“Hey, have you ever heard? Someone yelling in the halls after school but no one was around? Heard someone crying? Maybe it was the shapeshifting apparition of a bullied first year. They say if you make another student cry while the apparition is crying… he’ll evenly match every tear you’ve made others shed with your blood.
Himiko ran through the school halls. “Ahhh, I’m going to be late!” She slid open a classroom door. Her fellow ultimates sat at their desks, chatting. Kaito tacked up flyers on the bulletin board above the cubbies in the back. But no Chisa at the front desk. Himiko sighed in relief. She walked towards her seat in the far side of the classroom.
Watering can in hand, Angie watered the plants on the shelf against the wall. “Oh, Himiko! There you are. Naww, I see a frown on your face. Atua has spoken! It’s Rantaro, right? Still upset over your failed confession?”
Himiko pulled down her mage hat. “No, it’s just… It’s almost a month into our first year at Hope’s Peak. But I still haven’t caught any handsome guy’s eye.”
Angie clapped her hands. “Nyahaha. My silly Himiko. You’ll find the ideal Prince Charming from your soap operas one day. How about I tell you a scary story to turn that frown upside down. Have I ever told you about the seventh school wonder?”
Elbow on her desk, Himiko rested her cheek on a palm. She smiled. “You have. But tell me it again.”
“Hey, have you heard? This school has seven wonders. But Kokichi-san, the seventh wonder, is the most popular one. In the third stall of the girl’s bathroom of the old school building lives Kokichi-san, who will grant a wish to anyone who summons him. But in exchange, he takes something precious from them…”
After school, Himiko walked through the halls of the old school building. She heard something quiet in the distance. Himiko slowed to a stop. Is that… someone crying? She remained still, listening. Nothing. Shrugging, Himiko entered the girls’ bathroom in the old school building. Three red stalls stood to the right, paired with three pedestal sinks and mirrors. Soft sunlight streamed from the stained-glass window. The smell of ammonia hung in the air. Himiko approached the last stall.
Angie’s words replayed in her head. “To summon him, knock three times. And then…”
Himiko knocked. “Kokichi, Kokichi, are you there?”
“Here I am…” Hands covered her eyes from behind.
Himiko’s heart pounded. Ahh, this is just like a scene from my soaps! Then the boy leans in and whispers in her ear, “I love you…!” Himiko’s face burned. Wait, what am I saying?! It’s just him. And he’s not my type. Batting the hands away, Himiko turned around. She froze.
Kokichi’s upside down face filled her vision. A grin stretched unnaturally across his face. “Fooound you!”
Squealing, Himiko fell back against the stall door. “K-Kokichi! I know you’re a ghost, but you don’t have to scare me like that.”
“Nee-heehee!” Kokichi floated upside down but then he righted himself. He wore a black button up with a gold-trimmed peaked cap. A square paper seal was stuck to his left cheek. Crying out, Kokichi hugged Himiko’s side and pressed a cheek to her shoulder. “Waaah! I was so lonely without you, Himiko. You took forever!”
Himiko raised a brow. “You’re always touching me. Why do you do that?”
“Because I can’t touch anyone else. We share a special bond, remember?”
Himiko first met the ghost when she summoned him to ask for help in confessing to Rantaro a month ago. Himiko misused a charm of Kokichi’s and was cursed because of it. In return for Himiko becoming his assistant, Kokichi mitigated the curse’s effects. That allowed them to physically touch despite him being a ghost. Together they quell any troublemaking spirits causing havoc in the school.
Smiling, Kokichi rested his head on Himiko’s shoulder. “You’re my assistant. And a proper leader takes care of his followers, right?” Kokichi squished Himiko’s cheeks with a hand. “Isn’t that riiight? Oh hey, your donkey lips look like fish lips now!”
“Cut it out!” Huffing, Himiko wiggled out of his grasp. “I don’t have donkey lips, my chest will grow one day, and my ankles don’t resemble daikons. You’ll see. One day when my MP is fully charged, I’ll transform into a beautiful magical girl and you won’t recognize me.”
Frowning, Himiko crossed her arms. “And how is it that you’re lonely? Don’t you have those two small spirits with you at all times?”
“The haku-joudai?” Kokichi raised a hand. Two teardrop-shaped ghosts appeared, one with a red circular marking and the other green. One gently butted his hand. “These will-o-wisps help me activate my spiritual powers. They don’t speak.” Sniffing, Kokichi wiped a teary eye. “They’re a tough crowd to practice comedy for. They never laugh at my jokes.”
“Then what about the other seven wonders? Or the Mokke?”
Kokichi shrugged. “I may be the leader of the school’s seven wonders, but that doesn’t mean we get along per se. We don’t usually come into contact. And the Mokke can’t do what you can!”
Kokichi snapped his fingers. In a flash Himiko’s hat changed into a headscarf, she wore an apron, and held a mop in gloved hands. “They can’t do my cleaning for me! Now scrub this bathroom top to bottom!”
Sighing, Himiko drooped. “Not this again. With me cleaning all the time I don’t get to practice my magecraft!”
“Aw, don’t be like that.” Kokichi hugged Himiko from behind. Clasped her hands with his. “Come. Stay with me.” He whispered into her ear. “I can show you some of my magic.”
Himiko flushed. Then she rapidly shook her head. “Yeah, magic to turn me into your cleaning lady! It’s such a pain… Why is cleaning this bathroom so important to you?”
Drifting like a sigh, Kokichi floated over to the window. He gazed outside, the soft sunlight falling on his face. “I enjoy your company. Meeting together after school, making small talk… it’s like having a friend. Kind of nostalgic.
“And I…” Kokichi bowed his head. His hat covered his face in shadow. “When I was alive, I didn’t have any friends either. I was bullied pretty badly…”
The mage murmured, “Kokichi…”
Kokichi whipped around, arms wide and grinning. “Just kidding! I manipulated my bullies into pranking the teacher, making them my unwitting minions! Minions are better than friends.” Kokichi held up a finger. “After all, in life I led an evil organization with over 10,000 members.”
“You’re making up things again, aren’t you? You just mean leading the seven wonders.”
Kokichi laughed. “Who knows? I am a liar, after all! But you can be sure I’ll be very upset if you leave without cleaning. So chop-chop! And afterwards you can practice your magic by teaching me new tricks! That’s always fun, right? How’s that?”
Himiko hummed, thinking. Well he is one of the few people who doesn’t make fun of me for believing in magic… “Fine, fine.” Himiko shook her head, smiling. “So long as you don’t try to use the Mokke to cheat again.”
“Promise! Or is that a lie? Nee-heehee…!”
Shaking her head, Himiko began mopping the floor. She glanced behind her. Kokichi had started showing card tricks to the Mokke – tricks Himiko had taught him. But is what he said true? Did he never have a friend before? Ever lead an organization? I don’t know about his past or how he died. Biting her lip, Himiko gripped the mop handle. I don’t really know Kokichi at all.
Wiping her forehead, Himiko trudged out of the girl’s bathroom. She grumbled, “That’s the last time I show him any coin magic. He made all my money disappear. What does a ghost need money for, anyway?”
Himiko rounded the corner. Kaito was climbing up the last few stairs. Hand raised, he approached her. “Oh hey, Himiko! I saw you talking to Angie earlier. You didn’t accidently slip up about my secret identity, did you?”
Himiko shook her head. “No, I won’t do that. I haven’t told her about Kokichi either.”
Kaito glanced around the hallway, looking for anyone nearby. Green walls with wood wainscoting. Arches overhead and over doorways. Lantern-like lights hung from the ceiling. But no people. Kaito leaned in closer to whisper. “Good to hear! I can’t let people know I’m secretly an exorcist. My family name may have changed from Minamoto to Momota over the years, but for the sake of my great exorcist ancestor, I’ll protect this school from evil spirits!” Grinning, Kaito flashed a thumbs up. “Isn’t that cool? I’m a hero!”
Laughing, Himiko waved a hand in dismissal. “Right, right. If I run into any ghost, I’ll get you–”
Kaito shrank back, trembling. His face became white and sweaty like a melting candle. “D-d-don’t say that word…!”
“What word? Ghost?”
Crying out, Kaito knelt down, his arms shielding his head. “Nooooo!” he wailed.
Sweating, Himiko cupped her cheek. “I’m not sure you can be a great exorcist if you’re scared of ghosts.”
“I-I may be inexperienced, but…!”
“What is that awful racket?”
A kitsune, a fox spirit, materialized on a nearby windowsill. She hopped down, transforming into a woman dressed in a pink floral kimono.
“Ah, Maki, the second school wonder!” cried Himiko. “I haven’t seen you since you, uh, went out of control the other day.” A few days ago, Himiko, Kokichi, and Kaito formed an uneasy alliance to quell Maki when she suddenly went berserk.
Kaito held up a hand in a wave. “Oh hey, Maki Roll.”
Hissing, Maki summoned a giant pair of scissors. “Do you want to die? Call me that again and I’ll kill you.” Scissors were Maki’s weapon of choice. If they touched a person, they would become a lifeless doll.
Eyes wide, Kaito leaned back, hands raised. “T-that’s okay. I’ll pass on being a doll again.” Humphing, Maki turned her head away.
Himiko clasped her hands. “Now, now. You’re one of the seven wonders, right? Why can’t you get along with Kokichi and–”
Someone screamed, “Who did this?!”
Himiko gasped. “That sounded like Kiyo! We got to help him!”
“Your problem, not mine.” Tossing her hair, Maki dematerialized.
