you wanna expose to the group! And if you get revealed as whoever, you’ll get a special perk that week. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

 

Dust: So what’s the point of trying to figure it out? Just wait nine periods and you’re done.

 

Roxie: You really think you can last that long without killing someone? It’s your ticket out of here, after all.

 

Soldier: Oh? Killing?

 

Dust: Found the serial killer.

 

Soldier: Hey, that's mean! Don't go around accusing people of being serial killers or whatevers.

 

Usher: We’ll get to that in a moment. The second is the Killy Period, where you can kill anyone you want, aside from us of course. Then again, you can’t kill us.

 

Roxie: And if you lay a finger on us, we’ll kill you instead, kyahaha! We’re practically invincible.

 

Gear: Not faaaair.

 

Usher: As Roxie-san mentioned, if you kill someone, you have the opportunity to leave this manor without a trace. But that isn’t guaranteed. You must first get away with it.

 

Rose: Get away with it? How so?

 

Spade: Please don’t ask these types of questions that will further endanger us.

 

Rose glances at Spade for a moment, and their eyes widen. They suddenly look really uncomfortable, but the conversation moves on.

 

Usher: When someone dies, you will have a period of time to investigate said murder. After that time-

 

Roxie: We’ll basically throw ya in the lion’s den to figure out who killed who. There’s more to it than that, but I wouldn’t wanna ruin the surprise! Plus, I feel like that might discourage the first killer~. So we'll explain once the time comes.

 

Puppet: Well the time won’t come! We’re not going to kill!

 

Spade: Puppet-san, with all due respect, nine of us are serial killers. You can’t realistically believe that.

 

Puppet: But… But we’re friends! Even serial killers don’t kill their friends!

 

Soldier: Can you really call us friends though?

 

Puppet: You’re all friends to me! C’mon, we have to believe in each other!

 

Roxie: Oh! By the way, you’ll learn this when we release all the detective and serial killer names, one of you has killed over eighty people.

 

Gear: Eh.

 

Duke: WHAT THE FUCK?! I-I mean-!

 

Usher: Do you really think someone like that deserves to live, much less the other eight serial killers?

 

Glasses: What, so are you on the detectives’ side then?

 

Usher: Absolutely not, we’re impartial, after all. But we’ll let you determine your own morals on the situation.

 

Pearl: Even if we promised not to kill, there’s no saying one of us- serial killer or not- would go back on their promise. We can’t determine that until it’s far too late.

 

Puppet: Still-!

 

Protagonist: Hey... Let's not fight over this! I think Puppet-san is right.

 

Puppet: You believe in me…!

 

Protagonist: ‘Course it’s fucked up that one of us has killed eighty people. But if we give up now, we’ll just devolve into mindless violence. Can’t we at least try to work together?

 

Rose: Spoken like a true Protagonist!

 

Roxie: Work together to do what exactly, hm?

 

Flare: Not comply to this sick game of yours, of course.

 

Protagonist: You’re on my side, Flare-san!

 

Flare: Well of course I am… Why wouldn’t I be?

 

Roxie: I have to laugh… Good luck with that!

 

Usher: I suppose now is a better time than ever to reveal the new apps.

 

Roxie: Ah, yep yep! Ta-da, we have two new apps! Check ‘em out on your tablets, or in technical terms, your IDs!

 

I pull out my tablet. Just as Roxie said, two new apps have appeared. One has a magnifying glass, and the other is a black square with the kanji for “one” in white. So it just looks like a dash.

 

Roxie: The “ichi” app is the rulebook! Please read it on your own time, I don’t wanna sit around and wait for you guys to read and go “what?!” and “huh???”

 

Usher: Instead, open the second app, with the magnifying glass. It’s called the Sleuthing App.

 

I tap on the icon and two tabs appear. One is called “Civilian Names” and the other is called “Aliases.”

 

Usher: Your civilian names are just that - the names you go by in your everyday civilian lives. No information is given from them, and they’re alphabetized, so there’s no correlation with your actual aliases.

 

I tap on the Civilian Names tab. It’s just as Usher said.

 

CIVILIAN NAMES

Akira Shouzaki

Amor Magalhães

Angie Ross

Arin Arko

Asumi Kurosawa

Chishiki Yukimura

Christine Lee

Jaiden Zhang

Jin Akasaki

Megumi Shimizu

Michi Minami

Naomi Blair

Nashiro Kyouda

Ren Lubell

Rina Asher

Sabina Himura

Sanguine Sims

Tamakazu Yamazaki

 

The others are reading and reacting to some of the names.

 

Duke: Nashiro Kyouda? You mean… The heir Nashiro Kyouda?

 

Carmen: I’m in the presence of Michi Minami?

 

Rose: AAAH! Angie Ross!

 

Truth be told, I have no idea who any of these names are, not even the ones Duke, Carmen, and Rose just yelled out. But I wanted to contribute to the conversation somehow.

 

Protagonist: … That’s a lot of A names.

 

Flare: Thanks for the insight, Protagonist-san.

 

Roxie: Next up you’ve got the aliases! That’s the nine serial killer and detective names, along with lovely profiles for each of them! Also alphabetized. I had Usher-kun go through them for me.

 

Usher: Ugh, yes I did. So please look at them.

 

DETECTIVES

 

Cipher

Cipher is a massive codebreaking powerhouse- they've solved the world's toughest cybercrimes using just their computer and their head. However, their motives are unclear because they'll take any job that comes by their way. They once even hacked into Japan’s own government system! There’s no telling what Cipher will do next.

 

CherryBomb

A detective who does their work in quick spurts of time, but goes into hiding for long periods afterwards. However, their work is impeccable and is done almost immediately after a case arises, so they get a lot done in such a short period of time, which is what makes them stand out.

 

DSMVII

DSMVII, a master psychologist for their age, has been able to identify behavior, backgrounds, and motivations that can lead to the development of a serial killer, and thus they nip them at the bud and turn them in. While they have never technically caught a real serial killer, they've been able to prevent numerous potential serial killers from ever claiming their first victim.

 

Fleeting Justice

Fleeting Justice is a very lowkey presence in the detective scene. Some cases will just turn up solved out of nowhere, but in reality it was the work of Fleeting Justice.

 

Half-Decent Detective

“Half-Decent Detective" isn't their real identity; they work for the government as a detective and have an official Agent name there, but they like to refer to themselves as a "half-decent detective."

 

Jaiden Zhang

Jaiden Zhang is neither a serial killer nor a detective, but they are an active and contributing member of their high school's student body, especially when it comes to politics and government. They are somewhat of a local celebrity in their hometown.

 

Justice Hunter

Despite their intimidating, vigilante-sounding name, Justice Hunter actually specializes in missing persons cases, rescuing kidnapped victims, often women and children, and delivering them to safety and/or recovery.

 

Luck Star

Luck Star is a rather amateur detective, as they’ve been active for less than a year, but they have a near perfect success rate, which is particularly impressive for the cases they take on. However, in written interviews, Luck Star doesn't credit their skills, and credits their "lucky guesses" instead. Either way, they're getting the job done!

 

The Astronomer

The Astronomer considers themselves rivals with the serial killer Anon., being the one who exposed Anon.'s existence in the first place. They follow Anon.'s trail online, keeping out for the hints they may leave behind while impersonating another victim. They post their findings on their own personal blog, which Anon. loves to "troll" with the identities of their victims.

 

Truth be told, I don’t actually know which one I am. I’m a detective, I’m pretty sure, so I should be on this list. I guess the only one that aligns with me is “Half-Decent Detective.” But that’s not even my name- Oh, right. I call myself that, just as the profile says. How did Roxie and Usher even know that? No one calls me that but me.

 

Speaking of which, my eyes go to the detective CherryBomb. Didn’t Flare mention that “Cereza” was Spanish for cherry? I didn’t say anything about that since it’d be shitty to out Cereza like that if she was CherryBomb, and that’d definitely put a target on her back. Plus, if she wasn’t CherryBomb, that’d be awkward.

 

Gear: Mnn… Pretty low class detectives, huh?

 

Rose: Hey!

 

Gear: Kyeheh, found the detective.

 

Rose: That’s not I meant…

 

Gear: Found the serial killer.

 

Rose: … Not necessarily! But I will defend Cipher until the day I die!

 

Glasses: Considering our situation, you might want to select another set of words.

 

Blanche: I see.

 

Gear: No you can’t.

 

Dust: Not like you can either, with your suspicious closed eyes!

 

Nebula: Hey, hey! Who’s this “Anon” in The Astronomer’s profile? Are they in this room?

 

Roxie: That’s for you to find out with the Serial Killer profiles!

 

Swain: Why is “Jaiden Zhang” both a name and an alias?

 

Usher: Because they lack a detective alias to go by. They are the closest of all the detectives to a normal citizen.

 

Roxie: You probably couldn’t call them a detective in the first place, kyaha!

 

Gear: Is that who Rose-san is?

 

Rose: No comment!

 

Swain: Then why are they here?

 

Usher: Hm… Good question.

 

Roxie: Whatevs, cuz we wanna have them here! They’re a local celebrity, after all! Just read the serial killer part too! They’re below the detectives. C’mon, I don’t wanna stand around here any longer!

 

Time to check out these out…

 

SERIAL KILLERS

 

A Traceless Whisper

It would be hard to connect this killer's victims to a serial killer if not for one connecting thread: all of Traceless Whisper's victims have been strangled to death.

BODY COUNT: 9.

 

Anon.

Anon.'s full username is Anonymous Nyan Cat, but they insist on going by Anon. A specialist in internet identity theft, Anon. continues to flawlessly impersonate their victims online to avoid suspicion about their disappearances and murders.

BODY COUNT: 82.

 

Candy Cane Killer

Sugar, spice, and everything nice... The Candy Cane Killer claims to be allied on the side of "niceness," as their targets are all corrupt businessmen and politicians. The method of death? A small prick through their throat, aimed to kill.

BODY COUNT: 16.

 

Cannibal Queen

Contrary to what their name suggests, Cannibal Queen is not actually a cannibal. However, the way they leave their victims' bodies behind would suggest otherwise. Their targets are all convicted male sex offenders (due to how accessible their information is), thus leading to the assumption that Cannibal Queen is a woman.

BODY COUNT: 27.


Christine Lee

Christine Lee is neither a serial killer nor a detective, but they are plagued by what they believe is a bad luck curse.

BODY COUNT: 1.


Milk and Cookies

Milk and Cookies is infamous for attacking around Christmas Time. Their target? Abusive parents. They see themselves as a "gift" to these children, "freeing" them from their abusive households. Their method of murder is poisoning these parents with a simple treat, perfect for the holidays- milk and cookies.

BODY COUNT: 34.

 

My Number One Fan ♡

My Number 1 Fan ♡ often targets superfans of actors and actresses- and then sends said actor/actress a special package with the cut off hand of their victim, signed by "My Number 1 Fan ♡ ". The most targeted actor is Michi Minami, a rising star in the musical theater business, though other actors have been targeted multiple times as well.

BODY COUNT: 7.


Raven-ous Nights

Raven-ous Nights is a self-proclaimed fortune teller. However, when asked for their foresight, they always predict bad luck in the near future. Probably because they kill their clients quickly after the fact!

BODY COUNT: 12.

 

Sawyer

Sawyer, a relatively recent serial killer, gets their name from the famous fictional character Tom Sawyer due to their murders resembling Tom Sawyer himself- crazy and improbable, but always wildly succeeds somehow.

BODY COUNT: 5.


Aaaaand there’s the 80+ body count. Anon., rival to The Astronomer. I wonder how whoever The Astronomer is feels.

 

To be fair, a lot of these seem really fucked up. How could Candy Cane Killer be for “good?” They’re killing people! Cannibal Queen is just brutal… And Milk and Cookies?? Hello?? You good there??? You need to talk???

 

Pearl: This “Michi Minami” has a superfan in here.

 

Nebula: Ewww! That’s a horrible, fucked up killer, not a superfan!

 

Swain: We’ve got another “name and alias” case here too, huh?

 

Roxie: Same goes for Jaiden Zhang, but they align with serial killers more!

 

Glasses: A serial killer is only a serial killer after three or more intentional murders. I don’t care what happened, but this “Christine Lee” has only killed one person. They shouldn’t be considered a serial killer.

 

Usher: They aren’t one. But they’ve killed someone, which aligns them with the serial killers.

 

Roxie: Now onto the Messaging App! It was empty, but now you can send and receive private messages to and from me and Usher-kun as well as other things, but for now, we’ve sent you all a private message!

 

I get a notification on the tablet at the top of the screen. I tap on it, which takes me to the Messaging App. It says I have one unread message from Roxie & Usher.

 

Usher: [Greetings, Protagonist. Remember your name when nothing happened? To unlock your information, your password is Flare.]

 

Flare? Why is it Flare, cuz he’s sitting next to me?

 

Since I could send messages, I guess I could ask them that.

 

Protagonist: [YO why is my password Flare??? Is Flare’s password Protagonist?? Romantic…]

 

I get a message almost immediately.

 

Usher: [Don’t worry about it. And to answer your second question, no. Please read your information first, everyone is waiting on you.]

 

Aw man.

 

I return to the Connections App and tap on my alias again. I’m prompted for a password, so I type in “Flare.” It works, and my info pops up, just as with everyone else.

Protagonist

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Half-Decent Detective | Sanguine Sims

Alliance: Detectives

Age: 18

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 153 lbs

Birthday: 10/17

Personal Quote: “Fellas, the SHADE of it all. No seriously, look at ‘em.”

 

Flare: Ah. I see then.

 

Cereza: I don’t remember saying this, but it sounds like something I most definitely would say.

 

Pearl: So why was it truncated due to length?

 

Cereza: Why, it’s the script to-

 

Dust: What’s below our information?

 

Roxie: Finally, someone noticed!

 

Usher: Below your names are three secrets. You can share them with one person that we choose, or to everyone here. These also come with some sort of perk, similar to figuring out all identities.

 

Gear: Then let’s reveal ‘em.

 

Roxie: You might not be so sure when you read them, kehe~.

 

How bad could they possibly be? I scroll down to find out.

 

Protagonist was born an orphan as an accident child.

 

Protagonist fears the Kool-Aid Man.

 

Protagonist’s real name is Sanguine Sims.

 

… Okay, I know what you’re thinking.

 

And with all due respect, how would you like it if a giant, sentient jug burst into your room without warning, screaming “OH YEAH!”? Who’s to say the punch isn’t his blood?? Sweet, sticky blood? We're basically jug vampires when you think about it. Scary stuff, man. The Kool-Aid Man is no joking matter.

 

Usher: While revealing secrets come with perks, the last secret reveals your civilian name. If you choose to reveal that secret, you will receive a minor punishment.

 

Flare: So no longer killing people who reveal their names?

 

Usher: Not anymore, no. We thought it’d just defeat the purpose- and fun- of the game if you went all willy-nilly and dropped your real names to begin with. But there is still a punishment, just a more minor one. Thank you for your original compliance, as no one is dead. 

 

Flare: I see then.

 

Usher: In addition, one last thing. The Messaging App allows private conversations with your peers, but there are also two group chats for you. One with all members in the manor, including Roxie-san and I, and one with just detectives or just serial killers, depending on your alliance. However, in the detective or serial killer chat, your screen name will be your detective or serial killer alias, not your manor alias.

 

Roxie: That’d be stupid if we did that!

 

Usher: With that being said, any questions?

 

Wolf: Yeah, WHAT THE FUCK?

 

Usher: None? Alright. Enjoy your stay, and don’t forget to read the rules.

 

Roxie: And the first No-Killy period begins! See ya in a week! 

 

The lights dim onstage, I try not to scream again, and when the lights to the theater return, Roxie and Usher are gone.

 

Well… That was something.

 

I guess I should read the rules for some kind of recap, and also to swallow down what just happened. I tap on the Rules App.

 

RULES:

 

  1. Your stay at the Midnight Manor is indefinite.
  2. Each of you has an alias, or nickname. Please refer to yourself and others as these aliases, even if you figure out someone’s real name.
  3. Each of you has a serial killer or detective identity. If you’re able to figure out who’s who, including the real names, you will receive a special perk in the killing game. If you reveal your own identity willfully, you will receive a punishment.
  4. Each of you has three secrets. You may reveal any of them to one random person or to the entire group. These come with perks. However, if you reveal your third secret, you will receive a minor punishment.
  5. In order to leave the Midnight Manor, you must kill one of your peers and get away with it.
  6. This killing game revolves around a two-week period. The first week is the No-Killy period. If you attempt to kill someone, you will be severely punished and the other person will be cared for, provided they’re still alive.
  7. At the end of the No-Killy period, a Revealing Ceremony will be held. A democratic vote will be held to reveal the identity behind one serial killer and one detective. Those revealed will receive a special perk during the Killy period that follows.
  8. The Killy period is open game for murders. Anything is possible, but you may only kill up to three people.
  9. Further rules will be added after a murder has officially occurred.
  10. Attempting to harm either Roxie or Usher, your hosts, will result in severe punishment.
  11. Daytime begins at 10 AM and ends at 10 PM. Outside of these hours is nighttime. It’s recommended you stay in your rooms during nighttime. Otherwise, please exercise caution during nighttime hours.  
  12. Breaking any of these rules will result in severe punishment.
  13. Rules may be added at any time.

 

 

 

I see then.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san.

 

I didn’t hear him as I keep staring at my screen.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san!

 

Protagonist: (blinks) Eh?!

 

I look around. Some people linger around, but I notice most others have already left. I notice Nebula is gone.

 

Flare: I didn’t mean to yell, but… Are you alright?

 

Protagonist: I… Haha, yeah, I am.

 

I feel a pit of guilt in my stomach, honestly. What if Flare is a serial killer? What if he thinks I’m a serial killer? Can I trust him? Can he trust me? 

 

Protagonist: Um… You shouldn’t care for me like that, Flare-san.

 

Flare: I just asked if you were alright.

 

Protagonist: Still… What if I’m a serial killer? How would you feel about that?

 

Flare: I… Truth be told, I haven’t considered that possibility.

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Flare: I don’t think you’re a serial killer. Take that as a compliment from me.

 

Protagonist: Well… Why not?

 

Flare: Jesus, Protagonist-san, do you really want me to think you’re a serial killer? Is that what you really are?

 

Protagonist: Well-

 

Flare: Don’t answer that question. Look, I’ve gotta trust someone here, right? And I trust you. I’ve spent the most time with you so far, even though it hasn’t exactly been by choice.

 

Protagonist: Aww.

 

Flare: Did you think I was lying when I said you’re my favorite? Not that I’m head over heels for you, sorry to disappoint, but you really are. I trust you, Protagonist-san. And if you turn out to be Anon or something, well that’s on me for being an idiot.

 

Protagonist: … Oh.

 

I had actually thought he was lying. But… Guess I was wrong. Oops!

 

Guess that’s why I’m just “Half-Decent.”

 

Protagonist: Hm… I’m gonna check my tablet.

 

I return to the messaging app. There’s now two group chats open, just as Usher had said. There’s already a backlog in the collective one, but not the detective chat. I see a golden opportunity.

 

Half-Decent Detective: [first]

 

Half-Decent Detective: [lol]

 

Someone responds.

 

DSMVII: [god dammit.]

 

Luck Star: [haha]

 

Justice Hunter: [fuck you]

 

Half-Decent Detective: [:^P]

 

The Astronomer: [*-* it’s an honor to meet you all!!!!!!!]

 

Flare: … Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: (looks up again) Yeah?

 

Flare: … You’re Half-Decent Detective, aren’t you?

 

HAHAHAHAHA SHIT.

 

Protagonist: How did you figure that out??? Wait, shit- Fuck, I broke the rules-

 

Flare: No you didn’t, because I figured it out. You didn’t tell me anything willfully. But I’m right, aren’t I?

 

I twitch.

 

Flare: So I am.

 

Protagonist: Again… How did you know…?

 

Flare: The moment you go on your tablet I get a message from “Half-Decent Detective” saying “first.” Who the hell would that be?

 

Protagonist: … Aha.

 

Smooth moves, smoothbrain.

 

… Wait, but if Flare got my detective message, then…

 

Protagonist: Flare-san, you’re a detective?!

 

Flare: … It doesn’t reveal my identity, so… Yes. I suppose I am.

 

Protagonist: Oh, thank goodness! I knew I could trust you!

 

All my worries go away as I give Flare a big hug.

 

 

Protagonist: Thank goodness thank goodness thank goodness!!!

 

Flare: H-Hey, what’s the big idea?!

 

Protagonist: I feel so at ease now!

 

Flare: … Truthfully, I do as well.

 

Protagonist: You don’t have to tell me which one you are. I just… Feel so much better knowing you’re a detective.

 

I continue hugging Flare, holding him tight. I didn’t want to let go. Even in this horrible situation, this terrible killing game, I had someone I could trust. At least there was that going for me.Thank goodness.

 

Flare: Please let me go.

 

Protagonist: (lets go) Sorry.

 

Flare: Our tablets say it’s six thirty right now. We’ve got some time before night time, according to the rules. If you’d like, we could spend more time together, or if you’d prefer to do something else separately, we can as well.

 

Protagonist: I mean, I could imagine you’d want to be separate from me after a long day like this. (sticks out tongue)

 

Flare: I don’t mind either way.

 

Protagonist: Hm…

 

I wasn’t against spending time with Flare, but I was reminded that I wanted to talk to Cereza about her potentially being CherryBomb.

 

What should I do... ?

 

>Stay with Flare

>Go find Cereza

 

NEW INFORMATION:

Spade

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 173 lbs

Birthday: 1/04

Personal Quote: “Why do you care?”

 

MET: 18/18

18 REMAIN.

Chapter Text

>Find Cereza

 

Protagonist: I think I’m gonna go find Cereza. I have something to ask her. You can come if you’d like!

 

Flare: Oh, no worries. If that’s the case, then I’ll head to the kitchen. I’m a little hungry right now. I haven't eaten since we got here.

 

Puppet: Did someone say hungry?!

 

Puppet runs down to the two of us, an eager look on his face.

 

Puppet: I can make you something, if you’d like, Flare-kun! (grabs Flare)

 

Flare: H-Hey!

 

Protagonist: Just curious, but were you listening in on our conversation?

 

Puppet: Only the part where Flare-kun said he was hungry. Selective hearing, y’see.

 

Phew. So Puppet didn’t hear about me and Flare being detectives.

 

Flare: I can cook for myself, Puppet-san-

 

Puppet: Don’t worry! Don’t sweat it, I can cook for you!

 

Flare: Aren’t you just doing more work yourself?

 

Puppet: I don’t mind!

 

Flare: What if you’re trying to poison me?

 

Puppet: How could you accuse me of such a thing?! I’m hurt! Besides, I couldn’t even do it now given the rules, so you know I’m in good standing!

 

Flare: Oh, right. I guess that's true.

 

Puppet: No worries, I forgive you! I know you were just concerned for your life.

 

Flare: Really, what gave the hint?

 

Puppet: But just tell me what you’re in the mood for and I’ll cook it for you! C’mon, let’s go! There’s no time to waste!

 

Flare: Ugh... If it pleases you, fine!

 

Puppet: And Protag-kun, if you’re interested as well, just let me know!

 

Protag-kun…?

 

Protagonist: I appreciate the offer, Puppet-san, but not right now. I had something else to do.

 

Puppet: Oh, alright! I’ll see you around, Protag-kun.

 

Flare: Yeah… See you around, Protagonist-san.

 

Don’t tell me Puppet-san is trying to steal my man! Eheh, I probably shouldn’t think of it like that. Flare would get mad.

 

Puppet and Flare leave together, Puppet chattering away. I’m alone now, so I should look for Cereza now. Where would she be? I guess I could message her.

 

Oh right, there’s a backlog to the group chat first. No one has said anything else in the Detective chat.

 

I scroll to the top. The first messages were sent right after the meeting ended.

 

Dust: [Hello? Does this thing work?]

 

Puppet: [Yep! 8-D]

 

Spade: [Puppet-san why would you send that]

 

Puppet: [Send what?]

 

Soldier: [lel]

 

Puppet: [What????]

 

Gear: [u sent a pp dude]

 

Puppet: [a WHAT]

 

Gear: [hee hee puppet-kun has a small pp]

 

Gear: [puppet... pp]

 

Puppet: [Stop that!!! I don't know what's going on!!!]

 

Dust: [I was just testing the group chat, and this is what I get… Dick jokes.]

 

Gear: [one cm pp puppet wwww]

 

Duke: [How mature.]

 

Gear: [i'm 15 i can make all the dick jokes i wanttttttttttttttttttttt]

 

Duke: [???]

 

Dust: [His face is currently pressed against his tablet.]

 

Duke: [Ah.]

 

Puppet: [What’s a pp????? Please tell meeeee]

 

Pearl: [you sure about that]

 

Puppet: [Yes!!!!]

 

Pearl: [do you really wanna know]

 

Puppet: [Yes!!!!!!!!!!!]

 

Pearl: [pp = penis]

 

Puppet: [.]

 

Puppet: [NOOOOOOOOO]

 

Puppet: [I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS!!!]

 

Pearl: [shut up you wanted to know]

 

Puppet: [my penis is not one cm 8-(]

 

Gear: [yea]

 

Gear: [it's two ww]

 

Puppet: [no!!!!!!]

 

Dust: [Aren't you supposed to be asleep?]

 

Swain: [@Roxie @Usher is it possible to kick people out of this group chat or leave it? asking for a friend.]

 

Puppet: [Who’s your friend?? 8-0]

 

Roxie: [To answer your question, nope! You’re stuck here~.]

 

Swain: [shoot. then is there any way to mute notifications?]

 

Glasses: [just tap the three dots at the top right. you’ll see it.]

 

Swain: [sweet my friend says thx]

 

Glasses: [your friend is welcome.]

 

Roxie: [If you’re curious, you can also tag certain people to get their attention, which works even if your notifications are muted!]

 

Gear: [Is there a way to get everyone’s attention by tagging everyone?]

 

Roxie: [Yep! It’s @ everyone but take out the space.]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

That would explain the plethora of notifications I got…

 

Wolf: [WHOEVER IS DOING THAT]

 

Wolf: [SHUT THE FUCK UP]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

Wolf: [STOP THAT. RIGHT NOW]

 

Soldier: [:^)]

 

Swain: [this was a terrible idea. can we pleaaaase take away that function]

 

Cereza: [but way if someone needs it in an emergency?? :00 ]

 

Spade: [What kind of emergency would there possibly be?]

 

Cereza: [u mean way kind]

 

Spade: [What?]

 

Soldier: [an emergency liek this]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

Rose: [ ))))): ]

 

Swain: [stoppppp]

 

Soldier: [am i…… rustling some jimmies?]

 

Spade: [Alright, that’s enough.]

 

The chat was still going, might as well put some input.

 

Protagonist: [lol]

 

Soldier: [glad someone appreciates my jokes. protag-kun is a real one]

 

Wolf: [THESE AREN’T JOKES]

 

Soldier: [caps lock buddy]

 

Wolf: [oh]

 

Spring: [this makes him look less angry…]

 

Wolf: [oh i’m still angry. i’m fucking seething.]

 

Soldier: [teehee]

 

Protagonist: [I’m just gonna mute this for now… have fun yall B^)]

 

Dust: [good choice.]

 

Soldier: [haha]

 

Soldier: [even if you mute it]

 

Soldier: [you know you can’t escape the]

 

Soldier: [@everyone]

 

Wolf: [STOP]

 

Soldier: [caps lock]

 

Wolf: [THIS IS INTENTIONAL NOW]

 

I mute the chat. If Soldier tagged everyone again, I’d just ignore it. Speaking of which, I just got another tag from her to everyone.

 

Anyways, I start a direct message conversation with Cereza.

 

Protagonist: [Hey Cereza-chan! It’s me, Protagonist. I was just wondering if we could meet somewhere? I don’t mean any harm, I just wanted to ask you something!]

 

It takes a moment, but she replies.

 

Cereza: [sure! Where u wanna meet? :0c]

 

Protagonist: [Preferably somewhere private. I’m the only one in the theater right now left, would you like to come here?]

 

Cereza: [sounds good! be there in a sec]

 

I wait “a sec.” She’s not here yet. Snake. Kidding, of course!

 

I give her another minute, and Cereza comes into the theater.

 

Cereza: Hiya! Whatcha need? Not here to kill me, are ya?

 

Protagonist: I’d prefer that you not joke about that right now while the wound is still fresh.

 

Cereza: Oops, my bad. Sorry!

 

Protagonist: No worries. But seriously, I’m not here to kill you, you’d probably beat me in a fight anyways.

 

Cereza: Eh, I dunno. I’m pretty wimpy.

 

Protagonist: Nah, you’d definitely win.

 

Cereza: Why are we talking about this?

 

Protagonist: Good question!

 

Cereza: Anyways! You wanted to ask me something?

 

Protagonist: Right. I wanted it to be private so no one would overhear because it’s about… Well, our identities. Particularly, yours?

 

Cereza: Hm?

 

Protagonist: I just wanted to ask if… Well, Flare-san said “Cereza” meant cherry in Spanish, and I know you didn’t even know that.

 

Cereza: So you’re wondering if that has anything to do with the detective CherryBomb, does it?

 

Protagonist: Uh… Yeah. I know you technically can’t answer though, so don’t! I don’t want you to get in trouble. I guess that begs the question of why I even asked.

 

Cereza: I mean, technically I posed the question that was in your mind.

 

Protagonist: Oh. Fair. 

 

Cereza: But to answer the question, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

 

She winks at me, which signals a yes. I breathe a sigh of relief. Cereza is a detective too, so I don't have to worry about her betraying me. ... I think. 

 

Cereza: My real life self is a podcast host. A true crime podcast host that covers recent cases, that is, so it’s pretty funny that Roxie and Usher didn’t recognize that.

 

Protagonist: Oh?

 

Cereza: They think it’s not part of my actual work and just a side job. Well surprise, I’m working full time.

 

Protagonist: You know… That would make sense.

 

Cereza: But hey! The description still fits. Dust-san actually came up and talked to me more about what my name meant. At least, what it meant to him.

 

Protagonist: What did he say?

 

Cereza: He said “Cereza” is the name of this video game character. Well, it's her real name, but she goes by another name apparently. She’s apparently a total queen who can control time to beat up her enemies! And looks super cool doing so.

 

Protagonist: God, wish that was me.

 

Cereza: But she can only control time in quick spurts… So I guess that’s what it all means, haha! She’s a witch too, so wonder what that means about me. 

 

I decide to ignore that last part. 

 

Protagonist: Ooh, makes sense.

 

Cereza: So I’m named after this cutie witch! (winks and sticks out tongue) How awesome.

 

Protagonist: Guess I’m not named after something as cool… You win.

 

Cereza: I don’t think you can get much better than literally be named “Protagonist!” I'd say that's pretty cool. 

 

Yep. I can definitely trust her.

 

Protagonist: Though that’s got me thinking… Why were we given the aliases that we were given. I know yours now and the connection, but I wonder why I was named Protagonist? And why was Flare-san named “Flare?” And so on.

 

Cereza: You and Flare-kun seem very close, by the way. You know each other from before?

 

Protagonist: Nah, but we we were the first to meet one another, we figured it’d be quicker to meet the others together, and it all spiraled from there.

 

Cereza: I see! … You can trust him, right?

 

Protagonist: (nods) Of course I can!

 

Cereza: (faces lights up) Oh, good! That’s a relief.

 

Protagonist: Though have you learned anything about anyone else’s identities?

 

Cereza: Not right now, no. Dust-san wouldn’t budge when I thought I’d ask the question! Though I can’t blame him, of course. Top-secret stuff. 

 

Protagonist: Darn.

 

Cereza: What, you lookin for that super secret prize?

 

Protagonist: Eh, more like I’m trying to scope out who to trust.

 

Cereza: I wouldn’t mark out someone just because they’re a serial killer. You never know what their background could be. Same with choosing to trust a detective. Their motivations could be more sinister than you realize.

 

Protagonist: Uh... Well, I can trust you, right?

 

Cereza: (goes back to being cheery as usual) Of course you can! You know who I am now. I promise I don't have any weird motivations. 

 

Protagonist: Well… Of course I can’t tell you who I am, but I want you to know I’m trustworthy too!

 

Cereza: I’m sure you are! Don’t worry, I know you’re a good guy. 

 

Protagonist: Thank goodness. I won't let you down! 

 

My stomach grumbles. Guess I was hungrier than I realized… I hadn’t eaten all day like Flare, after all.

 

Protagonist: Oof, I’ve gotta head to the kitchen, I need something to eat.

 

Cereza: Is anyone there right now?

 

Protagonist: Flare-san and Puppet-san are as far as I know, so I guess that gives me a reason to see Flare-san again~.

 

Cereza: Aw. Well, thanks for talking to me for a bit! Truth be told, after telling me about my name origins, Dust-san just started to ramble about his thoughts on video games and it was starting to get a little confusing, so you calling me was a good reason to skedaddle out of that.

 

Protagonist: Well, you’re welcome. Anyways, I’ll see you later?

 

Cereza: Yeah! See ya, Protag-kun!

 

I think I got to understand Cereza a little more.

 

I walk past Cereza and leave the theater finally, and I make my way to the kitchen. When I get there, Flare is eating, while Puppet is still talking excitedly.

 

Puppet: But when I was young, I loved playing with dolls! Maybe that’s why I’m called Puppet or something. What do you think?

 

Flare: ... How can you reveal so much yet so little about yourself? I still have no idea about who you are.

 

Puppet: All intentional, of course. Gotta keep the air of mystery up somehow!

 

Protagonist: Helloooo! Am I interrupting something?

 

Flare: Protagonist-san! Hello.

 

Puppet: Oh hi! Are you hungry? I made Flare-kun some curry! There's plenty left over. Would you like some?

 

Flare: Gotta say, it’s pretty good. And not poisoned.

 

The curry does look good… But my stomach was interested in something else.

 

Protagonist: Hold on. I’m gonna check the freezer first.

 

Puppet: For what?

 

I head to the back and open the freezer, which is filled with food. Please say that there’s some…

 

I spot the classic red box. Yes!

 

 

Protagonist: Hot Pockets!

 

Puppet: Huhhh?

 

Protagonist: You mean you don’t know? Hot Pockets are like, the nectar of the gods, but for humans! Microwavable, savory, and stuffed with cheesy goodness!

 

I take one out and place it on a plate to be microwaved.

 

Puppet: (reading the box) And… You’re going to eat one of these?

 

Protagonist: (starts microwave while not looking at Puppet) Yep!

 

Puppet: And no curry…?

 

Now I feel a little guilty. Still... Hot Pockets. Enough said.

 

Protagonist: It looks good, but not right now. Thank you for the offer though!

 

Puppet: Alright… I guess once Flare-kun is done I’ll send a notification to everyone, letting them know there’s some curry if they’re interested.

 

Protagonist: I mean, considering what’s going on in the group chat now…

 

I glance at my tablet while the Hot Pocket is microwaving. I see I’ve gotten more tags from Soldier to everyone, but it looks like she’s stopped for some time. I open up the group chat and quickly skim through the messages. Just more “Everyone getting frustrated at Soldier” antics. Though now, no one was sending anything.

 

Protagonist: Hm, never mind. Looks like you’re good.

 

The microwave beeps, and I take out the plate. I instantly take a bite out of the Hot Pocket. Mm… It burned my tongue in just the right ways. If this place didn’t have Hot Pockets, this place would be truly hell.

 

Puppet: How can you enjoy something like this? It’s so unhealthy! Just look at that calorie count…

 

Protagonist: M’dude, that’s what makes it good.

 

Puppet: (shakes head) I can’t understand… But if you’re enjoying yourself, I suppose that’s what matters.

 

Protagonist: Now you’re getting it. (offers the Hot Pocket) Wanna bite?

 

Puppet: I’m good. I have my own cooking after all. And it’s much healthier.

 

Protagonist: Shady.

 

Puppet: (looks around) Where?

 

Protagonist: ... Never mind.

 

I finish up my Hot Pocket and place the dish in the sink.

 

Protagonist: Speaking of which, who’s gonna take care of this? I can if-

 

Flare: I will, don’t worry.

 

Puppet: Ah, but-!

 

Flare: You’ve already cooked for me. Least I can do is this.

 

Flare rolls his sleeves up and turns on the water to start washing the dishes. I've made a decision: a tame Flare was the best Flare.

 

Puppet: If you say so…

 

Protagonist: I’m gonna head out, kay? Thanks for the time, Puppet-san. You too, Flare-san~! See you around. 

 

Flare: You too.

 

After a satisfying Hot Pocket meal, I leave the kitchen and head to my room. On my way there, I receive a notification from Puppet’s tag, saying curry dinner was ready, with Swain responding “shit he beat me there.”

 

I also check the time again. It's 8:30. The day ended at 10, so…

 

I guess I could do something else, but I honestly felt really drained. I didn't realize that until I had a chance to think about it on my own. I guess I'll head back to my room. I need to explore it more.

 

Once I head to my room, I open up the closet first. There's lots of clothes for me, as well as a drawer full of underwear so… That's good. I can't help but wonder how they got all of this though.

 

And now that I'm back, there's something on the drawer that I didn't realize was there before. At least, I don't think it was there when I first woke up.

 

It was a case of medication with a note attached to it. The note read:

 

"Personalized medication for Protagonist. Please use as designated. 

-Usher"

 

Ah, right. Hormone supplements. These peeps may want me dead, but at least they wanted a healthy, happy me to die. So it's something! 

 

I take a moment to look at myself in the mirror again. This killing game… It was real. There was no escape, no hope of ending… How could we fight back if we didn’t even know who we were fighting back against?

 

I think of Puppet’s words of hope.

 

Maybe even the worst of serial killers could agree this situation was fucked up. Maybe they wouldn’t want to die here.

 

Or maybe it’s just open season for them.

 

But even if we all left together... We'd just be reintroducing nine serial killers back into the world to bring up their body counts. Is that really moral? Can we really do that? Hell, is it our job to even decide the fates of these serial killers? 

 

I think in my head who could be a serial killer. I’m thinking… Shit, I don’t know. There are “maybe”s in my head, but I couldn’t say for sure who. Catching serial killers was never my job.

 

Sigh. Guess that really means I’m just “half-decent.”

 

The other detectives… Holy shit, how was I supposed to compare to them? One of the world’s greatest hackers, the luckiest people on earth, huge entertainment personalities… And there’s just me, a plain old detective doing a 9 to 5 day job just to get by.

 

Oh man… What can I do?

 

Even in a manor of only eighteen, I felt smaller than ever. 

 

I throw off my everyday clothes and get ready for bed. And by that, I mean crashing right into it.  I fell asleep almost immediately, ending my first day here.

 

I had no idea what was in store for the future…

 

PROLOGUE: END

REMAINING: 18.

Chapter Text

Protagonist

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Half-Decent Detective | Sanguine Sims

Alliance: Detectives

Age: 18

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 153 lbs

Birthday: 04/07

Personal Quote: “Fellas, the SHADE of it all. No seriously, look at ‘em.”

Flaresprite by erythsea

Flare

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 176 lbs

Birthday: 06/06

Personal Quote: “Don’t you know who I am?”

Gear

Gender: Demiboy (he/they)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 15

Height: 5"3"

Weight: 123 lbs

Birthday: 04/10

Personal Quote: “Boring… I think I might fall asleep.”

Puppet

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 20

Height: 5’6”

Weight: 163 lbs

Birthday: 03/15

Personal Quote: “It’s important to believe in everyone around you, especially yourself!”

Alias: Swain

Gender: Agender (they/them)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5’2”

Weight: 104 lbs

Birthday: 05/31

Personal Quote: “A quote from me? But I’m no one special, really. Honestly.”

Nebula

Gender: Genderfluid (he/they/she)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5'5"

Weight: 141 lbs

Birthday: 04/17

Personal Quote: "A star is born - that star being me!"

Soldier

Gender: Demigirl (she/they)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5'7"

Weight: 132 lbs

Birthday: 01/06

Personal Quote: "Heh."

Pearl

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 20

Height: 5'4”

Weight: 95 lbs

Birthday: 04/04

Personal Quote: "What? No."

Wolf

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 196 lbs

Birthday: 09/23

Personal Quote: "Fuck outta here. I don't wanna see your face."

Spring

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5'1"

Weight: 112 lbs

Birthday: 03/20

Personal Quote: "Hm..."

Glasses

Gender: Nonbinary (he/they)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 6'0"

Weight: 134 lbs

Birthday: 06/28

Personal Quote: "I think it's impossible for a person to know everything, so I take comfort in still being human. ... How does that sound."

Rose

Gender: Agender (they/them)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 154 lbs

Birthday: 08/11

Personal Quote: "It's always nice to stop and smell the roses... Unfortunately I'm way too busy right now!"

Carmen

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 18

Height: 5’0”

Weight: 152 lbs

Birthday: 03/03

Personal Quote: “My life without music… Would not be a life at all.”

Dust

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 17

Height: 5'8"

Weight: 142 lbs

Birthday: 05/18

Personal Quote: "If only I could... No... But what about...!" (He didn't hear the question.)

Duke

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alias: Unknown

Age: 21

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 153 lbs

Birthday: 12/10

Personal Quote: "I personally believe that y'all- I mean, you all! That's what I said. Definitely."

Cereza

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5'3"

Weight: 132 lbs

Birthday: 06/08

Personal Quote: "According to all known laws of aviation..." (This quote has been truncated due to its length)

Blanche

Gender: Female (she/her)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5'9"

Weight: 127 lbs

Birthday: 08/18

Personal Quote: "Some things are meant to stay pure. Take a white dress, perhaps."

Spade

Gender: Male (he/him)

Identity: Unknown

Alliance: Unknown

Age: 19

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 173 lbs

Birthday: 1/04

Personal Quote: “Why do you care?”

 

KILL THE JOKER: AnotheR Game

Kill the Joker: AnotheR Game Cast and Info by erythsea

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Do You Believe in Love?

 

The next morning, I woke to a chipper tone from my tablet. Roxie.

 

Roxie: Good morning, folks! It’s 10 AM! Daytime!

 

Usher: We’ll be switching morning announcements every morning. Good morning.

 

Roxie: But for today, it’s meeeee! So, (screeches) WAKE UP!

 

Okay okay, I get it. Morning. 

 

Following Roxie and Usher’s announcement, I get a notification from Puppet to everyone in the group chat.

 

Puppet: [Good morning! I’ve made breakfast if you’d like to eat. Plus, I thought it’d make for a nice role call! 8^D]

 

Spade: [Thank you for adjusting your emojis. I’ll be there in a moment.]

 

Breakfast sounds good, and I ought to try Puppet’s cooking before it’s too late. Ugh, morbid thoughts. I need my medication. 

 

I down it with some tap water, then wash my face, get dressed, and slap on my shades. Ready to roll.

 

When I leave my room, I run into Swain. They looked exactly the same as yesterday.

 

Protagonist: Good morning, Swain-san.

 

Swain: (blinks) Hm? Oh, good morning, Protagonist-san. 

 

Protagonist: Are you heading to Puppet-san’s breakfast thing?

 

Swain: (shrugs) Sure, why not. I guess it’s good to let people know I’m not dead. Yet.

 

I’m guilty of this too, but I wish people would stop making jokes about this killing game. It’s scary to think about dying. I shouldn’t bring it up, though. It's not Swain's fault.

 

Protagonist: What a coincidence! I was heading there too, actually.

 

Swain: Well, what else would I be out here for? I feel bad though, letting Puppet-san do all the work. 

 

Protagonist: I don’t think he minds. He was more than happy to jump at the opportunity though. 

 

Swain: I see… I guess that’s reason enough to trust him. 

 

I can see something else is bothering Swain though.

 

Protagonist: You say that… But what’s on your mind?

 

Swain: Mm… How do I phrase this without sounding like… An asshole?

 

Protagonist: What do you mean?

 

Swain: Well… I'll be blunt. One of these serial killers is literally known for poisoning their victims. Can we really trust someone else’s cooking? 

 

They’re thinking of Milk and Cookies… The one who poisoned their victims via baked goods. I guess the fear is still there. 

 

Protagonist: Oh… I hadn’t thought of it like that. Hm, but didn’t the profile say that they only target abusive parents? As far as I know, none of us are even parents.

 

Swain: Still, we do have a poison expert on our hands. And the medicine cabinet is just upstairs. 

 

Protagonist: Ugh… 

 

I really don’t know how to feel about this!! I feel massively uncomfortable. I don't wanna think about it, but that's gonna get me killed one day.

 

Swain: I’m sorry, Protagonist-san, I didn’t mean to make you feel paranoid. 

 

Protagonist: No… Don’t apologize. 

 

Suddenly I don’t want to eat Puppet’s cooking anymore. It still looked really delicious though… Alright, I'll bite and keep eating.

 

Swain: I wasn’t implying that Puppet-san was Milk and Cookies either. I was just saying, um… Be careful, I guess?

 

Protagonist: I… You’re probably right.

 

Swain: No, don’t listen to me. I’m probably not, haha.

 

Protagonist: Besides, I’m sure Puppet-san is a good person. They wanted to cook before we even knew of this killing game, you know that. You were there, in fact!

 

Swain: Oh… You’re right. Now I feel bad, accusing Puppet-san like that. 

 

Protagonist: No, again, don’t apologize! You didn’t do anything wrong. 

 

Swain: Mm... I think I’m just gonna go ahead. Sorry.

 

Protagonist: Go where? We’re both headed to the dining room. 

 

Swain doesn’t answer, and they speed up and leave me behind. Eh… I see where Swain is coming from, but again, I trust Puppet. … I think. I don’t know. But even if Puppet’s intentions were harmful, no one could touch anyone for the next week. 

 

At the very least, I think I understand Swain a little more now?

 

When I get to the living room, I see Blanche standing in the center, where Gear was yesterday. The light from the windows on the ceiling above are shining down on her like a spotlight. Her posture is poised and perfect, and she keeps the same, small smile on her face. Geez, talk about some blatant symbolism right there. 

 

 

Protagonist: Blanche-san?

 

Blanche: Good morning, Protagonist-san. 

 

Protagonist: What are you doing here? 

 

Blanche: Hm… Good question.

 

Protagonist: Did you get Puppet-san’s message? He’s invited everyone to breakfast.

 

Blanche: Ah… I haven’t checked my tablet at all since the announcement. 

 

That would explain the lack of messages from her. 

 

Protagonist: So… Would you like to go? 

 

Blanche: Thank you for the offer, but I’m not particularly hungry at the moment.

 

Protagonist: Oh. Have you eaten earlier?

 

Blanche: No.

 

Protagonist: ... Oh. Did you eat yesterday…? 

 

Blanche: No.

 

Protagonist: Blanche-san, you really should eat!

 

Blanche: But I’m not hungry.

 

Oh dear… Her near automatic replies, her lack of emotion, her lack of eating… Wait... Is Blanche a robot? Uh, that’d be rude to ask right now. It shall remain just a theory in my head. But I wouldn't be surprised. Just saying.

 

Protagonist: Would you like to accompany me to the dining hall, at least? Puppet-san also said it could act as some sort of role call. 

 

Blanche: That sounds like a wonderful idea.

 

Protagonist: Ooookay then.

 

Blanche steps out of the light and walks with me down the hall to the kitchen.

 

Protagonist: You know, Blanche-san, I’m curious…

 

Blanche: Hm?

 

“Are you a robot?”

 

Protagonist: Where did you get this look of yours? 

 

Blanche: I make my own clothes. Including this veil and the dress.

 

Protagonist: Oh, wow… 

 

That’s actually… Really impressive. And slightly debunks my robot theory.

 

Blanche: I was going for a serene bridal look with this outfit. 

 

Protagonist: Really… I couldn’t tell. I mean, you definitely get that across very well. Nice job!

 

Blanche: Thank you. 

 

Protagonist: I’m going for “a total wreck” look right now. I’d say I’m doing a pretty good job. 

 

Blanche: (turns head) I think the colors on your outfit go together quite nicely, to be honest.

 

Protagonist: Can you actually see these colors? Or are you just trying to be nice?

 

Blanche lets out a small laugh, breaking her usual smile. It was small… But it was nice.

 

Blanche: Of course. I’m veiled, not blind, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Ohhh… I thought you couldn’t see. 

 

Blanche: How would I make my way around without a guide if I couldn’t see? 

 

Protagonist: I dunno… I just don’t know a whole lot about the way you work.

 

Blanche: We’ve known each other for less than a day, to be fair. And… I suppose I’d prefer to keep it that way.

 

Protagonist: Eh?

 

This game was centered around keeping secrets and exposing them. They were bound to come out eventually. Maybe the robot thing really was true, and she was insecure among us humans and wanted to hide that. 

 

Blanche: Never mind I said anything. We’re at the kitchen.

 

I think I understand Blanche a little more.

 

I catch a whiff of syrup and sizzling food. Oh, this is gonna be delicious. Everything Swain said faded away in my head. Free, good food was food.

 

Puppet: (carrying plates of food) Good morning!

 

Blanche: Good morning, Puppet-san. 

 

Protagonist: Whatcha got there? 

 

Puppet: I have leftover curry from last night, if you’re still interested. And I’ve decided to go for a western style breakfast this morning! Pancakes and waffles with butter, syrup, and/or strawberry jam! Drinks of your choice are also prepared. Nothing alcoholic, of course. 

 

Protagonist: Holy shit-

 

Blanche: Language.

 

Protagonist: Er, wow, Puppet-san, you really went all out. How’d you get all of this ready in time?

 

Puppet: Easy. I’ve been up since 6 AM! 

 

Now I do feel kinda bad. 

 

Protagonist: You really didn’t have to do this, y’know. 

 

Puppet: But how would you all eat?

 

Protagonist: We could cook for ourselves…

 

Puppet: And eat what you eat?

 

Protagonist: Hey, don’t insult the Hot Pockets! You can insult the hair, the outfit, the legs, but God forbid you insult the microwavable goodness.

 

Puppet: A-Ah, my apologies, I didn’t realize they were that important to you. Still, I feel as if everyone cooking at once for themselves would be far too much of a hassle. So I can cook for everyone! 

 

Blanche: And where did you get all of the ingredients?

 

Puppet: They were all sorted away when I got here. Of course, I had to find the ingredients myself, but I assume Roxie-sama and Usher-sama provided them for us.

 

Protagonist: How do we know the ingredients themselves weren’t poisoned…? 

 

Puppet: Well, I don’t know any particularly fast-acting poisons that don’t leave some sort of trace… And we’ve eaten food already, and no one is dead. 

 

Blanche: Besides, I don’t believe Roxie-sama or Usher-sama can actually harm us without reason. 

 

Protagonist: Odd, I guess. 

 

Puppet: Enough chit-chat! It’s great to see you two this morning. Go on, take a seat and grab some food! And if you don’t like it, feel free to ask me for something else!

 

Puppet eagerly bounds back to the kitchen.

 

Protagonist: Still not in the mood for any food?

 

Blanche: I… Guess it wouldn’t hurt to have a little.

 

Protagonist: That’s the spirit!

 

I grab a plate of a ton of pancakes, cake it with syrup, and sit down with the others who were here. Blanche sits down with me. So far, the only people here were Carmen, Spade, and Swain.

 

Protagonist: Hiya! How’s the food?

 

Spade: (eyes Protagonist’s plate) Someone’s a fan of pancakes.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, and someone’s hungry too. (jabs a fork into the pancake and shoves it into mouth)

 

Carmen: Regardless, the pancakes are quite delicious. Thank Puppet-san for making these for us. 

 

Swain: I still feel kind of bad. Maybe I could make dinner for everyone tonight? I’ll talk to Puppet about that.

 

Spade: You two could switch off for meals. Puppet-san for breakfast, you for dinner. 

 

Swain: Hopefully he’ll agree to that… But that's not a terrible idea.

 

Carmen: I’m personally a terrible cook, so I’m eternally grateful for Puppet-san’s offers to cook. You as well, Swain.

 

Protagonist: (mouth full of food) C’mon, you can’t be that bad.

 

Carmen: Er… My parents used to cook for me for every meal, and the day they let me cook… (lowers head) I ended up burning the rice.

 

Blanche: Oh dear.

 

Swain: Burning rice? Is that even possible? 

 

Carmen: Apparently so… And to make things worse, the rice proceeded to catch on fire. Don’t ask how.

 

Spade: Did you cook your rise in grease or something? 

 

Carmen: I’m not that careless, I’m afraid. 

 

Spade: Why, you really are a terrible cook. Somehow.

 

Carmen: (sighs) I’m well aware. 

 

I think I understand Carmen a little more… And by that, I mean I understand to never let Carmen touch the stove ever. 

 

Anyways, all these people with their posh accents and ways of talking… Carmen, Spade, Blanche… Even the way Swain talked was so distant! It was hard to speak among these people. I wish Cereza was here or something, she seemed like the person who would get me the most. 

 

Protagonist: Y’know, I’m surprised out of everyone who even came for breakfast, it was you four. 

 

Blanche: To be fair, Protagonist-san, I had no intentions of coming until you invited me. 

 

Swain: Food is food. 

 

Spade: We’ll be here for quite some time, so why not be on good terms with the ones here?

 

Protagonist: You mean… Friends?

 

Spade: I avoided that exact wording for a reason.

 

Protagonist: Oof. 

 

Spade was so cold… While Flare was fiery hot with his temper, Spade just shut things down with how blunt he was. I had to make him crack somehow! 

 

By the time I finish up my pancakes, no one else arrived for breakfast. That’s kind of concerning, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day! And also because we don’t know the conditions of everyone… 

 

I hope they’re doing okay, at least.

 

Protagonist: I’ll bring everyone’s plates to the sink. No worries!

 

Swain: Hey, Protagonist-san, I can-

 

Protagonist: Noooope! Too late!

 

Swain: … Man. 

 

Carmen: Thank you, Protagonist-san!

 

Blanche: And give our regards to Puppet-san, the food was delicious.

 

Carmen: (glances at Blanche with a smile) Mhm!

 

Spade: Yes, I’ll definitely look forward to more of Puppet-san’s cooking.

 

Swain: I can cook too! 

 

Protagonist: Ah, right. You wanted to talk to Puppet-san about that. You can come with, Swain-san.

 

Swain: I’d greatly appreciate that, honestly.

 

Protagonist: Enjoy your day, you three!

 

I bring my dishes with Swain back to where Puppet was. He had stopped cooking and was cleaning all of the pans. 

 

Puppet: Did anyone else come after you and Blanche-chan, Protag-kun?

 

Protagonist: Nope. I’m afraid not.

 

Puppet: A turnout of only six people…! 

 

Swain: It’s better than just you.

 

Puppet: That’s true, I suppose. Well, I at least hope you two enjoyed the food.

 

Swain: Yeah, it was pretty cool.

 

Protagonist: It was lit!

 

Puppet: W-What? On fire?! How? 

 

Protagonist: No, I mean like… The food was good, Puppet-san.

 

Puppet: Oh, wonderful! So not on fire?

 

Protagonist: Nope, not on fire. 

 

I get to washing all of the dishes while Swain strikes up a conversation with Puppet. 

 

Swain: Where’d you learn to cook so much, Puppet-san? Did you used to work at a restaurant or something?

 

Puppet: Nope! 

 

Swain: … Any elaboration on that?

 

Puppet: Well, I always used to cook for my family back home. I kinda just… Picked it up!

 

Swain: Oh, interesting. I’m the same as well, actually. I’d always cook for my younger siblings.

 

Puppet all of a sudden gets really interested in this conversation.

 

Puppet: Oh!! You have siblings? How many? What are they like?

 

Swain: Oh, um… It’s nothing big really. I just got two younger brothers and two younger sisters, ranging from 13 years old to 4 years old.

 

Puppet: But that’s… Four siblings! You have that many? 

 

Four? And Swain would cook for all of them? Wow.

 

Swain: Like I said, nothing big-

 

Puppet: I don’t have any siblings, but I’ve never met someone with such a big family! What’s it like? I’m sure your siblings are all angels!

 

Swain: (laughs a little nervously) Rosa-tan is… She’s the 4 year old. 

 

Puppet: So cute!

 

Swain: Cecilia-chan is 8, and she’s going through her… Well, bratty years, but she’s a good kid. Still super dependent, and… 

 

Their eyes waver. 

 

Oh geez, Swain really has something to live for right now. If they die, what happens to their siblings?

 

Swain: And um, there’s Victor-kun and Emile-kun. They’re twins, both 13. Kinda going through their teenage phases, but two vastly different ways. I think Victor-kun’s trying to emulate me by going extremely punk, while Emile-kun’s gone down a huge study bug path. They’ve both got big dreams, though.

 

Puppet: Oh, wow… Just hearing about this inspires me so much, Swain-kun! 

 

Swain: R-Really? I didn’t think it was all that impressive.

 

Protagonist: You’re caring for four younger kids, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.

 

Swain: You think so…?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! And plus, you’ve got a side gig being one of the world’s best detectives… Or one of the deadliest serial killers. Hopefully the former.

 

Swain: No comment. 

 

Protagonist: I figured.

 

Puppet: I suppose in the meantime I’ll leave these pancakes out for whoever may come by… 

 

Protagonist: Who knows, maybe Roxie-chan or Usher-kun wanna have some pancakes.

 

Swain: Can robots eat food? 

 

Protagonist: Guess we’ll have to find out.

 

Swain: Ominous… By the way, Puppet-san, I had something I wanted to ask you.

 

Puppet: Yes! What is it? 

 

Swain: I figured it’d be unfair to let you cook for every meal, every day, especially with how much effort you’re putting into it.

 

Puppet: It’s no problem, I promise!

 

Swain: Still… Would you mind if I cooked dinner for everyone, at the very least?

 

Puppet: Oh! 

 

Swain: Would that be alright? Again, I can cook, and I feel bad for putting all of this work onto you…

 

Puppet: My, after hearing about your story, how could I say no? That’s a wonderful idea! 

 

Swain: Really?

 

Puppet: I trust you to provide a delicious meal for everyone, just as you would provide for your siblings!

 

Swain: Wow, that went smoother than I expected-

 

Puppet: But please, let me help-

 

Swain: (expression drops) No. 

 

Puppet: A-Ah, are you sure? 

 

Swain: I mean, I wouldn’t want to bother you with something I offered to do…

 

Puppet: Well, if you say so… 

 

Swain: (thumbs up) Positive. 

 

I finish washing the dishes and place them to the side. 

 

Puppet: I’ll take care of them, don’t worry! Thank you for washing them, Protag-kun~.

 

Protagonist: No problem, it’s the least I could do to say thanks for a delicious and nutritious breakfast.

 

I feel like a cereal box mascot just by saying that. Puppet looks really happy though.

 

Puppet: I’m so glad you all liked it! I hope the others will have a chance to try it…

 

Protagonist: I’m sure once they do, they’ll be coming every morning!

 

Puppet: What a dream! I’d love that!

 

Swain: Just don’t overwork yourself, Puppet-san. Get some rest.

 

Puppet: I won’t! But you better take care of yourself as well, Swain-kun!

 

Swain: Haha, I won’t either. I’ll let the group know when dinner is ready. I’ll have to think about what to prepare…

 

Puppet: If you need help, just let me know! 

 

Swain: Don’t worry, I won’t.

 

Puppet heads out of the kitchen after he puts the plates away (finally). I think I understand him and Swain a bit more.

 

Protagonist: What are your plans for the day, Swain-san?

 

Swain: (shrugs) I’ll figure it out eventually. You?

 

Protagonist: Hm… Well I plan to do a little bit of sleuthing around. I wanna know more about this place and what our situation is.

 

Swain: Sounds good. Good luck with that. 

 

Protagonist: Yeah! I’m hoping we can find some way out of here… You wanna get out, don’t you?

 

Swain: Yeah… Of course I do. (smiles lightly) Didn’t you just hear me talk about my family back home? I’ve gotta get back to them, preferably with my hands clean.

 

Protagonist: (nods and smiles) It’s good to have something to live for. 

 

Swain: That’s definitely a way to put it. But it’s nothing special, just who I am.

 

Protagonist: Well maybe you are something special, Swain-san.

 

Swain: Me? No, not really. I’m just a normal teenager. 

 

I sincerely doubt that. The fact that they’re in this manor says otherwise.

 

I part ways with Swain and plot out the rest of my day. Hm… So I want to talk to Spring and Wolf first. I’ll probably send Spring a message and hope for the best. Next, I wanna talk to the three who recognized different names on the civilian name list. That’d be Duke with Nashiro Kyouda, Carmen with Michi Minami, and Rose with Angie Ross. It’s safe to assume that those three aren’t those names. 

 

And then… I’ll just go from there. It was already 11:30, so no time to waste!

 

I get out my tablet and see that there’s a notification from Puppet, saying that leftover breakfast was in the kitchen. I decide to send a message to Spring and hope for some kind of response, since I knew she wasn’t a very chatty type. 

 

Protagonist: [Hi Spring-chan! It’s me, Protagonist. Is Wolf-san with you?]

 

Spring responds almost immediately with a message.

 

Spring: [>//////////< spring-chan…]

 

Spring: [i mean yes! wolf-kun is with me…]

 

Spring using “kun” with Wolf and surviving proves that she is stronger than any member of our nation's army. 

 

Spring: [why do u ask? .^.]

 

Protagonist: [I wanted to talk about something with you and Wolf-san… Do you mind?]

 

Spring: [i’ll ask wolf-kun!]

 

Protagonist waits a minute, and instead of Spring, he gets a message from Wolf.

 

Wolf: [The fuck do you want]

 

Protagonist: [Hi! Just want to talk! Nothing harmful.]

 

Wolf: [What do you want to talk about. Why do you have to be where we are?]

 

Protagonist: [Because I wanna talk to both of you?? In person. I’m trying to learn more about our situation, and that involves talking to you two.]

 

Wolf: [What are you, some kinda sherlock holmes or smth??]

 

Protagonist: [Technically, nine of us are.]

 

Protagonist: [Are you? BD]

 

Wolf: [>:/]

 

Protagonist: [Dude I just wanna talk to you two. I’m not gonna hurt anyone. Just curious about some shit. Might help us??]

 

Wolf: [... fine.]

 

Protagonist: [Fuck yea, thanks!]

 

Wolf: [We’re in the library.]

 

Aw shit, that means walking up three flights of stairs.

 

Protagonist: [Tell Spring-chan I said thanks.]

 

Wolf: [no.]

 

Protagonist: [8(]

 

Protagonist: [Be there soon!]

 

I put my tablet up. Time to get moving…

 

 

Just as Wolf said, Spring and Wolf were sitting at a table together. Spring was… Knitting. She had a whole spool of gray yarn, and she was knitting a long sheet of it. Wolf sees me and scowls.

 

Protagonist: Hey! Thanks, Spring-chan by the way.

 

Wolf: What do you want?

 

Protagonist: Where were you during breakfast?

 

Wolf: You really think we’re going to trust Puppet-san’s cooking? What if it was poisoned?

 

Protagonist: Well it wasn’t poisoned, and it was good too. There’s still some in the kitchen. 

 

Wolf: Could be poisoned now.

 

Spring: Um… It can’t be poisoned. At least not now. No killing, remember?

 

Wolf: Oh, you’re right.

 

Again, she is braver than anyone could ever be.

 

Protagonist: Anyways, I’d recommend trying it out! Swain-san is making dinner tonight.

 

Spring: Um… Maybe… Hm…

 

Wolf: What is it?

 

Spring: We could go try it… If you’d like.

 

Wolf: (nods) Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. 

 

WOW. Spring has to have some kind of magic powers.

 

Protagonist: Great! Swain-san will send a message once food is ready. 

 

Spring: Um… Thank you, Protag-kun.

 

Oh, how my heart flutters in adoration.

 

Wolf: Yeah, thanks.

 

Oh, how my heart jumps in fear.

 

Wolf: Anyways, what do you really want? 

 

Protagonist: Oh, like I said, I wanted to ask a couple questions about you two.

 

Wolf: About our identities? Well fuck off, you’re not getting them if you’re looking for that prize. 

 

Protagonist: Not necessarily about that…

 

Wolf: Besides, we don’t even god damn know.

 

Protagonist: Wh… You don’t?

 

Spring: Um… We have an idea.

 

Wolf: But I can’t say for sure who Spring-chan is. 

 

Spring: And… I with Wolf-kun. 

 

Protagonist: Not even names?

 

Spring shakes her head.

 

Protagonist: I see… But why? You guys are childhood friends, right?

 

Wolf: Of course. We’ve known each other since we were born. 

 

Protagonist: And you can’t even remember each others names?

 

Wolf: What, you doubt us or something? Need our fuckin’ life stories to believe us? 

 

Protagonist: No, I fully believe that you guys know each other really well! That just makes this situation all the more… Weird. 

 

Wolf: Yeah, no shit…

 

Protagonist: But you guys can remember memories together, right?

 

Wolf: Of course we can. Just not our names or identities.

 

Spring: Mhm… 

 

Protagonist: And yet, others recognized names, but not faces… That’s so weird! Why not?

 

Spring: (still knitting) Why… Well… Our memories. They must’ve been tampered with for this situation. 

 

Protagonist: Memories… I don’t think I’m forgetting anything.

 

Wolf: Yeah, but any trace of knowing anyone’s name is gone. 

 

Protagonist: But why? Is not knowing each other’s names that important? I can understand the detective and serial killer identities, but… Why is there such an emphasis on our aliases?

 

Wolf: Like hell I know.

 

Protagonist: I know. I’m just talking to myself.

 

Spring: Mhm… And done. 

 

Spring finishes her grey yarn thing and wraps it around Wolf’s neck. Ohhhh, a scarf. Wolf gets a flustered.

 

Wolf: Uh, thanks. It’s really comfortable, Spring-chan.

 

Spring: (smiles) I’m glad!

 

Spring’s smile felt very… Natural. I know she’s comfortable around Wolf, so it’s good that they get along so well. 

 

Spring: Would you like me to make you one, Protagonist-kun? Um… If you’d like.

 

Protagonist: I wouldn’t want to trouble you, Spring-chan, but… Yes! I’d love one. 

 

Spring: (smiles) Oh, good. What color would you like? I um, I have a lot of colors. 

 

Protagonist: Does it have to be one color? 

 

Spring: Only if you want it that way. 

 

Protagonist: Oh, awesome. Make it like my shirt.

 

I point to my pink, white, and blue shirt. She looks at the colors, and suddenly, she looks very interested and eager. Wolf notices too, and he visibly tenses his shoulders.  

 

Spring: Oh, of course! I’ll get started. 

 

She grabs the blue, pink, and white spools of yarn and gets started. Though I notice she starts with blue, not pink. 

 

Protagonist: Hey Spring-chan, why-

 

Wolf: Can I talk to you in private, Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: Me? Uh, sure, is that okay with Spring-chan?

 

Wolf: Yeah, that’s fine. You can keep making the scarf. It looks great. 

 

Spring nods and keeps knitting. She knits really fast, since she’s already gotten a good deal done. 

 

Wolf drags me off to a corner of the library, with my back against a bookshelf and Wolf leaning over me. Dang, so this is how it ends, huh?

 

Wolf: Look, Protagonist-san, there are some things that I don’t think you fucking realize that Spring-chan and I take VERY seriously. So if you think of hurting her or shaming her for-

 

Protagonist: Woah, woah, take it easy! I have no idea what you’re talking about. 

 

Wolf: Then I’ll educate you so you have a real fucking clue.

 

Protagonist: (tries to remain cool) Aggressive education? I’m down.

 

Wolf: Spring-chan is my closest friend, and especially in a situation like this, I’m not going to let anyone hurt her. 

 

Wolf is really giving me serious “overprotective vibe” dad vibes. Like, “anything you do to my daughter I’ll do to you,” but whenever you hug her, he’ll hug you as well to make things scary yet awkward. 

 

Protagonist: And I’m not going to! 

 

Wolf: We’ve known each other since we were literally babies. Our moms were close. 

 

Protagonist: Wholesome.

