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Three-Point Shot

Chapter Text

The ripple it sent through the group was palpable. The 15 of them were awash with a tide of relief and terror.

On the one hand, Amami's death meant the deadline was no longer an issue. No one else had to die. At least, no one would die simply because time ran out. The Killing Game that Monokuma and his cubs were desperate for had begun. And Amami was simply the one who was unlucky enough to fall on the sword.

But the group was now swimming in shark-infested waters. One of them was a murderer. Theories about Masterminds be damned, there was no doubt that one of them had crossed a line. And with no one possessing the abandon to admit to their deed, the Early-Bird Prize would go unclaimed, and the Class Trial was set to begin.

Uncertain of how to address this sort of thing, the group naturally turned to Saihara for guidance. As the Ultimate Detective, clearly he would be able to solve a simple murder like this, wouldn't he?

Saihara's attention was of course drawn to the supposed murder weapon. A bloodied shot-put, lying on the ground next to Amami's corpse. The ball was consistent with the shape of Amami's fatal injury, which made it seem all too clear that the first question had been answered.

In one history, this would lead down a road of despair, distrust, and miscarriage of justice. But all that went awry with the actions of a single person. A single variable that no one could have seen coming.

Ouma picked up the shot put. "It definitely has a good weight. I can see it cracking open a skull."

"Ouma-kun, put that down!" Akamatsu yelled, "You're tampering with the evidence!"

The self-professed dictator scoffed. "What? It's not like we're taking fingerprints." He started to pass the ball between his hands. "And it's not like I'm any stranger to tampering with crime scenes. Evil Organizations have to do that sort of thing all the time."

"Even so, your life is at stake, just like everyone else's," Saihara reminded him. "I wouldn't..."

"Of course you wouldn't, Saihara-chan," Ouma mocked, "That's why I need to do it. Three-point shot!"

Ouma then turned, and threw the shot-put upward onto the the ledge of one of the tall bookshelves. It remained up there, to the dismay of the others.

The hat-wearing detective let out a sigh. "I'll get it."

Akamatsu gulped. "Uh... maybe I should-"

"No, it's fine," Saihara countered, already moving the ladder into place, "We wouldn't want a repeat of our... last awkward exchange."

Akamatsu's reaction was torn between the sweat of Saihara discovering the trail of evidence she had left behind, or the blush of being reminded of his unintentional voyeurism.

A cry of, "Got it!" caused sweat to win by a county mile.

Saihara climbed down, having gone silent. He moved slowly and cautiously until he laid the offending sphere back in its original resting place.

He turned his head, and Akamatsu suddenly felt the full force of the eye contact he had long been avoiding. "Akamatsu-san."

"Y-yeah...?"

"I need you to keep everyone in this room. Just for a little while."

Akamatsu nodded. "S-sure."

Saihara turned to the rest of the group. "I need a volunteer to come with me. I've got something I need to test."

Ouma's hand shot up like a rocket. "Ooh! Ooh! Pick me, Saihara-chan!"

Saihara shook his head in exasperation. "Alright. Fine. Follow me."

As the two walked away, Ouma turned to shoot Akamatsu a sly grin. Saihara's last words to the group were, "Watch your heads."

Less than 8 minutes went by before a rumbling noise began to echo through the library. The captive audience Saihara had left behind looked up and saw a horrific sight.

A metal ball made its way through the air vent and down the row of bookshelves.

Akamatsu struggled to keep her eyes open. She hadn't meant to kill Amami. She was after the Mastermind. And with the benefit of hindsight, she had grown to regret that she had ever considered murder an option. And now, thanks to that annoying little brat, Ouma, she would have to witness her crime play out firsthand. And everyone would watch.

She could hear them now. Cries of disbelief from some. Momota would deny it to the end. Kiibo would protest in his formal manner. Tenko would refuse to believe the killer was a girl. Gonta would defend her honor like the gentleman he was. It would almost sting more than when Ouma mocked her. Or when Iruma would say she knew it was 'that flat-chested bitch' all along.

And just as the ball made it's way to the last shelf and fly off toward where the unsuspecting victim would be...

It fell. Nowhere near the victim's position. Nowhere near the bloodstained shelf that illustrated the point of impact.

It fell. On the floor, just to the side of the victim. And it rolled backward, toward the door.

Akamatsu was left in a stupor as Saihara and Ouma returned. "Where's the second ball?" Saihara asked.

As the others discussed this new evidence with the returning students, Akamatsu stayed away. Instead she walked toward the corpse and simply stared.

She could hear the others mutter and mumble as they posited their own theories. She was faintly aware of the fact that many of the others had since vacated the library. But all of that was window dressing to the main piece of information that took shelter at the forefront of her mind.

"You didn't do it."

She turned. Saihara was the only one left in the library besides her.

"H-how...?"

"As soon as I saw the row of books, it became clear," Saihara explained, "I thought it was odd you were taking so much time reorganizing the top of the bookcases, but once I saw what you had done..."

"Do you hate me?" Akamatsu asked.

"Akamatsu-san?"

"I..." Akamatsu began, choking back tears, "I was ready to accept punishment for what I did. I was going to tell you to do whatever it took to solve the case. I was going to force you to march me off to my death."

"Akamatsu-san..."

"I wanted to help everyone. I thought capturing the Mastermind wouldn't be enough, so I used you. I used your plan to create a murder."

"You didn't kill anyone."

"By sheer luck!" she screamed. She gripped her shoulders tightly and began to shake. "It... it didn't even occur to me that I was that far gone. I was willing to kill someone. It doesn't matter why."

"Yes it does," he reassured her. "You wanted to protect everyone because that's who you are. You're the kind of person who wants to keep people safe. And right now, that's the kind of person we need."

"Saihara-kun..."

"I was terrified, you know." Saihara pulled down the brim of his hat. The poor boy was desperate to avoid this conversation, but knowing all too well it needed to happen. "When I threw that shot-put I was terrified that I was going to find out that... that..."

"I was the killer?"

Saihara nodded. "Yes. I... don't know that I would've been able to reveal that to everyone."

"Is that why you took Ouma with you?"

"Once it got out that you and I were waiting in the upstairs classroom, it would be a short jump to realize that one of us threw the ball, and that I wouldn't have put on that production a moment ago if I were the killer," Saihara reasoned.

"So... I guess... we're back to square one on investigating?" Akamatsu asked.

"I do have some theories, but right now I'm collecting alibis mostly," Saihara replied.

Akamatsu looked away. "I guess you better get to work."

"I'll need help."

The pianist's eyes went wide, meeting the detective's eyes once more. "Me?"

"As I said before, I feel like I can trust you, Akamatsu-san."

"How?! After what I did..."

"But you didn't do anything."

"Saihara-kun!"

"Akamatsu-san," Saihara interjected, "You tried to save us all. You didn't choose the best method, and that is something you'll have to face. It may prove difficult to clear your name at the trial, but I'm willing to fight. I want to find the truth, and I can't do it alone. Will you help me?"

Akamatsu looked downward, catching a glimpse of her own hands in the process. Her nails still held the color that Amami had given them. She stole a glance to the amnesiac's corpse again, and took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's do it! I won' t let Amami-kun's death be in vain!"

Saihara smiled. "That's the spirit."

The two made their way out of the library and began to walk up the stairs to investigate the others more thoroughly.

"No," Saihara said, seemingly out of nowhere.

"Huh?" Akamatsu replied.

"Your question from earlier. I don't hate you. I don't think I ever could."

The pianist found that for the first time since she threw that accursed ball, a song was playing in her heart.

Chapter Text

The shaky elevator made its way down to the trial room slowly but surely. Investigation went more or less smoothly after Saihara's experiment with the vent system. Akamatsu had been somewhat quiet throughout, taking point in questioning here and there, but for the most part leaving the detective to do what he did best.

Regardless, his concern shone through. "Are you worried?"

She nodded. "Yeah. I'm gonna have to tell them, aren't I?"

"That would be the best way to go about it. They'll accept your reasoning a bit better if you're forthcoming about it," Saihara explained.

"I still don't know if I can do this," she muttered, lowering her head.

A brief moment of silence went by, and Akamatsu soon discovered a bit of weight had been placed upon her. Her forehead being slightly constricted. When she raised her hands to check, her suspicions were confirmed. "Your hat?"

Saihara scratched at the back of his head. "Like I said, I use it so I don't have to look people in the eye, but right now, you need it more than I do."

Akamatsu gripped the brim and adjusted the cap to fit better to her head. She stole a glance at the now-hatless boy and gave a small grin. "Thanks."

Saihara grinned as well. "It- it looks good on you," he muttered sheepishly.

Akamatsu chuckled. "I wish you had an extra, though. You've got pretty bad hat hair."

The black-haired boy ran his hands across his scalp, noting the ahoge he traditionally concealed, and offered a half-hearted, "Yeah."

A sudden clanging noise alerted the group to the fact that the elevator had finished its journey into the depths of the school, and they were ushered to the trial grounds.

"Here we go," Akamatsu whispered to herself.

The students each took to their respective podiums, and the trial began.

"Alright, let's begin with a basic explanation of the Class Trial!" Monokuma declared. "After a period of debate, you will take a majority vote for who you believe is the killer. If you're right, the killer is punished. But if you're wrong, everyone else is punished and the killer is allowed to leave Gifted Inmates Academy scot-free!"

"Just like our Papa to give such a perfect explanation!" Monotaro exclaimed.

"And it only took him one try!" Monofunny noted.

Monosuke looked over his abacus before responding, "Well he is an old hand at this sort of thing."

"HELL YEAH!" Monokid shouted. "We've got our work cut out for us to be that good someday! Especially Monodam!"

Monodam remained silent.

"Old hand? Akamatsu wondered. "Have there been other killing games before?"

Shinguuji started the discussion amongst the students. "If I may be so bold as to begin our debate, I have two questions I must ask. Firstly, why did the killer not make use of the Early-Bird Prize?"

Akamatsu's voice wouldn't escape her throat. When she thought she'd killed Amami, her plan was to pass up the Early-Bird Prize and use the Class Trial to uncover the Mastermind's identity. But now that it seemed like she wasn't guilty, she was left baffled. What other reason was there to give up on a free pass to escape?

"My first instinct," Hoshi answered, "is that they have something to gain from the trial process."

"But the only results are them leaving or dying," Momota countered, "So why risk dying when they could leave automatically?"

"You don't think," Shirogane pondered aloud, beginning to shudder at the prospect, "whoever it is wants to kill all of us, do you?"

"I don't think that's the case," Saihara interjected, "I can't imagine anyone would truly desire to see 15 strangers dead after only a few days."

"Then there must be some benefit to the trial itself," Toujou surmised.

"I think so," the detective replied, "They have something to gain from going through the motions."

"Well, they're a dumbass if they think this'll work!" Momota proclaimed, "After all, we've got the Ultimate Detective on our side!"

Saihara was suitably embarrassed by this. "Th-thanks."

"Getting to my second question, then," Shinguuji interrupted, "What was the purpose of Saihara-kun's demonstration with the shot-put along the row of bookcases?"

Saihara took a moment to glance at Akamatsu, before she gave him a nod to indicate that he was free to proceed. "Iruma-san, would you please show us your aerial picture of the library?"

Iruma grinned ear to ear. "Of course you'd need the help of a genius like me." She pulled out the panoramic picture she had made through the use of a drone. "Drink it all in, bitches!"

Saihara pointed to the bookcase on the picture. Monokuma brought up a larger version on the various viewscreens around the class, and highlighted the area Saihara referred to. "As you can see, there's a pathway constructed by a row of books on top of the bookcases. It leads from the open vent down to where we found Amami-kun's body."

"And you never would've thought to look if not for me," Ouma boasted.

"Be that as it may," Saihara said, choosing to ignore Ouma, "my immediate response to seeing this was thinking the murderer could have thrown a ball through the vent and the pathway would lead it to strike Amami-kun."

"Aah... a long-range move like that..." Yumeno mumbled, "that's pretty advanced magic..."

"But Shuuichi and Kokichi tested that, like, earlier, right?" Angie asked, "It didn't actually work that way."

"Apparently not," Saihara confirmed.

"Hold on," Kiibo interrupted, "That ventilation shaft connects to the classroom next to the stairwell. The, well... let's call them 'attacker', would have had to throw the ball from there. And the only two people in that room were..."

"I threw it."

Akamatsu's words made the entire room go silent. "I don't think I killed Amami-kun. But I definitely tried to."

The quiet quickly gave way to madness.

"You... you what?!" Momota exclaimed.

"This, this is a joke, right?!" Chabashira added.

"Gonta can't believe this! He won't believe it!"

"Nishishi... now things are getting fun."

"Hmm..." was all Harukawa offered.

"God didn't tell me about this!"

"Bakamatsu... you tried to..."

The trouble with being an Ultimate Pianist was that Akamatsu's sense of hearing was highly acute. She could make out every word her classmates said, and it was just as heartrending as she imagined it would be.

But one voice cut through the maelstrom of sound.

"EVERYONE LET HER TALK!!!"

The room once again went quiet with Saihara's words. Akamatsu turned her gaze to the black-clad boy and saw a look of fierce determination in his eyes.

"Saihara-kun... you're... actually pretty cool," she thought.

"Sorry," he began, "but we won't be able to move forward until you listen to her."

All eyes were on the capped blonde and she took a deep breath before she set the truth free. "The more Saihara-kun told me about his plan, the more worried I got that it wasn't going to work. We were putting all our eggs in one basket, and we only had one shot to find the Mastermind. So... I thought I... I...," she gulped, "I should make sure the Mastermind couldn't keep the game going. I figured out how I could get the weapon to the scene of the crime without anyone, not even Saihara-kun, noticing. I turned the flash on one of the cameras back on to get the Mastermind into place. And I was going to do it. I did do it." She pulled the brim of Saihara's hat down as far as it would go. "I tried to kill the Mastermind. And now... now Amami-kun's dead instead."

Tears began to streak down the pianist's face. "I'm so sorry. *sniff* *hic* I didn't want this to happen."

"Quit crying."

Akamatsu's head popped up to see who had made such a rude remark.

Unsurprisingly, it was Ouma. "Saihara-chan already proved it wasn't you. Your little Murder Machine didn't work right, so you've got nothing to feel guilty about."

"A person is dead, Ouma-kun!" Akamatsu shrieked.

"So maybe you should spend less time whining, and more time figuring out who the real murderer is, hmm?" Ouma shot back with a smirk.

"Hey, lay off her, ya jerk!" Momota shouted.

"Momota-kun..." Akamatsu muttered, touched.

"A menace such as yourself has no right to be so cruel!" Chabashira added.

"Chabashira-san..."

"Akamatsu-san," Kiibo said, "please don't cry. None of us can blame you for trying to save us all!"

"Kiibo-kun..."

"If anything it's my fault," Saihara reassured her, feeling somewhat dejected, "I sort of forced my plan on you. I never asked you what you felt we should-"

"It's fine," Akamatsu said, cutting him off. She wiped the tears from her eyes. "Everyone, thank you." 

A feeling of warmth and camaraderie came over the group for the first time since the body discovery announcement rang through the school's halls. The crime was far from solved, but Akamatsu had been absolved of guilt she didn't deserve.

That was what mattered.

 

 

Chapter Text

As the students reassured Akamatsu that they harbored no ill will towards her in spite of her actions, the Monokuma cubs took this time to indulge in some color commentary.

"Look at them all," Monofunny commented, "They're all so happy. It's beautiful!"

"Whatever," Monokid scoffed, "this sappy stuff just gets on my nerves."

"Are those tears I see in your eyes, Monokid?" Monosuke snarked.

"What?!" Monokid shouted back. "No! Monodam made me eat onions earlier!"

Monodam remained silent.

"I thought you only cry when you sniff onions, not eat them..." Monotaro muttered.

"Ahem!" Monokuma called out, getting the attention of the class. "In case you forgot, this is a class trial, not group therapy! Get back on track!"

"He says that, but, all the clues we had pointed to Akamatsu-san..." Shirogane commented.

"But Akamatsu-san isn't the culprit, right?" Gonta asked.

"It seems unlikely," Saihara corrected. "Unfortunately, my test isn't a complete guarantee."

"If you can't find anyone else, I'll accept the blame," Akamatsu offered. "It's the least I can do."

"We aren't gonna let that happen!" Momota declared. "Let's figure out who really did it!"

"That sounds all well and good," Harukawa countered, "but what evidence do we still have?"

"Is the metal ball still the murder weapon?" Yumeno wondered.

Saihara nodded. "It's still consistent with the shape of the wound, and the Monokuma File says that the head trauma was Amami-kun's cause of death."

"If we still trust the Monokuma file, we need to assume that whoever killed Amami-kun did so after Akamatsu-san set her trap into motion," Shinguuji theorized.

"In that case, we need to gather alibis for that time," Toujou responded.

"Why?" Shirogane asked, "The hidden cameras don't show anyone other than Amami-kun going into the room."

"The cameras have a 30-second interval between shots," Iruma explained, "Anyone could've gotten in and killed Mama's boy if they were careful about it."

"Who knew about that other than you?" Ouma asked.

"Just me and Shyhara over there," Iruma replied.

"So, Saihara-chan could have gone in the room unseen?" Ouma posited.

"But he couldn't have left without the camera going off," Akamatsu countered, "I ran into him outside the library after I made my way downstairs."

"And Akamatsu-san couldn't have gotten around me in that time, so she couldn't get in either," Saihara added.

"Are we saying the culprit didn't know about the camera intervals and still wasn't caught on film?" Harukawa wondered.

"That or Iruma-chan did it," Ouma replied with a grin.

"Except Iruma-san was with myself, Shinguuji-kun, and Shirogane-san in the cafeteria at the time," Toujou commented, "Our alibis are unassailable."

"That's right, you shotacon liar! Where's your alibi?" the inventor shouted.

The so-called dictator began to tear up. "You... you're so mean... Just 'cause I don't have an alibi... you think I did it? UWAAAAAAAAAAAAAHN!!!!!!" A somewhat horrific display of tears burst free from Ouma's eyes. After he'd settled down, he returned to his usual smile as though nothing had happened. "Ah... that was refreshing."

"Besides Ouma-kun," Saihara began, getting control of the discussion again, "Kiibo-kun and Hoshi-kun don't have alibis."

"I apologize for the inconvenience!" Kiibo proclaimed.

"Heh," Hoshi chuckled, "being suspected isn't new to me."

"Hey..." Yumeno spoke up, "How did the culprit get in the room and not get caught anyway?"

"Yumeno-san's question is super-important!" Chabashira exclaimed, "Is it even possible to do that?"

Akamatsu studied the aerial picture again. "I don't know. There's only two entrances into the library, so..."

"Three."

"Huh?"

All eyes were on Ouma, who looked very nonchalant about the whole thing. "There's the two main entrances, and the door to the Mastermind's lair."

"That door wasn't used," Saihara explained, "The dust in the card reader..."

"I'm saying they were already in their secret room and walked out," Ouma interrupted, speaking in a mocking tone, "They wouldn't need to touch the card reader as long as they left the door open behind them."

"But to get in the room in the first place..." Saihara began.

Ouma was having none of this, however, "Do you really think there's only one way in or out of that room?"

The room went quiet.

"Ouma-kun, what do you mean?" Shirogane inquired.

"We were told at the start that this school was built just for us," Ouma reasoned, "That means the Mastermind could make the building structure work however they wanted. Pretend you're the Mastermind for a second. Would you really want the only passageway to your secret lair be in a room that anyone can walk into whenever they want?"

Silence reigned.

"That's... actually a really good point," Saihara commented.

"Nishishi... You don't get to be the Ultimate Supreme Leader without knowing how to build an evil lair," Ouma said with a smirk.

"If Ouma-kun's right," Akamatsu theorized, "then that means the real murderer is the Mastermind!"

"So... I guess our plan worked after all..." Saihara muttered.

"Furthermore, the Mastermind wanted the Class Trial more than anyone, so it makes sense they wouldn't use the Early-Bird Prize," Hoshi added.

"So do we think the Mastermind is the culprit?" Angie asked.

"Of course we do!" Momota declared, "We were stupid to think anyone else would want to kill someone in the first place!"

"And what of Akamatsu's murder attempt?" Harukawa countered.

"That... doesn't count," the aspiring astronaut replied.

"But, do we have any way of telling who among us is the Mastermind?" Gonta wondered.

Saihara pondered for a moment before he spoke. "If the Mastermind is the killer, that means they arrived at the scene after Akamatsu-san's trap failed and left the scene through the hidden door behind the bookcase. Then, they used another entrance to leave the hidden room and return... somewhere."

"The bookcase shut behind us as we arrived in the library," Akamatsu recalled, "So that means it's someone who doesn't have an alibi for the time between when I threw the ball and when we arrived."

"Chabashira-san and Momota-kun were with us at the time, so it can't be either of them," Saihara began, "But beyond that, since we don't know where the other door is, it could be anyone."

"Not anyone," Harukawa shot back, "Yumeno, Angie, and I were all in the game room for that time, so we can account for each other."

"What about Gonta-kun?" Momota questioned.

"Gonta was in the AV Room by himself," the entomologist admitted, "But Gonta's not the Mastermind! That's the least gentlemanly thing a person could be!"

"We examined the AV Room thoroughly," Saihara reassured the group, "If there was a hidden door in there, we would have found it."

"Then we have the group of people who were eating their last meal," Momota thought out loud.

"That'd be my amazing self, the masked freak, Miss Maid, and the otaku, right?" Iruma asked.

"Which just leaves Hoshi-kun, Kiibo-kun, and Ouma-kun," Akamatsu concluded.

"Tenko knew it had to be one of those menaces!"

"Please, reconsider!" Kiibo shouted, "I would not do such a thing!"

"Nishishi..."

Ouma's signature cackle caught everyone's attention.

"Akamatsu-chan... you forgot something..." he sang.

"What?"

"Now that you have a time frame for the crime, someone's alibi doesn't hold up anymore," the short-statured liar advised.

"Someone's alibi doesn't hold up?" Akamatsu wondered.

SELECT A SUSPECT

Chapter Text

Akamatsu's eyes wandered the room. If Ouma was telling the truth, then someone she thought had an alibi was actually lying. It seemed impossible to piece together.

And suddenly, a single piece of information took root in her mind.

"At one point she left for the bathroom. She wasn't gone for very long, so I didn't find it suspicious."

"Shirogane-san..." Akamatsu's declaration was just above a whisper as realization dawned.

The blue-haired cosplayer immediately turned to her. "What's wrong?"

"Around what time did you go to the bathroom?"

"Just a few minutes before..." Shirogane trailed off. She blinked twice before realizing what she was really being asked. "Are you accusing me?!"

"To answer your question," Shinguuji chimed in, "It was just a few minutes before the Body Discovery Announcement. She didn't return until slightly afterward."

"Exactly when the Mastermind would've been committing the crime," Saihara realized.

"Hold on a second!" Shirogane cried, "Are you really accusing me of murder just because I couldn't hold my pee?!"

"It's not that I'm accusing you," Akamatsu replied, "It's just you don't have an alibi anymore, and we need to explore that."

"Nishishi... isn't it weird that that's the only part of the night you don't have an alibi for?" Ouma taunted.

"I was in the bathroom!" Shirogane shouted.

"That's right, you were..." Saihara said, his tone indicating he was beginning to put the pieces together, "And that's just about perfect."

"What are you talking about?!" Shirogane grew more and more frantic with every comment.

"Like Ouma said," the detective explained, "if I were the Mastermind, I'd want to hide an entrance to my secret lair where no one would look. And it would have to be a room that the Ultimate Detective couldn't examine thoroughly."

"The women's bathroom..." Momota muttered, "If Saihara tried to examine that place..."

"Tenko would give him such a thrashing!" Chabashira proclaimed.

"This is insane!" Shirogane protested, "Akamatsu leaves a trail of evidence two miles wide, and just because her little boyfriend does a half-rate science-fair project we're gonna believe she's innocent?!"

"Boyfriend?!" Saihara and Akamatsu shouted in disbelief. They then proceeded to avert their eyes from one another in embarrassment.

"Excellent work trying to change the topic," Ouma commented.

"You shut up, you little brat!" was Shirogane's only reply.

"Not that I disagree on Ouma's brathood," Harukawa chimed in, "but thanks to that 'science-fair project' as you called it, Akamatsu's guilt is questionable at best."

"Harumaki's right!" Momota cheered, "Meanwhile, you still can't prove you didn't do anything."

"The Hell did you call me?" Harukawa spat.

"Shirogane-san," Akamatsu said, returning to the conversation, "I don't want to believe it was you, but you're not doing a good job of defending yourself."

"I don't need to defend myself! You're the one who threw the ball! You goddamn admitted to what you did!" Shirogane argued.

"But that doesn't mean anything if the Mastermind could've done it," Akamatsu countered.

"You're just gonna listen to Ouma's stupid theory?! He lies out his ass all the time!"

Ouma just smirked. "I find it funny that I don't have an alibi but she just wants to pin it on Akamatsu-chan instead."

"You're the one who killed Amami!" Shirogane proclaimed, "That's how it's supposed to go!"

"How what's supposed to go?" Akamatsu asked.

"This trial! You're the guilty one! And you die! And then the game keeps going! That's how it works!"

"So you wanted a trial?" Saihara attempted to confirm.

"All of you BE QUIET!!!!!" Shirogane screeched.

Akamatsu decided it was time to go for broke. "You're the real Mastermind aren't you?!"

Shirogane refused to listen and began screaming assorted sentences in response.

"I'm done listening to you!"

But Akamatsu kept fighting back.

"You set up everything so someone would be tempted into murder."

"You're the one who killed him!"

"And when that didn't work you took matters into your own hands."

"This isn't how it goes!"

"And now that we're on your trail, you're panicking."

"Quit breaking away from me!"

"You don't have anything to refute our argument."

"I don't need to refute your argument, there's nothing you can do to prove your crazy theory!"

"YOU'VE GOT THAT WRONG!!!!"

The entire room was taken aback by Akamatsu's bold claim.

"Shirogane-san, if we're wrong about everything, then you wouldn't mind if Saihara-kun investigated the women's bathroom, right?"

"Wh-what?"

"I say we let Saihara-kun investigate the women's bathroom top to bottom. If he doesn't find a hidden passageway, then we'll just have to move on, won't we?"

"You... you can't...."

"So girls?" Akamatsu asked the room, "Mind if we let Saihara-kun take a look?"

"I don't mind," Harukawa replied.

"Tenko will want to supervise, but sure."

"Angie thinks that's a good idea."

Himiko yawned before saying, "Cool with me."

"Shyhara getting down and dirty in the girl's bathroom?" Iruma joked, "I like it!"

"If that is everyone's wish, I will also permit it," Toujou finished.

"No... no..." Shirogane shuddered. "This isn't happening..."

"Well, Monokuma? How about it?" Akamatsu challenged.

The ursine headmaster considered this for a moment, before declaring, "I suppose a little break couldn't hurt."

"WHAT?!!!!" Shirogane yelled, "Why would you do that?! You can't just let them do this! That's not how this goes!"

"I'm the headmaster, dearie," Monokuma reminded her, "What I say trumps everything else."

"You can't let the trial go like this! You need me!!!" Shirogane immediately clasped her palm over her mouth after she realized what she had said.

An audible gasp filled the room.

"You and Monokuma..." Akamatsu muttered.

Saihara finished the thought, "Were working together?"

"I... I..." The cosplayer was at a loss for words. "I... I... I don't understand... How... How did this happen...?"

Saihara's eyes shut tight as he began to piece things together in his mind. "I can tell you exactly how it happened."

The detective took a breath before letting his train of logic run it's full course.

"This murder began with Monokuma's declaration that if no one was killed in a predetermined time limit, he would have all of us killed. In response, I came up with a plan in the hopes of finding and neutralizing the Mastermind hiding among us. I invited Akamatsu-san to help me, unaware that she had her own plan in mind. As I set up my trap for the Mastermind, Akamatsu-san set up her own trap to kill the Mastermind by luring them into position to be killed by a shot-put, guided by a row of books. After all the pieces were in place, we waited for the Mastermind's arrival. During that time, Momota-kun gathered a group to hold a strategy meeting should the time limit run out. Amongst that group was the victim, Amami-kun. For reasons that remain unknown, Amami-kun excused himself and made his way to the library. Upon uncovering the hidden door behind the bookcase, Akamatsu-san's trap sprung into action, and as I made my way to the library, she threw the shot-put, believing the one who triggered the motion sensor was the Mastermind. However, despite Akamatsu-san's efforts, her trap failed, and the ball completely missed Amami-kun. At this point, the true culprit, the Mastermind, entered the library through the hidden door, thus avoiding any of the cameras we had set up. They took this opportunity to bludgeon Amami-kun to death, and allow Akamatsu-san to take the blame. There are multiple suspects who lack alibis but one is more noteworthy than the rest. One person who disappeared for the exact portion of the night during which the Mastermind would have been killing Amami-kun. Tsumugi Shirogane, YOU'RE THE REAL MURDERER!!"

With the entire case laid bare before them, the class felt reassured that they had come to the proper conclusion. With nothing left to say, Monokuma decided to take action.

"Alright then, if there's nothing left to discuss, then I guess it's Ballot Time!"

"What?!" Shirogane cried, "You can't be serious!"

"Deadly serious! With the emphasis on deadly!"

"Papa! Can we do this part?" Monotaro asked.

"Well... I guess you could use the practice," Monokuma agreed.

"Alright then! Please cast your votes with the lever in front of you!" Monotaro ordered.

"Who's gonna get chosen as the culprit?" Monosuke wondered.

"Will your choice be right or hopelessly wrong?!" Monokid shouted.

"What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?" Monofunny asked, quivering at the possibilities.

Monodam, again, remained silent.

The class slowly but surely cast their votes, and after the final vote was sent in, the viewscreens around them displayed what appeared to be a roulette wheel with each of their faces on it. The roulette wheel spun before finally landing on Shirogane's face.

Bright colors and flashing lights only served to emphasize the most important feature. A single prominent word.

"GUILTY"

 

Chapter Text

"Well, congratulations to you guys! I didn't think you could do it, but you did it! The real culprit behind Rantaro Amami-kun's death was Tsumugi Shirogane-san!"

Monokuma's words were cold comfort to the students now. They had prevailed. They had not only found Amami's killer, but also the Mastermind. But now they were just left wondering what came next. The idea that someone as soft-spoken as Shirogane being the one who had put them through such an ordeal was so surreal, that none of them could even speak.

Shirogane, for her part, was a gibbering mess. "This... this isn't happening... This wasn't... this wasn't..."

Akamatsu was the first to speak up. "Shirogane-san... you... you're really..."

She was almost immediately cut off. "It's not supposed to be me! It's supposed to be you!"

"You keep saying things like that," Saihara chimed in, "but what does that mean?"

"Akamatsu-san..." Shirogane struggled to maintain her composure. "She was supposed to take the blame. That's how it's supposed to go."

"But what do you mean by 'supposed to'?" the detective asked.

"I mean that Akamatsu-san's role was to be my scapegoat!" Shirogane cried. "She dies and you take up her feelings for the rest of the game! That's how the story goes!"

"So even when the game started,"Akamatsu questioned, horrified, "you wanted me dead? Specifically me?"

"Of course! You're the perfect sacrifice to keep things interesting!" Shirogane proclaimed. "I just wanted to keep the story on track, but then you... you..." She broke out into a fit of defeated laughter. "AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA... you just had to fucking miss didn't you?"

"So you didn't account for that," Saihara muttered.

"Even after I had to step in, it was going perfectly. Akamatsu-san was all set to take the fall for me, but then..." The venom in her voice reached its zenith. "You...! You ruined everything with one fucking joke!"

"Nishishi..." Ouma chuckled. "I like to keep things light."

Akamatsu gave the short boy a tender look. "Ouma-kun... you saved me... thank you."

"Don't thank me." Ouma smirked. "I would've just as happily let you die. Whatever was most fun."

This, understandably, threw the pianist off. "Umm... okay."

"In any case," Saihara interjected, "there's still an important question we need to answer. Shirogane-san, are you the Mastermind behind this Killing Game?"

The cosplayer scoffed, put on a haughty look, and proudly declared, "As a matter of fact, I-"

"Nope!"

The entire class, Shirogane included, was struck silent by Monokuma's words.

"I'm afraid Shirogane-san is not the Mastermind you're looking for!"

"Hey, hey!" Monotaro shouted, "Should we check for identification?"

"Why check IDs if Pops said she ain't the Mastermind?" Monosuke asked back.

"H-h-hold on here!" Shirogane protested, "Of course I'm the Mastermind! You chose me! You said that I would be the next-"

"Ah-ah-ah!" Once again she was cut off by the black-and-white bear. "You wouldn't want to spoil anything any more than we already have, right?"

"No! Not spoilers!" Monofunny plugged her ears. "I've been so good about not looking them up!"

Monokid strummed his guitar for emphasis. "HELL YEAH! People who don't mark spoilers are the absolute worst! Even worse than Monodam!"

Monodam's silence seemed to have a different air about it than normal.

And then it finally broke. "PU-NISH-MENT TIME?"

Shirogane's heart sunk. "Wait! No! You can't do this to me!"

Her words fell on deaf ears. "Now then, I've prepared a very special punishment for the Ultimate Cosplayer, Tsumugi Shirogane-san!"

"Please don't do this! You still need me! I can still be of use to you!"

"Let's give it everything we've got! Ittttttttt'ssssssssss Punishment Time!!!!!"

"You... you... AKAMATSUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

GAME OVER

TSUMUGI SHIROGANE HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY

COMMENCING PUNISHMENT...

As a hazard alarm began to blare, the other students instinctively backed away from Shirogane. The cosplayer, for her part, grew very shifty-eyed, as if she were sensing something coming. But in spite of her best efforts, a metal collar latched around her neck and pulled her out of the courtroom into a strange waiting area. She soon found herself locked in some sort of chair, like one you might find at a beauty salon.

As the Monokuma Cubs approached with various types of make-up and articles of clothing, the true punishment process began in earnest.

ALL DOLLED UP

In a maelstrom of fabrics and a hailstorm of colors, Shirogane was forced out of her traditional uniform and her appearance was significantly changed. Her hair was now a pinkish-blonde, and done up in pigtails, being held in place with clips that looked like Monokuma. She was adorned in a different uniform, with a black top, white tie, and red skirt. Her nails were fake and equally bright red. And her feet were now sporting high-heeled boots. Her face was made to look as flawless as possible, near unrecognizable as the person she once was.

Whoever she now looked like, it was an imitation befitting someone with Shirogane's moniker.

With the makeover complete, Shirogane was unceremoniously forced from the chair, and up against a wall. Suddenly, thin ropes were wrapped around her wrists, knees, ankles, stomach, and most distressingly, her neck, binding her to the wall behind her. Suddenly, the floor around her sprung upward, closing in on her, and the upward wall, trapping her in a box.

The box was labeled: LIFE-SIZE MASTERMIND DOLL.

As Shirogane began to struggle for breath, she noted her bonds, the twist-ties holding the 'doll' in place, were growing tighter. More than that, they were digging into her skin! These weren't merely thin ropes, they were made from garrote wire! Monokuma and his Cubs tugged on the wire from behind the box, causing them to grow taught, digging tighter and tighter into Shirogane's flesh. As blood seeped out of her wounds, and the slow, burning pain grew more and more, Shirogane found herself struggling to keep her eyes open, as though this would somehow make it stop.

A snapping sound, followed by the wires cutting all the way through, past the back of the box, was the actual end of her suffering.

The wires flew backward toward Monokuma and his Cubs, and the bears scattered to avoid being sliced into scrap metal.

Monotaro failed to escape in time.

As his Cubs were awe-struck by the loss of their leader, Monokuma merely strolled up to the box, noted his handiwork, and applied a sticker to the front.

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

 

Chapter Text

The students were thrown into an uproar at the sight of this execution.

"What the Hell was that?!!!!" Momota exclaimed.

"Tenko thought it would be the electric chair or something!"

"This, this is completely illogical!" Kiibo proclaimed. "Who would come up with something so horrible?"

"God," Angie prayed, "please guide Tsumugi's soul to rest. Even if she was, like, evil and stuff, no one deserves to die like that."

Even the more abrasive students, such as Harukawa or Iruma were stunned, to the point of silence.

Ouma simply turned and walked away.

Akamatsu was standing at attention, as though she were waiting for some kind of sign.

The Monokuma family, on the other hand, was occupied by a different death.

"Monotaro!" Monofunny shouted.

"Whoa! Why'd he die?!" Monokid asked.

"THIS IS BEST."

The other Monokuma Cubs turned to Monodam.

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG. WE CAN SHARE IN GRIEF. WE SHOULD GET A-LONG."

"Monodam... what happened to you?" Monosuke questioned.

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG," Monodam repeated.

"Let's get out of here," Monokid advised, "Monodam's starting to creep me out."

"BYE-KUMA!" the cubs exclaimed as they left.

Monokuma seemed unaffected by either event. "It's always sad when you have to bury your children. But what's the point of living if you don't experience every despair imaginable? Upupupupu!"

No one offered a response.

"What's wrong with you brats? You look like you've seen a ghost! Is Shirogane-san haunting you?" Monokuma mocked.

Akamatsu finally spoke. "Were you telling the truth? Was Shirogane-san really not the Mastermind?"

"Of course not!" Monokuma answered, "Why would I let the Mastermind run around where any of you could stab them in the neck or something?"

"Then," Saihara realized, "the Mastermind isn't even in the school?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Monokuma hedged, "Why don't you figure it out for yourselves?!"

Before he could leave, Akamatsu called out to him. "Wait!!"

"What do you want now?!"

"Just..." Akamatsu's voice grew softer as she spoke. "Why? Why did Shirogane-san help you?"

"Hmm... hard to say..." Monokuma pondered this. "I guess she was just one of my many adoring fans!"

"And you just killed her?!" Akamatsu yelled, tears in her eyes, "You killed your own ally! Your so-called 'son' is dead, too! Do you even care about anything?!"

"Upupupupu!" the bear chuckled. "I really don't get you, Akamatsu-san. If she had her way, you'd be killed for a crime you didn't commit, and you're crying about her being dead?"

"She..." the pianist barely choked out. "She didn't deserve to die like that!"

"You think so?" Monokuma asked. "If you knew about all the other stuff she did for me, I wonder if you'd feel the same way?"

With that cryptic question, the bear finally left.

"So, now what?" Momota asked.

"We... move on, I suppose," Kiibo replied.

As the group filed out of the trial grounds, Akamatsu wiped the tears from her eyes. She felt a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Sure enough, it was Saihara. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I honestly don't know," she answered.

"Akamatsu-san..."

"We might never know why she did all of this, Saihara-kun. She's just going to be this horrible, demonized murderer in everyone's mind and I..." Akamatsu took a breath. "All I can think about is how that was almost me."

"None of us would have thought of you like that!" Saihara protested.

"How can you know?" she shot back. "We'll never know what that world would be like. Maybe... maybe in that world... in the world where we understood her... it would make sense. All of this would make perfect sense. Maybe we'd be better off-"

"No, that's wrong!"

Saihara's counter broke through Akamatsu's tirade of self-loathing.

He continued from there. "I refuse to believe a world where you were killed for no reason would be better!" Saihara averted his eyes. "I didn't talk with Shirogane-san much. But I don't think she would've dwelled on you having to die like you are with her. You're the kind of person who wants to see the best in people. We need someone like that, Akamatsu-san."

He took hold of her hand.

"We need you."

The once-sad girl smiled.

"Saihara-kun. Thank you. For everything."

Saihara blushed in response. "Um... sure."

The pianist laughed a bit at his embarrassment. "Hey, Saihara-kun?"

"Hmm?"

"We're not done are we?"

The detective shook his head. "No. We still don't know why Amami-kun went off on his own. And we probably should investigate the girl's room to see if there's a passageway in there."

"We may not like what we find, but we need to find out," Akamatsu declared. "I'll face whatever cruel truth awaits me head-on!"

She took off the loaned hat. "You can have this back."

"Oh! Thanks!"

He looked at it for a moment.

"Is something wrong?" Akamatsu asked.

"I... I'm not sure I need it anymore," he replied.

"Are you sure?"

Saihara nodded "If you're going to face whatever's ahead, I should face it too. As a detective, I can't avert my eyes to the truth."

"Alright!" Akamatsu yelled. "Let's do this!"

"Oi!" Iruma shouted from across the way. "Will you two lovebirds quit holding hands and get a move-on?!"

The two looked down to their hands and realized that, indeed, neither had released their grip on the other.

The two quickly broke away and made their way to the elevator.


 

But what none of them could have known was that an interesting discussion was happening in a sealed room, very far away.

"This could prove quite troubling."

"With the primary asset lost, we may have difficulty controlling the narrative."

"The narrative was always more of a guideline than a script, anyway."

"Regardless, the narrative is now irreparably damaged. What would you suggest?"

"We'll proceed with the game as originally planned. Hopefully we will prove to be able to resume control with the next round."

"Might I suggest Motivational Tool Beta-Two-Slash-Jay be substituted in for the next round?"

"Hmm... I agree. Anyone else?"

"Aye!" rang amongst the shadowy figures.

"Motion carries. Prepare the videos..."

SURVIVING STUDENTS: 14

 

Chapter Text

Akamatsu was uncertain as to how she had returned to the Class Trial room, but she was far more concerned as to the image displayed on the viewscreen.

Her face, and the word "GUILTY".

"No... what? But... I didn't..."

"Akamatsu-san..."

Her head turned sharply and met a horrifying sight.

Amami was back, blood seeping from the fresh wound on the back of his head. By all accounts, he should have been slumped over dead, and yet, there he was.

"Why did you kill me? I thought we were friends..."

"No!" the pianist protested, "It- it was Shirogane-san! We proved..."

"Who me?"

Again, Akamatsu turned to see her deceased classmate. But unlike Amami, Shirogane seemed none the worse for wear. In fact, there was no indication that she was anything like the madwoman from a few hours ago.

"What did I ever do to you? Why do you hate me? You're the one who threw the ball. His death is your fault."

The other students joined in this chant.

"Your fault..."

"Your fault..."

"Your fault..."

The metal collar that had snapped around Shirogane's neck suddenly found itself around Akamatsu's, as she was dragged away in a similar manner.

Akamatsu found herself bound to a thin string, with a series of matching strings running parallel to the one she was on.

A large blunt object struck a nearby string. Sound emanated from it, and it became all too clear what was happening. These strings were part of what must be a very large piano. As more and more hammers struck nearby strings, Akamatsu recognized the tune as Mozart's Requiem. A tad cliche? Perhaps. But the captive girl quickly surmised which key she was on, and realized that though it wasn't one that would be hit during this piece, one wrong note would spell her doom. As the unseen performer continued to hit wrong notes, Akamatsu grew more and more nervous as to when her end would come.

The roof above her lifted, and Akamatsu saw the large form of who was playing the piano.

"Saihara-kun?"

The detective was now gigantic, but more noteworthy was his left eye, painted to resemble Monokuma's jagged red eye.

"Why did you lie to me?"

"I- I didn't mean to..."

His hand came down on a single key. The hammer above Akamatsu swung down...


 

Akamatsu catapulted out of bed in a cold sweat. She clutched her shoulders and shuddered in horror at the nightmare she had been through. As she took in her surrounding, she realized that, tragically, the part where she was still trapped in Gifted Inmates Academy was very real.

She had trouble returning to sleep that night.


 

The most notable thing about the next morning was the strange air that overtook the school. Unease had captured the hearts of the students. Though the trial had ended, no one could really say they were satisfied with the conclusion. The loss of two members of the group, regardless of the content of their character, was jarring to say the least.

Akamatsu brushed past this air of depression, summoned her bold face, and took charge at the morning breakfast meeting.

"Alright! Is everyone here yet?"

A cursory glance around the room made the answer all too clear. "We're missing two people," Akamatsu noted, "Saihara-kun and... Harukawa-san?"

"Harukawa-san wishes to be left to her own devices, I'm afraid," Toujou explained as she set the table.

"Toujou-san, you really don't have to do all the work..." Akamatsu offered.

"It's fine. It relaxes me, knowing I am being of service to others," the maid reassured.

"Okay... but where's Saihara-kun?"

The door of the cafeteria swung open somewhat haphazardly, as Saihara staggered in and promptly collapsed to the ground.

"Saihara-kun!"

The group rushed over to the now-hatless boy, who was groaning in pain. Momota was the first to offer comfort, "Shuuichi! You okay, man?"

The detective's eyes fluttered open as he pointed to the astronaut. "You... you did this."

"Did what?!" Akamatsu asked.

"Tch," Momota scoffed, "guy's being overdramatic. All I did was invite him to work out with me last night."

"My muscles are still sore, you monster," Saihara cracked.

"Ehh, you'll get used to it, Shuuichi."

"I don't really plan on it, Kaito..."

"So..." Akamatsu inquired, "Are you guys friends now, or...?"

"Boosh! Yeah we are!" Momota replied, giving a thumbs-up. "This guy's pretty cool, he just needs a little toughening up."

"Someone put me in a chair, please," Saihara requested.

Gonta, being a gentleman, was more than happy to assist.

"Okay, now that we have Saihara-kun, let's get back on point," Akamatsu said, taking control of the conversation again.

She was then interrupted by one of the others raising their hands. "Ooh! Ooh! I have a question!"

She sighed. "Yes, Ouma-kun?"

"Why are you suddenly in charge?" Ouma asked.

A surprisingly pointed question. Akamatsu kind of glanced at the others. "Umm... I guess I just..."

"Just what?" Ouma countered, "Just thought we'd forget about the fact that you lied to us all and tried to kill someone? I don't know about you, but that's not a quality I look for in a leader. Of course, I am in the market for a new minion, if you're interested in that..."

Ouma's question cut Akamatsu to her core. The image of her classmates telling her what happened was her fault reared its ugly head yet again.

"Look, I'll settle this," Momota offered, standing up. "Anyone opposed to Akamatsu as Leader raise your hand!"

Ouma's hand went up, but the only one supporting his campaign seemed to be Iruma.

"Rephrasing to be safe," Momota added, "Anyone who thinks Ouma would be a better choice, raise their hand."

This time Ouma stood alone.

"Welp, that takes care of that," Momota observed, sitting back down.

Ouma began to tear up again. "*sniff* You really think she'd be better than me? Have I failed as an Ultimate Supreme Leader?! UWHAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!!" And yet again, he composed himself almost immediately. "Well, if wishes were fishes."

The touching display, or lack thereof, gave Akamatsu hope that her nightmare wouldn't come to pass. With that, she resumed. "Okay, first of all, thank you for your support. Kind of need it after last night... But there's still a couple things we need to address. First, we need to to a search of that girl's bathroom, which Saihara-kun will lead. Chabashira-san has volunteered to supervise, do we have any other volunteers?"

Saihara merely groaned in response.

"Okay, seriously, Momota-kun, what did you make him do?" Akamatsu asked.

"Just some push-ups and sit-ups, nothing heavy!" Momota defended. "He said he could handle it!"

"I was wrong..."

Akamatsu gave a groan of her own. "I guess we're postponing that. Any other business?"

"HELLO-KUMA!"

The siren cry of the Monokuma Cubs, now noticeably lacking in the color red, signaled their unexpected appearance in the cafeteria.

"It just isn't the same anymore without Monotaro," Monofunny cried. "Who will lead us now?"

"Weren't you paying attention?!" Monokid responded. "I'm in charge now!"

"And why is that, Monokid?" Monosuke wondered.

"After the red guy, the blue guy's in charge. Everybody knows that! Right, Monodam?"

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG."

"HELL YEAH! Monodam's finally speaking my language, and I love it!"

Akamatsu stole attention back with, "What do you guys want?!"

"Well, since you completed your first class trial, you deserve a reward or something, right?" Monosuke explained.

"And we've got the best gifts money can't buy!" Monokid cheered.

The Cubs then presented a strange assortment of objects to the group. A red ball, a turn crank, an ocarina, and a locker tag.

"If you use these in just the right places, you can open up fun new locations all over the school!" Monofunny offered. "So you should get started!"

"BYE-KUMA!"

And the Cubs once again vanished.

"Well, what are we supposed to do with these things?" Iruma asked.

"You heard them," Hoshi replied, "Let's start looking."

Akamatsu again took point. "There are four items, so we should split up into teams of three. That way there's one person left over, so Saihara can rest up for a while."

"Thank you," the detective muttered.

As the groups were decided, more or less at random, they split up and began to search the school.

 

Chapter Text

Team 1 had discovered that behind one of the school's locked gates there were two large buildings. One of which was a casino that two of the students had taken to exploring.

"This place is huge!" Akamatsu declared.

"Quite so, if a bit too flashy for my tastes," Shinguuji added.

The casino operated with a system of game tokens that could be redeemed for an assortment of prizes. None of the prizes seemed all that impressive, and there certainly wasn't anything that could help the group escape, but the entertainment value held within was certainly appealing.

"At least we never have to worry about getting bored," Akamatsu observed.

"Perhaps, though games of chance have led more than one man to ruin in the past," Shinguuji said, apparently in recollection.

"Speaking from experience?" Akamatsu wondered.

"Heavens, no," the anthropologist replied, "I merely wish to avoid anything untimely happening to someone."

The masked boy turned, and noticed something interesting in the main hall of the casino. "Ah, it seems you've hit the proverbial jackpot, my dear."

The blonde turned to follow his gaze. "Whoa!"

It was a gorgeous piano, colored gold to match the bright atmosphere of the building. Akamatsu rushed over and sat in front of the instrument, her hands hovering over the keys.

"Oh? Will I be so privileged as to receive a private concert?" Shinguuji wondered.

Akamatsu shook her head, "No, actually, you've given me a great idea! We could have a big casino night! We'd all hang out together, we could get dressed up! Wait... no... we don't have any formal wear..."

"I'm sure we could think of something," Shinguuji reassured her.

"Thanks, Shinguuji-kun." Akamatsu smiled. "Y'know, once you get past the creepy vibe you give off, you're actually a pretty nice guy."

Shinguuji took a small bow in jest. "I thank you for your compliments, my dear. I enjoy your company as well. You oft remind me of my sister."

"You have a sister?" Akamatsu asked.

"Yes. I hope I could introduce you to her someday."

The pianist smiled. "That sounds nice."

"Forgive me for intruding."

The third member of their team, Kiibo, appeared before them.

"Oh, hey! How'd your search of the other building go?" Akamatsu asked.

"I'm afraid the door was locked," Kiibo explained, "but the sign outside leads me to believe it is something called a 'Love Hotel'."

The two human students' eyes widened in shock.

"I'm afraid no information on such a facility exists in my memory. Could one of you explain it to me?" Kiibo requested, blissfully unaware.

The two other Ultimates glanced at one another, somewhat uncomfortable with this turn of events.

Akamatsu then quickly called, "Not it!"


Team 2 found a new building to the side of the gym. Said building contained a fairly large indoor pool, though it appeared to not have much water within.

"Man... so much for regular laps," Momota lamented.

"Angie thinks it's just about perfect," the artist replied. "The water's perfect for a few special spiritual techniques she wanted to try. Haven't gotten the chance since Angie moved from her home island."

"Yeah, not exactly a steady transition, huh?" Momota offered. He had never really moved that much as a kid, but he knew from what he'd heard from others that it was never easy.

"All that matters is that God is with Angie no matter where she goes," Angie said, closing her eyes as if in prayer, "That way, Angie knows that she can find peace and happiness and all that."

Momota shrugged. "Whatever does it for you, I guess."

"Apparently, we're not allowed to swim at night," their third member, Hoshi, commented.

"For reals?" Angie asked. Hoshi pointed to a list of pool regulations. "Man... night swims are some of the best."

"I feel ya," Momota commented. "Of course, anything's better when there's stars in the sky, if you ask me."

Hoshi, for his part, merely looked at the pool, somewhat dour.

"Something wrong?" Momota asked.

"Swimming has never really been an option for me," Hoshi admitted.

Realization dawned for the taller boy. "Oh! Right! 'Cuz you've been in jail for so long..."

"I was actually referring to my height, but thank you for reminding me of that," Hoshi deadpanned.

"No worries Ryoma!" Angie cheered. "Angie can totes teach you how to swim! She used to teach kids back home, like, all the time!"

"Don't bother," the ex-tennis pro replied, "I don't really care."

"Aw c'mon, Ryoma, don't be like that! God's there to make sure all of us can experience the funnest parts of life!" Angie cheered.

"Heh," Hoshi chuckled, "If there is a God, I doubt he cares about me anymore."

The short boy simply walked away after that.

"I'll give him this," Momota acknowledged, "man can make an exit."

"What's he talking about? There's totes a God, right Kaito?" Angie protested.

"Meh, I'll believe it when I see it," was the astronaut's answer.

"Everyone here but Angie is so weird."


Team 3 had stumbled upon two more research labs, and by a stroke of good fortune, had brought the two girls who were offered their Heaven on Earth with them.

Yumeno's research lab was filled to the brim with magic paraphernalia, for every kind of stage trick imaginable. She'd protest that her work wasn't tricks, but real magic, though seemed very appreciative of her new supplies anyway.

And yet, even her excitement over what was made available was surpassed by Chabashira's.

"Oooh, Tenko is so happy to get to see Yumeno-san in her element!" Chabashira cheered, "Do you think your magic will be fully recharged soon?"

"Well..." Yumeno pondered, "I didn't really get much sleep last night because of the trial. Maybe in a few days?"

"Tenko will wait however long you need! Maybe Tenko could be your lovely assistant..."

"I'm not a magician, I'm a mage," Yumeno scolded.

"Oh, of course..." Chabashira sheepishly replied, "Tenko doesn't know what she was thinking. Yumeno's lovely enough on her own anyway."

"You keep saying stuff like that. Are you gay or something?" Yumeno asked.

Chabashira's eyes bulged. "Uhh... let's check on Toujou-san..." she advised, pushing Yumeno out of the room in the process.

When the two arrived in Toujou's room, they were in awe of the Victorian-era decor. The lab was like an old English dining hall, though off to the side were a wall of washing machines and an array of vacuum cleaners of various makes and models.

"Wow..." the two new visitors announced.

Toujou walked out of the nearby closet and declared, "Yes. This will certainly make all my work much easier. I will be more than capable of cleaning spills with these materials. And we may begin communal laundry for simplicity's sake."

"Tenko doesn't want her clothes mixed in with the menaces'!" the aikido practitioner demanded. "The very thought of that..."

"That is fine. We can have separate washes for the men and women," Toujou assured.

Yumeno yawned. "Ah... do you ever do anything besides clean?"