Himiko and Kaito ran down the hall. They burst into the anthropologist’s research lab. Kiyo and Angie stood in the center of his lab, staring at the sight before them. The traditional Japanese styled room stretched four floors above their heads, with crosswalks running across the open divide above them. Historical artifacts sat behind glass walls and in glass counters like a jewelry store. And spray painted on every glass case was a poop emoji.
Himiko stifled a snort behind a hand.
Kiyo rounded on the mage, his eyes simmering. “Was that a laugh?” Himiko yelped. Fists balled, Kiyo turned back to the vandalized glass displays. “I cannot believe the nerve of some people. No, I’ll tear out the nerves of whoever did this.”
Kaito chuckled. “I like the one with eyes and the tongue sticking out like the yum emoji.”
Kiyo pulled out a rope. “Allow me to demonstrate the 1,537 different ways to tie up a person…” Trembling, Kaito shrank back.
Himiko approached Angie, hand outstretched to touch her shoulder. “What’s going on? What happened?”
Angie stepped back, hands crossing her chest as if shielding herself. “O-oh Himiko… I’m touched by what you said to me earlier, even if I dunno how to answer you. Atua is napping so I can’t ask him.”
“Nyeh? What are you talking about?”
Blushing, Angie cupped a cheek. “You said you were tired of chasing after fairytale princes. And ‘if anyone would do, you’re not too bad!’”
“Nyeeeeh?!” Himiko staggered back. “I didn’t – When did I say that?!”
“A little while ago I saw you running out of Kiyo’s lab, spray cans in hand. I greeted you and then you said that–”
Kiyo whirled on Himiko. “You! You did this!”
“What? No! I wouldn’t do this. And I never said–!”
Face cast in shadow, Kiyo stepped closer, rope in hand. “Killing you means you’d meet Sister, so I’ll keep you within an inch of your life…”
Smiling, Angie spread her arms wide. “Oh, what the Atua! I accept, Himiko. Give Angie a biiig hug!”
“Noooo!” Crying out, Himiko ran out of the room. She barely made it around the corner before running into Maki.
“You!” she snarled. “How dare you show me your face after what you just did!”
Kaito ran up from behind Himiko. “Huh? What’s the matter?”
Jaw set, Maki looked away from them, face red. “Himiko challenged me to a rock-paper-scissors duel. And she rudely kept throwing rock to crush my scissors and beat me!”
Kaito raised a brow. “Why wouldn’t you throw something other than scissors?”
Maki spluttered, “B-because scissors– They’re the superior– Just shut up! I won’t forgive you for this!”
Frowning, Himiko clutched the front of her sweater. “Maki, too? But I didn’t… Someone is trying to frame me. An imposter!”
Kaito turned to Himiko. “If you didn’t do it, then maybe it’s the work of a g-g…”
“A ghost. Of course.” Kaito shrieked. Himiko narrowed her eyes. “And I know just which one.”
Himiko threw aside the bathroom’s sliding door. “How could you?!”
Kokichi looked up from his game of Go Fish with the Mokke sitting on the windowsill. “Huh?”
Fists clenched, Himiko strode a few steps inside. “It’s because I was complaining about cleaning up the bathroom, isn’t it? You wanted to get back at me.”
Kokichi poked the pink belly of a Mokke. “Do you know what’s going on?”
The small bunny-eared spirit squeaked, “No.”
“Don’t act like you don’t know. You used your spiritual powers to look like me and then ruined Kiyo’s lab, lied to Angie, and embarrassed Maki!”
Kokichi stilled. “A look-a-like.”
Himiko jabbed a finger. “This has ‘you’ written all over it. You scare me, make me clean the bathroom, and you said you led an evil organization when you were alive!”
Smiling, Kokichi pressed a finger to his lips. “Oh we did waaay worse than little pranks. Clean up cops, blackmail politicians, control the stock market–”
Tears swam in Himiko’s eyes. “Just when I wanted to get to know you more. You even said we share a special bond, but you…” Himiko flung down her fists. “Kokichi, you liar!”
Eyes stinging, Himiko fled out the bathroom.
Rag in hand, Kaito wiped up the spray paint off the glass cases in Kiyo’s lab. The artist was scrubbing a glass display next to him. Kiyo had stormed off to tell a teacher.
Jaw set, Kaito glanced at the door Himiko had left from. I should be out there making sure there aren’t any apparitions around… but what if there’s an actual live ghost?! Frowning, Kaito held his chin. No wait. Ghosts are dead, not alive. Screaming, Kaito clutched his head. “Dead or alive ghosts are scary!”
Angie glanced up. “A ghost? Oh, that reminds me! There’s been a new rumor going around.”
“Have you heard? Someone yelling in the halls after school but no one was around? Heard someone crying? Maybe it was the shapeshifting apparition of a bullied first year. “They say if you make another student cry while the apparition is crying… he’ll evenly match every tear you’ve made others shed with your blood.”
Kaito rubbed his chin. “Rumors are how apparitions gain power. If there’s any truth to these rumors, we’re gonna have trouble.”
Watching them, Kokichi’s ghostly form lingered in the doorway. He narrowed his eyes. He flew down the hall in the direction Himiko had left earlier.
Fuming, Himiko stamped down a hall in the old school building. The lantern lighting cast a homey glow on the green walls and wood wainscoting. Sniffing, she wiped her eyes. “Stupid Kokichi… why does he have to be so mean? I’m going home!”
“Himiko?” Kokichi’s quiet voice behind her called. “Can we talk?”
Jaw clenched, Himiko whipped around. “I don’t wanna hear what–” She stilled.
Kokichi was standing a few feet behind her, head bowed low. He refused to meet her eyes. “I’ve been thinking about us. And it’s just… Oh, it’s too embarrassing.” Kokichi pulled down his hat to cover his face.
Shaking her head, Himiko sighed. Smiling, she approached him. “That hard to tell the truth, huh – Ah!”
Kokichi shoved her to the wall. Stood over her with his hand on the wall, faces inches apart – the traditional kabe-don pose. Kokichi smiled wide. “It’s just the reason I’m so pushy is because I just want to be with you.” He searched her eyes. “You feel the same, right?”
Himiko’s gaze roved over his face. Wavy hair. Heart-shaped face. Keen lilac eyes. His nose tilted up just so and easygoing smile. He’s… He’s kinda cute. Wait, what am I saying?! He’s not my type. He’s short and rude and isn’t hot at all.
Kokichi held Himiko’s chin. Tilted her face up towards him. “You’re so beautiful.”
Himiko flushed. Ahhhh! I’ve waited so long for someone to say that to– “Wait. Kokichi has never called me beautiful. He only calls me ugly cuz of my donkey lips! Who are you?!”
Kokichi grinned, his teeth all pointy.
The white will-o-wisps rushed forward. Exploded in a flash of light.
Himiko cracked open an eye. “Huh?” The Kokichi imposter had disappeared – replaced with a small racoon-like creature.
Someone wrapped an arm around her. Kokichi. Holding Himiko close, Kokichi wielded a knife at the imposter. “Stay away from my woman.”
Himiko gaped. “Wh-wh-what?! Your ‘woman’?”
“Hm? I said my assistant.”
“No, you didn’t. You’re lying!”
Grinning, Kokichi poked Himiko’s cheek and ground his finger into it. “Aww, you’re just hearing what you wanna hear, aren’t youuuu?”
“No, that’s not – Nyeh!”
Releasing Himiko, Kokichi stepped forward, placing himself between her and the apparition. “I’ve heard the rumors of a shapeshifting ghost who was bullied. You’re the one who transformed into Himiko and pulled those pranks, aren’t you?” Kokichi studied the raccoon-like creature. Furry brown hair all over save a black swathe over his eyes. Rounded ears atop his head. Bushy tail. Kokichi gripped his knife. “…Mr. Tanuki.”
The tanuki growled. He transformed into Kokichi’s form. Held up a knife of his own. Kokichi tsked. “Guess we’re doing this the hard way.”
“Himiko! Kokichi!” a new voice called. Kaito ran down the hall towards them, exorcist staff in hand. He ran up alongside Kokichi. Nodded a greeting. “Is that the guy who’s been impersonating Himiko?”
Kokichi grinned. “Yup, it’s a ghost!”
Screaming, Kaito held his head in his hand.
Himiko yelled, “Now is not the time!”
Smirking, Kaito repeatedly tapped his staff into the palm of his other hand. He advanced towards the tanuki. “G-ghost or not, this’ll be simple for the great exorcist Kaito. This staff here turns my spirit energy into apparition-vanquishing lightning! You’re fried meat, raccoon!”
Kokichi also approached, holding up his knife. “I’m the leader of seven wonders of this school. You’re just a stray ghost. Surrender or be turned into tanuki udon.”
The apparition changed into Himiko’s form. Smiled. “Aww, but you wouldn’t hurt such a pretty face, would you?”
Himiko raised a fist. “Yeah, yeah!”
Laughing, Kokichi slashed the knife at the tanuki. “Ahahaha! This is fun!”
Himiko and the tanuki yelped. The ghost jumped back. Reverted to Kokichi’s image. He growled.
Kaito thrust his staff. “It’s two against one! Give up!”
Ghost Kokichi smirked. He pulled out a leaf from a pocket. “I wouldn’t be so confident if I were you. I am a tanuki.” In a puff of smoke, two dozen knife-wielding Kokichi clones surrounded them. They lunged. “I got plenty of tricks up my sleeve!”