 

Wolf: But… While we were growing up, Spring-chan grew up differently than I did. She changed to be who she wanted to be, while I stayed myself for the most part. There shouldn’t have been any difference. But all of a sudden, just because she grew her hair out and started going by a different name, she was given hell for it.

 

What…? Why is Wolf telling me this? What does this mean?

 

… And then it all clicks.

 

Protagonist: Hold on, time out. 

 

Wolf: (almost spits) What?

 

Protagonist: Look, is Spring-san… The way you’re wording things, is she trans?

 

Wolf: (gets angrier) Is there a fucking problem with that? 

 

Protagonist: Hey! We’re on time out right now! 

 

Wolf: Because if it is-

 

Protagonist: I’m trans too, buddy!

 

Wolf stops talking and looks at me with wide eyes.

 

Protagonist: Did you not know or something? I can- You know what, never mind. (mutters) Didn’t know I passed that well. Goals.

 

Wolf: No… I didn’t know that. 

 

Protagonist: So lemme get this right. Spring-chan transitioned genders when you two were younger to be who she is today. 

 

Wolf: … Yeah, she did. And she was bullied a shit ton when she was transitioning. 

 

Protagonist: … Oh.

 

I realize I’ve never had those experiences. I transitioned on my own terms, and it’s not like I ever went to a place that would treat me as shittily as a school. I definitely felt bad for Spring, though. That explained a lot, and it sounded like hell. 

 

Protagonist: I’m sorry-

 

Wolf: Don’t be. Just… I tried pushing them away, and Spring-chan tried too, but no one listened. 

 

Protagonist: So what happened? 

 

Wolf: I ended up getting physical, and Spring-chan and I were both expelled.

 

Protagonist: What?!

 

Wolf: We were homeschooled from then on out. Still, it all fucked Spring-chan up really badly.

 

Protagonist: Oh… 

 

That explains why Spring is so timid, and it also explains why Wolf is so protective over her. I understand them both a lot more.

 

Protagonist: Thank you for telling me, Wolf-san. I know to be more mindful of Spring-chan’s and your feelings on the subject matter.

 

Wolf: No, you don’t have to be “mindful” or whatever. I thought you were going to call her out on the whole scarf shit when she got interested. Just let her be herself, and don’t. Fucking. Hurt. Her.

 

Honestly? If I had grown up with Spring, I’d be the same as Wolf. I’ve barely known her for a day but I would want to protect her the same way Wolf does.

 

Protagonist: (gives a thumbs up and a grin) Gotcha. No harm. So we good?

 

Wolf: Better than before. 

 

Protagonist: Hey, it’s something!

 

Spring: (pokes her head in) U-Um… Sorry if I’m interrupting, but… I, um, finished your scarf, Protagonist-san!

 

Spring rushes up to me and wraps the scarf around me. It was nice and cozy. I felt good.

 

Spring looks up me with proud eyes and a small smile on her face.

 

 

Spring: (quietly) Trans pride!

 

Protagonist: (nods back) Hell yeah, solidarity. 

 

Spring: I knew it…! 

 

Spring rushes back to where they were originally. 

 

Wolf: Do you need anything else, Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: Not right now, no… But again, thanks for the chat, Wolf-san.

 

Wolf: No problem.

 

Finally… I’ve tamed the beast. 

 

I say my goodbyes to Wolf and Spring, and I was about to leave the library before someone calls my name.

 

Glasses: Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: (turns around) Ah! Hey, Glasses-san! Need something?

 

Glasses: I want to show you something. Could you come with me?

 

Protagonist: Uh, sure. 

 

I follow Glasses to the computers, and they keep talking for a bit while we walk.

 

Glasses: Please note that some of the things I’m about to tell you is relatively private. So don’t tell anyone, or else I know it was you.

 

Glasses sits down at a computer and opens up a tab on it.

 

Glasses: This you can talk about. There is no internet connection, of course, but I did find something interested. For example… Is there a certain serial killer or detective in this manor you’re curious about? Your answer will not change my deductions of you.

 

Protagonist: Eh?? I mean… I guess Milk and Cookies has been a pretty hot topic today. Try that. 

 

Glasses: Understood. 

 

Glasses types in “Milk and Cookies” into the search bar, and suddenly a whole bunch of information pops up. 

 

Protagonist: Woah, what is this?

 

Glasses: Extended bios. 

 

I take a moment to read through the page. The first paragraph is what’s available on our tablets, but below, it details when they first got active- in this case, in the winter of 2036- as well as more details on their murder methods, and even a list of victims! 

 

Protagonist: That’s a LOT of information. How in the world did they find out this much about all of us?

 

Glasses: I’m not sure, some of this isn’t even available to the public. There’s a disturbing amount about each identity. And…

 

Protagonist: And?

 

Glasses: This isn’t me trying to figure out your civilian name, just plain curiosity. But… Which region would you happen to be from, Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: Me? Well, technically the Shikoku region, but now I just roam the Kansai region. Why do you ask?

 

Glasses: I… see. Did you hear anything about yakuza activity while in Kansai? 

 

Protagonist: Uh… No, not really, if you mean by the news. Cuz I never paid attention to that. But I actually had a run-in with them once. 

 

Glasses: And you survived?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! That’s how- (stops self) Uh, redacted information goes here.

 

Glasses: I see… 

 

Protagonist: Again, why do you ask?

 

Glasses: No, I’m just gathering information about a certain something I discovered. I went through each detective and serial killer’s profile, and… 

 

Glasses types in “Candy Cane Killer.” Once the information pops up, they scroll down to the list of victims. They highlight one name. 

 

“Akinari Yamamoto.”  

 

Glasses: Do you recognize that name?

 

Protagonist: (squints) … No. If it has something to do with what you were asking before, I didn’t know shit about the yakuza back then, and I still don’t.

 

Glasses: Oh… I see then. I’m sorry for bothering you. 

 

Protagonist: So who is that guy? 

 

Glasses: Don’t worry about it. Again, I’m sorry for taking up your time. I know you have better things to do.

 

Protagonist: Don’t apologize-!

 

Glasses turns their back on me and returns to the computer. 

 

Uh… Good talk? I think I understand Glasses a little more… But I wonder who that Yamamoto guy is. 

 

I finally leave the library and check the time. 1:30 PM. I need to find someone to talk to for more investigation. Carmen seems like my next bet with the name she knew. I’ll check the theater for her.

 

I run down a flight of stairs and enter the theater. Sure enough, I can see Carmen on the front row, and Nebula too! Nebula is on stage, twirling around and dancing. 

 

Nebula: And… Scene!

 

Carmen: (claps lightly) Bravo!

 

Nebula: Thank you, thank you! 

 

Protagonist: (claps as well) Nice job, Nebby-chan!

 

Nebula: Aw, you’re too kind Protag-chan! I didn’t know you were here.

 

Protagonist: I just entered, actually. I thought I’d find Carmen-san here.

 

Carmen: Good to see you again, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Speaking of which, Nebby-chan, did you try Puppet-san’s food? It’s really good! Right, Carmen-san?

 

Carmen: Hm? Oh, yes. It was very good.

 

Nebula: I stopped by for a bite, and it really was delicious! Having someone cook for me every day doesn’t sound too bad, kyaha. I feel super rich that way!

 

Carmen: I agree. 

 

Nebula: You said you were looking for Carmie-chan, Protag-kun?

 

Carmen: Carmie-chan…?

 

Nebula: Yeah! It’s just a nickname I came up for you. I think it’s super cute!

 

Carmen: Cute… (smiles) Yes, it is cute. 

 

Nebula: Yay, Carmie-chan!

 

Protagonist: I just wanted to talk to Carmen-san about something. It won’t take long, I promise!

 

Nebula: No worries, Protag-kun! Can I join in?

 

Protagonist: Sure, why not? I’m just gathering as much information as possible!

 

Nebula: Sweet~!

 

Nebula jumps off the stage and runs up to me and Carmen.

 

Nebula: So what’s poppin?

 

Protagonist: Well, Carmen-san, I wanted to ask you about a name you mentioned yesterday.

 

Carmen: Hm? I don’t quite recall.

 

Protagonist: You mentioned recognizing the name “Michi Minami?”

 

Carmen: Ah, right. I did mention him.

 

Nebula: What about Michi Minami?

 

Protagonist: What do you know about them?

 

Carmen: Ah, nothing too much. We’re just both music performers, and Michi is quite popular with today’s youth, so that’s why I knew their name. 

 

Protagonist: Oh, okay. 

 

Nebula: So this Michi is like, a celebrity to you?

 

Carmen: In a way, yes.

 

Nebula: Oh, wow! We have a celebrity in the house!

 

Protagonist: I could tell, since there’s a serial killer in here who literally targets their fans.

 

Nebula: Oh, gross, don’t remind me! Just reading that profile made me sick! I feel so bad for that Michi guy, whoever they are… 

 

Carmen: Truly… Losing dear fans, being sent their dismembered hands… That must be quite scarring.

 

Protagonist: When you put it that way… Yeah that is kinda gross.

 

Nebula: It’s SUPER gross!

 

Carmen: I do wonder how they feel about it…

 

Nebula: Oh man, I hope they’re grossed out about them too… Oh gawd, but what if they’re not?! What if they’re into being sent hands?! They have a hand fetish then!! 

 

Protagonist: I think you’re making things grosser.

 

Nebula: We’d have to CANCEL Michi then. Get it trending on social media!

 

Carmen: Cancel… Their performances?

 

Nebula: Cancel their lives, of course!! 

 

Carmen: That sounds vaguely like murder.

 

Nebula: Nah, not murder! Y’know like, “ooo, sis is cancelled!”

 

Carmen: … I do not follow? 

 

Nebula: Like, ending someone’s career! That’s what we cancel!

 

Carmen: Ah, yes… I think I get it now! So we are cancelling Michi Minami…?

 

Nebula: Well, not now! Just whenever we figure out who that guy is and if they’re into being sent dead peeps’ hands, then we cancel them! 

 

Carmen: I see! But for now…

 

Nebula: Not cancelled! We just gotta know who they are first. 

 

Carmen: Getting to know the real Michi Minami would definitely be… Something.

 

Protagonist: How do you know them, Nebby-chan? You said you’ve been in musical theater as well, right?

 

Nebula: Yeah! I’m nothing too big yet, but Michi Minami is the definition of a rising star! Oh, I’m so jealous of them! Wouldn’t you be jealous too?

 

Carmen: I suppose so?

 

Protagonist: Ditto with Carmen-san.

 

Nebula: That’s what I thought! 

 

Protagonist: Though Carmen-san, you don’t recognize who Michi Minami is in this manor?

 

Carmen: (shakes head) I’m afraid not… I just can’t remember.

 

Nebula: A darn shame.

 

So Wolf and Spring know their faces, but not their names or identities, while Carmen knows the name but not the face. I guess it varies on how our memories have been tampered with.

 

Protagonist: I wonder why they’re doing all of this?

 

Carmen: Doing all of what?

 

My tablet buzzes.

 

Protagonist: Oop! Hold on.

 

I take it out. Looks like I got a message. It’s from Rose.

 

Rose: [hiya, Protag-senpai! Glasses-kun told me you were investigating information from people?]

 

Protagonist: [Yep, I am. 8) I was actually gonna talk to you next! I’m w/ Carmen-san and Nebby-chan.]

 

Rose: [oh, sorry if i’m interrupting anything!!]

 

Protagonist: [No worries, I can chat. Do you wanna meet up anywhere?]

 

Rose: [i’m currently in the attic :0c gear-san is here too but he’s asleep i think…]

 

AGH!! Another two flights of stairs to climb. But I wouldn’t want to trouble Rose either.

 

Protagonist: [Sounds good! Be there soon.]

 

I put up my tablet and turn back to Carmen and Nebula.

 

Protagonist: Welp, I gotta go. It was nice talking to you!

 

Nebula: Where ya gotta go?

 

Protagonist: Rose wanted to talk to me. They’re in the attic. 

 

Nebula: Oh, I was gonna ask if I could come, but that’s climbing two flights of stairs soooo… No thanks!

 

Protagonist: Understandable, have a nice day.

 

Carmen: It was nice talking to you, Protagonist-san.

 

Nebula: Yeah, byyyye!

 

Protagonist: See ya!

 

I run back out the theater and up the two flights of stairs to reach Rose. I swear, by the time this is all over, I better have thighs of steel and stamina like the gods.  

 

I enter the empty attic, and sure enough, Rose is there. Gear is also there, curled up on the ground like a cat, baggy eyes shut as usual.

 

Protagonist: Hey, Rose-san!

 

Rose: Oh! Hi, Protag-senpai! Don’t mind Gear-san, they’re just napping up here.

 

Gear: Nyeh… I like being high up.

 

Rose: Or just… Doing their usual thing, haha.

 

Protagonist: So you wanted to talk?

 

Rose: Yeah! I thought you’d be interested in some… Stuff.

 

Protagonist: Well I just got back from talking to Carmen and Nebula about what they knew about some of the civilian names. They recognized a name, Michi Minami, but they didn’t know the face.

 

Rose: Well… I do know a name and a face.

 

Protagonist: Woah! So you know someone’s full identity?

 

Rose: Ah, well, I didn’t word that right. What I meant was I know both a name and a face, but I’m pretty sure they’re not belonging to the same person. 

 

Protagonist: Oh, you mentioned knowing “Angie Ross,” right?

 

Rose: Yeah! I followed her a lot in my normal life. She did podcasts, and I was a big fan! So it’s crazy to think that she’s in this manor right now, granted that this is the right person. Who knows, could just be a common name!

 

Protagonist: Podcasts…? What kind of podcasts?

 

If Rose answers the way I think they’ll answer… 

 

Rose: True crime! I’m a big fan too, y’know. 

 

Aaaand in less than 24 hours, I’ve already gotten one full identity figured out, and I don’t think anyone else has this figured out either.

 

Cereza. CherryBomb. Angie Ross.

 

But I can’t let Rose or anyone else know for Cereza’s safety.

 

Protagonist: Ah, I see. We have quite the names in here! 

 

Rose: I know, right? Ah well, I wouldn’t have recognized her face anyways, since you don’t exactly watch people talk in podcasts. 

 

Protagonist: No photos or anything?

 

Rose: Well… Maybe… But I can’t remember. 

 

Protagonist: I see then. Still, it’s helpful to know! Though you mentioned recognizing a face in here?

 

Rose: Oh, well… This stuff is private, so don’t tell!

 

Protagonist: Your secret’s safe with me, Rose-kun.

 

Gear: Snz…

 

Rose: I trust you, Protag-senpai, so… I’ll tell you! You see, the person here I recognize is… Spade-san.

 

Protagonist: Spade? Really? 

 

Rose: Yeah, but… (voice trails off)

 

Protagonist: But?

 

Rose: (covers face) Oh, it’s so awkward! I don’t know if I can tell.

 

Protagonist: Dude, don’t butter me up just to cuck me last minute. Spill! 

 

Rose: Um… If you insist…

 

Rose takes a moment to collect their thoughts before calming themselves down.

 

Rose: Eheh, well… Spade-san is my ex… My ex-boyfriend.

 

Protagonist: … Oh. Awkward.

 

Rose: Yeah, no kidding. 

 

I’m definitely curious about what their past entails, but it’d be rude of me to prod since I barely know Rose or Spade.

 

Protagonist: So I guess the point is you recognize Spade’s face but not his name?

 

Rose: Yeah! Even when we were dating, I had no idea he was a detective… Or a serial killer. I couldn’t tell you who he could be. 

 

Protagonist: When exactly did you guys date? 

 

Rose: To be fair… Around two years ago. We didn’t talk after the breakup. 

 

Protagonist: Has Spade changed any?

 

Rose: I can’t tell… He’s grown colder, at least. But I’ve been unable to talk to him at all, and he acts like he doesn’t know me…

 

Protagonist: Yeah, that’s definitely cold. 

 

Rose: We used to get along so well, but now he won’t even talk to me… 

 

Protagonist: Is there any particular reason why?

 

Am I prying too much from them? Rose doesn’t seem too happy talking about it… But they keep talking, a wistful look on their face. I’m briefly reminded Gear is still “sleeping” on the ground.

 

Rose: (rests hand against cheek) I don’t know… We didn’t end on the best of terms, but at least for a couple months, we were such a dream couple. It was everything I ever wanted, even though it was so brief. Sigh… 

 

Yikes… So what does this say about Spade?

 

Protagonist: I’m sorry, Rose-kun. But it’s been two years, so I hope you’ve been able to move on some.

 

Rose: (expression lights up again) Oh! I definitely have, yes. I haven’t been in a relationship since, but the thought of Spade-san never crossed my mind until I met him again here. 

 

Protagonist: Well that’s good! What’s important is that you’re happy.

 

Rose: Yeah, enough with the depressing stuff! Have you ever been in a relationship, Protag-senpai?

 

… Ah.

 

Protagonist: (jokingly) Hey, I thought you said we were done with the depressing stuff! 

 

Rose: Aw, so the answer’s no? Really? 

 

Protagonist: Surprising, right? 

 

Rose: Well, what do you want out of a relationship?

 

Protagonist: Me? …

 

I’ve never thought about that in much depth. I (surprisingly) have never had any sort of “close” relationship in my life, and it’s not like I’m best buddies with my coworkers. I was isolated by the other orphans as weird- imagine that, the weird orphan out of all the orphans! - and my coworkers… Well, let’s face it, they hate me.

 

And of course, there’s that huge gap in between where I barely faced any legitimate human interaction. Though that’s a story for another time. So excuse me if actually banging folks (or God forbid actually holding hands with someone) wasn’t my priority when I was orphaned, homeless, or just trying to get by. 

 

Protagonist: … I just want someone who loves me. Like, for real loves me, not just a one night stand or something. 

 

Rose: (nods) Wow… So cool! You have such a clear view, I admire that!

 

Protagonist: Really? I haven’t exactly dreamt up my own perfect man or anything… So I’ve never given this topic much thought. 

 

Rose: Well, we all want to be loved, don’t we?

 

Gear: Nyeh, I don’t. Romance is for the weak.

 

Protagonist: Go back to sleep, Gear-kun.

 

Gear: I’m tryiiiiing.

 

I have to question how old Gear is.

 

Rose: My point is, I want that perfect relationship, just like you described. I want to meet someone I can unconditionally love because of their flaws, not in spite of them. And I want them to feel the same about me. And I think… That’s what drifted me and Spade-san apart. We just didn’t see eye to eye on how we felt about each other. 

 

Protagonist: So… Did you really love Spade-san then?

 

Rose: (laughs) Okay, first off, I was 15. 

 

Gear: Hey, that’s how old I aaaam.

 

Rose: Exactly! So maybe I believed that when I was unconditionally in love with Spade-san when I was 15… 

 

Their face falls.

 

Protagonist: Rose-kun? Are you alright?

 

Rose: But I think no matter how old or young Spade-san was, he never believed that about me. 

 

Protagonist: … Oh. 

 

Rose: That’s just what I think though! It’s been two years, and he may have gotten colder, but I think that’s an indication that he’s matured a great deal.

 

I’m not sure how I feel, but I guess I shouldn't have an opinion on the matter. In other words, “Silence, virgin.”

 

Rose: Please don’t worry though! This got really deep really fast, but know that he wasn’t abusive in any way. I just don’t think our relationship was one that either of us wanted.

 

Protagonist: Is that a good or bad thing…?

 

Rose: Well.. It’s a “could be worse” thing! 

 

I’m still a little confused. But again, what matters is that Rose is doing well, and they seem fine now. Though I wonder if I should talk to Spade about this… Would he even budge on the topic?

 

Protagonist: I see! Well, thank you for telling me. Everything I’ve learned today really has been interesting. 

 

Rose: I’m glad I could help, Protag-senpai! 

 

Protagonist: Though I still have some time to kill. Anything else you wanna talk about before I head out? 

 

Rose: Oh, actually! Glasses-kun showed you all of identity databases, right?

 

Gear: (raises head a little) The what…

 

Rose: Go to the computers in the library and ask Glasses-kun for more details!

 

Gear: Oh, okay. Maybe later… (lowers head again)

 

Protagonist: Yeah, Glasses-kun did. I didn’t go through each one, but he showed me Milk and Cookies’ ‘cause I asked, but he also showed me the Candy Cane Killer’s info as well. I might go back and look at all of them later.

 

Rose: Sounds good! I’m just trying to figure out who’s who, really…

 

Protagonist: Looking for that reward?

 

Rose: Mm, nah, just curious honestly! These are a lot of serial killers and detectives that I’ve used to follow, so it’d be so cool to figure out who they are! … Yet also scary to be in the presence of. 

 

Protagonist: You followed them?

 

Rose: I mean on the news, not stalking! But seriously, I was always fascinated about this stuff, since it basically dominates our world today. 

 

Protagonist: That’s fair, I never really thought of it that way.

 

I didn’t become a detective to become the next Nyx or whatever, I just needed a stable source of income, that’s all. So it’s surreal that I’m being labelled as one of the “world’s greatest detectives” in here. Who decided this, and how did they even know me in the first place? 

 

Protagonist: Well, who do you think I am? I’m half-joking, half curious.

 

Rose: Oh! Hm… Well if you were a detective, I’d say Justice Hunter!

 

Protagonist: Interesting. No comment on that.

 

The rescuing detective? Interesting for Rose to comment on that…

 

Rose: I definitely think you’re a more active, in-your-face kind of guy, so that eliminates most of the options, leaving Justice Hunter!

 

Protagonist: And if I’m a detective? 

 

Rose: Hm… I would say Candy Cane Killer!

 

Oof, the “claims they’re totally good” serial killer.

 

Rose: I think they definitely have noble reasons, just not noble methods. So that’s just who I see you as!

 

Justice Hunter or Candy Cane Killer… Both are wrong, of course, but good guesses. I’m flattered that Rose thinks of me in such a high regard. 

 

Rose: Oh! Do me next! Who do you think I am?

 

Protagonist: You? Gimme a sec to think…

 

Rose says they’re really interested in serial killers and detectives, but I don’t actually know a whole lot about them. But DSMVII is a guy that seems to know a lot about serial killers as a whole, so Rose might be them. On the other hand, if they were a serial killer… I would say Sawyer. No reason why, just a random gut feeling.

 

Protagonist: I don’t know you too well, but if you made me guess, I would say DSMVII as a detective, Sawyer as a serial killer. 

 

Rose: Oh my, interesting guesses! Of course, I can’t confirm or deny anything, but you’ll probably find out eventually.

 

Protagonist: You mean at the revealing ceremony? 

 

Rose: Maybe, if people are interested in my identity.

 

Protagonist: Who would you want to reveal first, then?

 

Rose: Well, I’m definitely a huge fan of Cipher’s work! I don’t care what anyone says, but what they do is amazing! 

 

Protagonist: Cipher… The codebreaker, right?

 

Rose: (nods eagerly) Yeah! Ever since they surfaced, I’ve been following their activity nonstop! 

 

Protagonist: Wow, you’re definitely a fan. 

 

Rose: (swoons a little) Yeah, I know right? Aha, I can’t help but always be impressed! And to think I’m in the same building as them… I’d want to know who they are honestly!

 

Protagonist: As for a serial killer?

 

Rose: Well… This sounds bad, but I want to know who Anon. is. After all, they have killed over eighty people… You can’t just ignore that, y’know?

 

Protagonist: Yeah, I feel the same. I’d vote to reveal Anon. as well, honestly. I don’t intend on punishing them, and while that may put a huge target on their back, at the same time for fuck’s sake they’ve murdered over eighty people!

 

Rose: Exactly! 

 

Gear lets out an ominous “kyeheh.” Please don’t tell me this child is Anon.

 

As our conversation comes to a close, I get a notification from my tablet. It’s a message from Swain to everyone.

 

Swain: [Hey @everyone. I made dinner if you’re interested. Come down to the kitchen to get it.]

 

Cereza: [ooh, what did you make? :0c]

 

Swain: [Gyoza. They’re handmade too.] 

 

Cereza: [sounds delicious ^^ be there in a few!]

 

That does sound really good… And I’m eager to try Swain-san’s cooking. Hm, maybe I should try cooking for a meal and get everyone to taste it for themselves! I’m no gourmet chef, but I’d say I’m pretty good.

 

Rose: Are you going to dinner, Protag-senpai?

 

Protagonist: Yeah, of course! I promised Swain-san I’d be there anyways.

 

Rose: Awesome! Gear-san, what about you?

 

Gear: Will you bring it up for me…? Don’t wanna go down…

 

Rose: Uh… Sorry, but no. I’m not climbing four flights of stairs just for you.

 

Gear: Meanie. 

 

Rose: S-Sorry!

 

Gear: Nyeh, I’ll get it later. 

 

Protagonist: Yeah, I’m sure there’ll be leftovers like this morning. 

 

Gear: Mhm, tell Puppet-chi that I enjoyed the pancakes.

 

Protagonist: I’m sure he’ll be there, so I’ll be glad to!

 

Gear: Thank you, hehe.

 

Protagonist: Alright, I’ll see you around, Gear-san. 

 

Rose and I leave the attic and head back down those four flights of stairs… I really, really wish there was an elevator of some kind. 

 

When we get there, there were more people from this morning. Carmen, Blanche, and Nebula weren’t there, but Spade and Puppet were, along with Spring, Wolf, Cereza, Dust, Duke, Flare, and Soldier. 

 

Puppet: Wow, this is a greater turnout than this morning! I’m jealous.

 

Duke: My apologies… 

 

Puppet: Aha, no worries! I know it was the first morning and everything. 

 

Duke: Um, if it’s any consolation, your pancakes were delicious.

 

Puppet: (beams) Thank you very much!

 

Protagonist: Flare-kuuuun! 

 

I run up and give Flare a big ol’ hug. I haven’t seen him all day!

 

Flare: A-Agh! That’s Flare-san to you!

 

Soldier: And that’s gay to me.

 

Protagonist: Yeah we gay, keep scrolling.

 

Flare: You don’t even know that about me!

 

Protagonist: Well are you?

 

Flare: … No comment. 

 

Soldier: Understandable, have a nice day.

 

Protagonist: Where were you this morning, Flare-san?

 

I make sure to emphasize the “san” part this time to please him.

 

Flare: I’m not much of a breakfast person.

 

Puppet: Whaaaat?! But breakfast is crucial to good health!

 

Flare: Look, I never had time in the morning for school, so I’d skip breakfast. It’s hard to fall back into eating breakfast.

 

Puppet: Well isn’t now a great time, where you have no rush for anything and can wake up late?

 

Flare: You mean when I could literally die in seven days? Mm, no thanks. Not worth it.

 

Puppet: Aw…

 

Flare: If it’s any consolation, I’m a brunch kind of guy and I did try your pancakes. And they were good. 

 

Rose: Yeah, they really were, Puppet-san!

 

Puppet: Oh! Well, that’s something! Thank you for the kind words!

 

Spade: Where is Swain-san? I thought they said dinner was ready.

 

Swain: Sorry! Sorry for the wait! 

 

Swain bursts into the dining room, carrying two large plates filled with gyoza.

 

Wolf: Oi! You need help with that before you drop all of them on the floor or somethin’?

 

Swain: N-No, I’ve got it, promise! 

 

They quickly set down the plates on a table and dust themselves off. 

 

Cereza: (claps) Impressive!

 

Rose: Wow, that looks amazing! You did this all by yourself?

 

Swain: Mhm. Plus, I prepared plates and utensils, and I brought out some sauce bottles too, like soy sauce and vinegar, if you eat them that way. 

 

Protagonist: What about ketchup?

 

Swain: … What?

 

Spade: Who eats gyoza with ketchup?

 

Puppet: Well as it turns out, Protag-kun does!

 

Protagonist: … Nah, I was just kidding, I don’t actually do that. I appreciate the thought though! 

 

Puppet: Oh. 

 

Cereza: Puppet-kun totally fell for that, haha.

 

Protagonist: Soy sauce sounds good, thank you Swain-san!

 

Swain: No problem. (turns around)

 

Soldier: Hey, where do you think you’re going?

 

Swain: Um, back to the kitchen?

 

Soldier: And not eating with us, huh? I see how it is. 

 

Swain: (frowns) I can eat with you all, and then we can all eat burned gyoza together afterwards. I’m still making more.

 

Puppet: Could we at least help before we-

 

Swain: Gonna stop you there, no. You guys go ahead and eat before they get cold! Warm gyoza is far better than cold gyoza.

 

Protagonist: Well, if you insist.

 

Flare: (bows a little) Thank you for the meal, Swain-san.

 

Swain: Ah, no worries, you guys don’t have to thank me that formally. (laughs lightly) I just hope you all can enjoy the food. It’s like cooking for my family all over again… (smiles lightly)

 

Spring: Um… Thank you…

 

Swain rushes back to the kitchen which leaves us to sit down and enjoy the food.

 

Protagonist: Well, let’s eat! They didn’t make all this gyoza for nothing.

 

I eagerly sit down, grab a plate, and mix some gyoza with soy sauce and eat it in one bite. 

 

Protagonist: (mouth full with gyoza) Wow, this is good!

 

Flare: Impeccable manners, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: (swallows) Thank you!

 

Wolf: Well if Protagonist-san ain’t dead, guess that’s a sign that it’s good to eat. (reaches for one)

 

Cereza: Yay for non-poisoned food!

 

Spade: I don’t know why you all are so paranoid about this right now. We literally can’t kill each other for a week.

 

Duke: Well, we can’t let our guards down, right?

 

Protagonist: Not when we’re protected?

 

Soldier: Technically, we can die, it’s just that our murderer gets punished right on the spot. But if all this food was filled with arsenic and we all died, Swain-tan would be punished and probably die too. 

 

Flare: Can we not talk about this while we’re literally eating?

 

Soldier: I dunno, I feel like I’m playing a game of Russian Roulette right now. What if one of these really are poisoned! 

 

Flare: Stop that! Just stop talking and enjoy the food!

 

Soldier: Well, the food is good.

 

Spring: (chewing) Mhm…

 

As we eat and chat, some saying more than others, but I couldn’t help but keep glancing back and forth between Rose and Spade. They were sitting close, but Rose’s words about Spade stuck to my mind. But if they say he’s not a bad person… I’ll believe them. 

 

Spade: Why do you keep staring at me like that, Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: Huh? Oh, no reason. And the way I stare is always the same cuz of my shades, thank ya very much.

 

Spade: Hm, alright then.

 

Soldier: Same here, kyeheh. 

 

Rose: Speaking of which, Soldier-san, how did you get your eyepatch?

 

Soldier: Oh, the world works in mysterious ways. 

 

Protagonist: When she was six she was born without eyes.

 

Soldier: That too.

 

Puppet: Really?

 

Soldier: No, not really! But I ain’t tellin’. (sticks out tongue)

 

Puppet: Aw, man.

 

Soldier: Hey, conversation diversion! What’s up with Duke-kun's surgeon mask? Was Roxie-sama right? Do you not have a mouth?

 

Duke: I have a mouth! 

 

Soldier: Then what’s with the mask, fella?

 

Duke: It’s a personal choice.

 

Flare: How are you eating with that mask on?

 

Duke: Very carefully and quickly.

 

Duke grabs a gyoza, quickly lowers their mask and shoves it into his mouth, and then pulls the mask back up and keeps chewing.

 

Soldier: Aha! So he does have a mouth!

 

Duke: Yes… I’m not sure why this was a debate in the first place.

 

Soldier: Hey, ya never know what people are hiding.

 

Spade: People like you?

 

Soldier: And people like you. And people like everyone here! That’s the whole point of this game, to hide shit from people, no? That’s what’s up with our aliases and everything. We have to hide our real names!

 

Wolf: Are you this fucking annoying at parties or something?

 

Soldier: I wouldn’t know, but the answer is probably yes.

 

Spade: I don’t come here just to hear you go on and on about how this gyoza could be poisoned or other crude reminders of our situation. 

 

Soldier: So you just hide from your problems?

 

Spade: No, but this isn’t how I approach them. The gyoza was delicious, give my gratitude to Swain-san.

 

Spade stands up and swiftly leaves the dining room.

 

Duke: A-Ah, wait, Spade-san!

 

Duke quickly follows Spade, for whatever reason. I should talk to Duke tomorrow anyways.

 

Flare: I think I’ll be off too.

 

Soldier: You pussies just hate fun, huh.

 

Flare: No, I hate our situation.

 

Soldier: Then do something about it! Don’t just whine about how it sucks!

 

Flare: So what exactly are you doing then?

 

Soldier: Lighting a fire under your asses. Do something, pussy.

 

Flare: I’m not putting up with this.

 

Protagonist: Flare-san!

 

Flare: I’ll see you tomorrow, Protagonist-san. It’s getting late.

 

Puppet: Oh how quickly things dissolve… Sigh.

 

Cereza: Eheh… 

 

Soldier: Aren’t you gonna follow your boyfriend, Protag-tan?

 

Protagonist: Uh… I’m still hungry.

 

I also don’t wanna leave these guys alone with Soldier and make them put up with her themselves.

 

Also, I still am hungry. I continue to eat more gyoza. Swain returns with more plates of gyoza.

 

Swain: Hey guys! … Are we missing people?

 

Rose: Spade-san, Duke-san, and Flare-san all left.

 

Swain: … Oh.

 

Wolf: Soldier-san was just bothering them.

 

Soldier: And what about it?

 

Rose: Oh, and Spade-san said your gyoza was delicious! He says thank you for them.

 

Swain: Well, shucks. Thanks for that then. Those were the last batches, so I might as well join in. (takes a seat and starts eating)

 

Wolf: Did you seriously make this on your own?

 

Swain: Mhm.

 

Wolf: Is that even fuckin’ possible?

 

Spring: Um… It’s… Cool.

 

Puppet: Swain-san cooks for all of his family! That’s how experienced they are.

 

Swain: You’re not bothered?

 

Puppet: No, why would I be? About what?

 

Swain: Never mind.

 

Cereza: Try some of your food, Swain-san! It’s amazing!

 

Swain: I’d hope so, or else my family is lying to me.

 

Soldier: Mm, well, I’m stuffed, thank ya very much.

 

Wolf: About fuckin’ time.

 

Soldier: Have fun being pussies or whatever. Byyye!

 

Once Soldier is out of sight, Wolf groans.

 

Wolf: Finally, she’s gone. Talk about a meal ruined.

 

Rose: She doesn’t give me… The best of vibes.

 

Puppet: Though she is right, we should be more active, not compliant! We shouldn’t be forced to stay in this manor until we die!

 

Swain: But how?

 

Rose: Protag-senpai, you’ve been doing some investigating, right?

 

Protagonist: Uh, yeah, for personal reasons.

 

Rose: Oh…

 

Well, I could share the general stuff. Plus, Glasses has his stuff, and I’m sure more people could offer what they know about our situation. Hm… I’ll sleep on that idea.

 

Protagonist: Though I should go as well. It’s getting kinda late.

 

Puppet: I can’t help but be concerned for those who didn’t show up…

 

Protagonist: They should know what they’re doing. Need any help with dishes, Swain-san?

 

Swain: (looking overwhelmed) Nah, I got-

 

Puppet: I’ll help! 

 

Swain: Oh, you really don’t have to.

 

Puppet: You’ve been working all day, let me help!

 

Swain: So have you! 

 

Protagonist: Aha… I’ll leave you guys be. And Wolf-san… Nice scarf. It’s just like mine, but gray!

 

Wolf: You were there when it was made, asshat.

 

Protagonist: So then I know it’s extra nice. (finger guns at Spring, who smiles) 

 

I leave the dining room and head immediately to my room. It was almost ten at this point, and wow what a day! I learned so much, and I even figured out someone’s identity in the full.

 

I think about what both Soldier and Rose said. To be more active, and also my personal investigations… I guess I could share it, but how? 

 

Maybe I could arrange a meeting, but it’s too late for that today. Plus, I need to keep investigating tomorrow. So I’ll just make one… for the day after that…

 

I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I fell into bed. My eyes immediately went heavy, and I fell asleep, ending the second day of the No-Killy period, and my first full day in the Midnight Manor.

Chapter Text

This morning, at exactly 10 AM, I’m greeted with the sound of… Classical music? Is this supposed to wake me up? Because to be honest, it’s kind of boring me… Though I will admit it’s more pleasant than Roxie’s screaming.

 

Usher: Chopin’s Nocturne in E minor. Lovely, no? As your host, I can keep this up all day if I want. 

 

I guess Roxie and Usher are both cruel in their separate ways… Either way, the music stops.

 

Usher: But I won’t, you’re welcome. It's now 10 AM. Good morning.

 

Almost immediately after, I get a message from Puppet to everyone.

 

Puppet: [Breakfast is ready! Hoping for a higher turnout than yesterday ^^]

 

Gear: [zzzzz]

 

Puppet: [ 8^(((( ]

 

Cereza: [pls take care of urself!!]

 

Puppet: [I am!! Cooking is no problem for me 8^)]

 

I remember the idea Rose proposed to me last night about the meeting. Hm, I’ll bring it up later. I should get ready and head to the kitchen. 

 

I swallow down my medication, put on Spring’s scarf for good measure, and leave my room. The first person I run into is Pearl. She looks the same as usual, which is grumpy. Maybe I can brighten her up!

 

Protagonist: Hey, Pearl-san! I haven’t seen you for a while!

 

Pearl: It’s our third day here.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, well, I didn’t see you yesterday at all! Where were you?

 

Pearl: Why should I tell you? I wasn’t doing anything suspicious.

 

Protagonist: See, when you say that, that makes it sound like you were doing something suspicious.

 

Pearl squints at me through her surgeon mask.

 

Pearl: Again, why should I tell you or bother to keep this conversation up? 

 

Protagonist: Well we’re heading to the same place, right? For breakfast?

 

Pearl: Maybe that’s what you’re doing, but I’m not. 

 

Protagonist: Huh? Then where are you going?

 

Pearl: Where I was going yesterday.

 

Protagonist: And that is…? 

 

Pearl: What, you want my life story or something?

 

Protagonist: There’s only so many places you can go to. Lemme guess. The greenhouse.

 

Pearl: No.

 

Protagonist: The gym!

 

Pearl: not. 

 

Protagonist: The balcony.

 

Pearl: Nope. 

 

Protagonist: The-

 

Pearl: I’m not going to play twenty questions with you. I’ll get food later when there are fewer people around. Enjoy your breakfast, Protagonist-san.

 

Pearl diverges from me and heads up the stairs. I wonder what she was doing? I don’t doubt her, but she doesn’t trust me. I’m gonna take it as a “nothing personal kid” kinda thing for now. Oh well, I’ll find her later probably. 

 

When I got to the kitchen, more people were there from yesterday’s breakfast. I notice Gear has his face buried in a pile of scrambled eggs. Maybe he likes eggs. A lot. 

 

Cereza and Duke are there too, though Duke seems more interested in Spade than anything else. And of course, Swain is there too. Carmen and Blanche, however, are not here this morning. Also, Rose, Spring, and Wolf are also here. Flare is still not here, sadly. 

 

The others who aren’t here are: Dust, Soldier, Nebula, and Glasses. 

 

Protagonist: What’s on the menu today?

 

Rose: Scrambled eggs with toast! It’s really good, but you can’t mess up scrambled eggs, huh? 

 

Gear: Egg good. 

 

Protagonist: Ditto, Lil’ dude. 

 

Spring: (nods) Mhm… It’s good. 

 

Wolf: I told Puppet-san that Spring-chan was vegetarian, so he happily obliged.

 

Spade: I don’t mind. Eating too much meat is bad for you. 

 

Duke: Wow… Spade-ue, you truly are a man of quality.

 

Spade: Meat is just far more expensive and wasteful to produce than crops. Plus, even a small amount of meat can irreversibly damage your health. I care for a good, long life.

 

Gear: Guess that won’t be happening soon, huh.

 

Spade: Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping? 

 

Gear: Nyeheh, maybe.

 

Spring: Um… I like your scarf, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Aw, thanks! It was tailor-made for me. Great work, honestly.

 

I grin. Spring smiles lightly, and Wolf gives me a non-threatening look. It’s… Something. A clear improvement. 

 

As I grab a plate and sit down, Gear lifts his head and asks Spade a question.

 

Gear: Since your attention is focused on me, Spade-tan-

 

Spade: Don’t call me that. 

 

Gear: I got a question for you. Does the name “Akasaki” ring a bell? 

 

Akasaki? That’s one of the civilian names, right? Jin Akasaki? Why does Gear ask?

 

Spade echoes my thoughts.

 

Spade: No, I’m afraid not, aside from the list of Civilian Names where “Akasaki” appears. I don’t know anything about this name aside from that.

 

Gear: Hm, I see then.

 

Spade: What’s with that question though? Do you know them?

 

Gear: Nyeh, not personally, but just curious. You sure you don’t know?

 

Spade’s eye twitches slightly, but Gear can’t see that.

 

Spade: Should I know? Do any of you know that name?

 

Duke: ‘Fraid not. 

 

Cereza: (shrugs) Nope. 

 

Wolf: Of course I don’t fucking know. I don’t know who any of you people are. Aside from Spring-chan, obviously.

 

Swain: (shakes head) Same boat as Wolf-san, minus the aggressiveness and also knowing Spring-san.

 

Spring: Hm…

 

Wolf: Do you know, Spring-chan? 

 

Spring shakes her head. 

 

Wolf: That's what I thought.

 

Rose: Do you know the name, Gear-san? Is that why you’re asking?

 

Gear: Nahhh. Just… Curious. 

 

Spade: If curiosity is all there is to it then don’t waste our time. No one’s going to give you the information you’re looking for. 

 

Gear: I wouldn’t say it’s information…

 

Cereza: Aha, well, no use in worrying then! Let’s talk about this another time.

 

Spade: Another time? Like when?

 

That reminds me of the meeting idea.

 

Protagonist: Oh! Hey! I was thinking of something like that?

 

Spade: For more useless banter? 

 

Protagonist: Er… Not exactly, but I was thinking we could organize a meeting sometime! You know, to discuss what we know and any common threads we’ve found. I’ve done some investigating myself, y’see.

 

Wolf: Tch, yeah.

 

Swain: Would this be for everyone or just for us plus Puppet-san?

 

Protagonist: For everyone! I’ll organize it, don’t worry. We could hold it in the theater. 

 

Duke: Like our first announcement? 

 

Protagonist: Exactly!

 

Rose: I’m so glad you took up the idea, Protag-senpai!

 

Protagonist: I thought it was a great idea, Rose-san. What do you guys think?

 

Spring: Mm… (nods)

 

Wolf: If Spring-chan thinks it’s good, then we’ll be there.

 

Cereza: Yeah! I’ll be there too!

 

Duke: (nods) I certainly think it’s a good idea.

 

Gear: Nyeh.

 

Protagonist: What about you, Spade-san? What do you think?

 

Spade: …

 

Protagonist: C’mon, don’t leave me hanging.

 

Spade: So long as you are organizing it, I will be there. Who knows, I may learn something.

 

Protagonist: Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of audience participation! But thank you very much, Spade-san!

 

Rose: When will it be?

 

Protagonist: I was thinking about tomorrow, around noon. 

 

I made that up on the spot, but it worked. 

 

Rose: Sounds good!

 

Swain: How are you going to let everyone else know? Will you tell them directly?

 

Protagonist: Nah, that’s what the group chat messaging is for! I’ll do it right now.

 

I pull out the tablet and send a group message, tagging everyone.

 

Protagonist: [Hey @everyone it’s me! I was thinking of arranging a meeting tomorrow @ noon to discuss what we know so far about our situation! It’ll be in the theater, please reply to this message to say you’re going, we need everyone there!!]

 

Gear: [teehee]

 

Protagonist: [I mean other people who aren’t here at breakfast.]

 

Puppet: [I’ll be there!!!]

 

Spade: [How are the eggs cooking?]

 

Puppet: [Taking a break. I hope you liked them! 8^D]

 

Spade: [I did, thank you Puppet-san.]

 

Flare: [I’ll be there.]

 

Protagonist: [Yaya!!!]

 

Carmen: [y]

 

Protagonist: [y?]

 

Carmen: [Oh. Yes.]

 

Protagonist: [Sweet!]

 

Blanche: [So this is the group chat…]

 

Carmen: [Hello!]

 

Blanche: [Don't mind me. But that sounds wonderful. I will be there.]

 

Nebula: [Count me in!! Let’s have some fun!]

 

Glasses: [I take it you will need me there.]

 

Protagonist: [Probably.]

 

Soldier: [@everyone I’m coming.]

 

Flare: [=_=]

 

Pearl: [sure.]

 

Dust: [Guess I’ll be there too.]

 

Protagonist: [Awesome, that’s everyone! Thank you! Tomorrow at noon.]

 

I put my tablet away.

 

Protagonist: And that’s squared away. 

 

Rose: Sounds good!

 

We continue eating and our conversation. At some point, Dust slips in, grabs some food, and slips out. 

 

Duke: Say, Spade-ue, would you-

 

Spade: I’m going to stop you there. No. 

 

Duke: But I didn’t even ask anything yet!

 

Spade: If you’re going to pry to “get to know me” or ask me more useless questions as this runt did, don’t bother. 

 

Duke: Well… 

 

Spade: I’m finished for now. The food was delicious, give my gratitude to Puppet-san. 

 

Duke: B-But! I-

 

Leaving Duke as a stuttering mess, Spade abruptly gets up and leaves the dining room. 

 

Rose: Oh! It’s already past 11? I should get going as well. Got things to do!

 

Rose didn’t elaborate on that as they stood up and left the dining room as well.

 

Swain: Ah… I should help Puppet-san. Have a nice day, everyone. 

 

Wolf: Spring-chan and I better be off as well. 

 

Cereza: See ya! 

 

When those four left, it just left me and Duke. I wasn’t finished with my eggs yet, so I kept eating. I put more tabasco sauce on my eggs. 

 

Duke: Um… Why are you doing that? 

 

Protagonist: The sauce? It makes it taste better. 

 

Duke: Uh… 

 

Protagonist: Hey, keep scrolling. Don’t judge.

 

Duke: No, I just couldn’t handle spicy food much. How do you do it? 

 

Protagonist: I’m not a weak bitch.

 

Duke: … Oh.

 

Protagonist: Kidding! I’m sure you’re very strong, Duke-san. But maybe not in taste buds.

 

Duke: Yes, you could say that. 

 

Protagonist: Aren’t you done with your food? Got anywhere to be? 

 

Duke: Since Spade-ue shut me out… Not really, no.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, hold on. What’s with you and Spade-san? 

 

Duke: Ah… See… I’m trying to figure out something. 

 

Protagonist: Eh? Something?

 

Duke: Since we’re alone, I suppose I could tell you. I’m looking for someone. 

 

Protagonist: Someone?

 

I remember Duke recognizing a civilian name- Nashiro Kyouda. Is that who he’s looking for? And why? I’ve been meaning to talk to Duke about this anyways for more investigation. 

 

Protagonist: Speaking of which, Duke-san, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.

 

Duke: What is it?

 

Protagonist: When the civilian names were released, it seems like you recognized one. Nashiro Kyouda. 

 

Duke: And what about it…?

 

Protagonist: Do you know them? 

 

Duke: Eheh, well… Not personally, but… That’s the thing, I guess.

 

Protagonist: Some kind of celebrity? 

 

Duke: You could say that, I suppose. The thing is with this person is that they purposely keep their identity a secret, sure their name is out there, but no one can say for sure what they look like. 

 

Protagonist: Oo, mysterious. 

 

Duke: Yes, well. If this is the same Nashiro Kyouda that I've heard of, then he is one of the richest people in Japan at the moment. 

 

Protagonist: Woah, what?! How have I never heard of this? Oh right, because I don’t keep up with current events.

 

Duke: That, and again, they’re a relatively private person. 

 

Protagonist: What makes them so rich?

 

Duke: Their family name is Kyouda, as in Kyouda Enterprises. Huge construction and engineering company, and most of the modern buildings you’d see today are related to Kyouda Enterprises in some way.

 

Protagonist: Wow… Good to know!

 

Though useless since I’m probably going to never see another building for the rest of my life. Great.

 

Duke: (nods) Nashiro Kyouda was the heir of this family… But their father passed away years ago, seven years ago, to be exact, with their mother dying at childbirth, and at such a young age, Nashiro Kyouda inherited the entire company and all of its wealth.

 

Protagonist: You seem to know a lot about this family, huh?

 

Duke: It was a huge upset in my town when Kyouda died. 

 

Seven years ago… Ugh, Jesus, gross, I’d probably still be in foster care, no wonder I didn’t hear shit about it. 

 

Protagonist: Holy shit… And you’re trying to figure out who they are?

 

Duke nods, a determined look in their eyes.

 

Protagonist: Well… Why though? Not like you know the guy.

 

Duke: Wouldn’t you want to know and befriend one of the richest people, much less a teenager, in Japan? 

 

Protagonist: Fair, I guess. So then, that leads me to my final question. What does this all have to do with Spade-san? 

 

Duke: I’m trying to figure out who Nashiro Kyouda is, no? So why not interrogate every around me? And so far, I’ve gotten the best ruse out of Spade-ue. He gets angry and irritable whenever I bring up that name.

 

Protagonist: To be fair, he gets angry and irritable when you bring up anything around him.

 

Duke: Ah, fair point. Still, even so, I believe Spade-ue is my key to figuring out who Nashiro Kyouda is. 

 

Protagonist: All this for a drop of clout?

 

Duke’s eyes lower, and he scratches at his mask.

 

Duke: … Perhaps. 

 

Though if this Nashiro Kyouda is this rich, and if he’s known for architecture and building stuff… 

 

Protagonist: Would it be safe to say this Nashiro Kyouda person is the one running this whole show? 

 

Duke: … I never considered that possibility. 

 

I mean, you need the money, resources, and power to manage something like this, and this person has the means of doing so, unlike some of us. So maybe Duke’s quest isn’t as meaningless as it seems. If we find out who Nashiro Kyouda is, we may as well be one step closer to the mastermind. And even if they aren’t the ones running the show, they might know other powerful and rich people who could have the means of doing so. 

 

Though if Duke is right, and if Spade is Nashiro Kyouda, then does that mean…? 

 

Dang, not even the end of the first no-killy week and we’ve almost got the coordinator pinned down. Not bad. 

 

… Nah, I shouldn't get ahead of myself like that.

 

Duke: But this building… It’s not the Kyouda family style. They make much more modern style buildings, and this building is more of a traditional style. At least, for contemporary times. They also don’t do residential buildings in this style, and mainly apartment complexes. And at the very least, if they were to build this manor, they would’ve at least have implemented an elevator.

 

Protagonist: (whistles) You REALLY know your lore. 

 

Duke: (a faint blush appears) I sure do. 

 

He sighs, not frustrated, but wistful.

 

Duke: And whether or not Spade-ue is Nashiro Kyouda… I’d still like to try and get to know him a little more. 

 

Protagonist: Interesting. I might talk to him later about all of this.

 

Duke: I don’t know if he’ll bother talking about it, though he seems to have some sort of a liking towards you. Maybe you’ll make him crack.

 

Duke: Mm… Or rather, he’ll be more willing to talk to you. 

 

Protagonist: Y’know, Duke-san, your posh accent has me wondering. Are you rich too? Is that why you seek out Nashiro Kyouda?

 

Duke: … 

 

Duke: Perhaps. 

 

I don’t know what sort of answer I expected.

 

Protagonist: Well, good talk. This did broaden my investigations a bit.

 

Duke: Ah, but Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Hm?

 

Duke: Aside from maybe talking to Spade-ue and me about this… Could you not bring this up at the meeting tomorrow? I wouldn’t want to single anyone out. 

 

Protagonist: Gotcha. I wasn’t planning on it anyways.

 

Duke: Thank the Lord… That’s a relief.

 

Protagonist: I’ll see you around, alright?

 

Duke: Um… Yes… And if you find out anything, let me know. Um, if that’s alright. 

 

Protagonist: Haha, I will. 

 

Duke: Guess I'll head off now, seeing as I’m finished here. It was nice to talk about this with someone… Thanks, Protagonist-san. 

 

Protagonist: Yeah, no problem! 

 

Duke leaves, leaving me to finish off my eggs on my own. I think I understand Duke a little more. Once I finish, I collect all of the dishes and bring them back to the sink to wash them. Guess I’m on dish duty now… I wanna cook! I can cook! 

 

Either way, Puppet is still in the kitchen, cleaning up the pans he used. I tell him about the turnout, greater than yesterday just as he hoped, and he seemed pretty happy about that. He told me not to worry about the dishes since he’d get to them later, so I just placed them into the sink and left him there with the cleaning. 

 

Now, I’d talked to everyone I wanted to in regards to names, so I knew pretty much everything I wanted to know about that. But I actually wanted to go and see where Pearl was and see what she was up to. I know she was upstairs somewhere, and it had to have been somewhere I hadn’t been since she was there and I didn’t see her yesterday. She also ruled out the greenhouse, gym, and balcony. So that leaves the infirmary, the pool, or the spa. 

 

Geez, what’s with this internal monologue? You’re not supposed to figure it out, I am! I might as well just work my way up and start with the infirmary.

 

 

I try for the door of the infirmary. … It’s locked. What could this mean? Guess I’ll try the entrance through the greenhouse. Thankfully it wasn’t misting, and the door to the infirmary wasn’t locked this way. Huzzah! 

 

And just as I suspected, Pearl was in here. She was bent over the counter, examining two bottles.

 

Protagonist: Hey!

 

Pearl’s head shoots up, shocked as she immediately glares at me.

 

Pearl: What are you doing here?! 

 

Protagonist: What are you doing here?

 

Pearl: None of your business. (pushes bottles to the side)

 

Protagonist: What are those bottles?

 

Pearl: Nothing. 

 

Protagonist: I thought you said you weren’t doing anything suspicious!

 

Pearl: I’m not! It’s just… None of your business. 

 

Protagonist: Why not?

 

Pearl: … Why should I tell you?

 

Protagonist: Why do you not want to tell me?

 

Pearl: Because I don’t trust you. I don’t want this information to fall into the wrong hands. 

 

Protagonist: … See, that just makes me more curious.

 

Pearl: Which is why I told you to mind your own business!

 

I might as well not make her any angrier.

 

Protagonist: Okay, I’ll butt out on whatever you’re doing. I’m not smart in this sort of stuff.

 

Pearl: Good. 

 

Protagonist: But… Is there anything I can do to help you with whatever you’re doing? Provided that it’s safe and that it isn’t going to hurt anyone?

 

Pearl: … Fine. I figure I’ll need someone to help carry things around. 

 

Pearl scribbles something onto a piece of paper. It’s weird seeing that she has hands, which implies she has an actual body underneath that cloak. She then grabs a rolling tray and pulls it forward, also placing a pair of scissors.

 

Protagonist: Where did you find all of this stuff?

 

Pearl: I’ve been here all day today and yesterday. What do you think?

 

Protagonist: Ah.

 

Pearl: Again, I’m not doing anything bad. I’m just doing shit that I’d prefer stupid people not get there hands on.

 

Protagonist: Stupid people like me?

 

Pearl: Yes.

 

Dang. She didn’t even hesitate to pull the trigger on that one. 

 

Protagonist: Okay, okay, I’ll help.

 

Pearl: (gives the list) I just need some parts of these plants. Go find them and cut off parts of their leaves or something. 

 

Protagonist: Am I allowed to do that…? 

 

Pearl: It doesn’t say anything in the rules, does it? And besides, even if we’re not, you’ll be punished, not me. 

 

Protagonist: Uh.

 

Pearl: Kidding. You should be fine. They’re plants, they’ll grow back. Now go back out there. 

 

Protagonist: I get it…

 

Sigh… I swear I better not get in trouble with this. I’ve skeeted past the law a bit too close several times, and it’s only been three days.

 

I leave Pearl in the infirmary and take a look at the list. Ginkgo, chamomile, aloe vera, and goldenseal Wow, I have no idea what any of this means. Thankfully, I notice small labels on every plant, telling me what type it is. Better start looking. 

 

I easily find the chamomile and snip off some of the stems. I wait for a moment. No screeching from Roxie or passive-aggressive chiding from Usher about breaking the rules. Phew. 

 

I find the aloe vera and valerian next, gathering samples of those. Pearl made mention to get extra valerian, so I do just that. I ought to get on her good side somehow. 

 

As I look for goldenseal and ginkgo, I see a brownish figure among the plants. Spade?

 

Protagonist: Oh! Spade-san! Hello!

 

I roll up to him on my cart. 

 

Protagonist: What are you doing?

 

Spade: I could ask you the same. 

 

Protagonist: Gathering plants for Pearl-san. She gave me this list and everything!

 

Spade: (brows furrow) Why? What for? 

 

Protagonist: (shrugs) She wouldn’t tell me.

 

Spade: So you’re just doing these blindly? What if these are all poisonous, and she’s making a poison?

 

Protagonist: Well, I’d like to find that out. She insists it’s nothing dangerous, but I want her to tell me. But she even said she doesn’t trust me, so maybe doing this will make her trust me more.

 

Spade: You want her to trust you?

 

Protagonist: Well, yeah, cuz I think I'm pretty trustworthy. 

 

Spade: And do you want me to trust you?

 

Protagonist: That’d be nice, yeah. 

 

Spade: So you want everyone to trust you.

 

Protagonist: Oh yeah, that’d be great. 

 

Spade: … I see. That’s dangerous, you know. For both you and me. What if you falsely trust her, and she ends up concocting a dangerous poison with these ingredients, using it to kill us all once this week ends? Then it’s on your head, Protagonist-san, for going with her plans.

 

Protagonist: Uh-

 

Spade: And what if we all trust you, only for you to stab us in the back? What if you turn out to be the serial killer responsible for over eighty deaths to make us feel pity for you about that?

 

Protagonist: G-Geez, way to get dark all of a sudden… I’m just trying to help a potential friend. You know, being nice!

 

Spade: Friends? Being nice? Is that all there is to you?

 

Protagonist: (snaps) Look, okay, I know we’re in a killing game, and we don’t exactly see eye to eye on how to live our life, but let me do what I want, okay? 

 

Protagonist: If things like this mess up, then yeah, it’s on me. But I don’t need that “I told you so” attitude from me.  

 

Spade: …

 

He doesn’t say anything as he stares me down with his cold, pink eyes. I instantly feel guilty and recoil.

 

Protagonist: W-Wait, I’m sorry Spade-san, I-

 

Spade: (holds hand up) It’s alright. 

 

Protagonist: No, that was uncalled for. I… I’m very sorry for my outburst. 

 

Spade: I admire that, Protagonist-san. But please take my words as a caution, not a talking down. It’s dangerous to blindly put your faith in others here. 

 

Protagonist: Weren’t you getting onto Soldier-san for feeling the same way…?

 

Spade: Perhaps, but we’re talking in private now. What does it matter?

 

Uh… Okay…

 

Protagonist: Look, I’m still going to help Pearl-san.

 

Spade: (glances at list) No worries, these herbs are medicinal. Especially in these small doses, they won’t be causing any harm to anyone. 

 

Protagonist: Then what was that for?! 

 

Spade: I was curious about your reaction. 

 

Entertainment, huh…

 

Spade: What were you and Duke-san talking about?

 

Protagonist: Wh- How did you-?

 

Spade: (rolls eyes) You were left alone with him in the kitchen. You had to have talked to him about something. I’m merely curious.

 

Protagonist: Well… I asked Duke-san why he wanted to know you more. 

 

Spade: (brows furrow again) And what did he say?

 

Protagonist: Well… He said he was looking for someone.

 

Spade: Nashiro Kyouda, right?

 

Protagonist: I said I wouldn’t tell-!

 

Spade: Well I figured it out, so no worries. That’s all he would talk to me about, and it’s frankly annoying. 

 

Protagonist: Oh… Sorry. 

 

Spade: (crosses arms) Protagonist-san, when I say this, please take me completely seriously. I’m not trying to put you or your beliefs down, nor am I trying to rile you up. 

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Spade gets extremely serious. They become less harsh, and a lot more… Stone cold.

 

Spade: Do not listen to a word Duke says.

 

Protagonist: E-Eh?! You mean- So Nashiro Kyouda isn’t…?

 

Spade: No, what he said about that name is true. But that’s common knowledge. Anyone could tell you who they are, they’re the richest minor in Japan, for God’s sake. 

 

Spade: But in regards to Duke claims as his motivations, and what Duke claims to be… 

 

Spade: Do not trust him. I sincerely mean that. 

 

Protagonist: Wh- But- What’s your problem with him?

 

Spade: I can’t say. But… I know he’s a liar to his core.

 

Protagonist: Did you know him outside of this manor?

 

Spade: (shakes head) But I can tell from the way he acts, his motivations… He is deliberately trying to hide something from you and me to use us in some way. 

 

Protagonist: Could you be any more specific? In any way?

 

Spade: This is all I know. I can’t say for sure, but if there is one person I would genuinely tell you not to trust, it is Duke-san. 

 

Spade: Drop any suspicions you had on this case of Nashiro Kyouda. It’s no use looking for them, especially for the sake of Duke-san.

 

Protagonist: I…

 

I feel so conflicted… Who’s telling the truth? Is this what Spade means by not trusting anyone blindly? Duke seems like a good person, though… 

 

Spade: Do I make myself clear?

 

Protagonist: … 

 

Spade: Alright.

 

Protagonist: Spade-san, wait. One more question. Actually, two. 

 

Spade: What is it? 

 

Protagonist: Do you genuinely not recognize the name Akasaki? 

 

Spade hesitates and blinks for a second.

 

Spade: No. 

 

Protagonist: And two. Do you not recognize Rose-san either?

 

Spade: No. Why? Are you insinuating they are the same person?

 

Protagonist: No, but why would Gear-kun bring that up?

 

Spade: Beats me. 

 

Protagonist: And… Rose-san says that they recognize you. 

 

Spade: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

 

Protagonist: Are you sure about that? 

 

Spade: Positive. Is that all?

 

Protagonist: … Yes. 

 

Spade: Alright. Thank you for listening to me, Protagonist-san. I’ll see you at the meeting. Noon in the theater, correct?

 

Protagonist: Yeah. See you then.

 

Spade: Goodbye.

 

Spade leaves the garden. I learned nothing about them, or why they were even in the greenhouse, to begin with, but I think I understand him a little more?

 

Who do I believe? Spade or Duke? Rose told me to believe in Spade… But I don’t think Duke is as malicious as Spade claims he is. Maybe he’s just annoyed? Or maybe I am just blindly trusting Duke, as Spade warned against… 

 

Oh well, I still need to get these remaining plants. I’ve kept Pearl waiting.

 

I find and gather the remaining plants on the list as fast as I could, and I returned to the infirmary.

 

Pearl: What took you so long? 

 

Protagonist: Eheh, sorry, I had trouble finding some of these plants. They looked so similar! You know, all leafy and green.

 

Pearl eyes me and then the tray of plants with a skeptical look. I notice there are several flowers and the plants have different shapes. Oops.

 

Pearl: Yeah. Uhuh. Thanks, anyways. I wasn’t in any rush, anyways. Just leave them on the tray, and I’ll get to them later.

 

Protagonist: No problem! Spade-san told me that these were all medicinal, so I know to trust you, Pearl-san.

 

Pearl: You were talking to Spade-san?

 

Protagonist: He was in the greenhouse when I was looking for plants, so I chatted with him for a moment.

 

Pearl: I guess that explains it. Thanks again. 

 

Protagonist: Do you need anything else?

 

Pearl: Not right now, no. But… If I do need anything, can I send you a private message…?

 

Protagonist: Oh, of course! Feel free to hit me up! (makes a peace sign)

 

Pearl: Don’t make me regret it. 

 

Protagonist: I get it. Thanks, Pearl-san~.

 

Pearl: Yeah, whatever.

 

I understand her a lot more. I’m glad! I consider this a great success.

 

Now what…? 

 

As I look around, wondering what to do, I get a notification on my tablet. A message? I pull it out and see. It’s a message from Usher. 

 

Usher: [ @everyone A new rule has been added. Please make note of it and observe it. Have a nice day.]

 

Wolf: [Fuck off.]

 

Usher doesn’t respond to that, which Wolf should probably be thankful for. I switch apps to check out the new rule. It’s been added directly below rule 11 as rule 12, pushing the former rules 12 and 13 down to 13 and 14. It reads:

 

  1. Causing direct damage to the Midnight Manor, with the exception of orchestrating a murder, is strictly prohibited. 

 

Causing direct damage? With the exception of murder? What does that mean? 

 

As I look around, I see Flare heading down the stairs. I haven’t seen him in a while!

 

Protagonist: Flare-kuuuun! 

 

I rushed up to him and wrap my arms around him. He steps back in surprise.

 

Flare: E-Eh? And that’s Flare- san to you, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Aw, man. I haven’t seen you in so long!

 

Flare: Yes, yes, I’m aware.

 

Protagonist: Whatcha been up to? 

 

Flare: … Nothing. 

 

Protagonist: C’mon, that’s literally what everyone has been telling me today! Don’t you at least trust me, Flare-san?

 

Flare: Ugh…

 

Protagonist: Though in all seriousness, did you see the new rule? What’s that about?

 

Flare: That… Would be me. 

 

Protagonist: Oh? Didn’t know you were that kinda guy, Flare-san~.

 

Flare: Look, I’m not! I was just curious while investigating this manor… 

 

Protagonist: So that’s what you were doing!

 

Flare: … Yeah. I was on the balcony, investigating the outsides, which are all foggy, and the screen window that blocks us. So I figured since there are tiny holes, why not try to pry through and make a bigger hole to try and escape? 

 

Protagonist: Ooh, that’s smart.

 

Flare: So when I was about to, Roxie-san and Usher-san appeared right behind me, stopping me before I could. They said I couldn’t, so I replied “says who? It’s not in the rules.” And. Then they added it. 

 

Protagonist: Darn. 

 

Flare: But I asked about the exception, and they basically said I couldn’t break through the screen window to escape, but if I were to break through it, push someone out the hole I made, and they end up falling to their deaths, I wouldn’t be punished for that, at least. 

 

Protagonist: Oh… Morbid.

 

Flare: They also said the same for any traps or scuffles made during any murder attempts that would harm the interior of this manor were okay. But you can’t just go around breaking shit, essentially. 

 

Protagonist: I see… You could bring that up during tomorrow’s meeting!

 

Flare: That’s true. I wouldn’t want anyone to be punished for a mistake or misunderstanding. 

 

Protagonist: Aw, so caring~.

 

Flare: S-Shut up! Are you just like this with me or something?

 

Protagonist: (makes a curled face with mouth) Perhaps.

 

Flare: Ugh… Anyways… What have you been up to, Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: Investigating around. Talking to people. 

 

Flare: Ah… Is that where the scarf comes from? 

 

He squints at it. Not in a judgemental way, but a curious way.

 

Protagonist: Yep. Spring-chan- er, san offered to make one for me. It’s comfy.

 

Flare: I could imagine. And those colors…

 

Protagonist: Trans rights, babey.

 

Flare: Ah.

 

Protagonist: You could ask her to make you a scarf if you want to, I’m sure she’d love to. 

 

Flare: Yeah, but I’m not sure if Wolf-san would want to… 

 

Protagonist: Hey, don’t be so hard on those two, okay? He’s just protective over her, and they have their reasons. 

 

Flare: I guess, but it doesn’t make him any less infuriating. 

 

Protagonist: Well, still. Keep in mind they’re people too with real experiences. 

 

Flare: Yeah, yeah, I know. And I am too, Protagonist-san. A real person with real emotions and reactions.

 

Protagonist: Hey, I wasn’t saying you weren’t! I’m just saying be mindful, that’s all. (shrugs)

 

Flare: (sighs) I get that. I’ll see you around then?

 

Protagonist: Where are you going? 

 

Flare: To my room to rest. I’ve had enough strange encounters with freaky robots for one day. 

 

Protagonist: Oh, okay… 

 

Flare: Where were you headed off to? 

 

Protagonist: (shrugs) I dunno, I guess. Maybe the library?