"I cook," the maid protested.

"And what else?" Yumeno asked.

"I prepare for the next task," Toujou replied, somewhat confused. "What else would you like me to do?"

"What do you do for fun?" Yumeno clarified.

"To me, my work is fun," Toujou explained. "There's nothing more satisfying than a job well-done."

"That sounds awful..." Yumeno muttered.

"Eee!" Chabashira squealed. "Yumeno-san is so considerate! That just makes her cuter!"

"Seriously, are you gay or not?" Yumeno questioned.

Chabashira quite noticeably didn't answer.


Ouma cursed his poor luck at being assigned to Team 4. Gonta wasn't a problem most of the time, but now he was in his recently-found research lab. The room was basically one large insect terrarium, with a tree in the middle that had beehives hanging off of it.

"These poor bugs," Gonta lamented, "Until Gonta got here, there probably wasn't anybody to feed them. But it's okay now. Gonta will keep them safe!"

"Good to hear," Ouma offered, "I'll go check on Iruma-chan."

"Have fun!"

"I'll... do my level best," Ouma replied, less-than-politely excusing himself. Once he had finally vacated the room, he shuddered. Ouma would hardly consider himself afraid of bugs, per se. Rather, he considered himself merely averse to their presence. And this was a nail in the coffin for his previous plan.

Gonta wasn't that bright, but he was by far the most physically capable member of the group. These two traits made him an ideal minion in Ouma's mind, but now that he had his lab? Now that he'd be taking care of those disgusting creepy-crawlies 24/7?

Mark him down as a 'maybe' and move on.

As he made his way down the hall, he noted a strange door, done up in 8-bit style, but locked. Nearby, he saw Iruma next to what appeared to be a treasure chest.

"Any luck?" Ouma asked.

The inventor scoffed, "Sorry Liarboy, but we got gypped. This box is as empty as a virgin's asshole."

"Hmm... I wonder what used to be in it," Ouma mused.

"Something big and heavy, I bet," Iruma guessed, "Oh! And I found the midget's lab."

"Which one?" Ouma asked.

"The tennis midget," Iruma clarified. "Damn, we got a lot of shorties around here don't we?"

"Indeed. I'm guessing it's basically an indoor tennis court?" the dictator wondered.

"Yep. Hey, do you think it's proportional?" Iruma asked, apropos of nothing.

Ouma was briefly taken aback. "By 'it' do you mean..."

"Heck yeah! But you gotta figure with a voice like that, his balls must be huge! And I don't mean the green, fuzzy ones. Or do I?" Iruma raised an eyebrow on that last statement.

Ouma backed away, slowly. "Not sure, but if you find out anything about Kii-boy, let me know. My interest was piqued."

As Ouma walked away, he heard Iruma call back, "Robosexual, huh?! No shame in it! We've all had that phase!"

Iruma's technical know-how was useful, but her personality was far too abrasive for Ouma to bear. Definite 'no' on the minion front.

As Ouma wandered aimlessly in his attempt to escape, he found himself in front of an ornate red door, trimmed with gold. He reached his hand to the knob, only for the door to open a crack and an occupant to peer out.

"What are you doing?" Harukawa asked, pointedly.

"Oh, we were exploring. Is this your lab?" Ouma tried to peer his head around Harukawa, who had made a point of blocking his view into the room.

"Yes. And I don't want anyone in here but me. Got it?" Harukawa's gaze narrowed.

"C'mon, c'mon! Just a peek?" Ouma pleaded. "I won't tell, I promise."

"Your word means as much as a 3 dollar bill," Harukawa reminded him. "And if I catch you anywhere near my lab again, you will wake up very confused as to why your arms are attached to the wrong sides." She then slammed the door in Ouma's face.

"Hmm..." Ouma muttered. "Intimidating, intelligent, capable of keeping a secret, and not afraid of what anyone thinks of her?"

Perfect.

 

Chapter Text

With the exploration of the new areas complete, the 12 students reconvened in the cafeteria, with the now well-rested Saihara joining them.

"Alright," Akamatsu declared, "I'll start us off. My team discovered two new facilities. One's locked up, but the other is a fully-functioning casino. And I thought that, maybe, we could organize some kind of casino night thing to get everyone's spirits up! There'd be food, and gaming, and I could play piano, what do you say?"

General sounds of approval worked their way through the group.

"Tenko thinks we should also have Yumeno-san do a magic show!" the aikido master requested.

"Well," Akamatsu pondered, "it would fit the casino motif. If she's up for it..."

"Not until after tomorrow night," Yumeno protested. "By then my magic should be back to normal."

Akamatsu nodded, "Sounds good, we can spend tomorrow getting all the particulars in order. Anything else?"

"What was this other facility you mentioned?" Toujou asked.

As Akamatsu blushed, Kiibo stepped in to answer, "It was something called a "Love Hotel". Neither Akamatsu-san nor Shinguuji-kun were able to tell me what that is."

"AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!" Iruma exploded. "Sounds about right! Tell you what, I'll let you know sometime. One-on-one, if you catch my drift..."

"Thank you, Iruma-san! That would be very helpful!" Kiibo replied obliviously.

Iruma quickly retreated into herself. "Wait, really?"

"Someone please change the subject!" Akamatsu pleaded.

Toujou, faithful servant she was, stepped in on cue. "Our group successfully uncovered both my and Yumeno-san's research labs. Furthermore, I am able to begin communal laundry."

"Hey, you don't have to do that," Momota protested, "we can all..."

"Shush!" Ouma countered. "If she wants to, let her!"

"It is as Ouma-kun says, I do not mind," Toujou reassured.

"Well, whatever," Momota mumbled, "Our group got gypped. There's a pool and everything, but it's barely full and we're not allowed to use it at night."

"There's also, like, a changing room right there in the building which is totally great for switching into swimwear!" Angie cheered.

"Aren't you always in swimwear?" Yumeno questioned.

"And then there's my group," Ouma interjected. "We found some crazy stuff. Gonta-chan found his research lab."

"And it's full of plenty of insect friends for Gonta!" the gentle giant proclaimed.

The group considerately kept their disgust to a minimum.

"Iruma-chan found Hoshi-chan's lab, which is basically a tennis court."

"Sweet!" was the reply from, of all people, Momota. "I'm a little rusty, but maybe you and me could play a set, Hoshi?"

The ex-champion scoffed. "Why bother? Tennis doesn't mean anything to me anymore."

"Ah, you're just saying that 'cause you've been out of the game too long! One set! It won't kill you!"

The smaller boy's eyes narrowed. "I'm not the one whose life would be at stake."

"Uh... yeah..." Momota wisely reneged on his offer.

Ouma resumed his explanation, "After that, I ran into Harukawa-chan in her lab. Which she wouldn't let me see..."

"I am curious as to what one might find in an Ultimate Caretaker's lab," Shinguuji wondered.

"Pssh," Iruma scoffed, "Probably a bunch of some namby-pamby kindergarten shit that would kill her "I'm so mysterious" thing she's got going."

"But the really weird part was this empty treasure chest just sitting in the hall," Ouma finished. "No clue what was supposed to be in it."

"I might know something!"

The group's heads turned immediately to meet the visage of Monokuma, chuckling to himself.

"Upupupupupu! Back when Shirogane-san had a say in things, she wanted to give you all a little gift if you made it past the first trial. But the way I see it, just knowing that there is hidden treasure is a gift in and of itself!"

"So, there's a treasure hidden somewhere in the school?" Akamatsu clarified.

"Yep yep!" Monokuma affirmed. "And that treasure might be just what you need to kick-start those missing memories in the ol' noggin! So get hunting!"

"Hold on," Saihara interjected, "this isn't another "motive" is it?"

"Motive? Perish the thought!" Monokuma protested.

"So the treasure isn't a motive?" the detective asked.

"Of course not," the bear scowled, "You'll get your new motive tomorrow morning."

He then disappeared before he could answer any other questions.

"Another motive?" Kiibo asked. "What more could he have planned for us?"

"It doesn't matter," Akamatsu reassured. "As long as we all work together..."

"He might get impatient and pull another "time limit" on us!" Ouma finished.

The room went silent.

"What? Was that not where we were going with that?"

"Ouma-kun! You can't just say things like that!" the pianist argued.

"Well, it's true. Monokuma's not going to stop until he gets what he wants," Ouma replied. "Why not turn into the skid, and play ball for once?"

"You wicked menace!" Tenko spat. "Are you proclaiming your killing intent?"

A flash of something truly insidious came over Ouma's face as he replied, "And what if I am?"

The group took a step back at Ouma's flash of terror, only for him to quickly return to his old self.

"Nishishi... I'm lying, of course! I have no plans to commit murder! An evil leader knows better than to get his own hands dirty."

The short-statured dictator then made a bee-line out of the room.

Akamatsu tried to take the reins of the discussion back. "In any case, there's one last order of business. Saihara-kun, are you ready?"

"Mm-hmm," the detective replied.


Moments later, the group was gathered outside the nearby women's bathroom. Rather, the male members of the group were, as the girls watched inside, as Saihara checked every nook and cranny for a secret entrance.

"Man, it's really cramped in here," Iruma complained.

"Well, I doubt this place was built with the intent of holding seven people at once," Akamatsu replied.

"How long will this take?" Yumeno asked.

"As long as Saihara-kun needs."

"A-ha!" the sole male occupant cried.

"Did you find it?!" Akamatsu inquired.

"It's in the utilities closet!" Saihara shouted.

Akamatsu rushed over to the closet, and saw that the back wall had been opened, leading to a long hallway.

"Toujou-san, get the guys up to speed and let's move!" Akamatsu requested.

"You're letting all of those menaces in?" Chabashira protested.

"For this? Yes."

As the group, later joined by the male students, made their way down the dimly-lit hall, they eventually found themselves stopped.

"What in the-?" Akamatsu began.

The path ahead had been blocked off by a large pile of rubble.

Monokuma arrived, wearing a hard hat and worker's vest. "Apologies! Some debris got in the way during construction! You'll need to find a detour!"

"You've gotta be shitting me!" Momota exclaimed. "You're really gonna try to pull this crap with us?"

"As I said, sir, we're working to clear it, but it might be a while!" the bear replied.

"Gonta can clear it out," the entomologist offered.

"Sorry, no civilians allowed on site. Now please get back before I call security..."

"By security, you wouldn't mean the Exisals, would you?" Saihara asked.

"But of course," Monokuma snickered.

With the road ahead blocked, the group was forced to turn back.

"Well, that was a total bust," Iruma complained.

"It's my fault," Saihara admitted, "I should have pushed us to investigate last night. Maybe then Monokuma wouldn't have blocked the pathway yet."

"No worries, Shuuichi," Momota cheered, "At least now we know we've got that bear nervous. He was scared we were gonna find all his stuff, so he stopped us. He's totally on the ropes!"

"Momota's right!" Akamatsu added on. "Whoever the real Mastermind is, we can beat them if we just keep working together!"

The students eventually found themselves back in the girl's bathroom.

"Well, that's all we can really do for now," Tenko summed up. "Now, if you menaces can do us a favor, and get out of the girls' bathroom!"

As the students funneled out of the room, the group each went their separate ways. Each student seemingly having their own plans for their evening.

Only Akamatsu and Saihara remained behind. "So what's left for today?" the pianist inquired.

"The only other appointment I have is more training with Kaito tonight."

"You're really going to do that again?"

"Well... I figure if I'm so weak I can barely move afterward," Saihara explained sheepishly, "that I need to train so I can be ready for whatever comes our way."

"Hmm..." Akamatsu pondered this.

"Something wrong?"

"Is this training a boys-only thing?"

Saihara put his finger to his chin in contemplation. "I don't think so..."

"Well. Sign me up!" Akamatsu pumped her fists in emphasis.

Saihara brought his hand away from his chin. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah! I'll grab some gym clothes from the storage room, we'll all do some exercise, and we'll wake up feeling like we all got some real work done. It'll be great!"

Akamatsu's million-watt smile reassured Saihara that the three-man workout team would be a great idea.


 

As Akamatsu woke the next morning, she suddenly understood Saihara's hesitation the previous day.

"Uggghhh... why did I do that to myself?"

The exhausted girl rolled out of bed, barely holding on to the strength she would need to face the day ahead. Fortunately, casino night wasn't until the following evening, so that wouldn't be too much of an issue. As she made her way to her closet, her eyes caught an object that brought an odd pop of color on her room's main table.

"What's this thing?" she asked as she took hold of the handheld device.

The logo at the bottom read "Monokuma Cub Pad."

 

Chapter Text

The strange device, or Monokuma Cub Pad as it was apparently called, was certainly not something Akamatsu could ignore in good conscience. She examined the object thoroughly, but found nothing unusual. It appeared to be a handheld video player, but it lacked any opening to insert a disk or cartridge. There was also no discernible jack for a charger, or a place to swap out batteries. By all accounts, the device was a mess of engineering oversights.

And yet, the one clear feature was a button to the side of the screen. Without thinking much of it, Akamatsu pressed the button. The screen flickered to life, and much to the pianist's shock, a familiar face came into view.

"So it's rolling? Alright! Hey future me, what's up?!"

"Me..." Akamatsu muttered, "but... how?"

The person in the image was Akamatsu, no doubt about it. However, she was dressed in a blue school uniform, and sitting in an unfamiliar room in front of a table. She was speaking directly to the camera, as though she had been prompted to do so.

"I know you're probably freaking out right now, but no worries! We made it this far, and now nothing can stop us!"

"Okay..." Akamatsu replied shakily. The whole thing was surreal. She had no memory of recording a message for herself, much less when she would have had the time. Last she could recall, she was kidnapped and woke up in Gifted Inmates Academy.

"We can make it all the way to the final two. It'll be easy as long as you remember the golden rule: No matter what anyone says or does, don't trust anyone. You got that? These people aren't your friends, they're the competition. They're probably even more cutthroat than we are. But that's not gonna stop us! Now go out there, and show them what we're made of!"

The video cut out afterward, and Akamatsu was left in a state of shock. This was a lot of information to take in. Based on what was said, her past self knew she was about to take part in a Killing Game. More than that, she seemed to be okay with the idea. Downright eager, in fact! She was even advising Akamatsu to give it her all to successfully kill someone! But this was so far away from the self she knew. Her memories had been altered, she was aware of that. If Monokuma's words weren't enough, the occasional flashes of herself with some sort of device wired to her head made that perfectly clear. But was she really that kind of person?

Well, she had been willing to kill the Mastermind. Murder apparently wasn't that hard to rationalize in her mind.

But so many other questions remained. When was that video made? Who was it that was filming? There had been someone else in the room with her, that was made clear. And if she was a willing participant, why did she remember being kidnapped? It was too many things at once.

Maybe Saihara could help. Akamatsu raced to her closet to get dressed for the morning.

And then promptly collapsed, remembering that she was still aching from last night's work-out.


Once Akamatsu was properly attired for the day ahead, she arrived in the cafeteria, with the others already engaged in lively discussion.

"Hey, what's up sleepyhead?!" Momota cheered.

"I wasn't sleeping," she protested, "I just took forever to get here thanks to your insane workout routine. Which you didn't even finish!"

"Tch. You and Shuuichi, both. You two need thicker skin."

Akamatsu brushed past this claim. "In any case, we might have an issue. This morning-"

"There was a video player in your room?" Saihara cut her off. "Same for all of us. I think it's the motive Monokuma told us about."

"Probably," Akamatsu replied. "So what do we do about them?"

"If they are indeed meant to be motives, it would be best to simply not watch them," Kiibo stated, very matter-of-factly.

"Can't really un-ring that bell," Akamatsu admitted.

"What?" Kiibo replied with shock. "No one else did, right?"

"Um... Gonta might have peeked," the hulking entomologist revealed.

"God told Angie not to, so she didn't," was the artist's reply.

Hoshi shook his head, "Didn't really see the point either way."

"I did bear witness to mine," Shinguuji explained, "I found it quite breath-taking."

"Tenko kept her curiosity under control!" the aikido master proclaimed, "Self-discipline is the most important thing!"

"I watched mine twice," Yumeno admitted, apropos of nothing.

"Y-Yumeno-san!" Tenko yelled in shock.

The lack of a cohesive answer only left the robot even more flustered.

"No big deal," Ouma argued. "The way I see it, the best thing to do is to let everyone watch everyone else's video. Let us know where you stand."

"That is by far the worst option!" Kiibo protested. "That will only serve to breed paranoia and distrust!"

"But we'd all be cooperating," Ouma replied, seemingly confused. "Isn't that what everyone's been saying we should do? 'If we all work together', right?"

"Well," Kiibo hedged, "yes, but..."

"Ouma-kun," Akamatsu interjected, "could it be you just want to see everyone's motive videos for your own benefit? You've never been in favor of cooperation before."

The supposed dictator smirked. "Saw through my lies again, eh? Well, Kii-boy's plan is a bust, and so is mine. What do you suggest, fearless leader?"

Akamatsu pondered this for a moment. "What do you all think? Who thinks it would be best to share each other's videos?"

Ouma once again found himself as the only one raising his hand.

"Okay..." the pianist replied. "Who thinks it might be best to just destroy them all right now?"

Before this vote could be tallied, Monokuma leapt onto the scene. "Not a chance!"

"Huh?" was Akamatsu's response.

"If I find out any of you destroyed one of the videos I worked so hard to put together, heads will roll!" the self-appointed Headmaster declared.

The clarion call of, "HELLO-KUMA!" signaled the arrival of his children.

"Papa's videos are true works of art," Monofunny proclaimed, "I couldn't bear the thought of someone breaking them."

"Was that an old-school bear pun, Monofunny?" Monosuke asked. "Trying to score some easy brownie points with our old man?"

"Ya gotta be kiddin' me!" Monokid screamed. "You think we're gonna let you get away with that?"

"MONOFUNNY IS TRY-ING TO BE CUTE," Monodam asserted. "WE NEED A CUTE SIS-TER."

"The Cubs kind of are a sausage fest," Monokid acknowledged. "Monodam's actually pretty smart!"

"What?!" Monosuke protested. "I thought I was the smart one!"

"I think you're both smart!" Monofunny offered, ever the aspiring peacekeeper.

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG," Monodam stated.

"BYE-KUMA!" And they once again disappeared.

"Regardless," Monokuma continued, "new rule: Any object relevant to a 'motive' cannot be destroyed."

Monokuma made his leave, and the tell-tale buzzing of Monopads made it clear that the rule was added to their list of regulations.

"Darn it," Akamatsu muttered. "We didn't even get to ask if the videos were real."

"For now we should assume they are," Saihara declared. "We'll just have to stick with Kiibo-kun's plan of not watching them and we'll have to adhere to the honor system."

With a general muttering of agreement, the group's discussion turned to planning the following evening's casino night.

 

Chapter Text

--FREE TIME--

With a tray of breakfast in hand, Toujou made her way to the third floor and knocked at the red door that consistently remained shut.

The door creaked open slightly, and Harukawa made note of her visitor.

"Thank you," she acknowledged before taking the tray off the maid's hands.

"While I have you, I was hoping to ask a favor," Toujou commented.

"Hmm?"

"I don't know whether you've heard, but we've all planned a casino night for tomorrow evening. I don't suppose you'd like to join us..."

"I wouldn't," the caretaker replied, pointedly.

"Regardless, I felt it best to keep you up-to-speed. Furthermore, I don't suppose you're hiding any formal attire in there?"

"What?"

"It wouldn't be proper to have a casino night without formal attire," Toujou explained. "But we seem to be lacking in such things."

Harukawa peered back into her own room, as if she were actually checking for something. "No. Try Shirogane's old stuff."

The door closed shut.

"How would I even go about that?" Toujou asked to no one.

"HELLO-KUMA!"

The exclamation was a bit off, however, as only Monodam appeared. "IF YOU RE-QUIRE SOMETHING FROM A-NOTHER ROOM, I MAY FETCH IT."

"Anything?" Toujou asked.

"NO-THING PERSONAL. ON-LY THINGS THAT WILL HELP YOU GET A-LONG."

"Did Shirogane-san posess enough formal attire for all of us?"

Monodam stood silent for a moment before responding, "NO."

The maid sighed. "That is quite a shame."

"I WILL GA-THER SOME. IT WILL HELP US GET A-LONG."

"Ah," Toujou intoned, "thank you for your assistance."

"YOU ARE BEAR-Y WEL-COME. BYE-KUMA!"

The robotic bear left.


Hoshi traversed his research lab backward and forward, and still he felt his energy was in a downward spiral. He could still remember a time in his life when the very idea of a private court all to himself would have given him more cheer than he would know what to do with. But due to his vigilante crusade, all the court stirred within him were bad memories.

He picked up a ball and pondered it. "Should I even bother?"

"I would like it if you did."

Hoshi raised the ball in defense and shifted his gaze behind him, only to discover that his unexpected guests were Kiibo and Momota.

"Ah! Forgive my rudeness! I simply wished to see your skills!" Kiibo exclaimed.

"What skills?" Hoshi replied.

"I have never seen a tennis match before," the automated adolescent explained, "I wish to see one, and you and Momota-kun are the only ones who know how to play."

"Yeah, so c'mon!" Momota cheered, his jacket cast aside. "Just a quick round, whaddaya say?"

"Hmph," Hoshi scoffed. "My days as the Ultimate Tennis Pro are long over."

"So?" Momota asked. "I never was one. I still wanna play."

"Please, Hoshi-kun?" Kiibo requested. "Or at least, show me how to play."

"You wouldn't be able to keep up," Hoshi replied.

Momota cracked his knuckles. "Them's fighting words! Unless you're scared you've lost your touch."

That could not go unpunished. "Alright then," Hoshi shot back. "One game. For old times' sake."

Kiibo quickly made his way to the sideline, as Hoshi and Momota stood at either side of the net.

"I'll let you serve first," Hoshi offered.

"You'll regret that!" Momota scoffed. The purple-haired boy tossed the ball into the air, struck it with the racquet, and it soared to the other side of the net.

And less than a second later, the ball was soaring in the opposite direction, past Momota's head, and it quickly bounced to the ground beside him.

"15-Love," the shorter boy announced.

Momota gulped. "I'm in trouble..."


Shinguuji was under the assumption that he would be the only soul brave enough to make a sojourn to the library after the events of the past few days.

The image of Saihara and Iruma operating on the card reader behind the hidden door proved this assumption quite wrong.

"Might I ask what you two are up to?" the anthropologist inquired.

Saihara was the one to answer. "With the other passage blocked off, we're left with this card reader as our only way to enter the hidden room. As such, I asked Iruma-san to see what she could do."

"Any luck thus far?"

"I wish!" Iruma scoffed. "The best I can do is disassemble this thing so I can reverse-engineer a new one in my research lab. And even then, it probably won't tell me anything I don't already know."

"More's the pity, I suppose," Shinguuji replied.

"Either way, we have to at least try," Saihara supplied.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it Shyhara. You gotta give a girl time, y'know? Gotta pre-heat the oven before ya stick it in, am I right?"

Saihara tugged at his collar in response. "S-sure."

The two male students found themselves looking over a few books as they left the inventor to her work.

"She's not exactly the type of girl you bring home to mother, is she?" Shinguuji whispered.

The detective shook his head in response. "Not really."

"For me, a female companion should be the epitome of class and fine taste," the masked boy explained, "though, I suppose I have high standards."

"I wouldn't have pegged you for a romantic," Saihara commented.

"I am a romantic in the traditional sense of the word. I appreciate shows of refinement and high culture. Not surprising for one who specializes in my field, I suppose. And what of yourself?"

"Hmm?"

"In many of the detective stories I've read, the hero is drawn to a seductive femme fatale." Shinguuji lifted a Phillip Marlowe book in emphasis. "In that case, Iruma-san may be precisely your type."

Saihara chuckled. "I admire the works of Raymond Chandler, sure, but even if I'm an Ultimate Detective, I'd consider myself half-boiled on my best day."

"A half-boiled detective? Kukuku. Who would've ever heard of such a thing?"

"Hey, geniuses, I can still hear you!"

The two turned to the busy, busty blonde. "What? I'm not good enough for either of you?" she whimpered. "Did... did I do something wrong...?"

"There's no good way to answer that question," Shinguuji muttered.

"Oh," Iruma bounced back, "then am I too beautiful to even think about defiling?"

"It's not that," Saihara defended, "You're certainly attractive, you're just... not my type."

"Really?" Iruma challenged. "Cuz I coulda sworn that busty blondes who like to wear pink had you written all over them."

Saihara blushed furiously.

"Ah, yes. His attraction to Akamatsu-san," Shinguuji noted. "I was a fool to forget."

"That's... that's not..."

"Hahahahaha!" Iruma cackled. "Poor Shyhara! Got all tongue-tied, so now he can't run laps down south!"

"Are you done with the reader yet?" Saihara exclaimed, desperate to change the subject.

"As much as I can do here," Iruma answered. "I'm off to the lab, try not to stare as I walk out."

She made her exit, and Shinguuji buried himself in a book.

"Definitely not," he muttered.


"Angie didn't even know that there were that many kinds of bugs!"

Gonta was incredibly grateful that one of his classmates was willing to observe his efforts to care for his new terrarium. His attempts to create an Insect Appreciation Club at the school had proven, shall we say, less than successful. Angie, however, had kept an open mind.

"Insects are the most prolific type of animal on the planet," Gonta explained, "It's so amazing to Gonta that something so tiny can be capable of so much."

"Well, we're all kind of tiny when you think about it," Angie replied.

"Huh?"

"It's like, well, there are 7 billion people on the planet, right? So each of us is super small in the big picture. But we still have something to add to that picture, y'know?"

"Gonta never thought of it that way... Angie-san, you're really smart!"

Angie chuckled. "Not really. God just shares his wisdom with Angie, and Angie passes it on."

"But, Gonta can't hear anybody. So, Angie must be really special."

"Anyone can hear God if they try," Angie countered. "It's kinda like how you can understand animals and we can't. You just need to know what to listen for."

"Really?" Gonta asked. "What would God want to say to Gonta?"

"God would be, like, totes proud of you for taking care of these bugs. You show that you love all of God's creatures, big and small."

"That's the gentlemanly thing to do," Gonta replied with a nod.

"And God is like, the Ultimate Gentleman! He cares for everybody on the planet, and when you care for your bugs, you're doing the kind of good that God does."

Gonta was awestruck. "Gonta never knew he was that amazing. Gonta just thought he was being nice."

"And that's the first step, Gonta," Angie reassured. "The second is to let God into your heart, and He'll let you know where to go from there."

"Okay! Gonta will try that!"

"Cool!" Angie cheered.

Her student council was coming along nicely.


As Akamatsu made her way into Yumeno's lab, she found herself at an impasse. Was she shocked that Chabashira was here watching, or not? Logically she shouldn't, Chabashira was about as subtle about her feelings as a flying pig. However, it did seem odd, since the two previously seemed at odds with one another.

"How are you two doing?" Akamatsu asked.

"Just fine," Chabashira chimed in. "Did you need something?"

"I just wanted to get a better idea of what Yumeno's show was going to be. If there's a theme, I want my piano set to keep the tone of the night."

Yumeno sighed. "I'm not sure what I should do. I'm torn between using water escape magic or separation magic."

"What's separation magic?" the pianist inquired.

"You see that box?" Yumeno pointed toward a human-sized box, segmented in three places, showing a person being split from the head, torso, and legs. "I could do that, but I thought it might... raise bad memories."

The thought of Shirogane's execution flashed through the girls' heads.

"Yeah..." Akamatsu replied, shakily. "Maybe you shouldn't do that."

"But I've never tried water escape magic before," Yumeno explained. "I don't want to screw it up."

"Yumeno-san could never screw up!" Chabashira protested. "You're the Ultimate Mage! Tenko knows whatever magic you try, you'll amaze everybody!"

"She's right, you know," Akamatsu encouraged. "Anything's possible if you just set your mind to it."

Yumeno shrugged. "So do you both swing that way, then?"

Akamatsu raised an eyebrow as Chabashira began to fidget nervously. "Chabashira-san, are you okay?" the blonde asked.

"Tenko... forgot to go on her afternoon run! Tenko needs to stay sharp!" The aikido practitioner bolted from the room at a full sprint.

"What's her problem?" Yumeno wondered.

"Well, that was kind of a personal question," Akamatsu argued. "If she does... you know, she might not be fully comfortable with herself yet."

"Why not?"

"Well... I wouldn't really know," Akamatsu replied. "I like guys. I mean, we're all on a spectrum, but I mostly like guys. And with the way Chabashira-san acts, I wouldn't be surprised if she 'swings that way'. But if she does, and she doesn't quite know how to process that, it might make her feel like you're antagonizing her."

"My birth mom always said to treat others how you want to be treated," Yumeno countered. "If someone asked me that, I wouldn't care."

"So if someone asked you, 'Hey, Yumeno-san are you gay?'..."

"Yes."

A brief pause overtook the both of them.

"Alright," Akamatsu continued. "But if Chabashira-san's gay, and she thinks you're not okay with her being gay, she's just going to feel worse and worse. Especially if she likes you."

"But I don't care if she's gay or not, I just want her to tell me," Yumeno responded.

"Well... you might want to tell her that."

Yumeno nodded. "Maybe. But I want to decide on my act first."

"And I'll help," Akamatsu offered, "but you have to promise you'll have a serious talk with her about all of this."

"Okay."

As they looked over the various magic items in the room, curiosity reared its ugly head.

"If she is gay..." Akamatsu began.

"If she toned herself down a little," Yumeno answered.


Ouma didn't mind that he had been left alone. It was all the better in his mind. The boy had a serious task ahead of him, and the chart he had made didn't help as much as he'd hoped it would.

"Okay, positives for Harukawa-chan as a minion are too high to count," he observed, "But on the negative side, I'm pretty sure she hates my guts. Then again, I think just about everyone does by now, so that's not that surprising."

His eye turned to another chart, this one a spreadsheet. "At least that's on schedule."

Ouma's dorm room was a mess of charts and notes. The Ultimate Supreme Leader was dedicated to making sure everything he had planned would go smoothly, and keeping it all in front of him made it that much easier.

"I need to get her on my side somehow. But how do you get girls to like you?" he scoffed at himself. "That's a question I never thought I'd ask myself."

"Ooh! Looks like I win the pool!"

The self-proclaimed evil genius turned around to see Monokuma had barged in uninvited, as he was wont to do.

"Can I help you?" Ouma asked.

"Well, I couldn't help but notice how much work you've put into all your schemes. You've got an eye for detail, kiddo. I respect that," Monokuma explained.

Ouma chuckled. "Thanks. Evil can't just fly by the seat of its pants, you know."

"Oh, I know, I know! Upupupupu..." Monokuma chuckled in kind. "You remind me of me at your age. Always scheming, always picking fights, and so bored of people."

"Hmm?"

"These other Ultimates," Monokuma explained, "they don't see it like we do. Life is boring when you live in harmony. But you, you get it. You're the type of guy who stirs the pot. I could use a guy like that. Whaddaya say, kiddo?"

Monokuma raised a paw, as if to shake Ouma's hand.

Ouma smirked and raised his hand in kind.

Monokuma reached for the hand.

And was promptly shocked by a joy buzzer.

"YEOWCH!!! What was that for?!"

"Haha!" Ouma replied. "You think I'd work for you? That didn't work out too great for your last little partner in crime, now did it?

"Well, I suppose history's not on my side," the bear admitted. "But do you really think you can survive this game without my help?"

The dictator shrugged. "Who knows? But now I know something important. You do need someone among us to act as your little gopher."

"I don't need one," Monokuma clarified. "It's just nice to have one."

"And I respect that. A good minion is hard to find. As such, I'd like it if you'd let me get back to work," Ouma requested.

"Kiddo, you just made a big mistake. Chances like this don't come by twice," Monokuma warned.

After the bear left, Ouma breathed a sigh of relief.

"He's panicking. Just remember that he's panicking," the boy reminded himself.

Not that Monokuma was the only one.

 

Chapter Text

As the day gave way to night, that night gave way to the day of casino night. As Monodam had promised, the students found that their closets, which previously held only copies of their uniforms, now had a piece of formal evening wear, to aid the tone of the occasion.

Akamatsu once again lead the morning breakfast meeting.

"Okay everyone, let's go over the plan one more time. The evening starts at 6:00 PM. We'll give everyone about 15 minutes to gather together, and then we'll split up. We'll have free gaming until 7:00, and after that we'll move to the banquet dinner that Toujou-san prepared. That'll take us to about 7:45, which will give us 15 minutes to clean up before the poker tournament, which Iruma-san has donated a... "top-secret prize" for," she trailed off.

"It'll blow your mind-holes!" Iruma boasted.

"I'm sure," Akamatsu deadpanned. "At 9:00 we'll have 30 minutes for Yumeno-san's magic show, which will feature a 'Transmogrification Spell'."

"Yumeno-san's magic will be sure to amaze and astound!" Chabashira cheered.

Yumeno nodded silently.

"And I'll finish us up afterward with a piano performance," Akamatsu summarized. "Any questions?"

"I got one," Momota chimed in. "Where the hell's Harumaki?"

"I'm afraid she still will not leave her lab," Toujou explained.

"Goddamnit! I have half a mind to give that girl a good talking-to..." the astronaut protested.

"You probably could have stopped with 'I have half a mind'," Ouma sneered.

"You be quiet!" Momota snapped.

"Make me."

"Both of you, please contain yourselves!" Kiibo shouted. "Fighting solves nothing!"

"So you're not a combat robot?" Ouma inquired. "You can't fight, you can't fly, how are you supposed to be the 'Ultimate' Robot?"

"I am fully-functional!" Kiibo protested.

"So does that mean you do have a..."

"Enough!" Akamatsu yelled. "Can we please get through one meeting without a fight breaking out?!"

"Like, Kaede's totally right," Angie agreed. "If we'd all just listen to what God tells us, we wouldn't be having these kinds of problems."

"That's true," Gonta cheered. "We should pay more attention to God, you know."

The group was taken off-guard by Gonta's claim. "Gonta-kun, you believe in Angie-san's God?" Saihara inquired.

"Mm-hmm! Angie-san explained it to Gonta, and it all makes perfect sense! God takes care of all of us like Gonta takes care of the insects."

"Humans are not insects!" Chabashira protested. "Tenko will not back down from an insult hurled by any menace! Even one as big as you!"

"It's a figure of speech," Yumeno muttered.

Chabashira stepped back. "Oh... right. Tenko shouldn't overreact so much."

"Maybe you should run more," Yumeno offered, "it'll burn off that extra energy."

"It's decided! Tenko will run 10 more laps around the school than normal!" the aikido-loving girl declared.

"I didn't mean that much..."

Yumeno's words fell on deaf ears as Chabashira set out.

"She's wound a bit tight, isn't she?" Shinguuji commented.

"I've seen her run laps," Hoshi explained. "She gets some of those workout clothes in the storeroom, and runs more times than I care to count. And she's pumping 10 kilo weights in each hand the whole way."

"Whoa..." Momota muttered. "Maybe we should add that to our training, eh? Shuuichi, Akamatsu, whaddaya think?"

Akamatsu gulped and Saihara merely slammed his head down on to the cafeteria table.

"Not hearing a 'no'..."


As the hour approached, Akamatsu, decked out in her new dress, knocked at Saihara's door.

"Saihara-kun! Are you ready yet? We've gotta..."

She was interrupted as the door swung open. The detective stepped out dressed in a midnight blue three-piece suit.

"W-wow," Akamatsu stammered.

Saihara simply blushed in response. It seemed that he, too, was taken aback, though in his case by Akamatsu's slim scarlet backless dress.

"You... you look really nice," Saihara said, finding his voice.

"Thanks," Akamatsu replied sheepishly, "you too."

The two stood in silence for just a moment.

"So, we should get going, right?" Saihara asked.

"Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah!" the pianist replied.

The two left the dormitory in a somewhat embarrassed silence.


The casino hall was abuzz with excitement as the class grouped up.

"Alright, everyone, thank you for coming!" Akamatsu announced. "Once again, we'll begin with a bit of free gaming, so play whatever floats your boat. However, anyone who wants to help out Toujou with the food, you are free to do so."

"I insist that I don't require assistance," Toujou commented.

"But we want to help," Akamatsu argued.

"Speak for yourself!" Ouma shouted.

"Anyway..." Akamatsu said, changing the subject, "Dinner's at 7:00 and the night ends with the nighttime announcement, so until then, have fun!"

The thirteen students went their separate ways, each with a task or game in mind.

But as the group split up, Ouma kept still. He had every intent of joining the festivities, but the trickster had an insidious plan in mind. He looked to his watch. "9:35... that's when I'll do it..."


"Goddamnit!"

Momota lamented his luck. The slot machines were very much living up to their nickname of 'one-armed bandits' as far as the astronaut was concerned.

"These damn things are totally rigged!"

"I must disagree."

Momota turned to see Hoshi had acquired quite a respectable haul from the nearby slots.

"What the hell! What are you doing so different from me?!"

"Nothing. It's all just blind luck after all."

"Man... you really are lucky aren't you?"

Hoshi scoffed. "A man in jail can hardly call himself lucky."

"Well, you aren't in jail now," Momota argued. "Technically, anyway."

"A prison's a prison."

"Do prisons have casino night? Do prisons have food like Toujou's?"

"Well, no..." Hoshi begrudgingly replied.

"So cheer up, man! Life's going pretty good for you right now!"

Hoshi pondered this for a moment before his thought process was interrupted by a scream of frustration.

"AUUGGGH!"

The two turned to see Gonta, not doing so well at a driving game.

"Gonta didn't realize cars were this tricky!"

Momota shook his head. "A man's work is never done, am I right?" He walked towards the self-styled gentleman. "C'mon bro, let's have you try the fishing one."

Hoshi watched this with calculating eyes.

"My life's going good, huh?"


The food was simply divine, as to be expected by now of Toujou's work. The primary course consisted of thinly sliced trout, with dishes of rice to the side. These dishes were all colored to resemble poker chips. There were deep-fried satsuma-age, vegetable nimono, and yakitori for people to choose from based on their preference. Dessert was set to be manju in the shape of various animals, such as dogs or cats.

Bears were naturally excluded, of course.

As the group dug in, light conversation persisted.

"So, God totally told Angie that Gonta was the perfect person to have join her student council! And I think it's all gonna work out great!"

Shinguuji nodded at Angie's words. "I must say, I find your belief system fascinating. I would love to discuss it more in-depth at some point."

"Like, absolutely! Angie bets she can make a true believer out of Korekiyo!"

"Kukuku..." Shinguuji chuckled. "I don't really want to tie myself down to any one faith."

"That's no big," Angie explained, "God takes whatever form you need to give you the guidance you seek."

"I see..." Shinguuji noted. "Tell me, what does your God tell you about the afterlife?"

"The afterlife?"

"Yes. I've always held a soft spot for learning more about interpretations of that particular concept," the anthropologist shared.

"Coolio!" Angie exclaimed. "Okay, so, like, when you die, your spirit goes to be one with God and stuff, so when God is with you, the people you love who are dead are with you too."

This intrigued Shinguuji. "Ah... I see. I've often believed I've heard the voice of someone I lost."

"Oh... who was it?" the artist asked.

"The girl I loved..." Shinguuji replied, barely above a whisper. "I don't really like to talk about it."

"That's no problem!" Angie reassured. "You can tell Angie more when you're comfortable with it."

"I'll keep that in mind," Shinguuji said.

Angie failed to notice the sinister tone the long-haired boy had adopted in that moment.


The Poker Tournament had been divided into 3 separate tables of 4 players, which would result in 3 finalists who would face off in one last match. Toujou chose not to play, and instead operated as the dealer.

"Alright then, we're down to the last hand," Toujou announced.

The three finalists glared at each other.

"Nishishi... do you really think you can outwit an Ultimate Supreme Leader?" Ouma taunted.

Kiibo said nothing, and merely looked over his cards.

"Bring it on, Liarboy!" Iruma shot back.

Ouma had won his round by bluffing unmercifully, to the shock of very few. Kiibo had won with careful calculation of which cards were still in play, and determining his odds of victory. Iruma... no one was quite sure how she got this far. It was worthy to note, however, her 3 previous opponents were all male.

Toujou flipped over the fourth card. A 7 of Hearts.

Ouma quickly snuck a peek at his watch. Noting the time, he remarked, "What say we make this interesting?"

"In what regard?" Kiibo asked.

In response to this questionnaire, Ouma pushed his moderate stack of chips into the pot. "All in."

"You sure?" Iruma taunted. "You haven't even seen the last card yet." Iruma was right to be cocky. That 7 of hearts was paired with a 7 of spades also on the table. And she held another 7 in her hand, along with a queen.

Kiibo observed the table. The four cards Toujou had laid down were the two 7s as well as a 10 of hearts and a Jack of spades. Kiibo's hand contained the 8 and 9 of hearts. Two different cards could give him a straight flush, and neither had been played in this round.

The robot pushed his pot in. "I will call."

Iruma chuckled. "Fuck, I'm down." She, too, added her chips.

Toujou smiled. "Very well."

The final card was flipped revealing...

"A JOKER?!" the three exclaimed.

"Of course," Toujou replied, "we never said we weren't using one."

"Whatevs," Iruma scoffed. She revealed her cards. "Joker's a 7, 4 of a kind, Queen high."

Kiibo nodded and revealed his hand. "I use the Joker as the 6 of hearts, straight flush to the 10."

"What?!" Iruma shouted. "Man..."

"Ouma-kun?" Toujou inquired, "What cards do you have?"

"Nishishi..." Ouma chuckled. He laid down his two cards.

The 9 and 10 of spades.

"Oh, bullshit!" Iruma exclaimed.

"Why would you go all-in on an inside straight?" Kiibo questioned.

Ouma smirked and gathered up the chips. "You're just jealous because I won. So what's my prize?"

Iruma perked up. "I'm glad you asked!"

The blonde inventor promptly stuffed her hand down her top and retrieved a flash drive.

"Umm..." was all Ouma could muster.

"This baby's got storage capacity like you couldn't believe! You could hide a body in there!" Iruma bragged.

Ouma hesitantly took hold of the drive. "I really hope you're talking about the flash drive."


"Umm... Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming to Himiko Yumeno's Magic Extravaganza."

Yumeno's announcement gathered a bit less fanfare than one might have hoped. But that comes with the territory when your main star is half-asleep most of the time. The group had gathered in the main hall, where Yumeno had set up a magic box.

"For my first spell, I will require a volunteer," Yumeno explained.

To no one's shock, Chabashira's hand shot up like a rocket. "Pick me, pick me!!!"

Yumeno shrugged. "Come on up."

Chabashira squealed with joy as she made her way to the magic box.

Akamatsu smiled and nudged Saihara who stood next to her. "Aren't they adorable together?"

"Together?" Saihara inquired.

"Well, maybe they're not 'together'," Akamatsu admitted, "but they would be adorable, right?"

"I'm... really not the person to talk to about romance."

"Well, me either," the pianist replied, "but I'm rooting for them."

As this exchange continued, Chabashira entered the magic box, which Yumeno proceeded to close.

"Now I will use my transmogrification magic to change Chabashira-san's form."

Yumeno tapped her magic wand against the closed box twice. "Behold," she declared as she proceeded to open the box.

As the box flew open, a swarm of doves flew out, filling the room in a flurry of feathers.

The others were thrown into a frenzy.

"What the hell?" Momota shouted.

"What have you done to Chabashira-san?" Kiibo exclaimed.

"Yumeno-san's magic is a totes miracle!" Angie cheered. "God must be with her!"

Yumeno let out a sharp whistle and the doves returned to the open box. She closed it once more.

"And now I will change her back."

She tapped the box twice again, and once she opened it this time, Chabashira did, indeed, step out. The aikido master seeming somewhat dazed by the events.

"Tenko feels funny..." she claimed, holding her head.

"Ta-da!" Yumeno announced, to the applause of the astounded class.

"Yo, Shuuichi," Momota muttered to his friend. "You're a detective, right? How'd she do that?"

Saihara pondered this for a moment. "I don't know the nature of the trick, but one of two things must have happened. Either it's a trick where the volunteer doesn't matter, or she and Chabashira-san worked on the trick together in secret."

"I bet it's the second one!" Akamatsu beamed.

A shared smile between Yumeno and Chabashira lent credence to that idea.


The final event of the night began as Akamatsu made her way to the piano. She cracked her knuckles as she sat down, and proceeded to double-check her sheet music.

Momota scoffed. "I don't get the big deal."

"She's the Ultimate in her field," Saihara reminded his friend.

"It's still piano," Momota countered. "It's gonna put me to sleep. Especially this late."

"Just let her perform," Saihara chided.

"Fine, fine," Momota muttered. "Just 'cause you like her..."

"Eh?"

If Akamatsu had heard this exchange, she elected to ignore it, and proceeded with her first number.

It was a tune that all of the members of the group had heard before. The song was quite popular throughout Japan, and yet as Akamatsu played it, the pep and amusement of the song seemed livelier than usual. It was as if a long-lost friend had returned after many years, and wanted nothing more than a day of relaxation.

And yet, the tune was one tinged with sadness. The lyrics were quite dissonant to the tone of the song, and the others realized perhaps this was Akamatsu's way of paying tribute to Amami and Shirogane. Though they barely knew Amami and Shirogane was a traitor, it seemed wrong to just allow their passing to go unnoted.

With the end of the old crooning number, the group clapped.

"You were saying, Kaito?" Saihara taunted.

"Okay, yeah, that was nice," the astronaut admitted.

Akamatsu began another piece.

This one was different in that it started somber and grew progressively more upbeat. It was as though the clouds left by the previous song had broken and the sun was allowed to shine through. The class felt that this song was Akamatsu's way of saying they could take on the world.

Saihara however, took a different interpretation. He believed Akamatsu was trying to say she had found her strength again. She had been through much in the past few days and was only now seeming herself again. Casino night was her pet project, and it seemed as though it was going to be everything she had hoped for.

Once again the piece was met with applause.

No commentary was made as Akamatsu transitioned into her final number.

The closing number was amazing in it's complexity. Akamatsu's hands never stopped moving as her fingers fluttered across the keys quickly picking each note with expert precision. The song was energized and touching all at once. This was undoubtedly an anthem cheering the group on. There was nothing that could stop them if they stood as one. And Akamatsu's music made that clear.

After the final notes played, Akamatsu stood to take her bow. The group was more than happy to give her the praise that the Ultimate Pianist had earned.

Akamatsu made her way back into the sea of people and took in various compliments and congratulations. However, her main focus was drawn to one person in particular.

"Saihara-kun, did you like it?"

The detective blushed. "Yeah. Of course. Just..."

"What?"

"I was kind of surprised Claire de Lune wasn't in your set," he explained. "You talked it up so much before."

"Well..." Akamatsu fidgeted a bit. "That's really more of a 'you' piece than an 'everyone' piece. Some other time though, definitely!"

"Okay," Saihara accepted.

From the corner of his eye he could see Momota give him a thumbs up.

"Well," Akamatsu declared. "It's just about nighttime, so let's hit the hay!"

"We're still on for training you two!" Momota reminded.

Akamatsu and Saihara sighed.

The good mood that had pervaded the group shattered with an announcement by Toujou.

"We're missing someone."

The group looked around, trying to figure out who was gone.

Kiibo chimed in and revealed, "Ouma-kun is nowhere to be found!"

"I remember seeing him in the audience during my magic show," Yumeno noted.

"Then he slipped out during Bakamatsu's set," Iruma supplied.

"But, like, why would he just leave without saying goodbye?" Angie wondered.

A dark thought shot through Saihara's brain as he burst into a run.

"Where are you going?" Akamatsu cried back.

"The dorms!"


The class arrived to the main dorm hall too late. Saihara stood in front of a large, cardboard box. And the box contained two things of note.

Akamatsu made the first all too clear. "Are those the motive videos?"

Saihara nodded. "Yeah." He then held up a piece of paper. "Ouma-kun left a note for us."

As Saihara read Ouma's message to the group, the true terror of what happened sank in.

"Sorry I had to slip out, but there's this movie series I've been dying to see. I made sure to label them to make sure everyone gets theirs back, so no worries! Love and kisses, Ouma."

Ouma had stolen their motive videos. And it was clear he had watched all of them.

 

Chapter Text

The group stood in silence. At least most of them did. Some of them weren't that patient.

"Hey, asshole! *bam* *bam* *bam* Open this Goddamn door!"

Iruma was pummeling Ouma's door in frustration, but the dictator seemed to be choosing to ignore it.

"Iruma-san, I don't think anyone's going to answer to that," Akamatsu chided.

"Well, what do you want me to do, Bakamatsu?! That little brat just played all of us for saps, and we fell for it hook, line, and sinker!"

"I realize that," the pianist replied. "But what's done is done, and it's not like we can make him forget what he's seen."

"I am open to suggestions as to our next course of action," Toujou offered.

"Alright..." Akamatsu began. "Who thinks we should go with Ouma-kun's original plan of watching everyone's videos?"

The group was hesitant at first, but Akamatsu decided to break the ice and raise her hand.

"What are you saying?!" Kiibo exclaimed. "That is precisely what Ouma-kun was aiming for with this course of action!"

"But it's the only way to keep him from using this against us!" Akamatsu countered. "We need to know what we're in for."

"No!" Chabashira countered. "I will not allow that menace to control me! Tenko feels we can avoid complication by exercising proper self-control!"

The aikido practitioner marched to the box, and acquired her video. "Tenko will be happy to share if everyone else agrees. However, she must advise that that is the wrong course of action."

"Tenko's right," Yumeno agreed. "Keeping yourself under control is the best thing to do."

"Eee! Yumeno-san called Tenko by her first name!" Tenko cheered. She then realized she was in mixed company and reigned herself back in. "Sorry."

"God totes told Angie that watching the videos is a no-no, so Angie doesn't think we should," the artist proclaimed.

"I would prefer if my privacy could be kept," Shinguuji requested.

"Gonta agrees with Angie," the entomologist added.

It became clear that no one was willing to share their videos with one another. Akamatsu took a breath and continued. "Alright. So, for now, we take our videos back, and... we'll figure out what to do about Ouma-kun in the morning."

The group agreed to this, and each made their way back to their rooms after retrieving their videos.

Akamatsu looked down at her Monokuma Cub Pad, and considered what to do now. Training with Saihara and Momota came first, but...

Maybe that was the answer.


Ouma lounged about in his bed and chuckled. He had no way of knowing what the others were saying or doing right now, but he could guess. The chaos and paranoia that would be caused by what he'd done was sure to make things interesting. Tragically, for his own safety, he had to miss the bulk of it.

A short knock on his door broke his lazy stupor. "Hmm?" He looked to his watch. "She must have gotten back earlier than I thought she would."

He stood up from his bed, and tried to bring himself as much composure as he could. What was coming would not be pleasant, and one wrong move would cost him everything. But if he played his cards right, everything would fall into place.

He opened the door just a crack, and saw that it was, indeed, whom he expected.

"Harukawa-chan, good to see you!"

The caretaker's eyes were cold and lifeless as she forced her arm through the gap in the door. Ouma stepped back instinctively, giving her the room to open the door, make her way in, and close it behind her.

"Can I help you somehow?"

Harukawa, again, said nothing. Actions spoke louder than words after all. She made her point very clear as she grabbed Ouma by the throat, and began to squeeze.

Ouma gasped for breath, desperately struggling. But rather than trying to escape, he fidgeted with his belt buckle.

This bizarre course of action was enough to distract Harukawa from her rage. "Why are you loosening your belt?" she asked.

Ouma gave an evil smirk as he responded, "Because you're choking me. It makes it too tight."

"Guh!" She dropped him to the ground in disgust. The boy took deep breaths, trying to regain his strength.

"You saw my video. What did you find out?" Harukawa's tone was flat, all business.

"Nishishi... nothing that unusual. I mean, it was written all over your face from the beginning," Ouma taunted. "But if you must know..."

Ouma cautiously made his way back to his bed and acquired a Monokuma Cub Pad from under his pillow. He pressed play.

As the screen flared to life, Harukawa's face appeared as opposed to his own.

"To my future self, I don't know why this even needs to happen. I shouldn't have to tell you what to do. You're the Ultimate Assassin. This isn't hard."

The message was notably short, but very much to the point. There was no doubt now that Ouma knew about Harukawa's hidden talent. Ouma took control of the conversation once more.

"So, Ultimate Caretaker? Sure. I bet you take real good care of people. In fact, if I ever need someone taken care of, I'll be sure to give you a call."

"If you know who I am, you should be a bit more concerned about your situation," Harukawa warned.

"Oh, my dear Ultimate Assassin," Ouma chided as he put the Pad back in its hiding spot, "I'm the one who holds the cards right now. Do you really think you can get through a class trial when you don't have an alibi for 3 days straight?"

Harukawa narrowed her gaze. "What do you want?"

Ouma brushed off this question. "Nothing yet. But I'll be sure to keep you posted."

Harukawa turned away and gave one last question. "My video?"

"I'm holding on to that one, yes."

"Then the one you put my name on instead..."

"Call it a gift." Ouma gave a sickly sweet smile. "I'm sure you know what needs to be done."

Harukawa said nothing as she left the room.

Ouma brought his hands together in wicked triumph. "She's mine now."


Saihara and Momota waited patiently in the nearby grass. The stars above glimmered with a silvery light. However, the two were looking downward at the moment, uncaring of the cosmos above.

"We sure about this, Shuuichi?" Momota asked.

"You're the one who always says I need to grow some backbone," Saihara reminded him.

"Yeah, I guess..."

Akamatsu made her way to the group in her fitness attire. But more to the point, she also held her Monokuma Cub Pad.

"Akamatsu-san..." Saihara said, noting the pad.

"I know," she replied, softly. "I know nobody wants us to do this but... I trust you guys too much not to. I don't want to go around with Ouma-kun knowing while you guys don't."

Momota smirked. "Guess great minds think alike."

With this statement, he and Saihara revealed that they, too, had brought their Pads with the intent of sharing.

Akamatsu's eyes widened. "You guys..."

"We can trust you. That's the one thing I'm sure of," Saihara explained. "So, we need to do this."

Akamatsu nodded in affirmation. "Right! So, who first?"

"I'll go."

Saihara and Akamatsu crowded on either side of Momota as he pressed play. Once again, the screen came on, showing the purple-haired boy.

"Yo! Hard to believe I'm talking to future me. Crazy, right? But anyway, you totally made it big! Pat on the back, man. Anyway, you better hop to it. You've got free reign to bash some skulls in, so you better take advantage, am I right?! When's that ever gonna happen again? Fame and fortune's waiting on the other side, bro. Like we always say, 'It's only impossible 'til you actually do it!' So do it already!"