“Tch! Back to back, Kaito!” shouted Kokichi. “Himiko, stay close!”
Trembling, Himiko stood in between the two boys. “R-right!”
“Got it – Whoa!” Kaito slashed his staff at a charging clone. The double dissipated like a mirage.
“Ngh!” Kokichi blocked one clone lunging with a knife. Punched another with his other hand. “We need to find the real one fast! Or else he’ll keep summoning more clones.” Kokichi held out his free hand. “Quick, give me your staff! I’ll remove the seal I placed on it. Now, idiot!”
“Call me by my real name already! I’m Luminary of the Stars and Exorcist of the Age, Kaito Mo–”
Squealing, Himiko ducked down, avoiding a knife. “Cut it out, you two!”
Kaito tossed the staff back to Kokichi. The seventh wonder ripped off the paper seal before returning it. Grunting, Kaito raised his staff above his head. “I’ll show you what I can do! Take this!” Lighting split the air. The forked light pierced three clones. They vanished. Only for five more to take their place.
Grimacing, Kaito held his hand. Burn marks seared into his palm – with every use the staff zapped Kaito as well. “That was max power. I don’t know how many more bolts I could summon…”
Kokichi shouted over his shoulder. “But my knife can only attack one person. Keep firing!”
Dropping to the ground, Himiko tried kicking out at a ghost’s leg. She missed. Drat! If only I had my throwing knives from my magic show! “Hurry, Kaito! They’re getting closer!”
“Raaargh!!” Lightings flashed, zapping another two. Then another pair. Another lone clone. But a dozen more arose. Wheezing, Kaito cradled his burned hand to his chest. From his hand, blood dripped on the floor. “We… gotta find… the real one. I can’t–”
A tanuki clone jumped high in the air above Kaito, his knife glinting. Himiko screamed, “Kaito, watch out!”
Knives clashed. Tensing, Himiko clutched her head. She cracked open an eye.
Kokichi pressed his knife to the tanuki’s throat, while the apparition held its knife to Kaito’s neck. Kokichi narrowed his eyes. “You’re the real one! According to the rumor, this apparition is drawn to blood!”
Kaito glanced down at his hand, which was bleeding from the staff’s electricity. “So he couldn’t resist attacking me…”
Himiko gasped. “Was that your plan all along?”
Growling, the tanuki dug his knife into Kaito’s neck. “You could attack me, but I’d still have the chance to hurt your friend here.” He narrowed his eyes. “But you wouldn’t care about that would you? Using a knife as a weapon – that’s proof that you used it in life too. You killed someone with that knife!”
“That may be true, but…” The haku-joudai drifted close to Kokichi. The green one hovered over his chest. In a flash of light, Kokichi summoned a long, tattered cape. His black uniform changed into a white doubled-breasted uniform with a checkered scarf. “God promised He’d forgive me if I became the Ultimate Supreme Leader of the seven wonders.” Beneath his cap, Kokichi’s eyes blazed. “So I won’t fail. I won’t back down!” Kokichi shoved the kitchen knife at the tanuki’s neck, forcing him to back up. Their bodies slammed into the wall.
“Ngh!” the tanuki flinched.
Kaito went still. “Ultimate Supreme Leader and that white uniform… I think I’ve heard of it before.”
Himiko glanced at him. “What?”
“Oh that’s it! There was going to be another ultimate student in our class, but they died suddenly. It might have been Kokichi!”
Gasping, Himiko gaped at the seventh wonder. What… what happened to you, Kokichi?
Kokichi pinned the tanuki against the wall by digging the knife into his Adam’s apple. His voice chilled. “Call off your clones. Now.”
All of them vanished like dust on the wind. The tanuki dropped the guise of Kokichi, revealing his human likeness while alive. Short wavy brown hair. Freckled face. Hoodie with gnawed, uneven drawstrings. Shorts and scuffed up Nikes. Exhaling, he leaned his head back and slid to the ground. “You said God would forgive you?”
Kokichi stepped back, knife at his side. “What’s your name, kid?”
Kokichi got down on a knee. He spoke soft whispers that carried in the quiet hallway. Himiko and Kaito drew close to hear. “I’m Kokichi. Listen to me, Ahiko. Those kids who bullied you are dead and gone. They can’t hurt you anymore. So you shouldn’t hurt anyone else either.” Closing his eyes, Kokichi laid a hand over his chest. “That anger you’re holding onto…” Gritting his teeth, Kokichi clutched his bandana. “It only hurts yourself.”
Ahiko bowed his head. His shoulders shook. “But they kicked soccer balls in my face during practice to hurt me. Laughed at my Gameboy when they had DSes. Then they threw my GBA into the road so it got run over. They… They made fun of me for my smelly clothes. Pushed me in the mud and told me to oink like a pig.” He sniffed. Voice quavered. “I just, I just wanted to fit in. To have a friend. So when I came back as a ghost and could get back at all the bullies in the world, I…”
“Let go of your anger, that burden. You don’t have to carry it anymore. Just let it go.”
Ahiko held his head with a hand. Tears welled in his eyes. “But I did such horrible things. Things even worse than what they did to me.” Eyes wide, Ahiko leaned forward. He seized Kokichi’s wrist in a vise grip. “Hey, hey! What do I do? How do I move on and forgive myself?”
Kokichi opened and closed his mouth. “I… Um, uh. You just, you know…”
Himiko knelt down besides Kokichi. She smiled warmly at the boy. “You vow to never make that mistake again. To be a better person. And you are now, right?” Himiko held a hand over her heart. “In the past you were alone and hurting and desperately trying to reach out to someone, anyone.” Chuckling, Himiko took Ahiko’s hand with hers. “But now you have us! We’ll help you. So you’ll be okay from now on. You’ll be just fine.”
Lips parted, Kokichi stared at Himiko. His eyes shone slightly.
Smiling, Ahiko squeezed Himiko’s hand. His form became slightly transparent. “Thank you…” Then he vanished like a soft exhale. In his wake, twinkles of light floated like dust.
Himiko blinked. “Nyeh? What happened? Where did he go?”
Kaito bowed his head. “With all of his regrets gone, he passed on to the afterlife. That’s what happens to all apparitions.” Gazing at his lighting staff, Kaito whispered to himself. “So that’s how a proper exorcism goes. Not relying on force.”
Kokichi rose. Turning away, Kokichi pulled his cap over his eyes. The haku-joudai left, reverting his white uniform into his black one.
Himiko slowly stood. “Kokichi?” Biting her lip, Himiko dipped her head. “You saved me. Even after I thought it was your fault and yelled at you.”
After a moment, Kokichi turned. Flashed a smile. “Of course I did! I said a leader takes care of his followers. That wasn’t a lie, y’know.” Kokichi laid a hand on Himiko’s head. “And you’re my cute assistant. How could I not take extra special care of you?”
Blushing, Himiko lowered her gaze. “I-I’m sorry for not believing in you and arguing about cleaning up the bathroom. I enjoy spending that time with you, too.”
Kokichi took Himiko’s hand and raised it like he was about to kiss it. Squeezed it. “I shouldn’t have taken you for granted.” He glanced at the spot Ahiko vanished. “Will you… will you forgive me?”
Beaming, Himiko clasped Kokichi’s hand. “Of course! We’re friends, right?” Kokichi’s earlier words flashed through her mind.
“When I was alive, I didn’t have any friends either. I was bullied pretty badly…”
“No,” Himiko muttered. Pulling Kokichi’s hand closer, Himiko leaned forward to shout, “No, we’re more than friends! You said we share a special bond, remember?”
Kokichi blinked. Exhaling, he smiled warmly. “Mm, you got me.”
Grinning, Kaito crossed his arms. “All’s well that ends well, huh?”
Himiko nodded. “Mmhmm. Honestly, you’re a bit of a pain, Kokichi. But I’m going to stick with you, learn more about you. Because I… because I want to be with y–”
A knife flew through the air. Sliced open Himiko’s cheek. Shrieking, Himiko stumbled back, holding her cheek. Blood pooled between her fingers.
Kokichi’s eyes blazed like hellfire. Growling, he bared his teeth. Whipped around. “Who dares–?”
Thick black smoke poured into the hall like a smog.
“Kgh!” Kaito shielded his head with his arms. “What’s going on? Is that a person?”
A teenager appeared in the mist. As the smoke parted, his form became visible. Black school uniform like Kokichi’s. Black will-o-wisps –koku-joudai – hovered over each shoulder. Himiko gazed at his face. Straight black hair to his shoulders, diagonal bangs brushing his eyebrows. Thin face with high cheekbones and ski-sloped nose. Black seal on his right cheek. He smirked. “I knew using the ghost of an abused, bullied child would lure you out, Kokichi. Doesn’t that sound familiar?”
Mouth agape, Kokichi stared. Sweat dripped off his face.
“Knew it would lead you to me like a lamb to the slaughter. No…” His eyes slid over to Himiko. His dull, empty gaze. Himiko shivered. “Like magic.”
Kokichi raised his knife. His hand shook.
Chuckling, the apparition floated over. Being a whole head taller, he loomed over Kokichi. He grasped Kokichi’s chin. “If I were to attack her, what would you do? Would you turn on me again?” The ghost trailed his fingers over Kokichi’s cheek. Took off the seal, revealing a knife scar like the newly formed cut on Himiko’s cheek. “Just like when you killed me.” The apparition tore off his black seal. An identical scar. “Me, your older brother, Kagami.”