 

Made that up on the spot, but I guess I could head there anyways. Glasses was probably there, so maybe I could bother them some more.

 

Flare: Sounds good. See you. 

 

And with that, Flare continued to head downstairs. Meanwhile, I was heading up to the library. 

 

When I got there, instead of Glasses sitting alone, he was sitting on the floor with three others. Dust, Soldier, and Rose. There was a pile of cards in the middle. 

 

Protagonist: What’s going on? And by the way, hi. 

 

Rose: Hi Protagonist-senpai!

 

Glasses raises an eyebrow at Rose but returns to the cards in their hands.

 

Protagonist: I haven’t seen you in a while, Dust. What’s cracking?

 

Dust: Sh. Don’t look at my cards. I don’t want Soldier-san to see.

 

Soldier: Teehee. You have a six of-

 

Dust: Shut up!

 

Rose: Glasses-senpai taught us how to play a new card game, so that’s what we’re playing!

 

Glasses: (pushes up glasses) Big 2, or Da Er in Chinese. It’s a popular card game that originated in China, and it’s popular in East Asia. But for some reason, not Japan.

 

Rose: Yeah, I’d never heard of it, eheh.

 

Protagonist: So how do you know, Glasses-san?

 

Glasses: I’m Chinese, of course. 

 

Protagonist: Oh. Duh. 

 

Glasses: My mother taught me how to play. I’d invite you, but four players are optimal. You’re welcome to spectate, of course. 

 

Glasses pulls out a pair of cards and places it over the top card, a seven. It’s two eights. 

 

Glasses: Soldier-san, your turn.

 

Soldier: So I’ve got another eight, can I put it down? 

 

Glasses: Since I put down a club and diamond, sure. The suit should be higher. 

 

Soldier: Wig. (puts down card)

 

Dust: Uh… I’ve got this. (puts down a 10) 

 

This looks like some kind of counting game… And what’s that with suits? Glasses responds as if they were reading my mind.

 

Glasses: The goal of the game is to put a card you have that is higher than the one the person before you put down. For example, since Dust-san put down a 10 of hearts, Rose-san must put something down that’s higher. They have two options. 

 

Glasses: One, they can put down a 10 with a higher suit. In this case, Rose-san can only place a 10 of spades, since Dust-san had one of hearts. 

 

Protagonist: Is there a suit order?

 

Glasses: Yes. Clubs, then diamonds, then hearts, then spades. Spades are the most powerful, and whoever created that rumor that diamonds were the weakest is a liar. 

 

Protagonist: I… See. And what’s the second option?

 

Glasses: (shrugs) Simple. Rose-san just puts a card higher than a 10. You know the order of cards, yes?

 

Protagonist: Oh, so they can put a royal card, right? 

 

Glasses: (nods) In addition to an ace or 2, both of which are bigger than those royal cards. A 2 is the biggest of course, hence the name “Big 2.” And a 3 is the smallest. 

 

Protagonist: Makes sense.

 

Rose: Eheh, well… I don’t have any of those. 

 

Soldier: Press F in the chat for Rose-san.

 

Dust: F.

 

Glasses: In that case we discard the pile and start a new one, starting with me. And I… (places down a set of five cards) Win. Straight. Five cards in a row. 

 

Dust: Aw man, seriously?! 

 

Soldier: Not fair, you’ve been playing this for way longer than we have! 

 

Glasses: Then I won’t play this round. Would you like a hand, Protagonist-san? I’ve explained the rules. 

 

Protagonist: Oh… Sure, why not! 

 

Glasses proceeded to take the cards up and start shuffling them, and they also explained to me more types of set cards I can put, like a flush, which was five cards of the same type, a royal flush, which was a combination of a flush and a straight, and a bomb, which was four of a kind plus one random card that would end the deck and could be used on top of everything.

 

Once the cards were dealt, Soldier got a wicked look on their face. I look at my cards and see a two of spades, so what’s she grinning about? This can only end so well. 

 

Glasses: The one who goes first is the one with the three of clubs. 

 

Dust: That would be me. (places it down) 

 

And the game kicked off. I was getting by fine for the first round, squeezing in one or two doubles in, but as the numbers got higher, Soldier’s grin got bigger. 

 

Protagonist: Guess I’ll put this down. 

 

I place an Ace of diamonds. 

 

Soldier: Heheh. Pass. 

 

Protagonist: Okaaay… 

 

A new round starts. Dust and Rose are normal, but Soldier still has that look. Eventually, I’m forced to put up my two of spades, but I was running low on cards, which was good. Soldier had six cards.

 

Glasses: Well, since nothing can beat that-

 

Soldier: BOOM! Quite literally. 

 

Soldier throws down a hand of all fours and one seven. A bomb. 

 

Glasses: Never mind. Soldier starts the next round. 

 

Rose: Oh, and they only have one card left…

 

Soldier: Exactly. (tosses down a three) I win. 

 

Dust: Ah, shit. Good game, Soldier-san.

 

Soldier: Heheheheh.

 

Rose: You’re surprisingly calm about this, Dust-san. 

 

Dust: Hm? Oh, I guess. I’m not too serious about this, honestly.

 

Rose: That’s what I was surprised about. 

 

Dust just shrugs vaguely in response. Glasses reshuffles the deck and continues to redistribute the cards. We play a couple more rounds, with the winner varying every time. At some point, I snag a win out of sheer luck, and Glasses nods slightly in approval. But for the most part, I was Tonight’s Big Loser. 

 

Once we finished one round, my stomach grumbles. 

 

Protagonist: Oh geez. What time is it? 

 

Glasses: (looks at a computer) Just after 5 PM. 

 

Protagonist: Oof, I’m gonna head out then and grab something to eat. But this was fun, guys! 

 

Rose: Yeah, it really was!

 

Dust: (packing up cards) Mhm. 

 

Soldier: I had fun. 

 

Glasses: I’m glad you all liked it. 

 

Rose: Yes, thank you Glasses-senpai! 

 

Glasses: No need. You were the one who was curious, after all. 

 

I say my goodbyes and leave the library, then head to the kitchen. No one was around, and the plates out were mostly empty, so I decided to gather those up and clean them. Sigh, I hope Puppet and Swain weren’t overworking themselves… But with that thought, I get an idea.

 

I wanted to cook at some point for the group, so why not now? I knew how to, and I could at least help Swain. But what to make? 

 

As I finish washing the dishes, Swain walks in.

 

Swain: Protagonist-san? What are you doing here?

 

Protagonist: (putting up dishes to dry) Just washing dishes. I was about to get a bite to eat when I got this great idea. I could cook tonight! Or at least, help cook.

 

Swain: Um… Why? 

 

Protagonist: Cuz I wanna. I was thinking of spaghetti. That’s simple enough, and I’d say I’m pretty good.

 

Swain: But-

 

Protagonist: C’mon, just one night, please? Then I’ll leave it to you. Unless you don’t want to.

 

Swain: I’d rather you not do it at all, but… (sighs) Fine. Why not. For one night.

 

Protagonist: Yay! Thank you, Swain-san! 

 

Swain: Yeah… But if anything goes wrong, I’ll step in immediately. 

 

Protagonist: No worries, it’s pasta. I know what I’m doing. 

 

I get a big bowl of water boiling and wait. 

 

Protagonist: So…

 

Swain: Where’d the scarf come from?

 

Protagonist: Spring-san made it for me. 

 

Swain: Ah. 

 

They didn’t question anything further than that. 

 

Protagonist: What have you been up to, Swain-san?

 

Swain: (shrugs) Nothing much aside from cooking. These past couple days have been sort of boring, honestly. But I shouldn’t let my guard down like this.

 

Protagonist: Have you talked to anyone?

 

Swain: Not really, I’ve just been hanging out in my room. 

 

Protagonist: See, that’s the problem.

 

Swain: I’m not a people’s person like you, Protagonist-san. That should be obvious. It’s why you’re named Protagonist, not me.

 

Protagonist: Fair, I guess.

 

Once the water was ready, I placed a ton of pasta inside and let it cook. 

 

Protagonist: I don’t even know why I’m called Protagonist. Or why I’m here in general. I’m not one of the “world’s greatest” or whatever.

 

Swain: I get you. I feel the same. I’m no one special, really.

 

Protagonist: Really? I doubt that, Swain-san. I’m sure you’re someone amazing since you’re here. 

 

Swain doesn’t respond to that either. I decided to just finish making the meal while Swain watched in silence. Yeah, they definitely weren’t a people person. 

 

Thankfully, the meal preparation went smoothly, and I had a bunch of plates of spaghetti ready, knowing there’d only be like, six people showing up. But hey, I was hungry.

 

Swain: (nods) Looks good. 

 

Protagonist: Thank you kindly!

 

Swain: I’ll send everyone a message. 

 

Swain: [@everyone Hey guys, dinner is ready. Protagonist-san made spaghetti. See you there.]

 

Soldier: [Let someone else do something for once lol?]

 

Rose: [I’ll be there!!]

 

Dust: [And Rose is taking us there. Cool.]

 

Protagonist: [Can’t wait! BD] 

 

As we wait for people to come, I get the plates and silverware set up. Flare arrives first.

 

Flare: Didn’t know you were much of a cook, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: You’d be surprised. 

 

Flare: Unless it takes like utter shit.

 

Protagonist: Okay, ouch. 

 

Rose heads in with Soldier and Dust.

 

Protagonist: Where’s Glasses-san?

 

Rose: Um… He looked busy on the computer, so I thought it’d be best to let them be.

 

Dust: Instead, we came. 

 

Protagonist: Hey! You get to enjoy a nice, hot meal with the crew.

 

Dust: (Dully) Yay, I want nothing more than that. 

 

Puppet comes, followed by Wolf, Spring, and Nebula, and Cereza. So that’s more than I expected, yay! I notice Duke and Spade aren’t here. 

 

Nebula: I LOVE spaghetti! Like, thanks so much, Protag-kun! You’re the bestest. I bet it’s delicious.

 

Cereza: Yeah seriously, thanks! I hope this wasn’t too much trouble.

 

Protagonist: Aw, no problem guys. It wasn’t hard to make or anything, so don’t worry. 

 

Puppet: Really? Thank goodness!

 

Swain: Yeah, Protagonist-san didn’t need much of my help. But I observed.

 

Protagonist: Yeah! That’s very true.

 

Wolf: Well if Protagonist-san made it… (Spring nods in approval)

 

Protagonist: Well, what are you waiting for? Dig in! 

 

We all sit down at the table and start eating. Thankfully, my spaghetti did NOT taste like shit. Take that, Flare.

 

Spring: Um… This is… Amazing, Protagonist-san. Thank you…

 

Wolf: (nods) Mhm.

 

Cereza: It really is! Where’d you learn to cook?

 

Protagonist: Myself. And the internet.

 

Nebula: We’re so blessed to have three amazing cooks in this house! Now I’ll never go hungry. Thank goodness. 

 

Soldier: Yeah, no kidding. (slurps loudly)

 

Flare: Do you mind?

 

Soldier: Yes. Worms. (goes back to slurping)

 

Flare: Uggggh.

 

I didn’t know Flare’s true thoughts about me, but I knew he didn’t dislike me any more than Soldier. 

 

Puppet: Thank you, Nebula-kun! You too, Soldier-kun.

 

Swain: Mhm… Thanks. Just trying to lend a hand here and there. 

 

Flare: But yes, Protagonist-san. This is good. Thank you.

 

Protagonist: Hehe, no problem! I’m glad you like it, out of all people.

 

Soldier: Aww, so cute~. Now do that thing the dogs did with the spaghetti.

 

Flare: And moment ruined.

 

Soldier: That implies there was a moment in the first place. 

 

Dust: Hm… (playing on his device and eating) Neat.

 

Wolf: Yeah, yeah. Moving on. 

 

Flare: I agree, for once. 

 

Spring: Hm… 

 

We all continue chatting and eating. Soldier gets curious about Dust’s game, and he takes time to explain that. We talked some more about various things, and… I felt good. It was good to be able to eat with such a large group of lively and seemingly friendly people, and I was happy to cook for them too. So that was a win. But still, this all almost made me forget that I was sitting at a table with some of the deadliest serial killers and some of the greatest detectives. I just felt like I was eating lunch at a table full of friends in high school, or something. I know, it’s silly. And it’s only been three days too. But still… I’ve never had an experience like this before in my life. And I’d never imagined something like this. Definitely not in the foster home that I lived in, and definitely not alone in my apartment.

 

So even though we were all sitting in what was essentially a giant and brutal death trap, this manor was already giving me things I never knew I ever needed. And I was thankful for that, at least. It all felt good.

 

As dinner finished up, I gathered up the plates, but Swain offered to wash and clean up. As thanks for my dinner. I suggested that they clean up after every dinner, but they didn’t seem to be compromising. I was fine with that, I guess. I was tired, after all. 

 

I headed back to my room and got ready for bed, ending yet another day in the manor. I smile as I lay back in bed, the lights dim. 

 

… Today was a good day.

Chapter Text

As I slept, I suffered from a nightmare. I guess it made sense, since night time would have to balance out how my day went. Y'know, equivalent exchange or something. “Can’t have an entirely good day, bitch,” I hear my mind saying to me. 

 

Even though I never met my parents, I still had dreams of them. Or at least, who I imagined them to be. I wasn’t really sure how that worked, since I don’t actually remember their faces, but I just came up with what they looked like. Needless to say, my family is a touchy topic. Though technically, it shouldn’t be, since… They don’t really exist. Yep. That’s right. I was born from an alien pod. 

 

Okay, I know there’s no getting that past you guys.

 

There’s no announcement when my eyes bolt open. Only darkness. What time is it…? 4:19. I wait a minute. Nice. I already feel better.

 

I should probably go back to bed before my sleep schedule gets fully fucked, but my stomach grumbles. Ah, heck. Maybe there’s some leftover spaghetti from last night. I rub my eyes, and now I realize how wet they were. I must’ve been crying a little. Oh well, that’s what my shades are for. I toss them on and throw on a shirt over me, and I head to the kitchen. 

 

As expected, no one’s in the living room, and I head to the kitchen with ease. Yes! There’s some spaghetti left. I grab a plate of what remains and return to the dining room. How I’d quietly clean this would be a bridge I’d cross later. 

 

For some reason, I completely missed the presence of someone when I first came into the dining room. Were they here the whole time?

 

I squint through the darkness and make out Gear’s small silhouette. What’s Gear doing up this late? Wasn’t he sleeping like, 24/7?

 

Their eyes weren’t closed, but they weren’t exactly wide open either. And in addition, they had a small cup in front of them. 

 

Protagonist: Gear-san?

 

Gear: Don’t talk to me. 

 

No “nyeh”s or “keheh”s or anything… Gear’s childish tone was gone, and it was replaced with something a lot more serious and monotone. Scary… This was nothing like the Gear I knew. Was this the true nature of Gear?

 

Protagonist: Um… Whatcha drinking?

 

Gear: Chamomile. Now leave me alone. 

 

Chamomile…? Isn’t that one of the plants Pearl had me get yesterday? I guess there was plenty of it in the greenhouse, so that’s how he got ahold of it.

 

Protagonist: Okay… Have a nice night, Gear-san.

 

Gear: I won’t. 

 

I decided to eat my spaghetti in here would not be the wisest idea, so I booked it back to my room. Cold spaghetti was still good. As soon as I finished it up, I fell back asleep on a full stomach. I’ll just pretend that encounter with Gear didn’t happen, and I was just imagining things. Or hey, maybe this was all just another dream too, which was part of the first dream I had. That would be weird. Why would I be dreaming about a scary Gear? Or eating spaghetti at 4:20? Or-

 

 

Roxie: Kyahahaha~! It’s my day now! GOOOOOD MORNING! It’s officially 10 AM and daytime! See, isn’t that much more exciting than Usher-nii-san’s lame-ass music? … Don’t tell him I said any of that. This’ll definitely wake you up!

 

And we’re back to this.

 

Roxie: Don’t forget the meeting at noon at the theater! You’re welcome, Protagonist-kun~. 

 

Huh. Didn’t think she’d mention that. Now I felt like she and Usher were going to interfere or ruin things somehow. 

 

Roxie: That’s all the announcements for the day! Have a great day, everyone!

 

I get up and stretch. I felt a little tired, but that faint memory of waking up feels as fuzzy as my dream. Maybe it really was just a dream-

 

I see my empty plate of spaghetti on my table. Ah, shoot. It wasn’t a dream. 

 

Hm. I’ll just put the thoughts out of my mind and not talk to Gear about it. Even then, he probably wouldn’t want me to.

 

But first, breakfast. Then, meeting. 

 

I wash up, swallow down my medications, and get dressed so no one could tell I cried while I slept last night. The shades did the trick. 

 

I bring my plate with me, and I head to the dining room. 

 

Gear wasn’t at breakfast, thankfully, but the people who came were now somewhat routine. However, Duke and Spade weren’t there still. I hope they were both okay, what Spade had told me was… Ominous, to be honest. But thankfully, I don’t have to deal with that now. I think. 

 

Swain was there of course, along with Wolf, Spring, Cereza, and Rose. So the group was a little smaller this morning. 

 

Puppet: Good morning! I made a Japanese style breakfast this morning, with rice, miso soup, and natto! Hope you all don’t mind. 

 

Cereza: You always go the extra mile for us, Puppet-san! Thank you! (bows slightly)

 

Puppet: It’s the gratitude I live for, Cereza-chan. Thank you!

 

Puppet sets down the trays of food. Wolf nods.

 

Wolf: Thank you, Puppet-san.

 

Puppet: Thank you for coming, Wolf-san!

 

Spring: (nods slightly) Mhm… 

 

Yeah, I’m surprised Wolf was okay for coming to group meals. Especially with Spring. 

 

Swain: Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Swain: Are you alright? You’ve been standing at the entrance for quite some time.

 

Protagonist: Oh. Sorry. I’m just kinda out of it right now, I didn’t sleep well last night.

 

Swain: Well you’ve got a big day today, with the meeting. You’ll be leading it, right?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! Of course! I know that.

 

Swain: Interesting that Roxie-chan took the time to announce the meeting. 

 

Protagonist: Yeah, that was nice of her. 

 

Swain: So… Shall we eat?

 

Protagonist: Oh! Yeah! Of course!

 

I hadn’t even realized I was nervous about the meeting until Swain brought it up. Now I feel scatterbrained and jittery, but I guess I could blame that on last night as well. 

 

I set my dirty plate into the kitchen quickly before anyone noticed, and then I sat down and started eating. I just had to focus on the food right now… Which was really good, as always. I had to let Puppet know that. But I wasn’t even talking very much, and Cereza was the one keeping the conversation alive, mainly with Rose. Was I bothered that much? Or was it just nerves? 

 

Once I finished, I just quickly brought my dishes to the kitchen. 

 

Puppet: (raises) Protag-kun? You’re finished so early? 

 

Protagonist: Oh yeah, I dunno, I hadn’t even realized I ate so quickly! But it was delicious as usual, so thank you again. 

 

Puppet: Ah, no problem! I just wish more people came… A warm breakfast would be more suitable, perhaps. And I just wished more people showed that they liked my cooking.

 

Protagonist: Well by dinner, most of the food is gone, so I guess some people just prefer not to come for breakfast. I’m sure they have their reasons.

 

Puppet: I suppose…

 

Protagonist: Plus, you can count on me as a loyal consumer! Quite literally. And if there’s any help you ever need, please let me know. 

 

Puppet: No worries! Promise.

 

Protagonist: You’re like Swain-san. Why don’t you want any help? You’ll burn yourself out before you realize it. 

 

Puppet: I… Wouldn’t want to burden anyone else. 

 

Protagonist: Sounds like Swain-san. You two are more similar than you realize, you know.

 

Puppet: (laughs lightly) No, I don’t have a family full of siblings. That’s something different. 

 

Protagonist: Well I wasn’t talking about the super literal. Like, your personalities. 

 

Puppet: I know, I know.

 

Protagonist: But what’s your family like, Puppet-san?

 

Puppet: …

 

His goggles hide his eyes, but he turns and focuses on cooking.

 

Puppet: I don’t want to talk about it.

 

Protagonist: Oh.

 

Puppet: (head shoots up) I-I mean, if you’re okay with it! You’re okay with it, right? If you’re not-

 

Protagonist: No, that’s fine, really-

 

Puppet: I didn’t mean to snap at you like that! I… I have no excuse for my behavior. I’m sorry!

 

What’s with this trend of usually cheery people snapping at me? Not that I’m directly mad at Puppet, I just find it weird. 

 

Protagonist: No, please, don’t apologize m’dude! I should be sorry for overstepping that boundary-

 

Puppet: But you didn’t know, so I shouldn’t blame you for that!

 

Protagonist: But you shouldn’t blame yourself! Okay, okay. Before we get into this cycle of apologizing, it’s okay. I don’t hate you… You don’t hate me either, right? 

 

Puppet: No, no, of course not!

 

Protagonist: Okay, great. Then no need to apologize for anything. We’re all good. Let’s talk about something else, okay?

 

Puppet: If you say so… In that case, what time is it?

 

Protagonist: Um… (checks tablet) 11:15. 

 

Puppet: You have less than an hour before the meeting. Shouldn’t you go get ready?

 

Protagonist: Oh, shoot! You’re right. How do I look?

 

Puppet: Um… Same as usual, I think?

 

Protagonist: Which means stunning. Thanks! See you in like, forty-five minutes!

 

I hastily wave goodbye and dash out of the kitchen, on my way to the theater. 

 

Thankfully, the theater was empty when I got there, leaving plenty of time to think to myself and get into my head. I headed down to the front row and started pacing around. 

 

How would this meeting start? Should I start or something? Or should I let others speak first? What else should we talk about? What would I even talk about? 

 

The door to the theater is practically kicked open, which interrupts my thoughts. Nebula saunters in, and when he sees me, he gets a huge grin.

 

Nebula: Protag-kuuun~!

 

They run up to me and give me a big hug. They felt soft, and they smelled nice too. Like strawberries.

 

Nebula: We haven’t talked one on one yet, so it’s sooo great to see you! Whatcha doing here? Wanna see me perform? 

 

Protagonist: Um, the meeting?

 

Nebula: Oh, right, right! I almost forgot. Thanks for reminding me! 

 

Protagonist: If you almost forgot, what are you doing here? 

 

Nebula: The theater is my home! Not literally of course. But I just feel so comfortable here!

 

Protagonist: Ah, I see then. You’re an actor and everything, so that makes sense.

 

Nebula: (nods) Mhm! But the meeting sounds super fun too! 

 

Suddenly, Nebula picks up my hand.

 

Protagonist: Huh?!

 

Nebula: Woah, your hands have taken a beating! Yeesh, no offense, but when was the last time you did your nails? 

 

Protagonist: Uh… Never?

 

Nebula: Never?!

 

Protagonist: I mean, that’s weird, I literally do my nails like, all the time. Like, totally.

 

Nebula: Wait, really? And you didn’t tell me? What kind of products do you use? Maybe that’s why your hands look so… Dirty.

 

Protagonist: Uh…

 

I try to think back to what kind of soap is in my bathroom here. 

 

Protagonist: Dove?

 

Nebula: See, that’s a generic product, and you don’t know what’s really matching for you!

 

Protagonist: Uh, thanks? 

 

Nebula: Hm, I have some rose ointment in my room, we could use that. Oh! And dark blue would go GREAT with your outfit. Maybe we could add some gold dots too!

 

Protagonist: Are you actually going to do my nails?

 

Nebula: Well, I would if I could right now, but all my stuff is in my room, and we’ve got, what, less than 30 minutes until the meeting starts?

 

Protagonist: So you remembered the time anyways.. 

 

Nebula: So tell ya what. As soon as the meeting ends and whatever, I’ll do your nails. And if I’m feeling generous, I’ll give you a makeover too! You in or you out?

 

Protagonist: Sounds nice-

 

Nebula: YAY! This is gonna be so much fun! It’s been so long since I’ve dressed someone up! 

 

Protagonist: Well… I can’t wait. This does sound like fun. 

 

Nebula: I know, right? And-

 

The doors open again, stopping our conversation. I walk up, and in walks Spade. He’s walking right towards us, though I guess there’s no other way to go. Oh boy.

 

Spade: It seems like I’m early. 

 

Protagonist: (glances at tablet; 11:37) Yeah, you definitely are. 

 

Nebula: Hiii! So nice to formally meet you, Spade-kun!

 

Spade: Spade-SAN.

 

Nebula: Whaaat? But that’s not fun, Spade-kun.

 

Spade narrows his eyes at Nebula, and if not for the no killing rules, I could totally see Spade choking out Nebula right now. 

 

Spade: Don’t disrespect me, young man.

 

Nebula: I’m nooot. I’m just trying to loosen up? Besides, we’re all high schoolers. It’s cool, right?

 

Spade: No, it’s not. 

 

Nebula: Tough crowd, huh?

 

Spade: Is it too much to ask even an ounce of respect, or are you just begging for a target to be on your back?

 

I’d expect for Nebula to back down by now, even I would have. I probably wouldn’t have crossed Spade in the first place anyways. But hey, at least his attention wasn’t on me. 

 

Instead, Nebula just grins at Spade.

 

Nebula: Fufu… Is that a threat?

 

Spade: It may very well be. You’re playing a dangerous game with 9 serial killers in the manor.

 

Nebula: Are you suggesting you’re one of them?

 

Nebula doesn’t even seem scared, they just seem to be popping a normal question in a normal conversation. 

 

Protagonist: Hey… 

 

The door opens again, and Cereza bounds in. Oh thank goodness.

 

Cereza: Hi, hi! Just thought I’d come in early. 

 

Nebula’s more sinister grin drops, and they put on their usual bright smile.

 

Nebula: Cereza-chan!!!!

 

Cereza: Nebby-chan!!!!

 

The two hug.

 

Protagonist: (clears throat) Some people got close. 

 

Nebula: Cereza-chan is SO nice. Isn’t she? 

 

Protagonist: Yeah, she totally is.

 

Spade: I’ve met her already. 

 

Cereza: Aw, thanks! Just being me, y’know. (tilts head) So what were we talking about?

 

Nebula: Oh! Well I was just about to give Protag-kun a manicure, and maybe a makeover! 

 

Protagonist: Just about meaning after this meeting.

 

Nebula: Meanies don’t get manicures! I’ll curse you with eternal cuticles instead. Nyehhhh.

 

Nebula sticks their tongue out at Spade. He just squints in return. Not out of anger, just confusion.

 

Spade: I’m so scared?

 

Carmen is the next to enter. She nervously pokes her head in, and then she quickly enters and joins us.

 

Carmen: Oh wonderful, I wasn’t sure if others would be here already. 

 

Protagonist: It is only 11:45… You’ve still got fifteen minutes.

 

Carmen: I was worried that would be too early. But seeing you all, I’m relieved.

 

Nebula: See? You’re nice too, Carmen-chan! Spade-kun isn’t, however.

 

Carmen: Hm? Did Spade-san do something wrong?

 

Nebula: He’s cancelled.

 

Cereza: Uh oh.

 

Spade: Stop that. Nothing happened. 

 

Carmen: Oh, I see then. 

 

Nebula: Noooo, I’m serious! Why stan Spade-kun when you could stan ME! 

 

Carmen: Um… stan? I’m not familiar with that term.

 

Spade: It’s just nonsense lingo from times before. Ignore him.

 

Carmen: Oh, alright, if you say so. 

 

Protagonist: Why don’t you guys go ahead and get seated…? We’ve got like, ten minutes left.

 

Spade: Sure. 

 

Nebula: Ooooh, sit with me, Cereza-chan! You too, Carmen-chan!

 

Carmen: Oh, alright then. 

 

Nebula happily drags Carmen and Cereza to sit down, and he chats up a storm. Spade gives me a look and sits down elsewhere. 

 

More people start coming in. One minute before noon, the only people who haven’t arrived are Duke and Dust. Luckily, Duke walks in and looks around for a place to sit. He walks towards the middle near Swain. 

 

Duke: Um… You mind if I sit here?

 

Swain: (shrugs) Why not.

 

Duke: Thank you graciously. (sits down)

 

Swain: (puzzled) It wasn’t that deep. 

 

Protagonist: (looks around) Where’s Dust-san?

 

Flare: Hell if I know. 

 

Protagonist: It was rhetorical, but thank you for the answer! 

 

Rose: Let’s give him some time! People are late sometimes.

 

Protagonist: Fair, I guess.

 

I nervously wait for five minutes or so. Where was he? Was he okay?

 

At 12:07, Dust rushes in.

 

Dust: S-Sorry! I… Almost forgot. 

 

Soldier: Dude, how do you “almost forget?” Roxie-chan literally talked about it this morning. 

 

Dust: No, I just lost track of time… 

 

Reluctantly, he sits next to Soldier, who grins.

 

Protagonist: Great! Everyone’s here. Let’s get this meeting started! 

 

Rose: Woot! 

 

Protagonist: Okay, so… Does anyone want to start?

 

Soldier: Aren’t you the one who organized the meeting? 

 

Protagonist: Well, that’s true… 

 

Puppet: May I say something?

 

Protagonist: Oh, of course! 

 

Puppet: I'll get to the point. I’d like to make breakfast and dinner mandatory. 

 

Swain: Really?

 

Puppet: I feel as if it would be a good head count for the meals! Plus, you all need to eat. 

 

Flare: Do we have to?

 

Glasses: Considering the word “mandatory,” yes.

 

Flare: I know that!

 

Puppet: I’d really appreciate it if you did!

 

Rose: But wouldn’t that be more work on you, Puppet-san?

 

Puppet: No, no, not at all! I already make food for eighteen.

 

Swain: Um, yeah, same here.

 

Rose: If you say so… 

 

Puppet: (nods) It’s no worry at all! (turns to Protagonist) Well? Should we make it mandatory?

 

Protagonist: Well, I’m not the one who calls the shots. If you and Swain-san are fine with it, then be sure to enforce that. I don’t think Roxie-san or Usher-san would make it a rule. 

 

Puppet: In that case, I will make it so! Everyone, please come to breakfast and dinner! If not, I will go and find you to make sure you’re okay! And then you’ll come!

 

Soldier: That sounds vaguely like a threat. 

 

Dust: Do we get to vote on that? 

 

Blanche: I suppose not.

 

Carmen: So be it. 

 

Spring: Mhm… 

 

Protagonist: Alrighty then, so please come to breakfast and dinner if you can. For Puppet-san.

 

Not everyone is too happy about that… Guess I should try and quickly move on.  

 

Protagonist: What next?

 

Flare: (raises hand) Can I say something really quick?

 

Protagonist: Of course!

 

Flare: (stands up) As you know, a new rule was added yesterday in regards to property damage.

 

Swain: Yeah, what was that about? 

 

Flare: That was because of me. Well, sort of.

 

Soldier: Oooooh, Flare-kun’s a troublemakerrrr. 

 

Gear: Nyeheh, is Protag-tan into that? 

 

Flare: Shut it! 

 

Flare: Gh… Anyways… I was curious and was about to try something, but Roxie-san and Usher-san stopped me. 

 

Carmen: And what were you doing?

 

Flare: I went up to the balcony with the screened window and everything. I thought to myself that the screened window was our best way to leave this manor. So, why not try and break through it?

 

Carmen: Is that when Roxie-sama and Usher-sama appeared?

 

Spade: You really don’t have to use that kind of formality. 

 

Carmen: Oh… 

 

Flare: But yes, you’re right, they prevented me from trying to break through and implemented the new rule.

 

Glasses: What’s the clause about murder though?

 

Flare: They mean that if anything is broken, intentionally or not, in the course of a murder, then you wouldn’t be punished for it.

 

Glasses: I see. Thank you for the clarification. 

 

Flare frowns at that slightly.

 

Nebula: Okay okay, now that we know what all that means, let’s get to the juicy stuff! I know Protag-kun’s been doing some investigation, huuuh?

 

Dust: Investigating? About what?

 

Gear: About this meeting. Zzz… 

 

Dust: Sigh. 

 

Protagonist: So I went around and talked to some people here about… Their memories. And here’s what I’ve gathered. 

 

Protagonist: First, people who knew certain civilian names from before coming here can’t match the name with the face. 

 

Carmen: That’s true, it’s the case with the name Michi Minami for me. 

 

Glasses: Who?

 

Nebula: Hello? Famous actor? Musicals?

 

Glasses: I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. 

 

Spade: What else is there?

 

Protagonist: Well, people who knew each other, namely, their faces, from before coming here can’t match the name. 

 

Wolf: Yeah, that’s the case with Spring and I. It’s fucking weird, man. 

 

Spring: Mhm… And we can’t share it either… 

 

Soldier: Are there any other people who fall under that group? I, for one, don’t know who any of you people are. 

 

Pearl: You probably have to see our faces first. 

 

Soldier: I have the right to remain blind.

 

Flare: Regardless, that’s a good question. Is there anyone here who recognizes anyone else? Aside from Spring-san and Wolf-san?

 

Rose: …

 

Gear: Heyyy, Spade-tan.

 

Spade: You’re even worse than Nebula-san. What?

 

Nebula: You heard it here! Spade-kun hates children.

 

Gear: Don’t you recognize someone here?

 

Rose reacts to that. 

 

Spade: Don’t tell me it’s that Akasaki name you kept bugging us about yesterday.

 

Gear: Nyeheh, so you remembered?

 

Spade: Not the point. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

 

Pearl: Isn’t Akasaki the name of one of the people here?

 

Swain: Yeah, but we don’t know who, exactly. 

 

Nebula: Why are they important? 

 

Gear: Hehe, I’m not even talking about Akasaki-tan right now. 

 

Spade: Then what is it now? Should I go down the list and detail how LITTLE I know about each name?

 

Gear: Spade-tan, stop bullshitting me. Stop bullshitting all of us, for that matter.

 

There’s that Gear again from last night. If not for his childish, disrespectful honorifics, he sounded like a completely different person right then. 

 

Spade: What…?

 

Swain: I’m so confused right now.

 

Duke: Er… What exactly is going on?

 

Gear: It’s so obvious that Spade-tan recognizes someone here. I’m not talking about a name, I’m talking about a face. 

 

Gear returns to his mischievous self. 

 

Gear: Kyeheh, I’m just answering Soldier-tan’s question, after all. 

 

Duke: Hm? Who does he recognize? 

 

Spade: I don’t know what you’re talking about. 

 

Gear: Really? Cuz a little birdie- well, a little blossom- told me-

 

Rose: (quietly) Oh dear.

 

Oh geez, Gear has been talking about Rose this whole time. He was there when Rose told me all of that stuff about Spade. I thought he was asleep, but he was listening this whole time?

 

Gear: -a little something, and don’t you think it’s rude to leave things off without reconciliation?

 

Carmen: What do you mean by a blossom?

 

Nebula: Are we further cancelling Spade-kun? Where are the receipts? 

 

Cereza: A little blossom? 

 

Pearl: The blossom is Rose-san.

 

Rose: Eep!

 

Spade: What does Rose-shi have anything to do with this? I barely know them. 

 

Gear: Do you really?

 

Glasses: What are you implying, Gear-san?

 

Spade: Yes, what exactly are you implying? That I know Rose-shi somehow?

 

Gear: Perhaps. 

 

Carmen: Spade-san… Do you?

 

Spade: Of course not! 

 

Rose: (lowers head) S… Spade…

 

Flare: Is something the matter, Rose-san?

 

Rose: (rubs at eyes) N-No… I’m fine, don’t worry!

 

Protagonist: Alright, this is getting a little out of hand. Let’s not make anyone uncomfortable, okay? Can we move on?

 

Gear: Not till I get my answer~.

 

Spade: Your answer is no, and you’ll have to deal with that.

 

Gear: Is that really the answer? 

 

Spade: How childish can you be?! 

 

Gear: How childish can you be?

 

Soldier: Can I get like, a crash course about what’s going on?

 

Blanche: How peculiar.

 

Dust: I’ve given up on trying to figure it out. All I know is that it involves Spade-san, Gear-kun, and maybe Rose-san.

 

Soldier: No shit, but how exactly?

 

Dust: (shrugs) Dunno.

 

Spade: It does NOT involve the child! Or anyone!

 

Soldier: Heyyy, Rose-san! You got any idea on this whole thing! I never realized Gear-kun’s balls dropped enough to even confront Spade-san on… All of this. 

 

Nebula: Team Gear-kun!!! We stan a legend!! Carmen-chan, your turn!

 

Carmen: Ah, yes! Period!

 

Rose: (looks away) I… 

 

Protagonist: Guys, seriously- Let’s- Let’s move on! This isn't the circus!

 

Spade: Yet I'm surrounded by clowns here.

 

I have to stop this somehow before shit seriously hits the fan!!!

 

Gear: Imagine how Rose-tan feels right now with how childish you’re acting, kyeheh.

 

Glasses: Why don’t you let Rose-san speak for themselves on this matter then? 

 

Gear: Hm, good idea. 

 

Rose: I… I don’t-

 

Flare: Or maybe we shouldn’t let Rose-san do that.

 

Glasses: (shrugs) Just a suggestion that I thought would help.

 

Protagonist: Hey-!

 

Spade: (stands up) All of you SHUT UP! Right now!

 

That does the trick.

 

Spade: I don’t know what any of, for lack of a better word, you crackheads are talking about! I don't know who Akasaki is, much less who Rose-san is, and I’ve never seen them before in my life before this manor!

 

Duke: E-Eh?

 

Carmen: Maybe we should believe in Spade-san…

 

Pearl: If that’s what helps everyone sleep at night. 

 

The theater is silent for a moment. And then… 

 

Rose bursts into tears. And in that silence, only Rose’s sobs could be heard. I can’t tell if Spade flinches at that. 

 

Flare instinctively moves to comfort them, but they turn away. As I stare at Rose, just as everyone else, one thought comes to my mind, which I’m sure has polluted everyone else’s mind somehow. Except I’m the only one who says it out loud.

 

Protagonist: Spade-san…

 

I know Rose claimed that Spade wasn’t a bad person, and that their relationship didn’t end on bad terms, but something just doesn’t sit right with me. I have to ask this.

 

Protagonist: What did you do to Rose-san?

 

Spade instantly shoots a glare at me, and his words would have easily killed me had they been able to. 


 

Spade: Fuck you. 

 

He turns away from everyone and storms out of the meeting. The door slams behind him. 

 

Everything falls silent again, just for a moment. Then Gear lets out a giggle.

 

Blanche: How can you laugh at a time like this?

 

Dust: Were you really just fucking with us right then?

 

Gear: Hehehehe… No… I’m right though. That’s not a lie. I’m serious, hehehe.

 

Flare: Rose-san, please…

 

Puppet: Are you alright?

 

Rose: … I-I don’t want to talk about it.

 

Protagonist: Please… Leave them be for now. 

 

Flare: … Alright.

 

Flare unhappily turns back to the stage as Rose hides their face. 

 

Glasses: Regardless… Should we continue the meeting?

 

Pearl: After that shit show? 

 

Wolf: Can I just say, what the fuck?

 

Nebula: Spade-kun is for SURE cancelled. Shaking my head.

 

Swain: Not sure if this is the main takeaway, but… I guess it works.

 

Glasses: The whole point that Protagonist-san was getting at before… All of that… Was that our memories have clearly been tampered with before we arrived here.

 

Cereza: Wait, but why? And by who?

 

Wolf: To further fucking confuse us, of course. 

 

Flare: Yeah, so we don’t know anyone’s identities and no one has an unfair advantage in this game. 

 

Soldier: You talk like you’re the one running the show. 

 

Flare: Bold assumption over one sentence.

 

Glasses: Well the “who” is the one in charge. They’re probably conducting this killing game, as well as running this manor and tampering with our memories.

 

Spring: Hm… Roxie-san did mention a host controlling them…

 

Pearl: They are robots, after all. 

 

Duke: But they didn’t say if that person is in this manor.

 

Wolf: If they are, then I’m gonna find them and beat their ass. 

 

Swain: We don’t know for sure if they are, though. Roxie-chan and Usher-kun just refused to answer that question. 

 

Glasses: Making things further suspicious. 

 

Protagonist: Okay, so we’ve gathered that our memories have been tampered with and that someone is running the show behind the scenes somehow. 

 

Flare: But I say it’s likely someone in this manor. 

 

Soldier: Again, you sound awfully suspicious.

 

Blanche: Well if it is someone in the manor, than that means that person controlling this is one of us. 

 

Swain: Does it, though?

 

Flare: Well, where would they hide? There’s no basement or anything. 

 

Nebula: So they gotta be out in the open, yet hiding among us at the same time! Spooky… 

 

Protagonist: I’d say let’s not worry too much about who that “who” is for now. After all, it’s only the fourth or so day here. 

 

Swain: Did you have anything else planned in mind for this meeting?

 

Cereza: Actually! I’ve got a question.

 

Protagonist: Hm? 

 

Cereza: We’re already more than halfway through the No-Killy period or whatever, so what’s the game plan for when we reach the Killy period? You know, to prevent… Killing?

 

Protagonist: Um…

 

Duke: Did we perhaps want to discuss who to vote for for the Revealing Ceremony?

 

Soldier: Waste of time. Let’s figure it out when we get there, not three days before.

 

Duke: I suppose.

 

Swain: Actually, I have an idea. 

 

Protagonist: Oh! Do tell.

 

Swain: I say we set up a buddy system for the Killy period, where everyone goes around in pairs. That way we can keep tabs on one another and everyone has alibis and are safe when night time comes. 

 

Cereza: Oh! That’s a good idea.

 

Glasses: How will these pairs be chosen?

 

Swain: Preferably between people who trust one another, and not strangers.

 

Pearl: Couldn’t this be used against this system though, with a partner covering for another partner’s murder?

 

Dust: They’d get no benefit. Only one person escapes per murder, remember? Not two.

 

Pearl: Hm.

 

Swain: I’ll… Let you guys choose partners for now? And then we’ll sort out the leftovers.

 

Wolf: Well obviously Spring-chan and I are going to be together.

 

Spring: Mhm.

 

Nebula: I wanna be with Carmen-chan!!!

 

Carmen: R… Really?

 

Nebula: Of course! Hehe. 

 

Cereza: Rest in peace.

 

Puppet: Swain-san, I’ll be with you! We’re in charge of meals, after all. We can cook together!

 

Swain: Hm? Oh, of course. … I suppose.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Hm? Could it be?

 

Flare: (sighs) Yes, I’m asking you to be my partner.

 

Protagonist: I thought you’d never ask! Can you repeat that so I can record it for… Research?

 

Flare: No. So will you or no?

 

Protagonist: Of course I will! 

 

Dust: (turns to Soldier) You and me? 

 

Soldier: Gamers rise up. (fist bumps Dust)

 

Swain: Who’s left?

 

Glasses: Cereza-san, Pearl-san, Rose-san, Blanche-san, Gear-san, Duke-san, Spade-san, and myself.

 

Duke: Could I make a request?

 

Swain: Sure.

 

Duke: Could I partner with Spade-ue? If that’s okay?

 

Swain: I mean… I won’t stop you I guess. If you’re okay with that.

 

Nebula: I dunno why you’d willingly do that though.

 

Duke: I am! 

 

Soldier: Maybe it’s a matter of if Spade-san is okay with that.

 

Nebula: He has no choice! 

 

Soldier: (shrugs) Fair enough.

 

Glasses: I mean, he really doesn’t. That’s what he gets for leaving the meeting early.

 

Cereza: I’ll go with Pearl-san!

 

Pearl: Wh… Really? Why?

 

Cereza: Yeah! We can like, get to know each other more! I haven’t had the chance to, after all.

 

Pearl: (dully) Fantastic. 

 

Blanche: If you don’t mind, I’ll stay with Rose-san as partners. If that’s alright with them. Rose-san?

 

Rose: Sure…

 

Rose’s crying had died down, but they were still hiccupping and sniffling. They still weren’t facing the stage.

 

Glasses: So I’m with Gear-kun. That’s fine with me.

 

Gear: Yaaaay, Glasses-tan is my new onii-san. Can you buy me sweets?

 

Glasses: (sighs) Don’t make me regret this.

 

Swain: Awesome, thanks for making this work without much problem, guys. Really appreciate it. ‘Course this won’t go into effect until the Killy period starts and ends. But just keep your partner in mind.

 

Duke: And I’ll let Spade-ue know. 

 

Swain: (shrugs) Thanks, really.

 

Protagonist: What about food? I know that’s been a concern.

 

Swain: If Puppet-san and I are together during the Killy period, then we can ensure that we don’t harm the food in any way. 

 

Puppet: And I would never do that to you all! That’s rude and manipulative.

 

Pearl: Speaking of which, I have something I’d like to say.

 

Protagonist: Oh?

 

Pearl: I usually occupy the infirmary and greenhouse during the day. If you need any sort of medicine or herbal treatment, please talk to me before you grab it on your own. I can also make you anything you want that’s not already there. Within reason, of course, I’m not making you poison. 

 

Cereza: Woah, I never knew that about you!

 

Pearl: (sighs) I wouldn’t want anyone to hurt themselves with this stuff out in the open. 

 

Cereza: Still… So cool! I knew it was a good choice to partner with you, so now I can see all of this in action!

 

Pearl: Please don’t make this a huge deal. 

 

Protagonist: Does anyone have any other announcements to make? If not, I think we’re good to end the meeting soon.

 

Glasses: Do you have anything else to say? 

 

Protagonist: Hm… Just one more thing. Look down at your chest and spell “attic.”

 

Some people just stare at me blankly, like Glasses, Swain, and Duke. Others fall for it, like Dust, Soldier, Cereza, and most importantly, Flare. Hehe, he fell for it.

 

Flare: A-t-t-i-c- Oh god dammit. 

 

Protagonist: (claps) Meeting adjourned!

 

Flare: Hey-!

 

Nebula: Protag-kuuuun!

 

As soon as I step off stage, Nebula rushes up to me and hugs me.

 

Nebula: That was SO cool! I’m so jealous, I wish I was up there! And Spade-kun is SO cancelled by the way. I dunno if I’ve made that clear or not. 

 

Flare: Protagonist-san-

 

Nebula: But now that this meeting is over, you wanna get your nails done now?

 

Protagonist: Oh, sure! I did say after the meeting…

 

Nebula: YES! You’re the bestest, Protag-kun!

 

Flare: Hey-

 

Before Flare is able to say anything, Nebula drags me off to their room. Thank goodness that he can’t kill me right now for the ATTIC joke. But hey, I’m always down for a free manicure!

 

Nebula: Let’s see what we can do… What color do you want? 

 

Protagonist: Um-

 

Nebula: Hey, why don’t we match it with your eyes? Let’s see what-

 

I instinctively reach for my shades. I’m not letting Nebula touch them, no hard feelings. They’re Gucci™ after all. Can you blame me for being a little careful?

 

Protagonist: Nah! I think I’ll go with light pink. That’s a cool color. 

 

Nebula: Ooh, good choice. I have the perfect shade, it’s so pretty! I usually go with dark pink or a color kinda like magenta, but all shades of pink are so beautiful. So glad someone else here has taste. (taps their well done nails against the counter so they loudly make clicking sounds)

 

Protagonist: Is pink your favorite color?

 

Nebula: Nah, I’d say gold! But gold nails don’t look too cute with my outfit, so that’s a shame. 

 

Nebula grabs my hand and places it into a bowl of warm water. Then, they pick it up and start clippin, filing, and cleaning them. You know… I don’t totally hate this. Meanwhile, Nebula keeps chatting away and tells me about their home life. From there, I didn’t pay much attention to what Nebula was doing to my nails, but it felt nice. 

 

They attend high school in Tokyo, and there they’re quite popular. While they don’t do any sports, they’re in their school’s choir, and they’ve even performed with their choir in some big name competitions throughout Japan. In addition to popularity at school, Nebula talked about how they used to have a huge friend group online, but he admitted that he didn’t talk to them as much now, with how busy high school life was. He also talked about travelling outside of Japan, talking about how he’s visited America several times, namely New York City. He told me about that, and how busy and alive it seemed, though he preferred Tokyo. Still, he said New York City was a bunch of fun. 

 

I couldn’t help but get a little jealous of Nebula. I mean, he had it all: friends, travelling, fun… Going to school… But of course I didn’t express that. 

 

With such a neat and pretty background, it was hard to believe Nebula could spare any time being a detective or a serial killer. Again, I didn’t express that. He was just hard to read, I guess. 

 

As Nebula finished their story about themselves, they finished painting my last nail. 

 

Nebula: And done~! If you’d like, I could add some patterns for you. 

 

Protagonist: Ah… I’m good.

 

Nebula: If you say so! Thanks so much for listening to me and being patient. I hate fidgety people, especially when I’m working with their nails. 

 

Protagonist: It’s not like I could just ignore you, besides, I really appreciate you doing this for me. They look really cute!

 

Nebula: I know, right? They go really well with your outfit. Especially your scarf! You said Spring-chan made it for you, right?

 

Protagonist: Yes… Spring-san did.

 

Nebula: Maybe I could ask her to make me one! If I could get through Wolf-san, haha.

 

Protagonist: What color would that be?

 

Nebula: Hm… Maybe I will try gold on me, thanks to your suggestion! 

 

Protagonist: I didn’t suggest anything, but I’ll take it!

 

Nebula: You’re so sweet, Protag-kun. I know I can count on you!

 

Protagonist: Count on me? For what? Are you asking me for a favor?

 

Nebula: Nah, I’m just talking about in general. Y’know, when this week ends.

 

Protagonist: … Oh.

 

Nebula: Hehe, just in case! I’m just saying~. 

 

Protagonist: Is that supposed to be a compliment?

 

Nebula: Uh, duh! I’m saying you’re smart and reliable! Again, I’m just saying. 

 

Protagonist: I see?

 

Nebula: Mhm, anyways, just make sure to give it another ten minutes or so to dry, so don’t do anything reckless and ruin them within the first thirty minutes! That would suck. All my hard work… For nothing!

 

Protagonist: I’ll be careful! Again, thanks for doing this for me. Really appreciate it.

 

Nebula: (beams) Good! This was so fun, so I loved it! We should do this again sometime.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, it was fun! I enjoyed myself. 

 

I’ve definitely gotten to understand Nebula a lot more. 

 

I check out my nails. The nails were dry already, so I assumed they were good. They looked… Really smooth and nice. That’s a first. Is this what you’d call… Self care? What a weird feeling. 

 

There’s a notification on my tablet, which I had set to the side for now. Nebula gets a notification too, so I guess it’s one of those for “everyone” from Puppet or Swain. Come to think of it, it was nearing dinner… And I was hungry too. Sure enough, it was a message from Swain.

 

Swain: [@everyone dinner is ready. Thx]

 

Puppet: [@everyone Please don’t forget the new rules from the meeting 8^D]

 

Dust: [We got the first notification, but thanks.]

 

Protagonist: Ah, right, Puppet-san wants everyone to go to dinner. 

 

Nebula: In that case, I hope Swain-san made something good! 

 

Protagonist: Their cooking is pretty good, so I’d rest easy. 

 

Nebula: Aha, I know that already. Let’s just go! 

 

We leave Nebula’s room, nails freshly done, and head to the kitchen. 

 

Now that I think about it, is mandating everyone to come that good of an idea? I’m thinking about the meeting… And that was just earlier today. I hope Rose is feeling better, and also that Spade is being less of a closed off jerk. But it’s only been a couple of hours, so I doubt it. The best thing to do is not provoke Spade or Rose, but knowing some people (Gear) here, I don’t know if that’ll happen. 

 

When Nebula and I arrive, we’re among the first, probably since we were the closest to the kitchen. Puppet and Swain are there of course, setting things up, and Flare, Dust, and Soldier are here too. 

 

Protagonist: Man… Don’t you ever feel bad for Swain-san or Puppet-san?

 

Nebula: (tilts head) For what? 

 

I guess Nebula wouldn’t exactly be the best person to talk to about this. I’m gonna drop it. Luckily, Flare is here, so I’ll talk to him! 

 

Protagonist: Heyyy, Flare-san! 

 

Nebula: (pouts) Oh, go ahead and leave me after doing your nails.

 

Flare: Hey, Protagonist-san… What happened to your hands?

 

Nebula: (seizes opportunity to join back in) You like them? I did them myself! Protagonist-san chose out the color, and he has such good taste! 

 

Flare: Oh… I see. 

 

Nebula: If you want, I can do your nails too! Ooh, maybe I could start a commission service.

 

Flare: With what money?

 

Nebula: Hm… Fair, I guess. Recognition and favors, probably! So, you in?

 

Flare: (quickly) No thank you. 

 

Nebula: Aw, your loss. 

 

Soldier: (joins in) Hey, are we talking about free manicures? Hit me up! 

 

Nebula: Well, they weren’t gonna be free anymore-

 

Protagonist: What were you up to after the meeting, Soldier-san?

 

Dust: Ah, she’d be with me. Figure since we’d be spending a whole lot of time soon that I ought to get to know her better in the meantime. Basically to get a jumpstart on it all. 

 

Nebula: Cuuuute! I should totally do that with Carmen-chan. Maybe I could do her nails!

 

Flare: Is that your way of getting to know people?

 

Protagonist: More like how people get to know him…

 

Flare: Huh?

 

Protagonist: Don’t mind me. 

 

More people file in like Carmen (who Nebula leaves to go join), Cereza, and Duke. So more of the normal arrivals. In the meantime, I keep talking with Flare. 

 

Protagonist: So what have you been up to, Flare-san? 

 

Flare: (shrugs) Not much, I guess. I’ve been in my room since the meeting ended. Though I did want to make sure that Rose-san was doing okay.

 

Protagonist: Were they?

 

Soldier: Yeah, what was up with that?

 

Flare: They didn’t want to talk about it, but they took some time to calm down and now they’re back to their usual self.

 

Protagonist: Phew… Thank goodness.

 

Just as I said that, Rose walks in, looking as if they hadn’t cried at all today.

 

Rose: Hey guys! (waves)

 

Cereza: Oh my gosh! Rose-san! Are you alright?

 

Rose: Of course I am! No reason not to be, haha. 

 

Flare: Just as I said, of course they are.

 

And then Spade walks in. Rose doesn’t react and keeps going with their normal business. I really don’t expect Spade to do anything either, but… Gear follows Spade in. 

 

Gear: Hiiii Spade-san. How’s it goin’? Heart that? I called you “san” nyahah.

 

Spade: (looks around) Do any of you hear something?

 

Dust: Uh.

 

Gear: Nyeh, you’re no fun. Is that how you deal with all of your problems? Ignoring them?

 

Spade: Perhaps.

 

Gear: Yay, a response! 

 

Swain: Hey, Gear-kun. Cool it. We don’t need any more of that here. 

 

Nebula: I, for one, am here for the drama.

 

Swain: Not helping. 

 

Flare: I wouldn’t call conflict in a death game mere “drama.”

 

Nebula: Hey, I was just joking! Don’t gotta take it so seriously.

 

Flare: I take my life very seriously! 

 

Pearl: (walks in and looks around) … Did I walk in on a bad time? 

 

Swain: (sighs) No.

 

Flare: (abruptly) Yes. 

 

Pearl: Figured. 

 

After Pearl’s arrival, the conflict mostly died down between Gear and Spade. People found their seats as Wolf, Spring, and Blanche joined us. A good amount into the meal, I noticed Glasses still hadn’t arrived.

 

Puppet: (looks around) Where’s Glasses-san?

 

Rose: Oh, shoot! Did we forget about them?

 

Soldier: Or did they forget about us? 

 

Puppet: I’ll send them a message, perhaps- Oh, I hope they’re alright.

 

Protagonist: They should be! Why wouldn’t they? 

 

Puppet: You never know…

 

Swain: Ominous. 

 

Cereza: I’m sure Glasses-san is fine! Let’s not worry about it. 

 

Glasses: Yes, why should you worry?

 

Puppet: Oh, Glasses-san! Thank goodness you’re alright!

 

Glasses: I forgot about the whole dinner ordeal, and I hadn’t checked my tablet in some time. My apologies if I caused any concern. 

 

Puppet: I’m just glad you can join us for dinner in the end!

 

Swain: (clears throat) The dinner I made. I mean. Don’t mind me.

 

Rose: Are you alright, Glasses-senpai?

 

Glasses: (raises an eyebrow) Are you?

 

Rose: O-Oh, um, yes! 

 

Glasses stands there for a moment, unconvinced, but he continues on. 

 

Glasses: If you say so. 

 

He takes a seat, and dinner resumes. 

 

I take a moment to look around the table. Small friend groups had already started to spark up, with Carmen, Nebula, Cereza, and Rose being one. Dust and Soldier talked amongst themselves, and even Duke, Swain, and Puppet were talking together. Of course, I was with Flare, and Spring and Wolf were together. Some people chose to keep to themselves, like Blanche, Pearl, and Glasses, while Gear bugged Spade still, and Spade ignored Gear in return. It was a nice sight to see, even though I was sure no one cared but myself. 

 

While we eat, Duke speaks up.

 

Duke: Um… Spade-ue…

 

Spade: (flatly) What. 

 

Duke: So during the killy period, a proposition was thrown out after you left, and the rest of us agreed to it.

 

Spade: (not looking at Duke) And that is? 

 

Duke: Well… Er, we’d all get in pairs to prevent killings and to provide alibis for everyone if a death were to occur. 

 

Spade: I take it the pairings have been decided already?

 

Duke: Mhm… And, well, I hope you don’t mind! But you’re my partner during the killy period. 

 

Spade: … 

 

I expect Spade to snap at Duke and turn him down or just walk out like last time, as his eyes begin to narrow. But then his face loosens up and he sighs. 

 

Spade: Fine. So be it. 

 

Swain: I’m so glad you swallowed that down easily. 

 

Spade: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not very happy that Duke-shi is my partner. 

 

Duke: … O-Oh. 

 

Spade: But if this will help prevent a murder, I’ll go along with it.

 

Swain: Phew. Anyways, that whole pair thing was my idea. You’re welcome. 

 

Spade: Ah. 

 

Gear: I’m surprised you care, nyeheh.

 

Spade: What’s that sound? Is there a gnat in the kitchen?

 

Puppet: What?! Where?! 

 

Gear: He’s talking about me, kyaha! I’m the gnat!

 

Spade: There it is. That sound again. It’s annoying.

 

Gear: I’m the gnat!

 

Dust: That’s a weird thing to get excited over. 

 

Spade: Regardless, I’m done. Thank you for the meal, and I’ll see you all tomorrow morning for breakfast. Where should I put the plates?

 

Swain: Um... In the sink.

 

Puppet: I’ll take care of them!

 

Swain: … Yeah. 

 

Wolf: Spring-chan and I are done too. Thanks. 

 

Soldier: Already? But you two haven’t said a word!

 

Wolf: You clearly don’t know either of us very well.

 

Soldier: (shrugs) Fair. That can change, however.

 

Wolf: Don’t even try it. Let’s go, Spring-chan.

 

Spring: Mhm… Um… Thank you.

 

Swain: Have a nice night, Spring-san. 

 

The three of them leave, and Puppet leaves to the kitchen to get started on the dishes. 

 

Flare: I suppose dinner is ending now, is it. 

 

Swain: (nods) I hope you all liked the food. And also that you’re okay with Puppet’s suggestions. 

 

Glasses: I don’t mind. I’ll just need to remember in the future. 

 

Gear: Bleh, does this mean I have to wake up at ten every morning? Ughhhh. 

 

I could say something right now about the whole 4:20 AM thing, but I have a feeling I don’t want to be on Gear’s bad sad. So I’ll say nothing. That seems to be a recurring trend today. 

 

Glasses: Don’t be such a child.

 

Gear: I’m fifteen, fuck you. 

 

Nebula: Oh man, and you two will be together all next week! That’s like babysitting on Glasses-kun’s part. That sucks.

 

Glasses: Don’t throw salt into the wound.

 

Gear: The wound??

 

Dust: So a gnat is fine, but not a wound? 

 

Gear: Nyeh, gnats are cool! Blood is gross.

 

Rose: I should’ve chosen Glasses-senpai as my pairing…

 

Blanche: I suppose you’re just stuck with me now.

 

Rose: N-No, I didn’t mean it like that! I’m happy I’m with you, Blanche-san!

 

Blanche: I know, I merely jest. 

 

Protagonist: Didn’t know you were capable of cracking a joke, Blanche-san. 

 

Blanche: Yes, well, I suppose I’ve reached my limit on jokes today. I should go and rest. 

 

Protagonist: Hey, that was another joke! 

 

Blanche: (forcibly) Ha. Ha. Ha.

 

Blanche doesn’t respond and simply leaves the kitchen … Huh. Maybe that robot theory isn’t as far-fetched as I thought. 

 

Protagonist: (turns to Swain) Do you need any help cleaning up?

 

Swain: Mm… Don’t think so. I think Puppet-san and I can handle it. 

 

Protagonist: Is it really fair to put all the work on you two though?

 

Swain: (shrugs) It’s just breakfast and dinner. I’m sure there are places where you can help us, just not right now. 

 

Protagonist: Implying I’m useless right now?

 

Swain: No, no, not at all! I was just talking… In non-meal contexts. Besides, you made us dinner last night. That was helpful enough.

 

Protagonist: (sighs) That’s true… 

 

Swain: Don’t worry about it, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast. 

 

Protagonist: Alright… I’ll see you there too, right Flare-san?

 

Flare: Huh? Where? 

 

Protagonist: Tomorrow at breakfast. Right? 

 

Flare: Oh… Yeah. But I probably won’t stay for long. Is that alright?

 

Swain: Fine by me, hopefully also fine by Puppet-san. As long as you come, really.

 

Flare: Thanks. 

 

The chatter begins to die down as Nebula and his gang, as well as Dust and Soldier, leave the kitchen, Gear lurking behind the groups. Duke leaves on his own, talking to himself quietly about something I couldn’t make out. And I hadn’t even noticed that Pearl had left. She was so quiet the whole time. I felt a little bad. Maybe I should try to get closer to her, but she did have Cereza during the killy period. Still… Would that be too late to make friends? 

 

Finally, Glasses, Flare, Swain, and I are the only ones left. Glasses was the last one who was still eating. 

 

Flare: Glasses-san, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly were you doing during dinner?

 

Glasses: Studying. As usual.

 

Flare: Studying what? There’s nothing to study. 

 

Glasses: Well, I had just finished the book on Newton’s physics, so I started a new book about the history of robotics. It’s pretty interesting. 

 

Flare: Why, exactly?

 

Glasses: I just said. It’s interesting. 

 

Protagonist: Are you good with robots, Glasses-san?

 

Glasses: Not particularly. 

 

Flare: Then why read into it?

 

Glasses: Must I repeat myself again? I find it interesting. 

 

Flare: So there’s no reason?

 

Glasses: If you don’t find mere curiosity a reason, then no. 

 

Flare: (frowns a little) I see. 

 

Glasses: I take it you don’t. And just to humor your conservations, what exactly is it that you like to do, Flare-san? 

 

Flare: If not read long, pointless books?

 

Glasses: Precisely.

 

Protagonist: I can say it’s not anime or video games either.

 

Flare: Not helping. 

 

Glasses: He is helping my point, however. So, what do you do for fun?

 

Flare: Anyways! I like to read as well, obviously. But… More of fiction literature instead of… Well, whatever you read. 

 

Glasses: I see. 

 

Flare: Hey, what’s with that tone?! Are you judging?

 

Glasses: Nothing, but I’m afraid you’ll never understand where I come from if we fail to see eye to eye. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, it’d be foolish to expect everyone to agree with you. But don’t expect me to get along with you swimmingly if that’s the case. 

 

Flare: Look, I just don’t think you have to read big books with big words to be “smart.”

 

Glasses: You don’t, but it definitely reaffirms my personal intelligence. 

 

Ah geez, Flare being Flare again. I should definitely intervene.

 

Protagonist: Do you think you’re smart, Flare-san? I mean, I definitely think you are. But what do you think? Just curious. 

 

Flare: Technically speaking… Yes, I suppose I am smart?

 

Protagonist: Technically?

 

Flare: … (frowns) Don’t worry about it. I am smart. I have good grades. I know stuff. 

 

Glasses: So Flare-san is good at school and Protagonist-san can read. You two really are a wonder. 

 

Flare: Hey!

 

Glasses: Either way, thank you for dinner, Swain-san. I apologize in advance if I miss the next meal again. I also apologize for holding you up tonight. 

 

Swain: No worries, don’t beat yourself up too much over it. It was an honest mistake. I’m just glad you liked the food!

 

Glasses: (nods) Then I’ll see you in the morning. Goodbye. 

 

After Glasses leaves, Flare lets out an audible scowl.

 

Flare: Something about him just doesn’t sit right with me. 

 

Protagonist: We’ve been through this before when you first met him. Any new reasons why?

 

Flare: With each passing day he gets more and more show-offy. Doesn’t that bother you?

 

Protagonist: (shrugs) I don’t interact with him enough to know. 

 

Flare: (huffs) Maybe it’s just me. I’ll see you tomorrow morning for breakfast, Protagonist-san. Thanks again, Swain-san.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, see you-

 

Flare doesn’t give me time to respond to him before he leaves the kitchen. Now it’s just me and Swain. And technically Puppet, who’s in the back.

 

Protagonist: Did I upset him…?

 

Swain: To be fair, I think Glasses-san did. For whatever reason. 

 

Protagonist: I still feel bad. 

 

Swain: (shrugs) Don’t worry about it? That’s the best I have to offer, sorry. 

 

Protagonist: It’ll do. You sure you don’t need any help?

 

Swain: Nope, I’m good. You go ahead and get some rest. See you around. 

 

Swain begins to clean up the plates on the table and leaves me, heading to the back with Puppet. 

 

… Alone again. 

 

I sigh to clear my head and get up. It was almost nine, so I guess I should get ready for bed, and by that I mean lay in my bed and watch a show past ten or something, then decide to actually get ready for bed. 

 

Upon reflection, today sure was a weird day, from start to finish, but at least it was almost over. There were only three more days until the end of the No Killy period… People had made friend groups and connections, looking through the barrier of names and identities. That brought me some ease for the future. This time allowed us to befriend each other, so we really wouldn’t kill each other, and Swain’s plan reinforced that. Just as Puppet said. Friends don’t kill friends. I felt slightly more confident in believing that now.

 

What could possibly happen that could go so horribly wrong to ruin everything we’ve built so far? 

 

… I hope that doesn’t jinx anything. 

Chapter Text

The next two days went by relatively smoothly, though as with any feeling of dread, it also went by very quickly.

 

The following morning was greeted with an initially fast-paced piano track flooding my ears. Ah, it was Usher’s day.

 

Usher: Tosti’s L'Ultima Canzone. While this is simply the accompaniment track, the version with a baritone soloist truly is beautiful. Do check it out sometime when you have the time. 

 

Usher: Oh, wait, you can’t. Ah, a shame. Perhaps I’ll play it for you all another time. Either way, it’s 10 AM. Enjoy your day. 

 

Usher’s voice cuts off, and the piano track finishes.

 

A new day… What to do? Well, first, breakfast. I hoped everyone was there, not just for my sake, but also so Puppet didn’t get upset or angry at the ones who didn’t show up. So, I’d better get ready in my ten minute routine.Wash up, medicine, dress, scarf, and shades. Looking sexy as usual. I went to the kitchen for breakfast. 

 

When I get there, I notice something new at the entrance. A clipboard is hung up to the side, with sheets of paper and a pen attached. On the current piece of paper is all of our aliases in a column, with the next columns saying “IN” and “OUT” respectively, which then repeat themselves. Above each pair is a “B” or a “D,” which switch out for each pair. 

 

Some of the first column has already been filled out by some, namely Puppet, Swain, Cereza, Spring, and Wolf. They’re all recent times.

 

Protagonist: What is this? 

 

Swain: Good morning, Protagonist-san. It’s a new system we’re implementing. 

 

Protagonist: “We?”

 

Pearl: (walks up) Ugh, another set of rules by you and that other guy?

 

Swain: Puppet-san.

 

Protagonist: So that’s who “we” is.