The clip stopped, leaving Saihara and Akamatsu quite unnerved.

"Fucked up, isn't it?" Momota commented lifelessly.

"Well..." Akamatsu began. "Maybe this isn't really us, maybe it's just..."

"He said my motto," Momota countered. "I'm positive it was me."

"I'm more concerned about the assertion that 'fame and fortune' was waiting for you," Saihara commented.

"Yeah, that's the part I didn't get either," Momota replied. "It's not like there's a cash prize for getting out of here alive. Or, at least no one told us there was."

Akamatsu made a note of this. "Our past selves, if that's who they really are, seem to know a lot more about the Killing Game than we do."

"So in your video, do you talk about the Killing Game?" Saihara wondered.

"I'm starting to think that's the theme," Akamatsu surmised. To wit, she played her video. Once again the strange message played, and the boys took in the information about Akamatsu's advice to avoid trusting others.

"What the fuck happened to us?!" Momota exclaimed. "If this was us, why were we cool about killing people? And why aren't we acting like us?!"

"I don't know," Akamatsu replied, defeatedly. "Saihara-kun, what is yours like?"

Saihara turned his gaze away, and wordlessly handed his pad over.

"Shuuichi, what's wrong, man?" the astronaut inquired.

"Just watch," the black-haired boy mumbled.

Taking the instruction to heart, the other two students turned the video on, revealing one final clip. Saihara appeared on-screen, seemingly more nervous than usual.

"Um... hello, future me. I... I guess there's not really a point to that since I can't hear you back. But, um... I hope you're doing well. You're an Ultimate Detective, right? That's good. No one will suspect you, so, you can pull off a great twist killing. Just like we wanted, right? And maybe we'll get that execution we were hoping for, too. I... I guess that's all I wanted to say. Good luck."

The video cut out, and the two viewers were left to process what they just heard.

"Shit, man..."

"Saihara-kun..."

Saihara said nothing. It was one thing to hear yourself encourage you to kill someone, but to hear yourself encourage you to get yourself executed? That was significantly more unsettling.

"Shuuichi, bro," Momota began, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Do... do you want to talk about that?"

"Not really," he admitted. "I'm not even sure where I'd start."

"Do you think about it a lot?" Akamatsu wondered.

"About what?"

"Dying," she clarified.

"Sometimes," he revealed. "Not about killing myself or anything. But I sometimes worry someone will try to kill me. Makes sense after all. Get rid of the detective, make the investigation harder for everyone."

"But, do you ever think about getting executed like..." the words fell dead in Akamatsu's mouth. "Like she did?"

"Not as of yet," Saihara replied. "I can't really see myself killing someone in the first place."

"I sometimes do," the pianist admitted. She continued before the boys could respond. "I have nightmares about us not realizing Shirogane was lying to us, and then I get found guilty after all, and I..." She shuddered. The memory of those dreams was fresh in her mind.

"Hey, we don't gotta worry about it!" Momota offered. "None of us are gonna kill someone."

"How can you be sure?" Akamatsu asked. "I've already stooped to 'murder is the answer' once. What's stopping me from doing it again?"

"The fact that you're worried about it," Momota countered.

"Huh?"

"You're so scared about the fact that you tried to kill someone that you'll never go anywhere near that part of yourself again. That part of you's not going away or anything, but you're not going to listen to it," he explained. "And maybe that's not the healthiest way to deal with it, but we can deal with our PTSD after we're out of here, as far as I'm concerned."

Akamatsu caught her breath again as she responded. "Y-yeah. You're right. I won't let myself go that far again."

Momota turned to his other friend. "And Shuuichi, do you want to die?"

"No!" he replied without thinking.

"Well, that's that."

"That can't be the end of it," Saihara replied.

"It's the only part that matters," Momota said with a shrug. "And if you ever, and I mean, ever start thinking otherwise, you find me or Akamatsu straight away, and we'll help you. You got it?"

Saihara re-focused his gaze on the two, and nodded. "Right."

"Okay, if that's settled, I say it's exercise time!"

Akamatsu and Saihara nodded, and set to work.

At some point, you just accept that it's happening.


The next morning meeting was like a cold slap in the face from reality. Attendance had been cut in half. Akamatsu and her two exercise partners were there, of course. But Angie, Gonta, and Kiibo were the only others to join them.

"Any idea where the others are?" Akamatsu asked the room.

"Toujou-san said she was collecting laundry," Saihara offered. "I told her we could handle breakfast for the day."

"To my knowledge, the others all wish to be left to process things on their own terms," Kiibo explained. "I knocked on a number of doors this morning, but a few of them simply refused to answer."

"Well, there are six of us here now," Akamatsu noted, "even if we can come to a consensus, that's not enough to deal with Ouma-kun by majority rule."

"Not that you'd reach a consensus."

The group turned to see an unexpected arrival. Harukawa stood in the cafeteria doorway, arms crossed.

"Harukawa-san?" Akamatsu asked after the other girl.

The red-eyed girl said nothing and made her way to the main table. She dropped a single scrap of paper down. "Ouma slipped that under my door. Figured you might want to read it."

Akamatsu snatched up the paper and began to read. "Dear everyone, I realize you're probably all mad at me. For my own safety, I've elected to remain in my room until I am no longer permitted to do so. Don't worry, I stocked some snacks, so I won't starve to death. Probably. See you soon, Ouma."

"That fucking asshole," Momota jeered. "Where does he get off, thinking we're gonna let him get away with this?"

"Well, whatever you do, leave me out of it," Harukawa requested. She turned and made her way out.

"Wait, Harumaki!" Momota cried out.

"Stop calling me that," she responded, not breaking her stride.

As she left, Akamatsu turned to Saihara. "Can you handle things from here?"

"Uh... sure," he replied.

Akamatsu took that as her signal to move. She left the cafeteria and quickly caught up with Harukawa.

"Wait!"

The fake caretaker groaned. "What do you want?"

"I want to know why you're excluding yourself," Akamatsu explained. "I get that you prefer to be alone or whatever, but you don't have to lock yourself in your lab all day."

"I can do whatever I want," Harukawa shot back.

"I know, I know," Akamatsu reassured. "But I'm saying that we're willing to let you in, and I'm starting to get worried about you."

"Worried?"

"Well, yeah." Akamatsu rubbed her arm, as if she had gotten a sudden chill. "Feeling alone in a situation like this, where every second is life and death... it can do things to people."

"Like what happened to you?" Harukawa replied, pointedly.

"Yeah," Akamatsu barely choked out. "I don't want anyone to feel that way ever again. I want everyone to work together. And we can't do that if you keep leaving yourself out."

"Okay," Harukawa began. "One, I'm not scared of dying in this God-forsaken place. Two, you're right, I prefer to be alone. And three, stop talking like you know what's best for me. You don't know the first thing about me."

"Maybe I would if you'd let me talk to you!" the pianist shouted back.

"This discussion is over," Harukawa said, her tone flat. She again made her way to her research lab.

Akamatsu only had one more thing to ask. "If you're not afraid of dying, what are you afraid of?"

The red-eyed girl stopped cold. She turned her steely gaze back to the blonde, and very plainly answered, "Nothing."

"You're afraid of something," Akamatsu challenged. "That's why you lock yourself in your lab. You're not afraid of dying, you're just afraid of us."

Harukawa scoffed. "I'm not scared of this little collection of crazy people."

"No," Akamatsu clarified. "You're scared that if you let us in, we'll see the real you. And you don't like the idea of people knowing the real you. Don't lie, we both know that's what it is."

Harukawa shook her head. "Let me make one thing very clear-"

She would never get to finish that sentence.

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

The monitors in the halls sprang to life, and Monokuma made his appearance.

"A body has been discovered! Everyone please gather to the location of the corpse, the pool building."

The screens flickered off. The two girls were left standing in silence.

"Wh-what?" Akamatsu stammered out.

"Come on!" Harukawa shouted. With a short nod of agreement, the two raced toward the pool building.


As the two girls arrived, they soon found themselves greeted by their cafeteria mates, as well as the missing members of the group.

"Akamatsu-san!" Saihara exclaimed.

"Saihara-kun! Where's the-?"

"It's in the actual pool."

Akamatsu made her way to the main room of the pool building and found herself greeted by a haunting site.

The once crystal-clear water was now stained with blood, almost entirely dyed in its hue. Floating amidst the tainted liquid were a large number of life preservers, and, more to the point, a body.

The body of the Ultimate Anthropologist, Korekiyo Shinguuji.

 

Chapter Text

Shinguuji's waterlogged corpse bobbed in the shallow pool. The group stood around in stock silence. They were certain that what had happened before was a fluke. No one would ever actually try to kill someone. Not without the time limit. Not without the Mastermind looming in the background.

And yet, the soaked body of their friend made it clear that they were very, very wrong.

Akamatsu was the one to break the silence. "He told me he had a sister."

"Hmm?" Saihara intoned, turning to face her.

"She's probably worried sick," she continued, "Wondering where he is. Wondering if he's okay. And now... she doesn't even know her own brother is dead."

"Akamatsu-san..."

"I just think about what I'd do if something happened to Kaori, and I..."

"Kaori?" Saihara inquired.

"My sister," the blonde clarified. "Well, my twin sister, if you want to be technical."

"Oh."

This conversation stopped in its tracks as the final member of the group arrived.

"Nishishi... so, what'd I miss?"

The tell-tale cackle of Ouma threw a number of the group into a rage.

"You shota piece of shit!" Iruma spat.

"Tenko cannot believe you would dare show your face to us!"

"Ouma-kun! You have much explaining to do!" Kiibo demanded.

"We can worry about that later," Ouma brushed off, "Oi! Monokuma!"

The two-toned teddy took heed of his herald and took point. "Speak of the devil, and there he is!"

The rest of the class grew tense.

"What's wrong, everybody? No one in the mood for a mid-morning swim?"

"HELLO-KUMA!"

The clarion cry of the cubs signaled their sudden showing.

"Oh dear..." Monofunny said, noting the dead body. "Another horrible murder... it's enough to make you, you... BLEARGH!!!!!"

The pink bear heaved, and let loose a river of sparkly bile.

"Gross!" Monosuke chimed in. "What do you eat that makes that stuff happen?"

"MONOFUNNY IS NOT BEING BEAR-Y CUTE," Monodam commented.

"Who cares what Monofunny does?" Monokid carped. "We gotta a dead body and that means we finally get to party!"

"Monokid, you really do get what life's all about, don't you?" Monokuma cheered.

"HELL YEAH! Getting praise from the old man's totally the best!"

"Pops, where's the love for us?" Monosuke wondered.

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG," Monodam argued. "THE TRIAL WILL MAKE IT EASIER FOR US TO GET A-LONG."

"How can you even talk about something so cruel?" Monofunny replied incredulously.

"Oh, Monofunny, my dear daughter. You've got a bit too much of your aunt in you," Monokuma observed.

"Enough with the family reunion!" Momota shouted. "Can you just get this over with already?!"

"Temper, temper," Monokuma chided. "But if you insist..." A chime went across the group's Monopads. "I've sent you your newest edition of the Monokuma File! Good luck investigating! You'll need it..."

Monokuma disappeared, his cubs following with a "BYE-KUMA!"

With the Monokuma family gone, the group went into mission mode.

"Okay," Akamatsu began, "where do we start?"

"You mean where do you start," Harukawa corrected. "I want no part of this."

"You are part of this, whether you want to be or not," Akamatsu argued. "Your life is just as much on the line as everyone elses'."

"Regardless, I don't think I'll be of much help. See you at the trial." Harukawa left the pool building without turning to look at the others.

"Geez," Momota said, "Someone pissed in her cornflakes."

"In any case," Saihara cut in, already reading the Monokuma File, "we need to get started."

"As expected of Shuuichi," the astronaut cheered, "put him on a case, and he's getting things done in no time!"

"What's the plan, Saihara-kun?" Akamatsu asked.

"First, we check the Monokuma File," he replied. The file read as thus.

"The victim was the Ultimate Anthropologist, Korekiyo Shinguuji. He was found dead in the pool. The time of death is unknown. The cause of death is a knife wound to the heart. There are a series of similar stab wounds all across his upper torso. In addition, his right arm is broken."

"With the time of death unclear, we need to get a better picture of when the last time someone saw him alive was," Saihara explained.

"I'll talk to the others," Akamatsu noted. "Can I leave the crime scene to you?"

"Me and Shuuichi have got this," Momota affirmed. "You do your thing!"

"You're helping?" Saihara questioned.

"Yeah, man! You're my assistant in this investigation!"

"Shouldn't it be the other way around?" Akamatsu commented.

"Psssh, nah. This way, if Shuuichi screws up, it's my fault, not his."

"That's..." Akamatsu searched for the right way to phrase it. "almost noble..."

"We'll meet back up to exchange information in about half an hour," Saihara declared.

"Sounds good!" Akamatsu replied.

With that, the group split up.


"So you were the first one to discover the body, Toujou-san?"

The maid responded to Akamatsu with a nod. "Yes. I arrived at the pool with the intent of checking the changing room, and was instead greeted with this."

"Sorry you had to see that," Akamatsu offered.

"It's fine. Someone had to, I suppose."

"Still, why were you checking the changing room to begin with?" Akamatsu wondered.

"I set up a laundry basket back there in case anyone wanted to leave their dirty clothes there instead of taking it back to their rooms," Toujou explained. "Ironically enough, the basket was empty when I arrived."

"Is that normal?" the pianist inquired.

"Quite so. Most folks don't actually use the changing room, after all," Toujou reminded.

"Yeah," Akamatsu acknowledged. "I switch into workout gear for nightly training, but I usually just wear it to bed afterward."

Toujou's eyes widened with shock. "Oh dear. I hadn't considered the bedclothes. I should be washing those more regularly as well..."

"No, no, you're fine!" Akamatsu reassured. "Anything else I should know?"

"Hmm..." the silver-haired girl pondered this. "Ah! I raced to the dorms to inform the others of what had happened. Yumeno-san and Chabashira-san were the ones who came with me."

"So they were both still in the dorms, and Ouma-kun probably was too."

"I knocked on as many doors as I could," Toujou said, "I wasn't sure who was in the dorms and who was otherwise located."

"Location doesn't mean much if we don't know when Shinguuji-kun was killed," Akamatsu lamented.

"I'm sorry. The last I saw of him was just after we found our motive videos in that box."

"That's the last time I saw him, too," Akamatsu grumbled. "It's just too wide of a gap!"

With new information in hand, Akamatsu continued her search for the others.


Kiibo rose from the watery depths, for a given value of depths, carrying the late Shinguuji's body. The automaton wore an expression of melancholy on his chrome face, and laid him beside the pool.

"Thanks for your help, Kiibo-kun," Saihara said with a comforting tone.

"It is the least I can do. We are all quite fortunate my chassis is watertight," Kiibo replied.

"So what's the word on this guy, Shuuichi?" Momota wondered.

Saihara poked and prodded at the wounds. "Water damage has made it difficult to tell how old these wounds are. The blood mixed into the pool water, so we can't really judge based on that either."

"If I might ask, why did the culprit fill the pool with life preservers as well?" Kiibo inquired.

"I think there was blood on them too," Saihara theorized. "It's all to cover the time of death as much as possible."

"Geez, whoever did this was thorough," Momota noted, "They really went to town on Shinguuji, huh?"

"That does worry me," Saihara thought out loud. "Why stab him more than once? A wound that deep would easily result in death by blood loss, even if the first try missed the heart. And how did his arm get broken?"

"Perhaps it happened when he fell in the pool?" Kiibo offered.

"Maybe..." the detective replied, unsure if that were the case.

On the other side of the pool, Gonta ran a butterfly net across the water, seeing if there was anything that had eluded their sight.

Angie stood by him, offering verbal encouragement. "God believes in you, Gonta! Just listen to God's voice and let him guide your hands."

"Right! Gonta will listen!"

Gonta closed his eyes in concentration, hoping that this time, he would hear what Angie had often spoke of. Gonta thought back to the times when the bugs were sick or injured and he would offer whatever he could to help them. Insects were so fragile, anything could kill them. Chabashira's previous words rang in his mind, that humans weren't insects. Even so, they were all fragile. And like the bugs, Gonta needed to do what he could to protect them.

"Gonta! You totes did it!"

Gonta's eyes opened, unaware that he had kept moving the net. He lifted it, and much to his shock, there lay the evidence the group sought.

A decorative knife. Sharp enough to pierce human skin, but with a very flashy design on the hilt, emblazoned with the mark of a Chinese-style dragon.

Saihara walked over carefully, noting the puddles Kiibo had left behind.

"So, is that the murder weapon?" he questioned.

The entomologist shrugged. "Gonta thinks it might be."

"Gonta, you were amazing!" Angie cheered. "God was there! He guided your net!"

"Speaking of which," Saihara interjected, "I've been meaning to ask, did that come from your lab?"

"Hmm?" Gonta intoned. "No. Gonta found this in his room when he first got here."

"That's odd," Saihara said, putting his finger to his chin. "I didn't have anything in my room except more of my uniform."

"It's not that weird," Angie argued. "Angie had her paintbrush and mallet with her. And Gonta woke up wearing his insect cage, right?"

"I suppose," Saihara replied. "But the bigger question is, where did this knife come from?"


A series of knocks rapped at the door of Harukawa's research lab, and once again, she found herself forced to greet an unwelcome vistor.

"What do you want now?" she asked.

The visitor, Akamatsu, held firm. "I need to know what you've been up to as of late."

Ouma's words flashed through Harukawa's mind. "You suspect me because I've been absent for several days."

"I don't suspect you, actually," Akamatsu corrected. "I don't think you've got it in you to kill someone."

It was a testament to Harukawa's emotional fortitude that she didn't burst out laughing. "If you don't suspect me, what do you want to know?"

"Iruma and Hoshi both said they woke up early and went to their research labs this morning. I get that. Where were you?"

"I woke up, came to the cafeteria, and got stuck talking to you," Harukawa stated plainly. "Are we done?"

"When was the last time you saw Shinguuji-kun alive?"

"Days ago."

"Ugh!" Akamatsu screamed. "Why doesn't anyone know when he died?!"

"That's the point of hiding the time of death," Harukawa shot back. "What did you expect? A stopped clock?"

"I don't know!" Akamatsu replied in frustration. She took a breath, and tried a more open approach. "Last trial we only found out what happened because of a lack of an alibi. But now we don't even have a time frame, and almost nobody has an alibi anyway."

"Yeah. Tough," Harukawa offered.

"Do you have anything that could help?" Akamatsu asked.

Harukawa thought for a moment. "His motive video," she offered.

"What about it?"

"It might help if you watch it."


There was almost no end to the shelves, the boxes, the pallets of various items laying about the storeroom. But much to Saihara and Momota's dismay, there was nothing even remotely similar to the knife they found in the pool.

"What the hell, man! We don't have time to waste checking these damn boxes!" Momota exclaimed in frustration.

Saihara begrudgingly agreed. "You're right. I think it's safe to say wherever that knife came from, it wasn't here."

"So where did it come from?" the astronaut wondered.

"I don't think it came from the Monomachine or the casino prizes," Saihara theorized, "so that leaves the possibility that someone had it on them when we arrived, or that it was in a room we haven't gotten the chance to search."

There was a crashing noise behind them, and the two turned to look. Chabashira and Yumeno stood there, with embarassed looks on their faces.

"What were you two up to?" Momota asked.

"Tenko was looking to see if there was anything for an upset stomach," she explained. "Yumeno-san was looking a bit woozy."

"You really shouldn't worry about me so much," Yumeno chided.

"But Tenko does worry about you, Yumeno-san!" the aikido practitioner protested. "People might make the mistake of thinking you're weak, and target you."

"Mistake?" Yumeno parroted.

"Of course! Yumeno-san has the power of magic, and more than that..." Chabashira knelt down, so as to look the shorter girl in the eye. "Yumeno-san has a strong heart."

"Huh?"

"Yumeno-san, you've been keeping yourself under control this entire time. Tenko can feel the powerful emotions you're trying to contain, and you've proven time and again how strong your inner discipline is."

"It's not that," Yumeno argued, for a given value of argue. "Being emotional is just a hassle."

Chabashira shook her head. "That's not it, and we both know it. Yumeno-san's heart is more than just strong, it's big. So big that Tenko can tell you care a lot about people. Tenko really admires that."

Yumeno blushed a little at this. "Thank you."

"Not to break up the love fest," Momota chimed in, "but do you two have any clue about what was going on?"

"I'm afraid not," Chabashira replied. "Tenko hadn't seen that menace since last night."

"Me either," Yumeno added. "Plus, I overslept and didn't wake up until Toujou-san came to tell us about the body."

"Tenko was in her room as well," the dark-haired girl provided.

Saihara nodded. "All we know is that his body was discovered well after breakfast started. That would put us a little past 7:30. I woke up with the Monokuma Cub Announcement, so I wouldn't know who was awake or not."

"Me either," Momota commented. "I'm usually an early riser, but last night took a lot out of me."

"So what's left for you two?" Chabashira wondered.

"Well, we were going to check out Shinguuji-kun's room," Saihara explained. "Hopefully we'll get some answers there."


"This is getting ridiculous!" Momota lamented.

The three investigators had finally grouped back up, and used the key left in Shinguuji's pocket to enter his dorm room. However, much to their chagrin, the anthropologist's room was distinctly lacking in clues.

"His bed isn't made," Akamatsu pointed out. "So that means he didn't make it before he was killed, but that could mean any number of things."

"He seemed to me the meticulous type," Saihara observed, "it's likely he was in a hurry, and had to let it slide."

"Still, there's nothing here to tell us when he died," Akamatsu reminded him. "How are we going to figure that out?"

"That's not even the worst part," Momota complained. "I've looked in every drawer in this damn room, and I can't find his motive video anywhere!"

"So much for Harukawa's idea," Akamatsu sighed.

"So, Harukawa-chan gave you an idea that was a waste of time, hmm?"

The three turned, and saw Ouma standing in the doorway.

"What the hell do you want?!" Momota spat.

"Nishishi," the dictator chuckled. "Just checking in. I'm guessing you guys are having trouble. Need me to hold your hands again?"

Akamatsu grit her teeth. She was mad at Ouma, sure, but he had a point. Last trial, he was invaluable to their success. And now, he was aware of a possibly vital piece of information. "Ouma-kun," she began, "do you remember what was on Shinguuji-kun's video?"

"Oh?" Ouma replied. "Could it be that Akamatsu-chan wants my help after all?"

"If you would," Akamatsu begrudgingly requested.

Ouma pondered this. "Hmm... nah. Save it for the trial. It'll be more fun that way!"

"Ouma-kun!" Akamatsu protested.

"What now?"

Saihara cut in. "You were in the dorms all morning for your safety, right?"

"Yeah," he answered, seemingly bored.

"Did you see or hear anything weird before the Body Discovery Announcement?"

Ouma scratched at his temple, as though he were shuffling through a loose collection of memories. "I heard a lot of footsteps," he recalled. "The earliest set was at around 6 AM. But I only woke up at about 5:45 AM, so there could have been any amount, really."

"Who wakes up that early?" Akamatsu wondered.

"Now might not be the time to worry about that," Ouma commented.

And as if on cue,

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

Monokuma once again appeared on the monitors.

"Alright everybody! Enough playing around now. It's high time we got to what everyone's been waiting for! Head to the Monokuma Statue by the fountain so we can start the class trial!"

"Seriously?" Akamatsu complained.

"See ya there!" Ouma sang, waving goodbye. He left the room with a spring in his step.

"Shit," Momota swore. "We've got next to nothing."

"We'll have to make do," Saihara sighed. "Let's go."


The Monokuma fountain was a sight to behold. So too were the baker's dozen of students that surrounded it. Ouma stood around with a snide smile, indulging in the dirty looks the others shot at him. Chabashira kept Yumeno close for comfort. Though for whom was a good question. Angie was leading Gonta in a bit of prayer, much to Kiibo's fascination. Others, like Harukawa and Hoshi, kept to themselves.

Akamatsu and her two allies stood firm, as the water parted. "Looks like it's that time," she announced.

Iruma, off to the side, scoffed. "We better not eff this up."

"Let's just get this over with," Chabashira declared. "Tenko missed her morning run for this."

Yumeno blinked, and then simply just yawned.

"God is with us, and will guide us," Angie decreed.

Gonta acknowledged this with an, "Amen."

Kiibo nodded his head and also said, "Amen."

As the elevator door opened before the students, the group made their way into the rickety old transport. Once the last student entered, the door closed with a sickening thud, and they once again began their descent.

"Saihara-kun?" Akamatsu said, asking for her friend.

"Hmm?"

"We can do this, right?"

"I... I think so."

"Right. Just needed to hear someone else say it," Akamatsu reassured.

With the sound of a bell, the door opened, once again revealing the trial ground. The students filed out to get to their individual podiums.

"This isn't like last time," Akamatsu thought to herself. "There's no mastermind among us. No boogeyman to take the blame away. Shinguuji-kun was my friend. And one of my other friends killed him. And I need to find out who. This is what it all comes down to. The battle between truth and lies. The battle between faith and doubt. The battle between life and death."

"This... is the Class Trial!"

 

Chapter Text

--COURT IS IN SESSION--

"Alright, let's begin with a basic explanation of the Class Trial!" Monokuma declared. "After a period of debate, you will take a majority vote for who you believe is the killer. If you're right, the killer is punished. But if you're wrong, everyone else is punished and the killer is allowed to leave Gifted Inmates Academy scot-free!"

"HELL YEAH! Dad always knows just how to start up a trial!" Monokid cheered.

"Well, by now, he's gotta have it memorized," Monosuke reminded.

"Either way, I'm just so happy for Daddy, he deserves this after a long time with no bodies," Monofunny commented.

"THIS TRIAL WILL HELP THEM GET A-LONG. IT WILL BE GOOD FOR EV-ERY-ONE," Monodam concluded.

Akamatsu took a breath, and started things off, "Okay. I'm going to ask the room one more time. Did anyone see Shinguuji-kun after we went back to the dorms after casino night?"

"Well, obviously someone did," Harukawa countered. "I highly doubt this was a suicide."

"The multiple wounds make that seem quite unlikely," Kiibo added.

"Near as I can tell, no one can recall seeing him after that," Toujou said dejectedly. "It was a rather late night, and most of us went to bed."

"There may be one thing that can help us," Hoshi interceded. "According to the pool rules, no one is allowed in the pool during night time. That means that his body would've needed to hit the water after 7:00 AM."

"No, that's wrong," Saihara corrected. "Anyone is free to enter the pool building during night time. And the rules say no student is allowed to enter the water during night time. By that logic, as long as Shinguuji-kun was already dead, it wouldn't matter what time it was."

"Huh," Hoshi replied. "Is that right?"

"I'm afraid so," Saihara lamented. "With the only things in the pool being the body, the knife, and the life preservers, it's hard to say when the murder took place."

"Oi, Monokuma," Iruma growled, "What happened to telling us the time of death on the Monokuma File?"

"Oh, yes, about that," Monokuma explained. "Last time, you guys pinned down the killer solely through your knowledge of when the murder took place. I wanted to give you all a bit more of a challenge this time. You did find my mole on the first try, so call this, 'Expert Mode'."

"Sounds good to me," Ouma said with a smile. "Wouldn't want things to be too easy."

"You have not earned the right to speak, you menace!" Chabashira spat.

"Yeah, we're still pissed about last night, ya assmonkey!" Iruma added.

"Last night?" Ouma questioned, feigning a lack of understanding. "Whatever do you mean?"

"We can worry about him later," Akamatsu said, taking the reins once more. "So, here's a question. Why did the culprit put the life preservers in the pool?"

"Angie knows this one!" the artist proclaimed. "Okay, so, like, the culprit wanted to hide the time of death, but there were, like, bloodstains on the preservers. So, we couldn't see how fresh the blood was, so the culprit had to wash it off!"

"If Shinguuji-kun was stabbed, and the blood dripped onto the preservers, we can safely say he died outside of the pool," Saihara surmised.

"Which completely puts my idea to bed," Hoshi complained. "But what about that knife?"

"Yeah, I don't get that," Momota said, his confusion on full display. "If it were me, I'd try to take that with me. Why leave it behind?"

"If the crime took place at night," Akamatsu theorized, "then they might have dropped the knife in the pool and not been able to get it back."

"By next morning, there would be too many people wandering around the school to try and retrieve it," Kiibo explained.

"So, the crime took place at night?" Gonta asked.

"We can't be sure," Saihara reminded the group, "but for now, let's explore that possibility."

"Okay then," Momota cheered, cracking his knuckles. "Let's get us some alibis!"

"Except," Akamatsu interjected, "we were all asleep in our dorm rooms. No one has an alibi."

"Nishishi..." Ouma chuckled.

"Wait... Ouma-kun... do you know something?" the pianist asked.

"I know a lot of things," he replied, "but I know there's something else important about that knife."

"Hold on, do you know where it came from?" Saihara inquired.

Ouma shrugged. "I can't be sure, but at the very least I have a theory."

"Tell us, you shota brat!" Iruma demanded.

"Well, now you've hurt my feelings," Ouma whined. "I don't like being called names by a slut like you."

"Slut?" Iruma whimpered. "I'm... I'm not a..."

"Ouma-kun!" Kiibo shouted. "Please tell us your theory!"

"Fine, fine," Ouma surrendered. "If none of us have ever seen that knife before, it must have come from a room none of us have ever been in before. And the only room that fits the bill..."

"Is Harukawa-san's research lab, correct?" Toujou finished.

"Bingo, bingo!" Ouma cheered. "Harukawa-chan could be hiding who-knows-what in there!"

Harukawa's eyes narrowed, but she remained silent.

"Hold up," Momota countered. "Harumaki's the Ultimate Caretaker, right? Why would a lab for that have a fancy-ass knife in it?"

"Don't call me Harumaki," the red-eyed girl spat. Her composure remained under control, but on the inside she was sweating. Ouma had the perfect opportunity to reveal her true colors to the group. And if he did, it was almost certain the class would declare her the culprit.

"Who can say?" Ouma answered. "But you can't say for sure that there isn't a knife in there, right?"

"Ouma-kun," Akamatsu began, "do you have some other reason to suspect Harukawa-san?"

"Well, there was her video..." he replied. "It cracked my top 5 favorites, that's for sure."

"If you ask me," Harukawa countered, "you're the suspicious one."

"Is that so?" Ouma sneered.

"You've seen every video, and by extension, you've been in everyone's dorm room," Harukawa explained. "You're the most likely to have a motive to kill Shinguuji."

"So that's your plan, hmm?" the dictator acknowledged. "Alright then. Let's get this part taken care of. Hit me with your best evidence! Prove I did it! If you can..."

Akamatsu was lost in thought. "Ouma-kun's in complete control right now, and he knows it. We have to force whatever information he's hiding out of him."

"Until we know what Ouma saw in Shinguuji's video, we have to suspect him," Harukawa argued.

"He is the only one who would've seen it," Chabashira agreed.

"Unless Shinguuji-kun shared his with someone," Yumeno pointed out.

Kiibo immediately shot down that idea. "Impossible! None of us would do something as risky as showing someone their video!"

The Fitness Club, for lack of a better name, wisely chose to remain silent.

"Kokichi's been super suspish lately," Angie claimed, "we don't know what he's been up to."

"We don't know anything about his whereabouts since he disappeared during casino night," Toujou clarified.

Saihara disagreed. "No, that's wrong. We do have the note."

"What note?" Chabashira asked.

"That's right," Akamatsu remembered. "Ouma-kun slipped a note under Harukawa-san's door this morning."

"Which means he must have been in the dorms this morning," Saihara finished. "With that in mind, we should look closer at the note. If he killed Shinguuji-kun, I don't think he would take the risk of drawing that much attention to his whereabouts."

"Someone's not paying attention," Harukawa cut in.

"Huh?" the detective replied.

"Look closer at that note," Harukawa explained, continuing her train of thought unimpeded.

/"In it, he claims he intended to stay in his room."/

/"However, he says something else interesting."/

/"He claimed he would 'see us soon'."/

/"If he didn't want to leave until he had to,"/

/"He would only leave if there was a murder."/

/"Meaning he knew the next murder would come soon."/

"But if knew about the murder, writing that would only draw attention to himself," Saihara argued.

/"It doesn't matter if it's the smart thing to do."/

/"What's important is that he did it."/

/"His note tells the whole story."/

/"He knew exactly when the next murder would happen."/

"I can cut through that argument!" Saihara declared.

Harukawa was briefly taken aback before she found her footing again. "And how's that?"

"In his note, Ouma-kun also mentioned how he had stored food in his room so he wouldn't starve," Saihara countered. "If he felt the need to do that, for all he knew, the next murder wouldn't happen for days, if it happened at all."

"Nicely done, Saihara-chan," Ouma said, praising the detective. "A keen eye for detail."

"Can we take anything he says seriously?" Harukawa challenged.

"By that logic, we can't trust the 'see you soon' claim either," Saihara replied.

Harukawa scowled, but ultimately relented. "Fine. There's not enough evidence to say Ouma's the culprit. Yet."

"Either way," Akamatsu interrupted, "Ouma-kun, can you please tell us what you saw in Shinguuji-kun's video?"

Ouma put his finger to his chin. "Hmm... I don't think I will."

"What's your problem, you asshole?!" Momota shouted.

Ouma put his hands up in mock defeat. "I want to see how far you can go. At this rate, you'll never get where you need to be."

"Need to be?" Akamatsu parroted.

"Not important right now," Ouma brushed off. "In the meantime, let's get back to my earlier point. Harukawa-chan's likelihood of being the culprit."

"He has a point," Hoshi chimed in. "Until we know where that knife came from, it's possible it came from her lab."

"Harukawa-san, can't you just tell us what's in your lab?" Akamatsu asked.

"What's in my lab is my business," Harukawa defended. "I don't have to explain myself to any of you."

"Yeah you do," Momota argued. "If you don't, it's your ass on the line."

"If you're all stupid enough to say I'm the killer, it's your own fault if you get yourselves killed," the red-eyed girl countered.

"Where do you get off calling us idiots?!" Iruma shouted.

"Gonta doesn't like suspecting you," the gentle giant offered. "But it could be true..."

"Like, none of us guessed just how bad Tsumugi was," Angie recalled. "This could be the same deal."

"I've had the most contact with Harukawa-san," Toujou commented. "I don't think she would do this sort of thing, but I must admit it's plausible."

"How does it feel, Harukawa-chan?" Ouma challenged. "You've dug your own grave. Since no one can account for your whereabouts last night..."

"You've got that wrong!"

The room went silent. Ouma and Harukawa wore shared looks of confusion on their faces.

Akamatsu continued her bold claim. "I know exactly where Harukawa-san was last night!"

"And where's that?" Ouma inquired.

"She was with me and the guys doing nightly training! Right, guys?!"

Akamatsu was lying.

 

Chapter Text

Saihara and Momota held still for a brief moment. Momota was the first to jump back into the conversation.

"Oh, yeah! Harumaki was there! She ran into us while we were training! She joined in for a little, but headed back to her room afterward!"

Saihara's eyes widened ever so slightly. The two were taking an incredibly dangerous risk. Giving Harukawa an alibi with 3 people to vouch for her could cost them dearly if she were the culprit. And it was far too early to be certain of that either way.

The detective turned his gaze towards Akamatsu, and saw the look in her eyes.

"Please," the pianist pleaded in her mind. "Saihara-kun, I know she didn't do it. It's dangerous I know, but just trust me. We can't let her take the fall for something she didn't do."

"Akamatsu-san," Saihara thought, "I don't know if this is the smartest thing to do. I think it's too early to do this. We don't even really know Harukawa-san that well."

The detective closed his eyes tight, and found his resolve. "But I do know you. I trust your judgment. If you believe in her, I'll do the same."

"I'll make your lie the truth!" he decided.

Saihara opened his eyes once more, and claimed, "It's true. She was with us last night. I didn't think it was too important, so I didn't mention it."

Harukawa stood in silence. Three people who didn't know the first thing about her were now lying through their teeth in order to protect her. It was moronic on the face of it, and all the same, it seemed to be working.

"In that case," Kiibo claimed, "I don't think she would've had time to kill Shinguuji-kun."

"Had she done so before, she likely would not have joined you," Toujou surmised. "And I doubt she would have risked leaving directly afterward."

"Plus, she showed up to breakfast the next morning to deliver the note," Angie pointed out. "Angie doesn't think she'd do that if she had a murder on her conscience."

Harukawa's attention turned to Ouma. The dictator had kept up a stone visage during all of this. He knew full well it was nothing but lies. After all, he was the one Harukawa had really met with the previous evening. Regardless he was saying nothing.

"So, can we agree Harukawa isn't that suspicious?" Akamatsu wondered.

"I guess she's not," Iruma admitted.

"I'll withhold judgment for now," Hoshi agreed.

Harukawa took a breath. She was safe for now.

"See, Harumaki?" Momota cheered, giving her the thumbs up. "Told ya a little bit of exercise would do you some good!"

"Stop calling me that," she requested.

She refused to take note of the fact that she wasn't as forceful as usual.

"But, if Harukawa-san didn't bring the knife," Gonta wondered, "who did?"

"It didn't come from the storage room," Yumeno pointed out.

"And we've examined most every room we've encountered up until now," Akamatsu added. "I don't know where it could've been hiding."

"There aren't many places you could find a custom knife like that one," Toujou said.

And with that statement, it was as if a light switch had gone off in Saihara's mind. "Of course! That's it!"

"Whaddaya mean, Shuuichi?" Momota asked.

"What if it was Shinguuji-kun's knife?" Saihara posited.

"Hold on," Chabashira interrupted. "Why would he have a knife?"

"It seems odd if you look at the knife solely as a murder weapon, but then you need to consider the design," the detective explained. "We keep calling it 'custom'. But that made me think: custom can also mean 'customary' instead of 'customized'. If it's that kind of 'custom knife', it seems like exactly the sort of thing an anthropologist would have."

"Makes more sense than a caretaker having a knife," Momota agreed. "Nice thinking, Shuuichi!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Iruma argued. "Isn't that kind of a stretch? We're just gonna say he had a knife on him that none of us were told about?"

"It's not completely strange," Saihara countered. "Gonta-kun has his insect cage, Angie-san has her artist's tools, so it stands to reason that any of us could be in possession of specific items related to our talents."

"But that still doesn't make sense!" Chabashira continued. "If Shinguuji-san was the one who had the knife, why did that menace end up dead?"

"The culprit must have disarmed him," Akamatsu reasoned. "They took his knife away and killed him with it.

"But how did the culprit even know about his knife?" Yumeno wondered.

Harukawa scoffed.

"Something funny?" Hoshi asked.

"I figured that much was obvious," the assassin replied. "The culprit found out about his knife because Shinguuji was going to kill them with it."

"Wait just a moment!" Kiibo requested. "You are saying that Shinguuji-kun intended to commit murder?"

"It's actually not that unreasonable," Saihara protested. "Remember that his arm was broken. That might have happened during a struggle between Shinguuji-kun and his killer. If the culprit broke his arm while he held the knife, he would've been, for lack of a better term, disarmed. Then, they could've taken the weapon for themselves and killed him."

"Hold on," Akamatsu argued. "Isn't a little early to be saying something like that? Shinguuji-kun was a bit creepy, yeah, but I don't think he'd kill somebody."

"Nishishi..." Ouma chuckled. "I guess it's that time, then."

The group turned on their heels to face the constant thorn in their sides.

"Are you saying-?" Saihara began.

"It's time to share with the rest of the class!" Ouma announced. "You wanna know what Shinguuji-chan said in his motive video? You better clean out your ears!"

Akamatsu gulped. "Do you mean... in his video he said..."

"He went on for a while, but eventually he got to a juicy tidbit. His exact words were, 'You need to kill someone and escape. You can't leave your sister all alone,'" Ouma declared.

Akamatsu's heart sank. Momota and Saihara's videos weren't proper preparation for that sort of thing. "His sister... he didn't want to abandon her..."

She felt a twinge of sympathy for her deceased classmate. The longer she stayed in this school, the more worried her loved ones would surely become. It was unimaginable to consider what her parents or Kaori would do if something happened to her.

"Can we be certain that he watched his motive video?" Kiibo inquired.

"As a matter of fact, we can," Toujou recalled. "He told us that he watched his motive video the same morning we received them. 'Breathtaking' I believe he described it."

"Ah, yes," Kiibo agreed. "I remember that now."

"Are we gonna listen to this guy?" Iruma wondered. "He loves lying to us, after all."

"I don't think he'd lie about this," Akamatsu replied. "His life is on the line, same as anyone else."

"So, any other questions?" Ouma said, mockingly.

"One, actually," the pianist responded, much to the shock of the short-statured boy. "I just remembered something important that you might be able to help with."

"What's that?" Ouma asked.

"Well, depending on your answer," Akamatsu explained, "we might finally get confirmation about when Shinguuji-kun was killed."

"Is that even possible?" Chabashira wondered.

"Interesting... ask away, Akamatsu-chan!" Ouma dared.

"When you went into Shinguuji-kun's dorm room, was his bed made?"

Ouma tilted his head in confusion. "What? Umm... I wasn't really paying attention to that, but... I think so."

"He probably made his bed after he woke up," Akamatsu theorized. "And then he didn't mess with it until he went to sleep. So when we found his bed unmade this morning, it means he didn't have the chance to make it."

"I get it!" Momota cheered. "If he woke up, and left his room without making his bed, he probably was going to meet with his killer! So that means the crime took place this morning after all!"

"But it would've still been before the Morning Announcement," Saihara realized. "Meaning the culprit was still under night time rules, and they couldn't retrieve the knife after they left it in the pool."

"So the culprit is someone who left the dorms before the Morning Announcement took place," Harukawa summarized.

Ouma applauded. "Clever, clever! Keep up the good work, and you might actually get through this alive."

"Should I use magic to make him be quiet?" Yumeno offered.

"Tenko approves of this plan!" Chabashira cheered.

"Maybe later," Akamatsu reassured. "He might still have more information."

"Like what?" Ouma wondered aloud. "Oh! You're wondering if I know who came and went since I was in the dorms the whole time, aren't you?"

"A little..." Akamatsu admitted.

"Tough," Ouma mocked. "I didn't have my door open. I wasn't checking to see who was walking around. I just remember hearing footsteps."

"The earliest set was 6:00 AM," Saihara recalled, "but we don't know if that was the culprit coming or going. Or maybe it was just someone headed to their research lab."

"Perhaps we should approach this from another angle," Toujou posited.

"Like, what do you mean?" Angie wondered.

"I mean to say, if Shinguuji-kun was in such a rush to see the culprit that he didn't make his bed, isn't it possible that they had agreed to meet ahead of time?" Toujou explained.

"If they were already meeting up," Gonta thought aloud, "then it makes sense he'd bring his knife."

"But even if that's the case," Yumeno chimed in, "we don't know if he planned the meeting or the culprit did."

"I'd put my odds on the culprit," Hoshi surmised. "If he planned the meeting, he likely would've given himself enough time to make his bed."

"Ryoma's, like, super-smart!" Angie declared. "God must be totes proud of him!"

"In any event," Kiibo said, "what purpose would the culprit have to call Shinguuji-kun to the pool? They weren't planning to kill him, since they used his weapon against him."

"Maybe they wanted to talk to him about something?" Momota theorized.

"Like what?" Akamatsu asked.

"The only thing I can think of," Harukawa threw out, "is his motive video."

"Why would they wanna talk about that?" Yumeno inquired.

"If they somehow watched Shinguuji's motive video, they were probably concerned about him attempting to escape," Harukawa reasoned. "If they thought he might try to kill someone, they may have wanted to try and talk him out of it."

"Sounds like something Bakamatsu might do," Iruma considered.

"How did we get to me?" Akamatsu replied, shocked.

"A better question would be, 'how did the culprit get their hands on Shinguuji-kun's video'?" Saihara responded, changing the subject.

Ouma merely smirked. "Oh dear, am I about to be suspicious again?"

"You never stopped being suspicious," Harukawa corrected.

"No, it still doesn't make sense that he'd draw so much attention to himself before committing a murder," Saihara argued. "He wouldn't leave proof he left his room before the morning announcement like he did with the note."

"But, like, who else could've seen the video?" Angie asked.

"Maybe the culprit just grabbed the wrong one by accident," Momota replied.

"The videos were clearly labeled," Chabashira reminded him. "No one would've made that kind of mistake."

"Unless the mistake was already made," Akamatsu realized.

"Hmm?" the aikido practitioner responded, clearly puzzled.

"What if Ouma-kun labeled someone's video with the wrong person's name by mistake?" the pianist explained. "If he did that, you'd end up with at least two people with the wrong video."

The small boy pondered this. "I'm pretty sure I double-checked... but I guess I could've done something like that."

"This is quite a leap in logic," Toujou warned. "We have no way to know whether or not this is the case."

"Furthermore," Kiibo added, "we are assuming that the culprit proceeded to watch their video after retrieving it from Ouma-kun."

"Well, I did that," Akamatsu argued.

"I think most of us would have," Saihara agreed. "I wanted to double-check to remind myself of what Ouma-kun knew."

"I didn't watch mine at first," Hoshi chimed in, "but after Ouma watched it, I had to."

"So, everyone else has watched their video?" Kiibo inquired, incredulously.

"You still haven't seen yours?" Iruma shot back.

"Of course not! Those videos are clearly nothing but trouble!" Kiibo proclaimed.

"A shame," Ouma responded. "Yours was very enlightening."

"To what do you refer?" Kiibo wondered.

"We're getting off-topic," Akamatsu warned. "So... did anyone check their video and find they had the wrong one?"

"Are you an idiot? Who would admit to that now?" Harukawa asked.

"It was worth a shot..." Akamatsu muttered.

"I had mine," Saihara claimed.

"Angie saw herself in her video!"

"Tenko's was exactly as she remembered it!'

"I... yeah. Me too," Yumeno said with her usual level of commitment.

"You know I had mine," Momota offered.

"Gonta's video was definitely Gonta's," the gentleman explained.

"What's the point of this?!" Iruma exploded. "Red-eye's right, no one's gonna admit they had the wrong video!"

"I would be more careful about nicknames, if I were you," Harukawa warned.

"Wh-what's wrong?" Iruma stepped back. "I-I-I didn't mean to offend. P-p-please don't be mad..."

"There's gotta be something we missed at some point," Momota interrupted. "Something that would explain everything... Shuuichi, you got anything?"

Saihara shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Nothing that would make a difference. At least I don't think so."

Akamatsu spoke up. "I... I might have something."

"Hmm?" Saihara intoned.

"It... it could just be nothing," the pianist admitted. "But I think I heard something. Something that just didn't sit right with me."

"What do you mean?" Harukawa asked.

"I'm not sure, to be honest," Akamatsu hedged. "But this might be the opening we need. This... this could expose the killer."

SELECT A SUSPECT

Chapter Text

Akamatsu took a breath and thought it over one more time. "It could be nothing. Honestly, I want it to be nothing. But it doesn't add up. What you said doesn't match with everything else you've told us."

"Earlier, when everyone else was talking about having seen their motive videos," Akamatsu explained, "there was one thing that didn't make sense."

"And what's that?" Iruma asked.

"Someone said their video was the same as they remembered it, but that can't be true," Akamatsu continued. "Because up until now, they were adamant about not watching their video."

The blonde pointed out her prime suspect.

"Chabashira-san, what did you mean by that earlier?"

"Ehh?!!!" Chabashira exclaimed. "What are you talking about?! It... it was just a slip of the tongue!"

"I want to think that," Akamatsu replied, "I really do. But it felt too... calculated. Like you wanted to make sure you didn't screw up."

"Hold on a second," Kiibo interrupted. "Chabashira-san has been clear that she wanted to avoid watching the videos as you claim. As such, we have no reason to suspect that she has gone back on her word now."

"But if that were the case, she could've easily said she still hadn't watched it," Saihara countered. "You should know that, Kiibo-kun, because you said you still haven't watched yours."

"Well, I suppose but..."

"Tenko does not have to stand for this! Tenko is not the one responsible for that menace's death!" the aikido practitioner proclaimed.

"That seems weird to me, too..." Akamatsu thought aloud.

"What does?" the black-haired girl questioned.

"You're still calling Shinguuji-kun a 'menace'. I just find it a bit odd you would say that about someone who's dead," the pianist explained.

"Is it wrong to call him what he was?" Chabashira shot back.

"Nishishi..." Ouma cackled. "Someone's got a grudge."

"And I bet she has a good reason," Harukawa claimed, her eyes widening as the truth became clear.

"Tenko barely spoke to him!" the fighter protested. "What possible reason would Tenko have to hold a grudge?"

"Assuming you are the culprit," Saihara explained, "that would mean Shinguuji-kun attempted to kill you with the knife. If that were the case, it's fairly obvious you would hold some feelings of malice toward him."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Momota cut in, "this is a lot of speculation, isn't it? There's basically nothing that can prove Chabashira did it, right?"

"God says that we can't throw around theories anymore," Angie declared. "We need something more concrete now."

"Angie-san is correct!" Gonta agreed. "We can't be sure that Chabashira-san is responsible."

"Personally, I find it difficult to believe," Toujou chimed in.

"Oh, come on!" Iruma complained. "How long are we gonna go in circles like this?"

"Chabashira as a culprit actually makes a bit of sense if you ask me," Hoshi offered.

Akamatsu crossed her arms in frustration. "Well, now what? We're split right down the middle."

"Oh? What was that?"

The words of the long-silent headmaster caused everyone to take notice. "Did you say down the middle? Then do I have a treat for you!"

"Papa finally gets to use that!" Monofunny cheered.

"'Bout time!" Monokid shouted. "We got gypped last time around!"

"Yeah," Monosuke agreed, "let's get this show on the road, why don't we?"

"WE CAN START THE SCRUM DE-BATE," Monodam announced.

"Scrum... what?" Akamatsu asked.

Rather than answer the question, Monokuma raised a new podium, and used a key to open a lock. Suddenly, the podiums the students were on raised up into the sky and into a new trial room! The room was stark white, and rather than the group being placed around in a circle, the class found themselves facing off with two panels of students lined up in a row.

On one side were Momota, Chabashira, Yumeno, Gonta, Angie, Kiibo, and Toujou. They were the 'Tenko is not the culprit' team.

The other held the remaining students. That is, Akamatsu, Saihara, Harukawa, Ouma, Hoshi, and Iruma. They were the 'Tenko could be the culprit' team.

With the opposing sides set, the Scrum Debate began.

Momota started it off. "There's not enough proof to say Chabashira's the culprit!"

Harukawa countered by reminding him, "But you have no proof that she's not."

"The culprit would've needed to watch their video," Gonta explained.

Hoshi offered the rationale of, "Anyone who hadn't watched before must have by now."

Chabashira wouldn't stand for that. "What reason would Tenko have to change her mind?"

"You changed your mind because Liarboy watched it, duh," Iruma argued.

"But the culprit needed to watch Korekiyo's video," Angie chimed in.

"Shinguuji-kun's video was missing from his room, so someone else has it," Saihara revealed.

"Ouma-kun probably kept it for himself," Toujou theorized.

Ouma was quick to shoot that down. "If I did, then how did the culprit see the video?"

"You would have the freedom to show it to anyone," Kiibo pointed out.

Akamatsu didn't buy it. "But to show it to someone he'd have to leave his room."

The two groups were at an impasse, leaving the leaders to argue.

"There's nothing you can say or do to prove Chabashira's the culprit right now!" Momota exclaimed.

"Maybe I can't prove she's the culprit," Akamatsu agreed, "But I might be able to prove that the culprit is Chabashira-san!"

"And how do you plan to do that?" Momota challenged.

"This is our answer!" Akamatsu declared. "If we look over what we know for sure about the culprit, we can see how well it lines up with Chabashira-san and go from there!"

Momota grit his teeth and glared at Akamatsu. "Alright... let's play this out."

With that exchange, the debate came to an end, and the students were deposited back in their traditional trial setting.

"Woo-hoo! That was definitely worth the wait!" Monokuma proclaimed.

"HELL YEAH!" Monokid shouted. "That's the best part, easy!"

"Kinda makes me wanna go back and add 'em to other trials," Monosuke admitted.

"The BGM's just so catchy... it's stuck in my head now..." Monofunny lamented.

"THEY STAND TO-GE-THER IN THE DE-BATE," Monodam observed. "THEY TRU-LY GET A-LONG."

"Well, we have a plan now," Iruma said, "but what do we really know about the culprit that we can tie to Chabashitty, anyway?"

"Tenko does not care for your insults!" the aikido lover spat.

"We know the killer saw Shinguuji's video," Hoshi reminded the group, "but there's no way to tell who saw it and who didn't."

"Technically we do not know that the killer saw it," Kiibo argued.

"We do know that the culprit somehow acquired Shinguuji-kun's video," Saihara countered. "That's the only explanation as to where his video disappeared to."

"If the culprit and Shinguuji-kun wound up with one another's videos," Akamatsu surmised, "I bet their meeting was based on the idea of trading them."

"That way they could have recovered their own video and kept Shinguuji-kun's for their own," Saihara affirmed.

"I guess that explains why there wasn't a video in his room at all," Momota admitted.

"Well, like, do we know anything else about the culprit?" Angie wondered.

"We know they disarmed Shinguuji," Harukawa recalled. "And in the process likely broke his arm."

"And since Chabashira-san is the Ultimate Aikido Practitioner..." Akamatsu began.

"Tenko doesn't have to listen to this!" Chabashira cut in.

"What are you-?" the pianist replied.

Chabashira paid her no heed, and began to speak, "You are clever, Tenko will admit, but you are forgetting something important."

/"You believe Tenko killed that menace?"/

/"You appear to have forgotten a school rule."/

/"The Body Discovery Announcement..."/

/"Cannot be triggered by the killer!"/

/"Tenko discovered the body..."/

/"So why did the announcement go off?"/

"You wouldn't count toward the three," Akamatsu argued, "but couldn't someone else have seen it?"

/"Do not insult Tenko's intelligence!"/

/"No one else entered the pool building!"/

/"And even if there was somewhere else to see the body..."/

/"There's no one who could've been there!"/

"Allow me to cut in!" Akamatsu countered. Chabashira, caught off guard by this exclamation, found herself silenced.

"Chabashira-san, there's a window that overlooks the pool building, remember?" Akamatsu asked.

"S-so?" Chabashira stammered out.

"That window is in a room on the third floor. I'm not sure where, but we actually can say someone was on the third floor at the time of the crime." Akamatsu turned to the person in question. "Right, Hoshi-kun?"