“I…” Swallowing, Kokichi closed his eyes. Sweat slid down his brow. He opened his mouth. Closed it.
Smirking, Kagami floated back. “Oh, don’t answer me. I know you can’t yet. I’ll find out soon enough.” The black smoke swelled, obscuring Kagami from sight. “I’ve taken the third wonder’s powers and control of its boundary.” The smoke ebbed, but Kagami had disappeared. His voice echoed, “I’ll be waiting for you there.”
The last vestiges of smoke diffused through the hallway. Only the sound of Kokichi’s ragged breathing filled the silence.
Kaito whispered, “What, what was that?”
Holding her bleeding cheek, Himiko stepped forward. “Kokichi…?”
Head bowed, Kokichi stared at the ground, eyes wide but unseeing. He stumbled forward. He staggered for a few steps before dematerializing.
Himiko held a balled fist to her chest. Was that your brother? Was that the person you killed? Exhaling, Himiko closed her eyes. I wanted to know more about him, but I missed my chance to ask him again.
“And then this Kagami disappeared. I tried to talk to Kokichi afterwards, but he left without saying a word.” Himiko clasped her hands, pleading. “You’re one of the seven wonders, Maki. You’ve known Kokichi longer than Kaito and I have. If there’s anything you know about Ko–”
“I don’t know anything.” Maki sat up on the windowsill overlooking a stairwell. She brushed off her floral kimono. “I don’t know anything about Kokichi’s past or this Kagami character.” Her voice carried in the stairwell. Himiko glanced around to ensure no one overheard them, although it was after school the next day.
Kaito crossed his arms. “Well, this Kagami guy said he took over the third school wonder. Would you know anything about that? I know Himiko, Kokichi, and I stopped you when you went off the rails a week ago. Could he be going out of control and crazy like you were?”
Humming, Maki held her fan to her lips. “It’s possible. The three of you entered my boundary, a place where the line between life and death is thin. I attacked you, but Himiko broke my yorishiro, a precious object of mine that was the source of my power.” Exhaling, Maki lowered her fan. “Going out of control wasn’t… the best feeling. But I was definitely myself. A darker side of me that I normally conceal was brought to the surface. So yes, Kokichi’s brother is probably going out of control, too. But if Kokichi is able to say something to Kagami, it may reach him even if he doesn’t understand.”
Himiko could still picture Kokichi’s pale and sweaty face when seeing Kagami. If Kokichi is able to bring himself to talk to Kagami. He hadn’t said a word. Frowning, Himiko bit a lip. “Well what about the third wonder? What are they like?”
Maki gazed out the window, causing her face to be reflected in the glass. She held a hand to the pane. “The third wonder is called the Hell of Mirrors. Their boundary lies behind the school’s mirrors and reflects the hearts of those who enter. The boundaries’ mirrors reflect a persons’ fears and ugliness in their heart, turning into a personal hell of theirs. The stronger the fear, the stronger the third wonder is. So Kokichi shouldn’t enter in blindly.” Jaw set, Maki pointed her fan at Himiko. “And it’s even more dangerous for a pair of humans.”
Kaito gripped his staff. “But my–!”
“But nothing. You can’t even use that staff without hurting yourself. Apparitions are dangerous. You should stay away from us.” Maki waved a hand in dismissal. “Let Kokichi handle this. It’s his responsibility anyway.”
Jaw clenched, Kaito stepped forward, fist raised. “How can you say that?! Don’t you care? Aren’t you friends?”
Maki snapped her fan shut. “No. No, we’re not. I obey Kokichi’s orders because he’s stronger than me. That is all. That is how it is in the ghost realm. And even if we were friends, what would we do? Play sports and compete against other schools’ teams? Study for tests together? We’re dead. We can’t do any of those things.”
Himiko bowed her head. Scowling, Kaito rubbed the back of his neck.
Maki ran a hand through her bangs. “Nor should it be surprising for you to learn Kokichi is a murderer. We apparitions aren’t good people. We’re people who died with regrets and still can’t move past them even after dying. People who use those regrets as an excuse to hurt humans.”
Himiko clutched the front of her sweater. “But as Kokichi’s assistant I change dangerous, murderous rumors into more tame ones. That way apparitions can keep on living peacefully here at school. People can change–”
“And that life is nothing but passing boredom here at school or, if you’re a school wonder, within your boundary. Some wonders have spent double your entire lifetime here, trapped. We’ll be here long after you graduate, get married, raise kids, and die. Humans and apparitions are entirely different states of being. The sooner you understand this reality the better.”
“This reality?” asked Himiko.
Maki slid off the windowsill. Her steely gaze bore into Himiko. Pointed her fan. “Humans and apparitions can’t coexist. You’re alive; we’re dead. We have no future anymore while you’ll continue living life without us.”
Kaito frowned. “That’s not… Well…”
Biting her lip, Himiko hung her head. After a moment she choked, “I understand.” Head bowed, she trudged down the stairs alone.
Biting her lip, Himiko cracked open the girl’s bathroom door. She peeked in. No one at the pedestal sinks or using the bathroom red stalls. A cluster of Mokke was eating candy on the windowsill. Himiko sighed. He’s not here.
Smiling, Himiko entered the room. “H-hi, Mokke! Have you seen Kokichi?”
The Mokke sagged, disappointed, or made an “x” shape with their bunny-like ears.
Himiko approached the far stall. Knocked on the door three times. “Kokichi, Kokichi, are you there?”
The a/c hummed. Pipes groaned.
Frowning, Himiko lowered her arm. A memory from yesterday replayed in her mind.
“You vow to never make that mistake again. To be a better person. And you are now, right? In the past you were alone and hurting and desperately trying to reach out to someone, anyone. And now you have us! We’ll help you. So you’ll be okay from now on. You’ll be just fine.”
Lips parted, Kokichi stared at Himiko. His eyes shone slightly.
Himiko’s breath hitched. Bowing her head, Himiko balled her hands into fists. Kokichi…
The Mokke huddled by Himiko’s feet. The tallest one pulled on her tights with an ear. “Don’t cry.”
“Here’s your money Kokichi took.”
Himiko wiped her eyes. “Heehee. Thanks, guys.” She picked them up and held them to her chest.
Himiko nodded. “After thinking things over and being with you, I do feel better.” Lifting her head, Himiko gazed out the stained-glass window. And maybe so will Kokichi.
Himiko stood before the door to the school roof. She gripped a box she held tighter. Swallowed. She opened the door. Cool air washed over her.
Squinting her eyes, Himiko stepped out from under the portico. Her shoes made nary a sound on the square cream tiles. “Kokichi? Oh, there you are!”
Kokichi leaned against the balustrade fencing on the far side of the roof. He gazed out at the other classroom buildings and the courtyard. The Tokyo cityscape framed the distant horizon. The setting sun cast an almost ethereal red and yellow glowing outline around him. But Kokichi, being a ghost, didn’t cast any shadow.
Smiling, Himiko held up the box in her hands. “I brought you a chessboard! Because that checkered bandana you wore when fighting Ahiko yesterday reminded me of chess. N-not that I know you play or anything. But, um, you strike me as the type…”
The wind blew through her clothes and hair. Far below, a few students laughed.
“Why play it? You’re too dumb.”
“Hey! W-well it’s true I don’t play.” Humming, Himiko tapped her lips. “You can… play it with the Mokke! Oh, never mind. They’d probably just eat the pieces, thinking they’re candy.” She giggled. “Ah! I hope that wouldn’t make them sick! That would be aw–”
Kokichi’s voice cut in like a knife. “Ghosts can’t get sick.”
Himiko flinched. “Ah, um. Right, right! Of course. Well, that’s good.”
The sun dipped below the horizon. The wind turned chilly.
Biting her lip, Himiko gazed at the ground. She nudged a pebble with her shoe. “It’s funny,” she muttered. “I actually kinda miss me cleaning the bathroom and us chatting–”
“I’m ending our partnership.”
Himiko froze. Her hands holding the chess set trembled. “Wha…”
Kokichi turned around and leaned against the rail. Shrugging, he lifted both hands. “It was a nice lie for a time, but humans and apparitions can’t coexist. That’s the truth.” Turning around, Kokichi lifted a hand in a wave. “So go back to your life as a school girl and–”
The chessboard clattered to the ground, pieces flying everywhere. Kokichi tensed.
“You heard what I told Ahiko! You can work hard to become a better person! To forgive yourself.” Stepping forward, Himiko pressed a hand to her chest. “I won’t stop trying to be with you. So don’t push me away. If you do, I’ll, I’ll…! I’ll curse you with a stub-your-toe-everyday spell! Or a you-will–”
“Curses don’t work on ghosts–”
“I’ll find one that does!!” shouted Himiko, flinging her fists. Deafening silence rang throughout the rooftop.
Himiko’s breaths came out in shaky, ragged puffs. Eyes closed, she inhaled deeply, composing herself. She approached Kokichi. Head bowed, she held Kokichi’s sleeve. Tears swam in her eyes. “I won’t stop. I won’t leave you. The person you were in the past is a different person from now. Who you are now is all that matters to me. But I can’t help you if I don’t know the truth. So please…”
Looking away, Kokichi pursed his lips to the side. After a long moment, Kokichi left Himiko’s side and drifted over to the fallen chess set. He picked up the king piece. “Onii-chan and I did play chess together,” he began, voice low. “Our win-to-lose ratio was always pretty close, but I’d be on top just barely. But I preferred Risk to chess. A game of world domination. Unlike chess which requires only strategy, Risk had dice – relied a bit on luck. More like the real world.”