 

Pearl: Yeah. Who made you two the rulers? 

 

Swain: (shrugs) My intention isn’t to rule, just to ensure that no one dies. 

 

Pearl visibly frowns through her mask at Swain, but says nothing on it.

 

Pearl: (flatly) What do I need to do?

 

Swain: Sign your time, get food, leave, sign out your time. 

 

Protagonist: Ohhh, I get it now.

 

Pearl: Fine.

 

Pearl proceeds to scribble down the current time for “in,” then the same current time for “out.” She leaves without saying anything else.

 

Swain: Ah, Pearl-san-! 

 

Swain stops and sighs. 

 

Swain: Maybe Pearl-san is right. I did this just to not be as imposing as Puppet-san, so people wouldn’t feel obligated to come and eat with everyone, as I know that can be a burden. That, and… (waves hand) Circumstances. 

 

Protagonist: I get that, but I’d say it’s better than to force people who don’t want to eat around others. So I just need to put my time in under “in?”

 

Swain: Yeah, but don’t do what Pearl-san just did. I mean, I won’t stop you. But come join us for breakfast, no?

 

Protagonist: You know I can’t say no to food. (sticks out tongue playfully)

 

Cereza runs out and looks around. She looks at the clipboard.

 

Cereza: Aw man, Pearl-san was just here? I thought I heard her, and I missed her! 

 

Swain: Getting close to her already?

 

Cereza: Kinda, but I just wanted to ask her something.

 

Swain: Ask her what?

 

Cereza: Eheh… Well, I wouldn’t things to get too complicated, I know how Pearl-san hates her crowds.

 

Swain: Crowd? For what?

 

Cereza: Well, you know how Pearl-san spends her time in the infirmary?

 

Protagonist: Oh, yeah!

 

Swain: She does?

 

Cereza: I was hanging out with her a bit yesterday, and she said that she works with medicine and stuff. She really likes plants too, so the location of the greenhouse and infirmary is real convenient for her.

 

Protagonist: Mhm, knew that. 

 

Cereza: And I was like, hey, maybe we could take care of the plants together! Of course not right then and there, cuz she was working on something.

 

Protagonist: This is new. Working on what?

 

Cereza: Eh, she wouldn’t give me the details. But she seemed pretty focused with the plants she was working with.

 

Was it that errand thing she had me do a while back? Maybe… Cereza doesn’t seem too fazed, of course.

 

Cereza: Then I suggested that we could get more people, y’know, make a little get together or something! Cuz I know Spring-san and Carmen-chan like gardening, so I thought I’d invite them! And Pearl-san said something along the lines of “fine, as long as there’s not too many people.” 

 

Protagonist: A gardening club… Who else did you attract?

 

Cereza: Well, Wolf-san naturally goes wherever Spring-san goes… You think he’s her bodyguard or something? 

 

Swain: Aren’t they inside right now? Should you be talking about this right now?

 

Cereza: I mean, yeah, but… Think about it… Or something. (giggles) I dunno! Maybe I’m just being silly.

 

Swain: I don’t think anything is too far-fetched here. That’s why I’m worried. 

 

Cereza: Anyways, Blanche-chan said she’d be interested, and I just talked to Puppet-kun and he said that he’d love to come and join. So that’s… (counts on fingers) Seven! Including me and Pearl-san. 

 

Swain: I see. 

 

Cereza: I hope that’s not too much! But I wanted to ask Pearl-san if she was still up for that today. 

 

I thought about when I had helped Pearl the other day. Would she mind if I joined? I mean, I’d love to do so. I’d love to at least stop by, even if I don’t know gardening all that well aside from snipping plants. 

 

Protagonist: Well, when did you have it planned? What time, anyways.

 

Cereza: I told them for the sake of Puppet-san at 1 PM, and Pearl-san had agreed to that. 

 

Protagonist: Think I could join and make things eight?

 

Cereza: Of course! It wouldn’t hurt to add one more person.

 

Protagonist: You wanna come with, Swain-san? That’s okay, right, Cereza-chan?

 

Cereza: I’m sure-

 

Swain: No.. It’s fine.

 

Protagonist: Huh? You sure?

 

Swain: Yeah, I’m just… Not very good with plants, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t want to disrupt anything. 

 

Cereza: Aw, well that’s okay. That might be too many people for Pearl-san anyways!

 

Swain: … Yeah. That too. 

 

Cereza: Well I’m gonna talk to Pearl-san now, thank you for the meal!

 

Cereza signs herself out and happily walks away. 

 

Swain: …

 

Protagonist: You okay, Swain-san?

 

Swain: Hm? Oh, yeah I am. I just… Didn’t realize how little I knew about people. I had no idea Pearl-san was really serious about that medicine stuff. 

 

Protagonist: To be fair, Pearl-san isn’t very open.

 

Swain: Not just with Pearl-san, but with everyone, I guess. Oh well. Let’s not worry about it, shall we? Let’s just eat. 

 

After signing in, I join the rest for breakfast. Thanks to Swain’s sign in sheet, things went pretty smoothly. People entered and left, like Spade and Flare, and some stayed, but ultimately? It was pretty uneventful. And after the past few get togethers, I was grateful for that. 

 

The food was good as always, so when I finished, I thanked Swain and Puppet and left to get ready for the gardening club meeting … And by that I mean lay in bed for another hour or so. 

 

By 12:30 I decided to head out. I know Pearl would be there, and I figured I could be the first person to get there. 

 

When I arrive in the greenhouse, Pearl is there, looking at one of the plants up close. When she sees me, her eyes narrow slightly. 

 

Pearl: Nobody told me you were going to be here.

 

Protagonist: What, and is that a bad thing? I thought I’d drop in to let you know.

 

Pearl: 30 minutes early?

 

Protagonist: Technically… (pulls out tablet) 26 minutes early.

 

Pearl: Whatever. What do you want?

 

Protagonist: …

 

Pearl: …

 

Protagonist: … First.

 

Pearl: … I was here first though?

 

What an… Interesting reaction to my redone joke. This could mean two things: one, she’s playing dumb, thus making her a detective, or two, she didn’t know the joke was made in the first place, thus making her a serial killer.

 

… Ah, shit. I just realized those are the only two options there. Never mind. I’m not being slick at all.

 

Protagonist: First to arrive to the club you’re hosting. 

 

Pearl: I’m not hosting it. Cereza-san was the one who organized it all. And she probably was the one who invited you.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, she was actually! … Wait, hey! What’s your problem with me anyways?

 

Pearl: It’s not an exclusive thing, dickhead. I just don’t like to be around people, if you haven’t guessed. Plus, there are plenty more people here that I dislike far more than you. 

 

Protagonist: Really? Like who? And why not me?

 

Pearl: You were just asking me why I didn’t like you. 

 

Protagonist: Fiiiine. Then I’ll ask you this.

 

Pearl: What is this, twenty questions?

 

Protagonist: Nah, cuz if that was the case, I’d ask you if you were “single haha.”

 

Pearl: I’m a lesbian.

 

Protagonist: Ouch. You didn’t actually have to answer and throw me under the bus like that. Kidding, of course. 

 

Pearl: Great, thanks. That was your one question.

 

Protagonist: Aw, no it wasn’t! I was gonna ask if you don’t like people, then why did you agree to this whole gardening club? You could’ve just told Cereza-chan no and escaped all of this trouble.

 

Pearl: … 

 

The door slams open with a kick from Cereza.

 

Cereza: SOME-

 

Pearl: Hi, Cereza-san.

 

Cereza: (stops and returns to her normal stance) Hiya!! Oh, and to you too, Protag-kun! I hadn't realized you would be here so early.

 

Protagonist: I just wanted to talk to Pearl-san for a bit. About gardening and stuff. It's fun talking to her!

 

Cereza: I know, right? That's why I'm excited to spend more time with her in the upcoming week!

 

Ignoring the clear death factor, of course.

 

A blush appears on Pearl's face, which despite her mask is quite noticeable. She averts her eyes.

 

Pearl: I'm right here, you know.

 

Cereza: Uh, yeah, I’m well aware. That’s why I said it!

 

Pearl: … Oh. 

 

Cereza: I was thinking about making this gardening club a common thing, you know? Even during the killy and future non killy periods, I think it’d be really sweet!

 

Even during the killy periods…? Is that a good idea? I’ll keep my mouth shut.

 

Pearl: Uh-

 

Before Pearl, clearly flustered, can fully answer, Spring and Wolf enter. I wink at them, but they can’t tell because… You know. Swag.

 

The room falls silent from their entrance, and it continues to stay silent.

 

Spring: … Hi. 

 

Protagonist: Heyyy! Spring-san, Wolf-san! Welcome!

 

Wolf: Hey, Protagonist-san.

 

Pearl: (tilts head to Cereza) Who exactly did you invite? Everyone?

 

Wolf: What, you don’t want us here or something?

 

Pearl: … No, but I hadn’t realized you two would be interested in gardening.

 

Spring: U-Um… I am.

 

Wolf: Yeah, isn’t it obvious from her name? Spring? Flowers?

 

Pearl: (narrows eyes) Yes, and because my alias is Pearl, I love jeweling. In fact, I crave making jewelry right now. 

 

Wolf: And what are you fucking implying by that?

 

Pearl: Oh, and let me guess, cuz you’re named Wolf, you’re a furry or something. You identify as a wolf or something.

 

Wolf: We can leave this shit anytime, you know.

 

Spring: U-Um…

 

Blanche: Excuse me.

 

Wolf turns around to see Blanche behind him, Blanche having the same expression on her face as usual. 

 

Wolf: Shit, how long have you been standing there?

 

Blanche: Not for very long. May I enter?

 

Wolf: Uh… Yeah.

 

Wolf and Spring take a step to the side, and Blanche walks into the greenhouse.

 

Blanche: Are you all here for Cereza-san’s invitation? 

 

Wolf: Uhuh.

 

Pearl: Surprisingly.

 

Blanche: Surprisingly? I was under the impression that you were the one in charge of our rendez-vous.

 

Pearl: I didn’t mean it like that. Don’t worry about it. 

 

Blanche: If you insist. 

 

As robotic as usual… 

 

Spring: It’s um… Good to see you here, Blanche-san.

 

Blanche: Hm? Ah, you too… Spring-san, was it?

 

Spring: Mhm…

 

Blanche: (nods) Thank you.

 

Wolf looks like he’s about to snap or yell at Blanche, but he controls himself surprisingly. 

 

Protagonist: Good to see everyone! You all like gardening?

 

Spring nods eagerly. I think I understand Spring more.

 

Pearl: (flatly) Ah. Now I know. Spring, flowers, how could I miss it.

 

Wolf: Oh fuck off. 

 

Blanche: Language. That’s also not very nice.

 

Wolf: Ugh, what’s with you?

 

Blanche: Nothing in particular, how are you?

 

Wolf doesn’t respond to that out of pure frustration.

 

I check the time. It was almost 1. Cereza said Carmen and Puppet were coming. Hope they were on their way, but I guess this thing wasn’t super strict. 

 

Pearl: Do we wanna start or…?

 

Cereza: We should wait for Puppet-kun and Carmen-chan! Puppet-kun is probably busy with all of his work. Be kind.

 

Pearl: Yeah, but what about Carmen-san? She’s not cooking or cleaning.

 

Protagonist: She’s a terrible cook, you know.

 

Pearl: I see.

 

Carmen bursts into the door, clearly freaked out.

 

Carmen: A-Ah, I’m here! I’m sorry, I lost track of time!

 

Cereza: Glad you could make it!

 

Carmen looks around to see all of us, and her face relaxes.

 

Carmen: Well… Hello, everyone.

 

Cereza: Hiya!

 

Pearl: What were you up to?

 

Carmen: (flinches a little) S-Sorry, I had gone back to my room to gather myself before coming here and lost track of time. My apologies! I hope I didn’t keep you waiting! 

 

Blanche: You came right on time, I believe.

 

Carmen: Oh, that’s true… (sighs and face lightens up) That’s a relief! 

 

Pearl: You got over that quick.

 

Carmen: Ah, you’re right… My apologies.

 

Pearl: Huh? You know what, forget it.

 

Carmen: If you say so! 

 

Blanche: All that leaves is Puppet-san.

 

Spring: Mhm… Still cleaning, maybe? 

 

Wolf: Yeah, maybe. We should probably start though. How long is it gonna be anyways?

 

Pearl: Whenever you all get bored, I guess.

 

Wolf: How formal.

 

Pearl: You rather I set an actual end time? 

 

Spring: Can we… Um… Can we not? Do this again, I mean…

 

Wolf: Yeah, yeah. Where do you wanna start, Spring-chan?

 

Puppet: Hey!!!

 

Puppet bursts open through the door, panting.

 

Pearl: Care to not try and break the door?

 

Puppet: I came as fast as I could! I just finished washing all the dishes and the kitchen!

 

Protagonist: Eheh… Thanks, Puppet-san, but shouldn’t you take a break?

 

Puppet: This is my break! Gardening is very relaxing. You know, Pearl-chan, are we allowed to cut off parts of these plants? Or pick them?

 

Pearl: One thing, please don’t call me that. 

 

Puppet: Sorry about that- Pearl-san!

 

Pearl: Better.

 

So many P names… Including myself!

 

Pearl: Two, I don’t run this place. Go for it. I’d just prefer that you don’t outright destroy this stuff or leave nothing to grow.

 

Puppet: Awesome, will do! I was just going to look and tend to herbs for cooking, that’s all. 

 

Pearl: (nods) Sure, don’t really care honestly.

 

Spring: That’s a um… Good idea.

 

Puppet: Thank you!

 

Carmen: Now that everyone’s here, we can start, right? 

 

Cereza: Of course! There’s no particular schedule, just do what Pearl said and don’t destroy or ruin any of the plants.

 

Blanche: Understood. 

 

Blanche heads towards the pots of colorful flowers, and Carmen follows her. Puppet goes to the herbs, and Cereza goes with him. Oddly enough, Spring, Pearl, and Wolf are together. Spring is quietly talking to Pearl about something, and Wolf stands by. I don’t really have anywhere to go, but I feel like I’d be disrupting Puppet, Spring, and Pearl, so I head over to where Blanche and Carmen are.

 

Blanche has a small watering can with a frog design on it, and she’s watering some of the plants near the glass. Carmen is talking with her. 

 

Carmen: So you’re a fan of gardening?

 

Blanche: (nods) I’ve never had a vegetable garden or anything of the sort, but I’ve always liked keeping flowers. 

 

Carmen: Flowers? Well, they are beautiful… But nothing else?

 

Blanche: Nothing aside from flowers, I’m afraid. 

 

Carmen: Well… Why flowers? Or rather, why nothing else?

 

Blanche: I’m not too sure myself about why nothing else. I suppose I’ve never had much of an interest in them.

 

Carmen: I see then… 

 

Blanche: Flowers on the other hand… A marvel of nature’s beauty. How can one be so filled with color yet so soft, delicate, and… Perfect?

 

What a weird way to describe flowers. But Blanche… She looks genuinely invested in them, so that’s something that can’t normally be said for her. 

 

Carmen is also invested, but more in Blanche rather than the flowers.

 

Carmen: (nods) That makes sense! Do you know more about the technical parts of flowers, or do you just think they’re pretty? 

 

Blanche: The biology, no, but I do know some. For example, this flower here? (points to a luscious purple flower standing upright) They are purple hyacinths. They’re beautiful in clumps, but the purple one has a special meaning from other colors. 

 

Carmen: Oh? And what’s that? 

 

Blanche: Purple hyacinths represent regret, deep sadness, and are often given as a sign of forgiveness today. 

 

Carmen: … Oh. That’s awfully depressing.

 

Blanche: I think it’s beautiful in its own way. Sadness doesn’t necessarily mean ugly, no?

 

Carmen: Now that I think about it… Yes, you’re right. It does add to the beauty of the flower.

 

Blanche smiles. More so than usual. Carmen smiles back.

 

Blanche: I’m glad you can see where I’m coming from. It’s rare people do. 

 

Carmen: I’m just curious about these flowers, that’s all. Truth be told, I mainly appreciate them for their beauty. I don’t know as much as you do.

 

Blanche: Nothing wrong with that, of course.

 

Carmen: But would you teach me about more flower symbolism? I realize how much it interests me, thanks to you.

 

Blanche: I’d love to.

 

Blanche continues to tell Carmen about different kinds of flowers. I think I understand Blanche a little more.

 

I’d love to stick around and continue listening, but Pearl speaks up behind me.

 

Pearl: Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Eh?! Oh, hey.

 

Pearl: Can you do me a favor? 

 

Protagonist: Sure! Another plant gathering thing?

 

Pearl: Mhm. Some of the same plants as usual, some new, but one new one in particular I need. Be sure to get the valerian root.

 

Protagonist: Gotcha! I figured I could have something to do while I’m here. 

 

Pearl: You’re welcome to leave anytime.

 

Protagonist: Ouch. I get it, Pearl-san, you don’t like having people around.

 

I say it jokingly, but Pearl narrows her eyes at me.

 

Pearl: Excuse me for not always being a ray of sunshine. I figured you had that part down pretty obnoxiously.

 

Damn. That would hurt, but… Pearl thinks that I’m a ray of sunshine? She’s too sweet.

 

While swooning in my head, I realize I hadn’t moved from my spot.

 

Pearl: … (blinks) Was I being too much of a shitty person? I mean, I just asked you for this favor and- Ah, shit, you don’t have to do this. I can do it. 

 

Protagonist: No worries, I’ll do it!

 

Pearl: … Give me the plants later. I’ll be in the infirmary.

 

Protagonist: Gotcha!

 

I look at the list. Some things are missing, like aloe vera and gingko, but new things like peppermint are added. And of course, this valerian plant has been starred by Pearl.

 

Guess I’ll look for the peppermint first. I’d assume it’s around the other herbs, where Puppet and Cereza are. Cereza has her fingers to her temples as she buries her face in a plant.

 

Protagonist: Hey! Found any good herbs?

 

Puppet: Yes! Thyme, dill, coriander, oh, and rosemary! That’s my favorite. And it’s what Cereza-chan is smelling right now.

 

Protagonist: Why exactly is she doing that?

 

Cereza: Shh. You’re breaking my flow of trying to remember things. 

 

Puppet: I was explaining to Cereza-chan the different meanings and uses for these herbs.

 

Protagonist: Funny, I just got back from Blanche-san doing the same thing with flowers. Maybe you and her could have a talk.

 

Puppet: That sounds like a lot of fun!

 

Protagonist: Anyways, what does this have to do with Cereza trying to get high off rosemary?

 

Cereza: I’m not getting high!

 

Puppet: Rosemary is not for… Elevation… But it is said to improve memory. That’s why she’s smelling it, to remember things. Or at least, attempting to do so.

 

Cereza: Exactly!

 

Protagonist: Any luck?

 

Cereza: (stands up and falters back a little) Woah… I remember… (inhales)

 

Protagonist: You remember…?

 

Cereza: (exhales) Nothing!

 

Puppet: Aw, what a shame.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, totally. Is there anything to remember anyways?

 

Cereza: I was thinking maybe a name or two, or maybe an identity of someone!

 

Protagonist: Do you recognize anything from before? 

 

Cereza: Names? No. And obviously I don’t know any identities.

 

Protagonist: So nothing in particular to remember.

 

Cereza: Eheh, I guess!

 

Puppet: It was worth a shot though! For now, rosemary goes back into the cooking.

 

Cereza: Sounds yummy. Smells yummy too! 

 

Protagonist: Though off this crackshot theory, couldn’t we give it to Spring-san and Wolf-san to smell and see if it helps stimulate any name memories? It probably won’t help, but what if?

 

Puppet: Only one way to find out!

 

Cereza: (looks around) Speaking of which, where are they anyways? Weren’t they just here?

 

I look around as well. Carmen and Blanche are still talking, but Pearl, Spring, and Wolf are gone. At least I know where Pearl is.

 

Protagonist: … Weird. I thought Spring-san liked gardening.

 

Puppet: Maybe Wolf-san didn’t? He didn’t seem too happy about being here, I’m afraid.

 

Cereza: And you know those two, always attached at the hip!

 

Protagonist: They are childhood friends, after all. Of course they’d care for each other like that.

 

Cereza: That’s true… Oh, to have a childhood friend, especially here of all places, with you! I’m jealous.

 

Puppet: Truly…

 

Protagonist: Friends would be nice.

 

But also really scary in a death game. Though at the same time… Friends… 

 

Cereza: Oh well! Better late than never! You’re all my friends now, and you’re all here! Yay!

 

Puppet: Woohoo!

 

Protagonist: Also uh, not to burst any bubbles but have y’all found any peppermint? Pearl-san needs some.

 

Puppet: Mhm! They’re right there, with the little leaves. (points in a direction close by)

 

Cereza: Why does Pearl-san need peppermint?

 

Protagonist: She just gives me these lists of plants to collect now and then. Peppermint’s on it.

 

Cereza: Interesting! I might ask her sometime next week when we’re together.

 

Protagonist: She might not open up to you, she hasn’t even told me what they’re for!

 

Cereza: Well I’m sure she’ll have to eventually over the next week or so! We’re together forever, after all.

 

Protagonist: Mm, that’s true. She wouldn’t hide it from you for a week if it meant she couldn’t do it.

 

Cereza: Exactly! Plus, I wanna get to know her more anyways! 

 

Puppet: That’s sweet! 

 

Cereza: Yeah! New friends and all, and I bet Pearl-san is really sweet! 

 

Way to see the best in everyone, I guess? If anything, Cereza was the real ray of sunshine around here. 

 

Protagonist: (grins) I bet she is! 

 

Puppet: Guess you’ll find out in a few days. 

 

Cereza: I can’t wait!

 

I pick the peppermint leaves, and Puppet notices.

 

Puppet: What else do you need?

 

Protagonist: I’ve gotten most of these before, so I know where they are. There’s just one new thing I need to grab.

 

Puppet: What’s that?

 

Protagonist: Valerian root? Pearl-san said it was extra important.

 

Cereza: Ooh, I wonder why?

 

Puppet: Be careful. That stuff can make you really drowsy if you consume too much of it.

 

Protagonist: Well, Pearl-san should know what she’s doing, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.

 

Or something like that. I hope.

 

Puppet: Regardless, I wouldn’t give Pearl-san too much. I don’t know where it is either. 

 

Cereza: Do you not trust her or something?

 

Puppet: No, no, that’s not it at al! I’m sure she’s a very accomplished and skilled person! I’m only worried due to how valerians can be. If anything, I’m worried for her. 

 

Cereza: Well, I’ll be sure to check up on her later. 

 

Puppet: That’s a wonderful idea!

 

Protagonist: In the meantime… I guess I’ll look for this destined plant. You’re welcome to come with!

 

Puppet: Good luck! I’ll look around for more herbs.

 

Cereza: And I’ll stick with Puppet-kun.

 

Protagonist: I’ll see you around for dinner then. Hopefully with herbs.

 

Puppet: Sounds like a plan!

 

I leave the scene, and Puppet and Cereza continue their chattering. I guess I’ll grab the plants I already know first. 

 

It took me a while, but I was able to gather them all and find the valerian root. After Puppet’s talk, I couldn’t help but be curious about why Pearl needed plants like these. Was it connected to Gear the other night or with Spring and Wolf? Would she even tell me if I asked? 

 

Only one way to find out.

 

I enter the infirmary with the plants, and Pearl is still in there, working with a bottle of medicine.

 

Protagonist: Hey! I got the stuff you needed. 

 

Pearl: (not looking at Protagonist) Thanks. Just put them on the counter. 

 

Protagonist: What do you need them for anyways?

 

Pearl: None of your business.

 

Protagonist: Figured you say that. Oh well, worth a shot at least.

 

Pearl: Then why’d you bother asking?

 

Protagonist: Cuz I’m curious! 

 

Pearl: These plants have their own purposes. Figure them out yourself.

 

Valerian causes drowsiness, chamomile helps sleep… That’s all I know so far. 

 

Protagonist: Not like I can look it up on the internet.

 

Pearl: That sounds like a you problem. 

 

Protagonist: We don’t all know about fancy herb magic, excuse you!

 

Pearl: And what do you know?

 

Protagonist: Well… Nothing technical like that. Or super nerdy either. No fun factoids…

 

Pearl: That’s not really what I meant.

 

Protagonist: Being stupid is not a choice! 

 

Pearl: (rolls eyes) Yeah yeah, whatever.

 

Protagonist: You know I’m joking, right? 

 

Pearl: It’s hard to tell with you sometimes.

 

Protagonist: Then I’m doing my job.

 

Pearl: Of being obnoxious?

 

Protagonist: Precisely!

 

Pearl: Ugh, go hang out with Nebula-san or something. They’ll probably enjoy your company a lot more than I do.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, but you acknowledge my annoyingness. Besides, are you just gonna sit here working all day? 

 

Pearl: Yes.

 

Protagonist: Have you done anything aside from this and the gardening club?

 

Pearl: Not particularly.

 

Protagonist: And I don’t see you around at meals… You completely skipped breakfast this morning. Have you at least been sleeping well?

 

Pearl: Mm, I slept like, eight hours. Maybe nine.

 

Protagonist: Oh, that’s great! Last night?

 

Pearl: No, total. 

 

Protagonist: Seriously?!

 

Pearl: Look, why do you care?

 

Protagonist: I just wanna make sure you’re okay!

 

Pearl: And why is that? 

 

Protagonist: Would you rather me not care? 

 

Pearl: I’d honestly prefer if you didn’t. 

 

I’ve never met someone so… Blunt. At least everyone else pretends to tolerate me!

 

Pearl: I should stress it’s not just a “you” thing. I just genuinely don’t enjoy people wasting their breath over me. It’s more of a “me” thing than anything.

 

Protagonist: Well that’s just… Depressing.

 

Pearl: I’m well aware. I don’t know why I bothered to explain all of that to you.

 

Protagonist: Well… You know I care. I’ve probably drilled that into your head all this time.

 

Pearl: …

 

Protagonist: Do you want me to go?

 

Pearl: … Yeah. Thank you for the plants.

 

Protagonist: Anytime! … Please take care of yourself though, okay? If you won’t let me, then you should do that yourself.

 

Pearl looks down at her counter.

 

Pearl: Alright. I’ll try.

 

I should leave her now. I step out into the hallway. I didn’t see Cereza or Puppet around.

 

Gardening club… A success? Maybe?

 

I still had plenty of time left in the day… What to do? 

 

The library seemed to always be a spot for socializing, ironically enough. That would be a good place to go to! 

 

When I get there, Glasses is scrolling through a computer as usual, but Dust and Soldier are on the ground, sitting across from one another. They each have small, rectangular devices in their hands which they’re looking at, and a cord to connect the two. 

 

Protagonist: Good to see you guys! What are you up to!

 

Dust: Trading.

 

Protagonist: Trading? Uh, better question, what’s in your hands?

 

Dust: Video games. We’re trading. 

 

Soldier: There’s no internet here, so we gotta do it the old fashioned way. Cords and all.

 

Dust: Okay, so if you give me your psychic, you’ll give me your ghost?

 

Soldier: Yeah, but we gotta give em back after we evolve them.

 

Dust: Sounds good. 

 

I’m confused, but I watch to see what they do. They don’t speak, but they press the buttons on their games, and after a few seconds…

 

Soldier: Awesome! It evolved. Thanks a bunch~.

 

Dust: No problem. Now then… Huh?! 

 

Soldier: (innocently bats eyes) What is it, Dusty-kun?

 

Dust: Why didn’t you let it evolve with the hold item?

 

Soldier: Huh? I did that?

 

Dust: (blinks) Oh, whatever. I’ll take it off and we can trade back so it’ll evolve for you.

 

Soldier: Mm… (unplugs the cord) Nope.

 

Dust: Huh?! 

 

Protagonist: I’m not even sure what’s going on exactly, but that looked like a dick move.

 

Dust: It was! Trade it back! You’re winning in the end, aren’t you?

 

Soldier: Yeah, but this way, you’re stuck with an unevolved loser, and I have a fully evolved power machine, ready to roll. Sucker.

 

Dust: That’s not fair! Give it back!

 

Soldier: What are you, 7? This isn’t elementary school, you know. 

 

Protagonist: What an exact age. 

 

Dust: You’re acting childish as well! Is this how it’s gonna be? Am I spending the next week with you like this?

 

Soldier: Mm… Maybe.

 

The two stare at each other dead in the eyes. Soldier is smirking, Dust isn’t amused. Dust is the first to speak up.

 

Dust: Soldier-san’s identity is-

 

Soldier: WOAH! Hey! Touchy! You don’t even know that!

 

Dust: Do I? I’ll spill it if I have to.

 

Soldier: Shut it either way! There are people here!

 

Protagonist: Thank you.

 

Dust: I’ll say it anyways. Soldier-san is-

 

Soldier: Shut up, shut up! Fine, I’ll give you back your stupid games! Just… Don’t freak people out like that, damn. (reconnects cord and presses buttons)

 

Dust: (pressing buttons) Who’s laughing now? 

 

Soldier: Yeah, yeah, you are. You got me.

 

Dust: Mhm. (waits a moment) Aaand thanks. Truth be told, I was just bluffing. I have no idea who you are. 

 

Dust gives me a side eye. What’s that supposed to mean?

 

Soldier: Is this how it’s gonna be for the next week?

 

Dust: To quote the infamous Soldier-chan… “Maybe.”

 

Soldier: … I think we’ll get along just fine, Dusty-kun.

 

Dust: (shrugs) You’re willing to play video games with me. I knew that already. 

 

Soldier: Aw, you’re so sweet! Video games for a week? I guess don’t mind that.

 

Dust: Awesome. Get used to it. (unplugs cord and goes back to playing)

 

What did I just witness…? The power of gaming? 

 

Protagonist: Great talking to you two? Good to see you’re getting along?

 

Dust: (nods) Mhm.

 

Soldier: If only you weren’t here, Tag-kun, then I wouldn’t have freaked out. (hums) But I guess that means you’re special, huh?

 

Protagonist: Me, special? You flatter me. Glasses-san is still here. They would’ve heard you.

 

Soldier: Eh, well. Point is, don’t tell anyone else this shit. 

 

Protagonist: Gotcha.

 

I probably don’t wanna get on her bad side anytime soon.

 

Protagonist: What were you guys even playing? 

 

Dust: A video game.

 

Protagonist: I mean. Duh.

 

Dust: It’s probably too old for you. You wouldn’t know it. 

 

Soldier: (sticks out tongue) Yeah, you wouldn’t know it.

 

Protagonist: Okay, ouch. 

 

Soldier: Besides, why do you wanna get in everyone's business?

 

Protagonist: Why is everyone asking me why I care about others? And I’m literally just asking about a video game. 

 

Dust: Because you don’t have to. 

 

Protagonist: But I wanna.

 

Dust: Is it worth the effort to though? What if someone doesn’t want you to?

 

I think of Pearl. 

 

Protagonist: Do you guys not want me to care then? 

 

Soldier: I don’t mind the attention. Just saying. 

 

Dust: I’m not saying don’t care, but don’t break your back over it if it’s killing you. Just saying. 

 

Protagonist: Okay…

 

I don’t really get it. I at least don’t think they’re telling me to buzz off like Pearl was. So then… What are they trying to tell me? 

 

Soldier: So anyways, Tag-kun, tell me about yourself.

 

Protagonist: Myself? Hard to do that without revealing anything about my identity.

 

Dust: Well, we can play twenty questions but not actually twenty questions. We all can, in fact. 

 

Soldier: Haha question one are you single-

 

Dammit, she stole my joke. Guess I’ll play along. 

 

Protagonist: Yes?

 

Soldier: L-O-L question two what’s your number.

 

Protagonist: No.

 

Dust: That doesn’t count. Soldier is just being themselves right now.

 

Soldier: Guilty as charged. 

 

Dust: I’ll start, and no funny business. What’s your favorite food?

 

Protagonist: Anything microwavable. Love the calories.

 

Soldier: Kalimari. Fun to eat.

 

Dust: I see. For me, it would have to be those puffy shrimp flavored chips. 

 

Protagonist: Prawn crackers?

 

I’ve had my fair share of those. Not bad, I have to say.

 

Dust: Right, that’s the one.

 

Soldier: Dude, how do you not know the name of your favorite food?

 

Dust: (shrugs) Usually can’t read the chip labels. And I forgot. But they’re good. 

 

Soldier: Bluh. Whatever, I’ll go next. Who do you guys hate the most here?

 

Dust: No. Bad question. Make another one.

 

Soldier: If you had the opportunity to kill someone here-

 

Dust: Stop it. That’s literally our situation right now.

 

Soldier: You’re no fun, Dusty-kun.

 

Dust: Okay, think about it this way. We actually answer your question and name someone. Said person ends up dead.

 

Protagonist: I don’t like that thought.

 

Dust: Obviously one of you is gonna start pointing fingers. Probably you, Soldier-chan, which is why you’re asking it. Make another question.

 

Soldier: Fiiiine. (dully) Favorite color.

 

Protagonist: Orange!

 

Dust: Also orange.

 

Soldier: Figured as much. (sighs) Y’all are no fun. Mine’s chartreuse. 

 

Protagonist: What’s that?

 

Soldier: It’s-

 

Dust: A shade of green.

 

Soldier: Hey! 

 

Dust: I know you were gonna make something up, and I know Protagonist-san would believe you.

 

Protagonist: Hey! 

 

Dust: No offense to either of you. But it’s for the greater good.

 

Soldier: Uhuh… The greater good.

 

Dust: Mhm. Anyways, Protagonist-san, you ask a question. 

 

Protagonist: What’s your favorite quality about me?

 

Dust: Good question.

 

Soldier: Oh, so you’re gonna let him ask that?!

 

Dust: (shrugs) It’s not harmful. You can ask the same question about yourself when it’s your turn again.

 

Soldier: Ugh, fine. I uh, liked your spaghetti. It’d be great if you cooked again sometime.

 

Protagonist: (beams) Thank you! 

 

Dust: You’ve been pretty good at helping keep everyone together. And not just with the meeting. I said you cared too much to a fault, but check-ups on people help too, especially in this kind of situation. So I can’t fault you too much on that.

 

Protagonist: Aw, shucks. 

 

Dust: But that’s just my two cents.

 

Soldier: Can I ask my thing next?

 

Dust: No, it’s my turn. What kind of music do you listen to?

 

Soldier: Bold of you to assume that I can hear.

 

Dust: Haha. Funny.

 

Soldier: Sorry, did you say something?

 

Protagonist: I'm not super picky. Usually I just listen to whatever's on the radio or TV.

 

Soldier: I'll keep that in mind.

 

Protagonist: Though I will say that I'm not the biggest fan of Usher-san's music.

 

Dust: Classical? Understandable. What about you, Soldier-san?

 

Soldier: … Not saying.

 

Dust: Oh come on. If you don't answer we're gonna skip your turn. 

 

Soldier: Fine. Well, I happen to love classical music, excuse you.

 

She's clearly lying from her tone.

 

Dust: Mhm. Sure. Protagonist-san, why don't you go until Soldier-san gives her real answer!

 

Soldier: Shut up! You probably wouldn't know what it is!

 

Dust: You'd be surprised. 

 

Protagonist: Besides, Dust-san, don't you need to answer the question yourself?

 

Dust: Oh, right. Well I personally enjoy-

 

Soldier: Otacore.

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Dust: Thank you, Soldier-san. Like I was saying, I'm more of a western rock kind of fan. The kind from the 1980s. Not the modern kind, yuck. And don’t even get me started on j-pop.

 

Soldier: Now I can go! What's your favorite thing about me?

 

Dust: I dunno, you're cool I guess.

 

Soldier: Dusty-kuuuun.

 

Protagonist: You're very confident, Soldier-san.

 

That shuts them both up, and they stare at me.

 

Dust: Hm?

 

Protagonist: I mean, you don't seem to have any doubts about yourself or what people think. You just do your own thing without a care, and I think that's a good quality to have.

 

Soldier: You really think that, Tag-kun?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! Why would I lie about that?

 

Soldier: You're too kind. 

 

Dust: You have good taste in music.

 

Soldier: (teasingly) Oh shut up.

 

We all laughed at that, oddly enough. We continued asking questions, going around in our group until it was time to eat. I learned a lot about the two. Soldier likes fighting games, and Dust likes RPGs. Soldier wanted to move out of her house while Dust planned to stay in the city where he was from. Soldier enjoyed Kyūdō, while Dust hated sports in general. I was in the same boat as Dust on that one.

 

I think I understood Dust and Soldier more now.

 

Dinner went smoothly, especially thanks to Swain's sign in sheet at the entrance. I still didn't see Pearl, but aside from that, everything was fine. Dare I say that I was getting used to my daily life here?

 

… Nope, you could never get too comfortable. I learned that the very next day.

 

 

I had even gotten used to Roxie’s yelling. She reminded us that it was the last full day of the No-Killy Period. Yikes. 

 

Either way, I got ready as usual.

 

Protagonist: Hm… Am I missing something?

 

Just as I reach for my door, I pause. I look down, see my scarf, then realize.

 

Protagonist: Oh right. Medication.

 

Gotta swallow that pill. Haha.

 

Anyways, time to head out. 

 

I reach for the door handle to open it, and… The door doesn’t budge. Huh? I could’ve sworn I unlocked it… 

 

I fiddle with the door lock some more, but it doesn’t budge. It’s stuck as locked. I pull at the door some more. Still doesn’t budge. 

 

Huh???

 

This is a case for Roxie and Usher. I pull out my tablet and message them.

 

Protagonist: [Hello??? My door isn’t opening???]

 

Thankfully, I get an immediate response.

 

Usher: [That’s odd.]

 

Roxie: [Yeah, what asshole would do that? >;p ]

 

Protagonist: [You two from the looks of it. >B( ]

 

Roxie: [Assuming much?]

 

Protagonist: [If not you, then who? And how do I unlock it?]

 

Usher: [That’s a question you’ll need to ask the entire group. Don’t fret, we’ll be there to explain.]

 

Protagonist: [Oh, so you know what’s going on.]

 

Usher: [We always do.]

 

Protagonist: [And you’re not responsible? B/ ]

 

Roxie: [Nope. >|3c ]

 

Protagonist: [How do I know you’re not lying?]

 

Usher: [One, learn to trust your authority figures. Two, find out by asking in the group chat.]

 

Protagonist: [Fine.]

 

I switch apps and I see I just got a message from Swain.

 

Swain: [Hey. You okay? You’re missing breakfast.]

 

I’m getting kinda frustrated here now. Not at Swain, but at this door! Why won’t it open? Now people are worried. 

 

Protagonist: [Check the group chat in like two seconds.]

 

I open up the group chat and start typing. It had been quiet as of late, as the last message was just Swain reminding everyone of dinner from the night before.

 

Protagonist: [@everyone Why can’t I open my door?????]

 

Multiple people are typing…

 

Nebula: [wwwwww]

 

Swain: [that explains it...]

 

Dust: [Huh?]

 

Rose: [Oh no! Are you alright?]

 

Soldier: [F]

 

Gear: [oof]

 

Flare: [What the fuck.]

 

Flare: [Are you shitting with us rn?]

 

Protagonist: [No!!! I’m being serious!]

 

Wolf: [This isn’t our fuckin problem yknow]

 

Spring: [what he means is that… did you ask Usher and Roxie about it?]

 

Protagonist: [I’m fine @Rose but my door is locked and I can’t leave my room. B( ]

 

Puppet: [We gotta do something!!!! 8^0 ]

 

Gear: [lmfao liek what]

 

Cereza: [Save him!!!]

 

Gear: [noooo leave him there]

 

Protagonist: [No!!!!]

 

Protagonist: [Also gee @Wolf it’s almost like that’s the first thing I did]

 

Wolf: [Sucks to fuckin suck huh]

 

Protagonist: [Yea, and when I asked them, they told me to ask here instead… >B/ ]

 

Usher: [That’s because there’s an announcement to make.]

 

Roxie: [@eveyrone ANNOUNCEMENT TIME BITCHES]

 

Usher: [You spelled everyone wrong.]

 

Roxie: [OH]

 

Roxie: [@EVERYONE ANNOUNCEMENT TIME BITHCES]

 

Pearl: [what’s going on]

 

Puppet: [Roll call!!!]

 

Glasses: [we don’t have to do that just please tell us what this ruckus is about]

 

Blanche: [Hm?]

 

Carmen: [I agree. Hm?]

 

Usher: [One of you has discovered a secret use of your tablets.]

 

Puppet: [Secret?]

 

Nebula: [Oh worm??]

 

Flare: [Fuck off.]

 

Wolf: [You’ve got to be kidding me.]

 

Usher: [Your tablets can be used to lock your own doors from the inside and out to keep yourself and your belongings safe.]

 

Roxie: [However, your tablet also has a secret use!]

 

Usher: [It can lock the door of someone else from the outside, and there’s nothing you can do about it.]

 

Protagonist: [But my tablet could unlock it right??] 

 

Usher: [No.]

 

Flare: [Just let him out already! This isn’t funny!]

 

Protagonist: [ <3 ]

 

Glasses: [i take it the same tablet has to lock and unlock it consecutively]

 

Roxie: [Bingo!]

 

Flare: [Ugh, of course.]

 

Usher: [Yes. That’s why, for example, if you lock your door, the other person can’t unlock it. It must be the same tablet.]

 

Glasses: [so the person who locked protagonist-san’s door must be the one to unlock it]

 

Spade: [Or just their tablet.]

 

Glasses: [oh i forgot you were here]

 

Spade: [What’s that supposed to mean?]

 

Glasses: [that you’re quiet]

 

Spade: [Tell me something I don’t know.]

 

Usher: [Ahem.]

 

Glasses: [sorry, go on]

 

Usher: [It’s just as Glasses-san said. The person who locked Protagonist-san in his room must be the one to unlock it with their tablet.]

 

Swain: [can’t you guys do it?]

 

Roxie: [I mean yeah, but that’s no fun. ,p ]

 

Puppet: [How is he going to eat????]

 

Roxie: [By letting him out. So start sleuthing before Protagonist-san misses out… On living!]

 

Protagonist: [You mean before I starve?!]

 

Roxie: [Yea basically ;^)]

 

Usher: [To put it in straightforward terms, one of you has locked Protagonist-san in his room, and that one person must get him out. Either voluntarily or forcibly.]

 

Usher: [All depends on whether that person decides to come forward. I sincerely doubt it.]

 

Dust: [Is there a punishment for the person who locked Protagonist-san inside?]

 

Usher: [No, not from us. But I imagine your reactions towards them will be less than pleasant.]

 

Dust: [Like that matters.]

 

Protagonist: [But why do it in the first place? Why me?]

 

Usher: [You’ll have to ask your captor. That is, if they free you.]

 

Protagonist: [If…]

 

Duke: [What’s stopping us from going in a line and just trying our tablets until one works on his room?]

 

Usher: [You’ll have five trials a day. If after five trials he’s still locked, then he stays there for the rest of the day until 10 AM tomorrow. Then, you’ll have another five trials.]

 

Roxie: [And don’t forget~! Tomorrow is the revealing ceremony, which is mandatory. Those who don’t come will have serious consequences~.]

 

Protagonist: [So you’re punishing me?!]

 

Rose: [That’s not fair!]

 

Flare: [Punish the person responsible instead, obviously.]

 

Roxie: [Then start cracking so no one gets punished, duh!]

 

Usher: [Take this as a taste of what’s to come during the Killy Periods. Good luck.]

 

Protagonist: [I kinda don’t wanna face the wrath of those two B^( or starve!]

 

Dust: [Well let’s just do this Town of Salem style.]

 

Spade: [Town of what?]

 

Duke: [Like the witch trials?]

 

Soldier: [Oo, who we drowning?]

 

Dust: [No, not like the real life town… The video game…]

 

Pearl: [probably should’ve figured.]

 

Flare: [This isn’t a game!]

 

Dust: [It’s our best shot at getting things done. Start pointing fingers and if the majority agrees with the accusation, then we’ll make them try their tablet.]

 

Spade: [Is this how we’ll do it during actual murders? Just “pointing fingers” like your video game?]

 

Dust: [See, we don’t have any evidence unlike a murder. Alibis won’t do us any good, and it’s not like we can dust for fingerprints. Er, no pun intended.]

 

Carmen: [Then who could it be?]

 

Glasses: [well roxie-san implied that this lock thing was a secret - that we had to find out for ourselves and then use it]

 

Duke: [True, we were not aware of this policy.]

 

Glasses: [so who would be the most likely to discover this secret first?]

 

Wolf: [Let’s be fucking real here.]

 

Wolf: [You’re the most likely bitch.]

 

Glasses: [hm?]

 

Gear: [this really is a tos game, kyaha]

 

Gear: [anyways, guilty]

 

Nebula: [Are we cancelling Glasses-kun?]

 

Glasses: [you’re not cancelling anyone]

 

Nebula: [Darn -3- ]

 

Wolf: [You’re always on your own. In the library. On the computer or some fucking kind of technology.]

 

Spring: [and he thinks you’re a nerd… sorry >-< ]

 

Glasses: [i’m well aware]

 

Wolf: [You’ve probably had plenty of time to figure this shit out.]

 

Glasses: [i’ve been studying a lot of things, but this locking mechanism has not been one of them]

 

Rose: [Could Glasses-senpai have…?]

 

Glasses: [i can tell you about the victims of the serial killer anon., but not about whose door my tablet could lock.]

 

Wolf: [A likely story. Who could attest to that?]

 

Glasses: [no one, i admit. but if you truly believe, i can go and prove you wrong by testing my tablet, further nailing in protagonist-san’s coffin]

 

Pearl: [idk man]

 

Protagonist: [Uhhhhhh]

 

Puppet: [It’s better than nothing!!!]

 

Swain: [let’s hold a vote- type “I” if you think Glasses-san locked Protagonist-san in his room]

 

Dust: [We’ll get a majority rules vote. If the majority decides they did, then they have to use their tablet as a trial.]

 

Protagonist: [Please hurry I’m hungry!]

 

Glasses: [you better hope i locked you then. you’ll be disappointed, however.]

 

Flare: [Fucker.]

 

Cereza: [Can whoever did it just come clean? I’d just like to remind everyone there’s no punishment! :’^0 ]

 

Protagonist: [Yeah no hard feelings haha]

 

Swain: [so vote?]

 

Wolf, Spring, Puppet, Dust, Flare, Spade, Soldier, Nebula, and Pearl all vote.

 

Swain: [that’s nine votes, the majority]

 

Glasses: [guess i’ll give it a shot. wait a moment.]

 

Wolf: [I swear to fucking god if you did it]

 

Spring: [he won’t respond unu ]

 

Rose: [I don’t think he did it!]

 

Protagonist: [Guess I’ll find out in a couple minutes huh?]

 

Flare: [Crossing my fingers.]

 

Protagonist: [Aww, so sweet!]

 

Flare: [It’s not what you think.]

 

Soldier: [That’s pretty tsundere of you, Flare-kun.]

 

Flare: [Oh shut up, it’s not about Protagonist-san.]

 

Protagonist: [Ouch oof oh my heart]

 

Flare: [I just hope Glasses-san did it.]

 

Glasses: [i’m at his door.]

 

Flare: [Have you tried it?]

 

Glasses: [yes]

 

Glasses: [try opening your door]

 

I pull again. Still no use. I guess Glasses-san didn’t do it.

 

Protagonist: [Nothing. B( ]

 

Glasses: [told you all]

 

Swain: [so they’re innocent.]

 

Puppet: [Aw mannn]

 

Glasses: [sorry to disappoint]

 

Wolf: [Ugh.]

 

Soldier: [Four trials left. Who’s next?]

 

Gear: [creeper]

 

Dust: [Aw man]

 

Flare: [Can we focus please??]

 

Protagonist: [Please let me know when you figure this out lol… I’m getting stressed haHA]

 

Flare: [We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.]

 

Gear: [dude u just ruined the chain]

 

Protagonist: [In the meantime I’ll just. Lay in bed or something.]

 

Pearl: [have fun]

 

Gear: [again]

 

Gear: [creeper]

 

Soldier: [Aw man]

 

Dust: [So]

 

Protagonist: [Cya]

 

Dust: [Shit.]

 

I put down my tablet and lay in bed. I feel like I should feel frustrated… But I’m not? I mean, I am, but not as much as I feel like I should be. Maybe I should just try breaking down the door… Nah, wouldn’t work. I’m too weak for one, and I think that counts as a rule violation. Don’t wanna risk it. 

 

I’m like a damsel in distress… Sigh. 

 

What else can I do but wait? 

 

I realize there’s not much to do in my room. That should change soon. Hmm…

 

I don’t know how much time passed when I hear a click at my door. Curious, I pick up my tablet to see what the group had decided on lately. I see several hours had passed… It was almost 2 PM. Yikes!

 

Duke: [So we have one trial left.]

 

Cereza: [It’s not Glasses, Nebula, Gear, or Spring.]

 

Spring?

 

Wolf: [Fucking assholes.]

 

Spring: [it’s ok,,,]

 

Wolf: [If you say so. Ugh.]

 

Rose: [Soldier-san? Are you still there?]

 

Soldier: [Eh? I’m here lmao]

 

Nebula: [ooooo what’s the tea sis :eyes: ]

 

Rose: [I know this is our last trial of the day but… I just wanted to try something.]

 

Soldier: [Go oooon.]

 

Rose: [You haven’t contributed all that much to the conversation?]

 

Soldier: [Bc idk what’s going on lmfao]

 

Rose: [Yet you’ve voted guilty for every person we’ve accused.]

 

Soldier: [What are you implying?]

 

Rose: [That… You might be the one?]

 

Soldier: [Oh? On moi?]

 

Rose: [You’ve been trying to not seem suspicious by blaming others… Yet I think you are suspicious for that reason.]

 

Flare: [They have a point.]

 

Dust: [Spoken like a true gamer.]

 

Gear: [wow, dick move soldier-tan]

 

Nebula: [Cancelled!!! Periodt!]

 

Puppet: [Please please please say this is right!]

 

Soldier: [Well why don’t we suspect Pupp-kun over here? He seems awfully invested in blaming someone too.]

 

Swain: [ah the nature of Puppet-san’s character, perhaps]

 

Soldier: [So you’re saying you all don’t trust me?]

 

Pearl: [one of us has been cooking for us every morning, just sayin.]

 

Soldier: [And one of us has actually been eating it. Just saying.]

 

Pearl: [is is too early to start the vote? fuck you?]

 

Soldier: [Not my type.]

 

Cereza: [Hey!]

 

Spade: [This is a perfect example of mob mentality you sheep.]

 

Gear: [we live in a society]

 

Swain: [uhhh, i guess we can vote? last vote, y’know…]

 

Pearl, Flare, Puppet, Spade, Rose, Glasses, Swain, Spade, Wolf, Spring, Nebula, and Gear all vote for Soldier. 

 

Soldier: [Oooof.]

 

Gear: [yet Spade-tan votes guilty anyways… wwww the irony]

 

Spade: [By my own reasoning.]

 

Gear: [u mean rose-tan's?]

 

Rose: [.]

 

Glasses: [well soldier-san? go ahead.]

 

Soldier: [Bleh, fine. But if Rosey-chan’s deduction is wrong and Tag-kun is stuck, then y’all know who to blame lmao]

 

Swain: [@Protagonist did it work?]

 

And that’s the latest message. I guess I’ll try the door. 

 

It opens. I’m free! Oh, hallway air has never felt so good. 

 

Protagonist: [Yes! I’m free!]

 

Rose: [So I was right!]

 

Puppet: [Thank goodness!!! It's over!]

 

Flare: [Looks like we don’t have to worry any further. You alright?]

 

Protagonist: [Yeah…]

 

Flare: [I'm coming over.]

 

Soldier: Hey.

 

Protagonist: [Hey]

 

Wait, that wasn’t in chat. It was Soldier herself. I turn around and see her leaning against the wall.

 

Protagonist: So you locked me in…? 

 

Soldier: Mhm. Guilty as charged. (throws a peace scene) Didn’t think Rose-san would come after me like that. (snickers)

 

Protagonist: Oh. 

 

Soldier’s laughter dies down. Now that I’m free… What then?

 

Protagonist: So… Why did you do it? And how did you find out you could do this?

 

Soldier: I figured you could use the alone time. It's just as Dusty-kun and I said yesterday. You don't have to be in everyone's business.

 

Protagonist: So you forcibly isolated me for the day?

 

Soldier: Basically? Yeah. How'd you like that? Not having to care about anyone or anything?

 

Protagonist: You mean being bored out of my mind, practically stuck in my head as an outsider while I watched you guys fight it out?

 

Soldier: (shrugs) You didn't have to do that. You could've just done some self care or something. Put on a face mask. Take a shower.

 

Protagonist: For four hours??

 

Soldier: It can take that long.

 

Protagonist: You still haven't answered my question of how you figured this secret out. Roxie-san said you had to find out yourself. So how? Were you just bored?

 

Soldier grins, but before she can answer…

 

Flare: Protagonist-san!

 

Flare comes rushing up to me. I turn to him happily.

 

Flare: Are you alright? You must be starving.

 

Protagonist: That is true… We can grab something to eat after this. Thank you for caring, Flare-san!

 

Soldier: Aw, how cute. 

 

Flare's panicked look turns into a scowl.

 

Flare: What the hell is your problem?

 

Soldier: Kyeh.

 

Flare: Is that really all you can say? After putting someone in danger like that?

 

Soldier: It all worked out, didn't it?

 

Flare: Only because Rose-san found you out. On the last trial of the day.

 

Soldier: So it worked out! It's all good!

 

Flare: Do you not realize the consequences you could've caused?

 

Soldier: You mean the consequences that didn't happen?

 

Flare: Protagonist-san could've been seriously hurt because of you! Why don't you get that?

 

Soldier: Because it didn't happen.

 

Flare: How can you be so calm? You- You-

 

Flare is seriously angry right now! Not on "angry at Wolf" levels, but… beyond that!

 

Protagonist: Flare-san, it's fine-

 

Flare: How are you not angry at her for this? She locked you in your room for hours! Who's to say she won't do so again?!

 

Soldier: Well that won't be any fun then. You all will know it was me immediately.

 

Flare: THIS is your idea of fun?! How can you say that?

 

Soldier: Boo hoo, we have different ideas-

 

Flare: My ideas just happen to align with NOT HURTING OTHERS!

 

Soldier: (uninterested) You can say that all you want in a lil game like this. Just saying.

 

Flare: You-! 

 

Flare raises an arm. Wait-!

 

Protagonist: (grabs him) Flare-san! Please! I'm hungry! You don't have to do this!

 

Soldier: Yeah, Flare-saaaan. He's hungry you jerk. He can fight his own battles. You're just holding your boyfriend up-

 

Flare: (breaks away from Protagonist’s grasp) Shut the HELL up! He's not my boyfriend! He never was, and he never will be! Go it?

 

Soldier: Heh. Sure. Whatever you say.

 

She gives me a grin. … Ah.

 

Protagonist: … Oh. You said that so… 

 

So seriously. He really meant it, huh?

 

I feel my heart drop. Why am I feeling like that? 

 

Protagonist: (voice gets quiet) Can we just leave and eat? Soldier-san… Please don't do that again. All of it.

 

Soldier: Enjoy yourself, not boyfriends.

 

Protagonist: … Alright. Bye.

 

Sigh.

 

I head to the kitchen. I don't even look behind to see if Flare is following me there. I doubt he is. He isn't saying anything to me if he is behind me.

 

When I get there and look behind me… Yeah, he's gone. 

 

Guess I'll be eating alone-

 

Puppet: Protag-kun!

 

Protagonist: (snaps out of thoughts) Ah!

 

Puppet: Sorry if I startled you, but I um, I figured you were hungry, right? I feel bad that you missed out on dinner.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, that's why I'm here.

 

Puppet: So I prepared you a plate of these! Nothing too fancy of my own cooking, but… You deserve a treat. 

 

Puppet sets down a plate of rectangular puffs, like mini pillows. I know exactly what these are! Pizza rolls! My mood gets a thousand times better.

 

Protagonist: For me?

 

Puppet: (nods) All for you! And trust me, I don't want any. 

 

Protagonist: Well that just means more for me!

 

I laugh and start chomping them down. 

 

Protagonist: Mm… It feels so good to have food in me again! Hot, microwavable goodness…

 

It all felt so nice.

 

Puppet: I'm glad everything worked out in the end. Now we don't have to worry about a punishment! And we'll move past what Soldier-san did, so no hard feelings, just as you said. And if Soldier-san tries anything again, then we’ll know it’s her. So she won’t get any funny ideas now! 

 

Protagonist: (nods) That’s true...

 

I think about Flare telling Soldier off. And what Flare said. And what he did.

 

… Yeah, no hard feelings. None at all.

 

Protagonist: I'm safe from any punishment, that’s good at least.

 

Puppet: (nods) Yes, truly!

 

Now I just have to worry about everything else that follows. 

 

But for now? Pizza rolls.

Chapter Text

I didn’t fall asleep feeling the best, that feeling of dread still loomed over me. 

 

And I have to say, this gloomy piano music wasn’t helping the mood either. Ah, right, it’s Usher’s day to wake us up.

 

Usher: Franz Liszt’s Nuages Gris , one of his… Shorter works. Yet still very beautiful. You’re welcome. 

 

I’d rather have something exciting to wake me up…

 

Usher: As the title implies, Liszt hoped to capture the essence of gray clouds slowly passing through the sky. I think he did a great job. 

 

The music keeps playing as Usher speaks. Sigh.

 

Usher: Reminiscent of the Romantic Era of music and literature as the music becomes one with nature and emotion. Though in terms of time, it is a bit late for it. Beautiful nonetheless.

 

The music finally ends. Usher isn’t done speaking, however.

 

Usher: And that’s the end of that. Anyways, the time is 10:03 AM, or in other words, daytime. Enjoy your last few hours of the first No-Killy period. The Revealing Ceremony will be held at 2 PM in the theater. Remember, attendance is mandatory. Don’t test our limits. Roxie-san isn’t lying about cutting off tongues. Afterward, the Killy period will begin. See you then.

 

10:03… Meaning there’s less than 4 full hours of guaranteed safety. Yikes!

 

Meh, food first. Well technically, getting ready first. But you get the gist of it. 

 

I go to open my door, a little cautious after yesterday’s fiasco. Thankfully, it opens without a problem. Phew. 

 

Just like the other day (or rather, the last time I was here), Swain was standing by the sign-in sheet. When they see me, their eyes light up with relief.

 

Swain: Oh, thank goodness.

 

Protagonist: I know, right? Good to be back at breakfast. 

 

Swain: Let’s just hope no one else got stuck in their rooms. After Soldier-san exposed that… (sighs) That’s all I’ll say on that matter.

 

Protagonist: Well, who’s here so far?

 

Swain: You can check the sign in sheet. I’m just keeping watch, so to speak.

 

I signed myself in and glanced up and down the page. A lot of people had already come and gone, but truthfully, I’m just looking at Flare’s name. He hasn’t come yet. 

 

Protagonist: Ah, I see.

 

Swain: Yeah… How are you feeling? I haven’t been able to ask you that after yesterday happened.

 

Protagonist: I’m… Fine. I spent some time with Puppet-san afterward.

 

Swain: Did you talk to Soldier-san? 

 

Protagonist: (fake scoffs) Yeah, duh. I told her off and said not to do it again. 

 

I wasn’t going to say anything about Flare or Soldier. I falter. 

 

Protagonist: … She was unbothered.

 

Swain: Figures… Did she ever say how she figured the lock thing out?

 

Protagonist: Nope. 

 

Swain: Oh well. I wonder who my tablet locks… Not that I’d use it. But just curious.

 

Protagonist: /eah I get it, I’m curious too. I wouldn’t try it though.

 

Swain: Glad I’m not alone! Anyways, enjoy breakfast, okay? You deserve it.

 

Protagonist: Yeah! See you at 2?

 

What a way to end that conversation. Y’know, “See you at our collective funeral? You know, at 2?” I can see Swain cringe at my words, but they’re trying really hard to mask it. 

 

Swain: Uh… Yeah. 

 

I quickly head into the kitchen to end that awkwardness. Cereza greets me next.  

 

Cereza: Ah! Protagonist-san!

 

Protagonist: Hey!

 

Cereza: Are you alright? You know, after everything?

 

Rose: Yeah! So sorry about yesterday, senpai. We should’ve figured it out sooner! 

 

Protagonist: Hey, no worries! You don’t have to apologize. If anything, I should be thanking you, Rose-san. You got me out of my room, after all. On the last try too! You’re practically my lifesaver! 

 

Rose: Eheh, well… I just went with my gut. I figured it’d be a better guess than Spring-san.

 

Cereza: Yeaaah, Wolf-san was pissed when Duke-san placed the blame on her. 

 

Protagonist: Didn’t know Duke-san was the accusatory type.

 

Cereza: (shrugs) It wasn’t genuine suspicion, Duke-san was just panicking and placed the blame on someone unsuspecting. That is, Spring-san. 

 

Protagonist: It’s not out of malicious intent at least…? 

 

Rose: Wolf-san is still really mad though! 

 

Protagonist: I see…

 

Puppet: (comes in, carrying a tray of cinnamon rolls) Good morning! Good to see you, Protag-kun! Big day, huh?

 

Rose: (eyes light up) I know, right?

 

Protagonist: You’re excited?

 

Rose: I get to find out who some of the most famous detectives and serial killers are! I’d love to know!

 

Protagonist: Even the serial killer part? 

 

Rose: (nods) Yeah!

 

Protagonist: I guess that knowledge would help… 

 

Puppet: That’s why I baked pastries for everyone! A sweet start to the day, no? 

 

Cereza: Awesome! Thanks, Puppet-kun!

 

Cereza plucks a roll off the tray and takes a bite. She jumps around a little. 

 

Cereza: Ah! Hot! Mm, but so good… 

 

Rose: Your culinary skills are off the charts! How can you make so many? 

 

Puppet: Thank you! Want one, Rose-san?

 

Rose: Not now, thanks. 

 

Protagonist: I’ll take one.

 

I bite into the cinnamon roll and am greeted into a load of sweetness. I second Cereza. Mm… 

 

Protagonist: (thumbs up) Delicious!

 

Puppet: Thank you! I have more on the way, so I’ll be back!

 

He places the tray of cinnamon rolls on the table and heads back to the kitchen. I pop another roll into my mouth. When Puppet is out of earshot, Rose starts talking again.

 

Rose: Hey, we shouldn’t sit around until two! Let’s do something fun while we have time!

 

Cereza: Like what? 

 

Rose: Has anyone used the pool yet?

 

Protagonist: Not that I know of…

 

Just thinking about the pool reminds me of the first day we got here. That conversation with Flare… My heart can’t help but feel a little heavier. I should’ve caught onto those early signs, huh? 

 

Maybe I’m overthinking. I have to make sure that Flare doesn’t hate me! Of all people, I don’t want him to hate me. 

 

Rose: Ooh, then we can go swimming! We should take advantage of what we have here if we’re gonna be stuck, aha. 

 

Cereza: Oh! I have a super cute bathing suit. I’m down!

 

Rose: What about you, Protagonist-senpai?

 

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

 

Protagonist: I probably won’t swim, but I’ll come along if you’d like.

 

The fact that I CAN’T swim may or may not be a correlating factor. But I don’t want to ruin their fun, and I should get out and do something anyways. Better than moping until 2. 

 

Rose: That works too! 

 

Protagonist: Are we inviting anyone else?

 

Rose: I doubt either of our partners would be interested. Hey, what about Flare-san?

 

I know the answer to that already.

 

Protagonist: I don’t think he’d be interested.

 

Rose: Really?

 

Protagonist: Mhm. Really.

 

Cereza: Right, you mentioned something about him disliking swimming?

 

Protagonist: You could say something like that. 

 

There’s the technical “can’t swim” factor. And I just don’t think he wants to see me. I don’t think inviting him on a pool “date” would be the greatest way to patch things up with him.

 

Ugh, I shouldn’t even call it a “date”... 

 

Normally this is when I get really clingy but… Ah, whatever. We’ll see when I actually see him, and when he actually wants to see me. So in the meantime, that’s gonna be stuck in the back of my head till like, two. 

 

Rose: Well, it’s almost, 11, so why don’t we meet at the pool in thirty minutes? Is that enough time to prepare?

 

Cereza: Sounds good!

 

Protagonist: (shrugs) Sure. 

 

Rose: In that case, see you then!

 

Rose and Cereza go their separate ways, leaving me behind. Well since I won’t be swimming… I’m gonna grab another cinnamon roll. How many have I eaten so far? Oh well, they’re good cinnamon rolls. 

 

I definitely wasn’t planning on changing into any kind of swimsuit here… 

 

I grip onto the softness of my scarf and head back to my room to get ready.

 

 

I was the last one to arrive. Rose and Cereza were already in the water. I sat on the edge.

 

Rose: Protagonist-senpai! Hey! (waves eagerly)

 

Protagonist: (waves) Sup.

 

Rose: You’re still wearing your scarf here? Near the water?

 

Protagonist: Spring-san made it for me, so I should honor that! Plus it’s comfy, and I’ll take care of it. So no worries.

 

Rose: (shrugs) If that’s what works for you.

 

I sat there, staring down at the water. I was less focused on what Rose and Cereza were up to. What was going to happen after the Killy period started? How were we going to manage? I mean, should I even worry? Swain and Puppet had everything sorted out, from meals to literally our time in between as partners. And I trust them. There’s no way someone could even attempt a murder without someone else knowing. 

 

But what if I was killed?

 

That’s a weird thought. 

 

What would happen? 

 

I don’t know what happens when you die. Is it like sleep… But forever? With no dreams or feelings or breaths or thoughts or anything. Just eternal darkness, but you don’t even know that you’re in darkness. 

 

This weird thought just took a turn for the scary. 

 

Of course, I would never truly know, but… Is this where I want to die? Is it even about what I want or not? Am I just going to die here? Is that it? Would I have a painful death? Stabbed or brutally killed for the sake of someone else’s selfishness? Would anyone even care, or would I just be another murder to solve? 

 

What would happen a day after my death? A week? A month? A year? I would be forgotten eventually, but how quickly? 

 

I don’t want to think these people are selfish. 

 

Cereza: Hello? Protag-kun! Earth to Protag-kun? (splashes a little towards Protagonist’s direction)

 

Protagonist: (looks up) Huh?

 

Cereza: Did you hear our question?

 

Protagonist: Uh… No. What was it?

 

Cereza: We were planning on who we were gonna vote to learn about today! We figure if we send our votes one direction, it’s better than scattering them and going nowhere! And hey, I’d say three votes is better than none.

 

Rose: Like an alliance of sorts!

 

Protagonist: This isn’t a reality game show, don’t be ridiculous.

 

That sounded way harsher out loud than I meant it to. My voice sounds scratchy as well. 

 

Protagonist: I mean, why so serious and secretive? (laughs it out) Aren’t we gonna it out with the others too?

 

Cereza: Well it’s good to have an idea in mind going into it, isn’t it? But you’re right, once we get an idea, we should propose it to the rest of the group!

 

Protagonist: (shrugs) That works too. So, who are we thinking about?

 

Rose: I was thinking about Anon for the serial killer. I mean, I’d want to know who the person who’s killed over eighty people is so I can be careful around them!

 

Cereza: Yeah, I agree!

 

Protagonist: But wouldn’t people be too careful to the point of irrationality? I wouldn’t want someone to lash out and do something to that person out of the fear of knowing they’re Anon. 

 

Though it WOULD be Anon… 

 

Rose: That’s true, but I’d rather know who it is than let them run in the shadows so they can attack us in hiding! At least if we know who they are, we can take precautions on both ends. To basically stay away from them!

 

Protagonist: So we’re going to isolate them after knowing their serial killer identity?

 

Rose: What else can we do?

 

In my mind, I want to tell Rose that we’ve been getting to know Anon and be around them for the last week or so, whether we like the thought of it or not. But that would cause discomfort and possible tension between this whole light-hearted conversation, so I don’t say it out loud.