The tennis pro took a deep breath. "Yeah... probably should've mentioned it before."

"Mentioned what?" Saihara inquired.

"That window is actually connected to a shower room just off of my research lab," Hoshi revealed. "This morning, while I was there, I did peek out the window and I noticed what looked like a body in the pool. I didn't really know what to make of it, so I headed down to get a better look. Before I got there though, the Body Discovery Announcement went off."

"Why are you only telling us this now?" Ouma wondered.

Hoshi shook his head. "Well, earlier everyone was going off about the knife coming from a room no one else had been in. Didn't seem like telling everyone about the hidden shower room would be a very good idea. After that, there was never really a good moment to bring it up."

"By that logic, Hoshi-kun's the real third witness to the body. So how about it, Chabashira-san?" Akamatsu questioned. "Is there anything else we haven't accounted for?"

"Tenko... Tenko..." the aikido practitioner mumbled.

"TENKO DOESN'T SEE WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY!!!!"

The whole class shook at the exclamation.

"Tenko has had to hear theory after theory about what happened, with no proof to back it up! Tenko has had it up to here! Besides, there's still one problem you haven't even thought about!"

"And what's that?" Saihara challenged.

"The blood, you moronic menace!" she shouted. "There was so much blood after the murder that the culprit had to put the nearby life preservers in the water to properly hide the stains! If Tenko killed that menace, then how did she remove the blood from her hands?!"

"If Chabashira-san didn't wipe off the blood," Kiibo pointed out, "she would've had to walk around with bloody hands. A risk that she likely wouldn't take."

"That's true..." Gonta admitted, "she couldn't have wiped it on her clothes or something..."

"Actually, she might have..." Akamatsu theorized.

"What?" Chabashira replied with shock.

"Chabashira-san, you have a tendency to jog in the mornings," Akamatsu pointed out.

"That means nothing!" Chabashira countered.

"And you and I share something in common when we work out," Akamatsu continued.

Chabashira, for her part, clearly wasn't listening. "Shall I show you Neo Aikido?!"

"We both wear gym clothes from the storage room."

"Do you side with the menaces?"

"If you had gym clothes, you could dip them in the pool water-"

"Tenko doesn't fear you!"

"And use the wet cloth to wash off the blood."

"Tenko needs no weapon!"

"And if anyone saw you with a gym bag, or something like that, we wouldn't question it."

"Your theory is based on nothing! Tenko didn't have a gym bag at all!"

"STOP LYING TO US!!!!"

To the group's shock, Akamatsu was not the one to shoot Chabashira down.

Rather, it was Yumeno. Yumeno, who had remained notably quiet ever since the accusation. Yumeno, who Chabashira would follow to the ends of the earth. Yumeno, the small, quiet girl who had trouble expressing herself.

And now, she was choking back tears. "Tenko... I saw you."

"Wh-what?" Chabashira replied, clearly more surprised than anything.

"This morning, I didn't really oversleep," Yumeno revealed. "I saw you come back. It was about 6, and you had your gym bag with you."

A number of the others realized that this was what Ouma had heard early that morning. However, they wisely chose not to comment.

"I thought you'd just gone on a morning run, and you wanted to come back and shower before you went to breakfast..." Yumeno sniffled, and proceeded with her story. "So I decided to wait. I figured you'd want to walk together, and... I kind of wanted to."

"Yumeno-san..." Chabashira muttered, thunderstruck.

"But then, a really long time went by, and I started to get worried. I was gonna come knock on your door, but by then, Toujou-san was telling us about the body," Yumeno recounted. "I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought, maybe, you might have done something bad, but I didn't want to say it, because I didn't want to believe it."

Saihara averted his eyes. The last investigation was still fresh in his mind, and what Yumeno described was a feeling he knew all-too-well.

The mage continued, "I was scared, but I thought it would be okay, and then... then you told us you didn't get to go on your morning run, and I realized what happened."

"So you've been hiding the answer the whole time?" Harukawa inquired.

"I didn't want Tenko to be guilty!" Yumeno shrieked. "I still don't! But she keeps lying and hiding things. Tenko... you keep saying you're not afraid. So why? Why won't you just tell us the truth? Please... I'm begging you! Tell us that you're not guilty!"

Chabashira closed her eyes and hung her head in solemn silence. It persisted like that for a few, agonizing moments, before the truth finally came out.

"I'm sorry, Yumeno-san. I can't tell you that."

"Tenko!" Yumeno cried.

"Tenko is the killer," she admitted. "She... I killed Shinguuji-san."

"No..." Yumeno responded in abject horror. "No... you couldn't..."

"Saihara-san," Chabashira said, "can you... wrap this all up please?"

"R-right," Saihara replied, finding his voice. "I think I see how this case went..."

"During casino night, Ouma-kun slipped out and went back to the dorm rooms while no one else was around. While he was there, he broke into everyone's rooms and stole their individual motive videos. After he finished watching them, he labeled them with everyone's name to make sure we all got the right ones back. However, when he did so, he made a mistake. Shinguuji-kun and the culprit ended up with one another's videos. After seeing Shinguuji-kun's video, the culprit became worried that he would try to kill someone and escape. Under the pretense of exchanging videos again, the culprit got Shinguuji-kun to meet them in the pool building before the morning announcement. When they arrived, the culprit had with them a gym bag. I assume to hide the video they brought with them, and with the intent of performing their morning run directly afterward. However, during the exchange attempt, Shinguuji-kun attacked the culprit with his custom knife. The culprit fought back, and was able to not only disarm Shinguuji-kun, but break his arm in the process. The culprit then took the knife and stabbed Shinguuji-kun to death. Due to the high amount of blood flow, the culprit made the effort to hide the bloodstains by throwing the body, the knife, and the nearby life preservers, which were also stained, into the pool, where the fresh blood would mix with the water. And in order to wash the blood from their own hands, the culprit dipped the gym clothes they brought with them into the pool, and wiped their hands off. With the bloodied cloth hidden in their gym bag, they were under the impression no one would suspect anything was wrong. However, Yumeno-san saw them with the bag early in the morning, and realized that it didn't match up with everything else the culprit said. Isn't that what happened, Tenko Chabashira-san?"

The class stood silent as Saihara's words sunk in. It was all tied up nicely. And Chabashira nodded with a defeated smile on her face.

"Tenko supposes that's it, then. Time to vote."

With that, Monokuma sprung into action. "Roger wilco! Please cast your votes with the lever in front of you! Who's gonna get chosen as the culprit? Will your choice be right or hopelessly wrong?! What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?"

The class, spirits somewhat shattered by the experience, once again found the strength to vote. The nearby screens lit up as they had before, and showed the image of the roulette wheel with their faces.

The spinner stopped on Chabashira's face.

And the screens proudly declared her...

"GUILTY"

Chapter Text

"Looks like you bastards are two for two! The one who killed Korekiyo Shinguuji-kun was none other than Tenko Chabashira-san!"

Yet again, Monokuma's announcement felt more like a taunt than a form of congratulation. The revelation of Chabashira's actions made the students' blood run cold. And Chabashira herself was keeping up her face of resigned acceptance.

"We did it," Akamatsu thought. "We found the truth. But this truth... it's even worse than the last one."

"Tenko..." Yumeno said, her voice quaking with disbelief. "Why? Why would you... you... you wouldn't..."

Chabashira cast her gaze downward again. "Yumeno-san. I'm sorry. I never meant to cause you so much pain."

"Her?!" Iruma shouted. "What about us, ya friggin' psycho?!"

"Chabashira-san," Akamatsu said, finding a foothold to enter the conversation, "I just don't get why. Why did you kill him?"

"It... it wasn't my intention. Not at first," the aikido practitioner explained, her voice full of fatigue.

"What do you mean, 'at first'?" Gonta questioned.

"When Tenko discovered she had gotten the wrong video, she left Shinguuji-san a note asking him to meet her in private," she began, "At first, it was just going to be an exchange of the videos, but... then I watched his a second time just to be clear."

"But, even if you were worried he'd kill to go see his sister again..." Momota chimed in.

Chabashira's eyes became laser-focused as she took a stronger tone of voice. "That wasn't what he meant."

"Huh?" the astronaut replied, his confusion clear.

"Tenko confronted him about it when we met... and... that's when I found out..."


EARLIER THAT DAY...

The two stood nearby the edge of the pool. Both tense, but neither aware of what was soon to transpire. Shinguuji carried a Cub Pad, clutched in his bandaged fist. Chabashira, by contrast, had a gym bag flung over her shoulder.

"Did you bring the video?" Shinguuji inquired.

"Yes, it's in the bag," Chabashira replied. Slowly she laid down the bag, opening it to reveal the player contained within.

The anthropologist nodded. "Ah... very good then. I don't suppose you're curious about what I saw?"

"Tenko doesn't care what her video says. But..."

"Hmm?"

"Tenko saw your video... and..."

"Did I say something to offend you?" Shinguuji wondered.

"Not offend, but... your sister," Chabashira clarified. "What did you mean by 'not leaving her alone'?"

Shinguuji's eyes widened in a brief moment of panic, though he quickly resumed control. He set the video down beside him, and proceeded to speak. "Kukuku... I suppose that would catch most people's attention."

"Is she sick?" Chabashira asked.

"She was... for a very long time," Shinguuji answered, dejectedly.

"Wait... are you saying...?"

"Yes... I'm afraid my beloved sister is no longer with us," Shinguuji informed.

Chabashira softened her paranoia in response to this information. "Tenko is very sorry for your loss. How long...?"

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Shinguuji countered. "It's always too soon."

"But, wait..." Chabashira started, "in what way would you be leaving her alone? If she's already..."

"Well, she's not truly gone," Shinguuji replied, his voice growing sinister.

"What?"

"Wouldn't you agree, dear sister?"

Much to Chabashira's shock, Shinguuji lowered the mask he kept over his mouth. His lower jaw revealed him to be clean-shaven, with smooth, flawless skin. But more striking were his lips, which were a bright, ruby red.

"Is that lipstick?" Chabashira questioned.

Rather than answer, Shinguuji simply began to speak to himself. His voice was suddenly pitched up a few octaves, as though he were putting on an affectation. "Korekiyo... my sweet, sweet brother. You don't have to worry about leaving me. You're always with me. Just like I'm always with you."

"What... what is this?!!!" Chabashira exclaimed.

Shinguuji fixed his mask and returned to his normal form of speech. "Sister... you always know how to comfort me."

"Tenko is very lost right now!"

"My sister's spirit lives on through me," Shinguuji explained, a wicked gleam in his eye. "But even so, that's not enough. I know that when she is not with me, she suffers in the afterlife."

"So... so what does..."

"But I can't allow that, not with how much she meant to me! Not with how much I loved her. How I loved her... I loved her so..."

"By 'loved', you don't mean..."

"Oh yes!" the madman ranted. "But I can care for her. I can give her company. Say..."

"Wh-what?"

Shinguuji revealed the knife he kept hidden. "Would you be friends with my sister?"

The psychotic boy lunged for Chabashira, brandishing his weapon, but he had failed to account for something rather important. The girl he was attacking was a blackbelt in a form of martial arts predicated almost entirely on responding to an opponent's assault.

As such, it shouldn't have been surprising that Chabashira was able to grab him by the arm and fling him carelessly over her shoulder, into a stack of life preservers.

"GRAARGGH!!!" he cried in pain.

Chabashira, adrenaline pumping through her, took a fighting posture. "You... you are a true menace. The worst of the worst!"

"Your words don't matter to me," he grunted. His left hand suddenly clasped to his now-broken right arm. "I know that my pursuits are noble. I carry humanity's beauty in my heart!"

"That is not beauty," Chabashira spat. "You couldn't be further from it. You're not even human if that's how you view the world."

"Even so, what will you do now?" Shinguuji inquired. "Restrain me? Lock me up? Who would believe your story?"

"I... I..."

"More than that, do you really think I'll stop? No... no... no no no no no no no! I refuse to let my sister die alone!"

"Tenko... Tenko won't let you..."

"You can't stop me forever... I will bring my sister the companions she desires. And there are just so many girls here she would love to meet."

"Don't... don't you dare..." Chabashira demanded.

"Do you suppose Yumeno-san would care to meet her?"

And with that, Chabashira snapped. The knife, laying close by, was suddenly in her hands and the next thing she knew, she was over Shinguuji's prone body.

The knife came down. It came down again and again, each time spilling more and more of Shinguuji's blood.

And more and more of Chabashira's tears.

It was too late now.


"Tenko tossed the knife aside after that," Chabashira continued. "It wasn't until a few minutes later she realized it fell in the pool. On some level... I'm happy it did. It's better this way."

"What... what are you...?" was about all Akamatsu could muster.

The group was dumbfounded by Chabashira's story. It seemed too insane to be real. And yet, she seemed too distraught by the memory to be faking it.

"You've... you've gotta be bullshitting us," Iruma declared. "There's no way anyone could be that much of a freak, right?"

As if in response, the video screens nearby flared to life, catching the eyes of the students. The scene playing showcased the now-late Shinguuji in his dorm room. The long-haired boy set down the video player he was carrying, and composed himself. Then, to the shock of the group, he lowered his mask, revealing the lips Chabashira had described.

"Korekiyo," the recorded boy said to no one, "you understand, right? You mean so much to me. But when you send me friends, it just makes me so happy."

He raised the mask back up. "Do not worry, my sister. The time will come soon. I just need to be careful this time."

The screens cut out after that. The point had been made. Shinguuji was just as unhinged as Chabashira had described.

"Like, Korekiyo..." Angie muttered, "you were... whoa."

"To think he was hiding something so... unsettling," Toujou commented.

Akamatsu stood in contemplation. It didn't add up. Shinguuji had been very kind to her before. In fact, he had...

"I hope I could introduce you to her someday."

The pianist smiled. "That sounds nice."

Oh.

Oh.

"I..." Akamatsu gripped her shoulders tight, her knuckles draining of color almost as quickly as her face did. "I basically gave him permission to kill me..."

"He wasn't human," Chabashira stated, lacking in emotion, though not in resolve. "He was a monster, plain and simple. Tenko couldn't risk letting him roam free. Even..."

"Even at the cost of your own life," Hoshi finished.

"Yes."

"Tenko... you just wanted to save us," Yumeno summarized.

"That's true," Chabashira replied. "But it was still wrong. Tenko should've found another way. What Tenko has done... it was unforgiveable."

"You've got that wrong!" Akamatsu argued. "That's not true! You saved us! You were trying to do the right thing! You... you..."

"Did the same thing I did," went unsaid.

"Tenko is thankful for you words. But it doesn't change anything. Tenko is still a murderer. And Tenko needs to own up to that."

"Tenko..." Yumeno mumbled.

"Yumeno-san," Chabashira responded, trying to offer some comfort. "Before I go, promise me."

"Huh?"

"Don't be afraid. Especially not of the way you feel. For all her bluster, Tenko let fear control her this entire time. Fear of Shinguuji attacking someone, fear of dying, fear of... of how I felt about you..."

"Tenko..."

"Fear destroys a person's heart. Destroys who they are. So don't be afraid. Tenko was telling the truth before. You have a strong heart."

Yumeno sniffled. "And a big one."

Chabashira mustered a smile. "So very big."

"I... I promise," the mage swore.

Another deep breath passed through the martial artist, and she closed her eyes in resignation. "Monokuma. Tenko is ready."

"Right-a-rooney! Now then, I've prepared a very special punishment for the Ultimate Aikido Practitioner, Tenko Chabashira-san!" the bear announced.

"Farewell, all of you. Tenko is glad her last days were spent with good friends," Chabashira said with a grin.

"Let's give it everything we've got! Ittttttttt'ssssssssss Punishment Time!!!!!"

GAME OVER

TENKO CHABASHIRA HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY

COMMENCING PUNISHMENT...

Chabashira stood firm in a new location. The setting was like that of a martial arts dojo, with sliding screen doors, a floor of wooden planks, and various hanging scrolls adorning the walls.

The doors slid open, and new occupants flooded the room. A group of robotic warriors, with their eyes designed to resemble Monokuma's jagged one. The warriors were dressed in traditional black gis, and were held in place with red belts. The emblem on the left breast of the gis showed the school crest of Gifted Inmates Academy.

The new warriors stared Chabashira down, prompting the girl to bow to her adversaries. Once she raised her head, she took a fighting stance.

The 4 Monokuma Cubs, standing to the side watched in awe, as their father hit a gong, signaling the beginning of the fight.

COMPLETELY FLOORED

The robots rushed Chabashira, though it was not much of a fight. The automatons were intimidating in appearance, but they had no form, no style, no heart. They fought like street thugs, in spite of their attire. To an expert of her craft, Chabashira could easily take them down. A series of flips and throws reduced their numbers slowly but surely. Gears and springs flew across the room as they broke apart in the face of Chabashira's true power.

As the last mechanical threat fell, Chabashira breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps now it was over. Perhaps Monokuma had underestimated her, and she could walk free.

No such luck.

To Chabashira's surprise, the wooden plank on the floor she stood upon flipped upward at a high rate of speed, throwing the unsuspecting girl into the air. She landed with a harsh thud, pain echoing through her body. This was not helped by the fact that she landed on some of the metal debris her previous battle had left behind.

The process began anew, now with Chabashira being the one thrown around. It was like clockwork, with every landing came another rising plank and another trip through the air. Every crash hurt more than the last, the once-proud warrior slowly being reduced to a quivering heap. Her bones broken, her blood oozing from open wounds, her clothing tattered as she was beaten to death by none other than gravity.

At this point, the Monokuma Cubs were completely invested in the proceedings, so much so that Monokid and Monosuke failed to notice that Monofunny had stood up in an attempt to get a better view. Their brother, however was full well aware. With a simple nudge from Monodam, Monofunny suddenly found herself standing on one of the wooden boards. This time, the board under her popped up, but unlike the others, this one didn't pop up and move back down.

This one carried her forward, toward Chabashira's prone body. With the last of her strength, Chabashira closed her eyes to avoid witnessing what would soon happen.

With a sickening splat, the board crashed into the ground, and returned to its resting place. All that was left of Monofunny was a shattered mechanical mess.

And all that was left of Chabashira was a bloody smear.

 

Chapter Text

The class was once again caught in an aura of sorrow. Chabashira was different from Shirogane. She was a good person driven into extremes, and forced into a situation that, quite frankly, most of the class couldn't really say how they would approach it differently. Her death was brutal, and decidedly undeserved.

Not that the Monokuma Cubs were paying any attention to that.

"Ehhhh?!!! Monofunny? What just happened here?" Monosuke asked.

"What the Hell, Monodam?! Why'd you shove her like that?" Monokid wondered.

"SHE WAS NOT BE-ING CUTE. A SIS-TER SHOULD BE CUTE. SHE WAS MA-KING IT HARD TO GET A-LONG. I LIKE WHEN WE ALL GET A-LONG," Monodam explained.

The green bear's two brothers glanced at one another. "Hey, bro, maybe we should uh..." Monokid began.

"Skedaddle?" Monosuke finished.

"Yep."

"BYE-KUMA!!"

The two bears left. Monodam lingered for a moment before he, too, departed.

"Those crazy kids. They're dropping like flies," Monokuma lamented. "Unlike Chabashira-san, who got swatted like one! Upupupupu!!!!!"

"How..." Akamatsu muttered.

"What was that?"

"How can you be so cruel?!" she shouted at the ursine irritant.

"Is this gonna be a regular thing?" Monokuma mocked. "After every trial you're just gonna tell me how horrible I am? 'Cause that's gonna get old real quick."

"There's-"

"Not gonna be another trial?" Monokuma countered. "Famous last words, my dear."

The black-and-white headmaster left for parts unknown, leaving the students to stand in silence.

At least, until someone had the courage to break it.

"Tenko..."

Yumeno was shell-shocked. She hadn't quite processed what had just happened. It was quite a bit to take in all at once, after all. Tenko, whom she had just been getting to know, was just gone. Never to be seen or heard again. Never to make her laugh, smile, or feel slightly uncomfortable.

Akamatsu walked toward the mage, and knelt down to meet her at eye level. "Yumeno-san. I know you're hurting right now, but you have to remember what Chabashira-san said. Don't be afraid. So... if you want to cry... it's okay."

Yumeno sniffed once, and then again. She silently nodded her head as tears began to stream down her face.

Akamatsu, sensing her pain, took the smaller girl in a warm hug. "It's going to be okay. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, it'll be okay. I promise."

"Yeah," Momota reassured. "And until then, we're all gonna be there for you. So, no worries."

The room, once dampened with the weight of tragedy, suddenly found light. Camaraderie, compassion, and love found a way to cloak the group in a warm feeling once more.

But one person wouldn't stand for that.

"It's just so sad," Ouma cut in, crocodile tears adorning his face. "I can't believe Chabashira-chan's dead. *sniff* If I had just done a better job with the labels..."

Saihara took an accusatory tone. "Ouma-kun. You're lying to us again, aren't you?"

"Hmm?"

"Saihara-kun, what are you saying?" Akamatsu asked.

"I didn't want to bring it up while Chabashira-san was..." Saihara trailed off. "I didn't want her to have to know, but... I don't think the labels being switched was a mistake."

And with that, the mood of the trial came back in full swing.

"Do you mean to say that Ouma-kun labeled Shinguuji-kun and Chabashira-san's videos as one another's on purpose?" Kiibo clarified.

"Exactly. I thought it was too convenient that he just happened to make a simple mistake like that," Saihara explained. "Ouma-kun's too calculating for that. The two's names and appearances are too different that he would just mix them up."

Ouma, hearing all this, took in the gazes of suspicion the other students were giving him. Realizing that he had no counter for Saihara's words, he decided it would be best to give up the ghost. "Was I that obvious?"

Akamatsu stood up from the floor, ending her embrace of Yumeno to offer an accusation of her own. "You did this. This entire case was your doing the whole time, wasn't it?!"

Ouma chuckled. "Nishishi... it wasn't planned to the last detail or anything. I didn't know which of them would end up killing the other. But I was pretty sure we'd get a murder once they met up."

"So I was right about the note after all," Harukawa observed.

"That you were," Ouma confirmed. "Things were getting a little too chummy around here, so I just kinda thought..."

"You goddamn fucking asshole!" Iruma shouted. "You just killed two people to get your sick kicks?!"

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Ouma countered.

"Why..." Yumeno muttered.

"I'm sorry?" Ouma asked.

"Why Tenko? Why did you pick her?!" the mage exclaimed.

"Oh, that," Ouma responded. "It just seemed like the best pick. After I realized Shinguuji-chan was nutty as a fruitcake, I needed to pick someone to deal with that. And out of the girls, Chabashira-chan was the one who I figured could best handle herself."

"So you used her to murder Shinguuji-kun?" Saihara questioned.

Ouma smirked. "You're welcome."

"You think we're thanking you for this, you son of a bitch?!" Momota screamed.

"Tell me," Ouma shot back. "Are any of you honestly upset that Shinguuji-chan is dead? And I don't mean generally upset that a person is dead at all, I mean him specifically."

The room was so quiet that a dropped pin would shatter one's eardrums. In the wake of Chabashira's execution, emotions ran very high. But the horrific truth of Shinguuji's true nature still remained. And it made it very difficult to miss him.

The dictator began to speak again. "There are people in this world that are too horrible to be kept alive. From our first day here, I could tell from the look in his eye that Shinguuji-chan was off his rocker. People with blood on their hands, they have this look about them that I can recognize. It just wasn't until the video that I started to put two and two together. He's better off where he is."

"You..." Akamatsu replied in horror, "you can't really think that way, can you?"

"Akamatsu-chan," the short-statured boy pouted, "I thought you would understand. Isn't that why you tried to kill the mastermind?"

Another key strike to that open wound left Akamatsu speechless.

"We're not that different, really," Ouma taunted. "The only real difference is that I was smart enough to not get my own hands dirty."

Various responses came to mind. Frustration, denial, abject confusion. But only one was bold enough to stand up against it.

Hoshi cleared his throat, catching the room's attention. "After what I've done, I can't really disagree with your philosophy. But here's my question. How do you know you're not one of these people that shouldn't be kept alive?"

Ouma turned and began to walk toward the elevator. He called back, avoiding eye contact. "Never said I wasn't."

Yumeno had had enough. The petite redhead stopped her tears, balled her hands into fists, and yelled at a volume the other students didn't think possible for her. "You murderer! You monster! You... you... MENACE!"

Her words still conjured no reaction. With nothing left to be said, the students realized it was their turn to make their way toward the elevator.

Two of them found themselves in an unexpected conversation along the way. Said conversation was kept quiet so as to avoid eavesdropping.

"Why did you three protect me?" Harukawa asked.

Momota smirked and shrugged his shoulders. "Can't really say I know what was goin' through the others' heads. But for me, it was a no-brainer."

"'No-brainer'? Fitting, coming from you."

"Hey, I know I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I know people," Momota argued. "I could tell straight away that you're no killer."

Harukawa once again made a Herculean effort to avoid laughing at the inherent irony of that statement.

"And, hey, turns out we were right to trust you, so it's all good," Momota concluded.

"And what if next time, you're wrong?" Harukawa challenged.

"I'd prefer to cross that bridge once we get to it," the astronaut replied. A brief pause went by. "Hey."

"What?"

"You know... you could join nightly training with us for real, if you want."

Harukawa's eyes slightly widened, before she returned to a look of disdain. "Why should I?"

"You don't have to if you don't want," Momota explained. "Just wanted to extend the invite."

Harukawa contemplated this. Her efforts to keep herself closed off from the group were selfish at their core. She'd argue that her true nature would only make people panic, but it was mostly to avoid the looks. The judgments people make without even realizing. The eyes. The same damn eyes from everyone who knew.

But keeping herself isolated nearly cost her. Nearly cost everyone.

"Fine."

"Really?" Momota asked. On some level, he wasn't really expecting a yes.

"But..." Harukawa hedged. "There's one thing I need to take care of tonight. I might be a little late."

"Cool by me. See you there, Harumaki."

She sighed. "I'm just going to have to get used to that, aren't I?"

"Yup."


 

Ouma laid in his bed once more. It had been a long day, and the plan had gone swimmingly. There was only one more variable that was up in the air. And if he knew his classmates as well as he thought he did...

The knock on his door alleviated his remaining concerns.

With a sly grin, the little liar made his way to his door, and greeted his visitor.

"We've got to stop meeting like this, Harukawa-chan. People will start to talk."

Harukawa said nothing, and once again forced herself into his room.

She glared at him, and rather pointedly began with her interrogation. "You knew everything about the trial right from the start."

"Mm-hmm," Ouma affirmed.

"Meaning you knew Chabashira was the culprit."

"Yeah."

"So, why is it that you went out of your way to accuse me?"

Ouma chuckled at the inquiry. "Nishishi... to help you, of course."

Harukawa quirked an eyebrow, but kept quiet.

"I've made myself the bad guy," Ouma continued. "Anyone I go after suddenly seems sympathetic. People like you because I was picking on you. In fact, I seem to recall Akamatsu-chan and her boy-toys lying their asses off to protect you."

"What's your point?"

"My point is that now, you have an in with the popular kids," Ouma joked. "I bet they even invited you to their private club meetings! Please tell me you're all gonna make friendship bracelets!"

"So that was your game?" Harukawa asked. "Endear me to the others? Why?"

"Because I need to create a single threat to stand against, i.e., me; but I also need to be kept in the loop," Ouma explained. "I can't do both myself, and that's why I want your help."

"What exactly would you have me do?" the assassin clarified.

"Just keep tabs on the general goings-on, keep me posted, and if I ever need help with something big, just know that you're on speed-dial," Ouma outlined.

Harukawa pondered this, and spoke up with a strict tone. "I want to make one thing very clear."

"What's that?"

She offered up her hand. "I'd be working with you. Not for you. And most importantly, remember I'm doing this to put an end to the insanity. If you drop dead, I will be more than happy to dance on your grave."

Ouma returned the handshake. "I'd pay good money to see that." The two broke their grip on one another's hands. "Now, off you go! Say 'hi' to the in-crowd for me!"

Harukawa left with a very professional manner. "My video?" she inquired on her way out.

"Insurance policy. I won't blab if you play ball."

"And the one you gave me?"

"Keep it. I don't need it anymore," Ouma shot back.

As Harukawa closed the door behind her, she began her trek toward the park where Akamatsu and company awaited. Her mind, however, was stuck on the motive video that lay resting in her room.

She recalled the moment it flared to life in her hands. It was her name written across the back, but the face on-screen was very different.

It was the face of her new partner. Ouma had given her his video. And the moment she saw it, she knew what she had to do.

She had to help him. The words were fresh in her mind.

"Future me, it's good to chat! Don't you agree? Well, enough formalities, let's get to the fun stuff, okay? You're in a high-stress situation, I know, but with our mind, it's simple. We're smarter than any of them. Anyone who's ever come before, and, well, after's not going to be an issue, now, is it? No matter what happens in this game, don't forget. You're not just going to win the Killing Game. You're going to beat it."

SURVIVING STUDENTS: 12

 

Chapter Text

"This is troubling."

"You are all far too concerned for your own good."

"The actions of the Supreme Leader have proven unpredictable. This is a huge threat to the proceedings."

"Furthermore, the game was not calibrated for the continued survival of the Pianist."

"Couple that with the loss of the primary asset..."

"The primary asset is a non-issue. Anyone can become the primary asset."

"Your lackluster approach to things has resulted in the narrative-"

"The narrative was holding us back. Look at the feedback we've received. People are invested like they haven't been in years. We are in possession of a group that we cannot predict. And the world is eating it up."

"Regardless, without a primary asset, we have no endgame. The Supreme Leader-"

"Was a poor choice to begin with. Too obvious. I have a plan. One that will shock the players and the observers to their very core..."


 

"Alright, everyone!" Akamatsu declared, calling the breakfast meeting to order. "I know yesterday was hard for all of us, but today's a new day! Let's get right to it, shall we?!"

The class, at least those of them who were in attendance, seemed less than enthusiastic. Chabashira's departure resulted in her taking much of the group's adrenaline with her.

While Yumeno was making an effort, she was still clearly lethargic, even by her standards. Momota seemed oddly drowsy, which was new for him. Saihara was emotionally drained. Iruma seemed to try to keep her spirits up, though wasn't having much success. Hoshi was his usual melancholy self. Even Toujou, who still got up early to make breakfast, was fairly quiet.

In spite of all of that, there were a few odd things to note, however. First was Harukawa's presence. After a fairly successful first session with the Fitness Club, (One that she finished at lightning speed, to the shock of her new associates), she seemed to be making an effort to join in the group on a more regular basis. She was even willing to risk leaving her lab unattended, so it seemed.

Not that someone patrolling the halls might happen to notice that her lab door would no longer open. As though it had been barred from the inside somehow...

And certainly no one who stayed up too late the night before would have noticed the secretive girl carrying mysterious boxes from said lab to her room in the dead of night.

Regardless, she was here, and was one of the few with any energy.

Ouma was missing, though not missed.

But most bizarre was the absence of Angie, Gonta, and Kiibo. They were fairly dedicated to maintaining the group dynamic, which made it all the more baffling that they would go off on their own.

The pianist took note of the smaller, less than ecstatic group, and pouted. "Come on guys... I know yesterday was harsh, but if we let it get to us, then Monokuma wins!"

"And what's so bad about that?!"

The students stood from their lounging state, and turned to face their ursine addressor.

"Personally, I quite like it when I win! Then again, I suppose that I am biased..."

"HELLO-KUMA!"

The Monokuma Cubs, whittled down to just three, appeared before the class.

"Pops, aren't you gonna do something about Monodam?" Monosuke asked.

"He's starting to bug me more than he used to," Monokid added, "and I think he's a little off his nut."

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG," Monodam contributed.

"And he keeps saying that," Monosuke observed, "It's gettin' creepy."

"Oh, my sons, he's just going through that rebellious phase. Nothing to worry about," Monokuma brushed off.

"He might snap and kill one of us again!" Monokid argued. "And if it ain't Monosuke, I'm gonna be pissed."

"WE SHOULD GET A-LONG," Monodam responded. "IT IS BAD WHEN PEO-PLE DON'T GET A-LONG."

"Uh... we totally get along though, right?" Monosuke replied, his voice shaking.

Monodam paused.

"SOME-TIMES."

The green bear left without the others.

Monosuke turned toward his blue sibling and declared, "Bro, we better hide!"

"Don't have to tell me twice!" Monokid agreed.

"BYE-KUMA!" And the two disappeared, quick as a flash.

"Those crazy kids of mine," Monokuma commented, shaking his head. "They left without giving you guys your presents."

"Presents?" Akamatsu parroted back.

"More keys to explore the school, I assume," Saihara translated.

"Righto!" Monokuma tossed the strange objects toward the students. Included were a mallet, a pixel-themed key, and a scroll. "Have fun, kiddos!" And he too, made himself scarce.

"Welp," Akamatsu replied, taking the mallet in hand. "Time to get moving!"

The students, resigned to this new mission, made their way to various new areas of the building.


 

The next floor of the building possessed an overwhelming atmosphere. The hallways and doors gave the impression of a traditional-style Japanese building. Wooden paneling everywhere, with decorations that evoked a sense as though one had stepped backward in time.

This being Gifted Inmates Academy however, it came with a dark twist. The halls were very dimly lit, and the floors and walls were colored with red spatter-like stains. It was as though a brutal massacre had occurred, though closer inspection revealed that the spatters were not actually blood.

Not that this kept certain students from being spooked.

"What the hell is wrong with this place?" Momota said, his teeth beginning to chatter.

"Calm down," Harukawa commanded, "it's just a hallway."

"And I'm sure that's what all the people in the horror movies thought when the monsters show up," Momota countered.

"There's no such thing as..." Harukawa paused. "Well, other than Monokuma and the Cubs there aren't any monsters."

"That's not reassuring," Momota replied.

The two stopped at a small alcove within the hallway. The alcove contained a set of three identical doors.

Harukawa moved toward one to check.

"Wait!" Momota shouted.

"What?"

"It might be booby-trapped or something!"

The stoic girl gripped the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Are you kidding me?"

"I'm sorry!" Momota offered. "I don't do well with spooky stuff, okay?!"

"Please tell me you don't actually believe in ghosts," Harukawa requested.

The astronaut turned away in embarassment. "Well... it's not like you can prove there aren't ghosts..."

"Ugh... just... leave it to me. I can handle myself," Harukawa claimed.

"Hey, I'm not gonna-" Momota stopped as he suddenly lost his footing and fell to one knee.

Harukawa quirked an eyebrow in concern. "Something wrong?"

Momota put his hand to a wall to support himself, and lifted back up to his feet. "No, I'm... I'm fine. I'm just gonna..." His breathing became ragged as he started to stagger away. "I need to find a place to lie down. I-I'll meet up with everyone back at the cafeteria."

Harukawa nodded and turned back to face the doors. "Okay. Be careful."

As Momota moved back toward the stairs, Harukawa's face snapped to attention with that last statement.

Where had that come from?


 

Though most of the group had chosen to explore the inside, Hoshi and Yumeno had chosen to explore the surrounding area. The two smaller students had taken the scroll, and successfully placed it where it needed to be.

However, what awaited was another cold, harsh dose of reality. The scroll called up a building, quite clearly intended to be a martial arts dojo. The two rather quickly realized that it was meant to serve as Chabashira's research lab.

And the doors were locked up tight.

Yumeno pulled at the doors with all her might as Hoshi watched on. The red-headed girl seemed desperate to get them to budge, but to no avail.

"Come on! Open, you stupid-! Ugggh!!!!"

She released her grip and began to pant.

"*huff* *huff* Maybe... if we had Gonta-kun..."

"I don't think we're getting in there," Hoshi rather plainly stated.

Yumeno collapsed in a defeated heap. Her head hung low.

"Hey..." Hoshi placed his hand on her shoulder. "Remember, you're allowed to cry."

"I'm kind of cried out by now," Yumeno explained. "I just... I've got all this pent-up anxiety. It's like a hot ball of... of... I don't even know what in my chest."

Hoshi shook his head. "Wish I could help you. I'm not exactly known for coping very well."

Yumeno took a deep breath and stood back up. "I'm gonna run."

"Run where?"

"Just around. Like Tenko used to. That's how she would calm down."

Hoshi's eyes narrowed, seeming rather confused. "No one's saying you need to be her, you know?"

"That's not what I-" Yumeno argued, before stopping short. "I just... I need to do something instead of just crying."

Hoshi nodded and cracked his neck.

"What are you-?"

"I'm running with you," he replied, cutting Yumeno off.

Yumeno smirked, finding a bit of confidence. "Can you keep up?"

In the blink of an eye, Hoshi had suddenly moved about eight feet away. He called out, "I'll manage."

The mage's eyes bugged out, and she took a moment to process this. There was really only one logical response.

"Please teach me how to do that."


 

"This is such a load of crap!"

Iruma's protests at the door before her went unanswered, as Toujou stood to the side and observed. Standard operating procedure by this point, really.

"Perhaps we need another key to unlock it," Toujou theorized.

"Pfft, yeah, that sounds like Monokuma," Iruma reasoned. "'Hey, here's a way to get to the next hallway, by the way none of the damn doors are open!' Piece of shit bear."

"While I agree with your sentiment, I must ask as to why he would feel the need to do this at this particular juncture," the maid inquired. "After all, the Killing Game seems to be progressing the way he wants it to."

Iruma shrugged as the two continued to explore. "I dunno. Damn thing probably flips a coin to see how much of an asshole he feels like being."

The two stopped at yet another locked door. "This is getting old!" the inventor protested.

Toujou raised up her hand to silence Iruma, and placed her ear against the stark white door. "That's odd."

"What is?"

"I think I hear someone in there."

"How can someone be in there?" Iruma wondered. "We only just unlocked this floor."

"I do not know," Toujou replied, "However, I may be able to discern."

From her hair, Toujou acquired a hairpin, and began to work on the lock on the doorknob.

"A bobby pin?" Iruma asked, incredulously. "I thought that only worked in movies."

"Weirder things have happened," Toujou reminded the blonde. "Ouma-kun is not the only one with a few tricks to call upon."

Iruma chuckled. "Gotta say though, not sure I like the idea of a maid who can pick locks. Might get where I keep all my fancy stuff."

"Fancy stuff?" Toujou repeated inquisitively.

"Well, in my case, my blueprints. All the stuff I'm gonna build. And, you know, the stuff I keep in my nightstand..."

"I won't ask," Toujou wisely decided. After a few moments of futzing with the keyhole, the lock was open. "We're in, now let's be careful."

"Don't want to let them know we're about to come inside, huh?" Iruma said, the second meaning clear.

Toujou brushed past it. "If that's how you wish to phrase it. Now, hush."

The two opened the door just a smidge, and were greeted with a rather unexpected sight.

Before them were three of their missing compatriots. Angie, Gonta, and Kiibo. Judging by the fact that the room with filled with paint cans, sculpting tools, and canvas, it was quite clear that it was Angie's research lab. But that wasn't the unusual thing.

The unusual thing was the bizarre position that the two boys were in. Gonta was shirtless, to Iruma's delight. Toujou was less openly excited, though not about to protest. The bespectacled buff boy was doing a handstand whilst balancing a bowl of fruit upon his bare feet.

Kiibo stood off to the side, doing what seemed to be a bizarre yoga pose, while also wielding Gonta's butterfly net. Judging by his grip, he intended to use it to snatch the bowl away from Gonta.

Lastly, Angie was standing in front of an easel, capturing this strange still life through the medium of watercolor.

Iruma and Toujou shot one another a quick glance, before slowly closing the door without a word.

With the door shut behind them, Iruma spat into her hand and offered it to the silver-haired girl.

"This never happened."

Toujou grimaced for a moment, before she, too, spat into the palm of her gloved hand, and shook Iruma's.

"Agreed."


 

The computer lab, contrary to what one might suspect, was not a large bank of available computers. Rather, the walls were lined with a series of keyboards and small monitors, all of which were hooked up to a single hard drive that took up the majority of the room. It was like something one might see in an old war movie when they cut to the information division. Said hard drive was easily taller than any of the students, and was emblazoned with a stylized 'X'.

"There's an X-Box joke here somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is," Akamatsu observed.

Saihara, in less of a joking mood, tried as he may, but no matter which set of keys or which monitor he attempted to make use of, he received no response. "I'm not sure what we're meant to do with these. I didn't expect internet access or anything, but I was hoping at least access to some kind of files."

"Maybe we could hack the system somehow?" Akamatsu offered.

"Well, I couldn't," Saihara admitted, "but maybe Iruma-san or Kiibo-kun could."

"Actually, Kiibo-kun told me he doesn't know much about computers," Akamatsu explained.

Saihara tilted his head in confusion. "Every day, Kiibo-kun finds new ways to throw me off."

"Yeah, is the fact that I'm used to living across the hall from a real, live robot a bad sign?" Akamatsu agreed.

Saihara shrugged his shoulders and turned to look at the only remaining feature of the room.

Once again, a single treasure chest, with no clear purpose.

"Do you think this one's empty, too?" the detective wondered.

Akamatsu, in response, walked up to the chest, and rapped her knuckles against it. The sound it made indicated that it contained something. "I'm going to try opening it," she announced.

"Be careful," Saihara warned.

Akamatsu nodded, and moved her grip to the edge of the chest. As she prepared to open the lid, with the first crack of light peering into the darkness, the lid flew up on it's own!

"BOO!!!"

"Ah!!!" Akamatsu shrieked in fear, and retreated back toward Saihara from the shock.

From out of the chest, Ouma had jumped up, and he was now laughing up a storm.

"AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! You should've seen the look on your face!"

"What were you doing in there?" Akamatsu questioned, still somewhat shaken from the events.

"Don't you see?" Ouma replied, "The real treasure was my friendship all along!" The short-statured boy made his hands into the shape of a heart to punctuate the claim.

"How'd you get here before us?" Saihara asked, more confused than anything else.

"Trade secret," Ouma answered, without actually answering. He climbed out of the chest and began to take his leave. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other chores to take care of."

"Chores?" Akamatsu repeated.

"You'll see soon enough," Ouma warned. Before he could be interrogated further, he departed from the computer room.

"He worries me," Saihara revealed. "He's unpredictable, and frankly, more than a little unstable."

Akamatsu kept silent.

"Something wrong?" the detective inquired, sensing the pianist's unease.

"I want to stop trusting him," Akamatsu explained, "I know he's just going to keep doing whatever he wants, and he doesn't care about anyone but himself, but... he's saved my life. Twice now."

"Right..." Saihara recalled. Akamatsu had shared her realization about Shinguuji's prior words to her with the black-haired boy.

Akamatsu did her best to laugh it off. "I'm a real magnet for trouble, huh? First Shirogane-san, then Shinguuji-kun. Maybe I should be more careful around people whose names start with 'Sh'."

Saihara coughed before responding, "Um... sure. I guess..."

It took Akamatsu a moment to realize her blunder. "Oh! No, no, no! It's different! Just... I meant surnames that start with 'Sh'. You're fine, Shuuichi-kun!"

The room felt as though it had been completely drained of air. Both students' eyes went wide as soon as Saihara's given name escaped Akamatsu's lips. The prospect of referring to one another as such never crossed either of their minds before, but the concept held a certain appeal. It was now up to Saihara to decide how they would proceed.

"Um... th-thanks. It's nice to hear you still trust me..." the poor boy took as deep a breath as he could before continuing. "K-Kaede..."

The two were now both blushing furiously. But before the conversation could continue from there...

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

The nearby monitors sprung to life, and Monokuma appeared in his chair.

"Attention all students, this is your Headmaster speaking! I have a big announcement to make! If you would all be so kind as to join me in the auditorium, on the double!"

The screens flickered off, as the two were dragged back into reality.

Akamatsu was the first to respond. "Well, we better go see what that's about, right, Saihara-kun?"

"Yeah. Let's go, Akamatsu-san," Saihara replied.

The two walked away. Each cursing their own cowardice for not continuing the previous form of address.

 

Chapter Text

The auditorium was abuzz with the chatter of the students, including the four who had made themselves scarce at the breakfast meeting. However, Angie and her associates seemed to only be talking amongst themselves, whereas the others were more about sharing information.

"So those three rooms were all empty, then?" Momota clarified.

Harukawa nodded. "And apparently we have a locked door and a locked building to go with it."

"This whole thing reeks," Iruma complained. "What kind of shitshow are we running that we only really got two new rooms?"

"Angie's lab and the Computer room," Saihara acknowledged. "I have a theory, but I need some more information before I commit to it."

"Well, we're about to get our chance," Akamatsu claimed, pointing toward the nearby stage. As if on cue, Monokuma made himself readily available for a battery of questions.

"Okay, okay," Monokuma began. "I assume you're curious about what's going on with the new floor."

"And Tenko's lab," Yumeno added.

"Yeah, that too. So, first thing's first. The other locked door would lead into Shinguuji-kun's lab," the bear explained.

"But why can't we open it?" Hoshi asked.

"Simple!" Monokuma cheered. "If you find a student's research lab after they're already dead, it'll be locked. So, no dice for either of those."

"So, if we found, say, Shirogane-san's lab, it would also be locked, correct?" Toujou inquired.

"Way to pay attention!" Monokuma congratulated. "But that's not why I called you all here."

"Is this the new motive?" Saihara wondered.

"You kids are on a roll today, I love it!" Monokuma affirmed. "Speaking of rolls: roll it on out, boys!"

The three Monokuma Cubs moved a rolling platform to the center of the gym. Said platform had a set of two small chambers atop it. Either chamber was linked to the one next to it, and there was a door on either side. Once the platform had come to a stop, the Cubs made themselves scarce once more.

"Is that... a confessional?" Akamatsu asked, finding the object somewhat familiar.

"The key to any given lockdown scenario is a place to blow off steam," Monokuma exposited. "As such, I'd like to offer you the chance to talk about your feelings in a safe environment."

Harukawa wasn't buying it. "What's the catch?"

"Upupupupu... well, if you must know... Father Monokuma's a bit of a gossip."

"Father Monokuma?" Yumeno parroted back.

"I think he means it in the religious context," Saihara theorized. "It's not a confessional like on reality TV, it's a confessional like in a church."

"So, if we tell you our secrets, you'll tell them to other people? Then why would we want to tell you anything?!" Iruma argued.

"Simply put, it's the only way to stop me," Monokuma countered.

"Stop you?" Momota repeated.

"I've already got my hands on a few very special secrets, which I'll share with anyone who shares with me," Monokuma taunted, "But if you tell me the secret I've already got on you, I'll toss that one out."

"And if we share a different secret?" Akamatsu questioned.

Monokuma shrugged. "Then I'll add it to my stockpile."

"Alright, I think I follow here," Saihara said, attempting to summarize. "Anyone can confess any secret they want to you. And once they do, you'll share another secret with them. You've already got at least one secret on each of us. If the confessor confesses the secret you already have on them, you'll throw it out, and they don't have to worry about anyone learning their secret. But if they confess something else, you'll add that to the list of secrets you can share."

"More or less," Monokuma acknowledged.

"But what about the secrets people confess that you end up adding?" the detective continued, "Are those impossible to remove?"

"That's right! After all, if you were willing to tell me, you must not care if anyone finds out!"

It was hard to argue with Monokuma's logic in that regard. Though, all-in-all, this motive was a very off-putting prospect. It wasn't clear what secrets Monokuma already had on him, and blindly confessing wasn't going to get anything done.

However, one student already stepped forward.

"Harumaki, what are you-?"

Before Momota could finish his query, Harukawa had made her way into one of the two booths, and Monokuma jumped into the other as quick as he could.

The other students waited with bated breath. As to be expected, the two booths were soundproofed, so they couldn't tell what was being said. It only took about 3 minutes before the doors opened again.

Harukawa stepped out, not looking all that different from her usual demeanor, while Monokuma looked a bit frustrated.

"Like I thought, it's our darkest secrets," Harukawa assessed.

"Yeah..." Monokuma replied, clearly upset he had been found out so quickly.

"Wait," Momota interjected, "you just told him your darkest secret like that?"

"Does it matter?" Harukawa countered. "He already knew to begin with. Now I don't have to worry about anyone else finding out."

"But now you also know someone else's," Akamatsu commented. "Don't suppose you're willing to share?"

"Ah-ah-ah!" Monokuma taunted. "Sharing a secret means it stops being a secret. On some level, telling someone else destroys the secret entirely. And according to academy rules..."

"We can't destroy anything related to a 'motive'," Saihara finished. "So we can't share any of the secrets we learn from you when we confess."

"Now, where would be the fun in that?" Monokuma countered.

This was a somewhat odd approach compared to previous motives. The ticking clock was simple and to the point. The videos preyed on paranoia and confusion, though even then, needed Ouma's interference to get the job done. But this one trapped the students between a rock and a hard place.

If they did not make use of the confessional, then anyone who did was likely to learn the secrets of those who abstained. Some would go to any lengths to protect their secrets, as Harukawa had already made clear.

However, those who did confess would find themselves in possession of possibly dangerous information. Information that they would not be allowed to share. This would not only put a target on their back, but possibly compel them to do something rash. And this time, they wouldn't even be allowed the option to warn the others about what they knew.

As this conundrum occurred to each of the individual students, Monokuma chuckled. "Upupupu... well, that's all from me. If you wanna talk, though, you know where to find me!"

Monokuma leapt into his booth once more, and slammed the door behind him.

As it became clear Monokuma was not going to budge, the class began to discuss this new motive.

"So, do we start confessing?" Yumeno wondered aloud.

"Like hell!" Iruma protested. "I don't know about you dumbasses, but I ain't telling anyone anything."

"You fail to account for the fact that Monokuma already has your darkest secret," Toujou reminded the inventor. "It's not as though you would be telling him something he doesn't know."

"Well, what if I confessed something else?" Iruma argued. "What if my idea of a 'darkest secret' is different from his?"

The foul-mouthed girl had a point. None of them could truly be certain what Monokuma had meant by their darkest secret. Thus far, the only one with any understanding was Harukawa.

"Harukawa-san," Akamatsu chimed in, "I know you're not allowed to talk about the secret you learned. And I get that you don't want us to know your darkest secret. But..."

"Don't worry," the red-eyed girl cut off. "What I now know is not enough to make me kill someone."

The pianist sighed in relief. "Thank goodness."

"So that just leaves the question," Saihara interjected, "should we confess or not?"

"I guess... raise your hands if you want to confess," Akamatsu offered.

Harukawa raised her hand, feeling she was somewhat obligated.

A few seconds went by with no one moving an inch.

However, quick as a flash, the long silent trio of Angie, Kiibo, and Gonta all raised their hands in support.

"Angie has always believed that confessing is good for the soul, and God totally wants us to do it!"

"Well, okay, but... four votes still isn't enough," Akamatsu pointed out.

"Angie knows that and all, but c'mon, you guys! God's telling us the right call!"

"Gonta agrees with Angie, and God hasn't steered Gonta wrong yet."

"I also feel that this is for the best," Kiibo affirmed.

The mechanical student's words left a few tilting their heads. "Wait, you believe in God?" Momota asked.

"Indeed. The existence of a God seems quite logical to me," Kiibo replied.

"What exactly does a robot gain from religion?" Toujou inquired.

"Well, I admit it seems odd on the surface of it, but it explains a lot from my perspective," Kiibo informed them. "You see, I have often heard a voice within me, guiding me when I am lost or confused. And Angie-san's teaching have helped me to realize that this is God watching over me."

"I HEAR VOICES IN MY HEAD! THEY COUNSEL ME, THEY UNDERSTAND..."

The group all turned to face their last commenter, the strangely quiet Ouma. His loud outburst gained him the ear of everyone in the room, though none of them knew the meaning of his strange claim.

He simply wore a look of disappointment. "Just me? Really? Aw..."

"Like, OMG, Kokichi! Are you saying you also believe in God?" Angie asked, excitably.

Ouma merely quirked an eyebrow. He paused for a moment before hanging his head low. He spoke out softly, in a very serious tone. "Your God... are they... forgiving?"

"In what regard?" Angie clarified.

"Well... the more I think about it," Ouma began to sniffle. "The more I start to think I was wrong before. That maybe Chabashira-san's death really was my fault."

"Because it was," Yumeno kept to herself.

"I know I can't bring her back," Ouma said with a sob, "And I know the others still won't forgive me, but... maybe... maybe God can... UWAAAAAHHHNNN!!!!"

As Ouma broke into yet another outpouring of tears, Angie rushed over and took the shorter boy into a comforting hug.

"It's okay, Kokichi. God knows that you were trying to do something good. And God's gonna talk with Tenko's spirit, and he's gonna make her see that too."

"Then... she doesn't hate me?" Ouma asked.

"Of course not," Angie replied, now stroking the dictator's hair. "Hate doesn't do anyone any good. God's there for you. And so am I."

Ouma smiled, and it seemed almost real this time. "Thank you, Angie-san..."

Angie gave a similar smile and turned to the other students. "See what happens when you let God into your heart? Even someone like Kokichi, who seemed, like, super-mean can become a better person! That's why I'd like to extend an open invitation to join us!"

"Join what, precisely?" Harukawa inquired.

"The Art Club!" Angie explained. "We meet up in my lab, and we discuss how God affects us, and we can express our love of God and our fellow man through art! And I think we just got our fourth member!"

Ouma smirked. "That sounds great, Angie-san!"

"Alright, let's take you back to the lab, so we can talk, mmkay?!"

The group of four made their way out of the auditorium, Ouma briefly shooting his fellow students one of his old-fashioned glares.

His message was clear.

He was planning again.

"Seriously, are we gonna do something about that piece of shit?" Iruma wondered.

"We can't now," Saihara noted. "Angie-san's club will likely try to protect him, and well... Gonta-kun is part of their group."

"So, what, we let him pull more of his crap?" Iruma shot back.

"For now, we just have to keep our eyes peeled," Akamatsu countered. "Ouma's dangerous, but he's not reckless. It'll probably be a while before he does anything else."

"So now what?" Hoshi threw out.

"I think we've gotten all we can get done today," the pianist responded. "Best we just sleep on it, and come up with new ideas in the morning."

The class muttered some general agreements and all went their separate ways.

Soon Harukawa was the only one left. And she stood in contemplation. Ouma had made an unexpected move.

But he wasn't the only one who could do that.


 

As Akamatsu made her way to the grassy area by the dorms, in preparation for her nightly work-outs, she was greeted by her three compatriots not hard at work. Rather, they were sitting in a circle, with the boys looking confused while Harukawa wore a rather grim visage.