“Was Kagami your brother?”
“No. He’s actually five years older than me. He died at– I killed him when he was 16. I lived on for five more years after that before I too…” Kokichi swallowed. He gazed at the king piece in his hand. “Talking about him… Facing him, fighting him…!” Shaking his head, Kokichi floated towards the door. “I can’t. I won’t.”
Himiko stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Wait, no! Don’t go!”
“I’m not doing–”
“For a ghost, you sure are cowardly!” A new voice shouted. Himiko and Kokichi looked up.
Kaito was standing atop the portico of the roof's entrance, just like when they first met. He stood with his arms crossed, his purple coat billowing in the wind. He scowled. “The Kokichi I know is fearless, willful, and stronger than anyone. When we first met, you said I couldn’t exorcise you now but I would someday. But at this rate…” Kaito dropped down to the rooftop. He thrust his staff into Kokichi’s chest. “I’ll be strong enough to exorcise you sometime next week!”
Kokichi raised a brow. “Ohhh? You defeating me now? Likely story.”
Kaito lowered his voice. “Listen, Kokichi. We have the same job of protecting the school, right? Human and apparition working towards the same goal. So you don’t have to face him alone; you got us.” Kaito glanced at Himiko. “Dead or not, a man’s gotta protect what really matters to him.” Grinning, Kaito rested his staff on a shoulder. Lifted his chin. “Together we’ll take him down and win!”
Himiko raced to be alongside Kaito. “Yeah, that’s right! We’re coming with you. Let us help.”
Kokichi bowed his head. Wind blew through their hair. A school PA announcement sounded off in the distance, announcing students’ club time was ending. With every minute, the sunlight faded.
“You won’t give up, huh?” Kokichi sighed. “All right.”
“Where is the entrance to the third wonder boundary?” asked Himiko.
Kokichi held his hat. Beneath the brim, his eyes smoldered. “At the place where this all started.”
Kokichi stood before the mirrors in the girl’s bathroom, Himiko and Kaito on either side of him. By the windowsill, the Mokke held up a “Knock ‘em Dead!” banner. Their tiny, quiet voices tittered.
Himiko smiled up at Kokichi. With the light playing off the purple highlights in his hair and sharp jawline, Kokichi cut quite the cool figure.
Kokichi gazed at his reflection in the mirror. His features were so strikingly similar to his brother. “He’s strong, you know. Stronger than me. He could kill you.”
Smirking, Himiko held her mage’s hat. “Then we’ll come back as ghosts and be together! So you can’t lose.”
Lips parted, Kokichi stared at her. “Himiko…”
“NOOOO!” Kaito wailed. “I DON’T WANNA BE A G-G-GHOOOOST!”
Himiko and Kokichi laughed.
Kokichi smiled. “Don’t worry. I absolutely won’t let you guys become apparitions.” Kokichi looked out the window, his gaze distant with a light smile on his face. “The future is precious. Every day you have the chance to mire in regret or to start over. I won’t let that future be taken away from you.”
Chuckling, Kaito flashed a thumbs-up. “That’s the spirit.”
Beaming, Himiko held Kokichi’s hand. Squeezed it. I’m so happy to see Kokichi opening up like this. I finally get the chance to learn more about him. To be closer to him. Blushing, Himiko thought, To get to be with him…
Head bowed, Kokichi spoke with a low edge in his voice. “So that’s why I’m going in alone.”
Kokichi shoved Himiko and Kaito back. He jumped into the mirror. Vanished.
“No! No!!” Himiko pounded the glass. But it didn’t let her through.
Kokichi landed on white stone. The boundary was like a cylindrical tower encircling a pit of emptiness. Row upon row of stacked floors rivaled a skyscraper in number. On the walls of each floor hung countless mirrors of all shapes and sizes.
“Everything appears to be normal,” muttered Kokichi. He approached a large mirror blocking off the hallway. The glass showed Kokichi’s childhood home.
Kokichi swallowed. Stepped through the mirror.
The seventh wonder was transported to the past. Ramshackle wooden rowhouses leaned against each other like a row of big outhouses. The sun had set, but the last few rays of light were still enough to see by. Yet there was no noise – no people, no bird song, no cars engines.
Shoulders tense, Kokichi floated towards his house. He glanced at the opposite sidewalk. Like a time lapse video, people came and went. A homeless man sleeping in a newspaper. Children throwing rocks at a beggar. A drug dealer making a sale. All familiar sights from his childhood.
Shaking his head, Kokichi kept his eyes on his old home – the second to last house of the rowhouses. The sidewalk leading to the door was uneven and cracked. Spiderwebs hung in the doorway.
Eyes closed, Kokichi inhaled deeply. He opened the door.
Inside lay an endless abyss of wooden hallways and doors. Spiders hung from the ceiling. Faint tendrils of black smoke covered the floor. A few doors were cracked open, but nothing was inside. Just bare wooden walls.
Kokichi frowned. No staircase to our bedroom upstairs. This is going to be tougher than I thought.
“So you came,” Kagami said.
Kokichi’s head snapped up. But he couldn’t see his brother anywhere. Kagami’s voice echoed throughout the expanse.
The black smoke swelled. Thickened.
“How foolish of you. Not only do I have my own spiritual powers, I gained the third wonder’s might as well. You’ll be fighting against me and your nightmares. You don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning against me by yourself. So where are your friends?”
“This…” Kokichi gripped his knife tighter. “This is just between us. It started with us and it’ll end with us.”
“Afraid of me killing them? No…” Kagami’s voice chilled like ice. “You’re still suicidal, aren’t you?”
Kagami chuckled. “You haven’t changed at all. In that case…” Kagami materialized at Kokichi’s side. He grinned. “Allow me to put you out of your misery.”
Kagami roundhouse kicked Kokichi’s face. Kokichi was sent flying into a room.
Wincing, Kokichi rose to his knees. Something caught his eye. Kokichi gasped. “O-our bedroom…?”
Two beds against the wall. Desk opposite. Closet in the back. Board games in the corner. A five-year-old Kokichi sat on the bed, holding his arm with Kagami standing over him. Sniffing, Kokichi fisted the bedsheets. “The kids at school push me around. My teachers yell at me.” Kokichi squeezed his shoulder. “Daddy hits me.”
Ten-year-old Kagami ran a hand through his hair. “If you don’t want to be hurt, show everyone you shouldn’t be messed with. You’ll have to figure out how to do that on your own.” Kagami gazed at Kokichi’s wounded shoulder. “Or else you’ll never be strong enough to protect yourself against those who’d hurt you. Like Father.”
“But Daddy and Mommy love me! They just get mad sometimes, that’s all.”
“Kokichi, that’s not… Never mind.”
Lips parted, Kokichi stared at the scene. “Wha…?”
“It’s a memory from the past.” Kagami floated into the room. Placed a hand on a wall. “The walls of this house are all mirrors. Mirrors that will reflect your memories and every fear harbored in your heart.” Head to the side as if his neck was broken, Kagami turned to look at Kokichi. He chuckled. “For murdering apparitions like us, all that’s left for us is hell.”
Swearing, Kokichi reached for his knife. “Haku-joudai!” Answering his call, they transformed Kokichi into his white uniform and caped form.
Himiko pounded on the mirror in the girl’s bathroom. “Kokichi! Kokichi, can you hear me? Let me through!”
Kaito held Himiko back. “Stop, stop! Don’t break the mirror! That’s our only way to enter the boundary.”
Shaking off Kaito, Himiko tried the mirrors over the flanking sinks. They didn’t let her through. Tears welled in her eyes. “What are we supposed to do? He’s facing his brother, his greatest fears. He could be hurting and in pain right now and we–” Himiko slapped her cheeks. “No! We don’t have time for this. We need to think of another way… That’s it!” She bolted towards the door.
Kaito held out a hand. “Wait, where are you going?”
“We need to check every mirror on campus!”
“But there’s dozens of buildings in Hope’s Peak. Dozens!”
Himiko threw aside the sliding door. “Then we split up! Hurry!”
Shaking his head, Kaito muttered, “This girl is nuts.” But he ran out the room in the opposite direction.
Himiko flew down the hall. Hold on, Kokichi. We’re coming!
Kagami lunged. Bracing himself, Kokichi lifted his knife.
Black smoke swelled up to fill the room. Kagami vanished. Tsking, Kokichi looked around, knife up. Where did he go? It’s as dark as night here. I can’t wave my arms to get rid of it so… Kokichi held out a hand. “Haku-joudai!” Using them for this instead of being within me means losing my white uniform spiritual form but I don’t have any other choice.
The will-o-wisps spun in a circle as if creating a tornado. They blew away the smog. But still no sign of Kagami.
“Where are y–?”
Gasping, Kokichi turned around. Kagami kicked the knife out of Kokichi’s hand. Blasted Kokichi into the air with an energy blast from his hand.
“Agh!” Kokichi was sent sailing. He slammed into the wall of another room. Clutching his chest, Kokichi rose to his feet. Another vision materialized in the room – their bedroom again. He grimaced. “No… not again.”
A six-year-old Kokichi was curled up under the desk, playing a chess game on his DS. Sitting in the desk chair, Kagami wood carved out a king piece with a knife. Kokichi tugged on his brother’s leg. “Guess what I did at school today, Onii-chan! I got Akari and Yatsuki, the kids who used to bully me, to prank the teacher. Made them my minions. I didn’t do anything so the teacher thinks I’m a good boy.” Grinning, Kokichi gazed up at Kagami. Despite the faded bruises around his eye and cut on his cheek, the sparks in Kokichi’s eyes shone brightly. “No one messes with me now!”