 

Wait, this conversation isn’t even that lighthearted! It’s about serial killers! Awful, terrible serial killers! 

 

I really need to practice what I preach. Or rather, think about preaching, since… I have been sharing meals with serial killers. I’ve been spending time with them, and I’ve probably, in some way, touched the hands they’ve used to kill someone with. 

 

I hate that thought. So much. 

 

This sucks, man. 

 

… I really need to focus. 

 

Protagonist: In that case… We wanna learn who Anon is?

 

Rose: Yeah! And like you said, we’ll bring it up to the group when it gets to the actual ceremony.

 

Protagonist: Sounds like a plan.

 

I wasn’t entirely on board, but I guess it’s because knowing who the deadliest serial killer in this manor is scared me. I hadn’t even thought about the whole serial killer and detective factor in a while, so this is just grounding me back to reality. Sigh.

 

Protagonist: And the detective plan?

 

Rose: Ah, I’ve told you already. I’d love to know who Cipher is, but I’m afraid that would be too selfish of a request.

 

Protagonist: I guess it differs a little with the detectives since they’re not as deadly or fearful… So I wouldn’t worry about being selfish when there isn’t much of a need!

 

But wouldn’t we be putting a target on the detective’s back? I bet the serial killers would love to take a proven detective out… Agh, but the same is true for us detectives and serial killers! This is getting to my head too much, negative thoughts begone!

 

Cereza: I agree! I don’t have any huge objections either. Plus, Cipher is one of the harder ones to figure out, I think. They’re one that tries to stay hidden!

 

Rose: Yay! I’m glad you all agree with me. I’m sure everyone else will think the same!

 

Will they?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! Of course.

 

I can feel my tablet buzz against my leg, and when I pull it out, there’s an audio message from Roxie and Usher.

 

Roxie: Gooood afternoon! Oh, wait, afternoon, y’know what that means?

 

Usher: It’s 1:50. You have ten minutes before the revealing ceremony. Please try to be prompt.

 

Roxie: Because if you’re not, snip snip!

 

Usher: Essentially, yes. See you then.

 

I let out a sigh, trying to get this feeling of dread off my chest. It’s not going away. 

 

Protagonist: Well! It’s time, huh? (gets up)

 

Rose: Waiiit! Let me dry off! 

 

They can still be so enthusiastic in a time like this, huh? I guess I could take a few notes from them. 

 

We raced down the stairs and arrived just in time, 1:59 PM!

 

Protagonist: Phew! We made it!

 

Pearl: What took you three so long?

 

Cereza: We went swimming!

 

Pearl: Before the revealing ceremony?

 

Rose: Yeah, we should’ve had allotted more time to dry off. Oops! But I’ll take a shower after all of this! 

 

Pearl: Not what I meant, but okay.

 

Roxie: It’s 2’o-fucking-clock, bitches!

 

Roxie lands onto the stage from who knows where with a thud. Usher slowly walks onto the stage next to her.

 

Roxie: Glad to see everyone’s here! Well, not really, cuz no punishments have to be dealt. Bummer.

 

Usher: But with that being said, the first Killy period has officially started. 

 

Roxie: Technically, if you wanted to, you could kill someone right now!

 

Usher: But all of your peers are in here, and they would all immediately know it was you, so that would not be a very smart idea.

 

Flare: Can we just get on with this ceremony shit?

 

Roxie: Touchy, touchy! Who pissed in your tea, Flare-kun?

 

Flare: I don’t drink tea. I drink coffee.

 

Glasses: A horrible mistake, really.

 

Roxie: Well, who pissed in your coffee then? Protag-kun?

 

Protagonist: Gross! I’m not into that!

 

Roxie: Oh, thank goodness. Even I have standards.

 

Flare: Don’t even joke about that.

 

Protagonist: … About not being into piss?

 

Flare: No! You know exactly what I mean!

 

This would be a lot more heated and dramatic if Flare wasn’t on the very front row and if I wasn’t on the very top row. Now we’re just yelling across the room while everyone else awkwardly watches on the side. It would also be a lot tenser if we weren’t yelling about piss.

 

Swain: How does this whole ceremony thing work exactly?

 

Usher: I’m so glad you asked.

 

Duke: Oh boy.

 

Usher: I’m sure some of you are just dying to know who these serial killers and detectives are. After all, we’ve put so much effort into making profiles for each one of them… Or rather, each one of you.

 

Glasses: That’s true. 

 

Duke: And just saying! Some of us are perfectly content staying ignorant and not knowing, aha! 

 

Spade: Meanwhile, some of us do want to know these killers. Move on.

 

Usher: Yes, well. Here at the Revealing Ceremony, you all will have the opportunity to discuss and decide who you want to reveal. In the case that you all vote differently, majority rules. Democracy.

 

Roxie: Fuck yeah!

 

Usher: You will have one identity revealed per serial killer and detective, so choose wisely. This only will occur between the transitions of No Killy and Killy Periods, like right now. 

 

Roxie: Oh, and don’t be a leaker and leak any information you know! You can’t just out people like that, rude!

 

Usher: So, here’s the time to quench your deepest curiosities, as well as piece together two identities in your quest to solve them all: the Revealing Ceremony. You’ll vote on your tablets. First up, serial killers.

 

Rose: (stands up) I think-

 

Spade: I think we should vote for the one named Christine Lee.

 

Rose: E-Eh?! But-

 

Spade isn’t even responding to Rose, he just keeps talking as if no one was there.

 

Spade: Our ultimate goal is to piece all the names with identities, correct? As well as aliases, of course.

 

Soldier: (yawns) Yeah, and?

 

Spade: That’s a three-part puzzle for eighteen people. If we vote for the identity that’s both a serial killer identity and a name… We get to know the alias, and thus, that’s already one full piece of the puzzle solved. 

 

Puppet: That… Makes sense!

 

Flare: But shouldn’t that be a more lucrative detail? Why share it with everyone if it gets everyone one whole step closer to the advantage in a killing game?

 

Dust: Mm… Flare-san has a point. If someone were to find out on their own who Lee-san was, that would give them a major advantage in this solving thing.

 

Soldier: Is that the longest bit of thinking you’ve spent all week?

 

Dust: (shrugs) How should I know?

 

Gear: Nyeheh, I’ll take it as a yes.

 

Wolf: Not to mention there are way more fucking dangerous killers on this list? Like, sure, whatever, fuckin’ strategy, but you’re neglecting the fact that Lee-san has only killed one person, and Anon has killed OVER EIGHTY FUCKING PEOPLE.

 

Rose: (shoots back up) Yeah! I was gonna suggest voting for Anon, cuz they’re the most dangerous, easily! Wouldn’t we be safer knowing who they are?

 

Nebula: But throwing some random normie into the limelight would be kinda fun.

 

Gear: Calling it now, Nebby-tan is Christine Lee.

 

Nebula: Pfft, you wish.

 

Spade: I still stand by voting for Christine Lee. You all can squabble as much as you want, but I’m not changing my vote.

 

Carmen: I fear to know who Anon is… At least Lee-san seems much more harmless.

 

Glasses: Might I add in some food for thought?

 

Flare: What is it?

 

Glasses: I’ve been doing some investigating on the computers here. They have databases for each of our identities, including our origins, methods, times of activity, and most notably, a list of victims for the serial killers. The detective equivalent is a list of notable cases they’ve solved or have been involved with.

 

Blanche: So you know the one person Miss Christine Lee killed then, hm?

 

Glasses: That’s the problem, I don’t.

 

Nebula: Ohoho? A turn of events?

 

Glasses: All the other killers have a list of victims, and Christine Lee’s list is blank.

 

Cereza: Does that really make her a killer then?

 

Roxie: Oops! Must’ve forgotten. 

 

Glasses: (not even looking at Roxie) No, I’m sure it was on purpose.

 

Roxie: Hey, just saying! Every purpose has a reason.

 

Usher: Yes, because that’s the exact definition of “purpose.”

 

Roxie: I will say though, that yes, that Christine Lee brat has killed a person! 

 

Pearl: Why are arguing about this in the first place? This is so pointless. Does it matter?

 

Spade: That’s true, we can just learn who Lee-san killed after we learn who they are. So, I’m voting for her.

 

Rose: Well, I’m voting for Anon, and you’re free to join me!

 

I might as well vote for Anon as Rose said… Especially in times like these where Rose predicted the vote would be split, it’s good to have at least three votes going one way.

 

Roxie: And the votes are in! 

 

Roxie takes a moment to count on her fingers.

 

Roxie: Oh, so close! The vote was 10 to 8, in favor of Christine Lee!

 

Spade: As it should be.

 

Carmen: Thank goodness, I voted right. It’d be awkward if I were in the minority.

 

Rose: (mumbles, disappointed) Yeah, I bet… 

 

Protagonist: I’m sorry, Rose-san. I voted Anon if it’s any consolation.

 

Cereza: Yeah, same here!

 

Protagonist: Maybe next time?

 

Rose: (nods) … Yeah, next time!

 

Roxie: Usher, would you do the honors?

 

Usher: I thought you’d never ask. Christine Lee, the mysterious serial killer leaning civilian plagued with bad luck and responsible for a singular unknown death, is none other than your fellow houseguest…

 

Usher pauses for dramatic effect.

 

Usher: Pearl.

 

All eyes turn to the back corner where Pearl sits. Her expression… Remains the same. She’s not freaking out or reacting, and for a moment, I’m filled with a shred of hope. Maybe she isn’t Christine Lee…? 

 

Pearl: … 

 

It’s silent, save for a snicker from Soldier.

 

Soldier: Oh, of COURSE, it’s you. Of all people, it’s- OW!

 

Dust: (just kicked Soldier in the side) Shut up.

 

Gear: Kyeheheheh.

 

Her expression becomes clearer. She’s trying to force a glare at all of us, but I can see her shaking.

 

Cereza: P… Pearl-san… 

 

Duke: (clears throat awkwardly) … Well then. 

 

Spade: Well?

 

Pearl: W-Well what .

 

She spits that out as quickly and menacingly as she can.

 

Spade: Who did you kill.

 

Pearl: … 

 

Dust: Spade-san, you’re at a solid 15, take it down to a 2.

 

Spring: P-Please…

 

Spade: Shut up. Pearl-san, or should I say, Lee-san, who exactly did you kill?

 

Roxie: Hey, remember! Rules are rules. Just cuz you know Pearl-chan’s name doesn’t mean you can start referring to her as it! You still gotta call her Pearl!

 

Pearl: I’m not obligated to tell you or any of you who I killed, even if I did kill someone. That’s Roxie-san’s fucking fault for not putting that down on the database or whatever. Go yell at her. 

 

Spade: Tell us who you killed.

 

Pearl: No. What are you gonna do, force it out of me?

 

Puppet: C’mon, Spade-san… give her a break. It’s only one person, and that doesn’t change who she is! Pearl-san is Pearl-san, no matter what!

 

Flare: Didn’t you vote for her? So you must’ve wanted to know as well.

 

Puppet: I-I mean… It’s better than revealing Anon…! Pearl-san is far less dangerous.  

 

Spade: (spits) Only one person? A life is a life! She ended one, where she had no fucking right too-!

 

Puppet: You don’t know the reason, do you? You can’t possibly know her circumstances. You don’t even know who she killed! What if it was an assaulter, an abusive partner, or a self-defense situation? It could’ve been an accident, and now she’s roped into our unfortunate situation. You can never know unless she says something.

 

Spade: Then why doesn’t she say something? 

 

Pearl: (twitches slightly) Can we please move on? We’re holding up the ceremony I bet.

 

Nebula: Or can we let her stay in the hot seat a little longer? It’s fun seeing her squirm like this.

 

Blanche: Enough of that talk. We shouldn’t make her uncomfortable. 

 

Spade: We’ll move on when you fess up for your crimes.

 

Pearl: No. It’s not even a crime.

 

Spade: You KILLED SOMEONE. 

 

Cereza: Hey! We can go on like this all day, and nothing will change. You got what you wanted, Spade-san, but you can’t go too far by pushing Pearl-san like that! Just give it a rest! She can say what she wants when she wants! 

 

Spade: …

 

Aside from Spade, I’m glad most people aren’t trying to say anything or yell at her. This could’ve gone way worse than it did.

 

That being said… Pearl? A serial killer?

 

… Well, no, technically she’s not. She’s only killed one person. That’s not a serial killer, technically.

 

But… She’s killed a person. 

 

How am I supposed to feel about this? Could I really accept the fact that she killed a person?

 

I look back at Pearl. She’s staring at the ground, her glare faded and her eyes wide. I could tell she didn’t want to talk about the person she killed or what happened. So what was Spade’s problem? 

 

… Why were we angrier with the person upset with the killer than the actual killer? 

 

Roxie: Done? Cool. With that being said… Let’s move onto the detectives, hm?

 

Wolf: Fucking finally. As if it wasn’t tense enough in here.

 

Rose: Yes, let’s move on!

 

Flare: Ugh, now what.

 

Spade: We vote for Jaiden Zhang, of course.

 

Flare: (grumbles) Figured you’d say that. 

 

Wolf: Hold on, who made you fucking king here?

 

Spade: No one, but if you have any better ideas, I’d love to hear them.

 

Wolf: As if you fucking care! You clearly didn’t listen to the idea of voting to reveal Anon last time!

 

Spade: Oh I heard them. I just didn’t entertain them. Besides, my logic for voting Jaiden Zhang remains the same, and it’s just as strong of reasoning, if not stronger since this is the information that will help us the most.

 

Duke: Wouldn’t you rather want to know someone more… Um, how do I put this… Important? My apologies to Zhang-san.

 

Spade: Knowing who Zhang-san is is much more important to the group’s knowledge than anything else.

 

Rose: But… 

 

Rose starts to say something, about Cipher, I bet, but then they stop. 

 

Spade: So it’s agreed then? We vote for Zhang-san. 

 

Wolf: Hmmph. This doesn’t mean you’re the leader or something.

 

Spade: Whatever helps you sleep at night. 

 

I guess I’ll vote for Jaiden Zhang…? There’s no use in arguing this, I suppose.

 

Roxie: And the votes are in! Oooh, slightly more split this time… Except not really. We’ve got 16 votes to Jaiden Zhang, 1 vote for Cipher, and 1 vote for Half-Decent Detective from Zhang-san themselves! 

 

Huh? Why’d they vote for me of all people? 

 

Usher: And Jaiden Zhang, your lovely detective civilian and impressive student council president with an interest in politics and history is your very own…

 

Another pause.

 

Soldier: Yeah, yeah, we get it! Drama, whatever. Just get a move on with it!

 

Usher: Alright, alright. It’s Flare. There, happy? You killed the mood. You and Roxie-san would get along just fine. 

 

Soldier: (grins) Thanks. 

 

Wait… 

 

Did I hear that correctly? 

 

Protagonist: What?!

 

Flare shoots a vicious glare at me. I can read the “shut the hell up” in his eyes. Shit, I said that aloud.

 

I knew he was a detective of some sort, but I didn’t know he was THE civilian detective. 

 

Spade: I see then.

 

Flare: Yeah, you do see that! Don’t even bother questioning me or humiliating me or whatever like you did with Pearl-san.

 

Spade: Don’t worry, there’s no need to. You haven’t killed anyone, after all. 

 

But Flare’s not done. 

 

Flare: Congrats, you outed the two people who didn’t do anything to deserve any of this! We’re not special! We’re not qualified, we know! And now the dirty little secret is out in the open. Judge all you want, whisper about how lame I am, or just say it to my fucking face! 

 

Flare: (voice cracks) I’m going to die here, and it’s not because I was a threat or an outstanding human being… It’s because… It’s because some asshole decided that this is where I’m going to die. I don’t even get a say… 

 

Protagonist: Flare-san-

 

Flare: (glares again) I’m just saying. I didn’t ask for this. So mock me all you want. But don’t act like you’re any better than I am.  

 

There’s no response from any of us… Any of us detectives or serial killers.

 

Usher: Well, that’s a wrap. Have fun over the next week or so.

 

Roxie: That is, if you all can last that long. See ya!

 

The lights dim for a moment and turn back on. Flare is still in his position, but Roxie and Usher are gone. 

 

Duke: Well then. That was certainly an occasion that happened.

 

Soldier: Oh man, I can’t wait for another one of these! Seeing the looks on your faces was priceless. 

 

Dust: Anyways… The better question is, what now? We know two civilians, and we have two full identities solved… So what now?

 

Spade: I have a proposition.

 

Wolf: When do you fucking not?

 

Spade: (ignores Wolf) Puppet-san, Swain-san, I thank you deeply for all of your work over the past week. Your cooking has been delicious. 

 

Swain: Um… Thank you?

 

Puppet: Thank you very much! I’d be happy to keep doing so this week!

 

Spade: That won’t be necessary. Consider it a vacation of sorts.

 

Puppet: Huh?

 

Swain: I second that. Huh?

 

Spade: To put it bluntly, we have a confirmed detective. A harmless person with no murderous intent. And it’s neither of you, to be frank. Especially as we enter a dangerous period, I suggest neither of you should cook at all.

 

Puppet: What?! Do you not trust me?

 

Spade: No, I don’t, but I appreciate your gesture.

 

Puppet: Aw… (pouts)

 

Spade: (turns) Flare-san.

 

Flare: What.

 

Spade: You’re going to cook this week. I pray that you know how to.

 

Flare: Do I have a choice in the matter?

 

Spade: Not particularly if you don’t want to endanger the entire group or leave them to starve. We can place you on, ah, cooking duty.

 

Flare: Oh fuck you.

 

Nebula: You better be a good cook, Flare-kun! Puppet-kun has been spoiling me with this breakfast stuff. 

 

Cereza: I guess I’m not against this suggestion…At least it’s one of Spade-san’s better ideas. 

 

Flare: So I really don’t have a choice.

 

Protagonist: Hey, wait! Two questions, actually.

 

Wolf: You really don’t have to ask Spade-san like he’s the leader or something, just saying.

 

Protagonist: Nah, it’s more directed to Swain-san and Puppet-san.

 

Puppet: Oh?

 

Protagonist: So I’m assuming meals are still mandatory?

 

Puppet: Of course! Again, it works as a headcount, especially in times like these.

 

Swain: Sign up sheet will still be there, though I ask everyone to at least sign in by 10:30 or else I’m gonna have to assume that you’re dead and look for you… Er… Yeah. Please?

 

Protagonist: Next question: Pair thing is still a thing, right? 

 

Swain: Yeah! It was made for right now. So… As soon as you leave this theater, please leave with your partner! 

 

Protagonist: Alrighty then, hope you guys don’t mind if I hang around Flare-san while he cooks then!

 

Flare: I forgot about that. 

 

Spade: … Fine. If only for Swain-san’s partner rule. I trust Flare-san won’t let you do anything stupid. At least, I sincerely hope so. 

 

Protagonist: Hell yeah! We can make meals together. Haha, kidding, kidding… Unless?

 

Flare: Alright, that’s fucking enough. I’m done with this.

 

Flare storms up to the exit and passes me before leaving the theater. Ah, I need to follow him… 

 

Protagonist: Flare-san, wait!

 

I ran out after him, leaving the others behind.

 

Protagonist: Flare-san, where are you going?

 

Flare: Well I’m on “cooking duty” now, aren’t I? I might as well get started. I have my work cut out for me. 

 

Protagonist: So… To the kitchen?

 

Flare: (huffs) Yes.

 

Protagonist: Well I’m coming with you! I meant it when I said we could cook together. And we’re partners, after all.

 

Flare: What, like boyfriends or something?

 

So he’s been thinking about it too… 

 

Protagonist: I mean- uh! Only if you want, I mean… Cooking, that’d be cute, right?

 

Flare: … 

 

Flare stops dead in his tracks and is silent. We’re standing in the common room. He stands in front of me, and I don’t want to take another step. I wonder what expressions he has? 

 

Protagonist: Aha…? Please laugh? Or yell at me? Or react? Or… Or anything…?

 

Nothing.

 

Protagonist: Please, I- … I don’t know what to do with silence. 

 

And then he finally speaks. Flare doesn't have an outburst. Rather, his voice gets quietly stable, like an incoming cloud before a storm.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san, please answer this honestly. I’m being serious here.

 

Protagonist: Flare-san…?

 

My voice has gone quiet as well. 

 

Flare: Do you actually believe in- in any of this shit you say? 

 

Protagonist: About what?

 

Flare: From day one you’ve flaunted this idea of us as a couple, like boyfriends or something. Do you actually believe that, or are you just trying to annoy me with another scheme of yours just so you can get a laugh out of me? Do you legitimately believe in love? 

 

Protagonist: In… Love?

 

Flare: I knew it, you don’t, you’re just messing-

 

Protagonist: No! No that’s not it, I’ve just… Never been in love and I don’t know how it feels and- I don’t know. There’s your answer. I believe it but… Does that mean I'm hurting you?

 

I feel… Confused. And sad. It’s not a fun feeling. 

 

Flare: …

 

Flare goes silent again, but I see his arm raise up and brush against his face.

 

Protagonist: I am… Aren’t I? 

 

Flare: Let’s talk about this in the kitchen, okay? 

 

Protagonist: Please just answer me.

 

Flare: … No. It’s not you. But I need to talk to you anyways.

 

Protagonist: … Alright.

 

I feel a little better. But I still feel awful for pushing Flare like this. He asked a good question: Did I believe in love? And if so, did I believe in love with Flare? I want to say yes, but… Why do I hesitate?

 

We arrive in the back of the kitchen and Flare finally turns to look at me.

 

Flare: I’m telling you this because I don’t know if you’re being serious or not. I’m neither rejecting nor accepting your advances… Whether they’re real or not. But I think you should know this.

 

So it’s like a Wolf situation then.

 

Protagonist: I’m all ears. I won't judge.

 

Flare: … Thank you. 

 

He takes a breath.

 

Flare: So… Around a year ago, I dated this guy. Football star, super popular, decent enough at grades. … Attractive.

 

Protagonist: And what about you?

 

Flare: Tennis team. Better grades than him. And obviously, you now know I was the Student Council President.

 

Also attractive.

 

He really has it all.

 

… I shouldn't be thinking about this, should I?

 

Protagonist: So popular enough too.

 

Flare: … Sure. Even though we dated as two of the arguably most powerful people in the school, we kept our relationship secret. He was openly bisexual, but I wasn’t. 

 

I figured now wouldn’t be the time for (vocal) witty commentary, so I kept my mouth shut and listened to Flare’s story. I was genuinely curious, after all. 

 

Flare: I had never dated someone before, much less a guy, and my parents definitely didn’t approve of any of that. So this was all new to me. But… I was happy, at least for a little while. Until things changed.

 

Protagonist: Like what?

 

Flare: (face lowers) I found out he was cheating on me with another girl, and when I confronted him on it, he didn’t even care, and… He did something awful. 

 

Flare: He immediately broke up with me by outing me to the entire school. The beloved student council president was bi, and we had just broken up. The whole school blew up with that knowledge, and the feeling fucking sucked. Word got around, and eventually, my parents found out too. As if things could get even worse with them. 

 

He's in a venting mode, but his face softens with sadness.

 

Flare: And…

 

He looked like he was about to say something, but his voice trails off.

 

Protagonist: (softly) And? 

 

Flare: … (hesitates) And nothing. 

 

Protagonist: Oh, alright then

 

It probably was something. But I didn’t want to pry. 

 

Flare: Ugh, just… (buries face in hands) Why? Why did this have to happen? Where did I go wrong? One moment, I’m happy and in love, and now… Can I even say that love is real when I’m going to die here for no reason? 

 

Something tells me that he's been waiting to say that for a while. I can't help but feel bad, but at the same time, it's weird for me to confront these feelings. 

 

With Spring and Wolf I could understand some of it, and it also helps that I wasn't doing anything wrong to them. 

 

But Flare… I was hurting him because I was being my stupid self. I was bringing up bad memories, and I didn’t stop myself. If anything, what does that say about me? And how do I feel about Flare? Is it like he says, do I really believe in something more?

 

I take a breath. 

 

I need to be mature about this.

 

Protagonist: Thank you for telling me this, Flare-san. So… Was I hurting you, and if I was, was it because of this?

 

Flare: (sighs) I told you all of this because I don’t believe I’m ready to fall in love. Not again. Especially not someone who won't take it seriously.

 

So… Me. But I do take it seriously!

 

Do I?

 

Protagonist: I’ll back off then.

 

Flare: … Sure.

 

Protagonist: Are hugs okay? What about physical contact in general? All platonic, of course. Until we’re both ready. 

 

If we’ll ever be ready.

 

Flare: (sighs) Yeah, that’s fine.

 

Protagonist: You sure?

 

Flare: I’m sure.

 

Protagonist: In that case…

 

I offer my hand out to him. 

 

Protagonist: Friends?

 

He stares at my hand, eyes wide. I’m not sure why. Still, he reaches for it and gives me a small smile.

 

Flare: Friends.

 

We shake. This time, for a normal amount of time. 

 

I understand Flare a lot more now.

 

Protagonist: Thanks again for telling me. In that case, let’s get cooking. Is that okay with you?

 

Flare: (nods) I’d like for that a lot, actually.

 

Protagonist: Yay! What’d you have in mind?

 

Flare: Um… I’m no Puppet-san or Swain-san, but I can prepare a dish with pork and vegetables if you like spicy food. I can also make rice.

 

Protagonist: Hell yes, spicy food. I’ll prepare the rice, you make the other food.

 

Flare: Sounds good to me. Though I've never cooked for this many people before…

 

Protagonist: We're gonna need a lot of rice then. 

 

We begin to prepare for dinner, though we don’t say much to each other aside from asking to get something or other. How could I possibly follow up on what he told me? Of course, I understood what he was saying, but I still figured that trying to crack a joke or just be myself wouldn’t make him happy.

 

Now that I think about it like that… Yeesh. Maybe he just doesn’t like me.

 

Finally, I think of something serious enough to say.

 

Protagonist: Hey, Flare-san?

 

Flare: Yeah?

 

Protagonist: Were you the one who voted for… Half-Decent Detective?

 

Flare: Mm… Yeah.

 

Protagonist: Figured. Why though?

 

Flare: What else could I do, vote for myself? 

 

Protagonist: But why me? 

 

Flare: Because I knew who you were, and I figured you wouldn’t get too pissed at me for targeting you like that. 

 

Protagonist: Fair enough. So how’s the food coming along?

 

Flare: Good. Please don’t tell me you messed up the rice.

 

Protagonist: I didn’t, don’t worry. I’m not Carmen-san, after all.

 

Flare: Is she that bad?

 

Protagonist: You’d be surprised.

 

Flare lets out a small laugh. It was nice and light, and it reminded me of Blanche’s. I liked it.

 

Flare: Wow, could not be me. 

 

Protagonist: So, you’re a tennis player, huh? Any good at it?

 

Flare: I’m not a star player or anything, but I wouldn’t say I’m terrible either. If I were, I wouldn’t be playing. Do you play any sports, Protagonist-san?

 

Protagonist: … No.

 

Simple enough answer.

 

Flare: So what do you do?

 

Protagonist: … Have a job. You probably know already from my bio.

 

Flare: Ah, right. 

 

It falls silent again. My brain is yelling at me to say something.

 

Flare: … Hey, Protagonist-san? 

 

Protagonist: Yeah?

 

Flare: I don’t hate you, you know.

 

Protagonist: Really? I mean, pssh, I hope not. Haters are like, the biggest group of people I struggle with. They're also my motivators, duh.

 

Flare: Alright then, just wanted to confirm that with you. 

 

The conversation falls silent again. Sigh.

 

But at least he didn’t hate me!! I was scared he did this morning. I hope he knows that I don’t hate him either. 

 

Even though we were in the Killy period, I felt happy and safe to be around Flare, at least. This partner thing wasn’t too bad of an idea either. Besides, making us kill after a week of getting to know one another? Not gonna happen.

 

I felt good, but something in the back of my mind told me I should still be wary.

 

By the time the food was ready, it smelled really good. Flare… Tennis player, academic success, student council president… And also a cook! He really is the whole deal, huh. 

 

Protagonist: Should I send a message to the others about dinner?

 

Flare: (placing the dish onto a plate) Sure, I’d appreciate it. 

 

I pull out my tablet. I see there’s a detective chat backlog. Interesting… I’ll read that first.

 

DSMVII: [Well, well, well.]

 

DSMVII: [So we know who the elusive Zhang-san is.]

 

Fleeting Justice: [Are you expecting him to say something?]

 

DSMVII: [Nah, I know he’s cooking with his partner right now.]

 

Luck Star: [Let’s hope he’s not a serial killer. I don’t think so, at least.]

 

Cipher: [As if a serial killer would care about killing such a low-tier “detective.”]

 

Luck Star: [Not what I meant, but okay.]

 

Justice Hunter: [You implying his partner’s a serial killer?]

 

Cipher: [Perhaps.]

 

CherryBomb: [Let’s stop talking bout this, kay??]

 

The messages end there. If the detectives are acting this way over Zhang… I mean Flare… I can’t imagine how Pearl is being treated in the serial killer chat. Does she care? Should I even feel pity for her? 

 

Uh, anyways, message time.

 

Protagonist: [Hey guys! Dinner is ready! Flare-san made it, but I prepared the rice if that bothers you guys.]

 

Spade: [Good.]

 

Cereza: [Looking forward to it!!]

 

Swain: [wish I could’ve helped…]

 

Wolf: [You technically could’ve. You didn’t have to listen to Spade-san’s bs.]

 

Spade: [I’m right here. I would’ve known.]

 

Wolf: [In the words of you, “I don’t care.”]

 

Spring: [see you all at dinner…?]

 

Cereza: [Yeah!!!]

 

Protagonist: (to Flare) They should be on their way. I’ll prepare some bowls of rice, but I let everyone know that I made it.

 

Flare: Thanks a lot. The dishes are ready. 

 

I carry as many bowls as I can and walk to the table with Flare, setting the table up. 

 

Everyone showed up at one point or another, and I finally learned that Pearl just took food back to her room or the infirmary. But since she did that, Cereza had to go with her too. She was happily chatting with her, acting as if nothing had happened earlier that day. Or maybe she and Pearl already talked about it. Maybe not, knowing Pearl.

 

The rest of us who did show up and stayed ate like normal. I took a bite out of Flare’s food, and…

 

Protagonist: Wow! This is really good, Flare-san!

 

Flare: (nods) Thank you. I’d hope so, honestly.

 

Carmen: I didn’t know you were such a good cook.

 

Nebula: Phew, thank goodness! 

 

Spade: I knew I made the right decision.

 

Wolf: You didn’t know shit. What if Flare-san was trash at cooking? 

 

Spade: I’d rather eat bad cooking from someone I could trust than from someone who could poison my food.

 

I notice he isn’t eating any rice…

 

Spring: Um… 

 

Duke: Let’s not quarrel over this, alright? We can be grateful for the food without fighting.

 

Spade: Yeah. Sure. 

 

Soldier: (mouth full of food) Eh, I’d rather just eat good food and die happy.

 

Dust: Manners.

 

Soldier: (swallows) Yes, mom.

 

Wolf: Or you could just make your own fucking food.

 

Spade: Not with Puppet-san’s regulations that I still wish to respect.

 

Puppet: Eheh… I’m glad we’re still doing this, especially now! So thanks! I know I have nothing to worry about. 

 

Swain: Plus, I’m grateful the whole partner thing worked out well. 

 

Puppet: Yeah! We’ll get through this week without a problem! 

 

Nebula: So why do we still have mandatory dinners if you’re not worrying?

 

Soldier: Don’t you wanna have a hot meal when it’s ready? I mean, I know Pearl-chan doesn’t, but… She’s different.

 

Nebula: I’m already hot AND ready, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. 

 

Puppet: I still want to be careful. I’d rather be too prudent than let someone… You know.

 

Spade: Oh, we know.

 

Nebula: Cranky cuz you’re cancelled, huh?

 

Spade: No, I’m upset because I’d rather be without a partner.

 

Duke: Ah… I see.

 

Nebula: Cold. Duke-kun’s right there, y’know! 

 

Knowing how Spade feels about Duke… As well as the reverse… All I can say is “oof.”

 

Swain: Well you’ll just have to wait it out a week, Spade-san. 

 

Spade: (sighs) I’m well aware. 

 

Soldier: Talk about awkward. 

 

Spade: (snaps) Can we move on?

 

Protagonist: To be fair, you are the one who brought it up. 

 

Spade: And I’m the one who wants this to be dropped.

 

Nebula: Touchy, touchy. 

 

Spade: If I’m just going to be ridiculed nonstop for no reason, then I’m going to leave. 

 

Soldier: To be fair-

 

Spade doesn’t even bother listening. He abruptly stands up, leaving his chopsticks and plate behind, and walks away. Nebula turns and blows a raspberry at him as he leaves. 

 

Duke: I guess I have to follow, huh…

 

Swain: (winces) Sorry, Duke-san.

 

Duke: No worries! If he heads back to his room, I’ll just part ways with him for the night. In the meantime… (grabs bowl of leftover rice and food and follows Spade)

 

Carmen: Oh, that Spade-san…

 

Soldier: I’m sure we’ll all be sobbing and flabbergasted once he turns up dead.

 

Puppet: Soldier-san! Don’t say those kinds of things!

 

Soldier: Why? Are you gonna miss him?

 

Wolf: (takes a sip of water) Not particularly.

 

Spring: Wolf-kun…

 

Wolf: Whatever.

 

Puppet: Well-! I’m not going to wish death on him like you! 

 

Soldier: I’m not either. I’m just that certain he’s gonna get killed, I don’t even gotta ask the fates to make it happen.

 

Puppet: We just don’t understand him. And can you blame him? We’ve never given him the time of day before!

 

Soldier: To play devil’s advocate…

 

Swain: (sighs) Don’t even.

 

Soldier: He hasn’t treated us any better anyways. And from what’s been suggested with Rosey-chan… 

 

Flare: Can we not have another fight with you involved?

 

Puppet: Another?

 

Flare: Ugh, like… That one dinner we had with Soldier-san. Where she got all cryptic or something.

 

He’s not wrong, but I know he’s talking about the night before. Soldier grins.

 

Nebula: Tea!

 

Puppet: (lights up a little) Oh, do you want some? I can make some tea if you’d like. What kind do you want? 

 

Nebula: (giggles) No, silly! I don’t want any actual tea!

 

Puppet: (deflates) I see then… Then why’d you say it?

 

Nebula: It’s just a saying! I can’t believe you didn’t know that. Don’t take it so seriously, Puppy-kun~.

 

Puppet: If you insist…! 

 

Soldier: Well it’s been a good dinner, but I’m stuffed! Wanna head out, Dusty-kun?

 

Dust: (playing video games, done with food) Mm… Hold on.

 

Soldier: I’m waiting.

 

Dust: Okay, sure, why not? Thanks for the food, by the way.

 

Soldier: Yeah! Great job, Flare-san. We’re good. … I’m winking, by the way.

 

Flare: Er… Yeah. No problem.

 

Soldier: Peace. 

 

Soldier turns and puts up a V-sign with her hand and leaves nonchalantly with Dust. 

 

Protagonist: I guess we should start cleaning up, Flare-san?

 

Puppet: Hey, no worries! I’ll do it. As a thank you! 

 

Flare: You sure? You do it every other day. I might as well finish what I started.

 

Puppet: Then I’ll help!

 

Nebula: Aw, so sweet! 

 

Swain: I’ll help too. Not just because I’m with Puppet-san, but because I want to.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, same! But with Flare-san.

 

Wolf: If that’s the case, I’m gonna head out with Spring-chan. Thanks for everything tonight.

 

Flare: Ugh, I realize I’ll have to wake up early tomorrow to make breakfast… 

 

Puppet: I can lend you a recipe if you’d like!

 

Flare: Eh, no worries… I can make scrambled eggs or something. That’s pretty simple. But that means you’ll have to wake up early too, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Oof, if that’s the case, I’ll have to set my alarm up. 

 

Puppet: Hey, then you two should get some rest! I usually wake up around 6 to make breakfast, but I also go to bed around this time. Early to bed, early to rise!

 

What an antiquated saying. At least Puppet knows those… 

 

Swain: We’ll take care of the dishes.

 

Protagonist: You sure…?

 

It’s not THAT late… But at the same time, waking up at 6 AM, oof. I don’t even have to wake up that early for my job. Puppet is right.

 

Protagonist: If that’s the case… Thank you so much! We’ll take your word for it and head to bed now.

 

Flare: (nods) I agree. 

 

We say our goodnights to Puppet and Swain and go our separate ways. Thank goodness for their kindness! Still, I feel a little bad we didn’t do anything for cleaning.

 

Flare: 6 AM tomorrow, in the kitchen?

 

Protagonist: Guess we don’t have a choice, huh?

 

Flare: I may not be as good as Puppet-san or Swain-san as cooking… But I’ll do my best.

 

Protagonist: (teasing) Because Spade-san told you so?

 

Flare: (flustered) Because I want everyone to eat and not starve!

 

Protagonist: Would that technically be murder though? And if it was, would it be your fault, since you’re in charge of cooking this week, or would it be our collective fault? Hey, we can get punished for murder together! Wait, we’d be dead too, ‘cause we’d starve as well and-

 

Flare: Pro-tag-o-nist-san!!!!

 

I’m sure everyone just heard his exasperated yell. He was back to his cute self. 

 

Protagonist: Heheh, am I getting too carried away?

 

Flare: (swats Protagonist’s arm lightly) No kidding! 

 

I start laughing. It felt like when we had met for the first time. But… Better. I felt a lot closer with Flare. 

 

Things felt normal, at least, which was weird, since my life was in immediate danger right now. We could make it out of this week though. I wanted to believe that, and at least I had reason to. For now, I’ll take things one step at a time. 

 

Protagonist: Goodnight then, Flare-san?

 

Flare: … (turns head and mutters) Kun.

 

Protagonist: Oh…?

 

Flare: (clears throat) Flare-kun is more appropriate, I believe… Protagonist-kun.

 

Protagonist: Oh!!! 

 

Flare: After all, we’re friends, right?

 

Protagonist: (grins like an idiot) Yeah! Right! Of course! I’ll see you tomorrow! 

 

Flare: (smiles a little) Don’t forget to wake up early. 

 

Protagonist: You too!

 

Flare: 

 

We head into our own rooms, and as soon as I close my door, I jump into my bed and let out a happy squeal. Finally!!!! 

 

What a great way to end the day. I woke up thinking Flare had hated me, but now I knew that was anything but the truth. I set an alarm for 5:45 the next morning and happily fall asleep. If it meant waking up early to spend more time with Flare, then I don’t think I minded all that much. 

 

 

The next morning, I bolt up, awake. Not to my alarm, but rather to a loud knock on my door. Oh, shit! I didn’t oversleep, did I? 

 

I check the time. 5:31? AM, thankfully. So it was still before my alarm would even go off… Thank goodness. So who’s knocking at the door? Flare?

 

I quickly toss on my clothes and shades and answer the door. Just as expected, it’s Flare. He has an urgent look on his face.

 

Protagonist: Flare-kun?

 

Flare: Did you get any notes?

 

Protagonist: Any what? I just woke up. 

 

Flare: Look, I don’t think there’s much time. I don’t know what this is, but-

 

Flare looks down and sees something on my floor.

 

Flare: You got one too. Look.

 

Protagonist: Got one what?

 

Flare points to a white thing- a note- on the ground. I pick up the slip of paper and read the writing on it. Who’s this from?

 

“I wish you the best, and I’m sorry for the ways I’ve harmed in you if I have. Ah fuck it, I definitely have. You know what? Maybe I was wrong. You’ll probably mourn Spade-san’s death, and you’ll have no tears to shed for mine. And I’m at peace with that. I’m sorry. Maybe things will work out with you and Flare-kun one day. I guess I’ll never know. Thanks for everything. I mean it.

 

-Soldier

01010000 01010011 00100000 01001010 01001011”

 

Protagonist: Huh?!

 

Flare: It’s from Soldier-san, isn’t it?

 

Protagonist: It is… Is this what you were talking about? This is what you got?

 

Flare: (nods) And I think we need to see Soldier-san. Now. 

 

Protagonist: Yeah, what the heck is that note for?! 

 

Flare: …

 

Even through his silence, I know exactly what he’s talking about. The realization settles in, and I’m filled with panic all of a sudden.

 

Protagonist: Let’s go.

 

We run to Soldier’s door and knock on it hurriedly.

 

Protagonist: Soldier-san! Are you alright?! 

 

No response.

 

Protagonist: We… We got your note! Flare-kun and I both did! It’s us! Is everything alright? Are you okay?

 

Still no response.

 

Flare: (knocks harder on door) This isn’t another joke of yours, is it? If it is, it’s not funny!

 

I notice the door isn’t fully closed. It starts to move as Flare continues to bang on her door.

 

And then it swings open.

 

Flare: Soldier-san-!

 

He stops mid-yell, mouth gaping open. 

 

I see it too.

 

There’s a body.

 

Protagonist: (quietly) It’s Soldier… Isn’t it? 

 

Flare: … (nods slowly)

 

Soldier… Why are you laying there like that? 

 

She’s not moving… Oh my god, she really is dead, isn’t she? 

 

I don’t know how to process this. I feel my heart stop and sink into my stomach, which is sick with the blood pooling across the ground. 

 

Have you ever smelled blood before? They say you’ll never know how it truly is like until you’re forced to face it. I don’t think I can ever forget this smell.

 

This is what death truly smells like. 

 

In all my time as a detective… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dead body. 

 

I’m only half-decent, after all. 

 

..

.

I’m sorry.

the chapter 1 cg.

17/18 REMAIN.

Chapter Text

What bothers me the most is how unsettled I am with the sight of a dead body.

 

“You’re a detective,” I tell myself. “You should be used to this. Your own parents are dead.”

 

“Not true,” I protest in my head. “I’ve never solved a murder case, and I never knew my parents.” 

 

“Why should you care?”

 

Why am I arguing with myself about how I feel?

 

Soldier is dead.

 

She’s not moving, she’s not breathing… And she never will again. She died without anyone knowing her name here, and our lives won’t stop because of her death. What is wrong with us? How are we allowed to carry on with a dead body in front of us? She’s going to be left behind. This isn’t right. This isn’t fair. 

 

Flare: Protagonist-kun…?

 

What was it that she wrote to me? That I wouldn’t shed any tears for her death?

 

I move a hand up to my cheek, greeted by an unexpected sensation of warm wetness. I’m shaking.

 

Protagonist: … Oh.

 

Flare: Are you alright…? 

 

Protagonist: I… I’ll be fine. Is it weird to be crying?

 

Flare looks at me, completely dry. There’s a sad look on his face.

 

Flare: I think it’s weird not to cry. 

 

I sway a little, trying to comprehend it all and keep my balance. Focus. I have… I have to focus. I’m a detective. So is Flare. I can trust him.

 

(Is he though?)

 

Protagonist: What do we do? 

 

Flare: … That’s a question, isn’t it. We can’t just go back to sleep, huh? But at the same time… It’s not even 6 yet. We can’t wake everyone up either. 

 

How could I fall back asleep with this knowledge? 

 

Protagonist: Why hasn’t Roxie-san or Usher-san said anything? 

 

Flare: Maybe… Just the two of us won’t cut it? Maybe other people need to see that Soldier-san… That she’s dead.

 

Protagonist: At least Dust-san needs to see this. 

 

Not only was he Soldier’s partner, he was probably the closest to her as well. 

 

Flare: You’re right. Should we wake him up?

 

Protagonist: We don’t have much of a choice. 

 

Flare: Here… I’ll stay with Soldier-san’s body. Go wake Dust-san up. 

 

I take a glance at Soldier’s body again before leaving to Dust’s room. 

 

I’ll be back. 

 

I knock on Dust’s door. I expect him to be asleep, so it’ll take a while to get a response.

 

I knock again and call his name. 

 

Protagonist: Dust-san.

 

And again.

 

Protagonist: Dust-san!

 

Protagonist: D-

 

The door opens. A sleepy looking Dust emerges from his room.

 

Dust: Huh…? Oh, good morning Protagonist-san. What are you doing up so early?

 

Protagonist: You should probably see something. 

 

Dust: What?

 

Protagonist: … Just come with me. 

 

I take his hand, and Dust doesn’t protest. He's probably too tired. We walk back to Soldier’s room. That piques his curiosity.

 

Dust: Huh? What’s in Soldier-san’s room? Isn't she...?

 

I can’t say anything. I don’t know if I could bring myself to say it. I just lead him to the open doorway, where Flare still stands, arms crossed. Her body is hard to miss. 

 

Dust: … 

 

Dust: … Oh. 

 

Dust: So that’s what’s in Soldier-san’s room.  

 

Just as Dust says that, a chime plays from our tablets.

 

Roxie: Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!

 

Roxie: Except there are no eggs, no baking, and no breakfast. Just waking. Sorry! But hey! Be glad I actually woke up for this. Usher-onii-san is still asleep~! Just kidding, robots don’t need sleep. But he doesn’t wanna deal with this.

 

Roxie: “But Roxie-chan, what could you possibly be talking about? It’s not even 10 AM!” You may be asking yourself. 

 

Roxie: Fufu… Remember the first day, where you all said no one would die? Fat chance, fuckers.

 

Roxie: Not even 24 hours, and someone’s dead! Aha. Ahahaha. 

 

I can’t comprehend Roxie’s deadpan, mocking laughter. Someone is DEAD!

 

Roxie: In a few moments, we’ll be updating the rule book with protocol for a murder. Please see that to clear any confusion you may have! 

 

Roxie: In the meantime, you’ll have an hour and a half after this exposition dump to investigate this murder before we have a Twilight Trial~! That’s the part where, like I’ve said before, we throw you all into essentially a very fancy lion’s den and have you all fight it out to determine who you think is the killer. 

 

Dust yawns. 

 

Roxie: I’ll go more in depth during the actual Twilight Trial what happens then. In the meantime, I have some very important information to give in regards to the case! Just give me a moment…

 

I received a notification from my tablet, and I pull it out. It’s from the Sleuthing App, and it’s a file titled “Flare’s Alibi.”

 

Roxie: There’s perks to having your identity revealed, as promised! You’ll figure it out when you watch these videos. 

 

I open up the file, and it’s a video of Flare, fast asleep. I’d say something silly here, but I’m just not in the mood to.

 

Roxie: Oop! Listener question! It’s from Pearl-chan! She asks: “My identity got revealed. Where is my alibi video?” 

 

Roxie: Ah, great question! The answer is…

 

She pauses, faltering a little. 

 

Roxie: … Uh. Where is it? It wasn’t sent? That can’t be right… Pearl-chan’s alibi should’ve been sent! 

 

Dust: Huh?

 

Roxie: Eheh… This is awkward… M-Maybe Usher-kun has them! But I promised I wouldn’t wake him up until the Twilight Trial started… Guess you’ll have to wait until then! Bad luck that I lost your alibi video, huh Pearl-chan~?

 

Roxie: For now, just use what you know about Flare-kun’s alibi to figure out whether he’s innocent or not. But when you get your identity revealed, you get an alibi video when a murder occurs! So be careful~. Or stay safe!

 

Roxie: Ah, and one more thing… We’re almost done with this long dump, I swear!

 

Before I realize it, Roxie appears in front of us, next to Soldier’s body. At least she’s careful not to step in her pool of blood. 

 

Roxie: Just a moment while I grab Soldier-chan’s tablet… It’s how I’ll spill alllll the deets that you’re oh so curious about! 

 

Roxie gracefully bends over and plucks up Soldier’s tablet from her body. Thankfully, it’s not stained with blood. 

 

Roxie: First, Soldier-chan’s secrets! Hm, hm…

 

Protagonist: Is this really right? 

 

Roxie: (ignores Protagonist) Ooh, these are spicy! (clears throat mockingly) Secret one: Soldier is a hitman for their Yakuza clan- every murder of theirs is an order.

 

That snaps Flare out of their sadness. 

 

Flare: M-Murder?! Yakuza?! 

 

Roxie: Oops, guess that spoils Soldier-chan’s alliance! Keheh, I’ll get to that later. 

 

Roxie: Secret number two! Soldier’s eyepatch is fake. Would you look at that! She was only pretending to be blind… How tragic. Talk about exposed, huh?

 

Flare: Talk about Soldier-san’s murders instead maybe?! 

 

Roxie: We’re getting to that! Sorry listeners, that’s just Flare-kun arguing with me~.

 

Flare: Ughhh.

 

Roxie: Anyways, last but not least… Soldier’s real name is Sabina Himura. 

 

Soldier… Sabina Himura. 

 

A serial killer. A yakuza hitman. 

 

I don’t know how to feel. Relieved? Grateful? Upset? Do I still have the right to grieve for a murderer? Is that what she meant in those notes? 

 

Roxie: Oh, and one more thing! 

 

Roxie: I promise, this is the last thing. Really.

 

Roxie: You may be wondering just who Soldier-chan was!

 

Roxie: Well, you know her name, but y’know, which serial killer she was. 

 

Roxie: Welllll...!

 

She pauses for a moment. No one does anything but stare at her.

 

Roxie: Soldier-chan was the serial killer… Anon. 

 

… Oh.

 

Roxie: And that’s all! Remember to check your rulebook at some point. I’ve also sent a file about Soldier-chan’s murder to help, and any evidence you gather, including what I send, will be sent to your Sleuthing App. Your hour and a half investigation starts… Now!

 

Roxie does a twirl and disappears. 

 

I can’t afford to let my feelings get in the way. I’m going detective mode, I have to investigate.

 

(But she killed over EIGHTY PEOPLE.)

 

(Shouldn’t you be glad that she’s dead?)

 

I swallow nervously. Let me see what Roxie sent.

 

“The victim is Sabina Himura, otherwise known as the serial killer Anon. Her alias was Soldier. The time of death was 11:47 PM, and her body was discovered at 5:41 AM by Flare, Protagonist, and Dust the next day. The cause of death was exsanguination from a neck puncture wound. 

 

You’ll be receiving a file like this every murder. Good luck! Remember, a rookie mistake is still a mistake. But I wouldn’t call you rookies, huh? :^) ~Roxie-chan”

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Flare’s Alibi

NEW EVIDENCE: Roxie’s File

 

Eugh… Exsanguination. Ha, ha, ha.

 

A neck puncture wound, huh… Now that I see it, I notice something poking out of Soldier’s neck. And I also notice that one of Soldier’s hair pins is missing… Don’t tell me…

 

Cereza: (runs in) Guys! Is it… 

 

Rose: I-I’m here! (looks around) Oh… It’s just you three?

 

Protagonist: For now. We were about to get the investigation started.

 

Rose: I see… 

 

They cast a longing glance at Soldier. The two weren’t that close, so…?

 

Rose: (quietly) To think, all this time, they were right here in front of me. 

 

They?

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Flare or Dust probably didn’t hear that, but if they did, they didn’t react. Dust was busy reading through his tablet, looking through the files and the rulebook. But something clicks in my head. 

 

Protagonist: Rose-san, are you…?

 

The Astronomer. Anon.’s rival. 

 

Soldier’s rival. 

 

And the two had never realized it. Or maybe Soldier figured it out, but of course, we’ll never know.

 

Protagonist: How do you feel?

 

Rose: Honestly? … I’m not very satisfied. 

 

What?

 

Rose: I didn’t think it’d end like this… Y’know? I imagined some dramatic moment in my life where I singled her out as Anon., everyone cheers and claps for me, and then I’d live happily ever after as a renowned detective for the rest of my times. 

 

… Oh. So that’s what they meant. 

 

Rose: (sighs) But now, there’s no point. She’s gone. My "rival" is dead.

 

Protagonist: What will you do then?

 

Rose: (grins) I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done as… Them. But for now? We gotta solve this case! 

 

Protagonist: Ah, right… In that case, let’s start off with your alibi. 

 

Rose: It was almost midnight when Soldier-san… Soldier-shi died. 

 

Rose: But it was past the night time call, right? So I was definitely asleep by then. We all should’ve been, right? 

 

Protagonist: Ideally, yeah but clearly someone plus Soldier-san wasn’t.

 

Rose: (huffs) So anyone can claim they were asleep, but they could be lying! 

 

Protagonist: The only person we can be sure of Flare-kun.

 

Rose: Yeah, and Pearl-san once we get her alibi video!

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Alibis

 

Dust walks up to the two of us.

 

Dust: I’ve read through the rules. 

 

Protagonist: Oh? 

 

Dust: It goes into detail about what this “Twilight Trial” will be like. As Roxie-san said, we’ll have to determine who murdered Soldier-san.

 

He says this so calmly… I can’t help but wonder if he’s upset about any of this.

 

Dust: (frowns) There’s a pretty big detail that she left out, one that puts everyone’s lives on the line. 

 

Rose: O-Our lives?!

 

Dust: (nods) New rules: When a murder has occurred, time will be given to investigate, and a mandatory Twilight Trial will be held.

 

Protagonist: Okay…

 

Dust: In the Twilight Trial, participants will be made to determine who they think is the killer. If the killer is correctly discovered during the trial, only they will be potentially executed. 

 

Rose: Executed?!

 

Protagonist: Hey… There’s that “potentially” in there. 

 

Dust: If the killer is incorrectly chosen, then everyone but the killer will be executed, and the killer will be allowed to leave the manor. And one more rule: in the event where multiple people are murdered with multiple killers, then the one who kills first is the killer we’re supposed to figure out, not whoever we discover first.

 

Cereza: Thanks a bunch, Dust-san!

 

Again, how could he have recited all of that with a straight face?! This stuff is freaking scary! 

 

Rose: So we really have to get this right, huh… (panics) Then what’s everyone doing?! No one else has left their rooms yet! 

 

Glasses: We’re right here, you know.

 

I turn to see Glasses and Pearl at the doorway. 

 

Rose: Oh, phew! Glasses-senpai!

 

Flare: Oh, it’s you.

 

Cerza: Pearl-san, thank goodness you’re okay! 

 

Protagonist: Pearl-

 

Pearl: I was asleep.

 

Protagonist: Oh. Read my mind, huh?

 

Pearl: I really don’t know why they don’t have my alibi video. Just my luck, huh?

 

Cereza: Yeah! Why’d they have to go and mess with Pearl-san? We’ve gotta prove her innocence!

 

Pearl: It’s whatever.

 

Rose: But it’ll all be cleared up during the Twilight Trial!

 

Glasses: Yes, in that life-or-death situation.

 

Flare: It’ll be something to keep in mind. 

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Missing Alibi

 

Glasses: So what’s this about their secrets?

 

Protagonist: Oh, right… They were a hitman. All eighty-something of their kills were just orders. 

 

Flare: So were they even of her own will?

 

Rose: Putting it like that… 

 

I mean, she DID go through with those orders… And proceeded to take it one step further by impersonating her victims online. That’s pretty messed up. 

 

Pearl: Guess we’ll never know. 

 

Glasses: I wasn’t talking about that secret but okay.

 

Flare: (glares) What else could you be talking about? 

 

Glasses: Her eyepatch. Was it really fake? 

 

Pearl: That’s what the secret said. 

 

Glasses doesn’t respond to that and moves up to Soldier’s body. He kneels down and reaches out.

 

Protagonist: Hey, what are you doing-?!

 

Flare: What the hell?! Stop! 

 

Glasses turns Soldier over on her back. Oh my God, her face, her clothes, her arms- 

 

They’re all just covered in blood. 

 

And through her neck is her second hairpin, the circular ending sticking out from the front of her neck. That’s the murder weapon, huh?

 

I feel sick. But Glasses is unbothered and proceeds to pull Soldier’s bloodied eyepatch aside. Underneath is an untouched patch of skin, with a closed eyelid underneath. Glasses pries it open- why am I still watching all of this??? How can he do this to a dead body???

 

Glasses: Yep. The secret was right. Completely real.

 

Dust: Interesting.

 

Cereza: Gross!

 

Flare: Is that what you seriously care about?! Not, you know, her dead fucking body?! This isn’t right!

 

Glasses: We’re forced to investigate in exchange for our lives. I’m doing just that.

 

Flare: By messing with her body?! 

 

Glasses: I don’t have time to argue with you. 

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Soldier’s eye

 

Dust: Back on track, that thing sticking through her neck- that killed her, right?

 

Pearl: Seems so. It’s her hairpin. 

 

Flare: Hm. 

 

Rose: What is it?

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Murder weapon

 

Before he says anything, Puppet bursts in. 

 

Puppet: I… I can’t believe it! This can’t be true!

 

He looks down and sees Soldier’s dead body, now facing upwards, with a pool of blood next to her. 

 

Puppet: N… No… Roxie-san… She couldn’t have…

 

Protagonist: Puppet-san, you-

 

Puppet: That… That’s it! Roxie-san must’ve killed her! Or Usher-san! They’re probably trying to get rid of the serial killers, one by one!

 

Dust: And that is bad because…?

 

Glasses: Usher-san already stated that the two of them were neutral to either side.

 

Puppet: Are you really going to believe that?! No one deserves to die!

 

Dust: What about the over 100 victims all the serial killers have amassed? Did they deserve to die?

 

Puppet: You… You never know… Serial killers like Candy Cane Killer-

 

Flare: (interrupts Puppet) Ah. That’s what was bothering me.

 

Cereza: Hm?

 

Flare: The way she died… A thin prick through her neck? That sounds like the work of Candy Cane Killer. 

 

Pearl: Is it really though?

 

Flare: Do you have any better ideas?

 

Pearl: No. I’m just being skeptical. I mean, why would they kill with their signature method? All we’d have to do is figure out who they are, and then we have our killer. No point in “getting away” with it. 

 

Flare: Maybe that’s all they know. We were all afraid of the idea of the poison expert killer killing us with their food. 

 

Pearl: I still feel like there are smarter ideas. 

 

Puppet: Like Roxie-san or Usher-san doing it!

 

Glasses: I think that’s an even stupider of an idea.

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Ties to Candy Cane Killer?

 

Dust: (picks at ear) I take it there’s no breakfast?

 

Flare: Seriously? We have less than an hour and a half to investigate! We can’t make food right now!

 

Protagonist: Yeah, sorry…

 

Cereza: Hey, no worries! We’ve got something important to deal with. Eating has to wait!

 

Dust: Well why don’t other people investigate while you cook?

 

Flare: You see anyone but us investigating?

 

Dust: Mm… Fair enough. (sighs) Might as well help. I’ll go see how everyone’s doing then. Collect alibis maybe? Someone out there has something interesting to say I bet. 

 

Rose: Yeah, that works!

 

Dust: I’ll be back. We’ll catch up, okay?

 

How can he be so casual about this? Soldier was his friend, wasn’t she? Albeit, a friend who killed over 80 people, but still a friend. I guess he wants to help.

 

Protagonist: (grins) Sounds good.

 

Dust leaves the room. 

 

Puppet: Thank goodness we have so many people willing to help!

 

Pearl: As well as a murderer.

 

Puppet: (ignores Pearl) Oh, in case you need my alibi, I was asleep! I tend to be asleep that time anyways since I wake up early for breakfast, but nonetheless I was still asleep.

 

Protagonist: Sorry for taking away your sleep time, eheh…

 

Puppet: No worries! This is when I wake up anyways!

 

Protagonist: That’s fair…

 

Puppet was back to his usual cheery self. That’s a relief, I think.

 

Protagonist: Speaking of which, what was your alibi, Glasses-san?

 

Glasses: I was up late reading.

 

Flare: Reading? Still?

 

Glasses: Yes, as one does with books. I often lose track of time because of it. So by the time I went to bed last night, it was likely already past midnight. 

 

Flare: So you were awake!

 

Rose: Maybe you heard something? Isn’t your room next to Soldier-shi’s?

 

Glasses: (shakes head) Not possible. Our rooms are soundproof, after all. Soldier-san could’ve been screaming her guts out and I wouldn’t be able to hear a thing.

 

I shiver a little. That makes our rooms prime for killing without anyone knowing… Ugh. I can’t keep thinking like this! I can’t let this bother me.

 

Protagonist: I didn’t actually know that. Good ear!

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Soundproof Rooms

 

As Pearl sulks in the background, someone else comes in to replace Dust’s disappearance.

 

Swain: I’m here!

 

Puppet: Swain-san!

 

Protagonist: Are you alright?

 

Swain: (smiles lightly) Yeah, I’m fine. 

 

Their voice sounds distant. More so than usual. 

 

Swain: Guess things just didn’t work out, huh?

 

Protagonist: You can’t blame yourself-!

 

Glasses: Protagonist-san is right. We have an investigation to do.

 

Cereza: I don’t think that’s what he meant, eheh.

 

Swain: And I’ll know not to do this next time-

 

Protagonist: You mean the partners? 

 

Swain: (nods) Clearly it didn’t work though.

 

Rose: It’s not the partner thing’s fault though!

 

Glasses: Unless Dust-san was responsible. Then it would be.

 

Swain: Well partners didn’t have to be together in rooms… That’s where I went wrong. 

 

Rose: So Dust-san would have no reason to go into Soldier-shi’s room! 

 

Glasses: Unless, of course, he killed her.

 

Flare: Don’t say that!

 

Glasses: Why? He’s not here, is he?

 

Flare: He can probably hear you, though.

 

Still, the partner thing might be good to keep in mind. Would it be relevant to this case? And if so, does that mean Dust is the culprit? 

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Partners

 

Swain: (sighs again) This is Soldier-san, huh?

 

Glasses: Indeed. She was originally face down, but I rolled her body over. I wanted to check her eye to see if it was real. It was, just as the secret said. 

 

Swain: Okay, too much information. And that’s what killed her? (points to the pin through her neck) 

 

Glasses: Indeed once again.

 

Swain: Hm. 

 

Swain squints and squats down next to Soldier’s body, examining her neck. Then, they feel around their neck.

 

Flare: So flipping her body was “too much” but feeling around her blood stained neck isn’t?

 

Pearl: You’re really not accustomed to any of this, are you?

 

Flare: You’re no better!

 

Pearl: At least I’m used to death.

 

Just who exactly did Pearl kill??

 

Pearl: (clarifies) I’m a medical student, after all. 

 

Cereza: So cool…!

 

Pearl: How are you unfazed?

 

That information doesn’t help me… But I’ll trust in Pearl.

 

Swain: Ah, right. Pearl-san, you’re perfect for this. I have a question.

 

Pearl: (grimaces) About Soldier-san?

 

Swain: Yes and no. More of a general question, but it pertains to Soldier-san right now. 

 

Pearl: Well, what is it?

 

Swain: Feel your necks. 

 

I grab hold of mine and feel it around. What are they talking about?

 

Swain: It's covered in bone, right? There aren’t many openings to the neck where a pin could go straight through. 

 

Glasses: I’d assume Soldier-san’s pins are quite strong and sharp in that case. Perhaps that’s how she used to kill.

 

Puppet: I’m surprised she’s not the Candy Cane Killer…

 

Flare: But you’re asking if the pin could’ve gone through her neck in the first place?

 

Pearl: Yes. There is a place where she could’ve been stabbed. 

 

Swain: So it exists.

 

Pearl: It’s in the lower neck, but it’s a very small area. It has to be precise. In surgery, it’s used where bone isn’t in the way without cutting arteries either. 

 

Swain: I see.

 

Pearl: It probably could’ve gone through her neck there. And killed her since it went straight through, of course. 

 

Cereza: You’re so smart, Pearl-san! 

 

Swain: Yeah, it helps a lot. 

 

Pearl: It was nothing.

 

Protagonist: Nice find, Swain-san!

 

Swain: Ah, it wasn’t anything you couldn’t find. It was just an observation after all. 

 

Pearl and Swain are more alike than they realize… 

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Neck placement

 

Protagonist: Would now be a bad time to talk about the notes we got?

 

Cereza: Notes?

 

Flare: From Soldier-san. I woke up to it under my door, and Protagonist-san got a similar note. 

 

Swain: What did it say? 

 

Protagonist: Mine was some depressing stuff about how no one would cry for her after her death and that she was a terrible person… 

 

Flare: Same gist. 

 

Puppet: That’s so sad! We miss you, Soldier-san!

 

Rose: (quietly) Even though she’s Anon…?

 

Swain: So was she anticipating her death? 

 

Protagonist: I don’t know, but there were some weird numbers after my note.

 

Flare: Huh? I don’t have that. 

 

Glasses: What kinds of numbers?

 

Protagonist: Uh… A bunch of 1s and 0s. 

 

Glasses: Binary?

 

Swain: No thanks.

 

Glasses: Could I at least see? Maybe it means something. 

 

Protagonist: Of course.

 

I hand the paper to Glasses. I trusted him enough to not judge the content.

 

Glasses: Give me a second. 

 

We stand around and anticipate in silence as Glasses decodes the numbers.

 

Glasses: (frowns) Where did Soldier-san even learn binary code?

 

Flare: Well, what does it say?

 

Glasses: It doesn’t even make sense. It just says… Well it’s not even a word. Just some letters. “P-S-J-K.”

 

Puppet: (tries to pronounce it) PSJK?

 

Swain: That’s probably not it.

 

Rose: … Oh! I’ve got it! 

 

Protagonist: Is it code for something else?

 

Rose: No, but… You put “P.S.” as an afternote to letters you write for fun. That’s not much of a common practice anymore. 

 

Swain: So what remains is “JK…” But going by your logic, that means Just Kidding?

 

Rose: I think that’s it.

 

Protagonist: I feel dumb.

 

Swain: “PS, Just Kidding” is what she wrote.

 

Flare: Just kidding?! What the hell is that supposed to mean?

 

Glasses: (glances over letter) That everything she wrote was a lie? That she didn’t actually feel remorse over her actions or her death?

 

Swain: Seems so.

 

Flare: You’ve got to be kidding me. 

 

Protagonist: That doesn’t change the fact that she wrote these letters anticipating to die. 

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Notes

NEW EVIDENCE: Binary Note

 

Cereza: And why to Protagonist-san and Flare-san? Why not to anyone else or to the whole group?

 

Pearl: What do you mean?

 

Swain: I see where Cereza-san is coming from. She wasn’t that close to you two, so why would she write her farewells to you? Why not to Dust-san, for example?

 

Protagonist: He didn’t mention getting a note… We should ask, just in case. 

 

Puppet: Let’s investigate her room! Maybe the killer left a trace in here!

 

Swain: Alright…

 

Puppet starts looking through every corner of Soldier’s room. Swain follows him around. There’s nothing on the floors, nothing in the bathroom, nothing on or underneath her bed…

 

But there’s something in her trash bin.

 

Puppet: I found something! 

 

He reaches in and grabs a wad of paper.

 

Puppet: It was from the very top of her trash. 

 

Swain: A piece of paper?

 

Puppet: Maybe it’s another note! Let’s see what it says.

 

Puppet carefully unravels the wad of paper and reads through it. 

 

Puppet: !!! This is it!

 

Swain: How did you say that first part?

 

Puppet: It’s a note from Soldier-san herself! It’s signed off with her name and everything.

 

Flare: Let me see that.

 

Flare grabs the paper from Puppet and compares it to the note he has.

 

Flare: The handwriting is the same. Guess it is from her.

 

Protagonist: Well, what does it say?

 

Flare: It’s a note from Soldier telling someone to meet her in her room at 11 PM. It’s not directed to anyone, of course.

 

Protagonist: Darn.

 

Rose: That helps us a lot though! Now we know more about the killer and what happened!

 

Glasses: To invite someone over and end up dead… I wonder what happened to cause the guest to kill Soldier-san.

 

Pearl: Yeah, I wonder.

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Note in trash

 

Rose: We don’t have much time left, by the way… 

 

Protagonist: Where’s Dust-san? He’s been gathering alibis from everyone who isn’t here.

 

Swain: Well what are they all doing?

 

Flare: And what’s your alibi?

 

Swain: Sleeping, of course.

 

Cereza: Oh, I need to give mine too! … I was sleeping as well. 

 

Flare: Was anyone NOT sleeping aside from Glasses-san and the killer?

 

Pearl: Implying they’re not the same person. 