"Good, you're here," the faux-caretaker commented. "Now we can begin."

"Begin what?" Akamatsu asked.

"We need to talk strategy."

 

Chapter Text

The group remained silent for a moment. Akamatsu sat down and took a breath before she began. "Okay. I get that you can be high-strung and everything, Harukawa-san, but what exact 'strategy' do we need to discuss?"

"We need to figure out what we, as a group, are going to do about Angie," Harukawa replied.

"Harumaki, Angie's not doing anything wrong," Momota interjected. "I thought this was about Ouma."

"We'll get to him," she reassured the astronaut, "but he's still planning his next move. Angie's plan is already in motion."

"What plan are you talking about?" Akamatsu questioned. "She's just gathering up some friends to hang out with."

"Friends who follow her lead," Harukawa countered, "Friends who agree with her on decisions. And in a majority-rules system, that's dangerous."

"If those four consistently vote together, they only ever need 3 people to agree with them to get what they want," Saihara noted.

"And she's not done recruiting," Harukawa added. "Couple that with the fact that Toujou goes with whatever she thinks is the majority regardless of her own opinion..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down!" Akamatsu replied. "Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves? Even if Angie's trying to get more say in things, that's not necessarily bad, right? As long as she doesn't do anything reckless..."

"And if she does, we won't be able to stop her," the assassin explained. "If we let her go around unchecked, we run the risk of her taking over the entire group. Or worse..."

"Worse?" Saihara repeated.

"Hypothetically, let's say Angie were to die. If her group stays together, and leadership were to stay within that group, who would have the charisma to keep everyone under their heel?"

"Ouma-kun," Akamatsu realized. "You think he's thinking that far ahead?"

"Well, he doesn't really feel guilt for his actions, that's for sure," Harukawa scoffed. "I don't know that he physically can."

"So, wait, is he gonna off Angie like he did to Chabashira?" Momota asked. "Shouldn't we warn her?"

"I don't know if she'll listen. She's so wrapped up in her 'God' nonsense, that I don't think she'll listen to reason," the red-eyed girl theorized.

"Well, we can't just leave her in the lurch!" Momota yelled back. "No matter what she's up to, she's still our friend!"

Harukawa sighed. "If that's how you feel, why not join the Art Club?"

"Huh?"

"That's my idea. One of us joins the Art Club and keeps an eye on her and the others," Harukawa revealed.

"How about I do it instead?" Akamatsu offered.

"You can't. You're the reason she's formed it," the faux-caretaker countered.

"I am?"

"Yes. You made yourself into the leader, and this whole thing is just her power move to try and take that away. As soon as she thinks she can take control of the group, she'll turn the Art Club into some kind of student council or something," Harukawa explained.

"Assuming you're right about Angie, that counts me out," Akamatsu acknowledged. "Well... why not you?"

"Do you really trust me to pretend to be nice to her?"

Akamatsu paused. "I... don't want to answer that. So which of the guys then?"

"I think Harumaki's onto something," Momota replied. "I could watch 'em and I could totally keep Ouma in check while I'm at it."

"I only have one question in regards to that," Harukawa countered. "Are you willing to accept the possibility that Angie could be the one who's up to something, while Ouma's just goofing around?"

"Goofing around? That guy?"

"And that answers that," the twin-tailed girl muttered.

"Well, I guess that leaves me," Saihara considered.

"Saihara-kun, do you think you can do that?" Akamatsu asked, sounding a little worried.

The black-haired boy gave a sheepish grin. "It would be nice to use my talent for something other than a murder case."

"You would have to lie to her for long periods of time," Harukawa reminded him. "You may even have to pretend to side with her over Momota or Akamatsu."

"I... I want to keep everyone safe," Saihara declared. "If this is the best way to do it, I should at least try, right?"

"Look at you, Shuuichi! You're really finding your fighting spirit!" the astronaut commended.

Akamatsu remained wary. "Just... don't do anything too dangerous, okay?"

"Right," the detective nodded.

"So we're agreed? Saihara will pretend to join the Art Club and keep us abreast of what they're planning?" Harukawa summarized.

The others nodded in agreement.

"Okay then, next topic," Harukawa continued.

"There's more?" Saihara asked.

"You should know," Harukawa replied. "You said you had a theory earlier today. About the locked rooms."

"Oh!" Saihara recalled. "Well, it was basically what Monokuma ended up saying. I figured it couldn't be coincidence that the two labs we couldn't access belonged to dead students."

"Any other ideas buzzing 'round that head of yours?" Momota inquired.

Saihara pondered this for a moment. "I... I do have one thing."

"What is it?" Akamatsu wondered.

"It's something Shirogane-san said. That Akamatsu-san... dying... was part of some sort of plan," Saihara reminded the others, his tongue tripping over the idea of the pianist's demise.

Akamatsu simply nodded in recollection. She had gone over Shirogane's breakdown in her head time and again. Desperately trying to piece together some sort of understanding of the cosplayer's actions. Thus far, to no success.

"Monokuma acted like Shirogane-san was a very small piece of his plan. Like losing her was no big deal. But the locked rooms make me think otherwise," Saihara revealed.

"It's just a coincidence, isn't it?" Momota countered.

"Maybe," Saihara granted. "But I still think it's odd that we just happened to be given access to the labs of two deceased students in one go. Remember that Monokuma built this school specifically for us, and therefore, for the Killing Game."

Harukawa continued his thought process. "Which means, the order of what rooms would be revealed was predetermined. He could change what rooms we'd get outside on a whim, but the ones inside were set in stone."

"Regardless of who was killed in the previous trial, we were going to get access to Shinguuji-kun and Angie-san's labs. If Shinguuji-kun's death was part of Monokuma's overall plan, then that would mean his lab was only going to be used to introduce the rule about locked labs," the detective reasoned.

"So giving us Chabashira's too would just be redundant," Momota concluded.

"So... if Monokuma really did have some master scheme in mind," Akamatsu finally spoke up, "does that mean we're... not going with what he planned?"

"Maybe not," Saihara hedged. "I think it's a bit too soon to tell. But if Shirogane-san was telling the truth about there being a plan, it seems that it isn't a foolproof one."

"Alright!" Momota cheered.

Harukawa responded by quirking an eyebrow. "What are you so happy about?"

"Don't you get it? This means we've got a fighting chance! That dumbass bear thought he could outsmart us, but he was damn wrong!" Momota explained. "He wasn't ready for just how tough we are, and whatever plan he had's gonna crash and burn!"

"I like the way you think," Akamatsu replied with a grin.

"It's certainly not impossible," Saihara agreed.

"Something's only impossible until someone does it," Momota recounted. "Words to live by."

"You really are an idiot, aren't you?" Harukawa deadpanned.

"Hey! They don't let idiots into the space program!" the purple-haired boy shot back.

"If it's all the same, there's one more thing that's been on my mind for a while," Akamatsu interrupted.

The three snapped to attention.

"When Shirogane-san was," Akamatsu took a breath before continuing. "When she was executed, um... did her outfit seem... familiar?"

The others looked at the pianist with their confusion quite readily apparent. Commenting on the dead's sense of fashion was certainly odd, to say the least.

"Well, she was the Ultimate Cosplayer, remember? So, when they dressed her up, I think whoever she was meant to look like was a big deal," the blonde shared. "I know I know the design from something. I don't know if it was a movie, or a tv show, or a game, or whatever, but I know I've seen that character before."

Momota shrugged his shoulders. "I don't really follow pop culture. Astronaut training eats up my time."

"I had a bad experience with cosplay once," Harukawa alluded. "I'm not going to explain what happened, but the point is, I know nothing about cosplay that would help."

Saihara scratched his head. "The outfit did seem familiar. But I'm just as in the dark as you are about what character it was supposed to be."

"Is this important?" Harukawa questioned.

"Monokuma doesn't do anything without a reason," Akamatsu countered. "There's some sort of significance to what character she was dressed as, and it may have been some kind of hint."

Momota yawned. "Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm beat. I think that's enough for the night." As he stood up, he stumbled.

"You okay, Kaito?" Saihara asked.

"Oh... I just... stood up too fast. Got a little dizzy. I'm good," the astronaut brushed off. "I'm gonna hit the hay."

"Wait, you're not working out with us?" Akamatsu clarified.

"Well, you know, kind of a long day."

"You spent most of it napping," Harukawa reminded him.

"No need for the third degree, Harumaki, I'll train twice as hard tomorrow to make up for it," Momota offered. "Cross my heart." With that, he finally made his exit.

"He truly is one of the dumbest people I've ever known," Harukawa lamented.

"He may not be bright, but he's got a good heart," Akamatsu argued. "And isn't that what's important?"

"In a life or death situation? No," the faux-caretaker stated rather plainly. Without much fanfare, she began her set of sit-ups, prompting the other two to do the same.

In a matter of moments, Harukawa had finished her set, whereas Akamatsu and Saihara still had a good ways to go.

"I'm going to bed," she announced, as she, too, moved toward the dorms in the distance.

This left Akamatsu and Saihara on their own once more. And this left them in an odd place. Their last bit of one-on-one time had ended on a less-than-stellar note for the both of them. Each considering taking a step forward, though ultimately keeping things stagnant. Silent sit-ups did nothing to ease the tension. If anything, they only served to exacerbate it. Between the elevated heart rates and rushing endorphins, the two were left rather anxious about what was to come.

As the two stood up, roughly around the same time as one another, they prepared to head back.

"I guess, since you're joining the Art Club... this is goodbye?" Akamatsu pointed out.

The words were like a splash of cold water. Saihara knew that he was best suited to the infiltrator role, but socializing was awkward enough. Having to be separated from the people he knew he could get along with was going to be tricky. Especially if he had to pretend to oppose Akamatsu.

Regardless, he mustered up some resolve and made a different claim. "It's more of a 'see you soon', right?"

The pianist smiled. "Yeah. That sounds better."

"Well, I'll see you soon..." Saihara gulped. He tried as hard as he could to summon some courage. She had started it, right? So it would be okay? But it was accidental, so maybe he shouldn't. He wrestled with his options until-

"Okay. Goodnight Saihara-kun!"

As Akamatsu walked away, waving goodbye, Saihara was left to wonder if he would've said "Kaede."

All the same, Akamatsu made it all the way back to her dorm room, and shut the door behind her. She very calmly made her way to the head of her bed, and lifted one of the pillows up to her face.

And began to scream in frustration.

The blonde girl collapsed onto her mattress and began to emotionally beat herself up over her own cowardice.

"I keep saying we need to face the truth!" she ranted to no one. "So why can't I just say it? I'm sure he..." She blushed without even finishing the thought. In a fit, she tossed the pillow aside and let out a sigh.

"Just admit it, Akamatsu," she told herself, "You like him."

 

Chapter Text

The next morning was one governed by tension. Multiple concerns were placed on the group all at once, and none of them were given viable solutions. Yumeno was still mourning the loss of Chabashira. Harukawa was trying to juggle a number of loyalties at once. Saihara was preparing to face a similar problem. Ouma still had yet to be dealt with. Angie's possible coup was waiting in the wings. And of course, the motive. What Monokuma's intent was remained unclear, but history had shown that something innocuous could result in disaster if left unchecked.

And with all this in mind, Akamatsu addressed the group, "Okay. No judgment, I just want honesty. Did anyone use the confessional yet?"

The others remained quiet. If anyone had done so, they clearly didn't feel the need to be forthcoming about it.

The pianist nodded. "I choose to take that as a no. But I just want to say, even if you can't tell us whatever secret it is you learn, I want you to feel welcome to let us know if you've used the confessional. We won't think less of you for it."

Again, this prompted no response. Angie decided to break the ice. "Angie has a few things she'd like to share, if that's okay, Kaede?"

Akamatsu was cautious. If Harukawa was right, and Angie did intend to seize power, then this could be considered a chance to establish a foothold. However, there was no real reason to not let her speak, therefore, "Go right ahead."

"Coolio!" Angie replied. "So, like, Angie and the rest of the Art Club talked with Kokichi, and he's ready to get something off his chest."

Ouma stood up, casting his gaze downward before beginning to speak. "Yumeno-chan."

"Hmm?" the mage intoned.

"I know you'll probably never forgive me for what happened to Chabashira-chan. You're right to be mad. I did a bad, bad thing. But... God told me that I should do what I can to make up for it. So..."

The short-statured boy walked over to Yumeno, and presented his face, his eyes shut tight, as if he was anticipating something. "If it makes you feel better, hit me as hard as you can."

Yumeno pondered this. Well, she did for about half a second. Once that was done, it was followed by the redhead delivering a very solid punch to the boy's jaw. With a great 'thud', Ouma collapsed to the ground in a heap.

"I'm still mad," Yumeno punctuated.

"And that's okay," Angie reassured.

Ouma, still on the ground, disagreed. "For who?!"

Angie chose to ignore the complaints and continued, "Anger is, like, totally natural after everything you've been through. But, like, do you think Tenko would've wanted you to be angry forever?"

Yumeno was taken aback. "I... I don't know."

"Just listen for her, you know?" Angie made her way to the shorter girl, and wrapped her up in a warm hug. "If you just listen, you'll hear not just Tenko, but God. And God'll help you work out how to face your feelings. That's what Tenko wanted for you, remember?"

"Isn't listening to the dead what caused the problem?" Iruma reminded her.

"I don't think that's the point, here," Hoshi remarked.

"If I listen, I can hear Tenko..." Yumeno mumbled. "Maybe... maybe I hear something..."

Angie beamed, and let Yumeno out of her grip. "Y'see! This is what happens when you just let God into your heart! Amazing things can happen."

"Gonta is confused," the entomologist whispered to Kiibo. "Is Chabashira-san God?"

"Perhaps God is taking the form of Chabashira-san," Kiibo theorized. "Angie-san said God appears however you need them to."

Gonta nodded at the robot's sage words.

"A friendly reminder that the Art Club's always looking for new members!" Angie cheered, "So if anyone wants to join..."

"Actually..."

Saihara's words caught those not in the know off-guard. The other three members of the Fitness Club feigned surprise, as the detective set their deception into motion.

"Saihara-chan," Ouma commented, working his way back to his feet. "Having second thoughts about where you belong?

"Well, it's just..." Saihara began, "I feel powerless sometimes. Like I'm not good enough. If I was half the Ultimate Detective that I supposedly am, I would have figured everything out already. But all I'm good for is figuring things out after the problem's already happened. Maybe... maybe I could use some guidance. Maybe... maybe you guys can help."

Harukawa nodded in affirmation, pleased that the plan appeared to be working. Momota quirked an eyebrow at the speech, but saw nothing wrong with it. Akamatsu, however, was a different story.

Saihara, for all his skills, was not a particularly good liar. Akamatsu could tell that his concerns, even if he was using them to his advantage for the sake of the plan, were all too real. How long had he been carrying this? Why hadn't they noticed it before? She wanted to tell him that he didn't need to feel that way. That he had proven himself more than enough times already.

But if they were going to move forward, she would have to count on Angie to do it for her. And that stung.

"Don't feel so down on yourself, Shuuichi," Angie said, consoling the black-haired boy. "We're all impressed by what you've done. And if not for you, Tsumugi, like, would've totally screwed us over right at the start."

"I feel like I had more to do with that, but..." Ouma muttered.

"If you let God guide you, you'll totally find the clues you've been looking for," Angie continued, either not having heard the dictator's comment, or electing to ignore it.

"But, if I let God do it, isn't that admitting I can't do it myself?" Saihara wondered.

Angie trapped Saihara in one of her increasingly infamous hugs, and brushed away his concerns. "It's not wrong to ask for help. God's proud of you, and His guidance is His way of showing his thanks for all your hard work."

Saihara, for his part, seemed rather uncomfortable with the touchy-feely nature of Angie's attempt at comfort. Which caught Ouma's attention. "Fun, aren't they?" he taunted. "Makes you feel like a kitten."

Akamatsu, on the other hand, was not uncomfortable with this turn of events. No, no. The word 'seething' would be far more appropriate, though she did what she could to conceal this. Not that it was working all that well.

"Artsy better steer clear of Bakamatsu if she knows what's good for her," Iruma whispered to Toujou.

The silver-haired girl simply nodded.

The pianist cleared her throat, catching Angie's attention, thus causing her to end her grip on the detective. "Is that all you had to say, Angie-san?"

Angie, not being completely ignorant of her faux pas, replied, "Yeah, Angie's all done. Okay! Angie and the rest of the Art Club are gonna head to Angie's lab. Anyone's free to come with! Bye-onara!"

Angie and her three prior recruits made their way out of the room. Yumeno seemed hesitant for a moment before she, too, left the cafeteria. Saihara steeled his resolve and followed along.

Momota and Harukawa shared a knowing glance, seeing that the plan was in motion. Akamatsu took a number of deep breaths to try and calm herself down.

They did not help.


 

Angie's lab had been set up with a circle of chairs in the middle of the large open space that took up most of the room. The two new prospects sat across from the four current members of the Art Club, feeling not unlike contestants on some sort of televised singing competition.

"Alrighty! Himiko and Shuuichi are here and that means we can really get going! Angie's totes excited to have you guys here!" the artist exclaimed.

"Same," Ouma commented. "Mostly Himiko-chan, though. With just me and Gonta-chan, we really needed a girl."

"Why did you not include me in your list?" Kiibo inquired.

"Eh??? So is that the secret? You don't have a dick because you're actually a fembot?" Ouma replied.

"That is not important nor is it your concern!" Kiibo protested, "Why did you not consider me part of the club?"

"Ohhh..." Ouma realized. "That's 'cuz you're a robot. You're more like equipment, right?"

"Kokichi, what have we said about robo-racism?" Angie reminded him.

The dictator sighed. "Occasionally funny, but mostly hurtful."

"Exactly."

"Seems Angie-san's group is about as discordant as everyone else," Saihara whispered to Yumeno.

"Ouma-kun'll do that," Yumeno agreed.

The detective nodded and proceeded to address the rest of the room. "So, what sort of things do we do in Art Club? Sculpting? Painting?"

Gonta chuckled. "You can't make art until you've made your peace with God, Saihara-kun."

"Gonta-kun is correct, you have to trust God's voice in your mind, so he may speak through your art," Kiibo explained.

"Artists listening to the voices in their head? Un-possible!" Ouma cracked.

"No, it's like super-possible!" Angie cheered, not noticing the insult. "Now, back home, we had a lot of really complicated rituals that could let you be at one with God. Usually involving being at one with your fellow man."

Saihara and Yumeno exchanged frightened glances at this statement, both silently hoping they had misinterpreted what Angie had just told them.

"But we've got an even better way now! So you two just need to complete this little initiation and you'll be fine," Angie reassured.

Saihara breathed a sigh of relief, before quickly turning back to concern. "What do you mean by 'initiation'?"

Angie cast her gaze upon the two new members of the club. Her eyes beginning to glaze over, making her seem dead inside yet overwhelming all at once.

"Confess your sins."


 

It wasn't long before Saihara and Yumeno were ferried to the gymnasium where Monokuma's confession booth lay. The implications of 'confessing their sins' carried this possibility with it, though the two had again both prayed they had misinterpreted.

"This is a bad idea," Saihara protested. "Using this motive is playing right into Monokuma's hands."

"It's actually not that scary," Angie countered. "Angie's confessed plenty of times."

"Wait, you mean you've used this thing more than once?" Yumeno questioned.

"Well, yeah," Angie answered, not seeing the problem. "Every time Angie confesses she feels a weight lift off her shoulders, and Angie gets a little closer to God."

"She's right," Gonta agreed. "Gonta feels a lot better after confessing too."

"I experience a similar sensation," Kiibo added.

The united front made the concept seem so non-threatening, yet the one hold-out was cause for concern.

"What about you, Ouma-kun?" Saihara wondered.

Ouma put his finger to his chin in contemplation. "Well, no matter if I say yes or no... won't you just assume I'm lying?"

Yumeno offered a dissheveled grunt in response.

"See, there's no point in answering," the shorter boy argued.

"So it's no big deal, Shuuichi!" Angie exclaimed, patting the detective on the back. "Odds are you'll just hear something minor one of us confessed, anyway."

Angie had a good point. Eliminating the possibility of someone learning his darkest secret was tempting to Saihara. And with the Art Club's apparent habit of confessing regularly, it was likely he would only hear something about one of them taking an extra cookie when they were 4, or something equally banal.

Saihara looked to Yumeno, wanting to get her opinion on the matter before committing to this. However, Yumeno merely gestured toward the booth in response, clearly indicating she wanted him to go first. This game of chicken did not last however, as Saihara began the walk toward the booth, his legs feeling like lead the whole way.

The door moved carefully open with Saihara's guidance, and closed behind him as he sat upon the stool before him. As to be expected, to his right, a small window opened, through which he heard a familiar voice.

"Well, well, well. Didn't expect to see you 'round here. At least not this soon, anyway! Upupupupu!"

Monokuma's words did not do anything to shake Saihara, as he kept focused on the task at hand.

"All I do is admit to my darkest secret, let you tell me another one, and I'm done, right?" he asked.

"But of course!" Monokuma exclaimed. "And I'll even make sure no one gets to hear your secret, no extra charge."

Saihara inhaled deeply through his nose, and prepared to speak. "Okay. You want to hear my secret? Well... here it is..."

 

Chapter Text

--FREE TIME--

A rapping of knocks at the door stirred Momota from his nap. It wasn't particularly common for the astronaut to lounge around all day, but he had been feeling rather lethargic lately, and it was a good counter to his recent problems. But with a visitor at his doorstep, it was only natural to walk over and let them in.

The door swung open as Momota brushed the crust from his eyes. "Oh, hey, Akamatsu!"

The pianist gave a quick look behind her before stealing away into the astronaut's room, closing the door behind her.

"Whoa, you okay?" the purple-haired boy asked.

"Saihara-kun left a note under my door, progress report," Akamatsu explained in a hushed tone.

Momota nodded. It had been decided Saihara would take a brief leave of absence from nightly training so as not to arouse suspicion from the Art Club. As such, small notes were now their primary form of correspondence with him. Momota's suggestion that Saihara leaving Akamatsu notes wouldn't bat any eyebrows was immediately approved by Harukawa. Much to the embarassment of the other two parties.

"Turns out, Angie-san and her group have been using the confessional on a fairly regular basis. Saihara-kun even had to use it to gain their trust," Akamatsu recounted.

"So they fucking lied?!" Momota exclaimed. "Shit. Don't they know how dangerous that is?"

"Yeah, I know, it sucks," Akamatsu acknowledged, "but there's not really anything we can do about it. If we let them know we know, we'll blow Sh-... Saihara-kun's cover. We need to let him do his thing for now."

Momota merely smirked.

"What?" the pianist asked.

"You were about to call him Shuuichi, right?" he said, grinning ear-to-ear.

"Eh?! No, no!" Akamatsu defended. "I was just... uh..."

"You two've gotten there, huh? Cool."

"You've got that wrong!" the pianist protested. "We're just friends."

Momota quirked an eyebrow. "But is that all you are? Really?"

"I... I..." the blonde scrounged for words before ultimately collapsing, defeated. "Okay, I like him. Happy?!"

"Akamatsu, it's fine," Momota reassured. "I'm psyched. He's totally head-over-heels for you, and you like him back. This is a good thing. Best thing that's happened since we got here, really."

"But..." the blonde girl cast her gaze downward. "I can't do that to him. I can't."

"Can't do what?"

"I lied to his face!" Akamatsu exclaimed. "I... I used him to set up a murder. I... I already kinda thought he might like me and I just... used that."

"He doesn't care about that," Momota countered.

"Well, I do!" Akamatsu shot back. "I can't even look at him without being reminded how much I treated him like shit. And the craziest thing? In spite of all that, I still like him! I still want to be with him. What kind of selfish prick am I?"

Momota took a moment to absorb all of this information, and took a deep breath. He sat on his mattress, and patted it to his side twice, indicating he would like his guest to sit with him. The pianist hesistated a bit, though ultimately complied.

"Look, we're all a little selfish," Momota began, "I mean, I forced my way into the astronaut program. I broke a lot of laws, probably could've cost some people their jobs, and nearly put my family in jail just for knowing me because of my stupid dream. And you know why none of it mattered?"

"Why?"

"Because I wanted it bad enough," the astronaut explained. "I was willing to risk all of that if it meant I could see space up close and personal. And I ended up getting what I wanted because I fought for it. Anything that any of us fight for, we fight because we want it. Every ounce of determination and grit we use, on some level, we use for our own gain."

"And isn't that bad?" Akamatsu questioned.

"I don't think so. I just think it makes us people. No one's perfect. We all do shitty stuff, and we want things we probably shouldn't. It's knowing where the line is that makes us good or bad people. And frankly, Shuuichi's so gaga over you that the worst thing you could do to him is keep leading him on," Momota revealed.

"Really?" the blushing blonde replied.

"Yes, but if you tell him I told you that, I'll deny it," Momota warned. "The point is, either let him know that it's not happening or get over yourselves and start dating. Either way, it'll make it a lot easier on both of you."

Akamatsu smiled, and wrapped up Momota in a hug. "Thanks Momota-kun. I needed that."

"Yeah, yeah," he responded, lifting her arm from it's place around his chest. "Now, I'm gonna take a shower. You're welcome to stay, but..."

"No, no. I can take a hint. We'll talk later. But one more thing..." Akamatsu said, making her way to the door.

"What?"

The pianist had just slipped out the door and was prepared to slam it shut before advising, "Take your own advice. Talk to Harukawa-san." And the door closed with a thug.

Momota gave a wistful smile to no one as he pondered the idea. "Damn. I'm getting soft, aren't I? Heh heh... Heh heh heh heh *cough* aggh!"

The astronaut quickly brought his hand over his mouth to prevent the escape of the bodily discharge, though ultimately failed.

He pulled his hand back and saw it was now stained with blood.

"Fuck. It's getting worse."


 

Things were business as usual for Iruma. No one had made a point of bugging her lately, so she was free to work on her own pet projects. And all the better for it in her mind. Bakamatsu was so keen on bossing everyone around, making Iruma run all over the goddamn place and never finding anything. And Shyhara's little chore about the card reader had gotten them absolutely nowhere. Frankly, it was kind of surprising on some level that neither of them had forced her into another fool's errand by now.

Maybe they were finally banging. About time, really.

However, Iruma, golden-brained girl she was, was two steps ahead of them to begin with, having decided to give the gigantic computer a good once-over. That was what everyone wanted her to do, she just knew it. Except now, it was her choice. A subtle distinction, mind you, but an important one nonetheless.

The machine was a complicated piece of work, but an impressive one all the same. It was lacking in much functionality, as it didn't seem to have much in the way of connectivity, internal files, or anything that wasn't related to it's own processes, but it was hiding something big. And Iruma was going to find it.

Or she would have had she not been interrupted.

"Um... Iruma-san?"

The blonde turned to discover the identity of her visitor. It was none other than Kiibo, one of the few members of the class Iruma was willing to admit she liked. Usually.

"Please tell me you're not gonna get all preachy on me like Artsy," the inventor requested.

"Oh, no, no, no. I am not going to force my personal beliefs on you, that would be intrusive and altogether rude," Kiibo reassured.

"Wow. Most people never figure that out," Iruma remarked.

"Yes, well, more to the point, I need your help with something," Kiibo explained.

Iruma got a knowing smirk. "Oh-ho-ho, is that so? Need something from little ol' me? Yeah. I bet you do. What with you being a robot and all..."

Kiibo nodded. "Yes, yes. I fear I haven't been able to keep up regular maintenance."

"Can't have that!" Iruma chuckled. "Wouldn't want my favorite robo-boy being dysfunctional."

"Agreed. Even the word is uncomfortable for me," Kiibo admitted.

"Hey, no problem. You and me will meet up one-on-one sometime and we can work out any of your..." Iruma's voice became quite breathy as she finished with, "performance issues."

The mechanical boy smiled, and gave a polite bow. "I thank you in advance, Iruma-san!"

"And don't you worry, bud, I'll be gentle..." Iruma concluded.

"Good to hear." Kiibo walked out, once again missing the second layer of the conversation that had just transpired.

Iruma on the other hand was left on her own, to ponder a question that had plagued her for some time. A question that has left many great thinkers of our time scratching their heads, as they tried to puzzle together a proper answer.

"Is it more or less fun that he didn't get the joke?"


 

"Just hold still, Himiko! Angie's almost got this down!"

"Please hurry," the mage protested lightly.

Angie had decided that it would allow for a greater bonding experience if she could create a group portrait of the Art Club as a whole. She had little concern as to her ability to paint herself from memory alone, but all the same, had Yumeno striking a pose for her portion.

A somewhat awkward one, in which she was kneeling on a box in order to give Angie the necessary visual of her leaping into the air.

The two were interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Hold that pose!" Angie requested as she made her way to greet her visitor. The door opened to reveal Harukawa, giving her traditional death glare.

"Whoa, Maki! What's up?" Angie greeted.

"Just interested in what you were up to," the red-eyed girl replied. "I didn't know your lab had a lock."

"Oh, yeah! The Cubs gave Angie a key, and thank God, because Angie really likes her privacy while she's working, y'know?" Angie explained.

"Must be convenient. Not having to worry about anyone snooping around in your lab," Harukawa noted.

"Don't be silly, Maki. Anyone in the Art Club is always allowed in one of the other members' labs," Angie explained.

"So do they all have keys to your lab?" the red-eyed girl questioned.

"Nope, there's only the one. But Angie will let anyone from the Art Club in, as long as they ask. Didn't know it was you, though," the artist finished, her voice growing a bit stiff.

"I apologize for interrupting, then," Harukawa offered neutrally.

"Nah, it's cool, Angie wanted to mix up some extra paint anyway. Angie was running low," the artist brushed off.

That caught the faux-caretaker's attention. "You mix your own paint?"

"It's the only way to do it." Angie turned to address Yumeno. "Sit tight, okay? This might take a bit."

"Oh, good," Yumeno drawled.

As Angie made her way over to a veritable mountain of paint cans, Harukawa sidled up to Yumeno. "Is this really helping?"

"My legs are falling asleep but..." Yumeno began.

"No, I meant with what happened with Chabashira," Harukawa cut in. "You're doing this out of grief, I get that, but is it helping?"

Yumeno averted her eyes, not really being able to do much else, locked in her current pose. "It's better than nothing."

"Has Angie talked to you about Chabashira? Has anyone else?" Harukawa inquired.

The redhead pondered this. "Well... no..."

"Then all you're doing is ignoring it. That's the worst way you can go about this," Harukawa summarized.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do," Yumeno argued. "I miss her, but I know she did something bad, but she did it for all of us, but..."

Harukawa found herself in an interesting position. Though her claims of being an Ultimate Caretaker were lies, they were not completely unfounded. She did care for the younger children at the orphanage where she grew up. And one could argue that her financial support stemming from her assassin career was also offering care. But she never really considered that one talent could lend to the other, until this moment.

"There's this old movie I saw once," Harukawa recalled.

"Hmm?"

"It's about a hitman who goes to his high school reunion," the assassin recounted, "And, obviously, he connects with this girl he used to know. And there's the stupid romance storyline, and of course, she eventually finds out what he does for a living. She asks him how he justifies what he does. The answer always kind of stuck with me."

"What was it?" Yumeno asked.

"He says, 'If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.'"

Yumeno considered this for a moment. "Tenko killed Shinguuji-kun, but he did something to deserve it..."

"I don't think killing a bad person is a bad thing," Harukawa declared.

"Well, we all have, like, different opinions, right?" Angie replied, with a fresh set of paint in hand and a small mask over her nose and mouth.

"What's that for?" Yumeno asked.

"Paint fumes. Nasty stuff," Angie explained. "Now, hold still."

"I'll leave you to it," Harukawa said, walking away.

"Harukawa-san!" Yumeno called out.

Harukawa stopped in the entryway. "Yeah?"

"Thank you," the mage said.

"...you're welcome."

The twin-tailed girl left.


 

"Gonta promises it helps."

Hoshi had found himself standing before the confession booth in the gym. The former tennis pro never had any intention of spending his day hanging around Gonta, but it seemed everyone else had their own plans. It baffled Hoshi that he had not caught more attention, given his past. Granted, the present was filled with far more pressing concerns, but it shocked him that no one had ever grilled him for information on his time in prison.

It was almost as if that didn't matter to them.

And now, the one person he could talk to, Gonta, was instead suggesting he talk to Monokuma.

"What do I gain from talking to him?" Hoshi asked. "He already knows my secret. I already know my secret. Neither of us get anything new."

"Gonta doesn't really know how to explain it. Gonta's an idiot, after all. But, when Gonta told Monokuma his secret, it just... stopped feeling like it was so important. Like, saying it out loud made it feel... less. Does that make sense?" the entomologist reasoned.

Hoshi responded with a blunt, "Not really."

"Oh," Gonta replied, feeling dejected.

Looking upon the disappointed visage of the gentle giant, Hoshi was compelled to give his offer a chance. For all his bluster about how prison had hardened him, the shorter boy's heart was not yet made of stone.

"Alright, just give me a minute here."

Gonta nodded as Hoshi took a deep breath. The former athlete walked the emotionally draining path up to the confession booth, and moved inside. He sat upon the stool that awaited, and Monokuma spoke from the opposite side.

"Father Monokuma awaits you, my son. Tell me, what is it you wish to reveal?" the bear recited, far more invested in the bit than he needed to be.

Hoshi sighed. "I don't actually buy into any of this, you know."

"Reserve judgment until the job is done, my son," Monokuma replied, refusing to break character.

"Fine," Hoshi grumbled. "Well, talking about being Killer Tennis doesn't really have a point. Everyone knows about it. Kinda defines me. It will define me. Forever..."

"Do not dwell on the past so. Focus on what lies ahead, like sharing a doozy with me!" the headmaster encouraged.

"There's nothing to say," Hoshi muttered. "I killed them. They were criminal scum who got what they deserved. Maybe some of them had families or something, but, that never stopped them. Why should it have stopped me?"

"Is that all you wanted to say?" Monokuma wondered.

Hoshi was struck quiet as he thought about this. It took him a moment before he found his voice again. "I don't regret it."

"Hmm?"

"I don't regret it. Knowing what I know now, I'd kill all of them all over again," Hoshi proclaimed. "They ruined lives, hurt women, kids. Good people are sleeping safer at night because of me. I'll hate myself for the rest of my life for being a killer. I deserve to be in jail. But no one's ever gonna convince me I shouldn't have done what I did. 'Ryoma Hoshi doesn't regret being Killer Tennis'. There. That's my big secret."

"Indeed it is!" Monokuma cheered. "And it's a relatively tame one, actually."

"Tame?" Hoshi replied.

"Everything is relative, my son. Now, a reward for your honesty..."

Hoshi's breath hitched. He had forgotten about that aspect of the motive. What would Monokuma say to him? Would it compel him to do something terrible? Would it destroy his opinion of someone he'd otherwise consider a friend?

"Angie ate an extra piece of cake at a friend's birthday party when she was six."

"...what?"

"It's not my fault!" Monokuma complained. "She's confessing to basically everything she ever did! It's getting annoying. I'll take your secret out, now get going! I've got bigger fish to fry..."

Hoshi left without much fanfare, concerning himself very little with Monokuma's anguish.

Gonta was there to greet him as he returned. "So, how was it?"

Hoshi cracked a smirk. "Gonta, you're not as dumb as you say you are."


 

Ouma took great pleasure in the sound of the rushing water. The warm liquid pooled before him, the scent intoxicating.

"Toujou-chan, this is exactly what I needed right now."

"But of course," the maid replied, "whatever is necessary to help you calm down. Will you be needing anything more?"

"Mmm... I don't suppose I could trouble you for some honey? It might sound odd but..."

"Actually, I have it in abundance. Gonta-kun has been more than happy to supply us with plenty from his own hive."

"Nishishi... those creepy crawlies have their use after all."

"Indeed. In the meantime, please enjoy your tea."

As Toujou stole away to acquire Ouma's mix-in of choice, Ouma stirred the tea awaiting his consumption. Tea was a weakness of his, willing to take in just a bit to take the edge off, lest he snap and order his organization to storm a South American military complex armed with a rubber chicken and twelve yo-yos.

In any event, the only thing that could make this better, aside from the honey, was some company. Fortunately, with the cafeteria door open, company made itself available as the dictator spied a passerby.

"Hey! Saihara-chan!"

The detective stopped in his tracks as he turned to look at Ouma. "Did you need something?" he asked.

"Not really. But do you want some tea? Toujou-chan's skill shines through again."

Saihara hesitated. Ouma was hardly someone he wanted to spend any amount of time with, but he was also a member of the Art Club, meaning agreeing may lend credence to his supposed loyalty. "Sure, sounds good."

The black-haired boy made his way to the table and sat across from Ouma, pouring some tea for himself.

"Toujou-chan's bringing honey, if you're into that," Ouma commented.

"I am, actually," Saihara revealed.

"Oh goody, glad to see I'm not the only one."

Toujou returned rather quickly, jar in hand, and made a point of adding the sticky, sweet substance herself. "In the future I'll find a way to add this to the brewing process."

"It's really not that much trouble," Saihara reassured.

"Saihara-chan, please. Toujou-chan likes doing these things, don't try to take it away from her," Ouma argued.

Toujou proceeded to happily add honey to Saihara's brew, as the detective looked on unsettled. "Will you be needing anything else?" the maid asked.

"No, this was more than enough, thank you," Saihara replied.

Toujou nodded. "I'll leave you to it, then," she said, before departing for some other self-imposed task.

"And then there were two," Ouma noted.

"Yeah," Saihara offered.

"Aww... c'mon. Ask me something. You know you want to," Ouma encouraged. "I've always wanted to be interrogated by a master detective. It's half the fun of being evil."

Saihara's eyes narrowed. He knew by now Ouma was trying to bait him, but this was a rare opportunity to talk to the dictator one-on-one, and he couldn't let that slip by. "Why did you choose to join the Art Club?"

"Is it so hard to believe that I honestly feel regret for Chabashira-chan's death?" Ouma asked.

"Yes."

Ouma let out a low whistle in response. "Wow. Straight to the point. I respect that. But in all honesty, I think I joined for the same reason you did. Keep an eye on Angie-chan."

"You're not targeting her are you?" Saihara wondered.

"I plot one complicated murder scheme and everyone expects the worst from me," Ouma lamented. "I just don't understand why you're mad at me, but gave Akamatsu-chan a pass."

"That was... different," Saihara protested.

Ouma scratched his chin, as if in contemplation. "Lying to everyone about my intentions, setting up a murder where I didn't have to be on site when it happened, eliminating someone who I considered a threat... I fail to see what I did differently."

"Akamatsu-san... she wanted..."

"To protect you?" Ouma finished. "Of course she did. But you can't prove that wasn't my motive. Not to mention you need to take her at her word on that one."

"She wouldn't lie about this!" Saihara spat.

"Wouldn't she? She lied about Harukawa-chan working out with you guys during the last trial," Ouma reminded him. "She lies a lot, doesn't she? Plus she snatched up a leadership role. Who else do we know who lies and likes to be in control?"

Saihara was left trying to piece together some form of argument. Something to counter what Ouma was saying. But it seemed all of his logic had fled for greener pastures, as if to defend himself from reality.

"She and I are so similar," Ouma proposed. "So really, you have two options Saihara-chan. Suspect her like you do with me, or develop a big, obvious crush on me like you did with her. I'm fine with either option, really."

With that, Ouma stood up and made his way out of the room. "See you at the next meeting!"

Saihara sat in silence, gazing forlornly at a cup of tea that he no longer wanted. His mind wandered back. Back to a recently acquired piece of information. Something he had refused to acknowledge reared its ugly head once more.

"No... I refuse to believe that."

 

Chapter Text

Another day, another breakfast meeting. The students of Gifted Inmates Academy were beginning to get used to this daily ritual. Though whether or not this was actually in their best interest was a question none of them really wanted to address.

Akamatsu stepped in to distract them from that thought. "Alright, everyone. It's been a couple of days now, and it's been uneventful. Now, I like that! We could use more days like that. However, I'm starting to get worried that we haven't really gotten any closer to escaping this place. Any thoughts?"

"If you try to put me through that real-life 'I Wanna Be The Guy' thing again..." Iruma started.

Among Monokuma's many attempts to break the students' spirits was the promise of an escape route at the end of a tunnel full of impossible booby traps. The class had been bold enough to try a few times, though eventually gave up when it became clear it was never going to work.

Akamatsu was quick to shoot that down. "No, no. I'm not putting anyone through Despair Death Road again. I learned my lesson."

"It does raise a valid concern," Toujou commented, "Most of our actions up to this points have been reactive. We've yet to make any forward progress since we first arrived."

"Most we got done was getting rid of Shirogane, and that was kind of an accident," Hoshi added.

"Hey, cool off, guys," Momota argued. "Akamatsu's been doing her best!"

"But her best just hasn't been good enough," Ouma snidely countered.

Harukawa scowled at the dictator. "And what would you do differently?"

Ouma smirked and turned to another student. "Angie-chan, I think it's time!"

"Mm-hmm!" The artist nodded and stood up and began to address the student body. "Everybody! God has totes spoken to Angie, and now what we need to do next is clear."

The other students leaned in out of curiosity. Aside from apparently Ouma, no one had any idea that Angie had anything new to offer. Even the die-hard members of the Art Club were listening in inquisitive caution.

"We just need to accept living here forever, and we'll all be fine!"

Angie's words echoed through the cafeteria. It was not an idea any of them had even begun to consider, and Angie was not done selling the idea.

"Trying to escape can only make things worse, y'know? If we all live trying to make that happen, then it's only a matter of time before someone snaps and kills again. Meanwhile, we have food and shelter and friends right here. God's given us our own little private paradise where we can live together in peace. Right?"

Akamatsu was taken aback by this claim. "So... you just want us to give up?"

"Not give up," Angie corrected, "Accept the new life we can live here. A life where we're happy and safe."

"But we can't just stay here!" the pianist argued. "What about our families, our friends?"

"Isn't that the kind of thinking that made you want to kill someone?" Angie struck.

The blonde lost her ability to speak. Though the others seemed to be willing to forgive her, it appeared she would never escape the stigma of what she had attempted.

"If none of us want to leave, then the those of us who are still alive have nothing to worry about. That's what God told Angie."

"I agree with Angie-san!" Kiibo chimed in. "The voice in my head also believes that is the only chance we have to survive."

"Gonta thinks so, too. Gonta just wants to keep everyone safe, and God and Angie haven't steered Gonta wrong yet."

The students body was beginning to consider Angie's rationale. The growing tension could only be eased by removing the desire to escape from the entire class.

Granted, not everyone was on board.

"You think we're all gonna agree to this bullshit?!" Momota exclaimed. "You think I'm just gonna stop trying to find a way out of here? Hell no!"

Angie shook her head. "Angie keeps saying, that attitude..."

"I am not dying in this fucking school!" the astronaut proclaimed. "Not before I see my family again. Not before I get to go to space. I can't die yet..."

"Yet?" Harukawa wondered.

Angie, however, chose to ignore the purple-haired boy and offered a small smile. "Well, we should put it to a vote, right? Who thinks it would be better to not try to leave?"

This was it. The moment that Harukawa had warned the others about. Angie's club had a large number of people in it, and it would be fairly easy for her to take the vote. Her hand went up. Kiibo and Gontas' hands soon followed. After a few seconds, Yumeno's did, as well.

Then Saihara's hand went up too.

"Shuuichi, what the fuck, man?!" Momota shouted.

Saihara didn't reply.

And with that, a few more moments went by before it became clear no one else intended to raise their hand.

What was especially interesting was the fact that the Art Club had a holdout.

"Kokichi, aren't you, like, gonna raise your hand?" Angie asked.

Ouma turned his gaze to her and shrugged. "Nah."

"Ouma-kun, do you not agree with Angie-san's plan?" Kiibo inquired.

"Nishishi..." the short-statured boy chuckled. "Of course not! Staying here? That's what we were building up to? Boooooriiinggg!" He sighed and took his leave. "Well, that was pointless..."

Angie was at a loss. "He... he didn't mean it. He didn't care about God at all..."

"I could've told you that," Harukawa muttered.

Saihara was a bit more comforting. "It'll be okay. Maybe... maybe he'll come around."

Angie found her smile again. "Yeah! Okay! Angie's got some projects she's been putting off, so Angie's gotta get going. Just don't forget what Angie said. Bye-onara!"

With that, Angie, too, left the cafeteria. And the students were left to ponder, would the day come when they would choose to stay in the school?


 

As Saihara went over his notes, he was shaken from his review of what he knew by the sound of someone beating down his door. The rather confused detective opened the threshold and was greeted by a rather disgruntled Momota.

"Do you wanna tell me what that was about?" the astronaut questioned.

Saihara let his friend in, and replied, "What are you talking about?"

"Your vote earlier! You actually think we should stay here?!"

"Of course not!" the black-haired boy protested. "I was just trying to maintain my cover."

Momota scoffed. "Time and place, man. After what she threw at Akamatsu, you were gonna take it lying down?"

"I... I don't know what I could've said," Saihara admitted. "I've told Akamatsu-san before that I don't blame her. I can't control how everyone else feels."

"Yeah, whatever. Doesn't change that you left her in the lurch and stood by Angie instead," Momota argued.

"What should I have done?" Saihara asked.

Momota sighed. "I dunno, man. I'm just getting sick of all this crap. This political bullshit's just gonna make it harder for us to work together, y'know?"

"I think we can move past it soon," Saihara reassured. "From what I've determined, Angie-san's not up to anything bad. Her methods are shady, but her motives seem genuine."

"Good to hear," the astronaut acknowledged. "Sooner we're all on the same page, sooner we get outta this dump."

"Right," the detective agreed.

"And the sooner you and Akamatsu can get together, eh?" Momota teased, nudging his friend's arm in the process.

Saihara's face went beet-red. "Kaito!"

"C'mon, man! She's clearly into you! What's stoppin' ya?" the purple-haired boy asked.

Saihara just shook his head. "Let's... let's just do something else, okay?"

"Right. Casino time! I'm feeling lucky!" Momota cheered.

Saihara smiled. Watching his friend lose horribly might buoy his spirits a bit.


 

Kiibo couldn't help but be nervous. Or some semblance of nervous, given his robotic nature. It was not that he didn't trust Iruma, not at all. Iruma was a good friend, and was clearly knowledgeable, but the way she was treating this maintenance check was... odd, to say the least.

"Kiibs, I hope you get how lucky you are. Not every guy gets to be serviced by a gal like me, y'know?" the inventor smugly proclaimed.

"Y-yes. I am quite fortunate to have you," the robot replied.

"Have me, eh? You're so forward!" Iruma joked.

"You will be cautious, yes? I've never had anyone work on me other than Dr. Idabashi, so..."

Iruma gasped. "I'm gonna be your first! And you came and asked, you charmer!"

Kiibo's face grew stern. "Iruma-san, are you taking this seriously?"

"Serious as shit, pal," the busty blonde remarked. "I can't have a buddy of mine walking around less than 100 percent."

"Good," Kiibo said in relief.

"But, I may wanna do a little experimental stuff with ya, if you're cool with it," she suggested.

"Experimental?" he repeated, confused.

Iruma chuckled and began to play with a loose strand of hair. "Well... I've got a lotta toys I may want to try out, if you're interested..."

If Kiibo could gulp, he would. "I... think I will enter sleep mode for the duration of this maintenance period. I will wake up in approximately 45 minutes. Hopefully that will be enough time."

As the robot's eyes flashed, Iruma was left confused, asking, "Wait, what does that..."

Kiibo's body made a whirring noise, and his eyes shut. The mechanical student gave no indication that he would respond to any sort of external stimuli.

"Man... Sleeping Beauty'd my ass," Iruma complained. "Aw well... easier to work with, I guess..."

Iruma cracked her knuckles and prepared to begin.

Then everything went dark.


 

Throughout her life, the one constant Akamatsu had was piano. Inevitably she would turn to it in times of need. And after her little spat with Angie earlier that morning, a good jam session as it were was precisely what she needed. She plucked away at the keys fiercely, a tune that she felt emphasized her emotions.

The song captured the frantic desire to escape from her troubles. That the piano would capture her soul as it had done a million times before, and leave all the bad things behind. Maybe if she kept playing it would cause her regrets to disappear into the ether. Faster, louder, playing and playing until there would be no reminder of the poor decisions of the past. But it was for naught.

Though it did attract some attention.

"Welp, I'd say you earned your title."

Akamatsu turned to see two unlikely listeners who had snuck in behind her.

"Not that I had any doubt of that, mind you, just saying," Hoshi continued.

"I couldn't make music like that even with high-level audio magic," Yumeno added.

"What are you two doing here?" the pianist asked.

"We were gonna head up to my lab," Hoshi explained. "Yumeno's been asking me to do some physical drills with her, but then we heard you playing and she said we should stop by."

"I thought... maybe you needed someone to talk to," the mage reasoned. "You've always been so nice to everyone else, I didn't want you to think no one would be nice back."

The two's kind words mustered up a smile from the blonde. "Thanks."

Hoshi, suddenly feeling the third wheel, worked his way back into the conversation. "So... maybe... you'd like to do some drills too? I've got nothing else going on."

"Yeah, sounds good. Saihara-kun's been doing art stuff, and Momota-kun's been cutting out, so I haven't gotten anywhere near as much exercise as I feel I should," Akamatsu agreed.

"We'll train hard and get stronger," Yumeno declared, "and we won't let anything stop us. For Tenko's sake, and our own."

Akamatsu smiled again. If Yumeno could keep up a bold face in the face of what she had gone through, continuing the fight would be child's play for the pianist.

Though as the group found their way up to the 3rd floor, on their way to Hoshi's lab, Akamatsu noticed something. Something innocuous, though significant enough to make her stop in her tracks.

"Something wrong?" Hoshi inquired.

Akamatsu walked slowly toward the offending image. "Toujou-san's lab door is open."

The other two, equally confused, followed Akamatsu toward the opened entryway, and were stunned by what they saw.

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

"A body has been discovered! Everyone please gather to the location of the corpse, the Ultimate Maid's Research Lab."

Before them lie two bodies. One, slumped over in a chair, covered by a blanket. The other, near an overturned table, surrounded by flatware and shards of fine china.

Akamatsu, horrified at the prospect of what she was seeing, ran over to the body in the chair. "Toujou-san! Toujou-san! Please! You can't be..."

"Ugh..."

To the delight of the others, the silver-haired girl stirred awake, revealing that though she had been unconscious, she was indeed still alive.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Akamatsu couldn't be bothered to give a proper answer. "You're alive! Thank goodness!"

Though the fact that Toujou was alive brought a sigh of relief to the trio, it was tinged with the bitter taste of reality. The other body they had found was a corpse. A fellow student was indeed dead.

Said student being the Ultimate Entomologist, Gonta Gokuhara.

 

Chapter Text

After Toujou had been brought back to her feet, the students took more time to look at their fallen friend. The four who were already there were only casually aware that others had begun pouring into the room, as their attention was too consumed by Gonta's corpse.

"Gonta-kun. All you wanted was to keep everyone safe," Akamatsu lamented.

"Why... why is it always the people who are nice?" Yumeno wondered.

Hoshi scoffed. "Trust me, it only gets worse."

He was right of course. The death of Gonta was but a hint of an even greater tragedy. One member of the class was a murderer. And the potential suspects were rolling in.

"What the hell is this?!" Momota exclaimed.

"Gonta! Wh-why... how...?" Angie asked of no one.

"Aww... he was one of the few of you I kinda liked," Ouma commented.

Saihara made a beeline for Akamatsu. "What happened?"

"I don't know!" the pianist replied. "We were the ones who discovered the body. I haven't had the chance to investigate yet. But..."

"What?"

"When we got here Toujou-san was unconscious too," Akamatsu explained.

Harukawa moved toward the maid, an inquisitive look in her eye. "You were unconscious?"

"Indeed, I'm not sure what happened. I heard my door open and the next thing I knew the world had gone dark," the silver-haired girl replied. "I woke up to Akamatsu-san's cries of relief and Gonta-kun's dead body."

"Mm... a likely story," Ouma remarked.

Toujou sighed. "Yes, I suppose my story is suspicious. But I assure you I am just as much in the dark here as you."

"In any case, we need to start investigating," Harukawa commanded.

"I'd agree, but we're still missing two people," Saihara pointed out.

The group looked around, and indeed, Saihara was correct.

"Kiibo and Miu are totes no-shows," Angie realized. "Where are they?"

"That's what I'd like to know!"

The teens turned to see their less-than-cuddly captor come into view. He seemed frustrated with the absence of the other two students.

"It was obnoxious enough gathering up you kids back when the Body Discovery Announcement didn't tell you where the corpse was. I finally think to fix that and you kids can't be bothered to listen! Honestly, what is wrong with your generation...?" the bear ranted.

"Wait, you don't know where they are either?" Akamatsu asked, her concern plain on her face.

"Of course I know where they are! I'm the headmaster, I know everything!" Monokuma continued. "I just want to know what's taking them so long. Fortunately, I have my best team on it!"

"And we all know what that means..." Momota said, his hand brought to his forehead in frustration.

"HELLO-KUMA!!!"

"I was right..."

Just as Momota had predicted, the three remaining Cubs had arrived with Iruma and Kiibo in tow. However, there was something very strange about the both of them.

"Wait... why aren't they...?" Akamatsu inquired.

Monokuma nodded in understanding. "Oh... that would explain it. They didn't show up because they didn't hear the announcement. How could they if they weren't awake for it?"

As the bear said, both students were out of it, neither responsive to the world around them. Or at least that was the case until one of them came around. With a beep like a laptop starting up, Kiibo awoke.

"Ah!!! System checks say I'm back to form. Thank you, Iruma-san!" the robot announced. It was a moment before he looked around the room, and realized something was amiss. "How did I get here?"

"You were asleep or something," Akamatsu explained. "The cubs brought you here since... well... Gonta-kun's..."

"Wait! Please don't tell me...!" Kiibo exclaimed.

"He's dead," Momota finished.

"No... no... that cannot be... Angie-san! You said God was watching over us..." Kiibo said to the artist, in a state of great confusion.

"Angie thought so too," Angie responded, equally baffled. "Angie doesn't know what happened. Gonta shouldn't have died. Angie doesn't understand."

Kiibo was thunderstruck, but found his footing. "We... we must do something about this! We cannot allow the culprit in this case to escape!"

"That's great and all, Kii-boy, but shouldn't you worry about your ladyfriend first?" Ouma countered.

Kiibo turned to see the unaware Iruma lying on the ground. He placed his arms on her shoulders. "Iruma-san! Are you okay?" He began to shake her. "Say something! Are you alright?"