Kagami chuckled. He patted the top of Kokichi’s head. “Now that’s more like it. Want to play a round of chess?”
“Yeah, sounds fun!”
Kokichi screwed his eyes shut, eyes stinging. Seeing this, knowing what’s coming… “Stop. I don’t… I don’t want to see anymore. I don’t–”
A large black beam shot towards Kokichi. “Haku-joudai!” They summoned a barrier. The energy blast hit like a sledgehammer. Grunting, Kokichi held out his hands, pouring even more spiritual power into the barrier. Sweat dripped down his forehead. “Onii-chan, it doesn’t have to be this way. Listen to me–”
“Shut up. You killed me. You’re suicidal. You haven’t learned a thing. Killing you will be a mercy.”
The energy blast increased tenfold. The haku-joudai fizzed then dematerialized. The beam hit Kokichi. He crashed through several walls. Moaning, Kokichi lay in the wreckage of a wall. Smoke rose from his body. Kokichi cracked open an eye. Groaned. “No please… not this. I don’t want to see anymore.” A tear rolled down his cheek.
Their bedroom again. In the center, seven-year-old Kokichi groveled on his hands and knees. Red, raised welts covered his back. Blood oozed from open gashes. His father stood over him, belt in hand. Voice shaking, Kokichi spoke to the floor. “I stole… I stole stuff from stores. Made t-trouble at school.” He swallowed. Voice thickened. “I’m a thief. A liar. A bad boy. A bad, bad boy. I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…”
Their father cracked the belt like a whip. “You are worthless trash! Next thing you know is you’ll drop outta school. Be some druggie ‘til you overdose or rot behind bars. You should be grateful I bother to correct you at all instead of leaving you to your fate.”
Kokichi’s mother pressed herself against the wall, hugging herself. “I-I think you’ve done enough.”
Kagami burst into the room. “What are you doing? Let him go!”
Growling, their father ground his heel into Kokichi’s head. “You scum-sucking parasite on society!” Snarling, he raised the belt overhead.
“No!” Kagami lunged for the belt. His father backhanded Kagami into the desk.
Their father lifted Kokichi up by the hair. Held Kokichi face to face so his spittle flecked onto Kokichi’s face. “Now you listen here, you little shit. No one defies me. You’re in for a world of hurt–”
Kagami grabbed his wood carving knife off the desk. Plunged it into his father’s chest.
Their mom screamed. Kagami tore the knife out of their father. Turned to their mother.
“Onii-chan, no!!” Kokichi jumped up between them.
Kagami slashed at Kokichi. Crying out, Kokichi fell back. Blood flowed from a cut on his cheek. Kagami stabbed their mother in the gut. Choking, she slid to the ground. Didn’t move.
Holding his cheek, Kokichi stared at the sight. “O-Onii-chan…? Why? How could you…”
“Ngh!!” Grimacing, Kokichi clutched his head. He breathed heavily. It’s nothing I haven’t replayed in my mind a thousand times before. Focus on… Woozy, Kokichi stumbled to his feet. His vision flickered black for a second. He saw Kagami flying towards him. Kokichi held up his hands. Focus on Onii-chan! I have to get through to him. “Oni–Hrgk!”
Kagami pulled out the belt from the mirror’s reflection. Wrapped it around Kokichi’s neck, choking him.
Kagami chuckled low in his throat. “If you can’t overpower me, then how will you protect your friends? Your school? Is that not your duty as Seventh Wonder?” Kagami wrenched the belt tight. “Or can you not even do–!”
Kokichi snapped his head back, smashing Kagami’s nose. Crying out, Kagami stumbled back.
Kokichi fell onto all fours, gasping for breath. “Listen, Onii-chan. God said… if I did my duty, He’d forgive me. The same goes for you.”
Lips parted, Kagami started at him.
Kokichi placed his hand on Kagami’s leg. He smiled up at his brother. Dirt, sweat, and tears smeared his face, but they couldn’t diminish the softness in Kokichi’s eyes and smile. “We don’t need to fight.”
“Kokichi, I… Ngh!” Teeth gritted, Kagami clutched his head. “S-shut up! I don’t need forgiveness! I only want… I just wanted you to…!” Kagami’s spiritual energy levels jacked up, twice as strong. Four times as strong.
“Onii-chan? You all right? What’s going on?”
The air rippled around Kagami, buffeting Kokichi. Energy traveled through the ground like a current, tearing up the floor into a thousand wood splinters. Clutching his head, Kagami bowled over. “Raaaaaaaaaagrhhh!!” The house exploded with black smoke. Everything went dark.
Shouting, “Pardon me!” Himiko barged into the girls bathroom. She banged on the three mirrors above the sink. They didn’t let her through. “Ngh!” Himiko slid open the door and flew down the hall. Panting heavily, her footsteps slowed. “I don’t think I can do this… for much longer.” She clumsily descended a stairwell.
“Oh, Himiko!” Kaito was climbing up the stairwell below her. “Any progress?”
Himiko shook her head.
“Progress on what?”
A kitsune appeared on the windowsill. She transformed into Maki. The school wonder sat on the fourth stair, the entrance to her boundary.
Himiko’s eyes widened. “That’s it! I know how we can help Kokichi!”
Kokichi lay in the wreckage of a collapsed wall. Wood splinters and dust lingered in the air like a cloud. Flat on his back, Kokichi gazed upwards. Part of the roof collapsed, showing the cloudless sky still stuck at twilight.
With parts of walls destroyed, the vision in the room flickered and fizzed like an old TV. After a few flickers the room showed the interior of a storage unit. Sleeping bags, food, and Legos sprawled over the floor. Kagami dropped a backpack of stolen food. He began unpacking it. Hugging himself, the eleven-year-old Kokichi asked, “Hey. Is our entire life going to be like this? Stealing and just hanging out here? No home? No family?”
Kagami shrugged. “We don’t need anyone else. There’s no one here to tell us what to do. We are beholden to no one. Self-sufficient.” Kagami twirled his knife and stuck it in his chest pocket. He grinned. “We are our own kings.”
Kokichi hissed, “Kings of what? A trash dump?”
Kagami tensed. “You should be grateful.”
“Like I should have thanked Daddy for hitting me?”
Hands balled into fists, Kagami rose. “I am nothing like him.”
“You’re right. You’re totally right.” Flinging his fists down, Kokichi shouted, “You’re worse! You never helped me with the bullies at school or stopped Daddy from hitting me. You’d just tell me to figure it out on my own. You don’t care about me at all. You’re way worse than Mommy and Daddy! You’re the meanest, evilest villain in the whole wor–Urgk!”
Kagami crossed the room in two quick strides. Seized Kokichi’s neck. Raised him in the air. “Shut. Up.”
Kokichi’s eyes flashed. Snarling, he raked his fingers across Kagami’s arm, drawing blood.
Kagami hissed in surprise. Tightened his grip. “You little shit!”
Kokichi reached for Kagami’s chest pocket. Grabbed the knife. Sliced it across Kagami’s cheek. Hissing, Kagami released him. Growling, Kokichi tackled Kagami, stabbing the knife hilt deep into Kagami’s stomach.
Kagami’s eyes widened. Blood tricked out of his mouth. He collapsed.
“Onii-chan…? Onii-chan!!” Tears streaming down his face, Kokichi held his brother. “I didn’t mean…! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry… Stay with me. Stay with me, please! I don’t wanna be alone…” But only the sound of his sobs answered him.
“Rgh…” Kagami stood in the remains of a doorway, gripping the frame. Holding his head, he staggered into the room. “Not that vision again…”
Kokichi frowned. Since becoming the third wonder, has he been repeatedly seeing these memories? Is that why he’s like this? Kokichi winced at the thought.
Gritting his teeth, Kokichi rose to sitting. “Onii-chan, listen to me. I should have… I should have fought against Dad when he was whipping me. Should have–” Wincing, Kokichi held his side. “Should have grabbed that belt and fought back. Or even before then have run away with you. Instead I stayed and lied to myself, thinking they loved me.” Kokichi screwed his eyes shut. Voice thickened. “And because I was weak, you killed them to protect me. I’m sorry.”
Kagami clutched his head. “Stop. Talking.”
“Or even when we were homeless and living in the storage unit. I didn’t realize you were doing the best you could. You thought you were doing the best for me. I’m so sorry for kill–”
Eyes welling with tears, Kagami threw his hand to the side. “It’s too goddamn late for apologies!!”
Kokichi swallowed. Bowed his head. “I know it is. But I’ve changed. Become stronger. Teaming up with Himiko and Kaito, I could take on apparitions stronger than myself. I had others I could trust.” Shaking his head, Kokichi chuckled to himself. He raised his chin. His eyes smoldered. “And thanks to Himiko, I learned that if you’re a better person now, you don’t need to hold onto regrets of your past mistakes. So that’s why we don’t need to fi–”
Voice low and thick, Kagami spat, “I don’t care what happened to me. I never did. But I protected you – I sacrificed everything for you and you just threw your life away! And now you have the audacity to do it again by facing me alone.” As Kagami rose into the air, twin black koku-joudai spun around him. Spiritual energy sparked around them. Black tendrils of smoke covered the floor like encroaching snakes. “So I’ll teach you one final lesson.”