 

Glasses: (shrugs) Can’t really refute you on that.

 

Rose: But I know you’d never do it!

 

Protagonist: How exactly are we supposed to narrow things down then? 

 

Puppet: We’ll just have to find out from Dust-kun!

 

Dust: (enters) What’d I miss?

 

Puppet: And there he is!

 

Glasses: Nothing much, just investigating. 

 

Protagonist: Do you have the alibis, Dust-san?

 

Dust: Mhm. Want them?

 

Flare: What’s yours first? Weren’t you the last one to see Soldier-san? 

 

Dust: That’s true… I, for one, stayed in my room the entire time. Even before 10. 

 

Protagonist: Why?

 

Dust: Soldier-san said that she wanted to go to bed early. I couldn’t wander by myself ‘cause of the rules, so I went to my own room. 

 

Swain: I see…

 

Puppet: Don’t take it personally!!

 

Swain: Ah, too late.

 

Flare: What’d you do afterwards? 

 

Dust: Play video games. 

 

Pearl: So it’s like Glasses-san.

 

Protagonist: What did the others say? 

 

Dust: Hm… Well, Duke-san said that he was gonna stay behind because he really doesn’t like blood or dead people.  

 

Protagonist: Guess that makes enough sense.

 

Flare: Weird.

 

Dust: He said that Spade-san just walked around the manor without talking to him. So they were together.

 

Flare: Around the manor? Did he run into anyone? 

 

Dust: (shrugs) Didn’t ask. Besides, it wouldn’t have mattered because they were in their rooms by 10. Confirmed with Spade-san.

 

Flare: Let’s put it this way. Did anyone say that they weren’t asleep after 10? Or at least, out of their rooms? Did anyone say anything of note?

 

Dust: Hm… Oh, right. Gear-san mentioned something. 

 

Flare: What?

 

Dust: He said he left his room around midnight to the infirmary. Sorry, Glasses-san.

 

Glasses: (shrugs) Don't care. 

 

Swain: The infirmary? Why?

 

Dust: Said he needed something, but he saw someone. 

 

Flare: What?! Who?

 

Dust: Pearl-san.

 

Cereza: What…?

 

Flare: Didn’t you say that you were asleep?

 

Pearl: Well I was in my room beforehand. That’s why Cereza-san and I weren’t together. I didn’t want to upset Swain-san by breaking the rules and saying I was by myself in the infirmary.

 

Swain: It doesn’t matter anymore…

 

Flare: Well why were you there instead of your room?!

 

Pearl: Do you remember the statement I made at the meeting? About making medicine?

 

Protagonist: Yeah…

 

Pearl: I’m making something for Gear-san. I can’t specify what, but that’s what I’m doing for him.

 

Flare: Then why so late at night?

 

Pearl: I tend to work late. But I didn’t want Cereza-san to know, so she thought I went to my room. Shortly after, I went to the infirmary to continue working.

 

Cereza: Oh, Pearl-san… If only you told me!

 

Pearl: I didn’t want to bother you.

 

Cereza: But it’s not a bother at all!

 

Swain: So you went to your room to convince Cereza-san, then you left to go back to the infirmary to work on whatever it was for Gear-san?

 

Pearl: … Yeah.

 

Puppet: What was Gear-san doing up so late? He’s asleep all the time! Wait, I got it! He must be nocturnal!

 

You know… That isn’t TOO far-fetched.

 

Flare: Come on, let’s be realistic here.

 

Swain: If Pearl-san is telling the truth, which should be the case seen Gear-san saw her, then the alibi video should reflect that.

 

Cereza: Ah, that’s true! So she’d be in the clear!

 

Dust: Point is, the only people who claim to be awake around the time Soldier-san died are me, Glasses-san, Gear-san, and Pearl-san. Everyone else claims to have slept through it.

 

Glasses: The killer could easily lie about that though. And what’s the likelihood that someone who admits to being awake is the killer? Why would they admit to that?

 

Dust: I guess that’ll be something to keep in mind.

 

NEW EVIDENCE: Gear and Pearl

 

Flare: We should visit the infirmary. Just in case.

 

Pearl: What? Why?

 

Flare: Who knows if any evidence might be in there? 

 

Pearl: Do you not trust me?

 

Flare: Well, you were awake around the time Soldier-san died. What if you were washing off blood?

 

Pearl: I’m not letting you go in there. That stuff’s confidential.

 

Cereza: Maybe we should respect Pearl-san’s boundaries!

 

Flare: Are you kidding me? Our lives are on the line! We have to check every possible detail! We can’t care about “boundaries!”

 

Glasses: Not too long ago, you were complaining about me investigating Soldier-san’s body.

 

Flare: Will you let go of that?! 

 

Glasses: Probably not until after the trial.

 

Rose: Speaking of which… We might not have time to even investigate any further, eheh. We’ve got a minute left before investigation ends. 

 

Flare: Ugh, whatever. You got lucky, Pearl-san. 

 

Pearl: That’s a first. 

 

The timer ticks to zero, and an alarm sounds. Roxie’s high-pitched voice follows.

 

Roxie: Aaaand time’s up, chickens! An hour and a half has passed, and now it’s time for the exciting Twilight Trial! Oh boy, your first time!

 

Roxie: Yet only a handful of you actually decided to investigate, huh, assholes? We’ll see where that gets you in a hot sec.

 

Swain: We’re so screwed. 

 

Roxie: Anywayyys, gather in the lobby, ASAP! That’ll take you to the trial grounds. See you then!

 

Protagonist: Trial grounds? Where? 

 

Glasses: I suppose we’ll find out in a moment. 

 

Pearl: So the only people who did any investigating were the nine of us? Ugh, great. 

 

Cereza: Hey, that’s one-half! That’s not bad, huh? 

 

Flare: Well they should know better than to argue with what we have to say if they didn’t even bother investigating. 

 

Protagonist: To be fair, it’s also reaaally early right now. I can imagine people probably aren’t too happy about this.

 

Flare: That doesn’t change the fact that someone is dead. 

 

Rose: Let’s stop arguing! We need to get to the living room, right?

 

Swain: That’s not too far. Let’s go. 

 

As the others make their way out of Soldier’s room, I linger behind and get one more look of her. 

 

… Is this the last time I will ever see her? 

 

I’ve known her for a week, and yet my heart still hurts to think of that. A dead body is a dead body, and she deserves the respect regardless. 

 

Is that a bad thing to say? She did kill over eighty people…

 

I need to go before I overthink this. I have to find the killer if I want to survive. That's what matters most.

 

One more look at Soldier, and then I leave.

 

Goodbye.

 

… 

 

Flare: Is this where the trial is going to be held? There’s not enough room for us. 

 

Swain: We’ll have to wait and see until the others get here. 

 

Nebula’s the first to enter, bounding in, full with energy.

 

Nebula: Good morniiiing! Hope the investigation went well~.

 

Flare: No thanks to you. 

 

Nebula: I just figured you guys all got it down, no point in interfering, right?

 

Flare: The help would’ve been appreciated, whether you were actually helpful or not.

 

Nebula: Geez, so you’d rather me do nothing! 

 

Flare: I didn’t say that.

 

Cereza: We haven’t even started the trial and we’re already arguing…

 

Protagonist: When is Flare-kun not arguing?

 

Nebula: See? Even Protag-kun is calling you out! (sticks tongue out) 

 

Flare: (huffs) Whatever.

 

The next one to enter is Gear, whose baggy eyes are still shut, followed by Blanche, still dressed in her usual attire. It’s a miracle that both of them can make their way around. 

 

Dust: Thanks for your alibi, Gear-san.

 

Gear: Nyeh, no problem. Just make me cookies sometime.

 

Dust: Eh… Okay?

 

Gear: Yaaaay.

 

Puppet: I can make you cookies, Gear-kun!

 

Gear: (shakes head) I want Dust-onii-san to make them for me.

 

Glasses: This of course, implies we’ll make it out of this trial.

 

Rose: Of course we will! We investigated so much!

 

Glasses: Yet we don’t have much of a clue to who the killer is.

 

Rose: Well, that’s what the trial will be for, right?

 

Blanche: I apologize for not investigating… It takes a while for me to get ready in the day, and I’d rather not dirty my clothes, especially with blood. 

 

Protagonist: Can’t you just wash it off later?

 

Blanche: Yes, but some stains just won’t wash out. 

 

Protagonist: … Oh.

 

Blanche: (nods) Blood is particularly tricky if it isn’t tended to immediately. But some soap and cold water can go a long way.

 

Protagonist: Good to know? 

 

I think I understand Blanche more?

 

Nebula is already chatting up a storm with Cereza and Rose as if today was just a normal day. How can he be so calm about all of this? 

 

How can anyone be so calm? Why am I not freaking out? Should I be freaking out???

 

Spring: Protagonist-san…?

 

Protagonist: A-Ah!

 

I blink and see Spring to my side, staring up at me.

 

Wolf: You okay or something?

 

I turn and see Wolf on my other side, staring down at me.

 

Protagonist: S… Someone’s dead, you know that? 

 

Wolf’s expression sours. 

 

Wolf: … I know. I just didn’t want to get Spring-chan involved.

 

Protagonist: You’re probably used to this, aren’t you? One way or another, you’re probably used to death. 

 

Wolf: Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. 

 

That must be it. Everyone else here, detective or serial killer, must be so much more used to handling murder than I am. The best I did was a petty robbery case. How am I supposed to be “one of the best?”

 

Even Pearl and Flare seem way more comfortable about this, they’re so much more level-headed and smarter… 

 

Why am I even here? If I’m not the world’s greatest, then why was I thrown into this awful death game that’s already started? 

 

Protagonist: I-

 

Flare: Protagonist-kun. 

 

Protagonist: … Hey.

 

I look around, and see that everyone else is here. Carmen, Duke, Spade…

 

And Soldier is missing. 

 

But of course, no one’s going to wait for her as Roxie appears from a platform below.

 

Roxie: And then there were 17. 

 

Spade: Are we really going to hold the trial here?

 

Roxie: What do you care? I didn’t see you up in Soldier-chan’s dead business.

 

Spade: It’s called respect. 

 

Roxie: Yeah, yeah, coward. Anywayyyys, to answer your question, no! You will, however, be joining your friend six feet under! Except not actually six feet, in both the dead sense and the distance sense. 

 

Swain: So we’re being lowered down to the trial?

 

Roxie: Exactly! All aboard! 

 

The ground below us begins to tremble, and then, like out of a spy movie or something, it begins to lower. I feel like I’m sinking, being pulled in by the weight of the world. 

 

I can’t overthink things. That’s what I’m telling myself.

 

But as I stand in the midst of the remaining people here, it finally settles that one of them killed Soldier. 

 

Was that really possible? How? Why? 

 

I’d love to think that Roxie and Usher were responsible, just as Puppet said. Still, I know there’s no way that’s possible either. 

 

Why? Why would someone kill Soldier? Did they know she was Anon.? Was it for other reasons?

 

And when we figure it out who it is… What then? 

 

The floor finally comes to a stop, and we’re greeted to a large, embellished room. There are 18 stands and chairs, with two thrones on the other end of the room, facing us. Usher is already sitting on one of the thrones, his face rested on his hand. 

 

Roxie: Welcome to the Twilight Trial grounds, enjoy your stay! 

 

Swain: I suppose this fits our space a little more.

 

Nebula: Oh boy, this looks comfy!

 

Carmen: That’s one way to describe it… 

 

Roxie: Each space is for one of you, and you’ll find your name there too. Sooo… Go find it! Meanwhile, my space is up here~.

 

She bounds up to the empty throne and sat herself down, nudging Usher.

 

Roxie: Heyyy, Usher-kun! You ready?

 

Usher: Mm…

 

Roxie: Ugh, he’s still asleep.

 

Duke: Uh, do robots even need sleep? Didn't you say that?

 

Roxie: I’d make a comment about you being discriminatory towards robots or robophobia or some shit, but those are so overdone. 

 

Duke: Didn’t you just-?

 

Roxie: Find your spots so we can get this started already! I’m so impatient! (swings legs)

 

The first seat I approach is right across from Roxie and Usher’s throne (as well as the seat in front of theirs), and I see a label that reads “PROTAGONIST”. Guess it’s for me. I sit right across from Flare now. 

 

I hate to admit it, but these seats are comfortable, just as Nebula said… 

 

Roxie: Has everyone found their seat?

 

Blanche: Why is there an empty one?

 

Carmen: There’s a frame on the seat…

 

I squint to get a better look at the empty seat, and Carmen is right. On the seat… Is a memorial image of Soldier.

 

Spade: Now you’re just being rude. Are you trying to mock her death?

 

Roxie: I’m being respectful, like you said! Wouldn’t it be rude if she missed out her own trial and never saw her killer come to justice? That would be heartbreaking if I were in her place, just saying.

 

Roxie waits a moment in silence.

 

Roxie: That’s where Usher would say something depressing about how we’re basically in her place anyways, but! That’s the past. And he's too busy being a sleepyhead.

 

Protagonist: Huh? 

 

Before anyone else can question that, Roxie keeps talking.

 

Roxie: So! If everyone’s gathered…

 

Roxie: Let the Twilight Trial… Begin~! 

 

As Roxie says those words, I feel as if the entire world has crashed down onto me. I’m instantly overwhelmed. 

 

Where do we even start? 

Chapter Text

AVAILABLE EVIDENCE: 

  • Flare’s Alibi: Flare received an alibi video for having his identity revealed. It shows him asleep at the time of Soldier’s death. 
  • Roxie’s File: The victim is Sabina Himura, otherwise known as the serial killer Anon. Her alias was Soldier. The time of death was 11:47 PM, and her body was discovered at 5:41 AM by Flare, Protagonist, and Dust the next day. The cause of death was exsanguination from a neck puncture wound.
  • Alibis: Since the murder occurred after the night time announcement, most people claimed to be asleep. The only people who didn’t are Glasses, Dust, and Gear. 
  • Missing Alibi: Although Pearl’s identity was revealed, Roxie was missing her alibi video. Roxie said that the alibi would come during the trial when Usher was awake.
  • Soldier’s Eye: Just as Soldier’s secret said, the eye beneath her eyepatch is real.
  • Murder Weapon: The murder weapon was one of Soldier’s hairpins, which has been thrust through her throat. They’re surprisingly quite sharp.
  • Ties to Candy Cane Killer?: The method Soldier died was similar to the way the Candy Cane Killer murders their victims, by pricking them through their throat. Is Soldier’s death related to that serial killer?
  • Soundproof Rooms: The rooms are soundproof, according to Glasses, so anything that happens in other rooms cannot be heard by other people.
  • Partners: Swain set up a partner system among the 18 participants that required the partners to stay together at all times during the Killy Period. Soldier’s partner was Dust. 
  • Neck Placement: Soldier’s wound is in a very specific place in her neck, as there aren’t many openings in the neck to stab through with such a thing object.
  • Notes: Flare and Protagonist both received a note from Soldier, with her implying that she was expecting to die shortly after she wrote those notes. No one else received a note about this, however.
  • Binary Note: Protagonist’s note had a small set of numbers below his note. It turned out to be binary code, ultimately reading “P.S. Just Kidding.
  • Note in Trash: A crumpled up note from Soldier was found in her trash can, which was directed towards the killer, most likely, as the note said to meet Soldier in her room at 11 PM. 
  • Gear and Pearl: Though Pearl claimed to be asleep when Soldier was dead, as it turned out, Gear saw her awake around midnight in the infirmary shortly after Soldier died. Pearl was working on something for Gear, and Gear, who was awake, went to check on it at midnight and saw Pearl there.

… Our first trial. This feels so surreal. Maybe if I blink hard enough, I’ll see my actual bedroom - a place I should be for all this time. I shouldn’t be here, and I’ve never even known where “here” is. This shouldn’t be happening to me, to anyone… This shouldn’t have happened to Soldier.

 

(Should it?)

 

But no, things are frighteningly real. This is the reality. We’re holding a trial for Soldier. No, Sabina Himura. … No, the serial killer Anon.

 

I think just Soldier will do.

 

… I wonder what my trial would be like? 

 

Roxie: Well, well, well! Let’s start the Twilight Trial, shall we? Twilight Trial: in session! (slams arm against throne and sparkles)

 

No one says anything, glancing at one another. Was it out of awkwardness or fear? 

 

Roxie: Don’t worry, it’s your first one, so I’ll get the ball rolling.

 

Roxie: I’ll go over a quick reminder of the rules. Your task here is to determine who killed lil’ ol’ Soldier-chan over there. (gestures to her frame) And if you’ve figured it out correctly, then the killer… Well, let’s cross that bridge when you get there, huh? Or rather… If you get there, kyaha~! 

 

I feel a chill run down my spine. 

 

Roxie: Soooo if you get the killer wrong, I’ll execute you all, and the killer will get to leave this manor free of charge, forgiven of all or any of their crimes. And with that, the killing game will end! Because there’d be no killing game if all of you are dead. Pretty high stakes, huh?

 

Again, no one says anything.

 

Roxie: (waves hand in dismissal) Yes, yes, no need to applaud or cheer for me. Well, have fun! This is quite literally the lion’s den I referred to earlier in the game. Live or die, correct or incorrect, I don’t care! But you’d better put up a fight!

 

… Still nothing.

 

Roxie: Wellll? I’m already bored. I can end the trial right now if you’d like, and you bitches can just take a wild guess at the killer. How about that? 

 

I have to say something. Anything. Anything to get this started so we don’t fucking die!!! 

 

Flare: You’re not alone.

 

Protagonist: Huh?!

 

All eyes are on me. I… 

 

I’ve always wanted this attention, but I never realized how stressful it would be. 

 

What do I even talk about? 

 

I guess the most pressing question on my mind is…

 

>CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Missing Alibi

 

Protagonist: … Pearl’s alibi video. 

 

Roxie: Whuzzat? 

 

Protagonist: We should have it by now, shouldn’t we? The trial has started. So, where is it?

 

Roxie: Well… Eheh… Usher-san, wake up!

 

Usher: Zz…

 

Roxie: Well, that’s that! Usher-san is still asleep. (sighs dramatically) Oh well, guess we’ll have to wait for him to wake up!

 

Protagonist: Why does it matter though?

 

Glasses: Shouldn’t you both have the same abilities and responsibilities?  

 

Roxie: Well, yes and no. While we do have pretty similar abilities aside from aesthetics, Usher-san and I each have our own roles, y’see. It goes just beyond taking turns waking you up! In this case, Usher-san was responsible for collection your data. Your secrets, your biographical information, and everything you’re up to in this manor! Meanwhile, I’m in charge of rules, investigations, and Twilight Trials. So I can’t just wake up Usher-san right now, but he should have Pearl-chan’s alibi on hand.

 

Flare: The alibi is a pretty crucial part to our investigations, don’t you think?

 

Roxie: I don’t know why you’re complaining~! You have your alibi, after all. 

 

Cereza: Is this really fair to Pearl-san though? We won’t know she’s innocent until we can see for ourselves!

 

Gear: So we suspect her, kyeh.

 

Pearl: It doesn’t matter. You all know what I was doing.

 

Glasses: Are we sure about that? After all, you claimed to be asleep, but Gear-san saw you awake around midnight. Your alibis contradicted. 

 

Pearl: Sure, I hid my alibi, but it was for another reason that I'm not disclosing. How the hell was I supposed to know Soldier-san was being killed while I was in the infirmary? Besides, that’s nowhere near Soldier-san’s room, is it?

 

Spade: That’s still awfully suspicious that you’d lie, Pearl-san. No one else did.

 

Dust: Can we be sure of that? 

 

Rose: Aren’t you the one who gathered the alibis?! 

 

Pearl: We get it, Spade-san, you hate me. For whatever reason.  

 

Spade: I think the reason is obvious. And if you think my feelings of you are based upon petty feelings over a legitimate need for preservation, then you’re wrong.

 

Pearl: Yeah, yeah. Point is, you think I did it?

 

Duke: You could be a suspect… 

 

Cereza: Could Pearl-san really have gotten from Soldier-san’s room all the way up to the infirmary in just ten or so minutes? 

 

Swain: Gear-san, was Pearl-san spotless to you? Physically, I mean. No bloodstains or markings?

 

Gear: I dunno, I’m fuckin’ blind.

 

Blanche: Language!

 

Gear: Nah, in reality it was dark in the infirmary. 

 

Duke: And… Why is that?

 

Puppet: Maybe Pearl-san likes to work in the dark?

 

Glasses: Or maybe Pearl-san had no choice but to do so.

 

Puppet: Oh? 

 

Glasses: The lights turn off around midnight until five in the morning. The manor is completely dark during that time.

 

Roxie: It’s to save electricity! I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t like paying the bills. That’s why I commit tax evasion!

 

Puppet: That’s a terrible idea!

 

Roxie: Committed tax evasion for the last 15 years, since minors…

 

Her voice trails off, and she cocks her head to the side. 

 

Roxie: 15…? 

 

Protagonist: Uh.

 

Glasses: … Back on topic.

 

Puppet: That probably explains why I didn’t know about that rule, since I’m awake after 5 AM.

 

Glasses: So when Pearl-san was in the infirmary, it was already past 12, and the lights were turned off.

 

Flare: Why didn’t you bring this up earlier? You were investigating the whole time!

 

Glasses: I didn’t realize that this information would be relevant since I was under the assumption that no one was in the infirmary at midnight for quite some time.

 

Pearl: Oh, whatever.

 

Spring: So, um… That explains why Gear-san couldn’t see Pearl clearly…

 

Gear: Yea, cuz it was dark. Duh. 

 

Flare: Even if the lights were off, she could’ve washed it off before Gear-san arrived.. This is exactly what I meant about checking the infirmary to see if Pearl-san could’ve left a potential trace anywhere if she killed Soldier-san.

 

Blanche: That would’ve been an optimal moment to do so, yes.

 

Pearl’s glare deepens, and she looks like she’s about to say something, but someone interjects.

 

Nebula: Heyyy, everyone! Listen to me? 

 

Carmen: You have something to say, Nebua-kun? 

 

Nebula: Yeah, I’ve got something to say! I think the killer is Dust-kun!

 

Dust: Me?

 

Protagonist: What? Why?

 

Nebula: Shh, I’m trying to have a cool moment like Rose-chan did with Soldier-chan! Just leave it to me, Detective Nebby-chan! 

 

Rose: Er…

 

Nebula: Think about it: Dust-kun was the closest to Soldier-chan, right? So it would’ve been easier for him to kill her!

 

Dust: How so…?

 

Spring: Um… Don’t you think that… Uh… Dust-san would…

 

Nebula: Huuuuh?

 

Spring: He’d feel bad, wouldn’t he…? After all, Soldier-san was his friend…

 

Dust: Don’t worry about that. She’s a serial killer, remember? The worst of all of them, in fact. 

 

Spring: But-

 

Dust: I don’t feel bad about her death. I got to know her, but she ended up being a horrible person. So I shouldn’t feel horrible for someone else’s death. If anything, this world just got a little safer.

 

And he shrugs, as if he had just said he didn’t like pineapples on pizza.

 

Protagonist: Is that the case though? I mean her secrets…

 

Woah, might not wanna fall into the rabbit hole of justifying that murder shit. But… 

 

Protagonist: Uh, never mind that! Point is, you’re not really helping your case, Dust-san! You just refuted a point supporting your innocence… You know, about caring about Soldier-san…

 

Nebula: Seeee? Dust-kun had reason! He said he wanted to, like, make the world safer! 

 

Dust: Huh? Oh, right. Well, I am still innocent. I didn’t kill her regardless. 

 

Nebula: Says who?

 

Dust: Says the evidence? Soldier-san said that they wanted to go to bed early, so we went our separate ways before 10 PM. Even then, I just stayed in my room the entire time. I wouldn’t have heard anything.

 

Pearl: But you were awake, weren’t you?

 

Dust: Yeah, playing video games.

 

Protagonist: Well Dust-san couldn’t have known anything. That’s also because…

 

>CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Soundproof Rooms

 

Protagonist: We can’t hear things from other people’s rooms. So even if someone was awake in their room, they can’t hear the outside, whether it be the hallway or the other rooms. 

 

Glasses: (nods) I was awake, but I didn’t hear a thing from my room.

 

Nebula: Well who’s to say you didn’t kill her instead?

 

Glasses: Me. 

 

Duke: Hold your horses there… I mean, let’s simply focus on one suspect at a time, alright? 

 

Dust: Guess I’m that suspect.

 

Duke: Unfortunately. So why exactly is he a suspect, Nebula-san? 

 

Nebula: Well Dust-kun would’ve had the easiest time getting into Soldier-chan’s room. Isn’t that right, Carmen-chan?

 

Carmen: That’s true… After all, he would have Soldier-san’s trust to enter, right?

 

Nebula: Yeah, yeah, that’s right! You’re so smart, Carmen-chan!

 

Carmen: Ah… Thank you.

 

Dust: Mm… But you’re wrong.

 

Nebula: Well, where’s the proof?!

 

Dust: Don’t need it, cuz I didn’t do it. 

 

Wolf: What kind of fuckin’ proof is that?!

 

Dust: You all can vote for me then. And you’ll be wrong, thus screwing us all over. And then the real killer will get out. How will you feel? 

 

Spade: Are you telling us to trust you? In a situation like this?

 

Blanche: We can’t keep recycling this logic. We need real proof that Dust-san didn’t kill Soldier-san. 

 

Cereza: Blanche-chan is right! And frankly, you’re not doing the hottest job of defending yourself, Dust-kun.

 

Dust: Why should I? I know I didn’t do it. 

 

Swain: Well the rest of us don’t know that for sure…

 

Guess I should try to come up with some sort of logic that proves Dust’s innocence… I don’t believe he did it, and that’s because…

 

>CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Partners

 

Protagonist: Okay, hear me out. 

 

Rose: Ooh, Protagonist-senpai has something to say!

 

Protagonist: Well, Dust-san and Soldier-san were partners, right? 

 

Swain: (sighs) Yes…

 

Nebula: But we just talked about why that doesn’t mean anything!

 

Carmen: Though Dust-san brought it up himself…

 

Protagonist: I mean, yeah, that, but just listen to me!

 

Glasses: We’re listening.

 

Protagonist: Thank you! So we all know how the partner thing worked- partners had to stay together at all times until the Killy Period was over. But there were a couple exceptions, namely our rooms. We could be separate then. 

 

Spade: Obviously. 

 

Protagonist: So for one, Dust-san would have no reason to go into Soldier-san’s room, especially not to kill her.

 

Dust: And again, we went our separate ways early. 

 

Nebula: But they were partners! Soldier-chan wouldn’t be suspicious if Dust-kun entered. If anything, Dust-kun would have the easiest time entering her room.

 

Dust: Soldier-san wasn’t stupid, you know. She wouldn’t just let me in. 

 

Puppet: Yeah! You’d have to ask for a cup of sugar first at least!

 

Dust: … What?

 

Protagonist: GEE, it’s almost like the killer needed an INVITATION to get into her room.

 

Wolf: Are you fucking with me? An invitation from HER to kill HER?

 

>CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Note in Trash

 

Protagonist: Yeah, no, I’m serious. Trust me. 

 

Wolf: What?

 

Protagonist: There was a note in Soldier-san’s trash can, written from her. It told someone to meet her in her room at 11 PM. 

 

Flare: I don’t think it had the intention for a murder, though.

 

Dust: But we can’t rule it out, can we?

 

Nebula: And why do you say that, huuuuh? 

 

Dust: I’m just saying it’s a possibility.

 

Flare: Maybe Soldier-san wanted to talk to someone.

 

Glasses: Right when this killing period started? And to who? And why? It’s not as if she was that close to anyone aside from Dust-san.

 

Flare: Do I look like I know the answers?

 

Glasses: You seem pretty confident in yours. 

 

Flare: I’m just saying. It doesn’t have to be murder related. 

 

Swain: Point is, there was a note.

 

Protagonist: If anything, I think the note lessens the chance of it being Dust-san. It doesn’t rule him out, but he might not necessarily be the killer. 

 

Rose: Oh? A revelation?

 

Protagonist: Think about it this way: Soldier-san wanted to keep Dust-san occupied somehow, so they split into their rooms. Obviously Dust-san wouldn’t think much of it.

 

Dust: That’s right, I wouldn’t.

 

Nebula: Shh. You’re being accused right now!

 

Dust: (blinks) Am I?

 

Protagonist: Soldier-san wanted Dust-san out of the way. So why would she go through the trouble of that only to just send him a note. You’re right… Nebula-kun… Dust-san would have had the easiest time to get in.

 

Flare: But with the note existing, that goes against Dust’s suspicions. 

 

Protagonist: Flare-kun gets me! 

 

Duke: I don’t think I follow.

 

Spring: Um… I think it’s if-

 

Protagonist: Soldier-san wanted to bring someone to her room, whether or not with the intention of a death occurring. Dust-san would’ve been the easiest person to bring in, since she wouldn’t even need a note. 

 

Spring: … Yeah. That.

 

Dust: My question is, why a paper note? Why not use the IDs?

 

Flare: Is that relevant?

 

Dust: I dunno. Just curious. 

 

Wolf: So from your logic, Dust is less likely to be the killer because Soldier-san would’ve had less reason to send him a note rather than just fucking talking to him.

 

Protagonist: Exactly! 

 

Pearl: Then who was the note sent to?

 

Protagonist: We don’t know that yet, but… Since we are on the topic of notes!

 

>CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Notes

 

Flare: That’s right… Did anyone get a note from Soldier-san? Not about the invitation. Just one in general. 

 

Duke: No… I don’t believe so…

 

Cereza: Nope!

 

Flare: No one? Well… Protagonist-kun and I did. 

 

Nebula: Oh? What’s this?

 

Spade: Why are you so invested all of a sudden?

 

Nebula: Excuse me for wanting to know who killed Soldier-chan!

 

Spade: You even have no respect for the dead… Sad.

 

Nebula: Sue me. But not literally. I'm poor.

 

Duke: Well? What did the notes say?

 

Protagonist: They were basically of the same content, where she talked about no one missing her if Soldier-san was to die, and how no tears would be shed… Um… Yeah.

 

I could hear my voice crack a little. It’s not a fun feeling in front of everyone.

 

Duke: … Oh. I see.

 

Flare: Are you forgetting the note at the bottom of yours, though?

 

Puppet: Another note?

 

Protagonist: No, it’s the one in binary code… Glasses-san translated it for us. 

 

Rose: Oh! I got this one! It said “PS JK”. Like, Just Kidding!

 

Wolf: Just kidding?! What the hell does that mean?!

 

Duke: That she wasn’t being genuine in her words…?

 

Flare: But she only put it on Protagonist-kun’s letter.  

 

Blanche: You two got notes? From Soldier-san? 

 

Protagonist: Yeah. Weird, right? 

 

Blanche: But… Why? 

 

Protagonist: You know, we haven’t figured that part out yet. It’s weird. Maybe she liked us the most?

 

Flare: (Curt) Unlikely.

 

Protagonist: Haha… You’re right. 

 

Rose: Huh? Did something happen?

 

Protagonist: No, no, not at all! I’m just realizing that it’s weird that she sent the two of us notes. Not even Dust-san got one. 

 

Dust: Eh, I won’t lose sleep over it. 

 

Pearl: Blanche-san brings up a great question. Why you two?

 

Spring: Well… What do you have in common? 

 

Protagonist: We were partners?

 

Spring: … Yeah, that’s true…

 

Wolf: There’s gotta be something else though.

 

Gear: Kyeheh… What could Soldier-tan have wanted from the newlyweds…

 

Flare: Ugh… 

 

Protagonist: Hm…

 

Maybe someone holds the key? I feel like it’s on the tip of my tongue…!

 

>CHOOSE PERSON: PUPPET

 

Protagonist: Oh! Puppet-san!

 

Puppet: (brightens up) Yes!

 

Protagonist: You weren’t planning to cook breakfast today, right?

 

Gear: Speaking of which, I’m hungies…

 

Spade: (squint) You’re what .

 

Puppet: No, I wasn’t. You and Flare-kun had that planned today, right?

 

Pearl: Hold on…

 

Protagonist: Pearl-san’s getting the hang of it. So, Puppet-san, what time did you plan to wake up tomorrow? 

 

Puppet: I was planning to sleep in…

 

Swain: Sorry for putting all that burden on you, Puppet-san. I really ought to help.

 

Puppet: No worries! I love doing so. 

 

Duke: Maybe now wouldn’t be the best time bicker or quarrel about such things…

 

Swain: Er… You’re right. 

 

Protagonist: The connection between Flare-san and I was that we planned to wake up early to cook breakfast.

 

Spade: Just as I intended. But what does that have to do with receiving any notes from the deceased? 

 

Protagonist: Soldier sent those notes because… Well, I don’t think it was just because it was me and Flare. If Puppet were still cooking, he’d probably get a note instead of us. 

 

Glasses: It just has to do with time. Meaning… Early? 

 

Protagonist: Try “before anyone else”.

 

Spade: I still don’t get why. Okay, so you two were going to wake up early, and Soldier-san knew that. But what does that have to do with her death? 

 

I feel like we all know the answer, but we’re skating around it… 

 

At least, I do. But the thought of it not only confuses me, but it upsets me. Why…? 

 

What possibilities about Soldier’s death open up after knowing this fact?

 

Spring: She… Um…

 

Protagonist: Spring-san?

 

Spring: She was… Anticipating her death, wasn’t she…?

 

Glasses: … Oh. I see then.

 

Spade: What the hell does that even mean?

 

Protagonist: I’m not sure of the implications, but Spring-san said exactly what I was thinking. 

 

Protagonist: By the time Soldier-san  expected us to see her notes, she expected herself to be dead. 

 

Pearl: What? That’s not possible! She couldn’t have anticipated that unless it was a suicide mission! 

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Pearl: Don’t you remember? The first note she sent didn’t have the intention of dying, or else she wouldn’t have marked it as “just talking”. 

 

Pearl: And if she wanted to die, she didn’t have to bring someone else into it! 

 

Dust: Hold on, Pearl-san. I have an idea of what’s going on.

 

Pearl: … You do?

 

Rose: Enlighten us! 

 

Nebula: You’re still not off the hook, hmph. 

 

Dust: It’s exactly as you said, Pearl-san. Soldier-san wanted to die, but she wanted to bring someone down with her by getting someone to kill her.

 

Swain: How could you tell so easily?

 

Dust: (tilts head) I’m not stupid. I’m fairly decent at reading people. 

 

Swain: … Oh. Sorry for misunderstanding. 

 

Puppet: But that’s terrible! She… She wanted someone to kill her?! Why would she want to take her own life?! And it’s just as Pearl-san said too, why make someone do it for her.

 

Dust: Are you all forgetting, or are you just that naive?

 

Dust’s tone becomes a lot colder, and his expression turns harsher too.

 

Dust: She was the serial killer Anon. after all. The worst of all the serial killers in this room, at that. You all really don’t think she was planning something? 

 

Roxie: Soldier-san’s spirit is probably weeping tears of sadness because of your words!

 

Dust: No, she’s probably fine because she knows I’m right. 

 

Cereza: Harsh…

 

Dust: Killing over 80 people is also harsh but. (shrugs) Whatevs.

 

Maybe I’m just naive, but is that necessarily the case? It did say that all of her murders were orders from her yakuza clan… Maybe that’s all she ever knew. 

 

No one could kill over 80 people without having some sort of guilty conscious. But maybe Soldier wasn’t raised on one? She was a hitman, after all. 

 

But I guess I shouldn’t delve into that rabbit hole. She… She still killed a ton of people and impersonated them without regret, and she had no trouble hiding that fact, acting as if she were normal like the rest of us… Ugh, but we’re not exactly normal either, are we? 

 

I guess the fact that she acted as one of our friends is what bothered me the most… How did it not bother her? 

 

Dust: Putting it bluntly, Soldier probably lured someone into her room on the pretenses of dying, had them kill her in some way, willing or not- my hunch is unwillingly. 

 

Flare: I still don’t fully understand how Protagonist-kun and I are involved.

 

Dust: She probably sent those notes to the two of you at some point while you were asleep, and she knew that you’d wake up the earliest to see those notes… And discover her body.

 

Flare: I guess that makes enough sense. 

 

Dust: My guess is that she wanted to get a start on this killing game, by causing a murder, even if it meant getting herself killed to do so. 

 

Swain: Can we just, like, agree that Dust-san didn’t kill her? I mean, if not that’s okay, but…

 

Nebula: Hmph. 

 

Protagonist: With the notes, Dust-san’s last moments with her, and… Uh, yeah, whatever that was, I’d say we can put our suspicion on him on the backburner for now. 

 

Nebula: But he’s not completely innocent, riiiight?

 

Protagonist: Well no one’s completely innocent, since no one has a solid alibi. Except Flare-kun, of course!

 

That thought brought comfort. I knew I could trust him, and I wasn’t going to lose him. 

 

Cereza: And Pearl-san, once Usher-san wakes up!

 

Spade: We’ll see about that. 

 

Duke: Well, if you don’t mind me stepping in…

 

Flare: Hm?

 

Duke: It’s just as Protagonist-san said. We’re all in this vague sense of suspicion due to everyone lacking a proper alibi. It happened while the stars and moon were glimmering in the sky, after all, and no one should be active during that time.

 

Gear: What’s with the purple prose all of a sudden? Kyeheh.

 

Spade: (sighs) Don’t forget some of us were active during that time. 

 

Pearl: Let him finish.

 

Duke: Er, key word, “should”. My point is, is there any way we could focus the suspicion on someone or a group of people in particular?

 

Nebula: You mean just like what I did with Dust-kun?

 

Duke: Yes, exactly that. But something with… More substance.

 

Nebula: Hey!

 

Protagonist: Well Duke-san has a point. … Is there any evidence?

 

Puppet: Oh! I know! I think I know! 

 

Protagonist: Puppet-san? 

 

Puppet: The way she died, right? 

 

Carmen: You mean… Her throat?

 

Puppet: Yeah! That’s exactly it! 

 

Carmen: Oh… I got it right…!

 

Puppet: Think about it, the way she was killed… A thin pin going through her neck… I think it means something!

 

Protagonist: You mean…

 

CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Ties to Candy Cane Killer?

 

Protagonist: You’re referring to the way the serial killer Candy Cane Killer kills their suspects, right? 

 

Swain: According to their summary… A prick in the throat…

 

Puppet: That matches up, right?

 

Duke: I suppose this works as… Well, “something”... 

 

Nebula: So whoever’s CCK is the killer, huh? 

 

Puppet: That might be the case!

 

Nebula: Easy peasy then! We just gotta figure out who they are! Man, if it turns out to be Dust-san…

 

Dust: Full disclosure: it’s not.

 

Gear: As if anyone would admit to that. 

 

Spade: Who would be stupid enough to kill the exact way they’re known for as a serial killer?

 

Blanche: Maybe it’s all they know.

 

Flare: How… Ominous. Though I hate to say it, I think Spade-san has a point. It’d be ridiculous for the killer to method in their signature serial killer method. They’d just be asking to be found out. 

 

Dust: Though to play devil’s advocate…

 

Flare: Oh god.

 

Dust: Soldier-san’s murder was a spur of the moment incident, no? After all, she lured the murderer into killing her. So maybe it is as Blanche-san said, they just did what they knew best. They didn’t know they were going to kill someone, nor was Soldier-san aware that she was inviting the serial killer that could kill her the most easily with her hair pins. 

 

Duke: If that really is the case… My, that’s unfortunate. For both her and the killer. 

 

Nebula: Like I said, we just need to figure out who they are! So fess up!

 

Gear: No one’s gonna do thaaaat.

 

In the midst of the arguing, Glasses’s voice comes in, sharply and loudly.

 

Glasses: Do you all really think this was the work of Candy Cane Killer?

 

Everything dies down, and all eyes are on him. 

 

Puppet: U-Uh… Is there really a reason to believe otherwise?

 

Spade: Didn’t I just give a reason? The utter stupidity to do so?

 

Dust: But I gave a counterargument. 

 

Glasses: I’m saying it’s not them because of the way Soldier-san died. It doesn’t match up. 

 

Puppet: But-

 

Glasses: Yes, it says that they kill with a prick in the neck, but there’s some important distinctions. 

 

Dust: Can any of them disprove my logic?

 

Glasses: Yes, actually. One, CCK only kills important people, generally corrupt politicians. Soldier-san was not one.

 

Wolf: No shit, none of us are of that fuckin’ caliber. At least, we’re not politicians. 

 

Dust: You could argue that she was an important figure. Yakuza member, serial killer Anon… The list goes on. And again, spur of the moment kind of thing. 

 

Glasses: Fair enough. Two, upon my research about this serial killer, they murder with a prick of the neck. Not a stab through it. Plus, they kill using poison via their pricks for the most part. Again, not a stabbing.

 

Dust: I guess that’s true… Though it doesn’t outright defy my logic. 

 

Glasses: And third, they attack from behind the victim, not in front. Basically, if it really was a case of Candy Cane Killer attacking, then the pin would go through the front of her neck. It would go through the back.

 

Carmen: Then what do you suggest, Glasses-san?

 

Glasses: I agree with Dust-san that this was likely a spur of the moment thing that resulted in a murder. We’ll probably have to figure out why that’s the case later, but for the time being… The details don’t match up with how CCK kills. I don’t think it was necessarily their doing. The killer’s identity as CCK might be a correlation, but I don’t think someone being CCK is a reason to implicate them. 

 

Carmen: I see… 

 

Protagonist: Then we also put the Candy Cane Killer theory on the backburner?

 

Glasses: That would be wise, yes.

 

Flare: Well now we’re back to square one again. Great work, guys.

 

Puppet: S-Sorry…

 

Swain: Don’t blame yourself, Puppet-san.

 

Puppet: Ugh, but I just wasted everyone’s time…! And now everyone's frustrated for that.

 

Flare: Well it's not because of you, that's for sure. 

 

Glasses: Better to exhaust our options than to be wrong.

 

Roxie: If it makes you feel better, this is VERY entertaining to watch.

 

Puppet: But we're running out of time! There has to be something…! 

 

Glasses: If it makes you feel better, I think you were onto something with the way she died being specific to who the killer may be.

 

Puppet: Really…?

 

Glasses: Yes, I just don't think that being Candy Cane Killer has anything to do with it.

 

Puppet: I see then…

 

Flare: What do you mean by that?

 

Rose: Yeah, I wanna know!

 

Glasses: I think we've been on the right track, we just haven't been focusing on the right details.

 

Blanche: Hm…

 

Glasses: I think it was a spur of the moment incident, likely out of self defense or something like that. I also think that the stab to the neck is noteworthy. 

 

Puppet: But not about about Candy Cane Killer? Then what could you mean?

 

Glasses: I think the killer, in that moment, was indeed aiming to kill. 

 

Protagonist: I… Still don't follow.

 

It's frustrating feeling like this. Why can’t I get it so easily? Why couldn’t I have figured it out first? 

 

Being stupid isn’t a choice, but it still sucks.

 

Glasses: Well during the investigation, someone explained why this was so odd, right? About the injury. 

 

Protagonist: Someone…?

 

CHOOSE EVIDENCE: Neck Placement

 

Protagonist: Oh, right! Swain-san explained why that was weird. 

 

Swain: I mean it was just an observation… That being said, the killer probably just got lucky when they stabbed Soldier-san like that.

 

Spade: Well what's so weird about it?

 

Swain: Uh… Well it was just the fact that the killer stabbed them in just the right place to go through Soldier-san’s neck. Granted, those hair pins are scarily sharp, but… Don’t mind me, I’m probably overthinking things.

 

Puppet: No, keep going! I’m sure you’re onto something! 

 

Swain: Well, what I’m trying to say is…

 

Swain looks like they’re in deep thought. Are they really, though…? 

 

Swain: If it really was a spur of the moment kind of thing, then the killer got really lucky by stabbing Soldier-san. They did so in just the right place to pierce straight through her neck. 

 

Dust: The right place…?

 

Swain: Right, you weren’t there when I- or rather, Pearl-san- explained it. 

 

Pearl: Oh, I see what you mean. 

 

Swain: It was just a weird observation of mine, I didn’t expect it to go anywhere…

 

Wolf: Can you just get to the fucking point? We don’t have all day.

 

Swain: Right, sorry! So, our neck is mainly covered in bone, yeah? And especially from the front, it’s hard to stab through something so guarded with such a small, thin object. 

 

Gear: But we’ve also established that Soldier-tan’s hairpin is super sturdy and sharp… Look at me, using big words like “established”. Kyaha, I did it again!

 

Blanche: Yes, so not everything is necessarily out of the realm of possibility…

 

Protagonist: So are we gonna talk about how fucked up that is or…? 

 

Dust: You know what else is fucked up? Killing 82 people.

 

Flare: Dude, we’ve been over this a million times already.

 

Dust: I’m not letting it go. Uh, just saying.

 

Gear: Y’know what else is fucked up? Astronomer dude detective or whatever realizing who their rival was this way. Kyaha!

 

Carmen: I’m not sure if this is a laughing matter.

 

Spade: Can we PLEASE get back on topic? 

 

The room falls silent.

 

Spade: … Thank you.

 

I wince, realizing I was the one who started the whole discourse. I don’t think I want Spade to be mad at me.

 

Protagonist: … Sorry. 

 

Spade: (sighs, frustrated) It’s… Fine. Just please, let the person who has a potential lead speak and finish their thoughts.

 

Swain: Aha, um. Anyways… Since we’ve agreed that the killer didn’t anticipate to murder, meaning they lashed out in a heated moment… The killer had to know where to strike in order to kill. 

 

No one responds.

 

Swain: Does that make sense…?

 

Duke: What you’re saying is that the killer had to be… Erm… Well-versed in this aspect, no?

 

Swain: That’s a good way of putting it! Thanks, Duke-san.

 

Pearl: Or maybe the killer just got really lucky.

 

Puppet: Oh! Like that detective Luck Star, maybe? That could be a clue!

 

Flare: Why are you so obsessed with figuring out these identities?

 

Puppet: I thought it might help…

 

Glasses: And to be fair, that is a key aspect of our situation.

 

Flare: (grumbles) Of course.

 

Protagonist: Though in all fairness, I don’t think Luck Star has anything to do with it. They just claim to be lucky in their deductions, right? 

 

Spring: Or… A really good detective…

 

Swain: Nah, probably just lucky. Why else would they be named that? … That’s beside the point, though.

 

Cereza: Getting back on track, what the heck would “well-versed” even mean? 

 

Nebula: They’re good with bodies maybe, teehee.

 

Rose: The way you said it made it sound weird…

 

Flare: Besides, you could argue that almost all of us are “good” with bodies! We’ve got 9- well, 8 now- people who have killed someone, and the rest of us are detectives who have likely dealt with a murder or dead body of some kind.

 

Protagonist: Not all of us…!

 

Shouldn’t have said that out loud.

 

Gear: Nyeh, Protag-tan is right. You’re a prime example of someone who hasn’t, Flare-tan. 

 

Flare: (flustered) Ugh…! You know what I mean!

 

Gear: Suuure. 

 

Carmen: How can we narrow it down then? 

 

Duke: Someone who is… Especially good with bodies? More than usual… 

 

Spade: (sharp tone) Obviously, but how, exactly?

 

Swain: Well, it has to be someone who could’ve easily known about this…

 

Dust: Soooo… Like you?

 

Swain: Uh.

 

Wolf: Not like we could fuckin’ narrow it down if we had an answer anyways. We don’t even know each other’s names, how the hell are we supposed to know anything about one another?

 

Know anything… Names… Know something… 

 

The pieces are floating around in my head, but I have no idea how they connect. I’m sure they do somehow!

 

… Wait. 

 

A chill runs down my spine as I realize the answer.

 

Fuck go back-

 

I- I can’t say this out loud, they’re going to KILL me if-

 

Okay, that’s not the right idiom to use right now. 

 

There are only two identities the group knows for sure, aside from Soldier themself. Those are the only two people we can reliably account for. And one of them… It matches up with what we’re assuming about the killer. That they… They knew where to aim.

 

But…

 

I can’t bring myself to face them. I can’t just outright accuse them. My vocal cords refuse to work, my throat dries up, and panic fills my body. 

 

… I’m such a coward.

 

What do I do…? 

 

There has to be another way!

 

CHOOSE A PERSON!

Chapter Text

CHOOSE A PERSON(?): Usher

 

Protagonist: Usher.

 

Duke: … Huh?

 

Puppet: I knew it! It’s- It’s those robots, isn’t it! They're the ones responsible for this!

 

Roxie: Nice try, but nah.

 

Protagonist: (ignores them) Usher, wake up!

 

Roxie: Hello?? He’s still asleep, excuse you!

 

Glasses: He should be awake by now…

 

Protagonist: That’s no excuse- I need his help!

 

Roxie: Oh? And what for? 

 

Protagonist: …

 

If I say this out loud, I release the floodgates upon Pearl. Everyone will be screaming and fighting again, especially at her, and I don’t- I don’t want that.

 

But I really don’t want to die either. 

 

Protagonist: … I need to see Pearl-san’s alibi video.

 

Cereza: Hey, Protag-kun is right! We still need… Wait.

 

Her face drops. Shit, it affected her too. Now everyone is going to lose it!

 

Spade: Protagonist-san, are you saying…?

 

Nebula: Ohoho, here we go again! 

 

Protagonist: Shut up! I’m not saying anything!

 

And fuck, that came out WAY more aggressive than I intended to. I’m just pissing everyone off now, huh. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I wasn’t upsetting a room full of elite detectives and serial killers!

 

Pearl: … 

 

Spring: Then…

 

Protagonist: I just- I need to see Pearl-san’s alibi video. That has all the answers I need.

 

Roxie: Answers? About what, exactly? 

 

Protagonist: … I’m not saying until I see the video.

 

Roxie: Oh, really? Something the matter, Protag-kun~? (emphasizes each syllable)

 

Puppet: I’d say someone being dead is a big “matter”! 

 

Glasses: (pushing up glasses) With more deaths to follow. 

 

Duke: When you put it like that… Eugh. 

 

Protagonist: Nothing is the matter! Just- Show me the video already! What’s the hold up? Why are you guys so hesitant to show the video?

 

Roxie: Same reason as you, fucker. You think we’ll give up the answer so easily?

 

Rose: The what?!

 

Cereza: Wait… No!

 

Protagonist: Gh…!

 

Roxie: (leans in) Oh, so that’s it, huh? Too CHICKEN to rat out someone for a murder, Protag-kun? Are you really gonna hold out the truth on everyone, potentially risking everyone’s lives just because you don’t wanna make someone mad? Or are you afraid of facing the truth yourself? God, you really are pathetic.

 

I wince at her words. I really am half-decent, aren’t I…? 

 

I can’t even bring myself to say “Pearl killed Soldier”.  

 

Wolf: Hold on- So with what’s going on, are you fucking saying-?

 

Cereza: NO! No, that’s not possible! 

 

Swain: But… It makes sense. She would’ve known where to strike in the moment. She’s a medical student, after all.

 

Cereza: B-But… Anyone could’ve done that! It’s not that hard, and they could’ve just gotten lucky!

 

Spade: Would you rather us target you instead?

 

Cereza: No, that’s not what I meant! It’s just… There’s no way Pearl-san could’ve killed anyone!

 

Pearl: …

 

Cereza: S-See? She’s not reacting, so-!

 

Nebula: Heyyy, you’re forgetting she ALREADY has killed someone. Time to kick that body count up to two, kyaha!

 

Dust: Technically, it wouldn’t count since-

 

Cereza: What- So- You’re just gonna believe what those robots are saying?! Even Protag-kun hasn’t confirmed anything! 

 

Swain: … It’s called context?

 

Cereza: I’m not gonna believe it! This can’t be right!

 

Gear: That would explain why she was at the infirmary at midnight… Right after she killed Soldier-tan, huh?

 

Pearl: …

 

Cereza: Well what were YOU doing up at midnight?!

 

Gear: Not killing Soldier-tan, kyeheh. Besides, I’m too short to actually attack her like that. 

 

Cereza: And we’re just going to declare you innocent because of that?!

 

Carmen: Is this really the truth…? 

 

Protagonist: Cereza-san…

 

Cereza: Protag-kun… Please… You really don’t believe it, right? I know you’re thinking something else… Pearl-san… She couldn’t have…! 

 

I can’t say anything to that. I’m sorry. 

 

Spade: Cereza-san, let me ask you a very fair question.

 

Cereza: What do you want…?

 

Flare: Nothing good, probably.

 

Spade: Why do you care so much?

 

Cereza: Well…!

 

Blanche: Must you ask her that question?

 

Spade: I just don’t get why Cereza-san cares so much about someone she’s known for a week. Does she know Pearl-yogisha outside of the killing game? Are they conspiring something?

 

Cereza: No, none of those!

 

Spade: Then what is it? Why do you care so much about practically some stranger’s life? About 24 hours ago you didn’t even know her real name! She doesn’t even know yours!

 

Cereza: And whose fault is that? Not mine! 

 

Spade: I’m sick of people avoiding my questions. I’m going to ask you this again, Cereza-san. Why. Do. You. Care? 

 

Rose: Spade-san…

 

Wolf: Dude, fucking lay off you-

 

Spade: You’re not Cereza-san. I don’t care what you have to say.

 

WHAT THE HELL?

 

Cereza: … 

 

She looks genuinely taken aback. I’ve never seen her like this…

 

Cereza: I… Is there something wrong with believing in the good of someone? Is that so wrong?

 

Spade: In this situation? Yes, it would.

 

Cereza: I’m not done with my answer! I barely know anything about Pearl-san, but that’s why I want to believe in her! I want to know more about her, to believe in the good of her by knowing it exists! That’s why I believe she didn’t kill Soldier-san, and I believe there has to be some good reason she killed… The other person…! I believe Pearl-san is a good person! And I’m sorry if you don’t, if you’re too busy seeing this world as a piece of shit to believe in nothing good. So… So…!

 

Pearl: Cereza-san.

 

Cereza tilts her head downwards, as if she had done something shameful, and she’s shaking. 

 

Rose: Cereza-san, are you alright…?

 

She doesn’t answer. 

 

Pearl: That’s enough, all of you. 

 

Spade: Well?

 

Pearl: Well. Do you want to know the answer?

 

Nebula: Are you kidding me? Yes!

 

Pearl: Fine.

 

Protagonist: Pearl-san, I-

 

Pearl: Don’t worry. I’m not mad. Just my luck this would happen, huh? I had it coming.

 

Duke: So…

 

Pearl: …

 

She closes her eyes and takes a breath.

 

Pearl: I-

 

Usher: Hm…

 

Roxie: Aaaand he’s awake! Gooood morning, Usher-kun~!

 

Usher: Ugh… What… (straightens self) What is this…? A Twilight Trial? What?

 

Roxie: You missed it, sleepyhead! Soldier-san is totes dead, and we’re at the climax!

 

Protagonist: Usher-san! You’re awake! So-

 

Roxie: Right, right. Y’see, there was a technical difficulty, Usher-san, so we lost Pearl-chan’s alibi video! You mind fetching that for us?

 

Usher: You won’t even give me time to brush my teeth, huh?

 

Roxie: … We don’t have teeth.

 

Usher: You don’t.

 

Roxie: What?

 

Usher: Mm, that being said… (takes a moment) Aha, found it. So, Pearl-san’s alibi video, hm? And you wanted to see it? 

 

Pearl: (eyes widen) Wait.

 

Swain: That’s the answer, isn’t it?

 

Nebula: The moment of truth! Let’s see it!

 

Usher: Well, I don’t have the time to distribute the video to you all, so I’ll project it on the screens surrounding you.

 

So that’s what those black screens were.

 

Pearl: No, wait, don’t-!

 

There’s genuine panic in her voice, but it’s too late. The screens come to life.

 

Usher: Now showing: Pearl-san’s alibi video, at the time Soldier-san was murdered. Enjoy!

 

Cereza: I… I can’t look…

 

Pearl: … 

 

Now Pearl is the one shaking in fear.

 

The video comes into focus. It’s one of our bedrooms, but the camera seems to be placed on the floor, so we can’t see any faces. But I recognize Pearl’s cloak and Soldier’s boots.

 

… So it really is true.

 

Do I want to keep watching?

 

Even if I didn’t, I can’t tear my eyes away. I have to know what happened.

 

There’s a voice. It’s Soldier!

 

Soldier: And I, the serial killer Sawyer, killed your precious sister! 

 

Pearl: Y-You…!

 

Soldier: And what are you gonna do about that?

 

There’s a scream. Pearl. She lunges forward, and Soldier takes a slight step back. There’s a sickening sound, the edges of a blood splatter, and then Pearl takes a step back.

 

Soldier’s body falls to the ground, face first. She’s in the position we discovered her in.

 

And Pearl runs out of the room.

 

The video ends. Usher claps, saying nothing.

 

Carmen: (covers mouth) That… That’s…!

 

Spring is sobbing loudly. Wolf is trying to comfort her the best he can, but he also looks fucking pissed at Pearl. 

 

Flare stares in awe at the screen, his expression blank. Glasses shakes his head.

 

Cereza still refuses to look up.

 

Spade: I knew it. I fucking knew it along, you god damn murderer!

 

Pearl: … Well. 

 

Spade: Well? Is that all you can say? 

 

Pearl: Well I’m sure you’d all like to know the truth, wouldn’t you? The real truth. Not just the part Usher-san showed you.

 

Swain: What does that mean?

 

Pearl: Usher. Roxie. Do you mind if I share a secret to everyone? Not like there’s a point, it’s not like I have that much time left anyways.

 

Usher: (shrugs) Sure, why not. Your reward will be tricky, however.

 

Puppet: So it’s true…! She’s going to… We’re going to be killing her!

 

Pearl: I don’t want it, don’t worry. 

 

Pearl: And everyone? For once, shut up.

 

Silently, she pulls out her tablet and taps some things. Eventually, a chime is heard, and something new is displayed on the screens around us.

 

Chapter 1 Trial CG

 

“Pearl has chosen to share a secret with everyone!

 

Pearl is responsible for the death of her sister, Crystal Lee, in a medical accident.”

 

Pearl: …

 

Glasses: So your singular body count…

 

Pearl: Yes, that is my sister. There’s your answer, Spade-san.

 

Spade: Thank you.

 

Blanche: Is that all you can say to her plight?

 

Spade: She finally answered my question, so… Yes.

 

Puppet: There has to be more to it, right?

 

Dust: What do you mean?

 

Puppet: Soldier-san… She just said that she was the one who killed her sister! So… There’s no way Pearl-san did it, right? Soldier-san wouldn’t lie about killing someone!

 

Gear: I just want you to repeat that last sentence, but actually think about what you said.

 

Puppet: Soldier-san wouldn’t lie about killing someone…?

 

Gear: Ah, forget it.

 

Pearl: Surprise, she did lie.

 

Puppet: What?!

 

Duke: Wait, but what did Soldier-shi do that for, bringing up that other serial killer’s name like that?

 

Nebula: Sawyer, you mean?

 

Duke: Yes, that one.

 

Pearl: Well, that part isn’t a lie. The serial killer Sawyer is in fact partly responsible for the death of my sister by fucking beating her to near death . But even then, I couldn’t save her, and the blame fell on me. 

 

Rose: Can you really blame yourself though…?

 

Pearl: Had I not messed things up, she might've lived. So… it… It's all my fault.

 

Rose: But still…! You didn't put her in that state!

 

Pearl: I could've brought her out of it… 

 

Dust: Can anyone confirm this?

 

Glasses: I always felt as if something was wrong… 

 

Rose: Yeah, Glasses-senpai! You’ve seen Sawyer’s victims’ names, right?

 

Glasses: Yes, and Crystal Lee was one of the names. I thought it was odd that there was a Christine Lee among us, and that her victim was unknown, but I felt it wasn’t my place to reveal that when we learned more about Pearl-san. That, and I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed “Lee” was a fairly common family name.

 

Spade: So you withheld information from us.

 

Glasses: Go ahead and twist my words like that, sure. I merely did not want to spread misinformation. But now… Everything makes sense.

 

Carmen: So this Crystal Lee… She’s on both Sawyer and Pearl-san’s victim lists?

 

Glasses: I would assume so.

 

Pearl: This “Crystal Lee” is my sister, asshole.

 

Carmen: I-I’m sorry…! I shouldn't have been so careless… 

 

Wolf: Haven’t you fucked up enough people today?

 

Pearl: (flatly) Yes, and I’ve killed one of them too.

 

Wolf: How can you be so emotionless about this shit? You just killed someone, and your sister's death is under your name. You really don’t feel any remorse for these deaths, do you? Is that fucking it?

 

Pearl: (demeanor drastically changes) Don’t you DARE imply that! Don’t you ever assume that I did not care for my sister’s death, or even Soldier-san for that matter!

 

Wolf: You killed them both!

 

Pearl: I couldn’t save my sister after she had been beaten to near death! Is that so much of a sin? Is that so terrible that I deserve to be put in this hellish killing game, where my life is about to end for once and for all? 

 

Wolf: You…

 

Pearl: Congrats. You all found me out. I’m a terrible person, the worst of all of you! You finally got the answer. I’m a coward, I’m a murderer, and I… (voice wavers) I… 

 

Pearl: I couldn’t even save her… 

 

Pearl: Out of everyone I could possibly fuck up on, it was my sister, and… She meant the world to me… And that was my thanks to her… If only I weren't such a fucking mistake…! 

 

Pearl: In… In that moment, I truly believed that Soldier-san had done it, that she had killed Crystal, and… What else could I do? But even when she lied… I still believed she had to have some part… Her appearance… Her identity as Anon… She had to be involved somehow with Crystal’s death, right?

 

She’s not talking to anyone in particular, and she’s not looking at any of us. She’s blinking hard, trying to hide the tears forming in her eyes. 

 

Pearl: But I'm the fool once again for believing her and killing her. She had no part in my sister's death, but I killed her anyways. She pushed me to kill her by taking advantage of my grief. She made me believe that she murdered my sister so I could murder her, and she succeeded. That’s the truth. That’s what you saw. Are you all happy?

 

No one says anything.

 

Pearl: (looks around) Just… (nods) Kill me. This is it. Don’t delay it. You’ve found your murderer. And I’m sorry. I hope… You can believe me on that. 

 

Wolf: …

 

Pearl: But it doesn't matter now, does it?

 

Dust: Well if you say so- Hey, how do we do this again?

 

Roxie: (springs up) Ohoho! That’s right! It’s time to introduce one more mechanic to your killing game fun!

 

Gear: Nyeh?

 

Roxie: So you’ve found your killer. What now? Well, like detective Pearl-chan has pointed out- get it? Cuz she’s not a detective!- you have the option to kill your blackened via execution!

 

Dust: Yes, because people are killed when they are executed.

 

Roxie: OR! You have the ability to SPARE the killer! I.e. the crime’s absolved, and life goes on! Except with one less person. But better than two, right? So! Now the decision is up to you all. 

 

Glasses: What reason do we have to spare her? She’s accepted her death.

 

Spade: I agree, we should choose to execute her. We just can’t forgive these crimes of murder.

 

Gear: Well do I have some news for you about seven of us, kyeheh.

 

Glasses: There has to be some kind of catch to this as well, isn’t there?

 

Roxie: Not saying!

 

Pearl: It’s fine, just- 

 

Cereza: … Guys, please!

 

Nebula: She speaks!

 

Cereza: Please, spare Pearl-san! 

 

Spade: And what brilliant reason do you have now? The goodness in her heart again?

 

Cereza: Well, yes, but… We can stop the cycle of bloodshed right now. We don’t have to kill Pearl-san! We can make it out with as many people as possible…!

 

Carmen: Make it out…? You mean escape? 

 

Cereza: If we let Pearl die, will things get any better? If anything, they’ll just get worse. Things'll get tenser, we’ll be pushed more to kill, and soon we’ll all be dead!

 

Glasses: Slippery slope fallacy.

 

Swain: How do we know that, um… She won’t do it again? And how can saving her stop all of this? Not saying we should kill her, but… Just curious.

 

Cereza: She’s the least dangerous of us, isn’t she? At least, in terms of serial killers! We can spare her! We can end the killing game without losing any more people! We don’t have to play by Roxie-san or Usher-san’s rules!

 

Puppet: (wistful) That doesn’t sound too bad…!

 

Spade: There’s no gain to keeping her alive!

 

Cereza: Is there any gain to executing her?

 

Spade: Yes, we’re down one more murderer! That’s a good thing!

 

Cereza: Did you not listen to what I said?

 

Pearl: You two are fighting over my life…

 

Roxie: Oh! Forgot to mention. But this is a democracy, after all! Majority rules. Doesn’t have to be unanimous! Sounds fair, right?

 

Wolf: So… We don’t have to agree with one another.

 

Cereza: Then… I can’t change your mind, Spade-san. But you can’t change my mind either. And you’re just one person.

 

Spade: So are you.

 

Cereza: Well, I hope people vote to spare a life.

 

Spade: And I hope the others vote to punish a murderer. 

 

Pearl: …

 

Protagonist: … I’m voting to spare her.

 

Flare: … (looks uncomfortable, but Protagonist doesn’t notice)

 

Cereza: Protag-kun…!

 

Protagonist: You’ve gotta have an endorsement, right? You’re not alone, Cereza-san, and… I’m sorry for… All of this.

 

Cereza: Please don’t worry, I’m just… (she laughs and wipes at her eyes) I’m just really grateful for this! 

 

Cereza: Please, everyone… I care a lot about Pearl-san, and… I know she’s a good person. I believe in her, and I’m voting to spare her! You all should too! Anything to say to that, Spade-san?

 

Spade: … (shakes his head) Do the right thing.

 

Pearl: Cereza-san…

 

Cereza: Please…

 

Pearl: … Thank you. But… I think you know what I want.

 

Cereza: Maybe so, but… I don’t think that’s fair of you to think that. 

 

Roxie: Let the voting commence! Execute or spare? What’ll it be? I hope it’s execute!

 

Usher: Ugh, you’re making me want to spare Pearl-san from your tone.

 

Gear: Shucks, now I can’t vote to spite the robots. 

 

I’m going to save her…! Cereza is right, this doesn’t have to end in bloodshed! And I believe in Pearl!

 

I vote to spare Pearl.

 

Roxie: And the results are in! Let’s take a look see, shall we? And just for fun… Let’s show the voting distributions as well! They’re listed in order of the votes, so the first name that appears voted for their decision first. Drum roll please!

 

Roxie makes a weird sound, and the screens flash to light again. There are two distinct columns, and one is slightly longer than the other.




SPARE

Cereza

Rose

Puppet

Protagonist

Blanche

Carmen

Wolf

Spring

Swain



EXECUTE

Pearl

Spade

Duke

Dust

Gear

Flare

Glasses

Nebula






So… She’s safe! 

 

But…

 

Pearl? Flare?

 

They both voted to execute Pearl…

 

She voted to kill herself?

 

Flare, why?

 

Roxie: Tada! You have chosen to SPARE Pearl-chan! Congrats on a second chance, Pearl-chan!

 

Confetti rains down on her. She looks terrified.

 

Pearl: … This isn’t what I wanted.

 

Roxie: Oh, we’re well aware, based on your vote, kyaha.

 

Protagonist: Flare-kun, why did you-

 

Wolf: You’re lucky I voted spare, Pearl-san.

 

Pearl: Am I really…?

 

Wolf: If it hadn’t been for Spring, I would’ve instantly…

 

Spring: … (looks at Wolf)

 

Wolf: … (calms down) Yeah. You’re welcome.

 

Roxie: But! Guess what!

 

Glasses: (sighs) I knew there was a catch. 

 

Roxie: Only one spare is allowed for this killing game. And you’ve used it up!

 

Glasses: (sighs heavier) I knew it.

 

Duke: Wh- Why didn’t you tell us that in the beginning?

 

Roxie: Y’all should’ve listened to the nerd! There WAS a catch, you guys were just too careless to figure it out! Read the fine print.

 

Duke: There was no fine print to read!