Her voice rose up faintly, and her eyes began to flicker open. "Ugh... lower..."

"She's alright," Harukawa assessed.

Akamatsu heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness."

"Iruma-san!" Kiibo exclaimed. "What happened?"

The inventor slowly came to and rubbed her forehead in confusion. "Ugghhh... I... I was about to start the maintenance check and I just... blacked out. Don't know what happened. Wait, how'd I get here?"

"Bad news I'm afraid," Kiibo responded. "Gonta-kun... he's dead."

"What?! He's... who's the asshole?!"

"That's what you kids are supposed to find out!" Monokuma answered, taking the reins once more. "And now that you're all here, might I present the Monokuma File!"

With the Monokuma File distributed, Monokuma prepared to take his leave.

"Alright then, kiddos! I've got a trial site to prepare. Better bring your A-game!"

The black and white bear disappeared, leaving his children behind.

Monodam turned to his two brothers. "THE TRIAL WILL BEGIN SOON. WE WILL GET A-LONG BETTER ONCE THE TRIAL IS O-VER."

The green bear quickly vanished like his father.

"What do we do?!" Monokid exclaimed. "He's gonna kill one of us again! You're the smart one, Monosuke, think of something!"

Monosuke took on a somber visage. "There's only one thing I can do. I'm gonna take the hit."

"What?!" his brother replied in shock.

"If I take the hit, it'll keep Monodam distracted enough for you to club him with your guitar. I'm not strong enough to take 'im out, but you are."

"HELL YEAH! Wait... no! You're my brother! After everything that's happened..."

"I know," Monosuke offered, his eyes filled with something resembling determination. "But we can't take this lying down! Not after Monotaro and Monofunny! I'll antagonize 'im to make sure he goes after me. You'll know when the time is right."

"Ok... let's show Monodam just how useless he really is!" Monokid proclaimed.

"BYE-KUMA!" the two shouted as they went their own way.

"This family drama's getting on my nerves..." Yumeno lamented.

"Whatever's going on with them, we can't let it distract us," Akamatsu declared. "We need to figure out what happened to Gonta-kun!"

Saihara began to read the Monokuma File for the group.

"The victim was the Ultimate Entomologist, Gonta Gokuhara. He was found dead in the Ultimate Maid's Research Lab. The time of death was around 12:30 P.M. The cause of death is unclear, though there are no visible injuries on the body."

"If we're splitting up, I call dibs on Saihara-chan!" Ouma shouted.

The members of the Fitness Club, Saihara included, all turned to Ouma with baffled expressions on their faces.

"What? Wouldn't you prefer that someone's looking after me instead of me doing whatever I want?" the dictator inquired.

The detective ultimately relented. "Fine. I'll go with you. Akamatsu-san, can you investigate the crime scene? And Kaito, you talk to the others, okay?"

Akamatsu nodded. "Sounds good."

"You got it, Shuuichi!" Momota replied, giving a thumbs up.

"I'll help Momota, if that's okay with everyone," Harukawa added.

"Oh? Warming up to me, Harumaki?" Momota asked with a bit of a smug grin.

"Hardly. I just want to make sure you don't collapse again," Harukawa explained.

"I'll take it!" the astronaut accepted.

With individual plans in mind, the various students split up to investigate the relevant aspects of the crime.


 

"Alright, let's see what we've got here."

Akamatsu's monologue was pointless to an outside observer, though it was certainly helpful to her. The sound of her own voice was a welcome distraction from the harsh reality of Gonta's demise. She would hardly consider herself a narcissist, mind you. Rather, anything that could shake her away from the horrifying fact before her was welcome.

All the same, there was no denying it. Gonta was gone, and he was not coming back. The still form of the large boy was a very good indicator of that.

"It doesn't make sense," Akamatsu commented. "The broken plates and the overturned table make it look like there was some kind of struggle, but there aren't any wounds on him. For that matter, who could really take Gonta in a fight?"

Much like last time, Monokuma had taken it upon himself to give the students a handicap, hiding a key aspect of the case. Last time the time of death was less of a factor than Akamatsu might have thought, though it would have cleared things up for Yumeno very quickly. Perhaps the method of murder was the same way here. One student had a perfect understanding of how things happened, they would just need that missing detail.

"Is there any way I can be of assistance?"

Akamatsu turned around to see Toujou standing over her.

"I think you've told me everything you know, right?" Akamatsu asked.

"Well, yes, but..."

"But..."

"There's a question that's bothering me," Toujou revealed.

"What is it?"

"Why did Gonta-kun come to my lab to begin with?" the maid wondered aloud. "We had no pre-arranged meeting, no cause for him to visit. Why did he arrive here and drop dead?"

"And he was alive when you fell unconscious?" Akamatsu confirmed.

"As I said, I do not know. My most recent memory is of the door opening and my fainting spell," Toujou recalled.

"Is that a normal thing for you, by any chance?"

"Not at all," the silver-haired girl responded.

"Maybe you were just exhausted from overworking yourself," the pianist theorized.

"That has never been a problem in the past, furthermore my last task before my blackout was hardly stressful," Toujou countered.

"What was it?" Akamatsu inquired.

"I was preparing tea. Ouma-kun likes midday tea, and I feel it appropriate to oblige him," Toujou explained.

"So you were making tea, and then, out of nowhere, you were out like a light?" the blonde summarized.

"That appears to be the case."

Akamatsu pondered this. Toujou's story was certainly odd, but it didn't seem like she was deliberately hiding something.


 

If you were unfamiliar with the way Iruma kept her lab, you would likely never suspect anything had transpired during the inventor's blackout. Iruma, however, was intimately acquainted with the way she liked to keep her lab, and was almost in a state of panic.

"The fucker moved my stuff! Where do they get off?!"

While it seemed to be organized, and rather well-organized at that, Iruma could see every hair out of place in her workshop. Though it might have been more appropriate to say every hair that was now in place.

"I work in organized chaos! Don't glare, that's a thing!" she spat to her two visitors. "I'm gonna have to spend a whole day trying to figure out all the shit they messed with."

Said visitors were the duo of Harukawa and Momota. Momota, for his part, seemed genuinely concerned about what happened in the lab. Harukawa was barely above a disaffected scowl, showcasing her ability to make it perfectly clear how little she truly cared for people's petty concerns in the face of imminent death.

"If we can get on track here," Harukawa chimed in. "When exactly did you pass out?"

Iruma scratched her head in contemplation. "Ugh... I wasn't looking at a clock but... it was just after Kiibo went into sleep mode. He said that'd be 45 minutes."

"The body discovery announcement was at around 12:45," Momota recalled, "and Kiibo didn't wake up until closer to 12:50. If he really was asleep, he has a pretty solid alibi."

"Assuming we can take him at his word," Harukawa noted.

"Well, he was out when I blacked out," Iruma shared, "I was looking right at him, so I don't think he was faking."

"What bugs me is he said that he was running right when he woke up," Momota pointed out. "If you didn't do anything to him, then who did?"

Iruma gulped. "Someone did stuff to him while he was unconscious?"

"Weren't you going to do that?" Harukawa asked.

"Well, yeah, but that's like a doctor or something," the inventor said, panic clear in her voice, "If they did stuff to him, you don't think they did stuff to me do you?"

"I highly doubt that," the faux-caretaker claimed, her tone flat as a pancake.

As to be expected, this did nothing to reassure Iruma. "I gotta get to the bathroom! Stuff I gotta check!"

As the inventor bolted out of the room, the two investigators turned their heads to follow her path, equally dumbfounded by what had just transpired.

Momota took it upon himself to ask the lingering question. "Do I want to know what she just meant?"

"I know I don't," Harukawa replied.

"So whaddaya think, Harumaki? Do we believe her?" Momota wondered.

"I wouldn't be sure. I don't think anyone else here could have done maintenance on Kiibo. And she could easily be lying about how she keeps her lab," the red-eyed girl explained.

"Yeah, I guess, but I don't know," Momota countered. "She doesn't really get anything out of lying about this. Wouldn't it be easier to just say that she was doing maintenance the whole time?"

"Iruma is one of the many people here I've given up trying to understand," Harukawa stated, rather plainly.

"Who haven't you given up on trying to understand?" the astronaut inquired.

Harukawa considered this for a moment, realizing she wasn't going to be able to get out of answering. "Hoshi, I suppose. He's pretty cut and dry. Saihara's straightforward enough. ...I'm kind of blanking beyond that."

"So you don't want to understand me?" Momota asked, feigning indignation. "I'm hurt."

"I choose to write off your stranger quirks as part of you being an idiot," Harukawa made clear. "That pretty much covers it."

"Hey, I promise you I'm more than I let on," Momota defended. "When the chips are down, that's when I really shine."

"The 'chips have been down' twice now," the twin-tailed girl shot back. "The first time you did next to nothing, and the second time you spent a good while defending the culprit, and lying to protect someone you knew nothing about."

Momota offered a smirk. "You're welcome, by the way."

Harukawa's eyes narrowed. "I didn't ask for your help."

"Then why'd you wanna tag along with me?"

"Like I said, I don't want you collapsing."

"So you're worried about me?" Momota joked. "I'm touched."

"Do you want me to kill you?"

Harukawa's voice caught in her throat. It had been so long since she let that phrase slip, that it had finally broken through and found the light of day. She had done all she could to conceal her true self from her class, and now, a simple slip of the tongue had brought out her killing intent. It went hand-in-hand with the expression, even if it was traditionally said in jest.

Momota's stunned look was doing nothing to reassure her. "Geez..."

Here it came. The accusations. The doubts. The underlying suspicion. The judgment. Harukawa steeled herself for how Momota would respond to this verbal unveiling.

"Harumaki... you must really put the fear of God into those kids!"

Wait, what?

"Seriously, I thought you weren't kidding for a second there!"

The astronaut was grinning ear to ear, seemingly having taken the question in stride. Without even Harukawa's attempt to brush the inquiry off as a joke, Momota had taken it as such.

She needed to capitalize on this. "...right. It can be a useful trick. Kids, they're... rambunctious."

"Ain't it the truth..." Momota said with a sigh. "Welp, there's gotta be something else we can find. Maybe we should look somewhere else."

"Agreed."

In her mind, Harukawa had escaped that situation by the skin of her teeth. She was quite thankful that Momota was an idiot, after all.

Though that didn't explain the small hint of a smile that snuck its way to her lips.


 

"Over the river and through the woods, to Gonta-chan's lab we go!"

Ouma's singing did nothing to buoy Saihara's mood. Nor did the two's newfound presence in Gonta's lab. Saihara missed Gonta already, but even so, the inevitable downturn in the insect population of the school was more than welcome.

"Is there a reason you brought us here?" Saihara wondered.

"I figured you'd might want a break," Ouma explained. "Not having to put up with lying to the Art Club, or pretending you don't feel nervous around your actual friends."

"Nervous?"

"Of course! You're a bundle of nerves, you always are," the dictator proclaimed. "You pretend you're okay around Momota-chan, when you don't know if you're ready for a friendship that means anything. You pretend you trust Harukawa-chan, when we both know you're still suspicious. And of course, you pretend you're not head-over-heels for Akamatsu-chan. It's fun to watch you squirm, but you deserve time off."

"Just because I'm not great at social stuff doesn't mean... well..." Saihara trailed off, searching for his point. "They're still my friends!"

"But aren't you better in this kind of situation?" Ouma taunted. "Stuck with someone you know you can't trust? Trying to solve a mystery where you have to stand alone? It's easier that way."

Saihara narrowed his gaze, though ultimately turned away. "This... you're trying to waste my time. I should just..."

"Saihara-chan!"

The detective turned back to look at Ouma, who was carrying some sort of jar.

"Is that a honey pot?" Saihara inquired.

"Mm-hmm. About half-full," Ouma confirmed.

"But Gonta-kun brought Toujou-san a fresh batch just yesterday," the detective recounted, thrown by this discovery. "I'm no beekeeper, but I think it takes longer than that to make honey."

"Well, we could check the hives," Ouma suggested.

The two boys looked to the ceiling where the hives hung. A sense of dread quickly overtook the both of them.

Saihara gulped. "I... don't think that's a good idea."

"Yeah, forget I said that," the shorter boy hedged.

The two backed out of the room slowly, hoping to avoid alerting any of the arthropods.


 

Angie was hard at work in her own lab. She knew she wasn't much of an investigator, so she fell back on what she did know, and that was art. Art was the way God spoke to her. She conjured the images and figures God envisioned into physical form and delivered them unto the world at large. And with the trial coming up, she knew she needed to be in a proper mindset.

And even so, she was interrupted.

She sighed, but ultimately opened the door to see that it was Kiibo.

"Oh, Kiibo! Like, did you need something?"

The robot walked in, his expression somewhat dour. "Just making sure you're okay. You were probably closer to Gonta-kun than any of us, after all."

"Yeah..." Angie lamented. "Angie was trying to take her mind off it by finishing that painting of the club. Angie thinks Gonta would've wanted that."

Kiibo nodded. "I agree. Though I am curious, how do you intend to aid in the investigation by doing this?"

The artist turned to look away from her friend. "Angie doesn't think she'll be able to help. The best thing she can do is not let her sadness show."

Kiibo placed a hand on her shoulder. "We will be fine. We will figure this out, I promise."

Angie smiled. "Thanks. Maybe I should make some more paint..."

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

"Attention all students! Investigation time is over, trial time is long overdue! Better head to the fountain if you know what's good for you!"

As the nearby monitors shut down, Angie groaned. "Like, for reals?! Angie's still not done! Ugh, whatever. Let's get going."

"Affirmative."

As Angie took her leave, Kiibo stayed for a moment. The mechanical student gazed upon the incomplete portrait and considered it briefly. A beeping sound went off in his head, signaling that what he had set out to do was complete.

"As I thought," he said to no one.


 

The students gathered in the elevator as they made their way to the trial room. The fitness club had exchanged information, what little of it they had, as they steeled themselves for yet another exercise in emotional exhaustion.

"There's still so much I don't understand," Akamatsu thought, "Why did Iruma-san and Toujou-san pass out? Did the culprit do that? And if they did, how did they get to both of them so quickly? All I can be sure of is this: Gonta-kun didn't deserve to die. Whoever did this needs to be brought to justice. I don't know what path will lead us to the truth, and I don't know what sort of truth we'll find. But I can't hold back. I need to face whatever awaits for us."

"I need to face... this Class Trial!"

 

Chapter Text

--COURT IS IN SESSION--

"Alright, let's begin with a basic explanation of the Class Trial!" Monokuma declared. "After a period of debate, you will take a majority vote for who you believe is the killer. If you're right, the killer is punished. But if you're wrong, everyone else is punished and the killer is allowed to leave Gifted Inmates Academy scot-free!"

The consistency of Monokuma's pre-trial speech was hardly a source of comfort to the students. With less than a dozen members of the group remaining, and the looming reality that that number would soon drop either by one or to one, the unchanging nature of the preamble only served to remind them that their captor simply did not care what happened to them.

And then the cubs spoke up.

"HELL YEAH!" Monokid exclaimed, "Third time's the charm!"

"Does that mean this is the time they lose or what're ya sayin' there?" Monosuke wondered.

"THEY WILL GET A-LONG. THAT IS WHAT MAT-TERS," Monodam declared.

Monosuke scoffed. "Trials ain't about gettin' along, dumbass! They're about stirrin' up the tension for major kickback from-"

"YOU MUST NOT SAY THESE THINGS," Monodam reminded. "THESE ARE DAN-GER-OUS THINGS."

"Danger, schmanger," Monosuke countered.

The students were not very patient in regards to this showcase of brotherly bickering, as Yumeno made clear. "If we can get on topic, why did someone kill Gonta?"

"Indeed," Toujou chimed in, "there is a distinct lack of motive to be found in this case."

"Comin' from the most supicious person here!" Iruma reminded the maid.

"I believe we are both equally suspicious in this situation," Toujou challenged.

"No way, Maid-to-Order!" the inventor countered, "I may have been out, but I wasn't in the room when Bug Boy bit it!"

"Technically, we can't account for your whereabouts," Toujou shot back, "Nor can you, for that matter."

Akamatsu quickly took control of the floor. "In any case, I think we should start by trying to figure out what the deal is with all the blackouts we've had."

"I don't recall the power going out," Ouma joked.

Saihara quickly brushed past this. "Three people fell unconscious just before the event took place. Toujou-san in her lab, which is where Gonta-kun's body was found; and both Iruma-san and Kiibo-kun in Iruma-san's lab."

"Kiibo said he went out 'cuz he powered down for a maintenance thing," Momota recounted, "And he didn't wake up until we saw him wake up after we found the body."

"It totes matches his testimony about how long his sleep mode lasts!" Angie agreed.

"But we have to take him at his word," Harukawa noted, "None of us have any idea about his internal processes, except for Iruma."

"I hope you can forgive me for not being more transparent about them," Kiibo apologized, "It is a very personal matter for me. Though I assure you, I was not active for those forty-five minutes."

"Robo-boy conked out just before I did," Iruma commented, "And that was around noon, I think."

"That matches the forty-five minute time frame," Hoshi summarized, "Is there anything we can do to say Kiibo didn't move around?"

"I think there is!" Akamatsu shouted, "Kiibo-kun said when he woke up that he was running more efficiently than he was before. That means someone worked on him while he was asleep, so he couldn't have been running around."

"But Iruma-san is the only one with the knowledge to operate on him," Saihara countered, "That raises the issue of us having to question if one or both of them are lying."

"I assure you I was telling the truth! 100 percent!" Kiibo exclaimed.

"What would someone as beautiful and brilliant as me have to lie about?!" Iruma asked.

"Maybe how many men you've been with?" Ouma snarked, "Don't want to let the world know how many guys have been at bat..."

Iruma shrank back. "It... that's not..."

"But, like, neither of them knew that Gonta was dead, right?" Angie questioned, "So how would they know to lie about it?"

"If either of them killed Gonta, they'd know to lie!" Yumeno countered.

"I want to stick by Kiibo-kun's testimony that he was operated on," Akamatsu claimed, "But I don't think that means Iruma-san was lying. Her being awake doesn't really make sense either."

"Why not?" Momota inquired.

"Well, if Kiibo-kun's story is true and hers isn't," Akamatsu explained, "that means in the forty-five minutes he was out, she operated on Kiibo-kun's body, went to Toujou-san's lab, killed Gonta-kun, came back, and fell asleep. That seems like a bit of a stretch."

"Yeah... not to mention she had to mess the place up," the astronaut recalled, "the place was a sty when we looked there."

"Where else would a pig stay?" Ouma jabbed.

"Ouma-kun!" Kiibo countered, "I do not care for your insulting my friend!"

"F-friend?" Iruma muttered.

The robot smiled brightly. "Of course! Iruma-san is a precious friend! I count all of you among my dearest friends!"

"Eh?" Ouma intoned, "Did I say you were allowed to befriend me? You think I'll let you be my friend without my permission?"

"Kokichi! You were part of the Art Club once! You and Kiibo stood by each other," Angie reminded the dictator, "Did that time really mean nothing to you?"

"Nishishi... nope. The only time that was worth it was time spent with Saihara-chan..."

Saihara quirked an eyebrow in confusion, before deciding it was better not to ask. "If Iruma-san and Kiibo-kun's stories both hold up, then that leaves Toujou-san."

The silver-haired girl sighed. "I suppose it was inevitable, then. My lab was the scene of the murder, so it is only natural to suspect me. Though I assure you I am speaking the truth. I heard the door open, and the next thing I knew I had fainted dead away."

"Can we get a better time frame on that?" Hoshi asked.

Toujou put her finger to her chin in contemplation. "It would have been just before 12:30, at least as I recall."

"That was only a little bit before Gonta was killed!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"The culprit killed Gonta in your lab, just after you became unaware of your surroundings," Harukawa summed up, "That is rather hard to believe."

"No," Saihara countered, "It does make a bit of sense. Remember, Toujou-san woke up in a chair, covered with a blanket. If the culprit didn't do that, who do you think did?"

"OMG! That's exactly like something Gonta would do!" Angie realized.

"So, Gonta walked in the lab after Toujou blacked out," Hoshi theorized, "and thinking she was just asleep, put her in the chair and draped a blanket over her to help her rest?"

"But the culprit would've had to be hot on his heels, right?" Iruma argued, "How'd they get him?"

"Maybe the culprit was already in the room and was hiding?" Akamatsu commented, "Maybe they had snuck into Toujou-san's lab and knocked her out with the intent to kill her. But then Gonta-kun walked in, and then they hid away to avoid getting caught, but took that chance to kill him instead?"

"You really are stupid, huh?" Ouma cut in.

"Hmm?"

"Your stupidity is on an Ultimate Level! Maybe I should call you 'Bakamatsu', too?" the dictator taunted.

"Damn it!" the pianist thought, "I can't let him get the better of me!"

/"You think that the culprit knocked Toujou-chan out?"/

/"But that causes a big problem!"/

/"Iruma-chan..."/

/"Got knocked out too!"/

/"They couldn't both be knocked out, stupid..."/

/"Their labs are too far from each other!"/

/"That's just impossible."/

Akamatsu refused to back down. "I'm not Ultimately Stupid! It's still a possibility!"

/"If you're not stupid, you're crazy!"/

/"If the culprit knocked out Iruma-chan..."/

/"Which had to have happened first..."/

/"Why not just kill her or Kii-boy?"/

/"If they had knocked Iruma-chan out already..."/

/"They wouldn't need to go after Toujou-chan!"/

"I'll cut through your contradiction!" Akamatsu shouted.

"Hmm?" Ouma bemusedly replied.

"No one is saying that Toujou-san and Iruma-san were both unconscious for the same reason," Akamatsu argued, "In fact, the fact that their labs are so far from one another makes me think they were knocked out for different reasons!"

"Aww..." Ouma lamented, "I guess you aren't Ultimately Stupid or Crazy... but you're still not as smart as me, so that's what matters."

"So what happened in Miu's lab and Kirumi's lab have nothing to do with each other?" Angie asked.

"I doubt it," Akamatsu asserted, "It raises too many questions if they are connected. So... it might be best if we table the discussion about Iruma-san's lab for now."

"Wait?! Doesn't anyone care?!" Iruma shouted back in disbelief, "Someone touched my stuff... and they might have touched... other things... shouldn't we ask about that?"

"I am in agreement!" Kiibo argued, "This is a mystery that must be solved!"

"Normally, I'd agree with both of you," Saihara reassured the two, "But right now, our lives are on the line. Unless there turns out to be some kind of connection between the murder and what happened in Iruma-san's lab, we're going to have to ignore it for now."

"Man! Are you saying the time I spent in there was a big waste?!" Momota complained.

Harukawa merely gave him a pointed glare.

Yumeno took this momentary silence as a hint to jump back in. "Can we go back to my first question? Why would someone want to kill Gonta?"

"If Akamatsu's theory is right, the real question is why anyone would want to kill Toujou?" Hoshi corrected.

"I am unaware of any sort of wrongdoing on my part," Toujou defended, "But if there is any that I have missed, please let me know in the future, rather than plan my demise, if you would?"

"Unless of course, they weren't allowed to tell you what you'd done," Saihara commented, "Or anyone else for that matter."

"The confessions..." Akamatsu realized, "If someone found out about something bad that Toujou-san did..."

"No way! Ain't no way in Hell the maid's done something that screwed up!" Iruma countered.

Momota scratched at his scalp. "I wanna say you're right, but, it's hard to say that. None of us knew just how screwed up Shinguuji or Shirogane were."

"Monokuma," Harukawa said, grabbing the bear's attention, "Are we free to reveal the secrets we learned in exchange for confessing our own?"

"Why would you be allowed to do that?" the black-and-white headmaster asked.

"The goal of the secrets was to motivate us into murder, and now you've gotten your wish," the faux-caretaker pointed out, "So there's no point in keeping the information to ourselves anymore, is there?"

"Hmm... you might have a point," Monokuma agreed, "However, a motive hasn't fully served its purpose until the class trial is complete! So until that time, I'm afraid revealing secrets is still off-limits!"

"Secrets, eh?" Monosuke commented, "I got a few secrets about Monodam I'd be willin' to share..."

"YOU ARE NOT GET-TING A-LONG! IT WOULD BE BET-TER IF WE COULD GET A-LONG!" Monodam proclaimed.

"HELL YEAH!" Monokid agreed, "Monodam knows how to be friends with people!"

The class continued to ignore Teddy Bear Theatre, and proceeded with the matter at hand.

"Toujou-san... I understand if you don't want to tell us the truth, but..." Akamatsu began.

Toujou averted her gaze. "I am sorry. I have too much pride to reveal that." The silver-haired girl then switched to a piercing stare. "And I assure you that you won't uncover it otherwise."

"Alright," the pianist replied with a gulp, "So... we just need to think about who could've found out."

"That'd be anyone who used the confessional," Harukawa pointed out, "I'd be first on that list."

"But Harumaki already said what she heard wasn't enough to kill someone," Momota reminded to the group, "So don't go accusing her of nothing!"

The red-eyed girl gripped the bridge of her nose. "Idiot," she whispered.

Though a hint of a grin made it clear she appreciated his help.

"I confessed too," Hoshi admitted, "Gonta talked me into it."

"So Bug Boy probably used it, too," Iruma realized.

"Everyone in the Art Club did," Kiibo admitted, thinking nothing of it.

"Kiibo!" Angie exclaimed in shock, "You weren't supposed to tell them that!"

"Why not?" the robot wondered.

Ouma chuckled. "Don't worry, Angie-chan! Saihara-chan already told the others anyway."

The artist's eyes widened in shock, and then immediately spun to burn a hole in the detective's face.

"Shuuichi? You lied to us? You were deceiving us the whole time?"

Saihara was in for it now.

 

Chapter Text

"Shuuichi? You weren't really part of the Art Club? You were just trying to trick us?"

Angie's words left Saihara a stuttering mess. He was nowhere near prepared to watch his charade be shattered so easily. "I... a-all I was trying to do..."

"Shuuichi just wanted to make sure you didn't do anything crazy, that's all!" Momota reassured.

Not that this calmed Angie down. "You were in on it, weren't you, Momota? You and your whole club!"

Akamatsu shirked away from the conversation, though Harukawa stood defiant.

Iruma, watching this all unfold, chuckled. "Feh. Who would've guessed that Shyhara over here played for both teams?"

"C-can you not say it like that?!" Saihara exclaimed, his cheeks pink as the inventor's outfit.

Ouma pounced on the detective's frustration. "Ooh! Could it be that that metaphor was right on the money?"

"Wait..." Iruma hedged, "For real?"

"Please..." Saihara said, frantically trying to catch his breath, "can we just... give me a moment here?"

Iruma quickly attempted to backpedal. "Hey, it's no big deal if you do, I was just..."

"The big deal here is that Angie had two liars in her club disgracing and ignoring the word of God! Angie thought she could trust you two!" Angie countered.

"Angie-san, please calm down!" Kiibo requested, "Saihara-kun probably has a reasonable explanation."

"He wants to get into Akamatsu-chan's pants and thought this would impress her," Ouma added.

This time it was Akamatsu's turn to be embarassed. "Ouma-kun!"

Saihara was in a state of shock. He could feel his world crumbling around him. "I... there's... the case..."

The lack of trust. The judgment for his sexuality. The calling out of his failings. The people he was closest to being untrustworthy themselves. The pressure to solve the case. All of this and more flooded Saihara's mind all at once.

"I... *huff* I... *huff* I just... *huff*..."

His breath was growing ragged, his palms sweating, his joints locking up. The trial ground was beginning to resemble an empty void with voices all around him. Each voice directed at him, offering questions, complaints, concerns, but all blending together into some sort of cacophony that he could not process. He began to sink into himself, trying to find some other way to perceive what was going on. To an outside observer, all they could see was the image of the detective's legs giving out from under him, barely keeping himself propped up by grabbing at his podium. Shaky, panting breaths were all that escaped his mouth.

"Shuuichi!" Momota shouted. The astronaut grabbed his best friend's shoulder, trying to help him to his feet. However, Saihara was non-responsive. He had entered some sort of a waking coma, no longer reacting to external stimuli.

"Saihara-kun..." Akamatsu whispered.

"What happened to him?" Yumeno wondered.

"I've seen it in jail a few times," Hoshi recounted, "Sometimes stress just builds up so much that a guy can't take it and he just... snaps."

"Are you saying this is some kind of... anxiety attack?" Harukawa asked.

"Could be..." the former convict theorized, "Either way, it's gonna be a while before we hear from him again."

"You guys keep talking about the case," Momota requested, "I'll try to bring him 'round."

"Be careful," Harukawa warned, "if he wants space instead, you give it to him right away."

"Don't worry," the astronaut reassured, "I'll take good care of him."

"Okay, you do that," Akamatsu replied. With that matter settled, her focus turned to Angie. "Angie-san, I know you're upset. But can you please wait until after the trial for us to talk about this?"

The artist clapped her hands together in prayer, and closed her eyes. After a moment of silence, she finally spoke, "God feels that patience is a virtue. I should keep my emotions in check. For the sake of everyone."

Kiibo nodded. "Yes. God tells me the same thing. We must remain focused on the case."

With the class back on topic, Harukawa took the lead. "The six members of the Art Club, myself, and Hoshi have all used the confessional. That leaves four people who we aren't sure about."

"I didn't use it," Akamatsu commented.

"Me neither, I ain't stepping in that nonsense," Iruma agreed.

"I also refrained," Toujou shared.

"I didn't either," Momota claimed, taking his focus off of Saihara briefly. "And before any of you accuse Shuuichi of anything, he and I were in the casino when Gonta died, so we have alibis, too."

"We can cross them off the list," Akamatsu asserted, "And with that in mind, we should probably cross off Kiibo too, since I think we're all in agreement about him being unconscious."

"I can agree to that," Harukawa said with a nod.

Kiibo thought this over. "If we then limit ourselves to those who have used the confessional, it leaves six suspects. Angie-san, Harukawa-san, Yumeno-san, Ouma-kun, Hoshi-kun, and Gonta-kun himself."

"I... don't think it was a suicide," Yumeno noted.

"Guy couldn't kill an ant, much less himself," Iruma snarked.

"Maybe he tried to kill Toujou, the culprit saw him and they tried to stop it?" Hoshi theorized.

"Please," Iruma scoffed, "Bug Boy's too much of a dainty flower child to kill somebody."

"And if the culprit fought against him, why are there no external wounds on Gonta-kun's body?" Toujou questioned.

"Just a suggestion," Hoshi defended.

"That's the weirdest part though," Akamatsu chimed in, "We don't even know how he died. There was a struggle, we know that. But he had no injuries, and we didn't find anything at the crime scene that looked like a murder weapon."

"So are you saying he did fight with the culprit?" Angie asked.

"I... I don't know," the pianist admitted.

"We're all assuming Gonta-chan ever even saw who killed him," Ouma noted, "What if he never knew who his murderer was?"

"But that doesn't seem possible with the struggle," Kiibo pointed out, "How else did Toujou-san's lab fall into disarray if he didn't face his killer head-on?"

"But that doesn't make sense either," Hoshi countered, "Now that I think about it, none of us would really stand a chance if we had to fight Gonta, so there couldn't have been a fight."

"We're caught in a spiral or something," Yumeno complained, "There had a to be a fight, but there couldn't have been a fight. Which is it?"

Akamatsu steeled herself. It was do-or-die time. The decision she made now would determine the path the rest of the case would take. In these moments, she traditionally put her trust in Saihara's reasoning, but that wasn't an option here.

Saihara's panting had ceased, but he still wasn't moving from his crouched state, and he wasn't saying anything about the proceedings.

With this, Akamatsu took a breath. With everything that had happened up to this point in mind, she made her call, "I... want to say... there wasn't a fight."

Naturally, the class had their doubts.

"If there was no fight, how do we explain my lab being thrown into disarray?" Toujou inquired.

The blonde had no choice but to think on her feet. Perhaps if she was lucky, she would be able to pull some sort of chain of reasoning together. She considered the various possibilities, and summoned an idea to the forefront of her mind. "Maybe... that happened after he was dead? The culprit messed with the crime scene. That might be why we didn't find a murder weapon."

"But would the culprit have had the time to do that?" Hoshi wondered. "We found Gonta's body not fifteen minutes after he died. The culprit would have to rough the place up and split, and not wake up Toujou while they were at it."

"Right... well..." Akamatsu was floundering. If she couldn't string together an answer, she risked losing the ears of her fellow classmates. "On second thought... what if Gonta roughed everything up on his own?"

"So after putting Maid-to-Order to bed," Iruma reasoned, "he made a mess of her lab, and just... croaked?"

"No... I'm sure there was a killer," Akamatsu thought aloud.

"But if there was a killer, what were they doing while Gonta-kun threw Toujou-san's lab into disarray?" Kiibo asked.

Every question just raised another question.

Who made a mess of the lab?

"Gonta," Akamatsu thought.

What was the culprit doing while he did?

"Nothing."

Why didn't the culprit react?

"Because... they... didn't know he was doing that...?"

Why not?

"Because...the culprit never saw Gonta."

How is this possible?

"Because the whole thing was a trap."

"It was all a big set-up!" Akamatsu announced.

The class was stunned into silence by Akamatsu's bold statement. She took this in stride, however, as she began to share her reasoning.

"It's possible to murder someone without being in the room," the blonde pointed out, "We all know that by now."

Ouma gave Akamatsu a knowing smirk, indulging in a moment of shared recollection of the two's efforts.

"Maybe there was something set up in Toujou-san's lab that would kill somebody, and Gonta-kun stumbled into it when he walked in," Akamatsu theorized, "That way, the time frame becomes a non-issue, and it explains how it looks like there was a fight, but there also wasn't."

"If that's true," Harukawa added, "it's possible that Toujou falling unconscious was also part of the trap, but Gonta's interference somehow kept it from working."

Angie didn't buy it, however, "So, wait... the culprit set a trap? But... like... where's the trap?"

"Hmm?" Akamatsu intoned.

"Well, there's no mechanisms or anything," Angie reminded them, "And if the culprit just removed them, how did they hide them in Kirumi's lab without her noticing them?"

"She has a point," Toujou concurred, "Before I fainted, I didn't notice anything odd in my room."

"Maybe the trap was invisible or something?" Yumeno guessed.

"Setting up an invisible trap sounds like the work of a magician to me," Ouma shot back.

"I'm not a magician!" Yumeno protested, "I'm a mage! I use real magic, not tricks!"

Akamatsu groaned. She had come so far, and the answer seemed to be tantalizingly close now. But what was she missing? "Who's ever heard of an invisible trap before?" she lamented.

Momota was getting tired of this circular train of logic, his eye back on his friend. If anyone could help them now, it was Saihara, but he still wasn't responding. The detective seemed to be getting better, but Momota knew he had to do something to speed the process along. Granted, he wasn't familiar with the ins-and-outs of an anxiety attack, but he was going to give it his level best.

His voice barely above a whisper, to avoid alerting the others, Momota addressed his friend, "Hey, buddy... are you in there? Just... nod if you can hear me, okay?"

Saihara took a moment before silently nodding.

"Good, good. Okay... just.. stay calm. We're gonna get you through this. Just... keep focused on me right now, okay?"

Saihara briefly turned his head, his eyes glassy, but they quickly locked onto the face of his friend.

"Alright. Are you... scared?"

He shook his head.

"Worried?"

He nodded.

"Can you tell me what you're worried about?"

A few short breaths escaped the black-haired boy's mouth as he barely muttered an answer, "I messed up."

"What do you mean?"

"Everyone hates me."

"I don't think so."

"They don't trust me."

"I trust you."

"I can't figure out the case."

"Why not?"

"I'm not good enough."

"Don't give me that, you're great at this!" Momota cheered.

"No... I... I should be better. I should know..."

"I know that you've got what it takes," the astronaut countered, "You've proven you can do it before. Is there something different this time?"

"I... I..."

"You've got me on your side. Just like always," Momota reminded him, "No matter what, you're my assistant. That means if someone's mad or disappointed, that's aimed at me, not you. I believe in you. We all do. And you've earned that."

Saihara took a few more shaky breaths before he started to stand.

"You gonna be okay?" Momota asked.

"I'll... I'll be better once this is over," Saihara claimed.

"We might need your help to end it," the astronaut admitted.

Saihara took one last cleansing breath before he once again could feel the ground beneath his feet. "I'll end this. I have to. Everyone!"

The detective's return to form was quickly recognized by the rest of the group. Though they wanted to start questioning him, his words quickly began to flow.

"In regards to the invisible trap idea, I do think that that's possible," he asserted, "To be more precise, I think we should consider the idea that Gonta-kun was poisoned."

"Poison?" Akamatsu questioned.

"If there was a poison-based trap," Harukawa considered, "then it's possible that whatever poisoned Gonta knocked Toujou out, too. And it might explain why he roughed up the lab, he was reacting violently to the toxin."

"I still find it hard to believe someone could get poison in my lab without my knowledge," Toujou argued.

"No. There's a way that the poison could get into your lab," Saihara countered. "When you consider how the poison was delivered, how it affected you as opposed to Gonta-kun, why he was in your lab to begin with, who had access to poisonous substances, and who the poison was really meant to kill, everything adds up perfectly."

"Saihara-kun..." Akamatsu replied in awe, "It sounds like..."

"I think..." the detective announced, "I think I know who did it."

SELECT A SUSPECT

 

Chapter Text

The room had gone quiet with Saihara's bold claim. Not a moment ago, he could barely bring himself to stand, and now he believed he had solved the case almost in its entirety? He seemed to flip between the two extremes almost immediately.

All the same, he held firm. "The person who had access to something that could poison someone, the person who had the right motive, the person who was responsible for Gonta-kun's death..."

His finger pointed dead on at his prime suspect, much to the shock of the group.

"It has to be you, Angie Yonaga!"

The artist was shaken, her eyes going wide at the accusation. "Wh-what are you saying?"

"Saihara-kun! That's ridiculous!" Kiibo protested, "Angie-san was closer to Gonta-kun than any of us! Why would she kill him?"

"You were the only one who had access to chemicals that could be used to poison someone," Saihara continued, ignoring the concerns of the other students.

"Angie had poison chemicals?" the religious girl questioned. "She doesn't remember having those..."

"That's because you weren't usually using them for poisons, but you were regularly mixing up compounds for your own use," the detective reasoned.

"Wait a second," Iruma interrupted, "when did Artsy become an expert chemist?"

"You don't have to be a chemist to know if something isn't safe for human consumption," Saihara explained, "you just need to be well-versed in the materials you're working with."

At the moment, it clicked in Harukawa's mind. "Angie mixes her own paint..."

The black-haired boy nodded. "Paint in and of itself is dangerous enough to consume, but with the various base parts, you could easily create a substance that could kill anyone who ingested it."

"And Angie knew how dangerous mixing paint could be," Yumeno recalled, "she wore a face mask whenever she did it."

Akamatsu turned to face the artist. "Angie-san, is this true?"

Angie's response was a smirk and a quick chuckle. "Like, OMG, you guys are totes crazy! Angie would never do something like that! I mean, yeah, okay, Angie could probably make poison if she really wanted to, but Angie's only concern up until now has been protecting everybody according to God's will. Why would Angie kill anybody, much less Gonta?"

"Actually, once you realize how Gonta ingested the poison, it becomes perfectly clear that he was never your target," Saihara asserted.

"Like, what?"

"Toujou-san, remind us," Saihara requested, "What were you doing just before you blacked out?"

"I was making tea for..." Toujou trailed off as she began to realize what happened, "Could it be?"

"So, Angie poisoned the tea, and Gonta drank it?" Hoshi reasoned.

"But how does that explain Toujou's blackout?" Momota wondered.

"The theoretically poisoned teabags would have been placed in hot water, and the steam would have brought some of it into the air," Harukawa explained, "If the poison's fumes were strong enough, they could knock Toujou into unconsciousness. And if that was the potency of the fumes, anyone who actually ingested it would have been a goner."

"You seem to know a lot about poison, Harukawa-chan," Ouma commented.

Her eyes went wide, realizing she may have said too much. "Safety precaution," she lied, "make sure kids don't... get into something they shouldn't."

"Makes sense," Momota agreed.

"No it doesn't," Angie protested. "How in the world did Angie poison the teabags? Those things are super tiny, and if she did something to them, Kirumi would have noticed easy!"

"She is right, I didn't notice anything wrong with the bags as I was brewing the tea," Toujou recalled.

"I never said the teabags were what contained the poison," Saihara countered, "And once you know what was poisoned, the whole case falls into place."

"But what could've been poisoned if not the teabags or the water?" Akamatsu asked.

Saihara looked to Toujou once more. "Toujou-san. Who was that tea for?"

The maid's eyes went wide again, as the possibilities raced through her mind. "I made it at Ouma-kun's request."

"Ouma-kun likes midday tea," Saihara reminded everyone, "And there's one thing in particular he likes added to his tea."

"Honey," Ouma noted, "Ah... that's how she did it."

"The honey was what contained the poison," Saihara revealed, "Meaning Angie's true intended victim was never Gonta-kun, but Ouma-kun!"

Angie gulped. "That's... well... Angie wouldn't want to kill Kokichi either..."

"You seemed pretty upset when you found out he had betrayed you," Akamatsu recounted.

"Not to mention he's been kind of an ass every chance he gets," Iruma agreed.

"And he killed Tenko!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"I think it's safe to say we all have some cause to want Ouma dead," Harukawa summarized.

The dictator sniffled. "Why are you all so mean to me? Sure I did bad things. Sure I lie a lot. But you want to actually kill me? UWAAAAAAHHHNNN!!!!!!" His showcase of crocodile tears spilled forth yet again, before disappearing as quickly as they arrived. "But it does explain a lot."

"The honey also answers the strangest question of all," the detective continued. "Why did Gonta-kun come to Toujou-san's lab?"

"...because of honey?" Hoshi questioned.

"Gonta-chan's lab had a half-full jar of honey in it," Ouma explained, "just one day after he gave a fresh batch to Toujou-san. No beehive could possibly make that much honey that quickly."

"Then the jar in his lab..." Toujou reasoned, "It must have been the one I had from before. The entire jar I had today was full of the fake concoction."

"And to hide it, Angie-san put the old jar in Gonta-kun's lab, hoping he wouldn't notice," Saihara concluded.

"But then he did notice," Akamatsu realized, "and he came to Toujou-san's lab to ask her if something had happened to the jar of honey he gave her."

"That's completely insane!" Angie protested, "Even if all that happened, that doesn't explain the obvious question! Why did Gonta die? Who made him drink the poison?! That's the real killer! Not Angie!"

"Just stop," Yumeno requested.

"Eh?" the artist replied.

The mage was wearing a defeated look on her face. Her eyes had grown weary the more the conversation wore on. "It happened to him just like it happened to Tenko," she said, "It happened because he tried to protect us."

"What are you talking about?" Momota asked.

"Toujou keeps saying she heard the door open before she blacked out," the redhead reminded him, "That means Gonta saw her drop to the floor. He put her on the chair, and wrapped her up in the blanket, because he wanted to help."

Kiibo's eyes went wide. "And then he tried to figure out what happened to her..."

The mage nodded, and proceeded to paint a verbal picture of the crime. "She was next to a fresh set of tea, the honey already mixed in. Gonta knew that the tea must have had something to do with what happened, or at least could have guessed. But because he wasn't that bright, he figured the best way to investigate..."

"Was a taste test," Harukawa finished, "But by doing that, he ingested the poison. As soon as it hit his system, he started reacting violently, bringing down the tea set and the nearby table, before he collapsed himself. That's why it looked like there was a struggle, even though he had no external injuries."

"So how about it, Angie-san?" Saihara challenged, "Did I miss anything?"

Angie merely smiled. But this wasn't like her regular smile. This was the smile she wore when she enforced her will on the art club. The smile she coupled with glassy, soulless eyes, showing no hint of emotion. With this grim visage overtaking her, she brushed away Saihara's inquiry. "Miss anything? Angie thinks you missed a lot."

"Hmm?"

"Angie didn't poison anybody. Gonta drank the tea himself. That's God's will. There's nothing that connects Angie to the crime."

"You're gonna pin this on God?!" Momota shouted in disbelief.

Angie remained calm, however. "God works in mysterious ways. You can't prove Angie had anything to do with the crime."

"That is incorrect!"

The class turned to face their new addressor, though of all people, it was one of the few who stood by Angie's side.

"Kiibo?" the artist inquired, "Don't tell Angie you were lying too..."

Kiibo looked askance. "I was not lying. I believed in you. Fully and completely. However, as my precious friend, I must request that you not conceal the truth. There is a connection between the crime scene and yourself."

"What's that?" Akamatsu wondered aloud.

"You may recall my ability to read the ambient makeup of the air," Kiibo recounted. Though the function was not used very often, the group did recall him using it during their earlier days in captivity. "During the investigation, I noted unusual readings in the air within Toujou-san's lab."

"Probably the lingering poison fumes," Harukawa noted.

"I thought the imbalances seemed familiar," the robot continued, "so I made my way to Angie-san's lab. As I surmised, there were similiar readings there. At the time, you had just finished mixing new paint, which leads me to believe that the poison that killed Gonta-kun was, indeed, made in your lab."

"Nice one Robo-boy!" Iruma cheered, "You're almost as impressive as something I built myself!"

In spite of this, Angie's smile did not waver. "So? Any member of the Art Club is allowed in any other member's lab, remember? Any of them could have done it."

"No, that's wrong!" Saihara countered. "Your lab door has a lock on it. There's only one copy of that key in the world, and you're the one who has it. No one could go in or out of your lab without your say-so."

"Are you sure?" Angie replied. "Kokichi knows how to pick locks. And I'm pretty sure Kirumi knows, too. Maybe one of them snuck in and made the poison with my tools to frame me."

"That doesn't make sense, though," the detective disagreed, "If Toujou-san made the poison, she wouldn't need to switch the honey jars around. All that would accomplish is risk warning Gonta-kun of her plans. And if Ouma-kun was the one to make the poison, he wouldn't put it in the honey at all. If Gonta-kun hadn't shown up, then he would have been the one to drink it, and he would have died."

Angie's gaze drew darker than ever. "Are you questioning the will of God? The voice of God? It was not Angie who made Gonta drink poison. It was not Angie who brewed poison tea. It was not Angie who brought Gonta to his death. Angie is not the culprit. ANGIE IS NOT GUILTY!"

The artist's voice had grown cold in that last moment. The students were astounded at her transformation. The bright, peppy girl had been replaced with a shell of her former self. Her words lacked heart, passion, emotion. It was as though Angie Yonaga was no longer among them, and someone was using her body as a ventriloquist's dummy.

"You all have invited death. Tragedy. It's what you desire. It's what you seek. Random accidents. Bits of happenstance. You allow yourselves to be open to them and you let them happen. Gonta died because you allowed him to die. He allowed himself to die. Even if Angie created the poison, she is not a murderer. Death is but a natural progression of the world you all have created here. Gonta died because he lived in a world where he was willing to die. Angie did not kill him. You cannot call her a culprit."

The dead, expressionless words of the artist chilled the students to the bone. Could they really consider her the killer? Her actions were never directed at Gonta. Her actions were actually rather small. Compared to everything else that had happened before, was this really the same? Was this really a murder?

An answer was soon found.

"You've got that wrong."

The students' attention was captured once again, this time by Akamatsu. Though the pianist had been content to allow Saihara to take the reins of the trial up until now, she could not bring herself to be silent anymore. Not after what Angie had said.

"I know how you feel right now, Angie. It's how I felt when I first saw Amami-kun's body. You tried to kill Ouma-kun and Gonta-kun died instead. I get it. You're doing everything you can to distance yourself from what happened. From the moment you saw the body, that's what you wanted more than anything."

"Gonta! Wh-why... how...?" Angie asked of no one.

"Angie doesn't know what happened. Gonta shouldn't have died. Angie doesn't understand."

"But even if you never wanted this, even if Gonta-kun's death was a big mistake..." Akamatsu struggled with her speech. She believed what she was saying with all her heart, but the words hit very close to home. "You can't just run away and hide. If you do that, you're letting the worst part of you win. If we never found out... if we never found out about what Shirogane-san did... I would've accepted my guilty verdict. Even now, I still feel like Amami-kun's death was my fault. And I accept that part of myself. The ugly side who wanted to kill someone, regardless of how noble I thought the reason was. So, please. You can't just lie to yourself about this. It won't make the guilt go away. It only makes it worse. For your own sake, please. Just... just tell the truth."

The artist's head drooped downward, as though it no longer wished to fight against its own weight. Her eyes still dead, Angie spoke, her voice back to normal, "Kaede... you... you understand it better than I ever did. What it means... to guide people. To be a voice of reason."

"Angie-san?" the blonde replied.

"Shuuichi," Angie said, "this is the part where you summarize the case, right?"

The detective took a cleansing breath and nodded. "Yes. This case began with a plan in mind. The culprit intended to target Ouma-kun by tricking him into consuming poison. Though no direct toxins were available to us, the culprit was able to create a deadly compound using various substances found in their research lab. To ensure Ouma-kun would be the one who ingested the poison, the poisonous concoction was made to resemble honey and placed within one of Gonta-kun's honey jars. The jar was stolen from Gonta-kun's research lab and was used to replace the jar of honey already in Toujou-san's lab. Knowing that Ouma-kun had honey with his midday tea, the culprit believed that all they would need to do is wait, and everything else would take care of itself. However, a few things went wrong. The first of which was that they placed the old jar of honey back in Gonta's lab, so he wouldn't notice any missing jars. The problem was that he realized that he now had more honey than he was supposed to have, and so made his way to Toujou-san's lab to investigate. During that time, Toujou-san was preparing Ouma-kun's tea, but unbeknownst to the culprit, she was adding the honey during the brewing process. The hot water vaporized a portion of the poison, and the fumes caused her to lose consciousness. By chance, this was when Gonta-kun entered the room. Realizing something was wrong, he placed Toujou-san off to the side so she could recover comfortably. Then, hoping to uncover the truth behind what happened, Gonta-kun investigated the tea. But that was his last mistake, because he chose to investigate by drinking it. The poison took effect quickly, causing him to react violently, and damage the nearby table and china. Shortly afterward, the poison claimed his life, much to the surprise of the culprit. Investigation of the air in both Toujou-san's lab as well as the culprit's indicates that there was only one place the poison could have come from. And though there was more than one person who could enter that room, only one possibility makes sense. As I said before, the culprit must be Angie Yonaga."

An unspoken agreement made its way across the room. Monkuma took that as a signal to take point once more. "In that case, please cast your votes with the lever in front of you! Who's gonna get chosen as the culprit? Will your choice be right or hopelessly wrong?! What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?"

For the third time, the screens around the room lit up with the image of a roulette wheel. For the third time, it landed on the chosen culprit, Angie.

And for the third time, it displayed a single word.

"GUILTY"

 

Chapter Text

"Me, oh, my. Three is a magic number after all! You kids did it again! The one who killed Gonta Gokuhara-kun, even if they didn't mean it, was Angie Yonaga-san!"

The artist had chosen to remain silent during these proceedings. It was as though she had only just begun to process what had happened, and was beginning to accept her role in this recent tragedy.

Others were less patient.

"Angie didn't mean to kill Gonta," Yumeno muttered, "she wanted to kill Kokichi. And killing a bad person isn't wrong, right? So... what now?"

"I don't think we get justifiable homicide or manslaughter around here," Hoshi answered. "There's only one way this ends."

"Was God... wrong? The voice in my head says I have done the right thing, but... Angie-san... you are my friend! I do not wish for such a cruel fate to befall you!" Kiibo exclaimed.

Akamatsu approached the artist carefully. "Angie-san? Are you... okay?"

Angie raised her head slowly. She was smiling. Not a bright smile, not a cold smile. More like a smile of contentment, as though there was nothing else left to be done. "It's nothing to worry about. I... I accept that this is the path for me."

"So, what?" Harukawa questioned. "Do you feel any remorse or guilt?"

"I am sad that Gonta-kun passed," Angie revealed, "But maybe that was just God's plan. Gonta was too good to be stuck in this place. God found a way to bring him out without corrupting his soul. He was no killer. He died saving someone. Two someones, really."

Toujou averted her eyes. On some level she couldn't help but feel responsible. Had she only noticed the jar was different, maybe this wouldn't have happened.

Ouma, of course, was less reflective on the situation. "Gonta-chan was always reliable like that. Hey, hey! I do have a few questions, though."

"Ask away, I don't have anything left to hide," Angie replied.

"I'm not surprised that you wanted to kill me," Ouma began, "I'm not exactly anyone's favorite guy around here. But, what happened that made you want to kill someone anyway?"

"Yeah," Iruma chimed in, "One minute you're all, 'we just gotta stay here forever', and then you're trying to poison somebody? How'd you make that jump?"

"I wouldn't call it a jump," Angie corrected, "I'd sooner say it was a gradual series of steps."

"Step one being when Ouma-kun didn't vote alongside you?" Saihara surmised.

"Actually, no," Angie shot back. "Step one was when no one but Maki tried to confess."

"Wait," Momota replied, having been caught off-guard, "That was enough to bug you?"

"It spoke of a larger problem," Angie explained, "None of you were willing to come to terms with your darker selves. The worst parts of who you were. You'd rather just let it bubble under the surface, take the risk rather than be transparent and open."

"Says the girl who locks her lab up when she works," Iruma countered.

"I suppose that doesn't quite gel," the artist admitted, "But then I found hope. My Art Club. The people who saw things my way."

"After you brainwashed them," Harukawa scoffed.

"That's your opinion, now isn't it?" Angie replied, "But in any case, I was glad to see that there were people willing to confess their sins freely. But... that caused its own problems."

"You kept hearing a bunch of other people's secrets," Akamatsu realized.

Angie nodded. "I would hear secrets from the people I trusted. Secrets they weren't willing to share with me. It made me realize... they weren't entirely on my side. I was... more alone than I thought."

"Making Ouma-kun's betrayal hurt even more," Saihara added.

"When I realized he was playing me it stung, yes. And it came at the worst possible time," Angie continued. "I had shown everyone the path that would keep them safe, and they refused. They wouldn't accept God's will. Or maybe... they wouldn't accept Angie. It was getting to the point that... I couldn't really tell which."

"Angie-san..." Akamatsu said, realization dawning.

For a brief moment, the artist's normal, bright smile returned. "Angie has spent much of her life sharing the word of God. God's will is hard to distinguish from Angie's sometimes. But... then... when Kokichi betrayed Angie, it was clear. God wanted to forgive Kokichi, but Angie... Angie was angry."