Kokichi sensed a different spiritual energy rising than before. Something more malicious. That’s not raw power… that’s the old third world’s power. He’s going to create the most immersive illusion yet! Eyes wide, Kokichi held out his hand. “Onii-chan, no! You don’t have enough power for that! You’ll destroy yourself!”
“You should have believed in those who cared about you more.”
“No! Please! I don’t want to lose you again… Don’t do this!”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” a new voice cried.
Both brothers snapped their heads up.
Himiko burst through a mirror in the wall.
Kokichi gaped. “Himiko…? How did you get here?”
Kaito jumped through as well, followed by Maki. She smirked. “By traveling through my boundary.”
Himiko stood between the brothers, her arms out. Her eyes blazed. “Don’t you hurt him.”
Kagami chuckled low in his throat. He drew his knife. “Interesting development. I think I can use this. You said you’re stronger now, Kokichi? Then prove it.”
“No… No!” Kokichi tried to stand. Pain lanced through him. He didn’t have enough spiritual power to resummon the haku-joudai. “Don’t!!”
“Show me you’re strong enough to protect.”
Himiko continued, “You should try to heal your past, not causing more harm–”
Kagami stabbed his knife under Himiko’s ribs. Wrenched it up to her heart.
Himiko’s head hung. Blood dripped from her mouth.
Kokichi lowered his arm. “No…”
Himiko lifted her head. A grin stretched unnaturally across her face. She transformed into Kokichi. “It’s a lie.” He vanished.
Kagami stumbled back. “What the…?”
“Friends can protect each other!” Ahiko the tanuki stood by the mirror Himiko and the others entered from. He held a tanuki leaf – the source of his clone creating powers.
Snarling, Kagami whipped his head around. “Then where is she?!”
Kokichi’s eyes darted across the room. In the corner lay a pile of wood planks and debris atop a staircase. Stairs that led to their bedroom were Kagami’s yorishiro lay. Himiko jumped out of the mirror ran towards the them. She shouted, “Now, Kaito!”
Kaito raised his staff. “Raaaaghhh!!!” Lighting forked out of his staff. Shattered all the mirrors in the walls. A hail of glass shards flew through air.
“No, I won’t let you!” Kagami snarled. He rounded onto Himiko.
Time slowed down. Himiko reached the bottom of the stairs. Kagami lunged for her, haku-joudai flanking him. His outstretched hand nearly touched her.
“Not today, freak!” Maki threw her scissors. The scissors points pinned the koku-joudai to the wall. Kagami was pinned in between them, the bridge of the scissors by his neck.
“No!” Kagami roared.
Himiko raced up the stairs.
“Don’t you destroy my yorishiro! It’s my only treasure.” He raised a hand. “I haven’t finished teaching Kokichi a lesson! I haven’t, I haven’t–!” Foaming at the mouth, Kagami bucked against the scissors, despite cutting his neck. “Don’t! Don’t!”
Himiko reached the second-floor landing. Two doors – one the parents’ bedroom and another one for the brothers. Himiko dashed through the left. Everything was quiet. No sound. The air was still. On the center of the floor was a pair of dice, a paper seal on it. Kagami’s yorishiro.
Himiko ripped off the seal. Everything went white.
Grinning, Kokichi grabbed the brim of his baseball cap. Despite the faded bruises around his eye and cut on his cheek, the sparks in Kokichi’s eyes shone brightly. “No one messes with me now!”
Kagami chuckled. He patted the top of Kokichi’s head. “Now that’s more like it. Want to play a round of chess?”
“Yeah, sounds fun!”
“Actually…” The elder Oma rose from the chair. From the back corner of the closet, he retrieved a board game box. Risk. The game of world domination. “Let’s try this out instead.”
Kokichi crawled out from under the desk. “You just don’t wanna lose to me at chess again. We were at 5,718 to 0 with you the loooser.”
“We are not.” Kokichi erupted into a fit of giggles. After handing him the manual, Kagami set up the plastic soldiers. “Risk is about using strategies in a real-world setting. Commanding an army to fight opponents and conquer countries around the world. In that regard, chess is more two-dimensional.”
“Then why are there dice? That’s no strategy game.”
“Risk relies on luck, yes.” Kagami paused in setting up the game. Stared into Kokichi’s eyes. “In the game of Risk, there’s luck. But in life, there are unforeseen occurrences. The best plans of world leaders can crumble into dust due to an unknown factor. Good thing that’s what your name means: a little luck.”
Brow raised, Kokichi studied a pair of dice, rolling it with his fingers. “Luck, huh? Dice can do all that…” Kokichi tilted his head to the side. “Wait, luck is what my name means?”
Nodding, Kagami leaned back on his hands. “That’s the name I choose for you, yes. I also changed your diapers and chased you out into the street when you wriggled out of my grasp.” Kagami leaned forward and flicked Kokichi’s cheek. “Once a Cheeky Kichi, always a Cheeky Kichi,” he said in English.
Huffing, Kokichi pushed his hand away. “What does that mean already?”
“It means you’re a little shit.”
“Nee-heeheehee! You said poop!”
Kagami rolled his eyes.
Kokichi held up a plastic soldier piece. Squinted at it. “So the luck I kinda get, but is this a soldier? Why are we playing a war game?”
Kagami placed his hand on Kokichi’s head. Kokichi blinked. “Playing this will teach you how to be a leader.” Kagami’s gaze lingered on a bruise peeking out from Kokichi’s shirt collar. “How to be strong enough that no one can hurt you ever again.”
Kokichi reached up and held Kagami’s hand with both of his. He grinned wide. “I’ll lead a big group one day and you’ll be the second in command under me!”
Kagami smirked. “We’ll see about that.” He made a sweeping gesture to the Risk board. “First we master this game. Here are the countries you control. State a fact about them before you place your pieces down.”
“‘Kaaay!” Kokichi drew Eastern United States. “I speak English!”
“They speak English there. Repeat after me.” Kokichi complied. “Now continue.”
“Western Australia. They got kangaroos!”
“And Egypt. Umm. They have those pointy sand things…”
Several years later, an older Kokichi dressed in white with a checkered bandana stood before a small crowd. Roughly ten or so other people wearing similar white uniforms stood before him. “The second rule of DICE is to commit laughable crimes. And the first rule, the rule we must never break is…” Kokichi gazed down at an old pair of dice – the dice from the Risk board game. “To never kill someone.” The blood red dot of the number “one” side of the dice stared up at him. Gritting his teeth, Kokichi balled his fist.
Five years later, Kokichi lay against a wall in an empty, dirty warehouse. One hand held a knife stabbed into himself. The other held the same pair of dice.
Kokichi gazed into the distance. Blood welled up his lips. “I’m sorry, DICE. I just need to–” He hacked a wet cough. Splattered blood on himself. “…apologize to Onii-chan in person. And you’d be better without… a hypocritical liar like me.” His eyelids drifted closed.
“Maybe in my next life I can be better.”
The white light died down. Himiko blinked the stars out of her vision. Saw soft sunlight streaming from a stained-glass window. Three red stalls. Pedestal sinks and mirrors. Cozy, familiar wooden walls and flooring. The girls bathroom in the old school building.
Frowning, Himiko gazed down at her hands. The pair of dice had disappeared. Were those Kagami’s and Kokichi’s memories?
“Ahiko? What’s wrong?” Kaito asked.
Himiko turned. Kaito, Ahiko, and Maki stood by the first stall. Ahiko’s form was flickering. Slightly transparent. Tiny sparkles of light twinkled around him. Ahiko lowered his head. “The truth is… when we were fighting each other yesterday, my real self was watching from afar. The one that disappeared was just one of my clones, not me. I was too scared.” Ahiko closed his eyes. His form was rapidly fading before their eyes. “I wanted revenge on my bullies, but this time I was able to help someone. So thank you, everyone.” He faded entirely.
Kaito murmured, “Ahiko…”
Maki closed her eyes. “He was a pesky little brat, causing all that mischief. But rest in peace.”
Crying out, Kokichi and Kagami fell out of the mirror onto the ground. Wincing, Kokichi held his head as he sat up. Kagami lay still. “Onii-chan? Onii-chan!” Kokichi held his brother close.
Rooted to the spot, Himiko stared at them. Is Kagami okay?
Kagami cracked open his eyes. “Ko… Kokichi?” he asked, voice raspy and weak.
He held Kagami tighter. “I’m here.”
“I was… I was wrong. You’ve become stronger with your friends. I wanted to help you grow strong so you could move on from the past. So I took over the third wonder – its power would let me show memories – but the power was too much for me and I…” Kagami closed his eyes. “I went crazy and attacked you.”
Kokichi’s breath hitched. Jaw clenched, he bowed his head. Voice shook. “I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry!”
“H-hey.” Kagami tried to raise his arm to pat Kokichi’s head. But his arm trembled violently. Kokichi clasped his brother’s hand. Pressed it to his cheek. Kagami rasped, “I messed up too. If I was stronger, I could have protected you from Father without killing him. Instead I took your family away from you. I’m sorry.”
Screwing his eyes shut, Kokichi inhaled shakily through his nose. He squeezed Kagami’s hand.
Kagami’s form flickered. Began to fade. Specks of light appeared. “Hey, did you… did you really form a team?”
Kokichi swallowed hard. Wordlessly nodded a few times. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
Kagami’s unfocused gaze rested in the distance. “That’s nice… I would have liked to have been a member. Be your second in command…” Kagami brushed a thumb across Kokichi’s cheek. His form became completely transparent. “I’m proud of you.” He vanished completely, leaving only twinkles of light. “…my stupid little Cheeky Kichi.”