 

Roxie: Then… Read my lips!

 

Duke: You have no lips either! 

 

Spade: I can’t believe it. Actually, I can believe how stupid you all are to spare someone like her out of all people!

 

Pearl: …

 

Cereza: So… So you’d rather someone else be dead?

 

Spade: I’d rather people be punished for their crimes, and now what? We’re all supposed to pretend Pearl-san did nothing wrong? I’m sick of this shit. I’m sick of all of you. We’re all going to die and it’s because of self-absorbed fuckers like you. 

 

Nebula: Wow, it’s getting spicy here!

 

Rose is wincing really badly.

 

Rose: (to themself) You really haven’t changed, have you? 

 

Spade: Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. All of you, shut up. I hate you all, and I truly mean that. Is the trial over? 

 

Roxie: Mhm! You’re all free to go. Enjoy the rest of your day! Leave the cleanup on aisle Soldier to me and Usher-kun.

 

Usher: Just Roxie-san.

 

Roxie: Hey!

 

Usher: The period has reset, and now it’s the No-Killy Period once more. Enjoy your week.

 

The two disappear. It’s silent.

 

Gear: … Well, we’ve found a way to shorten the Killy Period, huh?

 

Dust: … Not the time. 

 

Not really sure what to make of the trial, people awkwardly and slowly get out of their seats, heading back to the exit. Pearl is the first to leave, leaving no room to talk to her.

 

Blanche: … I’m sorry. I will see you all later. (bows her head and leaves)

 

Cereza: (still in her seat, watching the others leave) Guys… We made the right decision…! Pearl-san’s alive and… That’s good! … Right? 

 

Flare stands up and stares down at her, a disappointed look on her face.

 

Flare: … Nothing awaits us now except more, inevitable death. We wasted our only shred of hope here. Thanks.

 

Cereza: … W-Well.

 

He stands up and leaves.

 

I give one last look at Cereza, the last person left, and I run after Flare.

 

Protagonist: Flare-kun! Flaaaare-kun!

 

Flare: (not looking at Protagonist) What?

 

Protagonist: Wh… Why did you vote to execute Pearl-san…?

 

Flare: … 

 

Protagonist: Flare-kun, please…!

 

Flare: Do you feel good about yourself?

 

No, no, not again! Not when we literally just fixed our relationship! And now he’s mad and there’s nothing I can do!

 

Protagonist: We saved a life. That’s good, right? 

 

So why do I feel so uneasy?

 

Flare: Sure, I guess you could see it like that. We also just spared a serial killer.

 

Protagonist: She’s not-

 

Flare: She killed someone.

 

Protagonist: But-

 

Flare: Killers deserve to be punished.

 

Protagonist: With death?!

 

Flare: That’s a thing that happens in real life, don’t know if you heard.

 

Protagonist: I’m not that stupid. And you’re seriously siding with Spade on this?

 

Flare: It’s not about siding with anyone. It’s a just a factual statement.

 

He’s still not looking at me.

 

Protagonist: Flare-kun…

 

He doesn’t respond either now.

 

Protagonist: You asked me this question before, and I’ll ask you it as well. Do you... Do you truly believe in love?

 

Flare: …

 

Protagonist: … (waiting for an answer)

 

Flare: … No. I don’t. 

 

Protagonist: (quietly) … I see.

 

It was the answer I was expecting, but not the one I wanted.

 

Flare: Look… Protagonist-san… I don’t owe you anything. So stop acting like I do.

 

Protagonist: Wh… What’s gotten into you…? 

 

Flare: Did you not hear me? I don’t owe you anything. An explanation, a tragic backstory, a reason, just… Let me be. 

 

Protagonist: I… 

 

Please, just tell me why…! I want things to go back to how they were, where…

 

Well, I don’t know. When things weren’t like this.

 

When Soldier was still alive. 

 

When Anon was still alive…? 

 

Flare: I’ll see you later, Protagonist-san. I hope you don’t regret your decision. I don’t regret mine. 

 

He walks off to the rooms. I don’t follow him. 

 

I… Don’t know how to feel. This should be a happy ending, right? No one died except for the worst serial killer, and we can all keep living. We can find a way to escape, and everything will be okay…

 

But can we really find a way? And will things really be okay? 

 

I don’t feel good, but I can’t explain why… 

 

I don’t regret my decision. I don’t regret saving Pearl, but… There are so many doubts.

 

I look around. Still no sign of Cereza-san. 

 

Whatever happens next, I hope it works out. 

 

I don’t know what to do. It’s still daytime, technically, but I’m exhausted. Has this all really happened in the span of 24 hours? 

 

I sink into one of the couches in the living room, staring up at the glass windows on the ceiling. The chandelier glimmers in the sunlight. Nothing occupies my mind for the moment, but one question surfaces.

 

Why am I here?

 

With that question in mind, my eyes grow heavy, and I fall asleep, ending the day of my first Twilight Trial. 

 

… And my first death. My first witnessed murder. My first murderer. 

 

My heart feels so heavy. 

 

CHAPTER 1: DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE? END

REMAINING: 17/18

Chapter Text

Interlude 01: With Apologies

 

Dust: [Hey, Protagonist-san.

 

[Actually can I just call you ptg here

 

[it’s like 1:30 AM i can’t be bothered and i’m having ~weird feelings~

 

[but not like. Weird™ weird.

 

[just those odd existential thoughts you get when you can’t sleep, you know?

 

[uh

 

[i need to get this off my chest  

 

[like repenting or something   

 

[i’m not even religious lmao   

 

[anyways anyways sorry   

 

[you’re gonna wake up to a shit ton of messages oops   

 

[anyways. Ptg.   

 

    [serious time   

 

    [i

 

    [i wanted to say i’m sorry for what i did   

 

    [or how i acted?? 

 

    [is that the right word?

 

    [like you'd know or care  

 

    [just. i’m sorry if my behavior upset you. Or anyone for that matter   

 

    [i know soldier-san probably meant something to you

 

    [and other people too, maybe   

 

    [at least, they meant something to me.   

 

    [and. it’s weird to think about the soldier-san i got to know, the soldier-san who was a total otaku and game junkie, also killed 82 people as a yakuza hitman  

 

    [what a sentence.

 

    [i’m serious though. you just. can’t look past that.   

 

    [like this is a person you befriended for fuck’s sake   

 

    [this is someone you got to know and

 

    [and

 

    [i feel shitty for ever thinking she was cool. but i feel shitty for feeling shitty   

 

    [that made no sense lmao

 

    [i really don’t know where i was going with this. sorry   

 

    [i’m just glad i’m alive.   

 

    [aren’t you?

 

    [... 

 

    [maybe this is a new start for me.

 

    [meet some new ppl, get to know some people better than soldier-san, hopefully.

  

    [idk. Carmen-san seems nice.

 

    [she deserves someone better than nebula-san lmaooo

 

    [but not like a romantic sense

 

    [at least not with me

 

    [i just don’t like nebula-san. oops!

 

    [... don’t tell them i said that.

 

    [anyways. back to soldier-san.

 

    [i’m sorry for my cold behavior about her death, and i’m sorry if i upset you in any way.

 

    [that’s what i wanted to say in the end

 

    [... yeah

 

    [am i weirding you out? 

 

    [you’ve never seen me like this

 

    [i don’t think i’ve ever gotten this emotional either

 

    [like ever

 

    [probably.

 

    [eh.

 

    [oh well.

 

    [anyways

 

    [oh btw. 

 

    [three more things i wanted to tell you

 

    [01 i know binary.

 

    [10 (haha get it) go look at your profile. and scroll all the way down

 

    [11 you’ll find something in your room when you wake up. as a momento of sorts

 

    [i figured you would want it the most

 

    [and i hope that’s not too out of line

 

    [i thought you’d like it

 

    [you’re welcome

 

    [also be careful too

 

    [and uh could you do me a favor ptg?

 

    [don’t tell anyone else abt these messages

 

    [that would be kinda embarrassing

 

    [and also too much chaos

 

    [you feel me?

 

    [thanks.

 

    [just know

 

    [no one will forget what happened

 

    [no one could forget someone like soldier-san

 

    [fuck it yknow what

 

    [do you think it's alright if i call her sabina here?

 

    [sabina-san.

 

    [no one could forget someone like them

 

    [and. it happened

 

    [everything we didn't want to happen, happened

 

    [someone is dead

 

    [and someone has blood on their hands.

 

    [it happened

 

    [and everyone, including myself, is well aware of that.

 

    [but let's keep moving forward, okay?

 

    [i know the things that have happened and i recognize them.

 

    [and you are not alone.

 

    [have a nice night, protag-san. i hope i didn’t disturb you. 

 

    [get some rest. you deserve it.

 

Dust: [and again… sorry.]

 

    ITEM OBTAINED: Sharp Hairpin

A long, thin hairpin. On one side, it is a small sphere, and on the other side is a dangerously sharp edge. Stylish, but deadly! Said to be worn in a pair. 

 

INFORMATION UPDATE: 

Protagonist can lock Gear’s room.

Chapter Text

Odd piano music starts to play. 

 

Oh geez… My back hurts like crazy.

 

… Did I fall asleep on the couch? 

 

Usher: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Lilacs, Op. 21, No. 5.

 

Usher… Just hearing his voice fills me with a weird feeling. 

 

Yesterday felt like it wasn’t supposed to end. Life couldn’t go on with one of us dead, right? Yet here Usher was, announcing a new day as if nothing happened. As if none of us are dead. And he and Roxie will continue to do so. Is this really right? To act like nothing happened? 

 

Usher: One of his shorter pieces, but indicative of his music style nonetheless. Despite being a romantic musician, he often included the song of death in many, if not all, of his compositions. Perhaps I’ll play some more notable ones later. But I wouldn’t want to get too repetitive, hm?

 

I guess it doesn’t matter what I think. 

 

Usher: The time is now 10:03 AM. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your second No-Killy period. Enjoy your week.

 

Here I am. And this is where I’ll be. 

 

Chapter 2: An Eye for a Lie

 

The next thought that comes to mind is… Did no one think to wake me up? 

 

I do feel weirdly warm. My back still hurts, but… I realize I’m sprawled along the couch, with a blanket covering me. I’m pretty sure both of those weren’t the case when I first fell asleep. I wonder who did this?

 

I throw the blanket off myself and head to the kitchen.

 

… Not before folding it nicely (or at least, as nicely as I can) as a sign of courtesy. I hesitate a little before signing in, seeing Soldier’s name two below mine. It’s not crossed out or deleted. Just… Empty.

 

No one is in the dining room yet, and I hear the sizzling of the stove from the kitchen, so I head in there. As expected, Puppet is at the handle, flipping pans and arranging plates. I’ve never seen him cook, come to think of it. It’s like magic, the way he multitasks, but then I feel a pang of guilt.

 

The one opportunity I could’ve made the cooking up to him was ruined, and for the worst reasons possible. Now he was back to waking up at 5 AM and cooking for everyone. But I guess nothing has really changed for him.

 

Puppet: Sleep well?

 

Protagonist: Whuh-?

 

Puppet: When I woke up this morning, I saw you asleep on the couch. So, I went back and brought a blanket for you and tucked you in the best I could. … I couldn’t exactly access your room, and I didn’t want to go through you belongings to find your tablet. Not like I could lock the door for you anyways. … Anyways!

 

They keep flipping… What looks like pancakes but yellow and green. It doesn’t look as bad as I described it. And it smells really good. 

 

Protagonist: Oh. Um… Thank you, Puppet-san. You didn’t have to do that for me. 

 

Puppet: But I did!

 

Protagonist: Well… I left it on the couch. I could clean it up for you later, if you’d like.

 

Puppet: Mm, you don’t have to. There’s no laundry system here anyways. 

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Puppet: Roxie and Usher will take care of it! … I’d like to think. 

 

I can’t see his expression, but there’s a heavy silence for a moment. 

 

Roxie and Usher… Those two. I can’t even properly form my feelings to them into words.

 

I hate relying on them. I hate them. But we have to in order to live, whether we like it or not. I hate it. I don’t want this. 

 

Puppet: Protagonist-kun…

 

Protagonist: Yeah?

 

Puppet: Are you alright? 

 

Protagonist: Um. 

 

That’s another thing I don’t know. How I’m doing.

 

Protagonist: I don’t know if I can sufficiently answer your question. 

 

Puppet: Is there anything I could do to help?

 

Protagonist: That’s another one… Even if there was, I wouldn’t put that on you. You’re cooking for us every day, and… That’s all I could ask for.

 

Puppet: It doesn’t have to be anything physical. I want to help. 

 

Protagonist: You’re already doing enough-

 

Puppet: Protagonist-kun, what’s on your mind?

 

Protagonist: What’s on my mind…? Someone just died yesterday. Even though they were a horrible, awful serial killer, that… That doesn’t change the times we spent with them. How could I not have that on my mind?

 

Puppet doesn’t respond and flips another pancake-esque disk. 

 

Protagonist: And… And Flare-ku- Flare-san’s being weird over Pearl, and I know, it is weird, but I thought we could finally at least be friends and I… I don’t know. I want to see him, and talk it out, but I don’t. 

 

Puppet: He’ll be coming any minute for breakfast. As well as everyone else, for that matter.

 

Protagonist: (swallows) Okay, I really don’t want to see him.

 

Puppet: You’re welcome to stay in the kitchen and eat here! But in return, you gotta help me clean the dishes.

 

Protagonist: Please, you don’t even have to ask!

 

Puppet: It’s a deal! I’ll be back. 

 

Puppet already has plates of food ready, holding them like a server. I’ve never seen this before, but it looks good.

 

Protagonist: What is it? 

 

Puppet: Buchimgae! Korean pancakes. Not as aesthetically pleasing as English pancakes… But in my opinion they’re much better. 

 

Puppet disappears into the dining room to serve whoever’s there. I’m really tempted to take a peek and see, but I stop myself. I feel too weird about it. These indescribable feelings keep eating away at me- I want them gone, but I also don’t want to let go of these feelings that remind me of Soldier. I don’t want to forget her.

 

I sigh. There’s a plate on the counter, so I grab it and take a bite. Not bad. And by that, I mean amazing.

 

Puppet: And back!

 

Puppet bounds to the side and sets a pan to the side. I let curiosity take over. 

 

Protagonist: Who was out there?

 

Puppet: Hm… Swain-san and Duke-san were sitting together! Spade-san was there, but he just grabbed a plate and left immediately. Dust-san was there too. But aside from that… Not sure. I left some food out for anyone else who might come.

 

Protagonist: I see.

 

I sigh.

 

Puppet: So! (takes a seat and grabs a plate of food) Let’s talk about our problems.

 

Protagonist: How can you be so calm about this? 

 

Puppet: I beg your pardon?

 

Protagonist: Soldier-san is dead . Does that- Does that not bother you? 

 

Puppet: …

 

Puppet takes a long, slow chew. This is the most thoughtful I’ve ever seen him, even during the trial, and I immediately regretted my words. 

 

Protagonist: I’m sorry- It’s clear that you-

 

Puppet: No matter what loss I’ve suffered, I’ve always focused on doing what I can do best. I have to keep moving forward, no matter what. 

 

Protagonist: But- I can’t just do that. 

 

I still haven’t let go of the death of my parents, much less someone I met a week ago. Someone who I actually got to know somewhat, and someone whose corpse is burned into my memories. 

 

Protagonist: I don’t want to let them go. 

 

Puppet: Is it healthy to cling too much to the past? Or would you rather move forward and act as nothing happened?

 

Protagonist: Are you saying I’m refusing to move on? It’s been a day .

 

Puppet: I know, and I wasn’t saying you were wrong! Truthfully, I don’t know the answer either, and I’m the second one. You’re right, maybe it isn’t right that I’m going about my day as if nothing happened. But I can’t afford to arrange her everlasting eulogy either. 

 

Protagonist: Still… It’s only been a day.

 

Puppet: No coping mechanism is invalid, so long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others! But don’t let that thought snowball into holding you back, and justifying your inability to let go. 

 

Protagonist: But I don’t want to let go.

 

Puppet: I know.

 

I take another bite, frustrated, trying to fill my head with food at least. It’s silent for a moment as I aggressively munch at the soft pancake. 

 

Puppet: Tell me about Flare-san, Protagonist-kun.

 

Protagonist: Flare…?

 

Puppet: Mhm. You seem most interested in him, after all. Why is that?

 

Protagonist: I mean. He was the first person I met when I woke up in this place. And we kind of stuck together after that. 

 

Puppet: So you feel inclined to spend more time with him?

 

Protagonist: Well- It’s like you and Swain. You two met each other first, right?

 

Puppet: Not true. I met Gear-kun before the rest of you. I just gravitated towards the kitchen, and eventually, so did Swain-san.

 

Protagonist: But you’ve spent the most time with them, wouldn’t you say?

 

Puppet: That’s true! And I very much appreciate their help. But I don’t feel inclined to spend time with them unless they invite me to.

 

Protagonist: What are you trying to say?

 

Puppet: Nothing! As of right now. But I just want to hear why you like Flare-san so much. 

 

Protagonist: Do you? 

 

Puppet: I believe in the good in him. But I want to hear it from you!

 

Protagonist: I think that’s a good way to put it. He’s very aggressive, hard to read, and not easy to get along with… And that’s what makes him so attractive. 

 

Puppet: I see!

 

Protagonist: Um. I mean that in an alluring way? No, that’s not it either! 

 

Puppet: You want to get closer to them? In a platonic crush kind of way?

 

Protagonist: Yes! That’s it! 

 

Puppet: Mm, I see then. 

 

Protagonist: I trust him. A lot. And I want him to trust me too. Not in a “taking advantage of him” way, but in a… 

 

I make a weird face.

 

Protagonist: In a way where I know he’s lonely and needs a friend, and I want to be that friend for him. If there’s anything I know for sure about him, it’s that he’s lonely. 

 

Puppet nods.

 

Puppet: I see… And you? Are you lonely?

 

Protagonist: Me? Psh… Nah, I’m the most likable guy around, obviously! That’s why I’m called Protagonist, duh!

 

Puppet: I… See!

 

I’m just gonna pretend he believed that.

 

Puppet: Well, my point still stands. I believe that your intentions are good, but please don’t feel obligated to do anything. Don’t feel chained to whatever Flare-san does!

 

Protagonist: Fair point…

 

Puppet: Starting now! Let’s talk about something else.

 

Protagonist: (chewing) Didn’t you bring this up?

 

Puppet: How are you feeling?

 

Protagonist: You’ve asked me this multiple times, and the answer is still a weird “I don’t know”. What about you? How are you doing?

 

Puppet: … Fine!

 

Protagonist: I refuse to believe that.

 

Not necessarily for Puppet’s sake, though I was concerned about him. But I just didn’t want to believe Puppet was still so ready to move on from Soldier’s death.

 

Protagonist: So?

 

Puppet: … Protagonist-kun, how do you perceive me?

 

Protagonist: Perceive you? Well… 

 

I take another bite as I think.

 

Protagonist: I feel bad. Like I said before, you do so much for us, but we can’t do much for you. But I think you’re so kind, and that’s why I feel bad, like I feel like I’m taking advantage of you. 

 

Puppet: I… Exist… Don’t I?

 

Protagonist: Exist? … Yes, you do.

 

At this point, I know that this question is deeper than the literal level. I just don’t know how to answer it on the profound level.

 

Protagonist: I recognize that… You are here… And that your presence means something to me. In a positive way, if that helps.

 

Puppet: … 

 

I think I understand Puppet a little more. 

 

Puppet doesn’t respond before a voice chirps from our tablets.

 

Roxie: Hellllllo! 

 

Her voice is duplicated between our tablets. I feel the urge to smash mine against the counter to shut her up. 

 

Roxie: Hope your day's going well! I’ve added a new mechanic to your time at the Midnight Manor! It’s nothing dangerous, I sweaaar.

 

I tense up.

 

Roxie: I’ve added to the fourth floor a literal gacha machine! You insert a coin, and you’ll get a nice gift at random in return! Again, no strings, motives, or threats attached! Now on the count of 3… “You’re welcome, Roxie-sama!”

 

Protagonist: Fuck off.

 

Puppet: Nice!

 

Roxie: Use these items as mementos or gifts, I don’t care! Do what you want! In fact, to prove I’m just being nice here… I’ve added a new rule! Check it out later.

 

Roxie: But where do you get these coins, you might ask? Well, I’ve implemented the power of technology here! Your coins are all digital- just scan your tablet with the machine to use a coin! I’ve added an app to keep track of your coins and items. Really, I’m being so gracious!

 

Roxie: You can find the coin icon as your new app! And that’s it- have fun, kiddos! 

 

Her voice stops. I let out a sigh, relaxing muscles that I hadn’t realized were so tense. 

 

Puppet: A gacha machine? What’s that? 

 

Protagonist: Y’know, in video games where you spend in-game currency to have potential access to something amazing? All luck-based, or so they say.

 

Puppet: … That doesn’t sound very assuring.

 

Protagonist: Well it’s technically gambling. So.

 

Puppet: Not much more helpful! 

 

Protagonist: I’d check it out, but I don’t wanna go to the fourth floor… 

 

Swain pokes their head in. 

 

Swain: Oh, that’s where you are, Protagonist-san. I saw you signed in, but I never saw you, and you didn’t sign out here. 

 

Protagonist: Been here the whole time!

 

Swain: (brow furrows) You good? 

 

Protagonist: … You go first.

 

Swain: (sighs) Could be better. But I don’t want to talk about it right now. 

 

Puppet: I’m interested in checking out this… Gacha… Machine? What about you two?

 

Swain: Nothing much better to do.

 

Protagonist: Wait, what about the dishes?

 

Puppet: People haven’t come yet, so I usually wait until around one to officially start cleaning up. That gives us time to go see this!

 

Swain: Duke-san and Dust-san also mentioned wanting to go see it. Mind if they tag along? 

 

Protagonist: The more, the merrier!

 

Puppet is right, to some extent. I shouldn’t just move on, but I need to take my mind off of Soldier before I dig myself too deep of a grieving hole. And I shouldn’t let her death stop me from befriending those who are… Detectives and serial killers.

 

Ah.

 

Protagonist: So… The dishes can wait?

 

Puppet: Yes! No worries.

 

With the way we’re talking, it’s almost like this past conversation didn’t just happen. Like Soldier didn’t just-

 

Dammit, I’m doing it again.

 

The three of us leave the kitchen, with Duke and Dust sitting at a table.

 

Dust: Good morning.

 

Protagonist: Oh! Good morning.

 

I didn’t expect that from Dust of all people. But I shouldn’t complain.

 

Duke: Are we checking out… Or perusing this new feature?

 

Dust: Gacha is poisonous, but damn it’s addictive.

 

Puppet: As gambling goes.

 

Duke: Right… So?

 

Swain: Fourth floor, right?

 

Protagonist: Unfortunately…

 

We’ll be climbing a lot of stairs.

 

This is a bit of a weird, ragtag group of sorts, but we head out anyways. Just as we leave the dining room, I see Flare heading our way. We make brief eye contact, but I instantly break it, turning my head away as the group went towards the stairs.

 

Man… 

 

At least Puppet stays silent. Though climbing up four flights of stairs is not the time to say anything.

 

By the time we reach the top, Dust falls over in exhaustion. The only person who seems fine is Duke.

 

Duke: … Um.

 

Protagonist: (sighs) Weird flex, but okay. 

 

Puppet: Is that… It?

 

Puppet points to what looks like a very large gumball machine. Inside are a bunch of multicolored capsules, varied in size. We gather around the machine, gazing at it with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.

 

Puppet, Swain, Duke, Protagonist, and Swain look at the new gacha machine. Dang, you got the whole squad laughing.

 

Swain: Well, it certainly wasn’t here before. 

 

Dust: At least Roxie-san didn’t punk us. I was afraid that would’ve been what had happened, and we would’ve walked all the way here for nothing.

 

Swain: I was afraid of the more harmful aspects. 

 

Dust: Well Roxie’s new rule was that we couldn’t use any items we got to hurt someone or attempt a murder. But we also can’t use them to try and escape this manor.

 

Duke: So… What exactly is the purpose of this machine? 

 

Protagonist: And what’s in it?

 

Dust: One way to find out.

 

I pull out my tablet. I notice I have an abundance of notifications on the messenger app. I’ll check it out later. 

 

I open the new app, a coin, just as Roxie said. The top of the screen reads: “You have four coins.” There’s a button for the items list, but it’s just a bunch of question marks for each entry. Another button says “spend”, probably for the coins. I approach the machine and tap “spend”. 

 

Protagonist: So we just scan it? 

 

Dust: Yeah, I guess.

 

Swain: But we only have four each, and we don’t know how these coins will replenish.

 

Duke: Yes, we should be careful. 

 

Dust: Well, that’s still 68 right now. That’s plenty. 

 

Puppet: I’m still curious to see what happens!

 

Protagonist: I’ll go ahead and try it. You guys should save your coins. 

 

Before anyone can say anything else, I go ahead and scan my tablet with the black tray of the gacha machine. A “cha-ching!” sound is heard, and I notice on my screen that I now have one less coin than before. 

 

The machine shutters, and a blue capsule falls down and rolls out. I pick it up. It’s about the size of my hand.

 

Puppet: … That’s it?

 

Swain: (tilts head) There should be something inside it. 

 

Dust: (yawns) Nah, it’s just that. We’re being punked again.

 

Protagonist: Oh, stop that.

 

I twist the capsule open. Inside is a thick black rectangle.

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Dust: So we definitely got punked.

 

Duke: It looks collapsed.

 

I notice the crevices. Duke is right! I slowly undo each part as the object gets longer and longer, until…

 

I get what seems to be a long, thin stick.

 

Dust: Uh.

 

Protagonist: I still have no idea what this is.

 

Duke: Oh! It’s a fishing rod! I mean… Is it? It appears to be one… 

 

Protagonist: The item list should be updated for me…

 

With my other hand, I try to open the app again and go to the item list. It’s the seventh item on the list, and it’s labeled “Good Rod”. So I guess it is a fishing rod? A “good” fishing rod, apparently.

 

Protagonist: So it is. 

 

Swain: What’s it for?

 

Dust: Fishing?

 

Swain: No, I mean, what do we need a fishing rod for in this place? There are no lakes, and there aren’t any fish either.

 

Dust: Maybe we just don’t need a fishing rod. Or any of these items. 

 

He just shrugs.

 

Protagonist: Let’s find out!

 

I spend another coin. 

 

Swain: Wait-

 

Too late. The machine drops another capsule, this time smaller and black. Inside are two, small white objects that resemble earbuds but without the wire. The item is two below the fishing rod, labeled “FreePods”. That doesn’t give me much indication about what this is.

 

Dust: (scoffs) Oh, those. More useless stuff.

 

Protagonist: What exactly is it?

 

Dust twirls the wire of his headphones as he speaks. He looks both smug yet unbothered, which is actually just what he’s like for the most part. 

 

Dust: Wireless earbuds. But they’re useless because they’re not compatible with the computers, nor are they compatible with your tablet, even if they could play music. 

 

Protagonist: So useless?

 

Dust: Basically. But my headphones aren’t.

 

Protagonist: Cool! … I’m gonna spend another coin.

 

Swain: Hey, stop that-!

 

Too late again. This capsule has no color, so I look inside and see a small vial of liquid. I take it out, and it’s just that. 

 

Protagonist: This is… Holy water?

 

Duke: Somehow, I doubt that. 

 

Swain laughs, which catches Duke off guard.

 

Duke: I-I mean-!

 

Swain: No, no, it was funny. And I agree. Holy water has to be very specific to be deemed holy, so I doubt those robots could actually do anything. I don’t think that’s legit. 

 

Puppet: How do you know that?

 

Swain: Eheh… I’m religious myself. Catholic, actually. (holds up hands) Not that strict though, I just believe in being a good person. 

 

Duke: I didn’t know that. 

 

Swain: Yeah. (laughs lightly) Let’s end this conversation here. 

 

Protagonist: Since this seems to be another useless product… I’ll spend my last coin.

 

Swain: Are we really standing by and letting Protagonist-san indulge in gambling?

 

Dust: (shrugs) Not my coins. 

 

Duke: Maybe this was Roxie-san’s goal… To make us addicted to gambling.

 

Dust: How nefarious of her.

 

I spend my last coin, and out pops another black capsule. Inside is a blank, white square paper. Well, it doesn’t feel like normal paper. The items list says “Blank Photo”.

 

Protagonist: Amazing! Another useless item. 

 

So here I am with a fishing rod with no place to fish, wireless earbuds with no place to use them, fake holy water, and a blank photograph. Wow! I collapse the fishing rod and then shove the items into the inside of my jacket. 

 

Swain: So… I guess that was a waste of time. 

 

Duke: I suppose it wouldn’t be wise to spend our coins. 

 

Swain: (sighs) I guess, but they’re harmless. I can’t stop you. Let’s just go, Duke-san.

 

Duke: Ah, alright!

 

They’re the first to leave the fourth floor. Puppet and Dust stick behind.

 

Dust: Protagonist-san, can I ask you a favor?

 

Protagonist: Hm?

 

Dust: Can you come with me? I wanna try something, but I don’t wanna be alone.

 

Protagonist: Oh- sorry, I promised Puppet-san that I’d clean the dishes with him. It’s almost one, anyways.

 

Puppet: No, don’t worry! I was merely joking when I said that, you don’t actually have to wash them. I’ll take care of them!

 

Protagonist: Wh- Are you sure? I don’t want you to-

 

Puppet: Don’t worry! Go spend time with Dust-kun.

 

He gives me a reassuring smile. I still feel bad.

 

Puppet: And no, you can’t take it back! I’ll see you around, Protagonist-kun!

 

Puppet bounds the stairs, leaving me and Dust behind. … Leaving me in the Dust. Aha. Ha. … No? 

 

I blink, and the good feelings fade away as I’m left alone with my thoughts of the reality once again. Sigh. 

 

Protagonist: So… What exactly did you want to do? 

 

Dust: Oh good, you’re playing dumb. I’ll need this to happen when I do what I plan to do.

 

Protagonist: And that is…?

 

Dust: I think I’m gonna ask Carmen-san to hang out with us. 

 

Protagonist: And why is that so risky?

 

Dust: Because I don’t want things to be awkward if I’m alone, obviously.

 

Protagonist: Hey, I do it all the time. 

 

Dust: Yeah, but this is Carmen-san, not a conversationalist, like… 

 

He frowns. Should I ask him about… You know?

 

Protagonist: Do you have like, some kind of crush on her?

 

Dust: Me? Naaaah. She has a thing for Blanche-san anyways, I’m pretty sure.

 

Protagonist: Really? How can you tell?

 

Dust: It’s really easy to read people. Especially someone as transparent as Carmen-san.

 

Protagonist: And that’s not ominous at all.

 

Dust: Look, the point is, I’m not interested in her romantically. Just platonically, which should be way more important anyways.

 

Protagonist: (nods) I can get behind that idea. 

 

Dust: I just need someone to liven the mood, you know? Like how you did with me and Soldier-san.

 

I shudder a little. Dust notices and makes a face. 

 

Dust: … Right. Sorry. 

 

Protagonist: It’s… Fine.

 

It probably isn’t, but I’m not exactly sure what it “is”. 

 

Protagonist: Look, you just want me to come along? What’s your game plan, anyways?

 

Dust: Go to the library, as usual.

 

I sigh, but not out of frustration. It’s more playful, or at least, that’s what I’m trying to get across.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll go along.

 

Dust: Thanks, bud. 

 

Bud…

 

Dust heads down the stairs, and I follow him.

 

Protagonist: Where do you think she is?

 

Dust: Probably with Nebula-san in the theater or something.

 

Protagonist: Wait… Nebula-chan?

 

Dust: Yeah, and?

 

Protagonist: Those two are kinda close… Are you sure this is a good idea to take Carmen away from Nebula-chan?

 

Dust: Correction, they’re not at all close. And I also don’t care? No offense.

 

Protagonist: I’m just saying… I don’t think it’s the smartest idea to get on Nebula-chan’s bad side.

 

Dust: I’m not trying to upset him, I’m just trying to spend time with Carmen-san. He should get that. 

 

Protagonist: I dunno if he will…

 

I decide not to argue any further about this. 

 

We enter the theater, and sure enough, Nebula is dancing around on the stage, and Carmen is clapping.

 

Dust: (loudly) Hey, Carmen-san!

 

Nebula: Whuh-!

 

Nebula stumbles to a standing position. Carmen turns towards the back of the audience, seeing me and Dust. She smiles.

 

Carmen: Hello! Are you here to see Nebula-san?

 

Nebula: I keep saying, Nebby-chan is fiiine!

 

Dust: Actually, I’m here to see you, Carmen-san.

 

Nebula: Wait, what? 

 

Protagonist: Not in a romantic way! 

 

As we head closer to the stage, I can see Nebula cross her arms and pout. 

 

Nebula: But Carmen-chan is my friend! She’s here for me! 

 

Dust: She can have more than one friend? 

 

Nebula: Yeah, but so can you! What do you want Carmen-chan for?

 

Carmen: Um…

 

Dust: I just wanna talk to her.

 

Nebula: Then go talk to someone else!

 

Dust: You don’t have to be so possessive, you know?

 

Nebula: What was that? 

 

Protagonist: Look, it’s not that deep, aha! Dust-san just needs to talk to Carmen-san to… Learn how to sing! You know Dust, can’t carry a tune. No one else can do that!

 

Nebula: I can teach him how though.

 

Dust: But I wanna be an opera singer, duh. 

 

Carmen: I suppose I could help with that…

 

Nebula: But-

 

Dust: You will? (rushed) Great, thanks Carmen-san let’s do it right now! See you around, Nebula-san!

 

Nebula: Hey!

 

Dust lightly grabs Carmen’s arm and ushers her out of the theater before she or Nebula can further say anything. I give Nebula a small, apologetic look. Nebula doesn’t look so forgiving. I run after Dust and Carmen. Once we’re out, Dust slams the door shut, and we go to the library. 

 

Dust: Phew. That was nerve wracking. Thanks, Protagonist-san. I knew it was a good idea to have you around.

 

Protagonist: You’re welcome?

 

Carmen: (puzzled) So… You wanted to… Sing in an operatic manner? 

 

Dust: Nah, not really, I just wanted to spend time with you. 

 

Carmen: With… Opera singing? 

 

Dust: Again. No opera singing. Just talking.

 

Carmen: You wanted to learn how to speak?

 

Dust: I wanna get to know you better, Carmen-san! So I had to drag you away from Nebula-san somehow. 

 

Carmen: Oh! I see! Well, I am open to that as well. 

 

Dust: Good then. 

 

We’re near the computers, as usual. And Dust sits down on the ground. Carmen slowly sits down as well. 

 

Protagonist: I’m gonna grab a book. You guys have fun.

 

Dust: I thought you couldn’t read? 

 

Right, I have a reputation to uphold as an illiterate fuck. 

 

Protagonist: … A picture book.

 

Dust: (grins) Sounds good to me. 

 

I leave the two and look for a book. I don’t really know what I’m looking for. I see Glasses at a table, reading, and I wave to him. He doesn’t see me, or he just doesn’t look up. 

 

After searching for some time, I give up. Nothing interests me! Not like I was actually gonna read anyways. I just wanted to let Dust start up the conversation with Carmen. When I get back, they’re chatting about themselves.

 

Protagonist: Having fun?

 

Dust: Where’s your book?

 

Protagonist: Still can’t read.

 

Dust: Ah.

 

Carmen: Can you really not read…?

 

I squint, though she can’t see that through my sunglasses.

 

Protagonist: … No, I can’t.

 

Carmen: That must be terrible… My condolences.

 

She actually believed that? 

 

Dust stifles a giggle.

 

Protagonist: Yep. It sucks. Totally.

 

She probably shouldn’t further question this.

 

Protagonist: So what were you two talking about?

 

Dust: Music. 

 

Carmen: Dust-san collects vinyls! I didn’t realize they still made them. 

 

Dust: Only the cool musicians do it today, but I’m not interested in modern music anyways.

 

Music was better when music artist from the late 1900s was beating his wife and singing about it. 

 

Carmen: So you collect old vinyls… That’s very cool!

 

Dust: Yeah! Do you collect them too?

 

Carmen: … No, but I’d love to know more!

 

Wasn’t she like this with Blanche?

 

Dust: I just like the aesthetic of vinyls more than digital streaming. It feels more personal. Anyone can stream music, but not everyone can listen straight from a vinyl these days.

 

Carmen: Ah, I see… I’m afraid I don’t listen to much music aside from what I practice. So… That would be a lot of classical and opera music.

 

Dust: (shrugs) I figured. Is your life really that centered around opera?

 

Carmen: It does take a lot of effort, yes… 

 

She doesn’t say that pridefully, but she isn’t totally ashamed either.

 

Dust: And I know you don’t have a specific music taste, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: Hm? Oh, yeah. But I’m not much of a classical music kinda guy either.

 

Carmen: A shame, there are many hidden complexities behind opera music, both in storytelling and music. For example, there is this one opera that features a specific interval that represents…

 

Carmen starts talking about how these two pitches mean love or whatever and how contrived and long operas can be in their plots, and she proceeds to explain the plot of a 6 hour long opera. I don’t understand a word she’s saying, but I’ve never seen her talk on her own volition this much before. I just hum and nod my head every now and then, and Dust does the same.

 

After Carmen finishes talking after who knows how long, Dust looks like he just listened to everything she had said. 

 

I think I understand Carmen and Dust a little more. 

 

Dust: Wow! That’s really interesting. 

 

Protagonist: Uh… Yeah. Who knew that you knew so much about this?

 

Carmen: Ah, it’s only what I’ve grown up with. Just as Dust-san surrounded himself with vintage music.

 

Even Dust’s interests are pretty out there and neat. I… Don’t have much.

 

I was enjoying myself with Carmen, and while I didn’t harbor any negative feelings to her, I felt uneasy. This was just like the conversations I shared with Dust and Soldier, and now Dust had just moved on and basically replaced Carmen with Soldier. Was everyone just going to act like nothing happened? Like we didn’t just face a murderer and a dead body in the span of 12 hours yesterday? 

 

Protagonist: (blurts out) How are you two feeling?

 

Carmen: Oh?

 

Shoot. I shouldn’t have said that. Now I’m gonna be ruining the mood. But at the same time, I needed to say that.

 

Protagonist: Um… How are you two doing after… Everything?

 

Dust: What a joykiller. 

 

Protagonist: Um.

 

Dust: Kidding, of course. Mm… I’m fine. Not the greatest, of course, but fine. I can keep moving forward.

 

Carmen: I agree with Dust-san. Though I am not stellar, I am doing alright enough to function.

 

Function. That’s a good way of putting it. I’m functioning, I can say that at least.

 

I don’t want to straight up bring her up, but-

 

Dust: Look, Protagonist-san. We’re not ignoring what has happened.

 

Carmen: … 

 

Protagonist: I know, but-

 

Dust: It’s good to not forget. But we can move on and still remember.

 

Protagonist: It’s barely been a day.

 

Dust: I know. It’ll take time. It’s just taken me… Never mind.

 

Carmen: We’re all hurting. I’m just not sure what to do. Is it right to go on? 

 

Dust: I think so. Soldier-san would be mocking us right now if she saw us grieving her death.

 

That’s true… What would she want?

 

Dust: … You probably know what I mean.

 

I don’t. 

 

Dust: If not, you will.

 

Dust: What’s important is to focus on the future ahead of you and what you have now, not just on what you’ve lost.

 

What I have now…

 

Pearl!

 

Protagonist: (stands up) That reminds me. I need to go do something.

 

Dust: That works.

 

Carmen: Should I go…?

 

Dust: Only if you want to. But you should stay safe.

 

Carmen: Stay safe? What do you mean?

 

Dust and Carmen fall back into another conversation, and I take the opportunity to leave the library and head back to the ground floor, to Pearl’s room. I rush over as fast as I can. I have to make sure she’s safe!

 

When I get there, I see Cereza sitting outside of Pearl’s room. Her knees are held close to her chest, and her expression is distraught.

 

Protagonist: Cereza...san?

 

She doesn’t respond. I inch a little closer.

 

Protagonist: Is Pearl-san alright? 

 

Cereza: … I don’t know.

 

Protagonist: Oh…

 

Cereza: I’ve tried messaging her, knocking on her door, but I’ve gotten nothing. She’s not responding. She didn’t even sign in to breakfast this morning, and I checked the infirmary too. So she has to be in here. Which means she hasn’t even left her room… 

 

Protagonist: At least she’s safe in there… Isn’t she?

 

Cereza: I can’t say for sure… I really, really hope she is… 

 

Protagonist: Have you been doing this all day?

 

Cereza shrugs half-heartedly.

 

Protagonist: Well… How are you doing?

 

I sit down next to her. Cereza sniffles in response to my question.

 

Cereza: More concerned about Pearl-san than anything. I know, it’s dumb, it’s all dumb. What I did was dumb. I’m dumb. But we all knew that last one already. 

 

Protagonist: Don’t say that…

 

Cereza: And we’re all in this dumb sad funk because of what I did. No one’s gonna forgive Pearl-san for what she did, and I wasted our only spare on an intentional kill.

 

Protagonist: It’s not as simple as that, and you know it. Pearl-san had her reasons. And they meant something. You had your reasons too. It’s why you spared her, right?

 

Cereza: Partially, I guess. (sighs, not looking at Protagonist)

 

Protagonist: Your heart was in the right place. So was Pearl-san’s, in fact. I hope she knows that. 

 

Cereza: I really want to believe in her… And I want her to believe in herself more as well… 

 

Protagonist: Do you regret convincing everyone to spare her? 

 

Cereza: Sparing Pearl-san specifically? No, of course not! I’d do it without hesitation over and over. … But the problem is, now, I can’t do it over and over. We only had one spare, and we used it on Pearl-san, where she… 

 

She swallows. I know she doesn’t want to hurt Pearl, but she doesn’t want to say these things out loud either. 

 

Protagonist: You didn’t know we only had one. Roxie-san tricked us. 

 

Cereza: Now everyone’s mad because of something I did, and… And…

 

Cereza swallows again, this time not out of fear, but out of sadness.

 

Cereza: (quietly) She voted to execute herself. 

 

Cereza: Did I really do the right thing if it wasn’t even what she wanted…? 

 

Cereza: I used our only spare to save someone who didn’t want to be saved…

 

Protagonist: That’s not true! You… You didn’t mess up. You saved a life, and that is never the wrong thing to do. 

 

Cereza: But-

 

Protagonist: Give Pearl-san a reason that she was worth saving. Of course she won’t see it in herself. But… If she knows that she has someone who will unconditionally support her, someone who believes in her goodness and her value as a person… Then maybe that will help her realize that she deserved to be spared. No matter what.

 

Cereza: I… 

 

Protagonist: You’re doing the best you can for her. Don’t doubt that. And if you do… I’ll be that person who supports you! 

 

Cereza: Protagonist-san…

 

Dang, I should give myself advice like this more often. But at least Cereza deserves it.

 

Protagonist: Would you like for me to stay with you? 

 

Cereza: … I don’t know. 

 

Protagonist: Better question. Are you going to be safe? 

 

Cereza: … Yes. 

 

Protagonist: You sure?

 

Cereza: (nods) I’ll support Pearl-san, like you said. … Thank you.

 

Protagonist: I’m happy to help!

 

I give her a reassuring smile. At the same time, I get a message from Swain. It was already 5? Dinner would be soon…

 

Swain: [Puppet-san told me that you should help me… i didn’t want to say no to him. so. you’re welcome to come to the kitchen?]

 

Swain: [if you want!!!! no pressure……] 

 

Ah, I guess this is how I can pay Puppet back. Or something like that.

 

Protagonist: Oof, though I do have to go. 

 

Cereza: (shrugs, but unravels her legs) That’s alright. 

 

Protagonist: I’ll see you then during dinner?

 

Cereza: Yeah, but I probably won’t stay for long. For the obvious reasons, but… Pearl-san needs to eat too. 

 

Protagonist: (nods) Take care of yourself. And take care of Pearl-san too, if she won’t.

 

Cereza: I’ll try. 

 

Protagonist: Oh! And that reminds me. 

 

I extend a capsule from the gacha machine to her. I don’t choose one in particular, but from the looks of it, it’s those wireless earbuds. Maybe she’ll have some use for them somehow. 

 

Protagonist: I got it from trying out the gacha machine earlier today. Want it?

 

Cereza examines it for a moment, but she finally nods and takes it from my hand. She gives me a small smile.

 

Cereza: Sure. It’s nice, thank you. 

 

Protagonist: Really? I’m glad! 

 

Phew, Cereza likes the gift! I think our bond has strengthened a little more. 

 

Protagonist: See you, okay? Remember what I said.

 

Cereza nods again.

 

Protagonist: Feel better. You and Pearl-san both.

 

Having talked with Cereza, I feel a little better about myself. And I understand what everyone means about valuing what we have now. Making sure Pearl is alright is just as important, if not more important, than mourning the death of Soldier. As shitty as that sounds in my head. But it makes sense, right?

 

Point is, I head to the kitchen. Swain is cooking, as expected.

 

Protagonist: Hey there! 

 

Swain turns to me and gives me a small smile.

 

Swain: Hey, Protagonist-san. I’m almost done with the cooking. Would you mind helping me set the table and serve food? 

 

Protagonist: Of course! What’s cooking?

 

Swain: Puppet-san suggested a curry recipe, so I wanted to try it out. 

 

Protagonist: It smells pretty good, I gotta admit…

 

Of course, anything Puppet or Swain cook is delicious. 

 

Swain: You can start with serving the rice. 

 

Protagonist: You got it!

 

I get out some plates and begin getting out the rice Swain had prepared. It was silent, so some small talk would be appreciated.

 

Protagonist: What did you do after the gacha machine endeavors?

 

Swain: Just hung out with Duke-san a little in the greenhouse. You?

 

Protagonist: Spent some time with Dust-san and Carmen-san. But what was it like with Duke-san?

 

Duke has been nothing but nice, if not a little awkward, but Spade’s words to me about him still linger in my head. 

 

“Do not trust him. I sincerely mean that.”

 

What does that mean?

 

Swain: He was chill. He knew a lot about some of the plants, especially for medicinal uses.

 

Protagonist: He should’ve gone to the gardening club. He might’ve gotten along with Blanche-san and… Pearl-san.

 

Swain: … Yeah. Maybe.

 

Would it be bad taste to wonder if the gardening club would be returning? I doubt Cereza or Pearl would ever be in the mood for that again… 

 

I hand Swain a plate of rice, and they prepare the curry sauce with it. They give me a small look of concern. 

 

Swain: Um… Do you know how… She’s doing?

 

Protagonist: I don’t know… She hasn’t left her room since the trial ended. Cereza-san is waiting outside for her.

 

Swain: Pearl-san’s lucky…

 

Protagonist: Huh?

 

Swain: Out of all the people to truly defend her, I’m glad it’s Cereza-san. She deserves that. 

 

Protagonist: Oh… Yeah. I just hope nothing terrible comes from it. I just hope nothing terrible will happen again.

 

Swain: Right…

 

It falls silent again, but this time with more sadness than awkwardness. So much for small talk, thanks to me and my big mouth.

 

Swain: I’ll let everyone know dinner is ready. Go ahead and set the plates and utensils at the table. 

 

Protagonist: Of course!

 

I feel my tablet vibrate with a notification as I bring some plates over. No one comes immediately of course, but by the time I return with a second round of plates, Wolf, Spring, Dust, Carmen, Puppet, Nebula, and Spade are here. 

 

Protagonist: … Hey!

 

Spade: Hello. 

 

Protagonist: … Curry time?

 

Puppet: Curry time! I’ve never had someone else make a recipe of mine… I’m excited to give it a try!

 

Carmen: I’m sure it’ll be delicious. 

 

Swain: (walks in, carrying plates) Don’t get your hopes too high…

 

Spring: S-Still, thank you so much, Swain-san! 

 

Swain: No need to be that revering… 

 

Nebula: I’m hungry! Let’s just eat! 

 

Wolf: Mm.

 

With the exception of Swain, we all sit down and begin eating. Compliments were given to the chef, of course, but other than that, the environment wasn’t the classic lunchroom fun we had been used to. Granted, I don’t think we’ve ever had a truly lighthearted dinner. 

 

Still, the food is good. Really good.

 

No one says anything. Spade takes a sip of chilled water from a glass. (How specific). 

 

Nebula: So! How is everyone-

 

Even Nebula’s attempt is shut down when footsteps enter the dining room. All eyes turn towards Cereza, who silently enters. Her eyes are lowered, not meeting any of our gazes.

 

Swain: Ah! Cereza-san… Care to join us…?

 

Cereza: (shakes head, quiet) No thank you… But… Could I get two plates of curry?

 

Swain: Of course! I’ll be right back. 

 

Swain quickly heads into the kitchen. Spade takes another sip of water and clears his throat.

 

Spade: So.

 

Cereza visibly flinches.

 

Spade: You’re in a room with several people who voted to kill the person you tried so hard to defend from a crime they committed. One of them is serving you food. How do you feel about that?

 

Puppet: Not everyone voted that way!

 

Wolf: Some of us would’ve easily changed their mind.

 

Spring: (sternly) Wolf. 

 

Wolf: … 

 

Wolf doesn’t look at Spring, who doesn’t look too pleased with him. Even they’re falling apart…

 

Cereza: I still have to eat, don’t I? So does Pearl-san… And… It’s not like I can hold it against any of your heads.

 

Spade doesn’t respond to that.

 

Cereza: Did you expect me to yell and scream at all of you for doing something so stupid or something? Because I’m not doing that.

 

Spade: You seemed to be quite eager to do so last night.

 

Dust: No comment. (eats curry) 

 

Puppet: But now we’re the ones who are yelling and screaming at her for something so, and I quote, “foolish!” Actually, you’re the only one!

 

Spade: So side with the one who convinced the majority to waste their spare on a killer… 

 

Nebula: I still think it’s fun to see everyone squirm.

 

Dust: See, this is why I don’t want Carmen-san around you?

 

Carmen: Oh?

 

Nebula: E-Eh?! 

 

Protagonist: I mean… Is there any situation where you think a spare would be justified?

 

Spade: (shoots Protagonist a glare) An accidental killer, manipulation, or if I were the killer.

 

Protagonist: Of course… 

 

Puppet: Wasn’t Pearl-san manipulated though? Soldier-san told her that she had killed Pearl-san’s sister. That wasn’t even true!

 

Spade: She was perfectly aware of what she was doing when she killed Soldier-san. That’s not manipulation. 

 

Dust: (yawns) Look, I’d love to keep talking about morality and death and guilt, but this isn’t a Twilight Trial, just dinner. So can we eat? Thanks.

 

Spade: You should be furious about this. Even more than I am. 

 

Dust: Mhm.

 

Swain: (reenters) Two plates of curry! Here you go, Cereza-san. 

 

Cereza: Thank you.

 

She takes the plates and without looking at any of us, she quickly leaves the dining room.

 

It’s quiet. Again. I hate this. The silence is a calm before a storm, a peaceful yet tense moment before someone drops an atom bomb and descends us into chaos once more. In silence, something bad is about to happen. At least when we’re arguing I know that the bad will end soon. 

 

When Cereza is gone, Wolf opens his mouth to say something. Here it comes… 

 

Wolf: Okay, so I’ll say it. Pearl-san should’ve died, and if not for Spring’s words, I would’ve voted to execute her.

 

Spring: Wolf!

 

This is the loudest I’ve ever heard her. Even though it’s one word, she sounds legitimately furious.

 

Carmen: Is this really the time…?

 

Dust: Please, feel free to schedule a different time for this discussion. I’ll be sure to plan around it.

 

Wolf: I’m only stating my opinions.

 

Puppet: These opinions of yours a matter of life and death!

 

Wolf: Oh, so it’s only my fucking problem? You forgave a murderer!

 

Puppet: You know that this isn’t what this is about!

 

Wolf: Really? Then what is it all about, huh?

 

Puppet: I don’t know why you act so shocked about these revelations of murder. Eight of us have killed at least one person now. It could be you-

 

Wolf: Like hell it is.

 

Puppet: Or it could be Spring-san!

 

Wolf: Fuck off, leave her out of this!

 

Puppet: I sincerely hope that’s not the case, but you never know! I certainly don’t. Are you going to treat this situation with no room for gray moralities?

 

Wolf: That’s exactly what you’re fucking doing?? You’re acting like Pearl-san and Cereza-san are faultless angels who have done nothing wrong.

 

Puppet: I’m sorry you’ve misinterpreted my words so poorly.

 

Dust: Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. 

 

Spring: Please, stop…

 

Carmen: Y-Yes, Spring-san is right, that’s enough!

 

Protagonist: Guys-

 

Spade: Oh, shall we pretend that nothing has happened? As if no one’s dead and there’s never been a person named Soldier in this manor and that no one has killed anyone ever, especially not in these walls-

 

I can’t fucking do this anymore. 

 

I stand up, pushing my chair back with a loud screech. Spade stops talking, and everyone looks at me.

 

Protagonist: Look. I can’t right now. I don’t know if I ever will be able to deal with this conversation. 

 

Spade: And? 

 

Protagonist: And nothing. I’m not stopping you from doing anything. You can call me childish and immature for not wanting to talk about death, murder, and punishment, but… This isn’t the right way to handle things.

 

Spade: So you would know the “right” way?

 

Protagonist: No. But I know what’s best for myself right now.

 

I pick up my plate and begin to leave the table. 

 

Protagonist: Have fun bickering.

 

Jesus shit I’m stressed as fuck. I didn’t even know I had that in me. I’ve gotta get out of there. 

 

I run (not literally) and don’t turn back (literally). 

 

I swear God is deliberately fucking with me at this point because I shit you not the first person I see as I walk into the living room is Flare. He’s walking towards the kitchen, but I stop walking to stare at him. His face seems unaffected by my presence. 

 

I feel my throat tighten, despite desperately wanting to say something, anything to him. There was so much I wanted to say, yet I also had nothing that could be said. 

 

My chest feels tight, and I feel like gravity has lost its hold on me as my stomach does some sick flips. 

 

As he walks by, not even acknowledging me, I manage to choke something out.

 

Protagonist: … It’s your favorite. 

 

My voice was shaky and quiet, so I doubt he even heard me. Even if he heard my words, he probably didn’t hear me

 

Flare keeps walking past me, and I head to my room. 

 

As soon as I enter my room, I lock the door, place the curry on my desk, and then I fall into bed. 

 

Before I realize it, I’m crying. Hard.

 

I can’t keep it together anymore. I yell and sob and let out a childish scream as the tears stream down my face, making a mess of my sleeves and blankets and pillows. Thank God for once for these soundproof walls.

 

I couldn’t pinpoint the feelings. Frustration? Sadness? Longing? Grief? All of that wrapped up in the complicated feelings of grief? Maybe, but it didn’t feel like grief. Though I’m not exactly an expert in that feeling. 

 

I felt more frustrated than sad, but I wasn’t even that upset over the dinner conversation. Today wasn’t even that bad of a day, what the fuck?? Why am I so upset??? 

 

I want this to stop. 

 

I’m just. I’m just not used to this. I hate it. 

 

I want all of this to be over, I want to shut my eyes and wake up in my apartment at 7 AM and go to work, barely on time. I want to crack silly jokes about the day of the week or the local news to get an eyeroll or curt remark from my coworkers only to chug down two mugs of coffee and work only when asked to and-

 

I want things to be normal again.

 

But what have I ever gained from that?

 

What have I ever gained from this ?

 

After what feels like a forever session of crying, I roll over on my side and open my puffy eyes. I see something on my drawer that wasn’t there before. I lift myself up to get a better view.

 

It’s a thin, long stick with a metal ball on one end. The other end is sharp, and-

 

Oh lord, this is Soldier’s hairpin.

 

I really hope this wasn’t the one that went through her neck. 

 

Speaking of which, I had those message notifications, right…? 

 

I pull out my tablet and open up the messaging app. Of course there’s that notification from Swain, but… I have a huge backlog from Dust. What’s this all about?

 

I open it and scroll to the top. The time was earlier today, at… 1 AM? What was he doing? I was asleep by then for sure.

 

It’s a series of short messages, but each one… Wow. I kept scrolling and reading and… Things make a lot more sense. About not just Dust or today, but everything. 

 

So Dust taught Soldier binary and the trick to the doors. And now he’s teaching me. 

 

Why? Why did he send me this? Out of all people, why me? 

 

I read his last messages over and over.

 

"I know the things that have happened and I recognize them.

 

“And you are not alone.”

 

It’s a weird feeling, but… This brings comfort to my heart. 

 

Thank you, Dust. 

 

I look at the time. Yikes, it’s almost 10 already? 

 

I felt too lazy to do anything remotely related to self care… So I fall back into bed. Self care is dead and I beat them up with my bare hands. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. 

 

Shit, my eyes will be all puffy and swollen tomorrow. That’s not gonna be a good look.

 

… Thank goodness for these shades.

 

They’re always a great look.

Chapter Text

Roxie starts off the day with her screeching, somewhat sing-songy voice. I think she’s trying to belt, but she’s not doing a good job.

 

Roxie: Good morning, Ma-ah-nor! Every day’s like a clo-ohsed door! Cuz you’re all gonna die one day~. Every one’s gonna die in here!

 

She stops singing, thankfully.

 

Roxie: Thank you, thank you, I’m here for the rest of your lives. It’s 10 AM, and officially daytime.

 

Roxie: Since I got to add something dumb and useless, Usher-kun wanted to add something dumb and useless too. I don’t think I have to explain, you’ll know it when you see it- Unless you’re dumb and useless as well, which I don’t doubt! See ya!

 

Protagonist: Ugh…

 

God I feel like shit. Does it have to do with the fact that self care is dead and I’ve forgotten to take my meds for two days in a row? Perhaps. But Roxie’s announcement didn’t help my health either. 

 

I still feel tired…

 

And I go back to bed.

 

 

Okay, that was an extra stupid idea. My eyes jolt awake. The clock says 11:30… I hope that means AM. If not, sleeping for over 24 hours straight is kinda metal…

 

Point is, I still feel like shit. But to a greater degree had I just gotten up at 10. 

 

You win this time, self care.

 

I take my meds, take a long, soothing shower, and then finally brush my got dang teeth. My eyes still feel incredibly puffy, but thankfully no one could see it through my shades. I’ll just feel uncomfortable internally. Yay! 

 

After a long routine of “catch up” on my physical health and appearance, I deem myself acceptable yet horrendous enough to leave my room. I pass by Soldier’s hairpin, linger, then leave the room. 

 

Ah shit. I still hadn’t eaten my curry. … I’ll get to it later.

 

As I walk out into the hallway, I hear… A piano playing. Oh lord, has Usher made the classical music thing a permanent soundtrack kind of thing? I don’t think that’s the case though. The piano noises sound less connected and less… Classical sounding. They don’t sound like a recording is what I’m trying to say. Then what’s with the piano sounds?

 

I walk into the living room, and something is visibly different. 

 

The table with the flowers is gone, and the sofas have been moved out to surround… A piano. A legitimate one, not those electronic keyboards. A big piano with its lid stuck up like you see in the pictures. 

 

Protagonist: … Woah.

 

And… Someone is playing it. 

 

Glasses is sitting at the piano bench, playing something on the piano. I don’t think it’s a particular song, but he seems absorbed in the notes. Though he’s absorbed in everything.

 

Rose is sitting on the couch behind him, entranced in Glasses’s playing. Again, he’s not even playing anything in specific. Every now and then, he messes up a note. That breaks his concentration.

 

Glasses: Darnit.

 

Protagonist: What are you playing?

 

Glasses: Nothing in particular…

 

Protagonist: I figured.

 

Glasses: As of now. Just some chords.

 

Rose: Isn’t Glasses-senpai so cool? I don’t even know how to play the piano!

 

Glasses: It’s a skill I picked up when I was young. Frankly, I never kept up with it. And thus, the fruits of my labor. 

 

Protagonist: So Usher-san added a piano to the manor?

 

Glasses: A grand piano.

 

Protagonist: (whistles) Fancy. 

 

Rose: Glasses-senpai is so good… 

 

Glasses: It’s just a hobby of mine. No need for your adulation.

 

Dust: So this is where the music was coming from?

 

Protagonist: Good morning, Dust-san!

 

Dust: Ah… Technically, it’s afternoon. 

 

Protagonist: Oh… Right, that’s true!

 

Glasses: Would you like to play, Dust-san?

 

Dust: (shrugs) Don’t know how. I can play the guitar, though. Maybe Usher-san can add one too?

 

Usher: No.

 

And his voice is gone.

 

Glasses: Well a guitar is similar in ways. 

 

Dust: Like?

 

Glasses: Well… Notes. Chords. Pitches.

 

Rose: (helpfully) You don’t have to take a breath when you play a note!

 

Dust: Ah. Of course.

 

Glasses: I’m serious though. The fundamentals of notes and chords is no different on a guitar than a piano. A C is still a C. You just need to know where the “C” is on the piano.

 

Dust: And that is…?

 

Glasses: Depends. Middle C is right here. 

 

He plays a note.

 

Glasses: It’s the note right under the lettering of the piano. Also… Just the middle of the piano. And to play a C lower or higher… You move your hand down to the corresponding placement. 

 

Glasses plays another note. Dust nods.

 

Dust: Ohhh okay, so it’s just translating note placement onto a really long string of notes.

 

Glasses: Essentially, yes.

 

I guess I know how to play the piano now.

 

Glasses: If only some sheet music was provided… 

 

Rose: Do you know anything?

 

Glasses: Mm… 

 

Glasses starts playing a series of chords. It gives a mysterious vibe, and the ribbons around his wrists move gracefully as he plays.

 

Glasses: (mutters to himself) C sharp, E, C, A, G sharp… 

 

Dust: Oh, I know what those mean. It looks easier than a guitar.

 

Glasses: Playing actual pieces require much more skill beyond just chords, but it’s important to know the basics.

 

He plays those chords again.

 

Rose: What are you playing from? 

 

Glasses: Sadly, this is all I know from the piece. Whatever it may be…

 

Rose: Why don’t you compose your own song, Glasses-senpai?

 

Glasses: Easier said than done. I hardly know anything about composing. 

 

Rose: Well, I can compose something for you! How hard could it be?

 

Dust: How hard it could be, they say…

 

Protagonist: What do you know about composing, Rose-san?

 

Rose: I know sheet music! I can come up with something, and Glasses-senpai can play it!

 

Glasses: I won’t stop you… Hm…

 

Rose: What is it?

 

Glasses: … Something smells nice.

 

Rose: Oh! From the kitchen, maybe…? 

 

Protagonist: That reminds me. I haven’t eaten yet. 

 

Glasses: You should probably do something about that.

 

Protagonist: Do you guys wanna join?

 

Rose: I’ve already eaten. 

 

Dust: Same here.

 

Glasses: Not same. But I have other business to attend to.

 

Protagonist: Like playing the piano?

 

Glasses: … Fair. But I’ll be sure to nourish myself later.

 

I think I understand Glasses a little more.

 

Rose: If Glasses-senpai is going, then I’ll go too!

 

Dust: Eh, I’m good. It’s been fun.

 

Dust waves and leaves the rest of us, heading up the stairs. We watch him leave.

 

Dust: … What?

 

And he’s gone.

 

I might as well go too. My life basically relies on food, and not just for survival reasons.

 

I decide to head back to my room and grab my plate of curry. Rose and Glasses are still in the living room when I pass by. I enter the kitchen, signing in first (I’m the last one to do so!), and I see the source of the smell. Blanche sits at a small table, drinking a cup of tea from a pristine white cup. Gear sits across from her.

 

Protagonist: Hey! (sits next to Blanche) What smells so… Flower-y?

 

Blanche: This tea I’m drinking. It has a delicious floral scent to it, no? 

 

Gear: You could say that, nyeh.

 

Protagonist: I could smell it from the living room! 

 

Blanche: Would you like a taste? I could prepare you another cup, if you’d like. 

 

Protagonist: Sure! I’d ask what’s in it, but I don’t know enough about tea to understand what your response would be. But I trust you not to make the poor decision to poison me with this.

 

Blanche: Yes, poisoning would be… Unfortunate. For the both of us.

 

Gear: But also hardcore metal.

 

Blanche prepares me a cup of tea, but unlike her embellished cup, she gives me a plain mug. Aw.

 

Protagonist: Here goes nothing…

 

Gear: Don’t drink the tea don’t drink the tea-

 

I take a cautious sip and WOW that’s a strong drink! I’ve overloaded with what tastes like pure caffeine mixed with daffodils. 

 

I instinctively shove a spoonful of curry into my mouth.

 

Protagonist: (mouth full of food) Tastes… Good!

 

It wasn’t that it tasted bad, it was just… Phew, really strong. 

 

Blanche: I’m glad you think so. Gear-san refused to drink it.

 

Gear: Too much caffeine. Maybe you could make me another cup that’s caffeine-free! Hot cocoa works. 

 

Blanche: Perhaps I will. 

 

She takes another sip and doesn’t even flinch. I’m really starting to think she’s a robot. 

 

But wait, if she’s a robot, then how is she able to drink? And is she like Roxie and Usher then? Would she be in cahoots with them? Maybe she’s a mole to spy on us… Or maybe she’s a good type of robot! I shouldn’t discriminate if she does turn out to be a robot.

 

… Or maybe she’s just a normal human being with a really strong tolerance for this kind of stuff. … Nah.

 

Protagonist: Oh! That reminds me. I tried out the gacha machine Roxie released yesterday. Do you want one of the trinkets, Blanche-san?

 

Blanche: No harm in saying yes, I suppose.

 

Gear: Quite literally.

 

Protagonist: Awesome!

 

I hand her one of the capsules. She examines it closely (with what eyes??). 

 

Blanche: Holy Water…?

 

Protagonist: Or so it claims. 

 

Blanche: … Thank you. Whether it's real or not, I'll be sure to cherish the gift. Thank you for your kind thoughts, Protagonist-san.

 

Yay! Blanche really liked the gift! I'm sure our friendship has improved a great deal.

 

Protagonist: Are you religious, Blanche-san?

 

Blanche: Not particularly.

 

Gear: Blanche-chan is like, the bestest. Could you be my mom please?

 

Blanche smiles at Gear and takes another long sip of her tea, as if she were actually considering and thinking about Gear’s question.

 

After a moment, she lowers the cup, and her lips part to respond.

 

Blanche: No.

 

Gear: Awww.

 

Blanche: I don’t feel fit to be anyone’s mother. Besides…

 

She turns her head as if she’s looking at some imaginary camera. 

 

Blanche: (speaking in that direction) The concept of assigning a “mom friend” to women in friendships not only dulls their role to one of unfair reliance and sacrifice with no return, it is also unhealthy to take up the role as a “mom” especially over a minor or group of minors, as it establishes a power imbalance that doesn't need to exist. In essence, it’s creepy and unnecessary.

 

She turns her head back to Gear as if nothing happened.

 

Gear: I didn’t understand a word of what you were saying, but it sounds like you were spitting straight facts.

 

Blanche: Thank you. (another sip)

 

Protagonist: Where’d you learn to brew teas?

 

Blanche: I’m still experimenting. Carmen-san knew that I enjoy flowers, so she offered to teach me about the art of tea brewing. 

 

Protagonist: I thought she wasn’t a good cook…

 

Blanche: No one could mess up boiling water… Or so I hope.

 

Gear: (helpfully) Once I accidently spilled some on my hand.

 

Blanche: My condolences. 

 

Protagonist: Still! It’s really neat about Carmen-san.

 

Blanche: (nods) So this is one concoction I recently made. I’m not entirely sure where to go from here, but there are a lot of flavors available.

 

I think I understand Blanche a lot more.

 

Gear: What about the hot choccy flavor? I want hot choccy.

 

Protagonist: What about Nyquil?

 

Gear: I want hot choccy!!!

 

Blanche: (ignores Gear) But I suppose I could ask Carmen-san for further details if it’s not a burden on her. She could offer recommendations or information and… Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not sure if she’d want to spend time with me.