The dictator gave a smirk. As unnerving as Angie's words were, it was gratifying to know he'd gotten even more of a rise out of her than he'd first thought.

"Angie wasn't really used to disagreeing with God. And Angie realized, no one was going to listen. Not while there were so many of them who didn't see things the way she did. So Angie came up with a plan."

"So you'd kill Ouma-kun, and... then what?" Akamatsu inquired, "We'd realize you were right? That we should stay here?"

"Maybe not at first," the artist hedged, returning to her somewhat empty smile, "but you can see now, right? What this school will end up doing to us? It makes us monsters. If you let it control you, even the good people will start doing bad things."

"That doesn't exactly absolve you," Harukawa argued.

"I get what you're trying to tell us, but..." Momota said, searching for a point, "I don't get it. Do you really think we're gonna stop trying to get out of here? 'Cause I know I'm not."

"But how long?" Angie wondered aloud, "Will you be able to keep fighting, even as more and more of your ugly sides come out? As the people you thought you could trust turn out to be fantasies you made up in your mind?"

"Angie-san," Akamatsu asserted, "I know you've been hurt by this, but... You can't really expect us to give up. Accepting the bad parts of people are part of what makes us human. The truth can be ugly, I know, but... you can't turn your eyes away from it. Denying it causes too much suffering."

"You might be right, Kaede," Angie agreed, "but there's the old saying. 'Ignorance is bliss'. You should know, you're the one who didn't want us to confess our sins, right?"

"That's... that's... that's because I didn't want us playing into Monokuma's hands!" the pianist countered.

Angie's eyes went cold once more. "So... you weren't afraid of someone learning your secret?"

Akamatsu was taken aback. Despite all her protests, Angie was right. The blonde was hoping against hope no one had learned her secret over the course of the past few days.

Fortunately, the spotlight was quickly taken off of her. "If I may, I did have one more question."

The class was once again focused on Ouma, who was grinning ear to ear. "You did know that Saihara-chan likes honey with his tea, too, didn't you? Would it have bothered you if he had died instead of me?"

Angie pondered this for a brief moment, before ultimately answering, "Not really."

The detective's blood ran cold. Such a simple string of words filled him with great unease, as though all of his confidence from his earlier deductive showcase had vanished.

"Where the fuck do you get off saying that about my friend?!" Momota protested.

"Just because Saihara-kun wasn't really part of your club, you were okay with killing him?" Akamatsu added, her shock rather obvious.

Angie shook her head. "Oh, that doesn't really have anything to do with it."

The two fitness club members shared a confused glance, as Saihara struggled to grasp what was being said.

"See... I know something. Something very, very interesting about Shuuichi. And the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. But now, knowing he was lying to me, knowing I shouldn't have trusted him to begin with, it all makes sense," the artist revealed.

"Are you saying you know what his secret is?" Kiibo asked.

"Oh, I do. And it's a big one," Angie answered.

"Quick reminder!" Monokuma announced, "You can't reveal any secret you learn until after the trial is over. And as far as I'm concerned, the trial isn't over until punishment has been doled out."

"Punishment's gonna be fun this time around!" Monosuke cheered. "Might even blow me away, eh, Monodam?"

"IT MIGHT," the green bear agreed.

Monokid smirked. "HELL YEAH!! But 'til then, keep your traps shut!"

Angie sighed. "So I guess I can't share with you. A shame, really."

"I..." Saihara muttered.

The class turned to face the black-haired boy. "I..." he continued, "I don't understand. When did you find out?"

"The day after you joined the Art Club," Angie explained, "It was a real eye-opener."

"But... I only confessed once!" Saihara countered, "And I revealed my darkest secret. That was before you say you learned it, so you shouldn't have been able to hear my secret!"

"That does sound weird," Angie admitted, "But I heard what I heard, and I know what I know. I don't know why you're doing what you're doing, and I don't know what you're planning. But I do know this: the moment the others learn the truth, they'll never trust you. Never again. So for your sake, I hope you do a better job covering your tracks in the future."

"I don't...." Saihara trailed off, perplexed at these revelations.

"Hold it!" Iruma protested, "My turn for questions! What did you do to me?!"

Angie quirked an eyebrow. "...what?"

"When I got knocked out!" the inventor reminded her, "That was you, wasn't it?!"

Angie shook her head. "Sorry. Angie doesn't know anything about that. Whatever happened to you and Kiibo is a total mystery to her."

"So..." Iruma muttered, very confused. "Wait... how do I know you're not lying?!"

"What could she gain from lying now?" Toujou countered.

"Angie's done with all this for now," the artist revealed. "I've made my peace. Maybe one day, you'll see things the way I did. God, in Your glory, I eagerly anticipate seeing You face to face. Monokuma, I think you have a job to do."

"I love it when they're compliant," Monokuma cheered, "It's a close second to horrified disbelief. In any case, I've prepared a very special punishment for the Ultimate Artist, Angie Yonaga-san!"

"I wish all of you the best of luck in the future. I guess... this is... Bye-onara..."

"Let's give it everything we've got! Ittttttttt'ssssssssss Punishment Time!!!!!"

GAME OVER

ANGIE YONAGA HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY

COMMENCING PUNISHMENT...

With each passing execution, it became more and more confusing to the students how much power Monokuma truly had. If making a dojo or a salon appear from nowhere wasn't enough, Angie found herself standing on the edge of a volcano. The sky above was dark, with the clouds slowly beginning to leak out a moderate rainfall. The coolness of the water was barely enough to relieve the overwhelming heat, though Angie was focused more on the task before her.

The artist had been presented with a large pillar of wax. The heat and the rain were causing the pillar to begin to lose its structural integrity, though it was not completely gone. Michelangelo had always claimed that the marble he worked with already contained the sculptures he would create, and his role was merely to free them. Angie held a similiar belief when it came to working with wax. She had worked with marble in the past, but she preferred to sculpt using wax.

A sword was then laid at her feet. Whether it was Monokuma or one of the cubs did not matter. For now, Angie had her sculpting material, as well as a tool to begin her magnum opus.

DIVINELY INSPIRED

The spirit of God whispering in her ear, Angie set out to carve away at the wax. The sword made for a rather unwieldly tool, and the wax was fighting her every step of the way. It was growing more and more difficult to fight against the storm, as the rain began to pick up the pace. Wind began to pick up as well, flicking bits of the wax away. And though she fought to give the pillar form, it slowly began to collapse from the volcanic heat beside her.

But this did not stop the artist. God's will would be done, and she would free the image that awaited the world. Wax flew and fell and was built back up as Angie forged a new monument to her skill. And surely enough, eventually the statue had taken shape. It was a man. A large, muscular, bearded man raising his right hand to the sky with a clenched fist. The statue, almost twice the size of its sculptor, was clearly mean to be an image of Angie's God, her final act on this Earth meant to be a showcase of her devotion to His will.

And yet, there was something missing. The sculpture was beautiful by any means, but Angie felt hollow looking at it. Her eyes were drawn to the clenched fist. There was a reason for that pose, but what could it be? She considered her own right hand, still holding the blade. Ah! Of course! God was meant to wield the sword Himself to showcase His strength. Angie stretched up, climbing the sculpture, trying her best not to undo all her hard work and accidentally topple the statue. Clinging to her sculpture for dear life, Angie stretched out her arm, weapon in hand, hoping to stick the sword through the opening in the clenched fist.

It was around this time Monosuke, hoping to ensure Monodam's assault on him, moved to the edge of the volcano's rim. Sure enough, Monodam began to sneak up behind the yellow bear, likely with the intent to shove him into the lava pool. Monokid, realizing that it was time to act, prepared by lifting his guitar to the sky.

It was at this moment that lightning struck twice.

The first of the bolts struck Monokid's guitar, electrocuting the poor bear and stealing Monodam and Monosuke's attentions away from one another. Though they had not been hit, they were certainly shocked by this turn of events, costing them their brother.

The second bolt, of course, was drawn to Angie's sword like a lightning rod. Electricity coursed through the girl's body, causing her to lose her sense of balance. From this loss of control, the statue, now fried as well via proximity, and left almost entirely unrecognizable, toppled. Angie and her final creation tipped over and fell downward, before collapsing and dissipating away within the lava pool.

Her attempt to ascend had been her downfall.

 

Chapter Text

It seemed the moments after the executions would never get any easier. The third occurrence of a friend being murdered in such a horrifically brutal way was just as bad as the last two, if not worse. And all the same, it was not the only thing that was focused on.

"Monokid! What? That wasn't supposed to-!" Monosuke stammered out.

"HIS DEATH MAKES ME SAD. WE WERE JUST STAR-TING TO GET A-LONG," Monodam lamented.

"Bad luck," Monosuke muttered, "just... bad luck was all that was."

"DID YOU PUT HIM UP TO THAT?"

"What?"

"HE WAS GO-ING TO KILL ME. DID YOU PUT HIM UP TO THAT?" the green bear repeated.

"No, no!" Monosuke denied, "I would never do something like that!"

"WE ARE ALL WE HAVE LEFT. WE MUST GET A-LONG. I DO NOT WANT US TO NOT GET A-LONG," Monodam declared, the threat clear.

"Me neither!" Monosuke agreed, "I won't try anything stupid, I promise! I'm the smart one, remember?"

"...FOR YOUR SAKE, I HOPE SO," Monodam replied.

"BYE-KUMA!" the two shouted as they departed for whereabouts unknown.

Monokuma shook his head. "Only two kids left. Tragic. But it'll save me a bundle on tuition! Upupupupu!"

His joke received no response from the students.

"Oh, come on! Where's your sense of humor? Akamatsu-san, aren't you at least gonna talk about how horrible I am?" the headmaster asked.

"Why bother? You don't care. I don't see why I should waste the energy. I'd rather focus on my actual friends right now," the pianist shot back.

"You wound me, my dear," the two-toned teddy said, clutching his chest, "And here I thought you and I were real pals. Guess we have more of a professional relationship. C'est la vie..."

And with that, he too disappeared.

"Okay, can we please get back to my thing?!" Iruma shouted.

"Ever hear of a mourning period?" Hoshi inquired.

"Ever hear of 'someone fucking assaulted me and we still have no clue who or why'?!" the inventor countered.

"I agree with Iruma-san," Kiibo noted, "Though I am not happy with Angie-san's death, the fact that such a situation has gone unchecked greatly worries me."

"Sure you're not just worried about yourself?" Ouma chimed in. "Figures you'd put yourself over everyone else, being a robot and all."

"Your robo-racism is getting old!" Kiibo protested, "And I worry far more for Iruma-san than myself! I do not want any more harm coming to my friends, and I wish to know who would try something like this!"

"If you're so upset about it, why don't we ask the real brains of this group?" Ouma said with a smirk. "Saihara-chan, any thoughts?"

The detective didn't respond. He had gone quiet ever since Angie's words about how she knew something terrible about him.

"Shuuichi, you okay?" Momota asked his friend, "You still shook up about all of this?"

Saihara nodded. "I... I need to be alone for a while."

"Saihara-kun..." Akamatsu whispered.

"Whatever you need, buddy," Momota reassured. The astronaut turned to the other students and proclaimed, "Let's move out, people!"

The purple-haired boy's words begrudingly won over his classmates as they made their way to the elevator. Though they traditionally rode in a set formation, Saihara decided to break from the pack this time, taking a corner to himself.

He was silent the whole way up.


 

There wasn't much for the students to do with the rest of their day. The trial had left them exhausted, and the sun was quickly beginning to set. Or at least the facsimile thereof that had been provided to them. As such, most of the group had gone to their dorm rooms to sleep off the stress.

The fitness club had gathered outside the bank of doors, though they were short one member.

"Shuuichi's not coming with us, is he?" Momota commented.

"He had a long day," Akamatsu reminded him, "I think he's earned the night off."

Harukawa grew shifty-eyed as the others spoke.

"Something up, Harumaki?" Momota asked.

The red-eyed girl gave a quick look around the room, attempting to make sure no one was listening in. Upon learning that there was no such danger, she turned to address her two allies. "There's something you two should probably know."

"What is it?" the pianist inquired.

"When I revealed my secret," Harukawa began, her explanation broken up by a short breath, "the one Monokuma told me afterward... it was Saihara's."

"So, wait... you know what Angie was talking about?" Momota exclaimed.

"Not so loud!" Harukawa shushed, "But... I don't think so. His secret shouldn't affect our ability to trust him. Or at least it didn't with me."

Akamatsu gulped. "What was it?"

The faux-caretaker sighed. "I don't feel good about telling you this without his permission, but... you two deserve to know." She took another breath before finally revealing the truth.

"Shuuichi Saihara suffers from clinical depression."

The two went silent upon hearing those words. They couldn't exactly deny it, especially not after the detective's anxiety attack, but it was still devastating to hear.

"Shuuichi... shit... he's been dealing with that on his own?" Momota muttered.

"I highly doubt Monokuma's given him access to any type of medication, so it seems that way," Harukawa pointed out.

"But... he's seemed so confident in the past," Akamatsu argued, trying her best to cling to some shred of proof otherwise.

"I'm no psychologist," Harukawa explained, "but I think he uses his detective work as a coping mechanism. Solving a case gives him a problem he can actually face head-on and beat."

"But he always says he's not a great detective or anything," Momota recalled.

"Devaluing his accomplishments," Akamatsu muttered, "keeping emotional distance from others. Damn it... Saihara-kun... why didn't you tell us?"

Momota grit his teeth in frustration. "Can't we do something to help?"

"I think the best thing you can do for him is make sure he remembers he has people who care about him," Harukawa suggested, "Don't treat him any differently because of his condition or it'll just make him more self-conscious. And definitely don't treat him differently for being bi."

"We're all on a spectrum," Akamatsu commented, nodding in agreement.

"Shuuichi's still Shuuichi, whatever he goes through. And I told him, he ever needs help, he's got me!" Momota cheered.

"He's got us," Akamatsu corrected, "All three of us."

"I'm sorry?" Harukawa questioned.

The blonde smirked. "C'mon, Harukawa-san. We're your friends, whether you want to admit it or not."

"Plus, you just proved how much you care about Shuuichi," Momota added, "Otherwise you wouldn't have told us about any of this."

"Do you want me to kill you?" Harukawa questioned, her eyes narrowed.

Akamatsu's eyes, however, went wide. "Where did... what?"

Momota laughed it off. "Eh, it's just something Harumaki does, no big!"

Akamatsu let out a nervous laugh in response. "Heh heh... right. Still... you can be scary sometimes, Harukawa-san."

The assassin averted her gaze. "So I've been told."

"Hey, ladies, play nice," Momota cut in, attempting to play peacekeeper, "If you've got some energy to get out, you can do it while we're training. Shuuichi gets the night off, but that just means we gotta put in double the work to make up for it!"

"It that how it works?" Akamatsu groaned.

Momota gave no response, and made his way to the garden. Akamatsu begrudgingly followed with a steady shuffle.

Harukawa paused, however.

It was an odd thought that had been brought to her attention. Friends? She had people she would say she had been close to back at the orphanage, but not really friends. The idea that her first real foray into friendship would be in the midst of this Killing Game was utterly ridiculous, and yet the proof was in the pudding. She had chosen to reveal Saihara's secret to the others, for their benefit as well as the black-haired boy's. And she had been telling the truth about her regret she couldn't have talked to him about it first, though that was more a matter of courtesy. And she was continuing with nightly training, despite it not really doing anything for her. It was... a time to be social. Something that she never cared about indulging in before. Akamatsu was pleasant enough to be around. Saihara was clever and good-hearted. And Momota...

...was an idiot. And yet, the thing she hated most about training was how little he seemed to be around for it.

All the same, she couldn't really consider herself a friend to them. Not while she lied about her true nature. If they knew she was an assassin, they'd surely try to keep their distance. Even more so if they knew she was aiding Ouma in his efforts.

And most damning of all, what she had done earlier that day.


 

AROUND NOON THAT DAY

Iruma cracked her knuckles and prepared to begin.

Then her mouth was covered by a rag, the smell of it overpowering her. The inventor struggled desperately to escape her unseen attacker, kicking and scratching at nothing as her muscles slowly grew limp.

Then everything went dark.

Harukawa released her hold on the now-unconscious blonde, letting her collapse to the floor with a thud. The twin-tailed girl then snapped her fingers, signaling her partner in this crime.

Ouma walked forward, giving a small golf clap. "You are very good at what you do."

"You have forty-five minutes until Kiibo wakes up," Harukawa replied curtly, "I'm not sure how long Iruma will be out."

"Forty-five minutes is thirty more than I'll need," Ouma reassured, "Your job's done. Go about your day."

"Might I ask why you needed to do this?" Harukawa sneered.

"I think you'd prefer plausible deniability in this situation," Ouma shot back.

"That's my other question," the assassin continued, "What makes you think you can get away with whatever it is you're doing?"

"If it comes to an investigation, I think I can count on you to keep Momota-chan distracted," Ouma joked.

Harukawa's glare grew sharp. "Do you want me to kill you?"

Ouma gave a glare of his own in return. "Not just yet. The real problem is Saihara-chan. For all my hard work, I can't pin down his kryptonite."

Harukawa began to leave the room.

She knew she shouldn't. Technically she couldn't. But... she couldn't risk anyone finding out about all this. Ouma seemed to have a plan to save everyone. And if Saihara would be a risk to that...

"He... he doesn't cope well," Harukawa said.

Ouma quirked an eyebrow. "What?"

"Just... try to break him emotionally. That'll be easier than anything else."

The dictator grinned ear-to-ear. "Thank you for your cooperation."

Harukawa walked away in silence. She hadn't truly revealed Saihara's secret, so she was safe on that front. However, given Ouma's tendencies, it was quite clear he would take her advice too far.

She was past the point of no return now.


 

Saihara had collapsed upon his bed the moment he arrived in his room. He lie still, motionless. Not a sound escaped from him, save for the light hints of his breathing. The fact that he had been able to walk back to his room after everything that had happened was nothing short of a miracle in his mind.

His mind raced at Angie's words. He was used to people treating him differently when they found out about his condition. It was hardly pleasant, but he knew it was something subconscious, that others couldn't control. Who was he to fault others for succumbing to their subconscious mind?

But not trusting him? That didn't make any sense. Nothing about her story made sense. How could she learn his secret after he had already confessed about it to Monokuma? The only possibility was that Monokuma was lying about how the rules worked. Had he broken the rules of his own game? And if so, what had he told Angie?

"Poor, poor, Saihara-kun. Feeling down?"

The detective was at last roused from his stupor by an uninvited guest of an ursine nature. "Monokuma?!" the black-haired boy exclaimed.

"That's me!" the bear declared, "I just thought I'd check in on you! I figured you're pretty confused about what Angie said back there, and maybe I could shed some light on the situation."

"You... you'd tell me what you told Angie? Why?" Saihara questioned.

"Ever hear of not looking a gift horse in the mouth?" Monokuma warned, "But honestly, it's 'cause I like ya, kid. I'm rooting for ya!"

This left Saihara confused. "Rooting for me? But... I want to put a stop to your Killing Game."

"Exactly! It's no fun without some competition, and you, sir, are doing pretty well for yourself. Y'know, other than that little episode you had earlier today. Upupupupupu..."

"So... what did you tell her?" Saihara asked, "More than that, how could you tell her anything? I never told you any other secrets."

"Well... I kinda bent the rules a little," the headmaster admitted, "See, the thing of it is, after you learned the secret I told you in exchange for yours about your depression, another secret about you suddenly popped into being. Knowledge is power, kid, and you gained a whole bunch of both after I blabbed to you."

The gears quickly began to turn in Saihara's mind. The implications of Monokuma's words took shape, and formed into an accusation. "That was your goal from the start! You were just waiting for me to confess so you could change my secret and pass it to someone else!"

"Upupupupupupu!!!!" the bear cackled. "This is what I like about you! You actually see where I'm going with this! Now, I'm assuming that you remember what I told you before..."

Saihara went quiet, a bead of nervous sweat dripping down his brow.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," Monokuma commented, "Well, keep that in mind. Because the moment you heard that little factoid, your darkest secret suddenly became..."

Monokuma cleared his throat before continuing.

"Shuuichi Saihara has all the clues he needs to learn the Mastermind's true identity. But he refuses to actually do anything with them."

Saihara's mouth went dry upon hearing that. His worst fears seemed all but confirmed now.

"Well, I think I've said all I need to. See you in the morning! Sleep tight!"

Monokuma quickly left the room, leaving Saihara alone with an even worse train of thought running through his mind.

Of course he remembered the secret he learned. How could he forget? And if that meant he now knew everything he needed to know...

He shivered. The moment played back in his mind...


 

A FEW DAYS PRIOR

"Depression, eh? Interesting..." Monokuma muttered.

"So, now you know," Saihara said, dejected. "Or, I guess you already knew."

"That I did, but now I don't get to spread it around," Monokuma reminded him, giving an attitude that vaguely resembled one attempting to console another. "Anyway, now for the fun part!"

"I don't suppose I could skip this," Saihara wondered aloud.

"Nope! I've been holding on to this one just for you, buddy!" Monokuma replied, positively giddy.

"Just for me?"

"Of course!" Monokuma cheered. He took a breath before saying the words that would shake Saihara to his very core.

"Kaede Akamatsu forced her way into this Killing Game against my initial decision."

"Wh-what?!!! What does that-?!"

"It means I had a slightly different group of students lined up, and Akamatsu-san decided she wanted in on the fun!" Monokuma clarified.

"But... why would she...? She doesn't... She's wanted to stop... I don't..."

"Knew this one would be good! Now, get moving, I got other people to talk to!"

Saihara went silent as he made his way out of the booth. He didn't respond to the Art Club when they asked him how he felt.

It was while before he said anything after that.


 

It was too much to bear.

Akamatsu had come into the Killing Game by choice.

That was the last clue he needed.

She chose to be here against Monokuma's will. Monokuma had said he would prefer to keep the Mastermind away from the actual game. And Akamatsu had shown in the past she was willing to do some shady things to get what she wanted.

"It can't be..." Saihara muttered, "She can't be the Mastermind..."

How he wished he believed that.

SURVIVING STUDENTS: 10

 

Chapter Text

The crack and roll of lightning outside only served to increase the tension felt in the air of the parlor room. The guests of the dinner party had gathered together at the request of the investigator. With the jewels still missing, it was imperative that the culprit be found.

"So... the investigation period has come to an end."

"Yes, I suppose it has."

"Detective Pebbleford, do you have any clue who stole my husband's necklace?"

"I have a number of clues, though the answer may surprise this group."

"I have locked the doors, Detective Pebbleford. No one will be leaving this room before you can reveal the truth."

"Indeed. And as one might suspect, the true culprit in this case is none other than that mysterious thief, the Scarlet Spectre."

"You mean to say one of us is that ghastly fiend?!"

"Quite, and the evidence leaves little room for doubt."

"So tell us!"

"If that is what you want..."


 

A FEW DAYS EARLIER...

Gifted Inmates Academy had grown quiet. Angie's final statements had left the group in a state of unease, curious as to what sort of secrets she had been forced to conceal. Even more distressing was the dormant mystery of Iruma's assault. Nothing had been done to investigate the incident due to the group's post-trial exhaustion. However, it had been a full day, and there was now no excuse as to why they could not dedicate a great effort to unraveling this case.

Save for one notable problem.

"Where the fuck is Shyhara?!"

Just as the inventor proclaimed, Saihara was nowhere to be found that morning. The cafeteria seemed notably empty without the detective, and his associates in the Fitness Club were equally concerned. Arguably more so, given that they were privy to his condition. Saihara's depression had hit him hard during the last trial, and he was not looking his best when he had struggled his way back to his dorm room.

Nonetheless, Akamatsu took it upon herself to play peacemaker. "Iruma-san, I promise you. As soon as he's back in full form and we finish exploring the school, we'll get right to finding out what happened to you."

"What makes you think we'll be exploring?" Kiibo questioned.

"Happened last two times," Hoshi reminded the robot.

"It would be quite odd for Monokuma to break from that pattern now," Toujou agreed.

"Kinda hope so," Momota added, "Personally, I'd like to see my lab."

"Shouldn't a way out be your priority?" Harukawa asked.

"Well, it is," the astronaut reassured, "But, come on, Harumaki! Weren't you excited when you first got to see your lab?"

Harukawa gave a rather dead-eyed glare at the purple-haired boy. "Have you forgotten I don't actually like my stupid talent?"

"Still..."

The creaking sound of the cafeteria door brought this conversation to a halt, as the only student who had been absent walked in. Saihara's eyes were low, with heavy bags underneath them. The boy clearly had not gotten much in the way of sleep, and he made no effort to address the group.

Momota, off-put at seeing his friend this way, decided to take the initiative. "You feeling better, Shuuichi?"

Saihara took heed of the astronaut as he sat down and hung his head. "Better," he mumbled, "but 'good' is still a ways away."

"Alright, however long you need, man," Momota said in comfort.

"Thank you," the detective replied.

For some that would be enough. But Akamatsu wasn't your average person. She couldn't help but note the drastic change in Saihara. And while the others may have elected to ignore it, she had to comment.

"Saihara-kun..." she said, her voice filled with concern.

"Hmm?" he barely intoned.

"You're wearing the hat again."

Indeed, she was right. The long-absent cap Saihara had used as a defense mechanism during the earlier days of the Killing Game had made a return. And for the pianist, the only one aware of the hat's true purpose, it was not a welcome one.

Saihara said nothing, but nodded to show that, yes, he had acquired his previous accessory on purpose. In a maelstrom of emotion and unease, the small, psychosomatic barrier that the black cap provided was something that he needed right now.

"She can't be," he thought to himself. "She just can't."

"So what? We're just gonna wait for him to get over himself before I can get some damn answers?!" Iruma vented.

"Iruma-san!" Akamatsu shot back, clearly exasperated.

"Don't worry. I'll take your mind off it!"

The voice was all-too familiar by now.

Monokuma had once again arrived without call or warning. "After all, you've got a lot of work ahead of you!"

"What does that mean?" Yumeno inquired.

"It means I have a few chores I need done," Monokuma explained, "Chores that require a very particular set of skills. Skills honed through a long career. Skills that make Iruma-san a nightmare for people like Kiibo-kun..."

"I don't really have nightmares," Kiibo commented, "And I know you're going to say something about electric sheep, so don't bother."

Ouma snapped his fingers in frustration.

"And why should I do your dumbass chores?" Iruma spat.

Monokuma smirked as his two remaining children arrived in their Exisals. The group was taken aback by the return of the mighty mechs, as it had been quite some time since their threat had last been used.

"Because otherwise I will find you. And I will kill you," the headmaster concluded.

"You mean we will, right, Pops?" Monosuke confirmed.

"Yes," Monokuma replied with a sigh, "Why must you step on my reference?"

"ARE MO-NO-SUKE AND FATHER NOT GET-TING A-LONG?" Monodam wondered.

"No no no no no!" Monosuke protested, "Just a misunderstanding! Sorry Pops!"

"Just don't let it happen again," Monokuma warned.

Iruma took a moment to compose herself. She was a girl known for many things. Her sense of tact was not really one of them. However, she was not without a healthy sense of self-preservation. And in the face of two 10-foot tall robotic war-suits with heavy artillery pointed directly at her, there was only one rational response.

"So Imma go with him..." she explained sheepishly.

"What are you going to do to her?" Akamatsu asked, attempting to show what little defiance she could.

Monokuma sighed. "If you must know, the next motive's running a little behind schedule, and I could use the assist."

"And you're not planning on hurting her?"

"Did you forget? I'm not allowed to directly harm a student until they break a rule. As long as she's a good little girl, she'll be fine..." Monokuma replied, a glimmer of mischief in his eye.

"And what are we supposed to do while you're torturing her?" Momota challenged.

"Torture?!" Iruma chimed in, "Is it gonna be that kind of torture?"

"Of course that's where her mind goes..." Harukawa lamented.

"Well, I thought that would be obvious!" Monokuma answered. He then dropped a ball and an ink brush at the students' feet.

"Explore to your heart's content, kiddos! And remember, have fun!"

The bear's words were cold comfort as he forced Iruma to follow him out of the room, the Exisals not far behind.

As Iruma's image faded in the distance, Akamatsu heaved a heavy sigh, and picked up the brush. "Guess there's nothing for it. Time to split up."


 

The number of students seemed to vastly outpace the number of locations they had to explore. This was made incredibly clear with the five students now crammed into a single room. However, they had no need to struggle for space. The research lab they found themselves in had taken the form of a massive tower, with a wide open area for them to explore. The air of science-fiction gave away rather quickly that this lab was designed with the Ultimate Robot in mind.

In spite of this, Kiibo seemed less than enthused.

"This is not what I was hoping to find in my lab," he lamented.

Toujou's eyebrows quirked at this. "I must admit I am curious. What is it you wished to see?"

"Yeah, seems like what a robot might want," Yumeno agreed.

"Well, this lab seems more dedicated to upgrading my hardware, with add-ons and various gizmos and trinkets. The bells and whistles if you will," Kiibo explained. "I was hoping for something more philosophical. Maybe something about how I fit into society. This... makes me feel more like an object."

"I get how you feel," Hoshi agreed. "Once I found the part of my lab that was about me being a prisoner, it felt like a smack in the face. I mean, I get that's it's part of me, but it's not all there is. At least I hope not..."

"Yes," Kiibo concurred, "all these pieces of technology... they're just not who I am."

"Oh, come on!"

It came as little surprise to the group that Ouma would protest this assertion, but the interruption was still an unwelcome occurrence.

"Rocket packs, laser cannons, audio and visual reception upgrades," he listed off, "That's what I think when I think Ultimate Robot! This is your chance to actually strut your stuff and you say no?! Who says 'no' to a jetpack?! I honestly don't get you!"

"To accept these upgrades would be to admit I am not good enough on my own," Kiibo argued.

"Have you ever considered that maybe you aren't?" Ouma countered. "If you were a super-combat robot, maybe we'd all have gotten out of here by now."

"Don't be mean to him!" Yumeno argued. "Kiibo's just fine the way he is!"

"Yeah... 'just'. Feh..." Ouma walked away with his hands in his pockets. "Talk to me when you aren't so hung up on something silly."

"My sense of self is not silly!" Kiibo threw back. "It is what makes me who I am!"

"Let it go," Hoshi advised. "He's never gonna change."

The mechanical boy sighed. "I know. Much as I wish he would. But I can't help but see his point. Perhaps with these upgrades, I could be more useful to you all."

"You might, but as you said, you would not be yourself," Toujou reaffirmed. "I live my life entirely dedicated to the betterment of others. I have no regrets about that path, because it is one that I chose. Do not feel pressured to change yourself if it would make you uncomfortable."

"She's right," Yumeno agreed. "We like you for you. That's what matters. Ouma's just a jerk, anyway."

The robot smiled in response. "Thank you. I am quite fortunate to have such good friends."

"Shame about the lab, though," Hoshi commented.

"Well... actually... with a little renovating, I think it would make an excellent lounge," Kiibo theorized.

"Hmm..." Toujou intoned, her brain now moving at a million miles a minute. "We certainly have the space, as well as furniture... With a little work, yes. This could be a fantastic leisure area."

Yumeno grimaced. She could tell this would be a labor-intensive day.


 

The fourth, and presumably final, floor of Gifted Inmates Academy was certainly breathtaking. The architecture was very regal, giving the image of a gothic cathedral, or a grand palace. The marble pillars, the stained glass windows, the statues that adorned the railings, everything was beautiful and eye-catching.

Shame that the most notable thing was a firmly sealed door.

"Damn it!" Momota complained. "Another locked room?"

"Based on the design, I'd guess this was supposed to be Shirogane's lab," Harukawa theorized.

"Huh."

"What?"

"Nothing," the astronaut continued, "I guess I just kinda figured that the hidden room in the library counted as her lab."

"That would give her away as the Mastermind, though," Harukawa noted.

"Well, yeah, but... I don't know, it made sense in my head," Momota defended.

"You really are stupid," the red-eyed girl claimed.

"Maybe," the purple-haired boy replied, "but I've got other theories, too."

"Like what?"

"Well, I've been thinking that Shuuichi's lab is the entire school," Momota explained. "The labs keep getting bigger and bigger, and a Killing Game is the exact sort of environment where a detective could hone his investigative skills. Plus, it's just like Monokuma to pull that kind of asshole twist."

Harukawa nodded, taking in the boy's words. "I see. One small flaw in that idea."

"And what's that?" Momota challenged.

Harukawa merely smirked, and pointed to a nearby door. The tell-tale sign of a magnifying glass engraved over it made it quite clear that it was meant to be Saihara's lab.

Momota hung his head low. "I just can't win, can I?"

It was at that point when a truly unprecedented event occurred. None of the students could have ever hoped to predict it, living or dead. Not Angie's divine messages, not Saihara's deductive skills, not Shirogane's belief that she had control of a narrative, not Kiibo's robotic brain, not even Yumeno's magic could have seen this coming.

Harukawa let out the slightest hint of a laugh.

She caught it almost immediately, refusing to let it escape. She took that single, brief sound, and found the deepest pit of her soul so as to bury it where it may never return. She hoped against hope that no one had heard that.

Momota's cheerful grin quickly disavowed her of that notion.

"If you ever, ever tell anyone about that..."

"No worries, Harumaki, your secret's safe with me," the astronaut reassured.


 

If the magnifying glass over the door wasn't enough of an indicator, anyone who actually set foot in Saihara's lab would have no doubt as to its purpose. With the old English décor, the shelves full of case files, and the chemistry notes on the center table, it was as though 221B Baker Street had come to life, and Saihara was free to live out Sir Doyle's works in the modern day.

However, due to the detective's disposition, Akamatsu was taking it upon herself to be happy for the both of them.

"Wow! I mean, I have a bias toward my own lab, but this place almost tops it," the pianist claimed, "I love the old-school look."

Saihara said nothing. His eyes were glued to a cabinet full of strange vials of various fluids.

"What's in there?" Akamatsu inquired.

"Poison," he stated plainly.

The blonde girl took a step back, startled by the boy's words. Or, word. "P-poison? Why would you need-?"

"A detective should have a working knowledge of poisons to be better able to identify causes of death," Saihara explained, his gaze still fixed on the cabinet. "Monokuma probably left it here as supplies for a murder attempt."

"Then shouldn't we-?"

"If we tried to get rid of it, he would likely restock," Saihara reasoned.

Akamatsu groaned in frustration. "Ugh! So there's nothing we can do?"

Saihara finally turned his head to the shelf of case files. He silently made his way over to the rows of binders, and took the first set in hand.

"What are those for?" Akamatsu asked.

"Keeps the mind sharp. And maybe, Monokuma left us a clue in one of them," Saihara theorized, his tone unchanging.

Akamatsu's gaze lowered. She was trying desperately to try and free the detective from the hard shell he had trapped himself in, knowing full well how dangerous that could be. If the shell were to crack, it may free the detective, but it could just as easily cause him to fall apart completely. She wasn't accustomed to dealing with someone with depression, and wasn't sure when to fight or when to stay her hand. Yes, it was only right to give him space if that's what he wanted, but there was a fine line between giving someone space and giving them enough rope to hang themself.

The pianist then proceeded to smack herself, frantically trying to remove the mental image she had inadvertently created.

"I'm..."

Saihara was starting the conversation. That was a step in the right direction, right?

"I'm probably going to be a while. I want to go over these a little more. Go on ahead, I'll catch up later," he explained.

So much for that.

The pianist decided it best to take this minor victory, and adhere to the detective's wishes. "Okay, I'll let the others know. Don't stay too long."

"Mm-hmm," the hat-wearing boy intoned.

As Akamatsu left, Saihara continued to peer over the first of the fifty-two case files that had been left for him.

"The victim wrote the culprit's name behind them, but the letters were inverted, making them appear as numbers," he read aloud.

The case was fairly simple, all things considered, but one thing caught his attention. The case file he had here was something Saihara knew he had never read before. And yet, this file, this murder depicted solely through illustration...

It seemed familiar.

 

Chapter Text

As the students regrouped in the cafeteria, their number down by two due to Ouma running off somewhere and Saihara's desire to stay in his lab, the process of sharing information could begin.

And end fairly quickly, due to a severe lack of things to share.

"Law of Diminishing Returns, I guess," Hoshi commented. "There's only so much school to explore."

"But that's twice in a row we've had labs from deceased students," Harukawa added, "If Saihara's theory is correct, we're veering even further off-course of Monokuma's plans."

"And the only labs left are mine, Ouma's, and Amami's, right?" Momota inquired.

"That is indeed, correct," Toujou confirmed, "however, please do not take that as an invitation to die."

"Tch," Momota scoffed, "You kidding? I'm gonna live forever."

"That's not possible," Yumeno pointed out, "Immortality magic disappeared a long time ago."

"It's only impossible until someone does it!" Momota cheered.

"Would that not require you to continue the task ad infinitum?" Kiibo asked.

Akamatsu, sensing this was going to go nowhere fast, took command of the room. "In any case, if we're done exploring, I suggest we check on Iruma-san."

"How?" the ex-tennis pro wondered. "We don't even know where Monokuma took her."

The tell-tale hum of the nearby monitors starting up served to offer a contradiction to Hoshi's words.

"If all students would please join me in the Computer Lab on the 3rd floor. I have a very important announcement to make."

Monokuma's words only served to further upset the students.

"Damnit! Every time we think to do something, he swoops in with new instructions," Momota lamented.

"There's nothing for it," Kiibo countered, "Furthermore, we may be able to free Iruma-san from his clutches."

"Kiibo's got a point," Akamatsu agreed, "Let's get a move on!"

-------------------

The group of seven's arrival in the lab was met with a number of visitors. Saihara was sitting in a chair, his gaze firmly placed upon one of the case files from his lab. Ouma was leaning over Saihara's shoulder, trying to sneak a peek at the information, Saihara occasionally brushing him away.

But those two were ignored in favor of Iruma, who was lying on the floor, clearly exhausted.

"Iruma-san!" Kiibo exclaimed, rushing toward the blonde. "What did he do to you?"

"So... much... coding..." the inventor groaned.

"Coding?" the robot repeated.

"That is correct!" Monokuma replied, stepping out from behind the computer. "With Iruma-san's help, I'm proud to say the next motive is almost ready!"

"You invited us here for 'almost'?" Harukawa questioned.

"Well, if I let Iruma-san in on all the juicy details, then it wouldn't be fair to you lot, now would it?" the bear countered.

"What exactly is this new motive?" Toujou inquired.

"I'm glad you asked!" Monokuma exclaimed. "How many of you are familiar with the concept of Virtual Reality?"

Most of the students raised their hands. Saihara held out, due to the fact that he was barely paying attention. Iruma did the same, though her abstinence was due to a lack of energy.

"Well, I'd say that's enough people to move on without the needless exposition. If you don't know, go to Google! Or Bing, if you're weird like that..." Monokuma jabbed.

"So, this computer... has a Virtual Reality function?" Akamatsu theorized, "That's what it's for?"

"Indeed, and I want you all to enjoy it to your heart's content! Not that you have much of a choice in the matter, upupupupu..."

"So, what, we'll be stuck in there without food or something until we axe somebody?" Momota sneered.

"No, no! I'm past my starvation phase! In fact, you'll only be in there for a few hours. Gotta adhere to the time li~mit!" Monokuma sang.

"Time limit?!" Yumeno exclaimed. "Like... like last time?!"

A shiver went through the group, horrified at the prospect of facing that sort of challenge once more. The previous time limit nearly ended in absolute disaster, with only the whims of fate saving them from losing everything.

Monokuma cackled at the students' horror. "AHAHAHAHAHA! Oh you kids are too much! No, no. This isn't a time limit for murder. It's just how long the game will last."

"What 'game'?" Hoshi asked.

"It's an oldy but a goody!" Monokuma cheered. "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a murder mystery dinner party!"

"Murder mystery dinner party?" Kiibo repeated.

Ouma leapt in, clearly eager to get started. "Each of us will be assigned a role by the Game Master. We each stay in character for the duration of the game time with the ultimate goal being to find out whodunnit, in classic detective fiction style! Hey, hey! This is right up your alley, right, Saihara-chan?"

Saihara offered a small nod in affirmation. The capped boy was clearly far more engrossed in the real mysteries offered by the files than the fictional ones Monokuma was offering.

"When you return to your dorms, each of you will find a file with detailed information on your character's background, personality, and certain rules you'll need to adhere to within the time limit of the game. Anyone who fails to follow their rules, well... do I need to say it?"

"And what happens if we guess whodunnit? For that matter, what happens to whodunnit?" Akamatsu attempted to clarify.

"'Whodunnit' is actually not that big a deal, what really matters is 'who does it'," Monokuma countered.

The pianist replied with a, "Huh?"

"See, the motive of this particular murder is that the culprit wishes to acquire a valuable treasure from the victim. A string of gems known as 'The Necklace of Queen Gia Nostelle'," the headmaster exposited, "However, before his death, the victim was able to hide the necklace somewhere within the virtual world. Anyone who finds it, gets to keep the necklace for themselves. And all the powers it holds..."

"It has powers?" Momota questioned, scratching his head.

Saihara looked up from his file, having come to a realization, "'Gia Nostelle'. A play on the English word 'Nostalgia', meaning a fondness for past events. The necklace can restore the memories of anyone who has it."

"Correct!" Monokuma revealed, "So if you want your memories back, you just need to hold on to the necklace until time runs out, without the detective figuring you out."

"So only one of us gets our memories back?" Hoshi wondered aloud.

"For now, yes," Monokuma confirmed. "I'm guessing you're a bit more interested in playing now!"

Though none of the students verbalized their reply, it was clear that the answer was a resounding 'yes'. The prospect of restoring their memories, no matter who it was, was incredibly tempting. It could end up answering most, if not all of their problems about their current situation, and maybe even reveal how they could escape.

"So, when do we get started?" Ouma asked, excitedly.

"Oh, the game's not quite done yet," Monokuma explained, "I just needed Iruma-san to polish up some of the fine details, before I put on the finishing touches. It won't be ready until the day after tomorrow, so until then, get excited!"

The students steeled themselves in anticipation. With such a valuable prize at stake, this was one motive they knew they couldn't pass up. Even with the underlying threat of whatever Monokuma was planning, the reward was too much to ignore.

"Now then," Monokuma continued, passing out envelopes to each student, "as I said, you have more detailed files back in your dorms, but these contain as much information as you're free to reveal for now. I recommend sharing these, so you all know what you're in for. Now, do me a favor and skedaddle! I've got to get back to work!"

Envelopes in hand, the class made their way to one of the nearby empty rooms to begin a strategy session. Kiibo and Momota having chosen to carry Iruma along the way. Within the wood-paneled walls, the group sat in a circle, preparing to exchange information once more.

"Alright," Akamatsu began, "how about I start us off, and then we go alphabetical by last name?"

"Umm..." Kiibo intoned.

"What's wrong?" the pianist asked.

"I technically do not have a surname," he reminded the group.

"Yeah, you do!" Momota argued. "That Idabashi guy built you, right? So isn't that your last name?"

Kiibo smirked. "I suppose so. Kiibo Idabashi... I like it!"

Akamatsu smiled at this development. "So would you prefer Kiibo-kun, or Idabashi-kun?"

Kiibo pondered this, before deciding, "I will trust your judgment on the matter."

"I'm still gonna call you Kii-boy," Ouma countered.

"I expected as much," the robot sighed.

"Now that that's settled," Akamatsu said, opening the envelope. Within was a small note card, with very limited information on her character. "I'll be playing Lady Ivory. A friend of the... Duchess De Jour... I think that's how you pronounce that. I'm attending the party she's hosting, alongside my bodyguard-slash-lover Raoul." The pianist couldn't keep the blush from her face as she finished the explanation.

"Seems this will be in the traditional detective genre," Toujou observed. "A focus on the European upper-crust, and the scandals therein."

"Bakamatsu with a 'lover'," Iruma jabbed, her energy beginning to return. "That's rich."

"Jealous?" the pianist shot back.

"Please, I've got people who adore me all over the world, thanks to these golden brain cells, and this bombshell figure!" the inventor countered.

"Girls, girls! You're both hideous!" Ouma said, clearly having no intention of resolving the conflict. "C'mon! It's Harukawa-chan's turn!"

Harukawa, clearly unenthused by the upcoming game, opened the envelope with little fanfare and began to read. "I'm Countess Charlotte Corduroy. Second wife of Count Charles Corduroy."

"Wonder what happened to the first wife," Yumeno commented.

"Probably nothing good," Hoshi posited, opening his envelope. "I'm the chef for the evening's meal, Pierre Andre."

"Isn't that two different languages?" Momota asked.

"I'm more concerned by the fact that I can't cook," the ex-prisoner replied.

"I think the murder will take everyone's mind off dinner, anyway," Akamatsu said, with the intent to comfort the smaller student.

"I believe I am next!" the newly-christened Kiibo Idabashi exclaimed. He wasn't sure why, but taking the professor's name was very liberating for him. As though he were one step closer to acceptance into human society, as he so desperately wished. Very little could bring him down now.

Save for his assigned role. "Kiibo. Robotic butler to the Duchess Du Jour."

"That... breaks the setting a bit," Toujou said, trying to find a neutral comment.

"Just like Kii-boy does normally!" Ouma added.

Kiibo drooped his head downward. One step forward, two steps back, it seemed.

"Hey, no worries, Idabadass!" Iruma cheered. "You're still awesome. Not as awesome as I'm gonna be, though!" The blonde ripped into her envelope and began to read her assignment. "Delilah Du Jour. Sister-in-law of the Duchess Du Jour. Unmarried." Iruma scoffed. "Whatever. I'm rocking that single life!"

"If you say so," Momota said, opening his envelope. "Count Charles Corduroy, friend of the Duchess Du Jour, attending the party with his second wife, Charlotte."

"I have to play your wife?" Harukawa replied, clearly less than happy about this development.

Akamatsu barely hid a smirk, greatly amused by the idea of the two playing a married couple.

"Starting to think I know what happened to wife number one," Ouma said with a chuckle.

"Ugh..." Harukawa groaned. "What did I do to deserve this?"

"You know I can hear you, right?" Momota asked.

"Good," she shot back.

"My turn!" Ouma exclaimed. As he read his card, he began smiling brightly. "Yes!" he exclaimed. The self-professed dictator began to put on a faux-english accent as he revealed his role. "I get to play Detective Perseus Pebbleford! Hired as protection by the Duchess Du Jour in the hopes of protecting the necklace from the infamous jewel thief, The Scarlet Spectre!"

"You're the detective?" Yumeno responded in disbelief.

"It's a dream come true! Kinda..." Ouma replied, clearly off in his own little world.

"Wait, if you're the detective, then who's Saihara-kun playing?" Akamatsu wondered.

Saihara, also somewhat confused by this development, set down his case file, and opened his envelope. Upon realizing whom he had been cast as, his face become flush with an overwhelming shade of red.

"Shuuichi, you okay?" Momota inquired.

"Whom are you playing?" Kiibo asked.

Saihara gulped before finding his voice, as well as the strength to answer the question. "R-Raoul. Bodyguard-slash-lover to Lady Ivory."

Akamatsu's eyes widened to the point it was amazing they didn't escape from their sockets. Most of the other students were silent, though somewhat amused by this development.

Others were less subtle.

"GYAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!" Iruma exploded with uproarious delight. "That is fuckin' perfect!"

"Nishishi... this game just keeps getting better," Ouma chortled.

Momota smiled and gave a thumbs-up to his friend.

Saihara pulled down the brim of his hat, desperately trying to disappear from sight.

Akamatsu took a different approach. "Toujou. Your turn. Now. Please!"

Toujou, people-pleaser that she was, happily complied with the request, and was quite fascinated by her role. "I appear to be the Duchess Du Jour that the game revolves around," the maid explained. "My husband, the Duke Du Jour, is the victim in this case, and my only wish is to see justice be done."

"Makes sense," Momota claimed. "You're the one who knows most about this classy stuff."

"Plus, you've earned a chance to not be the one doing all the work," Akamatsu added.

"Perhaps," Toujou replied, "All the same, Idabashi-kun, please do not let me push you too hard."

"Do not worry," Kiibo reassured, "I am certain you will be fair and just in your role as mistress of the house."

"I'm last, then," Yumeno said, bringing up the rear. As she opened her envelope, possibilities flew through the others' minds. Perhaps she would play a child to one of the couples, given her stature. Another member of the staff, maybe? She may even be the previously mentioned Scarlet Spectre.

The answer? "Julianne Applewood. I'm there to determine the value of Queen Gia Nostelle's Necklace."

"So that's everyone," Akamatsu summarized. "So if the goal of the game is to find the necklace, we should probably decide now who gets it."

"Whaddaya mean?" Iruma questioned.

"Well, only one person gets their memories back, right? If we just decide now, then..." Akamatsu began.

"Small problem, Akamatsu-chan," Ouma chimed in. "Remember, to keep the necklace, you have to keep the detective from figuring it out. So we can't all just decide here and now."

"Then we leave you out, and we decide among the rest of us," Harukawa countered.

"Not an option," Ouma disagreed. "There's no way Monokuma's just going to let us play the game that way. If he wants us at each other's throats, that's where we'll be."

Akamatsu stood up in protest. "Ouma-kun! We can't just lay down and accept whatever he wants us to do!"

"Then why are you playing the murder mystery game at all?"

The pianist took a step back. Much as she was loathe to admit it, the scheming boy had a point.

"Could it be you just want those memories for yourself? In fact, you were going to volunteer to do it, I bet," Ouma theorized.

"You've got that wrong! I was-"

"Maybe I am. But, can you really say that the reason you're playing this isn't to get your memories back? Find out about what happened to you? Your family? Your friends?"

"Ouma-kun!" Kiibo shouted. "Can you stand in judgment of Akamatsu-san? You want your memories back, too, do you not?"

"Exactly! We all do! Even if you did take a vote, do you really think everyone would be okay with it? The purpose of the game is stealing the necklace and not getting caught! So even if you get a group organized, who's going to realistically give it to someone else once they have it?"

A hush fell over the group. Ouma's words rang distressingly true. No matter what argument was made, it was clear that the only way any of them could guarantee they would get their memories back would be to betray the others. And this was Monokuma's scheme in a nutshell. Remove trust.

The students were quiet as they returned to their dorms.


 

Akamatsu was less than pleased with the day's events. Ouma had bested her once more. She took pride in her ability to lead the group in their darker moments, but Ouma's talent was very real. His influence was impossible to ignore. And now, her classmates would be at each other's throats the instant the game began.

In the meantime, she decided to look over the more detailed file she had been left about Lady Ivory. If she was going to be required to play the role, she was going to be prepared. Most of the information was cosmetic. Telling her about Ivory's backstory, her family history, how long she and the duchess had known each other.

To Akamatsu's relief, there was nothing listed about Ivory being the one to kill the Duke Du Jour. Revisiting the possibility of being a murderer was not something she cared to do.

But what fascinated her most about Ivory was her relationship with Raoul. After the embarrassment had faded, she had to admit, the prospect was quite enticing. Perhaps this was the opening she would need to finally break Saihara from his stupor, if that was feasible or even advisable. Maybe, this would serve as a chance to tell him how she felt.

However, the final page of the file was what consumed her attention in full. The page listed specific rules that Lady Ivory had to follow. And with these rules in mind, she knew that she would have her opportunity. Maybe it wouldn't be entirely appropriate, or under the best of circumstances. But with the two regulations before her, she had been gift-wrapped an opportunity to reveal to Saihara her feelings for him.

The rules were as follows.

1. Lady Ivory may give Raoul any commands she so chooses. If they include the phrase, "Raoul, be a dear, and...", he is obligated to follow them.

2. Before the end of the game, Lady Ivory and Raoul must spend 10 consecutive minutes alone in a broom closet together.

Akamatsu couldn't help but grin.

Maybe this would be fun.

 

Chapter Text

--FREE TIME--

It was sort of a self-imposed Hell Harukawa found herself in. Getting through her room in a decent fashion would require her to walk around the piles of boxes and weaponry she had carried from her now-locked research lab. It was worth it, in her mind. She would no longer have to worry about anyone stumbling upon her assassination supplies, as no one could enter her dorm room without her key.

Save Ouma, but he was already in the know, anyway.

All the same, the sound of a knock at the door was more than enough to invoke Harukawa's ire as she made her way over.

She only opened it a crack, seeing that Akamatsu was the one to confront her.

"Harukawa-san, can we talk?"

"About what?"

"Umm..." the pianist paused before answering, "girl stuff?"

Yet another pause. "...no."

"Please? You're the closest female friend I have here."

Akamatsu's honesty struck a chord for Harukawa. She hardly considered the pianist a 'friend', but her sentiment was one she could agree to. Of the remaining female students, Akamatsu was the one she felt closest too.

"Fine. But we talk in your room," the faux-caretaker commanded.

"Sure," the pianist replied in understanding.

Once the destination had been set, and the arrival complete, the discussion could begin in earnest.

"So..." Akamatsu began, "it's probably not a shock that I like Saihara-kun."

"It's really not," Harukawa confirmed.

"Right," the blonde continued, beginning to blush, "and with all the crazy stuff that's happened lately, I'm not sure if I should tell him or not. He still hasn't really come all the way back from his anxiety attack, and he seems so distant now. But this mystery game is practically gift-wrapping the chance to tell him for me, and I don't want the opportunity to just slip by. What do I do?"

Harukawa pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. "I've decided I hate girl talk."

"Does that mean you don't know?"

"It means I don't think this is important," Harukawa countered, "Death is such a real possibility here, why is romance even something that occurs to you?"

"I don't know!" Akamatsu lamented. "You're right, I know that! All of this can wait, and it probably should. But my stupid heart won't let me. Ugghhh... why is this part more stressful than any of the murders so far?"

"Because it's real," Harukawa answered without thinking.

"Huh?"

"On some level you can detach yourself from the deaths and tragedies of the Killing Game because in your head you can still say, 'this is not normal'," the assassin explained, "You liking a boy and being worried about telling him is normal. It feels more real, so it carries more weight."

"That... actually makes a lot of sense," Akamatsu assessed. "But it doesn't help me figure out what to do."

Harukawa sighed. "Alright, if you want an opinion, here's mine: Tell him. I want this 'will they, won't they' crap over with."

"And you think that's a good idea?" the pianist questioned.

"I don't know. I was the wrong person to ask," the red-eyed girl admitted.

"Probably," Akamatsu agreed, "But thanks for trying to help."

"Sure." Harukawa attempted to leave, but before she could...

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Girl talk is a two-way street, missy!"

Harukawa turned back with a glare. "Never call me 'missy' again."