“Ah…!” Kokichi raised his hands as if trying to catch the sparks of light. But they floated higher. Drifted out the stained-glass window. Kokichi paused, half-risen to his knees. After a long moment he sank back to the ground.
Silence. Just the sound of Kokichi trying to steady his breathing. Maki hung her head. Eyes closed, Kaito murmured exorcist prayers for Kagami’s soul. Himiko closed her eyes. Sucked in a breath.
When she opened her eyes, Himiko saw Kokichi on his knees, head tilted back. Sparkles of light had started to appear around him too. He began fading.
Himiko rushed towards him. Kokichi stood. Turned around. He gazed at her evenly, faintly smiling. Himiko seized his shoulders. “Are you okay? What’s happening?! What’s going on?”
“All ghosts are people who died with regrets, right? Once they let go of those regrets, they pass on. And my regret was–”
“No. No, don’t–”
“…was not apologizing to Onii-chan for killing him.” Smiling, Kokichi spoke as softly as new falling snow. “Now I have.”
Kaito sucked a sharp breath. Head bowed, he balled his fists. Maki dipped her head in a nod.
Trembling, Himiko stepped back. “No… No, you can’t!” Tears burned her eyes. Hand clutching her chest, Himiko cried, “I’m your assistant! We have to work on stopping apparitions from going out of control. We said we would be together and–!”
“Himiko. Himiko, Himiko! Listen to me, okay? I don’t have a lot of time.” Kokichi clasped her hand with both of his. Himiko could only feel his hands during some moments – other moments she just felt air. Kokichi’s even gaze met her eyes. “Listen to me. No matter what happens or what you’ve done, you have to keep living, okay?”
Himiko slowly shook her head. Her eyes burned with tears. “Don’t. Don’t go.”
Kokichi dipped his head. “If I didn’t kill myself, I would have come to Hope’s Peak and we’d be classmates.” Tilting his head, Kokichi smiled. “And who knows what kind of good person I would have been able to become then?”
Himiko hiccupped. “Kokichi, I…!”
Kokichi squeezed her hands with a vise grip. Eyes smoldered. “So don’t you ever give up on your future, on your potential to be a better version of yourself. Okay?”
Himiko hung her head. Chest heaved with suppressed sobs.
Kokichi patted her hand. His form had faded almost completely, leaving only a faint outline. “I have to go now.”
Maki’s words from earlier echoed in Himiko’s mind.
“Humans and apparitions are entirely different states of being. The sooner you understand this reality the better.”
Kokichi laughed. “You got Angie and the idiot Kaito over there! You’ll be just fine.”
“Humans and apparitions can’t coexist. You’re alive; we’re dead.”
Kokichi kissed Himiko’s cheek. Whispered in her ear. “Something to remember me by.”
“We have no future anymore.”
Kokichi vanished. Like dust mites sparks of light floated in the air.
Knees giving out, Himiko collapsed to the floor. Hand outstretched, she screamed.
“…while you’ll continue living life without us.”
Himiko ran through the school halls. “Ahhh, I’m going to be late!” She slid open a classroom door. Ultimates sat at their desks, chatting and pulling out the day’s books.
Himiko headed towards her seat on the far side of the classroom. She passed by Rantaro. Blushing, Himiko ducked her head. Ahh, I still can’t believe how badly I messed up in confessing to him. I hope I’ll find another cool Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet soon. It’s already been a month into the school year.
Himiko sat at her desk by the window next to Angie. Kiyo was talking to the artist about how his relic exhibit yesterday was a big success. Humming, Himiko gazed across the classroom. Kaito rested his upper half across this desk. He looks tired. What happened to him?
Sighing a “Nyeeh…” Himiko rested a cheek in a palm. I didn’t sleep well either last night. I had this long, weird dream. Something about… a ghost?
Kiyo rambled, “…exhibit went off without any complications or difficulties. It was a resounding success. A great number of people attended and I enlightened them all to the mysteries of the Caged Dog ritual…”
Shaking her head, Angie stood up. “The only religious rituals I listen to are Atua’s.” To Himiko, Angie said, “I’m going to the girls bathroom before class starts.”
Girls bathroom. Realization struck like lightning. Himiko stood up, chair clattering. She locked eyes with Kaito. I remember now! I remember everything!
The door slid open. Waving, Chisa strolled up to the teacher’s desk. “Good morning, everyone! Have a seat please. I have wonderful news. A couple of transfer students are coming today–”
Himiko bolted out the classroom door.
“H-hey!” Chisa called. “What are you doing? Come back!”
Himiko flew down the hall, her feet barely touching the ground. Rounded a corner. An unfamiliar boy with light brown hair dressed in a suit stood outside the 1-B classroom.
Himiko grounded to a halt. “Wait. Who are you?”
The boy jumped. “I-I’m Ryota Mitarai, the Ultimate Animator. I just transferred into Hope’s Peak today. I-It’s nice to meet you…”
Himiko froze. Stared. She ran past him towards the exit. The mage plowed through the double doors to outside. She ran a little bit farther before, panting heavily, she came to a stop. Before her stretched the central plaza, a fountain with three cobblestone paths shooting off it and bushes outlining the paths. Beyond the plaza lay the school gate and wall bordering the campus.
Himiko gazed at the grounds. No one was there. Not a soul. She balled her fists. Sniffed. Her eyes stung. “Kokichi…”
Hands covered her eyes. “Here I am.”
Himiko gasped. Whirled around. Kokichi smiled at her. “Fooound you.”
“Ko… Kokichi? Kokichi!” Himiko crushed Kokichi in a hug. “It’s you… It’s really you!”
Releasing him, Himiko gazed over his form, getting a good look at him. He wore a checkered bandana with a white uniform. No scar or seal on his cheek. “But how?” she asked. “I thought you…”
Kokichi laid a hand on his chest. “For becoming the seventh wonder and stopping my brother, God forgave me and let me redo my life. Onii-chan and I ran away from our parents when we were kids. We lived on the streets for a while. Pretty rough.” Grinning, Kokichi spread his arms wide. “But together we created an organization with over 10,000 members!”
“So your brother…”
“Uh-huh! He’s alive too. He’s my second in command of my organization.” Kokichi gestured to a bench by the fountain. A man stood up. “And he’s here, dropping me off for my first day.”
Kagami approached them. Being 21 years old in this life, Kagami towered over them both. Had a thin, sharp face. His straight, shoulder-length hair blew in the wind.
Himiko flushed. “Oh wow… You look just like a prince!”
Kokichi tsked. “Yeah well, he’s not going to be sweeping anyone off their feet like I could. He’s as unfeeling and stoic as a rock.”
“And your obnoxious personality hasn’t changed one bit.”
“Hey!” Pouting, Kokichi crossed his arms and looked away. “It just adds to my charm, is all.”
“Haha… Ahahaha!” Laughing, Himiko wiped an eye. “I’m just so, so very glad you’re both okay.”
Kokichi grinned. “So how’s the idiot Kaito and Maki?”
“Kaito is still secretly an exorcist and Maki is one of our ultimate classmates… Wait! That’s right! She was the second wonder!”
Kagami nodded. “She must have been allowed to redo her life as a human as well.”
“That’s amazing…” Himiko murmured.
A commotion came from the school building. Chisa stepped outside, shouting for Himiko. Kokichi jerked his head. “Distract her for a sec.” After nodding, Kagami approached the teacher.
Kokichi turned back to the mage. “You know, Himiko…” Kokichi held out a hand, palm up. A haku-joudai materialized in his palm. “Onii-chan and I still have some residual spiritual power left. And Hope’s Peak is only one haunted school of many. There’s lots of apparitions the world over who need to let go of their regrets. My organization works hard to quell any troublesome spirits and help them move on.” Kokichi tilted his head to the side. Cocked a brow. “Do you want to join DICE?”
Himiko’s eyes widened.
Kokichi held Himiko’s jaw up with a hand. He asked quietly, “So what do you say? Wanna be my assistant again, Himiko?”
Himiko swallowed. Smiled widely. Nodded. “Mm!”
Kokichi’s gaze flickered to her lips. They leaned in close. Kissed softly. Face burning, Himiko withdrew.
The school doors burst open. Kaito, Maki, and Angie exited the school. Kaito cried, “There you are, Himiko! Wait is that… is that Kokichi?”
“Uh-oh! Better go!” Kokichi yanked on Himiko’s hand and ran towards the school entrance.
Kagami frowned. “Wait. Where are we going?”
“Gonna play hooky!”
Chisa raised a fist in the air. “Not on your first day, mister! You get back here!”
Angie pressed her hands to her cheeks. “Oh no. Himiko is running off with a strange man again!”
Maki shook her head. “Ghost or human, Kokichi is always aggravating. Guess some things never change.”
Kokichi pushed through the swing gate entrance. They ran down the city sidewalk, hand in hand. Hand on her mage hat, Himiko asked, “What are you doing? Where are we going?”
Laughing, Kokichi threw back his head and held out his hand. “Nee-heehee! We’re alive, we’re together; we can do anything!” Grinning, Kokichi looked over his shoulder at her. With the sunlight backlighting him, he looked like he was ablaze in golden light. “We can make our own future, together.”
Himiko squeezed his hand. “That’s right.” She ran faster to run alongside him. “And I’m looking forward to it.”
Their laughter reached up into the great expansive sky.