 

Protagonist: Why not? She’s really easygoing, and I think she likes you!

 

Blanche: Fair, I suppose… 

 

Protagonist: I mean, if you don’t like her, then I can’t stop you, but-

 

Blanche: No, no, that’s not it at all. Being around her… Soothes my soul. She’s someone I can talk to.

 

Protagonist: Rest in peace me, I guess. Okay bye.

 

Blanche: (smiles faintly) Ah, no offense. On a greater degree, I should specify?

 

Protagonist: Nah, I get what you mean. 

 

Gear: I still want hot choccy.

 

Protagonist: Fine, I’ll make you some.

 

Gear: Yaaaay.

 

Gear follows me to the kitchen, chanting "hot choccy" as I grab a packet of hot chocolate. 

 

Gear: I want the ones with marshmallows.

 

I switch out the packet of hot chocolate with a marshmallow version. To be safe, I grab another packet. 

 

As I prepare two cups of hot chocolate (with marshmallows), Rose and Glasses walk in.

 

Rose: Now it smells like chocolate flowers!

 

Glasses: Chocolate flowers aren’t a real thing but… You’re right, it does.

 

Blanche: Protagonist-san is making Gear-san some hot chocolate. I’ve brewed some floral tea. Care to try some?

 

Glasses: I’m not too familiar with them, but… I won’t decline your offer.

 

Rose: Oh! I’ll have some too!

 

We all gather around the table, tea in Blanche, Glasses, and Rose’s hands, and hot chocolate in Gear and my hands. This is nice.

 

Rose, Glasses, Protagonist, Gear, and Blanche enjoy some drinks.

 

Glasses: (tries the tea) Perfect. I should invest into this sort of tea more often.

 

Rose: What do you usually have? 

 

Glasses: Green tea. Full of caffeine.

 

Gear: Yuck.

 

I was about to bring up that one night where Gear was drinking chamomile… But just thinking about that encounter sends me chills. Gear hasn’t brought it up or been like how he was that night (not even a hint), so all I can do is pretend nothing happened.  

 

Glasses: Yes, well, we all have our preferences. 

 

As we enjoy our respective drinks, Flare walks in. He sees the five of us and stops. I make eye contact with him again, which he probably doesn’t notice. He does, probably, notice how I tense up because he starts walking towards us.

 

Protagonist: (tries to restart a conversation) I’m not much of a tea drinker! I usually drink coffee in the morning since it’s quicker.

 

Glasses: That can be changed.

 

Blanche: Yes, it most definitely can.

 

Protagonist: Something wrong with coffee?

 

Blanche: You just haven’t found the right kind of tea yet.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, I bet.

 

Gear: That’s what everyone says to me about girls. Gross.

 

Glasses: It lacks the flavor. The sophistication that comes with nature’s gift of herbs and tea.

 

Flare: Yeah, that totally sounded sophisticated of you and totally not pretentious.

 

I blow air out of my nose. Oh boy.

 

Rose: … I just prefer the taste of tea!

 

Protagonist: Do you prefer coffee, Flare-san…?

 

He looks at me coldly. I do my best to muster a grin.

 

Flare: As a matter of fact, yes.

 

Glasses: I can’t imagine why, but to each their own, I suppose.

 

Flare: And there’s that passive-aggressive tone in your voice, as usual.

 

Glasses: I beg your pardon? 

 

Rose: Hey, lay off!

 

Flare: Right, I’m the villain or something right now, I forgot, sorry.

 

Rose: That’s not what I meant!

 

Flare: Someone just DIED two days ago, and here you are, frolicking about and drinking tea as if nothing happened. Some of you forgave her killer!

 

Gear: Actually, I’m drinking hot chocolate. I am, however, pretending nothing happened.

 

Flare: That’s disgusting! Do you have any respect for the dead?

 

Glasses: Do you?

 

Flare: Who do you think you are?

 

Glasses: No one. Let me ask you this, though: had Pearl-san been voted in favor of execution, would you revere her loss the same as you’re… Doing so now with Soldier-san?

 

Flare: … Well-

 

Glasses: And let me ask you this: Why do you care? It’s not as if Soldier-san was an overly pleasant person. I can’t remember a day where she didn’t cause conflict in this manor. Not to mention she was the serial killer Anon., where her legacy is that she killed over 80 people in her life.

 

Rose: Yeah… That’s true… 

 

Flare: So?! A death is a death! 

 

Glasses: Mourn the deaths of 81 people who lived futile lives only to be killed by a murderer who would die at age 19.

 

Flare: Then how do you feel about Pearl-san then?

 

Glasses: I’d rather spare any more deaths from happening. 

 

Glasses takes a sip of his tea, but he doesn’t break eye contact from Flare’s furious glare. I can see his chest heaving and his cheeks flushed. I’d make a joke about how that’s “hot”, but I’m genuinely concerned right now.

 

Rose: C’mon guys, we’re just trying to enjoy some tea right now…! Can we not?

 

Gear: I dunno about you, I’m still enjoying my hot choccy with marshmallows.

 

Flare: (throws arms up in the air) So I’m in the minority for pitying a victim but not a killer. I can’t believe this.

 

Glasses: You really think Soldier-san was a victim? And Pearl-san a killer? 

 

Blanche: Soldier-san manipulated Pearl-san into killing her… Please don’t forget that. 

 

Flare: You’re seriously all taking her side?

 

Blanche: I made my decision with my vote. 

 

Glasses: Plenty of people are hostile towards her. Go talk to them before you stress yourself out. Perhaps some tea may soothe your nerves?

 

Glasses extends his cup of tea out to Flare. Flare stares down at the cup with disgust, as if Glasses had just offered a vial of poison for him to drink. 

 

Flare: Fuck off, fucking smartass.

 

Flare slaps the cup out of Glasses’s hand, and the cup crashes to the ground. A puddle of broken clay and dark red tea forms. 

 

Glasses: Well that was a waste of tea. 

 

Gear: Does that count as rule breaking?

 

Blanche: (purses lips together) I think you should leave, Flare-san.

 

Flare doesn’t respond to that.

 

Blanche: Carmen-san and I worked hard to make that tea, and… It upsets me greatly to see you ruin it because of your short temper.

 

Gear: Cranky cuz you're having trouble coping with death, aren't ya?

 

Flare: I don’t recall asking you.

 

Protagonist: Flare-san… We’re all grieving, whether we’re showing it or not. And we’re trying to cope, but you can’t take it out on others and harm others while you try and cope.

 

Flare: …

 

Protagonist: Please, I- … I’m here for you. You know that? Please.

 

Flare stands there for a moment before he scoffs, turning around and leaving. 

 

Flare: Don’t follow me.

 

Once he leaves the dining room, I sink into my chair and sigh loudly.

 

Gear: Flare-tan’s feeling awfully goth today. Who peed in his coffee? 

 

Blanche: Please don’t feel bad, Protagonist-san. We’re all going through rough times, and some people… They’re just beyond saving. 

 

Gear: We all can’t wear our hearts on our sleeves. It’s almost like we have some secrets to keep or something.

 

Glasses: Blanche-san is right. Don’t waste your time on fruitless endeavors.

 

But he’s not just a fruitless endeavor, I wanted to say. But I just stare at my empty mug and don’t say anything. 

 

Spring and Wolf walk in. It’s nice to see them, considering I haven’t since the trial.

 

Spring: W-What’s going- Oh my gosh is that a broken mug?! Is anyone hurt?

 

Spring rushes over to the puddle, Wolf fast behind her.

 

Wolf: Hey, watch yourself, don’t get yourself hurt, okay?

 

Spring: I’ll try, but… There’s so many broken pieces!

 

Wolf: I’ll get it cleaned up for you, don’t worry.

 

Spring: What even happened…?

 

There’s an awkward silence. Rose shifts a little. After coming to a conclusion, Glasses speaks.

 

Glasses: I dropped it. 

 

Spring: That far…?

 

Glasses: Yes, in fact. I. (blinks) Dropped it with a horizontal velocity of 2.13 meters per second. Projectile motion. 

 

Spring: Sounds reasonable enough to me…!

 

Blanche: You don’t have to worry about cleaning it, you just got here, after all.

 

Wolf: Are you gonna clean it?

 

Blanche: And risk staining my clothes? My goodness, no. 

 

Wolf: (sighs) I thought so. 

 

He grabs a wad of napkins and crouches down, carefully picking up the shards and putting it into the napkin. 

 

Wolf: Be careful, Spring. There might be some small pieces left over that I missed.

 

Spring: (nods) G-Got it!

 

With several napkins, Spring starts wiping up the mess. When she’s done, all that remains is a light pink stain on the ground.

 

Spring: Sorry I couldn’t get it all gone...

 

Blanche: Thank you for the assistance, I’ll take care of the rest later. But for now, could I interest you in some tea as thanks?

 

Protagonist: Or some hot chocolate?

 

Spring: O-Of course! I wouldn’t mind! Um, to the tea, that is.

 

Wolf: (grumbles) I’ll take some hot chocolate. 

 

Protagonist: I’m surprised you took up that offer.

 

Wolf: Any attempts on our lives won’t end well for now, so. (shrugs)

 

Blanche: Though I suppose I should make a new brew… What would you like, Spring-san?

 

Spring: I get to choose…?

 

Blanche: Of course. Again, as my thanks.

 

Spring: Oh, um… hm… 

 

Protagonist: I’ll make Wolf-san some hot chocolate.

 

Wolf: Can you make it with milk?

 

Protagonist: …

 

Something about that request seems… A little funny for Wolf. I don’t realize that I've been staring until Wolf narrows his eyes at me.

 

Wolf: (hostile) Something wrong?

 

Protagonist: Nah, nothing! I’m down with that. I’ll be back. 

 

I leave the dining room and prepare a cup of hot chocolate from milk, not hot water. After a couple minutes, I return, and I hand Wolf the mug.

 

Protagonist: Just how you wanted it.

 

Wolf takes it and takes a sip, then huffs.

 

Wolf: Thanks.

 

Protagonist: (nods and smiles) No problem! 

 

Meanwhile, Blanche had just finished preparing another brew of tea. I could still smell it, but it was not as strong as before. It also spelled less like flowers and more like plain herbs. I’m not sure which one I preferred, but I liked both aromas.

 

Protagonist: (sits back down, Spring and Wolf with them) So what’s in this tea? 

 

Blanche: Something less strong. Not that I mind.

 

Spring: I-It’s an Earl Gray mix!

 

Gear: But still plenty of caffeine. 

 

Spring: Thank you for making this, Blanche-san, I… I really appreciate it. 

 

Blanche: I hope you enjoy. I’m no tea brewing expert. That’s Carmen-san’s job.

 

Spring: It’s really good… I should ask her! 

 

Blanche: I plan to in the future. She’s the one who taught me about this in the first place.

 

Spring: I didn’t even know that!

 

Wolf lets out a loud sigh, but no one seems to hear him.

 

Blanche: One day… I’d like to own a flower shop. Where I can cultivate all of the plants I'd like. Brew all the teas…

 

Spring: That's… Um… 

 

Blanche: (nods) I know it's foolish, but-

 

Spring: N-No, don't say that! I was gonna say that… it's a beautiful dream, Blanche-san.

 

Blanche: … Oh.

 

Spring: I'm sorry, did I upset you?! I wasn't trying to mock you, I just- I wanted to- I wanted to say-

 

Blanche: No… Thank you. 

 

Wolf is now making a low vibrating noise, as if he's a machine about to combust.

 

Blanche: I… Thank you for your time.

 

She gets up and bows.

 

Blanche: Even if I am to die here… I am grateful to have met such people who believe in the worth of my soul.

 

Spring: Blanche-san…

 

Without another word, Blanche turns and leaves the dining room. We all eat her leave, with the exception of Glasses, who is reading a book. Wolf takes a loud sip of his hot chocolate.

 

Spring: Ah, Wolf! That was… a little weird, right?

 

Wolf: No kidding.

 

Spring: But in a good way! 

 

Wolf: Ah… Right. I just hope she isn't dangerous. Then again… Who isn't.

 

Spring: I think she's nice! 

 

Wolf: I wouldn't let your guard down. 

 

Glasses: (looks up) Hm? Is Blanche-san gone?

 

Rose: Yes, she just left, in fact.

 

Glasses: Ah. Perhaps I'll ask her for more tea later.

 

Rose: Don't you make your own?

 

Glasses: Yes, but usually I throw in a tea packet into a cup of hot water and call it a day. Maybe add some honey if I'm feeling spicy. Point is, I don't have the time to brew tea to the expertise in this cup.

 

Rose: I'm sure you have more time now, right?

 

Glasses: Well, I'd assume our days are numbered as a whole. 

 

Protagonist: … Have we ever talked about escape?

 

Wolf: Yeah? And with what fucking door? Not to mention the fucking rules.

 

Protagonist: There has to be a loophole somewhere, right? Like, if we break a walk and then instantly rush out of the manor, we'd no longer be trapped, and we wouldn't have to be subjected to their rule!

 

Gear: Hmm… 

 

Glasses: (finishes tea) That could work if one, we had some means to break a wall, and two, you didn't just say the plan out loud. They can listen to our every word.

 

Protagonist: How else am I supposed to communicate? Not like messaging is any more discrete.

 

Glasses: Now isn't the time to discuss plans like these when we don't even know what we're doing. And please don't unreasonably blow up on me like Flare-san did.

 

Protagonist: I won't, but… There has to be some other way to live than just staying trapped here, right?

 

Glasses: (shrugs) Maybe it's better if we stay trapped. 

 

Protagonist: Wh…?

 

Glasses: Nine- now eight- of the most dangerous serial killers in Japan, dare I say the world, are in this manor. They can't hurt anyone else.

 

Protagonist: But what about the detectives?

 

Glasses: … I think we're expendable.

 

It's as if he's reading directly into my soul as he says that. Like he knows I'm a useless detective that goes by "Half-Decent."

 

… Wait. We?

 

Glasses: Let's save this conversation for another day.

 

He sets his cup down and prepares to leave.

 

Gear: Nyeh, I'm done too. I'm leaving.

 

Rose: I'll wash the mugs! 

 

Wasn't Blanche gonna clean up the mess?

 

Protagonist: Really? Thanks, Rose-san.

 

Rose: Yeah! I'm not going anywhere, and I can wait for Wolf-san and Spring-san.

 

Spring: Ah… Thank you.

 

Rose: Go on ahead, Protagonist-san! I haven't done much in the kitchen, eheh.

 

Protagonist: If you say so… Thank you for your time, you guys! I hope I brought something meaningful.

 

Wolf: I think you were the only thing that kept me from going feral.

 

Protagonist: Bro… I'm touched.

 

Rose: Protagonist-senpai has cracked the Wolf Code?! Woah…

 

Wolf shoots a glare at Rose.

 

Rose: … I'll be in the kitchen!

 

Rose rushes away.

 

Protagonist: Peace.

 

And I leave the dining room. I head up the stairs, glancing at the infirmary in memory of Pearl. Though I realize the door is open just a crack… Does that mean…?

 

I head towards the door and slowly open it. Sure enough, Pearl is there, working at the counter on something. It's almost as if nothing had happened, but her body indicates otherwise. She looks sickly and tired, but she keeps working.

 

Protagonist: Have you eaten? 

 

Pearl: (jolts up in surprise) Ahhhh!

 

Protagonist: It's just me! Protagonist! Don't worry!

 

Pearl: I….

 

Protagonist: So have you eaten?

 

Pearl: … Just when Cereza brought me food. I can't stand the thought of going into that dining room…

 

Protagonist: Where is Cereza-chan, anyways?

 

Pearl: What she doesn't know won't kill her.

 

Protagonist: And what are you working on?

 

Pearl: What you don't know won't kill you. And what's with all the questions?

 

Protagonist: Look, I haven't seen you in TWO days, not since… (waves arms) All of that! I’m worried about you!

 

Pearl: … You shouldn’t be.

 

Protagonist: Why not? Are you suddenly not human anymore? Should I suddenly not care about your wellbeing?

 

Pearl: Yes, in fact. The second one, though. I’m still human. 

 

Protagonist: You can’t stop me from worrying about you.

 

Pearl: And there’s nothing I can do to end your worries. You’re just wasting your time. 

 

Protagonist: Why?

 

Pearl: Another question?

 

Protagonist: You can ask me all the questions you want. 

 

Pearl: Okay. Why do you care?

 

Protagonist: It’s just as Cereza-chan said. You’re not a bad person, and I firmly believe that. 

 

Pearl: I don’t.

 

Protagonist: And… We can’t give the people running us the satisfaction we want. If we could save your life, we could prevent any more deaths from happening from now on.

 

Pearl: You wasted your only spare on someone who didn’t deserve it.

 

Protagonist: You deserved it. One hundred percent.

 

Pearl: I killed someone! In that moment, I knew exactly what I was doing, and I- I-

 

Protagonist: … What was going through your head when you killed Soldier-san?

 

Pearl: “This is the person who killed my sister.” I was just- So angry and upset that I had to- I had to do it. But she lied. I was tricked. That makes things worse.

 

Protagonist: So were you completely aware of what you were doing when you killed her, or were you manipulated into killing her by Soldier-san purposely triggering your grief?

 

Pearl: She knew that I would kill her when she invited me to her room. She was right. I’m a murderer.

 

Protagonist: You were manipulated . You said it yourself.

 

Pearl: Why are you going through so many mental hoops to justify my actions. I literally killed someone.

 

Protagonist: It’s not as simple as that, and you know that. 

 

Pearl: Tell me how you see it.

 

Protagonist: You… You’ve gone through an incredible amount of pain for- how long has it been?

 

Pearl: It’s been… A little over a year now.

 

Protagonist: Yeah holy shit, that is not enough time to get over anything, much less the death of your sister. You’re still grieving, and I imagine this whole situation isn’t helping anything.

 

Pearl: …

 

Protagonist: Soldier-san, somehow, had to have known about your situation once you were announced as Christine Lee. So she took advantage of that by getting you to kill her and start what would be the killing game. Like I said. She manipulated you into killing her. She planned the whole murder out, she just wanted you to pull the trigger.

 

Pearl: I’m still the one who pulled said trigger. I knew where I was aiming. I knew I was going to kill her.

 

Protagonist: She coaxed you into doing so. How many synonyms for “manipulate” do you want me to come up with? 

 

Pearl: I’m a murderer. That’s the end of this conversation.

 

Protagonist: … And what will you do about it now?

 

She shoots me a glare. “Another fucking question?” Her eyes ask me.

 

Protagonist: Last one. I promise. 

 

Pearl: … I’ll do what I need to do. (gestures to the counter)

 

Protagonist: Alright. I promised no more questions, so I won’t ask about that. 

 

Pearl: Thanks.

 

Protagonist: And… I’ll leave you alone now. I’ll bring food for you and Cereza-chan. And… Be safe. That one isn’t a question.

 

Pearl doesn’t say anything, and she looks down at her work. After standing for a quiet second, I leave the infirmary. Out of impulse (and a need for some peace and quiet), I head into the greenhouse. It’s the warmest place in this manor, and being surrounded by nature without any pests is… Nice. 

 

Duke: Protagonist-san!

 

Protagonist: Oh!

 

I turn around and see Duke in the greenhouse as well. I’m suddenly getting… cinematic parallels with a certain other interaction with a certain somebody.

 

Duke: What are you doing here? 

 

Protagonist: (shrugs) Vibing.

 

Duke: … Um. What?

 

Protagonist: I’m chilling? Hanging around? Doing nothing much?

 

Duke: Ohhh, I see.

 

Protagonist: What about you? What are you up to?

 

Duke: Um… Nothing. I didn’t expect anyone to be here.

 

Protagonist: Well, I am! That ain’t so bad, right?

 

Duke: Uh… Yes…

 

Duke shifts his eyes when he says that. Something is bothering him.

 

Protagonist: Something wrong?

 

Duke: I… Well… It’s nothing.

 

Protagonist: You can talk to me, you know! 

 

Duke: It’s merely… I can’t help but feel like something bad is going to happen. It’s this persistent feeling of dread. Does that make sense?

 

Protagonist: Oh, like dysphoria?

 

Duke: (brows furrow) What? No, I mean… Just in general. I- I apologize, I must sound delirious to you, but… 

 

Protagonist: Well, what’s on your mind?

 

Duke: This whole situation and a whole batch of worries. Sigh… I was hoping this environment would calm me.

 

Protagonist: Dude, that’s crazy. I’m here for the same reason. This is the closest thing to fresh air.

 

Duke: Ah… Truly…

 

Duke wipes at his eyes.

 

Protagonist: Are you, uh… Crying?

 

Duke: N-No! Of course not! 

 

Protagonist: If you say so…

 

Duke: Um… Yes.

 

Duke lowers their hands again. 

 

Protagonist: Why do you like nature, Duke-san?

 

Duke: Huh?

 

Protagonist: Just trying to break the ice. I feel like I don’t know you very well, so… Let’s change that!

 

Duke: Are you sure?

 

Protagonist: Why not?

 

Duke: Um… Never mind that.

 

Wow, this is so incredibly awkward!

 

Protagonist: So, was the outdoors part of your childhood or something?

 

Duke: Pass.

 

Protagonist: What? 

 

Duke: I’d prefer not to answer that question. 

 

Spade told me not to trust him, and Duke really isn’t helping his case. Should I just be blunt with him? Or I’ll just try asking something else. 

 

Protagonist: Uh… Different question. 

 

Duke: Please.

 

Protagonist: How are you and Swain-san doing?

 

Duke: They’re very nice, for one. I think they’re someone I can call a friend.

 

Protagonist: That’s good! Everyone could use a friend. Especially you and Swain-san, so I’m glad you two found one another.

 

Duke: Yes… Though I do feel a little pity for their situation at home.

 

Protagonist: You mean about their family?

 

Duke: (nods) To raise four younger siblings since you were barely five… Not to mention with an unstable income.

 

Protagonist: Yeah… I had to fend for myself when I was younger, but having to take care of four younger people? I couldn’t imagine it. 

 

Duke: I understand what you mean. Not that I’ve had those experiences myself, but. It must certainly be difficult. 

 

Protagonist: (squints through shades) Yeah… It must be.

 

I think, ironically enough, I’ve learned a little about Duke despite his denial to open up. 

 

Duke: I wish I could help somehow.

 

Protagonist: Dude, you’re rich, right? Money solves everything in this capitalistic bitch of a world.

 

Duke: Wh…?

 

Protagonist: Unless… You’re not rich? I just assumed as much.

 

Duke: You could say that I’m rich, yes. If by rich you mean I have a lot of money in my bank account right now.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, that’s rich. 

 

Duke: Then yes, I am.

 

Protagonist: … How much though?

 

Duke: … A lot. 

 

Protagonist: A million yen?

 

Duke: … More. 

 

Protagonist: Aight, so you’re REALLY rich.

 

Duke: D-Don’t tell anyone, okay?! I don’t want to become a target of envy or worse.

 

Protagonist: Your secret’s safe with me! Does Swain-san know?

 

Duke: They’ve never asked. But… I’ll take your suggestion into account.

 

Protagonist: My what?

 

Before Duke answers, our tablets vibrate. Guess that means dinner is ready! 

 

Protagonist: Nice, dinnertime! I didn’t have much of a proper breakfast aside from leftovers. You coming, Duke-san?

 

Duke: I think I’d like to stay here for a bit longer. Aha, no offense.

 

Protagonist: None taken! I’ll see you around? 

 

Duke: (nods) You betcha. (panics) I-I mean-!

 

I laugh and wave it off as I leave the greenhouse. Come to think of it, I’ve never asked Duke about why he does… Well, that, with his voice. But even if I asked him, I don’t think he’d give me a straight answer.

 

Regardless, I think I understand Duke a little more.

 

I’m not sure if I can completely go against Spade’s words, but… I don’t hate Duke. Not in the slightest. But I don’t know if I can completely trust him if he refuses to reveal anything about himself. At the very least, I sense some kind of goodness in his soul. And he makes for some good company.

 

I head down to the dining room. A couple of people are already there, such as Spring and Wolf, but I head into the kitchen. I have a delivery to make, after all! 

 

Protagonist: Hey, Swain-san! What’s for dinner?

 

Swain: I thought I’d try some pork noodle soup. We haven’t had soup in a while… 

 

Protagonist: That sounds delicious… 

 

Come to think about it, these past two weeks are the nicest I’ve ever eaten. Like. Ever. 

 

Protagonist: Do you think I could have a tray to-go or something? 

 

Swain: For what?

 

Protagonist: For… Myself. And also Cereza-chan.

 

Swain: Ah… I see. How many bowls would you like?

 

Protagonist: Three!

 

Thankfully, there’s a tray in the cupboards, so I grab one with several spoons and pairs of chopsticks as Swain serves three bowls of delicious looking soup.

 

Swain: Is this good?

 

Protagonist: Perfect! 

 

Swain: You know… Have you seen Pearl-san? At all? I’m worried. And even if some people are mad at her… I know they can’t help but worry either. 

 

I dunno about that one.

 

Protagonist: Well, she has to be eating at least. Cereza got two bowls of curry for her yesterday, remember? So I’m hoping she’ll have the noodles too.

 

Swain: I hope so. Still, skipping breakfast and isolating herself? This all can’t be healthy. But I don’t know what to do.

 

Protagonist: I’ll see what I can do. It’ll be okay.

 

Swain: If you say so… But are you not staying for dinner?

 

Protagonist: After yesterday? … Nah.

 

Swain: Fair enough. Thanks for stopping by, anyways. I feel like we’re spending less and less time together.

 

Protagonist: That can be changed. (winks) … I’m winking, just so you know.

 

Swain: Ahhh. But sure, why not? Maybe sometime later. We’ve got another five days to kill. … Wrong idiom.

 

Protagonist: Yeaaaah.

 

Swain: I’ll see you then?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! Whenever works best for you. 

 

Swain: (shrugs) We’ll see. Take care of Pearl-san, alright? And Cereza-san. I’m worried for them both.

 

Protagonist: (nods) I’ll try my best.

 

Swain: (sighs) Thank you.

 

I grab the tray and leave the kitchen, rushing out before anyone can try to start a conversation with me. 

 

When I return to the hallway of rooms, I don’t see Cereza or Pearl. I try knocking on Cereza’s door as best as I can, with a tray of three full bowls of soup in my hand and everything.

 

Cereza: Hello? 

 

Protagonist: It’s me, Protagonist-san. Food delivery!

 

Shortly, Cereza opens the door. She doesn’t look nearly as bad as Pearl, but she’s looked better.

 

Cereza: Dinner?

 

Protagonist: (nods) Pork noodle soup. Enjoy. 

 

Cereza: Thanks… 

 

She takes a bowl in her hands.

 

Protagonist: Hey, have you seen Pearl-san?

 

Cereza: No, I assumed she was still in her room.

 

Protagonist: Well I wouldn’t know right now. I just brought another bowl for her anyways. It’d be a shame if it went cold, right?

 

Cereza: (laughs lightly) She likes her food cold.

 

Protagonist: Even soup? Oh gosh, could not be me. Then it’s all salty and slimy and gross.

 

Cereza: Maybe not soup, but… She’s not a boiling hot water type of person.

 

Protagonist: (grins) I figured.

 

We both laugh. It felt nice to laugh, especially about Pearl. For just a small moment, it was nice to feel that nothing was wrong, and we were just two friends laughing about another friend on a casual evening.

 

I sigh.

 

Protagonist: Well what do I do about this bowl of soup?

 

Cereza: I’ll hold onto it and send her a message. She took the bowl of curry last night, so hopefully she’ll take the soup. 

 

Protagonist: I hope so too… She hasn’t been eating much at all, I’m worried.

 

Cereza: Aren’t we all? 

 

Protagonist: How are you doing though?

 

Cereza: The pain is fading… But I still feel pretty shitty. 

 

Protagonist: I’m glad things are getting better! You know, with time and everything.

 

Cereza: I suppose… But I feel bad if I become totally guilt-free about what I’ve done.

 

Protagonist: I feel the same about Soldier-san’s death, actually. Like, if I move on, does that make me a bad person?

 

Cereza: I think that just makes you a person.

 

Protagonist: Maybe so… I’m just not very used to the, y’know. The whole death thing.

 

Cereza: I don’t blame you…

 

Protagonist: Let me know if Pearl-san turns up, okay? And… Take care of yourself. 

 

Cereza: (smiles lightly) I’ll try. 

 

She takes the two bowls of soup and shuts the door. I leave her room and enter mine. I’d rather not go through the dining room drama that was yesterday again… Or even this morning. So a dinner to myself is nice.

 

But I still like it when I can share it with someone…

 

Flare immediately comes to mind, and my cheeks flush.

 

Why am I thinking about him?! He hates me, and I know it?!

 

(Does he though?) (And if he does, maybe I can change that…)

 

I can’t force anyone to feel any way about me, and that’s never bothered me in the past.

 

But why do I freeze up around Flare, and why does it upset me when I think about how much time we could be spending right now?

 

Do I… Miss him?

 

(Does he miss me?)

 

I have no idea what these feelings are. I don’t think they’re love, but… It’s a different thing than how I feel about, say, Cereza. Ignoring all the concerns and worries, of course. But I’m not sure if this is a good different or a bad different.

 

I think it’s a good different???

 

I wish I could just.

 

Talk to him.

 

But he won’t talk to me. 

 

Sigh.

 

Maybe I’ll try to tomorrow.

 

That is, if I don’t chicken out of it as usual.

 

Please, notice me Flare!!!! 

 

Ah geez… I sound like a total child. For now, let me just focus on this really good noodle soup. 

 

Today wasn’t a bad day by any means. But what will tomorrow bring? And the next? And the next?

 

A million thoughts swarm my mind. Flare, escape, Blanche, Duke, food, Pearl, Cereza… 

 

So much is going on, and I have no idea how to feel. It’s a little overwhelming, yes, but… There are a lot of positives. The people I’ve met, the things I’m able to do… It’s all incredible, aside from the constant looming threat of death.

 

Maybe, in another timeline, we could’ve all just hung out in this sweet, loaded manor. No death, no threats, no serial killers or detectives.

 

Just a bunch of friends having fun in a manor, drinking tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

 

Wouldn’t that be nice? 

Chapter Text

Usher: Liebestraum No. 3. Love Dream. Liszt.

 

More… Piano music… 

 

Usher: Another romantic. Franz Liszt was very much so.

 

Usher: What a beautiful morning. Why don’t you spend it in the greenhouse or the balcony? Just a suggestion. 

 

Usher: It’s 10 AM, and the fourth day of the No-Killy Period. Enjoy your day. 

 

I’m starting to hate the sound of a piano. 

 

Before I can even shake off the morning grogginess, there’s a loud banging sound on my door. Huh? 

 

Whoever’s at the door is really impatient, because with each passing second, the banging gets louder and louder.

 

Protagonist: Coming, coming!

 

I only have time to slide on my shades before I open the door. I wouldn’t want to keep them waiting any longer. 

 

Is it bad that I hope it’s Flare at the door?

 

When I open the door, I’m greeted with a tackle hug of sorts. I don’t even know who this is yet! Am I being attacked? Is this it? Am I going to die?

 

Nebula: Protag-kuuun!!! 

 

Protagonist: Eh?!

 

… Is it bad that I’m disappointed that it’s NOT Flare? And also that it’s Nebula?

 

Nebula: I’ve been looking for you everywhere!

 

Protagonist: … The day just started? 

 

Nebula: It’s so lonely without you… Sob sob…

 

Oh dear.

 

Protagonist: I’m just gonna get to the point, Nebby-kun. Do you need something from me?

 

Nebula: Is there something wrong with wanting to spend time with my bestest friend? 

 

Protagonist: I thought Carmen-san was your bestest friend?

 

Nebula: Yeah, well, we’re cancelling her actually.

 

Protagonist: What?! What’d she do wrong?

 

Nebula: Uh, ditch me for Dust-kun obviously? How lame!

 

Protagonist: And what’s wrong with him?

 

Nebula: He’s not me. Can you believe it?

 

Protagonist: So… You want me to spend time with you today?

 

Nebula: How’d you guess? 

 

Protagonist: Uh… Who knows? 

 

It’s not that I have anything planned today that makes me unable to spend time with Nebula, it’s that… I’m not sure if I want to! And I don’t really have a good reason why.

 

I should try and buy some time. Maybe find some other plan to schedule in that time.

 

Protagonist: Can you give me like… A couple minutes? I’ve gotta like… You know. (waves hands around)

 

Nebula: (nods) Sure! I’m a patient guy. (claps hands together) Oh! I’ve got something I need to prepare anyways, so good idea, Protag-kun!

 

Protagonist: Preparing something for… Me?

 

Nebula: Nah, just in general! But I’m sure you’ll love it anyways. BRB!

 

Nebula heads back to their room, humming. Phew. That does buy me some time.

 

I quickly shut my door and do what I actually need to do. Then I whip out my tablet. 

 

Protagonist: [Dust-kuuuuun]

 

I get an immediate response.

 

Dust: [What?]

 

Protagonist: [Nebby-kun wants to hang out. Help.]

 

Dust: [You still call them Nebby? Lmao]

 

Protagonist: [I need some kinda excuse to not hang out with them though. Are you free?]

 

Dust: [Aren’t we all? Except not really.]

 

Protagonist: [ B/ ]

 

Dust: [Kk but seriously is this a good idea? I mean,,, doesn’t he hate me or something?]

 

Protagonist: [Oh yeah he does. Just mentioned it.]

 

Dust: [Exactly. So. Not the best idea! Don’t want him hating us even more. Idk if I wanna be in the line of Nebula’s wrath.]

 

Protagonist: [I think you already are.]

 

Dust: [Lmao]

 

Dust: [Aight but seriously I can’t help you with this. Sorry lmao]

 

Protagonist: [I’ll just. Find someone else B,( ]

 

Dust: [Good luck lolol]

 

Alright well that didn’t work. Who else can I ask? Flare’s mad at me, Cereza is definitely not in the mood… Maybe Rose? I know I can at least trust them. 

 

Protagonist: [Rose-san!]

 

I guess Rose doesn’t respond as fast, because the knock on my door returns. Nebula again…

 

Rose: [Yes? :0c ]

 

Too late...

 

Protagonist: [Ah… Never mind! Don’t worry about it.]

 

Rose: [If you say so!! ^^]

 

Spending time with Nebula won’t be all bad, right?

 

Thankfully, I got everything I needed to do before this. I open the door, and Nebula is at it again.

 

Nebula: Hi again~! (beams)

 

Protagonist: Hey, Nebby-kun. Thanks for giving me some time to get ready.

 

Nebula: No problem! Notice anything… Different?

 

They’re wearing the same clothes… Nothing is noticeably odd. What’s Nebula alluding to? 

 

Protagonist: … No?

 

Nebula: C’mon, look a little closer! 

 

Protagonist: What are you trying to point out?

 

I notice… Their lips??? Are shinier than usual?? I guess a wrong guess would be better than no guess for them.

 

Protagonist: … Are you wearing makeup? Like, lipstick?

 

Nebula: (nods) Nude number 43! I think it compliments my complexion quite nicely. What do you think?

 

Protagonist: It’s nice. 

 

… That’s all I can say. I don’t know much about makeup, and I really don’t intend to. Still, it doesn’t look bad on Nebula. I just can’t tell an honest difference.

 

Nebula: Thanks! I can teach you all about makeup, you know. Maybe I can give you a makeover, like I did with your nails! 

 

Protagonist: No! 

 

I step back. Ah shit, I immediately regretted saying that. 

 

Protagonist: I… I mean… No thanks! Wouldn’t want to bother you that much, y’know? You’ve already given me a manicure and everything.

 

Mmmmm I can feel the weird feelings creeping up my throat-

 

Nebula: Hey, hey, no worries! You’re my bestest friend, after all, I don’t mind! Plus, I got to talk about myself while I gave you a manicure. Maybe I can do it again! 

 

Protagonist: Seriously, you don’t-

 

Nebula: (waves hand) But I get it, makeup isn’t everyone’s thing. 

 

… Oh. He took it a lot better than I expected. I feel much, much lighter now. Though the weird feelings still linger. But when are they ever truly gone? 

 

Protagonist: Yeah… Admittedly, I don’t think it’s my thing, to be honest. 

 

Nebula: That’s cool! Enough chit chat though, I’m so hungry! Why don’t we grab some of Puppet-kun’s delicious breakfast before it turns cold?

 

Protagonist: Of course! Breakfast is like, the most important meal of the day!

 

Nebula: Yes, totally! 

 

Nebula grabs me by the hand, barely giving me enough time to close my door before we left to the kitchen. 

 

Puppet: Good morning! Oh, what an exciting duo! 

 

Nebula: Yep! Me and Protag-kun. What’s for breakfast?

 

Puppet: Eggs and bacon, with vegetarian alternatives! Spring-san requested that. 

 

Nebula: Awesome! Y’know, Puppet-kun, do you know how to bake?

 

Puppet: Me? A little, but it’s not my specialty, I’d say. I’m more comfortable with cooking stuff! I did make cinnamon rolls the other day… 

 

That hangs in the air for a bit. Y’know, cinnamon rolls when Soldier was alive.

 

Nebula: Ah, I see! 

 

Protagonist: What about you, Nebby-kun? 

 

Nebula: I can make a mean pastry! Oh! I just had an idea, Protag-kun?

 

Protagonist: Lemme guess, you wanna bake something?

 

Nebula: Bingo again! You’re on a roll, Protag-kun!

 

Puppet: Yay for Protagonist-kun!

 

Nebula: But first, breakfast, okay? Then cookies!

 

Puppet: Cookies?

 

Nebula: (nods) Cookies!

 

What riveting exchanges… 

 

We sit at a table where Rose and Glasses are sitting.

 

Rose: Good morning!

 

Glasses: (flips through a book) Morning. 

 

Rose: Hey, Protagonist-senpai, what was that message from earlier this morning for?

 

Nebula: A message?

 

Ah, shit. What did I say about not worrying about it?

 

Protagonist: Oh! I was gonna ask you something, but I decided to ask you in person! I felt it was more appropriate.

 

Rose: Well, what is it? 

 

Protagonist: Uh… It’s a more private thing?

 

Nebula: Hiding secrets, are we?

 

Protagonist: N-No! I just- Don’t wanna bother you or Glasses-san. So I’ll ask later, don’t worry!

 

Using that same excuse again… Though it’s not a complete lie! But it’s a way to cover my tracks.

 

Nebula: Whatcha reading, Glasses-kun?

 

Rose: So informal already…!

 

Glasses: Anna Kareina . Leo Tolstoy.

 

Nebula: That seems like a pretty big book.

 

Glasses: It is. 

 

That’s all he says as he flips another page. I wonder if he's enjoying it.

 

Rose: That reminds me! I had this idea, and Glasses-senpai seems pretty interested too!

 

Protagonist: What is it?

 

Nebula: Yeah! Tell, tell!

 

Rose: I was thinking of starting a book club! You know, we could all get in the library and read a book together and talk about it! Since, er… I dunno if gardening club is still gonna be a thing.

 

Nebula: There was a gardening club and no one told me?! 

 

Protagonist: Ah… Right. 

 

Rose: Would you be interested in joining the book club? This offer is for both of you!

 

Glasses: I thought Protagonist-san couldn’t read.

 

Protagonist: Well I can hear books being read aloud! … I also can read for real, just wanna make that clear. 

 

Nebula: What are we thinking about our first book club book? Please don’t tell me it’s something boring like what Glasses-kun is reading.

 

Rose: I was thinking of one of my favorite manga…

 

Nebula: I can get behind that!

 

Rose: Cardcaptor Sakura!

 

Glasses: … (sighs) Do we have to?

 

Rose: C’mon, Glasses-senpai, give it a chance! 

 

Glasses: Only if we get to read one of Ishiguro’s novels later. 

 

Rose: Of course! If you like it, then I’m sure it must be great!

 

Nebula: Yay for the book club!

 

Rose: Hm, who else should we invite? 

 

Nebula: Protag-kun, what about Flare-kun?

 

Protagonist: Uh.

 

Rose: You think he would be interested?

 

Protagonist: I’m sure he likes reading, but-

 

Nebula: Let’s invite him then! 

 

Glasses: I’m personally against it.

 

Rose: Huh?

 

Glasses: Why bother asking him if he’s going to say no? The likelihood of that happening is almost guaranteed.

 

Nebula: Hey, have some faith in him! I’m sure he won’t say no if Protag-kun asks, hehe.

 

Glasses: … I don’t think that will help. Ah, no offense, Protagonist-san.

 

Protagonist: None taken… 

 

They’re probably right anyways…

 

Nebula: Why don’t you give it a try, Protag-kun?

 

Protagonist: But-

 

Nebula: C’mon! The more, the merrier!

 

Protagonist: … I’ll ask him when I see him next.

 

Nebula: Awesome! I knew I could rely on you!

 

Why are we so insistent on getting Flare to join the book club again?

 

While we’re talking, footsteps enter the kitchen. It’s…  

 

Nebula: Heyyy, Spade-san! Wanna join our book club?

 

Spade stops dead in his tracks. Why would he ask that when the founder is ROSE of all people????

 

Glasses: (sighs) Nebula-san.

 

Nebula: What? Didn’t we just say the more, the merrier? 

 

Glasses: You said that. We are not inviting Spade-san. 

 

Spade: I’m right here, you know.

 

Glasses: I know. Spade-san, I’m retracting Nebula-san’s invitation to our book club. Go away.

 

Rose: U-Um…

 

Spade: … Whatever. I would’ve said no anyways. I find books you read tiresome.

 

He walks past us and into the kitchen.

 

Nebula: Let us know if you change your mind!

 

Spade: Don’t worry, I probably won’t. Especially with my invitation seemingly retracted.

 

Glasses: Your presence brings nothing but trouble. Why would I want you around something I enjoy if you’re just going to be an inconvenience?

 

Spade: Just an inconvenience? I didn’t think you thought of me that lowly.

 

Glasses: Should I think of you any higher?

 

Protagonist: Hey!

 

The conversation falls silent. Ah, shit, times two. 

 

Protagonist: Spade-san, just do what you need to do… And it would be better if you didn’t join the book club to be honest.

 

Spade: Didn’t plan to. I don’t know how much clearer I can make it. 

 

Spade enters the kitchen, and in moments, he walks out with a plate of food and leaves.

 

Rose lets out a loud sigh of relief.

 

Glasses: I’m sorry about that. 

 

Rose: No… Thank you, Glasses-senpai.

 

Nebula: Oh, right, right! Forgot about the whole… Y’know.

 

Glasses: How could you forget? And why would you even ask someone like Spade-san in the first place?

 

Nebula: Hey, you never know! Besides, I don’t even know what happened between him and Rose-kun, y’know? Can you blame me?

 

Rose: Uh…

 

Glasses: That’s obviously none of your business. Drop the subject, you’re interrupting my reading. 

 

Nebula: Meanie.

 

Protagonist: Can’t we get along for one day…?

 

Nebula: I just wanna have fun with the book club! And that’s more fun with more friends, right?

 

Glasses: You call Spade-san your friend? Flare-san, even?

 

Nebula: That’s true, nyahah.

 

Glasses: I’m really tempted to revoke your invitation too.

 

Nebula: What? What have I done wrong?

 

Glasses doesn’t respond and continues reading his book.

 

Nebula: Nyeh. Hey, you know what time it is, Protag-kun?

 

Protagonist: What? 

 

Nebula: Time to bake cookies!

 

Protagonist: Wait, I’m not done with my breakfast-!

 

Nebula: No time to haste!

 

Easy for you to say, you’re done with your food! Guess I can help and eat at the same time… Is that safe?

 

I try and scarf down my food as much as possible and head into the kitchen, waving a quick goodbye to Rose and Glasses.

 

Nebula: Puppet-kun~!

 

Puppet: (turns around from setting dishes) Ah! Hello again! 

 

Nebula: Cookie time, right?

 

Puppet: Right, you mentioned it earlier. I probably won’t be much help since I’m finishing up breakfast preparations, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! There’s a recipe book somewhere around here too, if you’d like.

 

Nebula: Don’t worry, I’ve got this. Protag-kun, you just do whatever I tell you to do!

 

Protagonist: Uh- Alright then!

 

I don’t know much about baking cookies anyways, so I don’t necessarily mind this. I just feel. Very overwhelmed right now, and it’s not even noon yet!

 

Baking cookies doesn’t go as badly as I expected, considering I’ve had no experience. Nebula just tells me what ingredients to get as they measure them and dump them into a bowl. Flour, milk, eggs, salt… Applesauce?? 

 

Protagonist: So what are we using applesauce for?

 

Nebula: Flavor. (dumps the applesauce in)

 

Protagonist: … Okay!

 

I guess I won’t complain since it’s not poison, and I don’t particularly mind applesauce. 

 

Nebula: What kinda stuff do you wanna add to the cookies? Chocolate chips? Nuts? Candy?

 

Protagonist: Uh… How about candy? You know, those chocolate ones coated in candy.

 

Nebula: Great idea! See, this is why you’re my bestest friend. I can always rely on you to do the right thing!

 

There’s that relying thing again… Does that matter to him or something? 

 

Nebula: Here, I’ll even let you decorate them. As a thanks for all your help so far!

 

Nebula hands me the large bag of candy, gesturing to the plate of dough circles. I mean… Unbaked cookies.

 

Protagonist: Decorate like what? 

 

Nebula: I dunno! Whatever you want. Maybe you could make some funky shapes, like a heart or a star! 

 

Protagonist: Hm…

 

I guess I’ll start with my first masterpiece. I scoop out a handful of candy and start pressing them into one of the cookies.

 

Nebula: Careful! Don’t force it!

 

One by one, I delicately press the candies in, until I’ve completed my first masterpiece. 

 

Nebula: (peers over Protagonist’s shoulder) H?

 

Protagonist: (nods solemnly) H. 

 

Nebula: Uh… Wig?

 

Protagonist: Glad you can appreciate the artistry.

 

I start to do more normal decorations as Nebula suggested, like hearts, stars, smiley faces… One smiley face with shades on them. Hehe. 

 

As I put the last candy into place, Nebula claps. 

 

Nebula: What an artiste! I can’t wait to share these with everyone. 

 

Sharing cookies… That I helped to make… With friends… 

 

Woah.

 

Nebula swoops up the tray and places it in the oven. After setting the oven, he turns back to me, smiling.

 

Nebula: So! We’ve got some time to kill.

 

Protagonist: Uh… What now? 

 

Nebula: We wait! We can’t just leave the cookies to burn… Or worse, to let someone steal our hard work! 

 

Protagonist: Who would steal our cookies?

 

Nebula: Gear-kun, probably.

 

I hear footsteps running away from the kitchen.

 

Nebula: My point exactly.

 

Protagonist: So we just wait here then? I’m confused on this whole baking thing.

 

Nebula: (nods) Mhm! It shouldn't take that long, usually fifteen minutes is all it takes.

 

Protagonist: That fast?

 

I guess we wait those 15 minutes. I hear a "ding!", and Nebula goes back to the oven with mitts. They take out the tray of cookies. It smells really good… 

 

Nebula: (pokes a cookie) Perfect! Perfect texture, perfect image, and hopefully, perfect taste! But I'm sure that won't be a problem!

 

Protagonist: I'm glad it worked out well!

 

Nebula: Why don't you try a cookie, Protagonist?

 

Protagonist: Shouldn't you have one too? I mean, you did most of the work…

 

Nebula: Ah, right, right! Then let's try one together!

 

We each grab a cookie. Hot!

 

Nebula: 3… 2… 1!

 

Nebula pops the cookie in their mouth while I take a tentative bite, avoiding any candy for the time being. 

 

Nebula: (mouth full of cookie) Yes!!! Completely perfect! A+ score!

 

I chew, and… Nebula's right, it tastes really good! I can even taste the applesauce, but not in a gross "these cookies taste like apples" kind of way. Just… A nice side taste. It goes really well with the overall taste of the cookie. I take another bite. I'm impressed.

 

Protagonist: This is really good!

 

Nebula: Let's save the other cookies for everyone else, okay? But we get first dibs cuz we made them! Dream team forever!

 

Protagonist: Dream team… 

 

Nebula takes another cookie, then turns to me.

 

Nebula: So! 

 

Protagonist: (chewing) Sooo?

 

Nebula: Tell me about yourself, Protag-kun! 

 

Protagonist: Me? 

 

Nebula: I told you a lot about myself, I wanna know about you! What kinda school did you go to? What clubs were you a part of?

 

Protagonist: Uh… 

 

This… Is awkward. 

 

Protagonist: I didn’t really participate in many clubs, aha! I was a pretty normal guy who didn’t do all that much.

 

Nebula: Really? You were considered “normal?” That’s crazy! 

 

Protagonist: I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. 

 

Nebula: (moves on) Well what area are you from anyways? 

 

Protagonist: Uh… Kanto?

 

Which isn’t a lie. I was born there, but I moved to the Kansai region later on. And by “moved there,” I mean I ran away there with no real sense of direction of where I was going. And then I landed in Kansai!

 

Nebula: Ohhh, that’s where I’m from!

 

Protagonist: Yeah, cuz-

 

Nebula: What school are you from? I've probably heard of it.

 

Do I have to keep lying? Maybe I can just go "haha gotcha" and tell the truth but. Uhhh I dunno how I feel with letting out all my dirt like that. Especially to Nebula of all people. Like them or hate them, but they'll for sure blab about it. Or make fun of me. Either way isn't preferred.

 

I've gotta come up with something on the spot.

 

Protagonist: Uh… Just some regular school in the suburbs… Aoi…? If you've heard of it, I dunno. 

 

I literally just said the first word that came to mind. "Aoi?" Really?

 

Nebula: Hm… Sounds familiar! But you're right, that is a pretty regular sounding name.

 

Protagonist: Aha, yep!

 

Crisis averted? Maybe?

 

Nebula: Y'know, with how normal you seem, I'm surprised you're not one of the civilians!

 

Okay crisis NOT averted. Uh oh.

 

Protagonist: What's that supposed to mean?

 

Nebula: Nothing! But… Is someone like you really in the caliber of this killing game?

 

Protagonist: I… Still don't follow.

 

I ask myself that question every night, Nebula.

 

Nebula: Hmm, I wonder. 

 

Protagonist: … Are you trying to guess my identity?

 

Nebula: Perhaps! It's such a shame you can't tell me directly, right?

 

Protagonist: I think I'm good with not telling you.

 

Nebula: Ooh, why? Are you afraid I'm gonna find out that you're a serial killer or something?

 

Protagonist: W-What?!

 

Nebula: Kyahaha! It's fun getting a reaction out of you! 

 

Protagonist: You like getting reactions out of everyone, I'm pretty sure.

 

Nebula: That's true too!

 

Protagonist: Uh…

 

I feel like I'm at a stalemate with Nebula. He's harder to read than Flare! What does he want from me? What do I want from him? What I do want?

 

I at least know I should keep the conversation going. Nebula sure likes to talk.

 

Protagonist: What's your goal in life, Nebby-kun?

 

Nebula: My goal? To be the biggest superstar ever, of course! 

 

Protagonist: The biggest? 

 

Nebula: Yeah! The one everyone talks about, the one with the most fans, the one you see on magazine covers and red carpets! You know I'm an actor, but I wanna become the biggest, most famous one there is!

 

Protagonist: … Wow.

 

Nebula: Admirable, right? I'm gonna keep working to be the best! And when we get out of this place, I'm sure this will make great PR!

 

Protagonist: PR…?

 

Nebula: Once the news gets my name out after we escape, everyone's gonna look up my name and see my work! And then I'll get more fans, and my popularity will skyrocket! I might even make Nebula a stage name I go by!

 

Protagonist: I guess that's a way to look on the bright side of… All of this?

 

Nebula: Thanks! What about you? What do you want when we get out of here?

 

"When…"

 

Protagonist: I just… Want to go back to my old life. I don't think I have as big of a dream that you have. 

 

Nebula: (nods) I see, I see!

 

Protagonist: I really want all of this to end. I don't want to know how many more people here are deadly serial killers or esteemed detectives, I don't want to see my friends become murderers, I don't want to see my friends… 

 

I swallow.

 

Protagonist: I don't want to see my friends dead.

 

Nebula: Protag-kun… 

 

Protagonist: Ugh… I feel dumb for saying that. That's like, pretty common fucking sense, huh? And I know the situation is way more complex than that.

 

Nebula: No, no, I get it! You're not wrong to think that at all.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, but it's nothing special . Everyone wants that, that's the whole point. Some of these people aren't even my friends.

 

Nebula: But after our whole thing of hiding things and faking stuff, it's nice to just get some raw, honest emotions out, right?

 

I think about Flare with that statement.

 

I really appreciated when he opened up to me. It was a side of Flare that I knew was real, and I treasured that. It was the Flare I wanted. 

 

But then after the trial… Why? Did I do something wrong?

 

He's back to his usual self, but just… Without me. 

 

It finally occurs to me that the concept of Flare, the person Flare, has existed far longer than I've known him. That he's experienced so much without me. That he has a whole identity and background that I don't even know. 

 

That just makes me feel weird. 

 

I know, I know, that's the case for everyone here. But it's Flare of all people.

 

I don't know how to put my feelings for him properly but… He makes me feel safe? And I want him by my side? Maybe it's because he was the first person I met here. Or maybe it's that we met everyone together and we shared so many good memories before it all went to shit. And with him, it feels more like the short time we had together before the killing game was announced. Or maybe it's something stupid, like how it just felt really, really nice to hug him that one time.

 

That's it. I have to make up with him as soon as I can. I don't care what anyone says, or even what he says. I just. I want him back!

 

Geez, I sound like a whiney, desperate teenager right now.

 

Though, technically, that's what I am.

 

Nebula: Protag-kuuun? You've been unusually silent for some time.

 

Protagonist: Ah! Sorry. Just thinking about stuff. Were you saying something?

 

Nebula: I was just asking if you wanted another cookie?

 

Oh right, I should get going. No point in having me around, right?

 

Protagonist: You know… I'll take one for the road.

 

Nebula: For the road? Are you leaving? 

 

… Wait.

 

Protagonist: I mean!!! I have to, uh, go to the bathroom! Obviously! But while I'm gone feel free to share them with the others! 

 

Nebula: Ohhh, okay! I'll see you in a bit then. I'll be right here!

 

Protagonist: Right…!

 

I take a cookie and weakly wave, leaving the kitchen. 

 

I have two options: Run, or return like I said I would. I have a solid five minutes max, maybe thirty if I claim I was taking a really huge shit.

 

… I'm gonna run.

 

I head up the stairs, going as far away as I possibly can. To the balcony!

 

I reach the third floor before I run out of breath. 

 

Cereza: Protagonist-kun?

 

Protagonist: Oh! Hello there! (Wheeze)

 

Hold on a second.

 

Protagonist: Cereza-chan! What are you doing up here?

 

Cereza: (concerned) Looking for Pearl-san… Have you seen her?

 

Protagonist: Is she not in her room?

 

Cereza: I thought she was… But when I knocked on the door, her room was unlocked and she wasn't there… I have no idea where she could be.

 

Not in her room? Is she still working in the infirmary?

 

Protagonist: Check the sign in to see if she stopped by the kitchen. Though if she's missing, I dunno if she would fill that out even if she did go there. 

 

Cereza: I guess I'll try that…

 

Protagonist: I'm sure she's around here somewhere! If not the kitchen, she might be somewhere else that she usually is, like the greenhouse? 

 

Cereza: I’ll look there next.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, I guess this is a time where being stuck in a manor is handy. And she's gotta be safe too, since it's the No-Killy session, right?

 

Cereza: That's true… 

 

Protagonist: You'll find her eventually! I'm sure of it.

 

Cereza: Yeah…

 

She gives a light smile. The first I've seen in a while.

 

Cereza: Thanks. I'll keep looking.

 

Protagonist: Oh! One more thing. 

 

Cereza: Hm?

 

Protagonist: If you see Nebby-kun… And especially if they ask if you've seen me around… Deny everything.

 

Cereza: … Alright then. I won't question that 

 

Protagonist: Thanks! Good luck finding Pearl-san.

 

Cereza: I'll try…

 

Cereza heads down while I have the stamina to run up the last flight of stairs. To the balcony!

 

It's empty when I get there, so I flop onto one of the cushy sofas, not caring about how I look. Ah… Finally, some alone time! 

 

I hear the door creak open. Well, so much for that.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san?

 

SO MUCH FOR QUIET TIME, HUH?

 

Protagonist: (head shoots up) Flare-san!!

 

WHAT AM I DOING??

 

Flare: …

 

I half expect him to walk away and pretend like I'm not here. Actually, I fully expect him to do that.

 

Protagonist: Wait! Don't go!

 

Flare: I wasn't going anywhere.

 

Protagonist: … Oh. 

 

It falls silent again.

 

Protagonist: So… You come here often?

 

Flare: No, actually. I'm surprised to see you here. Are you here often?

 

Protagonist: Nope! I'm just hiding from Nebby-kun.

 

Flare: You still call them that?

 

Protagonist: Aha, Dust-kun asked me the same thing too. 

 

Flare: And you're friends with Dust-san too?

 

Protagonist: Yeah! Well, sorta. I was kinda their platonic wingman for Carmen-san.

 

Flare: A lot can happen in only a few days, huh.

 

Protagonist: Yeah, truly.

 

I wasn't trying to be passive-aggressive. Flare, however, probably was.

 

Protagonist: So what have you been up to? If not hanging around in this screened balcony.

 

Flare: Mulling about in my room. Clearly whenever I go out in public it doesn't end well.

 

Protagonist: Does this count as one of those times?

 

Flare: Somewhat. 

 

Protagonist: … Oh.

 

It falls silent again. I have so many things to say, so many things to ask beyond this awkward small talk, but I don't know where to start. I need to say something, I really, really don't want him to leave… 

 

There's a burning question I've got to ask.

 

Protagonist: Did I do something wrong? Again?

 

Flare: … 

 

Protagonist: (quietly) I'm sorry. I'm sorry I keep fucking up, I promise I'll be better-

 

It's not even Flare I'm upset with, but tears start falling down my face as I get horrible, awful flashbacks to-

 

Flare: You've never done anything wrong, Protagonist-san. 

 

Flare…

 

I'm sorry for upsetting you.

 

Flare: I really hate this saying, but it's me. It's my fault. I'm not mad at you. If it ever came off that way, then it's my fault. 

 

Protagonist: Then… Then why do I feel so bad about myself when I think about how poorly you're doing? Why do I blame myself? I want to make you happy, why can't I?

 

Flare: Holy shit, that's not-

 

Protagonist: And- And… I don't know why I want to make you happy and-.

 

Flare: PROTAGONIST.

 

Their voice isn't annoyed, or frustrated, or angry even. It's firm, and… It's for me.

 

Flare: Protagonist-san, listen to me. If that's the way you feel about me, that isn't healthy.

 

Flare: If you're feeling guilty about me, if you feel some kind of obligation towards me, then- fuck, that's just not good!

 

Protagonist: I-I should stop-

 

Flare: No, that's not it either. You can't suppress it either!

 

Protagonist: Then what do I do? I know you won't accept my feelings, I can't even accept them myself!

 

Flare sits across from me. I've descended from my lack position to laying on my side, fat tears falling down my face. 

 

Flare: Then talk to me, Protagonist-san. I'm here for you.

 

I feel pathetic. Flare of all people is playing therapist for me.

 

Protagonist: I don't know why you're so upset. Even if it's not about me, regardless of how I feel, I can't help but feel bad not even knowing why you're upset.

 

Flare sighs.

 

Protagonist: And I know you don't owe me anything, it's just like you said but-

 

Flare: I don't have an excuse, do I?

 

Protagonist: That's not what I meant!

 

Flare: No, but that's what I'm saying. Something I said to you in a fit of anger isn't worth anything. I just… What I meant was…

 

Flare: This whole thing has been. A lot. Seeing a dead body. Seeing said person be killed later on by one of your peers. Knowing that the aforementioned corpse has killed over eighty people. And then the whole spare and execute debate…

 

Protagonist: But you-

 

Flare: I voted to execute Pearl-san, yes. And I'll be honest, that's not the part I regret.

 

Protagonist: I can't change your mind on that one… 

 

That's fine. It's fine. Is it really okay?

 

Flare: Maybe that's my problem. I'm so self-absorbed, yet I also can see everyone's side. I knew why Cereza-san was defending Pearl-san, and I understood why Pearl-san did what she did. But… I also understood Spade-san's logic too. We couldn't let her get off the hook with a slap on the wrist, but the only method of punishment was…

 

He winces. 

 

Flare: Even then, it would discourage others from killing, right? And knowing that was our only spare… 

 

Protagonist: I thought executing would do the exact opposite. 

 

Flare: I know that. But in the end, I'd still have voted to execute her. 

 

Flare: So there. There's the explanation I told you that you'd never get. I'm deeply sorry. 

 

Protagonist: … Thank you.

 

I didn't think he needed to apologize, but I appreciated the explanation. 

 

Flare: Do you have any other questions for me? If not, I want to focus on how you're feeling.

 

Protagonist: … What changed?

 

Flare: Excuse me?

 

Protagonist: Why this, all of a sudden? Just yesterday you were picking a fight with Glasses-san. What happened that changed you?

 

Flare: I don’t know if anything changed, really. I just realized a lot of the ways I was treating others, especially you, was unfair because the problems were just with me. 

 

Protagonist: You can’t blame yourself though-

 

Flare: I know, but the problem lies with me. Just… So much has happened over this past week, and I know it’s not my fault, it’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s hard to cope. It really, really is. 

 

Protagonist: I know, and you especially can’t blame yourself for struggling with the situation… 

 

Flare just sighs. He’s in the same boat as me, having never had a real incident with death. At least, never this personal… Even Pearl had her experiences.

 

Protagonist: But I’m here for you, you know? We’re in the same boat, and… I want to be there for you. 

 

Flare: Is that how you feel about me?

 

My cheeks burn up instantly, though hopefully Flare doesn’t notice through how much of a sniveling mess I am. … That isn’t much better. 

 

Is that really how I feel about him though? 

 

Protagonist: I… I guess? 

 

Protagonist: Seeing you makes me feel weird. Not a bad kind of weird, but not an entirely good kind of weird either? And I’m not sure how it makes me feel about… Uh, those feelings.

 

How profound of me. Does this count as a confession?

 

Protagonist: I don’t know exactly what I want, but… I want to spend more time with you. I want to be with you without the feeling of you hating me. Usually I don’t mind it, but… You’re the one person who I don’t want to hate me. 

 

Flare: I don’t hate you.

 

Protagonist: I want things to be back to how they used to, where I feel comfortable and happy being around you and not awkward, where I could laugh with you and feel good with you. 

 

This sounded a lot more profound in my head.

 

Protagonist: Is that… Stupid? Does that make sense? Or does it not?

 

Flare: No, I get it. 

 

I think that’s a good thing. 

 

Protagonist: And you asked me before, about if I believed in love, and… Again, my answer is I don’t know. I really don’t know, and I don’t know if you believe in it either, but… 

 

One thought becomes clear in my mind.

 

Protagonist: No matter the answer, I want to figure it out with you. Will you let me?

 

Flare stays silent for a moment. It looks like he’s thinking, but I can’t be too sure. 

 

This time, I won’t press him for an answer. I’ll wait for him.

 

He opens his mouth to speak. His eyes are no longer filled with the walls that I’ve seen him put up earlier. 

 

Flare: … Of course, Protagonist-san. 

 

He thinks for a moment.

 

Flare: … No, just Protagonist. 

 

Protagonist: Huh…?

 

Flare: Let’s just drop the honorifics. I don’t want to treat you as an acquaintance, nor as a child, but… Someone I see eye-to-eye with. Does that sound good?

 

I find myself nodding eagerly.

 

Protagonist: I’ll take it.

 

Flare: No matter what happens… No matter what I may say, or whatever you may do…

 

That firmness returns to his eyes, but this time, it’s with confidence.  

 

Flare: We’re here for each other. Okay? 

 

I smile. Not a coy smirk, or a silly grin, but a genuine smile. I feel really, really happy right now.

 

Protagonist: Of course, Flare.

 

That felt really good.

 

Flare: Let’s catch up on some lost time then. 

 

Protagonist: Oh?

 

Flare: I’ve finally left my room, which feels good.

 

Protagonist: Ah, though I do have a question.

 

Flare: What is it?

 

Protagonist: Nothing deep, I swear! Just… An invitation.

 

Flare: An invitation?

 

Protagonist: Rose-san is starting a book club. We thought you might like to join!

 

Flare: A book club… Wait, if Rose-san is running it, who else is in it?

 

Protagonist: Me, Rose-san, Glasses-san, and Nebby-kun. But we’re open to inviting new members!

 

Flare: … Oh. That sounds a lot less appealing. 

 

Protagonist: To be fair, I don’t think Nebby-kun is gonna uphold their word. And if it’s any better, Spade-san already said no.

 

Flare: But there’s still… Glasses-san.

 

Protagonist: Right.

 

I still don’t know what his deal is with Glasses, and this probably isn’t the right time to ask, so I won’t push it.

 

Protagonist: I’m not forcing you, of course! You’re allowed to say no.

 

Flare: … I’ll at least give it a shot. 

 

Protagonist: Really?

 

Flare: I mean, why not? Though full disclosure, if it gets too annoying, I’m leaving the club.

 

Protagonist: Fine by me! 

 

I feel rejuvenated. Like when Flare opened up, but ten times better. The awkwardness is gone, the tears have dried, and I’m so gonna regret crying tomorrow morning. But you know what? It’s alright! Because Flare and I are on the best terms we’ve ever been! It’s all worth it!

 

I get up, and the two of us walk out of the balcony and back into the manor. 

 

Protagonist: So, how are we gonna spend some time, Flare?

 

Flare: Well, you’re hiding from Nebula-san, right?

 

Protagonist: Ah… Right. I hope they’re not too mad… Or worse.

 

Flare: Let’s not think about that then and stay away from the kitchen until dinner comes. How about we go somewhere else? Like-

 

Mid-sentence, Flare is cut off by a scream, a scream so loud we could hear it from the top floor. 

 

Flare: -Huh?

 

Protagonist: What was that?!

 

I try to think about the source of the scream. Where did it come from? Who did it come from?

 

Protagonist: We have to go help!

 

Thankfully, there’s only one way to go, and that’s down. 

 

We run down the first flight of stairs and look around. Nothing seems to be stirring. Could it have been in the pool or the gym? 

 

Flare: Let’s go down another story. I don’t think it came from here, it was probably from the floor below us or the lobby. 

 

Protagonist: There’s no time to lose! 

 

As we run down, another scream emerges. This time, I recognize the voice.

 

Cereza: Roxie, Usher, anybody, please HELP! 

 

… Oh fuck. 

 

It’s right below us.

 

If it’s coming from the floor below us, from Cereza of all people, then-

 

Pearl.

 

Protagonist: … No.

 

Flare: Protagonist?

 

Protagonist: CEREZA!

 

As soon as I reach the second floor, I yell out her name. 

 

I see the infirmary door wide open. 

 

Was Pearl there all along? 

 

Then… What happened? 

 

And Cereza…

 

I run up to the infirmary, Flare following me. 

 

Cereza is on her knees, in front of the open door. 

 

Protagonist: C… Cereza…? 

 

Cereza: Please… Help…

 

I stand behind her, staring into the infirmary. Flare is by my side. And… 

 

I see it. 

 

Knocked over containers, spilt liquids…

 

And a body face down on the floor. 

 

No. Please, no… 

 

This has to be a mistake. 

 

Protagonist: Pearl-san…

 

And just with the utterance of that word, Cereza, trembling, finally gives into the emotions she’s been suffering from for all this time. 

 

She starts bawling, and the sound of her crying fractures my heart in two. The reality of the situation finally settles in.

 

Pearl… She… 

 

… What have we done? 

 

protagonist sees pearl's body on the infirmary ground.