"Deal. But I want some dirt," Akamatsu replied with a smirk.

"Dirt?"

"How do you feel about Momota-kun?"

The pianist's intent was clear, but wasted. Harukawa wasn't the kind of person to even begin to entertain such notion. The astronaut was kind, to be sure. Dedicated, certainly. But he was nothing special.

"He's... okay."

"That's a step up from idiot," Akamatsu pointed out.

"Do you want me to kill you?"

"Fine, sorry!" Akamatsu threw her hands up in jest. "You can go."

Harukawa happily took that invitation to exit. Step up from idiot... wasn't untrue. He wasn't smart, but he did prove himself useful in bringing Saihara around. He had a good heart. He was caring. His idiocy was even occasionally funny. Out of everyone here, he was probably the most enjoyable to be around. He was Harukawa's favorite person...

She stopped, standing in front of her door in silence. It slowly dawned on Harukawa that Kaito Momota was her favorite person to be around. Not just in this school, but more than that. He was her favorite person to be around, period.

And tomorrow, they would have to pretend to be married.

"...shit."


 

Kiibo couldn't remember the last time he had undergone a task quite as physically taxing as this one.

Hoshi stood on the opposite end of the court, the two exchanging volleys. Kiibo was moving as fast as his servos could carry him, desperate to succeed in his goal of overcoming Hoshi's overwhelming offensive.

Hoshi, for his part, was barely breaking a sweat. The former pro owned the court, no question about it. With barely any signs of motion, he would appear precisely where the ball would land, and fire it back with just the slightest swing of his racquet.

Kiibo swung wildly at the incoming ball, hoping against hope he would reach the speeding sphere. In spite of this, the ball landed just outside his range of motion, bouncing twice before rolling away.

"How many is that?" Kiibo asked.

"That was the match point," Hoshi reminded him.

"Right..." the robotic student recalled, "and how many points did I receive?"

"You were still at love," Hoshi answered.

"And that is... zero. Correct," Kiibo lamented. "Was I any good?"

Hoshi sighed. "In the interest of honesty, I would've had more of a challenge against that thing."

The shorter boy pointed behind him to a large, rotating tower carrying racquets at various points along its structure. The machine moved entirely automatically, making it clear it was solely for the purpose of minor drills.

Kiibo sat down in frustration. "I simply wish to learn a new skill," he sulked, "is that so much to ask?"

Hoshi made his way over to the metallic boy, "Tennis takes a lot of practice. No one expects you to get it overnight. Besides, even if you were great, you'd probably have trouble getting me to sweat."

"I suppose you are right," Kiibo acknowledged. "Did you at least have fun?"

Hoshi's mouth drooped into a grimace. "Fun and tennis don't really go together for me anymore."

"Oh," Kiibo realized. "I was simply curious. If you had enjoyed yourself, I believed you may return to the game once we escape."

"If I escape," Hoshi countered, "the only thing I'll return to is a jail cell."

"Well... at least you'll have us to visit you," Kiibo commented. "I am certain we will remain friends after we all escape."

Hoshi sat down next to Kiibo, becoming the new sulker in this conversation. "I'm still not convinced I'm gonna make it out."

"Please tell me you have not given up," Kiibo requested.

"I don't want to give up, I just... I don't know what I have to keep fighting for," Hoshi explained.

"You have us," Kiibo reminded him.

"You can't just live your life for other people," Hoshi argued. "I just... I don't think I have that drive in me after everything I've been through."

Kiibo nodded. "You know, I have often wondered about what it means to live. Given my robotic nature, I can't help but question what makes me different from any sort of device that can respond to the user. A calculator, a typewriter, an alarm clock, that sort of thing. And the conclusion I reached was that... I didn't get to make that distinction."

"Hmm?" the ex-tennis player intoned.

"I recognize your point in saying you cannot live solely for the sake of someone else, but I believe one only lives through other people. The recognition, the acceptance, the emotional connections forged. Though I am trapped here, I feel I have never lived more than I have through my connections with Akamatsu-san and the others. And that includes you, Hoshi-kun."

Kiibo stood up and prepared to leave.

"Wait!"

He turned to face Hoshi once more.

"Thanks. Idabashi."

Kiibo smiled.


 

With Monokuma's chore complete, Iruma had returned to her lab. It had long since been made clear to her that no one was actually going to follow up on what had happened to her. It wasn't that surprising. None of them had any respect for her, but that was only because they were jealous. Of her beauty. Of her brains. At the end of the day, it was all on her.

But that didn't mean she was going to waste too much time on looking into the incident. She had better things to do with her life than worry about the past. After all, she hadn't been attacked since, and there hadn't seemed to be any after effects, so why worry?

That shakiness, that unease she felt just being in a room she thought was safe? Not important. She was Miu Iruma! Her inventions were going to change the world. This hellhole would just be a bad dream soon enough.

"Oi, Iruma-chan!"

And some things would be missed more than others.

Iruma turned to face her unwelcome guest. "Whaddaya want, Shota-shitstain?"

"I just wanted to check up on you," Ouma claimed. "Yesterday Monokuma abducted you, day before that you got attacked in this very room. I'm surprised you came back."

"Tch. Like I'm gonna let some pussy who's too scared to show their damn face keep me away," Iruma boasted.

Ouma smirked. "Good. Good. I just hope all this excitement hasn't put a damper on our little deal."

"Feh, you'd know a thing or two about little deals, wouldn't ya?" Iruma mocked.

"All I want is a progress report," Ouma said, brushing the insult aside, "I'm on a bit of a time crunch."

"Hey, you can't rush genius. Some of this shit still doesn't even make sense," Iruma argued. "I mean, look at this crap!"

Iruma held out a strange set of blueprints toward Ouma's face. The design sense was amateurish, and the images seemed to scribbled out in crayon.

"The fuck do you want a vacuum-powered bug catcher for, anyway?" the inventor wondered.

"I didn't request your services because I wanted to be questioned," Ouma fought back. "How about you quit wasting time complaining, get your fingers out of your panties, and get back to work?"

Iruma gulped. "Look, I'm doing what I can here, but some of this stuff is gonna have to slide..."

Ouma pondered this. Iruma, though he was loathe to admit it, was integral to his plan's success, and if some tragic fate befell her, everything he'd worked for would be gone. "Alright, alright."

The short-statured boy moved over to Iruma's design table. It was littered with more childish blueprints he had given her, and he poured over them. She was right. It was too much work to be done all at once. Something had to go. It would be a risk, but if he played his cards right, he would make this altered plan work.

"Lose the remote. Hammers too, if you have to."

"Ya sure?" Iruma asked.

"I've got another plan ready. I'll just need you to work even harder on the other stuff," Ouma reassured.

"Hey, this much'll be easy," Iruma claimed.

"Not as easy as you are, I'm sure," Ouma cracked. The self-proclaimed dictator walked away with a snide smile, certain of his own success.

But the blonde remained, far from pleased with the exchange.

"Damn brat. He deserves whatever he gets..."


 

"Now, repeat the sequence one more time."

With the murder mystery game coming up, Momota thought it important to learn whatever he could to prepare himself. He had read his dossier on Charles Corduroy multiple times now, but he still knew next to nothing about how to behave in a fine dining environment. As such he turned to the one person who did, Toujou, who had offered her lab as a training ground.

He was not about to embarrass himself during this thing. He had too much pride for that.

"Okay, left to right... salad fork, dinner fork, dinner knife, teaspoon, soup spoon?" he attempted.

"Very good," Toujou replied with a nod.

"Yes!" he cheered. "Okay, so... top to bottom... water glass, white wine glass, red wine glass?"

"Red, then white," Toujou corrected.

"Aw... damn it!"

"I doubt there will be a meal, much less wine," the maid informed him.

"I know, I know," the astronaut agreed. "But I wanna do this right. I'm probably never gonna have a fancy meal like this, so I don't want to screw it up."

"If your career, for lack of a better way of putting this, takes off, will you not have multiple chances to dine with the upper crust?" Toujou wondered.

"I guess," Momota considered, "I always just figured I'd stay the way I am. My eyes are on the stars, but I'm pretty down to Earth."

"How long have you been waiting to say that?" the maid asked, knowingly.

"Had that in the back pocket for a while," Momota answered with a smirk.

"Well, wherever your future takes you, I am certain you will approach it with your traditional level of effort," the maid offered.

Momota took a moment to absorb that idea. He had always thrown his heart into whatever he set out to do, and he liked to think it usually paid off. But some things couldn't be conquered that easily. His recent downturn in health made that all-too clear. As such, he felt the need to seek out the one thing he had always tried to offer those around him.

Help.

"Hey. How do you do it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"How do you give all of yourself to everything you do?" Momota clarified.

Toujou pondered this briefly. "Well... I suppose it's because of the satisfaction of knowing others have recognized my efforts. Knowing that I have done something to improve the life of someone else. Whether they choose to return my kindness or not, I know that they are in a better state of being because of me. I can feel like I've done a great service in that regard."

"...yeah. That'll do it. Stay tough for them..."

"Is something the matter?" Toujou inquired. "You seem distant."

The astronaut shrugged this off. "Nah, I'm fine. Thanks for your help."

"Anytime."

As the astronaut headed back to his room, he could feel his legs grow heavier with each step. With his physical strength beginning to fade, he was forced to acknowledge something he had been trying to push away since he first coughed up blood.

"I don't have much time..."


 

One of them had to have something.

Saihara's eyes had grown weary with his incessant reading. One file almost bled into another, the detective desperately trying to keep each individual one straight after everything he'd seen. Monokuma had claimed he was rooting for Saihara, so it made sense that there would be clue hidden somewhere in the lab, right? The labs had to be more than just murder fuel, right? There must be something somewhere!

"How many of those have you read?"

Saihara was briefly broken from his focus to note his visitor. Yumeno was standing in his doorway, concern plain in her voice and on her face.

"This is the fifty-first," Saihara replied.

"How many are there?"

"Fifty-two."

"So what will you do after you read the last one?" Yumeno wondered.

"I'll... worry about that when I get to it," Saihara claimed.

"You're not okay," the mage stated rather plainly.

"I know," Saihara replied, equally devoid of passion.

If there were ever a world lethargy competition, this was it.

"I want to say I know what you're going through," Yumeno offered, "but I don't. I don't really get what having depression means for you."

That was enough for Saihara to put down the binder. "You know? About... my condition?"

"I recognized the signs," the redhead explained. "For a while, my parents thought I might have it."

"Do you?"

"Nah. Turns out I just have low blood sugar," the mage clarified. "Not diabetic, though, so there's that."

Yumeno's voice carried with it a sense of curiosity and compassion. The idea that she knew she didn't understand, but truly wished that she could.

The detective summoned what strength he could, stringing together some idea of how to explain what he felt. "I... the last few days when I woke up, it was like there was a 2-ton weight tied around my neck. It didn't actually hurt, but... I couldn't move without thinking about it. Like everything I'm not sure about makes it harder for me to move, and nothing I do can make it go away."

"I felt a lot like that after Tenko..." Yumeno stopped. It had been some time since the martial artist's passing, but the wound still felt fresh. "I wasn't sure what to do or how I was supposed to feel."

"I guess that makes two of us," Saihara acknowledged.

"Yeah. My point is just... well... I was able to keep going because the others stood by me, and helped. I felt like I should pass that on, you know?"

A small, wistful smile came across the detective's face. "I appreciate that."

Yumeno nodded. "If talking to your friends seems like it would be too much, you can talk to me. I can't promise I'll be helpful, but..."

"You will be. I'm sure."

"I'll let you get back to reading."

With Saihara alone once more, the moment of truth had arrived. The final binder. Perhaps it would be the key he needed, perhaps it would all just be a wild goose chase, but there was only one way to know for sure. He opened the final case file.

And a single, loose photo fluttered to the ground.

The cap-wearing boy reached down to retrieve it, and upon seeing the image, he was greeted by a familiar face. Or rather, two.

"Amami-kun? And... Shirogane-san?"

Indeed, the two were depicted quite clearly. It seemed that the two's memories had been altered more than just the generalize amnesia, or perhaps this was all just another of Shirogane's lies. Regardless, one thing was clear.

The two were standing side-by-side. In a trial ground.

This wasn't the first Killing Game.

 

Chapter Text

Breakfast was loaded with tension. It was like the dawn just before a military strike. The call to action could happen at any moment, and the wait was agonizing. The students knew Monokuma's game would begin soon, but not knowing when? That was torture, plain and simple.

"Before this starts, I just want to say something," Akamatsu began, "No matter who gets their memories back, we're all on the same team. Just come forward, and let us know what you've found out. For the sake of everyone, we can't afford to keep secrets anymore."

"You heard her, people," Momota agreed. Silently, he cursed his own hypocrisy. After all, he was keeping a major secret from everyone, and had no desire to share.

"I am with you, Akamatsu-san," Kiibo replied with a nod. "To that end, does anyone have anything to share before we are called?"

A wave of trepidation made it's way through the group. Many students were teetering on the edge of a major secret they knew would only serve to foster distrust amongst the others. However, very few held the desire to actually come forward.

Chief among them was Saihara. The detective was carrying multiple burdens all at once. Akamatsu's forceful entry into the Killing Game. Monokuma's claim that he should be able to uncover the Mastermind. The photo of Amami and Shirogane. Any of these would be incredibly helpful for bringing the Killing Game to an end. And yet, all the same, his courage was nowhere to be found. Hidden away deep in his heart, just as the brim of his cap hid his eyes.

"BING-BONG, BING-BONG"

"All students, please report to the computer lab! The game is about to begin."

"Guess we had less time than we thought," Harukawa noted.

"Nothing for it," Akamatsu lamented. "We'd best get moving."


 

The computer room had been properly revamped for this new motive. The main hard drive was now surrounded by a series of chairs for the group to sit in, with individual headsets linked to the large central device. The students had taken their spots and were prepared to receive more detailed instructions.

"Alright then," Monokuma explained, "The game will only last two hours. Once that time limit is up, you will be forcibly moved to the parlor room of the Duchess' mansion. At that point, you will be required to identify the killer, and once that's done, you will all be ejected from the game world. Hidden somewhere in the mansion is the Necklace of Gia Nostelle. If you can find it, and hold on to it past the time limit and the final accusations, you win the prize!"

"And if no one can hold on to it?" Saihara asked.

"Well..." Monokuma drawled, "based on the circumstances, there are multiple answers to that question. What say we cross that bridge when we come to it?"

"And what will happen to our bodies in the real world as we're playing?" Toujou inquired.

"You'll be kept under the watchful eye of..." Monokuma began.

"HELLO-KUMA!"

As to be expected by now, the two remaining cubs leapt into action.

"Don't youse kids worry," Monosuke reassured, "We'll be on the job!"

"WHILE YOU ARE IN THERE, PLEASE GET A-LONG. GET-TING A-LONG IS IM-POR-TANT. RIGHT MO-NO-SUKE?" Monodam said with a threatening tone.

"Yeah, yeah! Of course it is!" Monosuke replied, cowering in fear.

"YOU KNOW WHAT HAP-PENS WHEN YOU DON'T GET A-LONG."

"Ulp. Yeah..."

"Time to go digital!" Ouma cheered.

With nothing left to say, the students placed their headsets on.

"Everyone ready?" Monokuma asked.

A general nod of consensus gave Monokuma the go-ahead.

"Link, start!"

Ten sets of eyes were suddenly treated to a visual overload as their consciousnesses were whisked away to a mysterious new world....


 

Blink once. Twice. Several times in rapid succession. The world is now clear. The room is no longer a computer lab. The room is an upscale dining room. Platters are laid out across the table with lavish dishes, succulent in appearance and tempting to the palate. But they are not to be consumed.

All attention is drawn away from the food and instead to the man sitting at the head of the table. More importantly, that his head is face-down on the table. Even more importantly, he is not moving. The Duke Du Jour is dead. And his body is distinctly familiar.

"Amami-kun?"

Akamatsu, or Lady Ivory as it were, was the one to break the silence. Indeed, it appeared the part of the victimized Duke Du Jour was to be played by Amami, or at least a recreation of him. The back of his skull is even bludgeoned in.

"Monokuma's got a real twisted sense of humor," Momota, Count Charles Corduroy, spat.

"I know not of this Monokuma," Ouma exclaimed, "But I believe it to be quite apparent that our gracious host has left us for greener pastures."

The gentle nudge of Detective Pebbleford served to remind the students that they had roles they were meant to play, and there was only so much time to explore.

"My dearest!" Toujou shouted, rushing over to the fake corpse. The maid had immediately thrown herself into her role, selling the distraught reaction of the Duchess Du Jour. "Who would do something so cruel? Why would they take him?"

"Madame," Kiibo interjected, "I fear that whoever killed the Duke did so in the hopes of stealing his latest acquisition."

"The necklace?" the duchess replied, "But we were so careful! We even prepared for the arrival of the Scarlet Spectre..."

"Surely you don't buy in to that urban legend," Harukawa begrudgingly chimed in.

"What I buy into, Madame, is facts," Ouma countered. "And the fact is that we have a killer, and, quite possibly, a thief in our midst. I intend to interrogate each of you, here in this very room. Madame Duchess, I hope it is not too much of me to request you answer some questions."

Toujou wiped the tears from her eyes, "But of course, Detective Pebbleford. Kiibo, if you would please escort the others elsewhere."

Kiibo nodded, "Right away, Ma'am."


 

From the kitchen, the remaining eight players found themselves in the main foyer. Fortunately for them, Monokuma had been kind enough to offer a map of the mansion.

"From what I can tell, the first floor consists of the kitchen, dining room, a 'trophy room', the parlor, and this entrance, which leads to every room and the grand staircase," Akamatsu said, listing off the locations, "The second floor has the Duke's private study, the master bedroom, 3 guest rooms, and an archival library."

"A house this big with no bathrooms? No exit outside the front door? No basement?" Yumeno questioned.

"The game only lasts two hours," Hoshi reminded her, "There probably didn't seem to be enough of a point to have any of those."

"Yeah, just hold it in, you wuss," Iruma challenged.

"I don't actually have to go!" Yumeno argued.

"In any case," Saihara noted, "we need to start looking. Other than our individual interrogations, we've essentially got free reign to explore."

"Well said, Raoul!" Akamatsu cheered. "Let's decide on teams."

"Teams?" Iruma scoffed, "Don't you get this Bakamatsu? Everyone for themself," Iruma replied, walking away.

"Miss Du Jour! I know your brother's death has upset you..." Kiibo called back.

"Screw the game, Idabuzzkill, I got memories to get back!" the inventor countered.

With the inventor's departure, a sense of unease settled over the group.

"I guess I'm headed off on my own too," Hoshi commented, "I think I'll work better that way."

The tennis player's departure was followed with Yumeno simply saying, "Sorry, Akamatsu," before she, too, left.

Kiibo turned to look toward the dining room. "I shall remain here for now," he explained, "in case the Duchess requires me for something."

This left the fitness club on their own.

"So now what?" Akamatsu wondered.

"Well," Momota commented with a grin, "I think it best the wife and I handle things together. Wouldn't you agree, dear?"

Harukawa was of two minds. On the one hand, being called 'dear' was incredibly infuriating. On the other, something about the way he said it...

"I suppose you have a point," she conceded. "Let's get going."

"Wait, really?" the astronaut responded, clearly taken aback.

"Move," she commanded, already making a beeline for the stairs.

"Of course, sweetie!" he cried back, following behind.

Harukawa did not blush. No one saw anything. Nothing could be proven.

And this left Saihara and Akamatsu. The two grew shifty-eyed upon realizing this. Akamatsu had firmly decided that she would take action with this new opportunity that had been given to her. However, thinking you should do something and actually doing so are two very different things. Like a deer in the headlights, she was paralyzed. Too frightened to commit to one path or the other.

Saihara on the other hand was torn between his two impulses. On the one hand, Akamatsu was suspicious. She had to be hiding something, he just wasn't sure if it actually was due to playing a larger role in Monokuma's schemes or not. On the other, Akamatsu was the first person among the group he had chosen to trust. He couldn't even explain why. It was almost like a voice in his head screaming, 'Believe in her'. The voice hadn't gone away. All the same, it would be dangerous to put his faith in her now. Better safe than sorry.

"I think it's best if we spli-"

"Raoul, be a dear and accompany me," Akamatsu countered.

Saihara's eyes widened. He had put the rules of the game out of his head after he first read them. He had almost forgotten that he had very little power in this situation. He had in fact forgotten about a certain other condition he had to fulfill later until Akamatsu's words brought it back to the forefront of his mind.

"Y-yes, m-m-milady," Saihara stuttered out.

It would be a miracle if he survived those ten minutes.


 

"Am I interrupting?"

Kiibo's brief intrusion into the dining room was quickly brushed off by Toujou, continuing to keep character. "Not at all. Detective Pebbleford and I were just wrapping up. Am I free to go now, sir?"

Ouma nodded. "Quite so, ma'am. Though I must request your butler remain here for questioning."

Toujou curtsied. "But of course. Kiibo, do as the detective says."

"Yes, ma'am," Kiibo replied as Toujou made her exit. He turned to face Ouma. "Before we begin, might I interest you in a snack?"

"Not at the moment, thank you," Ouma said with a sneer. "I must say, Kii-boy, out of everyone, I find you quite suspicious."

Kiibo's eyes narrowed in frustration. "Please tell me this is not more of your robot racism."

"Of course not," Ouma protested, "It's never the foreign character, they're just there to throw you off. I suspect you because you are, in fact, the butler!"

"Ah, yes, the common mystery trope," the mechanical student acknowledged. "All the same, I assure you I had no hand in the death of the Duke. I have been his loyal servant for a very long time."

"I bet you have been," Ouma declared. "Your loyalties have been a subject of great interest to me, Kii-boy. I'm not sure where you stand..."

"Well... as I said, Detective Pebbleford. I am loyal to..."

"Not in the game, you idiot!" Ouma shouted, dropping character. "I still don't know where you stand in general!"

Kiibo was taken aback by this. "I do not understand. Have I done anything to suggest I am not siding with you all? I want nothing more than to ensure we all can escape safely."

Ouma grinned one of his trademark sinister grins, "Well... in that case... perhaps you could do me a small favor..."

 

Chapter Text

With the quest to uncover the Duke's hidden treasure in full swing, it was no surprise that one of the most sought-after locations to explore was the Master Bedroom. Fortunately, Momota and Harukawa had been able to get in mostly unimpeded. Unfortunately, Occam's Razor was not in effect, and the obvious answer was not panning out as well as either had hoped.

Strangely, the room was fairly sparsely decorated. Other than the basic amenities, the only notable item was a large-scale portrait of Amami dressed in upscale attire.

"Man... guess I really am an idiot, huh?" Momota lamented, lying face-down on the bed.

"If you're asking for a supportive lie, you're looking to the wrong person," Harukawa replied, rifling through the drawers of a nearby dresser.

"We're supposed to be married. Supportive lies are the bedrock of romance," the astronaut argued.

Harukawa turned in an attempt to refute the purple-haired boy, only to stop and consider this. "That's not... untrue..."

Momota flipped over, to better address his investigative partner. "Hey, did your thing include anything about how we got together?"

The character files were the single most important weapons each player had. Each held critical information, and no one could be certain who was connected to who else and how. And the people you chose to share your secrets with was one of the key strategic elements of the game.

Though, to Harukawa, strategy needed to take a backseat for a brief moment, as she turned away to avoid looking at her newfound object of interest. "No," she answered. And frankly, it was the truth. Her information had been very light on backstory. Which she was fine with, as it had more than enough for her to absorb as it is.

"Mine did," Momota explained. He began to smile. "It's kinda nice, really. Turns out Charlotte used to be one of my maids."

"I worked for you?" the red-eyed girl replied with shock.

"Crazy, huh? But after wife number one died, natural causes, Charlotte was always there for me, and, well, we just kind of hit it off," Momota recounted.

"So, the Florence Nightingale story?" Harukawa assessed.

"I guess," Momota muttered. "I thought it was sweet."

Harukawa paused. "I never took you for a romantic," she threw out.

"I'm not, really, but... I appreciate that sort of thing. If you find someone who cares about you that much, you just gotta go for it, you know?" the astronaut shared.

Harukawa's investigation stopped cold as she processed this. "How do you know?"

"Huh?"

"How do you know the difference between someone truly caring about you, and normal kindness?" the assassin clarified.

The astronaut sat up as he answered, "I'd say... when you know that they accept you for everything you are. And they care because of it, instead of in spite of it. At least, that's what I think."

Harukawa swallowed. For the moment, the only other student who knew her true talent was Ouma. She hated that he knew. Hated that he had some semblance of control over her because of it. But... could she tell anyone? How would they respond? How would he respond?

And all of it hinged on one troubling detail. The rule she was obligated to follow.

"Countess Charlotte Corduroy must share what she's been hiding with her husband."

She breathed a heavy sigh. She didn't have to yet. But... how long could she hold out.

But little did she know Momota was facing a similar struggle. He, too, was saddled with a rule he was not excited about following.

"Count Charles Corduroy must tell his wife what's been happening to him."

Both rules were referring to their characters, rather than themselves. But it hit close to home. Each dancing around a secret they had no intention of ever sharing. And now, feeling the pressure to do so.

As well as the desire.


 

"My, my, my, how the tables have turned."

"I know."

Saihara was none too pleased with his current state of affairs. Ouma's request to interrogate each individual player was causing more harm than good in the actual detective's eyes. Though, it was a brief reprieve from Akamatsu's control, which was a welcome change for the capped boy.

Ouma, however, was having a field day with this. "The foreign bodyguard. Feh. We know that's not really what you do with her body..."

"Ouma-kun!" Saihara shouted, highly embarrassed.

"You will address me as either 'Mister' or 'Detective' Pebbleford, sir!" Ouma shot back.

"You're a terrible detective! You haven't left this room since the game began!" Saihara countered.

"Yes, meaning no one is free to tamper with the body," the dictator explained, "The crime scene is completely intact."

"But what about the necklace?"

"You seem awfully concerned about that necklace... how much do you make, Raoul?"

"Ouma, if you knew the first thing about classic detective fiction, you'd know that the foreigner is never the culprit because they're meant to use their foreignness to distract you from the real culprit," Saihara declared.

"Which would exclude both you and our chef," Ouma pondered, "and yet he is clearly hiding something."

"Ouma, do you really think I'm the culprit?" Saihara asked very plainly.

"I don't know, do you want to go back to the girl you love but can't trust dragging you wherever she wants you to go?"

Saihara blinked. "...how do you...?"

"We all have a few perks, Saihara-chan," Ouma revealed with a wicked grin, "You get your 10 minutes with Akamatsu-chan, I get to know a select few rules other characters have."

"That gives you a huge advantage..."

Ouma shrugged. "And yet, I'm still here. So ask yourself... am I that untrustworthy?"


 

The library was proving to be less than successful. Yumeno was certain that one of the bookcases held a secret passage behind it, but she had yet to discover it. Wasn't that something you always found in an old detective story? After all, there was one in the actual library.

Sadly it seemed in this case that art had chosen not to imitate life, as Yumeno had long since given up checking each book. And examining each bookend had yielded no greater results.

"How's it shaking, Red?"

Yumeno turned to face the now-present Iruma and pondered her options. She was an enemy within the context of the game, of course. But she also had information no one else had. Curiosity won out in this case. "You helped program this, right?"

"Uh... yeah, why?" Iruma replied.

"Then do you know any secret passages or codes or whatever that could help us?" the mage inquired.

Iruma scoffed. "'Fraid not. I programmed base-ass stuff, like physics and textures and shit. Monokuma added all the detailed crap. All I know is what was in my character folder."

Yumeno groaned in exasperation. "Uggghhhh... what are we even supposed to look for here?"

It was at this point a light bulb went off in Iruma's memory. "Wait, I think I remember something."

"What?"

"I remember that the books weren't fully programmed, obviously. Didn't wanna waste space, so each one only can be opened to a single page..." Iruma considered.

"So, the books might have a hint?" Yumeno realized.

"Maybe..." Iruma said, already perusing the shelves.

With the inventor distracted, Yumeno hit the shelves as well. Already having examined the library thoroughly, she knew exactly which book to grab. Discreetly, she took a book labeled, Ancient Treasures and began to read what it had within.

"The Necklace of Gia Nostelle was long-thought to be lost to time. However, in recent years, the jewels were re-discovered in a forgotten holy site in Africa. Shortly after their recovery, the necklace was removed from this location, and is rumored to be in the private collection of an unknown connoisseur."

Yumeno put the book back as quickly as possible, trying to avoid alerting Iruma. "I think I'm tired of books for now, I'll check somewhere else."

"Whatevs," Iruma called back.


 

The trophy room was arguably the most frightening room in the house. From the brief description listed on the map it was quite unclear as to what the trophies were for. Hoshi, being a former athlete naturally assumed that the late Duke's trophies were tied to some sort of sport. Once he entered the room though, all his questions were cleared up.

If the bearskin rug wasn't enough indication, then the mounted heads of deer on the wall certainly did a great job of illustrating the Duke's passions. The late man was a hunter, and enjoyed taking down big game.

Hoshi had never put much thought toward hunting before. Japan's strict gun laws meant that it never seemed like a topic worth discussing. But with the imagery right in front of him, he was horrified. His one-man crusade of taking down organized crime was one thing, but these were innocent animals.

"I see you're not quite enjoying yourself, Pierre."

Hoshi turned to see it was Toujou, still keeping character to the best of her ability.

Hoshi cleared his throat, and followed suit, "Madame, I beg your pardon. I care too much for animals to properly appreciate the Duke's efforts."

Toujou sighed. "Yes. I had always tried to talk him out of it, but he always seemed interested in the next adventure. New locales, new trophies to take home, and finding a way to make me think it was worth it."

"Did he acquire the necklace during such an expedition?" Hoshi inquired.

Toujou suddenly grew defensive. "Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Simple curiosity, Madame," the former prisoner replied. "I know that many a man dreams of finding hidden treasure. When I was a youth in the French countryside, I too, dreamed of a life of excitement."

"And here you are as a chef," Toujou cut back.

"A chef who has born witness to a murder," Hoshi argued, "So much has happened already. And there is much more to be done before this night's end."

As Hoshi made his exit, Toujou nodded in acknowledgement.

"He has taken to his character quite well," she observed. Toujou was quite surprised as to who had jumped into their roles and who hadn't. Ouma's eagerness was no shock, and Kiibo was definitely willing to go along for the ride. However, Harukawa's willingness to play along was a mystery to her. But most fascinating was herself. Toujou knew from the outset she would give her all to this role, it was just the kind of person she was. But the maid had found that she felt very comfortable in a position of power.

Almost as though she was always meant to hold one.


 

"There it is!"

Akamatsu took great pride in this incredible victory. The map had been of no help, but with a little time, effort, and dedication, it had been found. The goal she had been searching for since the game had begun.

She had finally found the broom closet. Of all places, it was just off of the Duke's private study.

"Great, now all that's missing is Saihara-kun..." she muttered. "Interrogation shouldn't take that long. Mine didn't..."

Ouma's questioning of Akamatsu had been odd. She had assumed it was due to the 'casting' as it were of Amami as the deceased. Either it was so blatant that Akamatsu must be the killer, or it was a clear indicator that she was not. As such, all he had asked was about how long she and Raoul had been together.

She had been quite proud of the response, "Not long enough."

There was something liberating about this role-play. The freedom to shed her previous self and be someone new entirely. A version of herself who didn't need to be concerned with her former hang-ups and fears. Lady Ivory was unafraid of the opinions of others, and as such, Akamatsu wasn't either.

"Miss Ivory?"

Akamatsu turned to face Kiibo, who was now standing in the doorway.

"Oh, Kiibo-kun. Can I help you?"

Kiibo waved off her concerns. "I was simply curious as to whether or not you would like a snack. I would be more than happy to oblige you."

"No, that's okay," the pianist replied. "But... have you seen Saihara-kun? He should be back by now."

"I fear he may have taken advantage of his brief freedom to begin an independent investigation," Kiibo theorized. "However, he will need to come to this study sooner or later."

"True..." Akamatsu noted. "Have you found anything of interest?"

"I have primarily been observing the other players," Kiibo noted. "I was able to see who went to which rooms first."

"Hmm... care to share?"

"To my recollection, you and Saihara-kun began by investigating one of the guest rooms, Yumeno-san the library, Hoshi-kun the kitchen, Iruma-san checked the master bedroom, Harukawa-san and Momota-kun the parlor, whereas I was in the main hall, and Ouma-kun and Toujou-san were in the dining room for her interrogation," Kiibo recounted.

"There's gotta be something significant to all of that..." Akamatsu considered.

As the two spoke, the sound of footsteps passed by the door. To Akamatsu's delight, it was the previously missing Saihara.

Upon seeing the pianist, Saihara's eyes widened and he prepared to try and move along. But the call of, "Raoul, be a dear and get in here!" stopped him in his tracks. To his dismay, he had no choice but to enter the study.

"Is there something you need me for, milady?" he barely muttered.

Akamatsu smirked, and merely pointed to the nearby closet. Saihara's face became flush with embarrassment as he realized what was about to transpire.

"Can I just grab a few things from the Duke's files beforehand?" he requested.

"That seems reasonable," Akamatsu replied. "Kiibo, would you mind keeping track of the time for us?"

Kiibo quirked his head. "I suppose... but what is happening?"

"Just don't interrupt for 10 minutes, and open the closet door when we're done, okay?" the blonde explained.

The robotic boy nodded. "Very well."

With files in hand, Saihara took a shaky breath. "Alright, I'm ready."

"Splendid!" Akamatsu cheered.

Kiibo held the door open as the two made their way into the cramped location. The door shut behind them, and the two noted that the only source of light was a small candle.

Akamatsu's enthusiasm suddenly melted away as she reabsorbed the gravity of the situation. This would likely redefine the course of every interaction she had with Saihara from here on out.

Saihara tried to focus on the files, but he was perfectly aware he wasn't going to be able to read much of anything in this dim light. The only thing he could look at was Akamatsu.

This would be a very long ten minutes.

 

Chapter Text

The two of them stood in silence. It was clear neither of them were prepared for this, no matter how much they had psyched themselves into it. Saihara distracted himself by flipping through the files he had taken with him, for all the good it did. Akamatsu stood stern, trying to find the right thing to say in this situation.

With a breath, she ventured forward.

"I'm sorry."

The detective's head popped up in confusion. Where had that come from?

"I realize you've been going through a lot lately," Akamatsu continued. "I... I can't even begin to understand what it must be like for you. And... I know you need space, but... I miss my friend. And I think I used this game's rules to fix that. I sort of forced you to spend time with me. And... I don't want you to feel like being around me is a burden. So, I'm sorry."

Saihara ducked his head again in silence.

"I'm not going to force you to talk to me," the blonde girl promised. "But... is it okay if I talk?"

The detective nodded.

That served to buoy the girl's spirits a bit. "Okay. I... *gulp* I've been thinking a lot lately. Do you remember the first few days we were here? Back before we were told about the first motive?"

Another nod.

"Yeah. I... I was really scared back then. I was trying to seem brave because I felt like everyone was counting on me. I don't know why, but I felt like I had to do something to help, even if I wasn't sure what. But... you believed in me back then."

A twinge of regret. Saihara had believed. With all of his heart. But now? Now he wasn't sure anymore.

"And... I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have that. In my mind, you seemed like this super-genius. You were two steps ahead of everybody else, and the person you put your trust in was me. It made me think that I was doing something right, at the very least."

"I..."

"Yes?" Akamatsu replied quickly, eager for the chance to keep the conversation rolling.

"I don't know... why."

"What?"

"I'm not sure why I picked you out of everyone back then," Saihara admitted. "I just... had a feeling."

An unexpected response. Akamatsu couldn't be certain if this was a good or bad thing. Regardless, she had to press on. "If you knew everything you knew now, who would you have picked?"

"Anyone other than Shirogane-san," Saihara muttered.

A non-answer to be sure, but it was something. "Do you... regret trusting me?"

Silence again.

Akamatsu hung her head. The lack of a response was an answer in and of itself. "That's okay," she replied, "I just want you to know... I don't regret trusting you."

The capped boy's attention had been captured yet again.

"Sometimes my mind goes back to that weird video," the pianist continued, "The one where I tell myself not to trust anyone? But even if that is me, she's wrong. I've gotten this far because of the people I've put my trust in. And I've made mistakes. I know that. But trusting you has never been a mistake. And maybe that doesn't mean much if you don't trust me back, but... I need you to know I'm happy I've had you here."

Saihara remained quiet before a moment before finding his own voice. "Those videos..."

Akamatsu's head perked up, inquisitively. "What about them?"

"I think about them too..."

"Right," Akamatsu recalled. "The 'get-yourself-executed' thing. Like we said, if you aren't thinking that way now, it shouldn't matter, right?"

"...I didn't know I was that far gone."

"What?"

Saihara's eyes shut tight, struggling to voice his concerns. "I always thought I could keep it under control. As bad as I ever got... when I couldn't get out of bed... when I could barely breathe... when everything seemed pointless... I never..."

"Never thought about... killing yourself?" Akamatsu finished.

Saihara nodded. "I don't remember ever feeling that way... and now... I don't know what'll happen if I start feeling like that again. I have a lab full of poisons. Some of them even say, 'painless death'. It would... it would be easy. I don't know if I could stop myself..."

Saihara cursed how cramped this closet was. He had no room to sink downward, as much as he wanted to. The most appealing thing in the world to him right now was the idea that if he just curled away in the corner, nothing could get to him. Nothing could touch him. Nothing could hurt him. He could escape.

"I'd stop you."

The black-haired boy's eyes widened. "Wh-what?"

The determination was radiating from the pianist's eyes as she spoke, "I don't know how. But I know that if you ever even thought about it, I'd know. And I'd come running to stop you. If anything happened to you..."

She choked back a tear. "So... you don't have to be worried. I'd stop you. And if I couldn't, Momota-kun would. And if we couldn't, Harukawa-san would. I promise you, if you're ever teetering on the edge, we'll pull you back. I'll pull you back."

Saihara's head drooped once more. "Can you be sure?"

"Huh?"

"I... I have no idea who I can trust anymore. Everything... everyone... I don't know if I can trust them. I'm no closer to finding the mastermind than I was that first day, and now... I worry I'll never figure it out. And even if I do... then... I'll just realize that I let them trick me. And... I'm worried that... that..."

He couldn't share the rest. "...that it'll be the person I trusted most."

"I'm not sure what convinced you to trust me the first time. And if I did something that makes you think you shouldn't have... then... I'll live with that," Akamatsu said, resignation seeping into her tone. "But for now... please..."

"Please what?"

"Can we not worry about that? Just for now?"

"What else is there?" Saihara asked, honestly without an answer.

"Can we... can we just be Lady Ivory and Raoul? For... however long is left?" Akamatsu requested. "You can say 'no' if you want, but I just..."

"...okay."

Akamatsu blushed. "R-really?"

"I think..." Saihara muttered, raising his head to meet her gaze for the first time in days. "I think I need to take my mind off this. Just for a little bit."

"A-alright..." Akamatsu shakily replied. She wasn't actually expecting a 'yes'.

"Um..." Saihara paused. On impulse he had agreed to Akamatsu's request. His mind was racing with so many possibilities that he knew if he didn't find something solid to hold onto, he would run himself into the ground. Lady Ivory and Raoul were basic. Their relationship wasn't complicated by suspicion, trust issues, or an undefined connection. Saihara could say he understood them.

Embodying them, however, would be a different sort of challenge.

Akamatsu took a deep, cleansing breath, and attempted to return to her character. "Raoul..."

"M-ma'am..." Saihara replied with a nod.

"I... I want you to know that..." Akamatsu hesitated. Was this right? Using this veil of fiction to make such a big leap forward? Her mind screamed no.

Her heart had other plans. "I want you to know that, these times I've had with you mean the world to me."

"Th-thank you, milady," Saihara replied, growing more and more nervous. And strangely, finding a sense of calm. "I have done everything in my power to serve you as your faithful bodyguard."

"I know but... it's more than that. These... moments of passion," the pianist replied, her embarrassment plain to see even in the dim light. "I don't want you to think they mean nothing to me."

"I'm..." Saihara's voice caught in his throat as he kept speaking, "glad to hear that."

"Raoul... do you remember..." Akamatsu summoned all her courage as she finished with, "the first time?"

Saihara's face turned a bright red. If there were details about it in his character folder, clearly he had skimmed over it. "I... prefer the way you tell it..." he offered, trying to dodge the question.

"Someone had tried to kill me that night, and you... you took a stab wound that had been meant for me," Akamatsu recounted.

"Oh... yes... I can remember now..." Saihara replied.

"After you were patched up... that was when I realized..." Akamatsu stopped cold. She could barely speak, she was so frozen in fear.

"Milady?" Saihara asked, trying to help.

Akamatsu's voice trembled. "Raoul, be a dear and... and... call me 'Kaede.'"

She hated herself. She promised she wouldn't abuse that power again, and now, here she was. And for what? Something so selfish and petty as-

"Kaede..."

She felt his hand on her shoulder. In that moment, everything else was gone. No suspicions. No killing games. No masterminds. Just her and Saihara. No words. Just emotion.

She leaned her head towards his, hopeful he would respond.

He started back, just for a moment, before he also leaned forward.

Each tilted their head ever so slightly. They could feel the other's breath on their skin. Closer and closer, the gap between their lips growing smaller every second.

The door opened.

"That would be ten minutes!"

The two backed away in astonishment at Kiibo's announcement. Indeed, they had completed the task they had been assigned.

Each wishing it would have lasted a minute longer...

"Forgive me," Kiibo added. "Did I interrupt something?"

Akamatsu's face quickly grew flush with red at the inquisition. "No, no!" she lied. "Just... uh... hey, Saihara-kun, now you can look at those files, right?"

"R-right!" Saihara replied, very happy with the change of subject matter. He quickly made his way to the desk, and spread out the various papers in front of him. Though upon finally seeing the forms in the light, his demeanor quickly took a downturn.

"What's wrong?" Akamatsu asked.

"Most of these are just... scribbles..."

"Scribbles?" Kiibo repeated.

Indeed, the files contained next to nothing. Clearly yet another bit of time-saving on Monokuma's part so as to avoid wasting effort on window dressing to the actual plot of the mystery.

"Is there anything in there at all?" the pianist wondered.

Saihara lifted a single piece of paper. "Just this. I think it's a will."

"Whose will?" Akamatsu questioned.

Saihara's eyes scanned over the paper, looking to find out what information he could, and how it related to the overarching story Monokuma had crafted. "It's the Duke Du Jour's... and it's dated six months ago..."

"How can you be sure?" Kiibo chimed in. "We were never given an established date before we arrived."

Saihara pointed to where the date would be found on the form.

The line literally read: "Six Months Ago."

"Ah, I see," the robot dryly replied.

"Anything interesting?" Akamatsu prompted.

"Almost all of his belongings are being left to his wife, T. Du Jour..." Saihara noted, "a few things to his sister, D. Du Jour..."

"Delilah, or rather, Iruma-san," Kiibo clarified.

"And... hmm..."

"And?" Akamatsu parroted.

"It lists his full name as Rantaro Du Jour," Saihara revealed. "Which makes me wonder..."

"Wait," Akamatsu said, her finger moving to the bottom of the form, "Look at who signed the document!"

The two boys followed the blonde's instructions and discovered who it was.

There in cursive lettering was the name, "Julianne Applewood".

"Yumeno-san?" Kiibo pondered. "Why would she sign someone else's will? She's playing a jewelry appraiser."

"Unless that's just her cover," Akamatsu theorized.

"I'm starting to get a better picture of all this," Saihara declared.

"Oh, by the way, Saihara-kun," Kiibo cut in, "While I have you, would you like a snack?"

"Kiibo-kun," Akamatsu interrupted, "were you given a rule that says you have to ask everyone that?"

Kiibo nodded sheepishly, "Yes. I must ask everyone until there is no one left to ask, or until someone says 'yes'. Whichever comes first."

Akamatsu, taking pity on her friend, declared, "Raoul, be a dear and tell him you'd like a snack."

"I'd like a snack," Saihara replied, not missing a beat.

"Very well," Kiibo acknowledged, "I will go fetch it for you."

As Kiibo exited the room, it once again left the two alone. Short-term memory was a cruel, cruel thing, as their minds immediately rushed back to what would have happened had Kiibo been a bit less precise in his keeping track of time.

"Well," Akamatsu began, choosing to take the initiative, "what do you think we should do now?"

"There's a few rooms I still want to look at," Saihara explained, "but I also need to talk to Yumeno-san. I can't be sure if I'll be able to find her in time before the we reach the end of the game, though."

"I could look for her," Akamatsu offered.

Silently, she regretted even asking. Saihara had made it clear that he wasn't willing to trust her anymore. For whatever reason, she had lost that privilege. And she was too altruistic to force him to spend any more time with her than he already had. But he had been willing to share the information about the will with her. Though, that could have just been the heat of the moment. It was better if she just went off on her-

"That'd be great, thank you."

Akamatsu's eyes went wide. Saihara had turned away, so she couldn't tell what expression he was currently wearing, but she recognized that tone. He meant it. He was willing to trust her. Or at least, give her the chance to win that trust back.

"Alright! I won't let you down!"

Akamatsu raced off to find Yumeno, a big grin beaming on her face.

Saihara stood in stock silence. Staring at a piece of paper that had already offered as much information as it was capable of doing. Alone with his thoughts.

"She isn't. She can't be. Monokuma was lying, or trying to trick me."

He was reasonably sure that she was not the Mastermind. While on some level, he was biased against the idea, and all his information had been filtered throught that bias, he felt safe in assuming so. Her behavior didn't lend to the idea. She had no reason to act the way she did unless she was desperate to deceive him. But Monokuma and the Mastermind appeared to be two separate entities, meaning the Mastermind didn't necessarily know Saihara was onto them. He even hinted toward Akamatsu that she was a suspect, and she didn't react. Not even the most subtle of defenses. But she was hiding something. That much he was certain of. But with that decision made in his mind, it raised a very important question.

If Akamatsu wasn't the Mastermind, who was?

 

Chapter Text

The kitchen had more or less been abandoned for the duration of the game. None of the players had seemed to think it would be worth the effort of looking within for hints as to the location of the necklace, or answers to the mystery.

Though, as Kiibo now found, it was mainly there to taunt the players. The dishes that had been laid out in the dining room were but trifling morsels compared to what had awaited. Clearly the Du Jours had intended to indulge in a multiple-course meal.

The irony was that this image was wasted on the one student who was incapable of consumption of such foodstuffs. Though, from an artistic standpoint, he could certainly appreciate it.

But that was not why he was here. No, Saihara had answered affirmatively about wanting a snack, so Kiibo was intent on fetching something. After working his way around the oven, the sinks, the counter, the fridge and icebox, he arrived at the pantry. Upon opening the door, he was surprised, though not at all confused to discover there was but one item awaiting. A small tin of fish.

Shrugging, he took the item in question with him, preparing to depart to find Saihara, until he heard a small voice. Kiibo quickly recalled that the dining room was directly connected to the kitchen, meaning he had a front-row seat to listen in on Ouma's interrogations. The game was approaching the time limit, so he theoretically had to be close to done by now. The proper thing to do would be to leave Ouma to his work.

Curiosity won out, however, as Kiibo leaned against the door, catching hints of the conversation. Based on the voice, it seemed Ouma was questioning Hoshi.

"How long have you been working with them?"

"I only started a few weeks ago."

"I see. How did you first hear about the position?"

"Well... just... general rumblings, I suppose."

"Interesting... do you know what happened to their old chef?"

"I have reason to believe they found another form of gainful employment."

"Hard to believe, given they were working for the richest couple in town."

"Look, I don't know what happened with the old gal. I all know is, she's gone, and I work here. Anything else?"

"I think that's all I needed to know."

Kiibo backed away from the door, confused. There was another chef? A she, for that matter? More importantly, how did Hoshi know? Kiibo couldn't hope to guess.

Fortunately, he had the perfect person to share this information with. And a snack, so as to break the ice.


 

For a time it seemed as though Akamatsu's efforts would be for naught. Yumeno, magician (or mage) that she was, seemed a master of disappearing acts, leaving the pianist grasping at straws in her attempts to track her down. With luck, however, she finally found the redhead in the trophy room.

"There you are!" she declared.

Yumeno turned to face her. "Eh? Were you looking for me?"

Akamatsu steadied herself. It wouldn't do to give away too much too soon. Yumeno could be playing the murderer for all she knew, and who knows what sort of things Monokuma would give them the permission to do? Furthermore, if Yumeno was dedicated to finding the necklace, Akamatsu's questioning could be perceived as a threat.

But she had faith in Yumeno, and made the first step. "Just... wondered where you were. What drew you here?"

"I've been thinking about why Amami's playing the Duke," Yumeno explained.

Akamatsu quirked an eyebrow. Seeing Amami dead once more was a shock, certainly, but not enough for her to make an effort to determine why.

"I think this game has a hint to what his Ultimate Talent was, and that might help us find out where the necklace is," the mage continued.

"So you don't mind if someone else finds it?" Akamatsu inquired.

Yumeno shrugged. "As long as whoever gets it tells us, I'm fine."

With this information in mind, Akamatsu decided to take another step forward. "So... is there anything about the Duke Du Jour that Julianne Applewood could share?"

"Julianne Applewood is his go-to when he finds something valuable," Yumeno responded, slightly mechanically. "He trusts her not to ask too many questions."

"Why would you need to ask questions?" the pianist wondered.

"Archaeologists don't usually get to keep what they find," Yumeno replied, cryptically.

Akamatsu was left puzzling over this statement, until realization dawned. "The necklace... it doesn't belong to him..."

"No. No it doesn't."

"That might be the real motive for his murder..." the blonde theorized.

"And I think that's tied into who Amami-kun was..." Yumeno added.

"Huh?"

"Amami was killed by the Mastermind directly," Yumeno recalled, "and now they've killed him again, sorta..."

"Amami must have done something to really get on the Mastermind's nerves..." Akamatsu noted. "And if we figure out this fake murder, maybe we can get answers about the real one."

"At least I think so..." the mage replied.

"You're really on the ball today, Yumeno-san," the pianist observed.

"I have to be."

"Huh?"

Yumeno lowered her head before continuing, "The last two motives made Tenko and Angie feel like they had to kill someone. I... I don't want that to happen to another one of my friends."

"Yumeno-san..." Akamatsu raised her fists in determination. "Don't worry, we won't let Monokuma win this time."

"I hope you're right..."


 

Iruma felt good about herself. This virtual world was easily her most impressive creation yet. Sure, her contribution wasn't all that brought it about, but she could easily get away with putting on her resume. And she wasn't even a programmer by trade!

As such, she felt confident walking down the steps, continuing her exploration of the mansion. However, she stopped in her tracks once she saw who was waiting for her.

Harukawa was waiting at the bottom of the staircase with her arms crossed. Her eyes trained into her signature pointed glare, sharp enough to slice through Iruma's bold front like a hot knife through butter.

Hoping to avoid confrontation, Iruma turned around to try and retreat back upstairs, however that way was also blocked.

Momota stood further up the stairs, looking down at her with a smirk. It was clear that the two had planned this.

"Wh-what do you two want? M-money? I don't really have much money..." Iruma stuttered out.

Harukawa sighed as she walked up the steps to meet the inventor head-on. "We don't want money, we just want information."

"Huh?"

Momota also moved toward the busty blonde. "You're playing the Duke's sister. You've gotta be sitting on something good, right?"

"You two are crazy! I don't know any more than you do!" Iruma protested.

"Why don't I believe you?" the faux caretaker wondered aloud.

"Okay, okay!" Iruma replied, reaching into a pocket. "Just leave me alone!" She shoved something into Harukawa's hands and quickly made a break for it.

With the inventor fleeing, Harukawa raised up what she was handed. It appeared to be something metal hanging from a string.

"Oh my God, is that-?" Momota began.

"It's a locket," the dark-haired girl answered, "the necklace would look a lot fancier."

"Right, duh," Momota noted, chiding himself. "So, what's in it?"

"I don't know," Harukawa said, her hands struggling with the clasp, "this damn thing..."

Momota reached his hands out to grab the object in question. "Let me try."

At first Harukawa intended to say 'no', and protest that she was more than capable. However, the moment his hands brushed against hers, she quickly lost the ability to speak, turning over the locket without a fight.

"Damn it," she thought, "You're better than this. You can't get all flustered just because of one stupid guy. Even if he is... kinda... cu... NO! NO! Do NOT go there!"

The assassin's internal struggle aside, the astronaut's external one was going quite swimmingly. With a small bit of effort, he undid the clasp. "Nice!" he cheered, "Now let's see what we've got!"

Within the locket was, as to be expected, a small picture. But the person depicted in said picture was what anything but expected.

"Holy shit..." Momota muttered. He handed the locket back to Harukawa so that she, too, could bear witness to the strange sight.

A pair of red eyes widened as they took in the image. "Shirogane?"

Indeed, the wicked cosplayer was shown, smiling. It was an innocent smile, one that she had used time and again to convince the others she was just another victim in all of this. And yet, here, it finally seemed genuine.

"Why her? And why did Iruma have this?" Harukawa wondered.

"Dunno," Momota admitted, "but that's why we have Shuuichi. But before that..."

"Hmm?"

The astronaut began to grin. "How'd I do?"

"At what?"

"I've never tried that whole 'scare people into doing what you want' thing before. How'd I do?" he clarified.

Harukawa put on a smirk of her own, and offered her analysis, "I think you mostly got by off of my leftover intimidation factor."

"Well, I'm learning from the best," Momota joked.

"And don't you forget it," Harukawa replied. She was smiling. Honestly, truly smiling. He was impressed by something she had honed from her hidden talent. He was impressed by... her.

"When this is over... I... I should tell him..."


 

Saihara was only growing more and more frustrated. With the information he had gathered thus far, and what he hoped to receive from the other members of the fitness club, he believed he had a fair understanding of the case at hand. Though he was no closer to finding the necklace than when he first started, the detective felt it safe to assume it had already fallen into one of the players' hands. But that needn't matter. The murder mystery seemed to hold hints all on its own. There were just a few more details he needed to confirm.

Which would prove far simpler had Toujou not simply disappeared without a trace.

The maid, or rather Duchess, had a highly coveted role, in that she had a better understanding of both the house and the victim going in. If there were a place to hide, she would be the one to know about it.

Clearly she was using this to her advantage.

However, before the detective could continue his quest to find the silver-haired girl, he found himself interrupted.

"Saihara-kun! I brought your snack!"

The detective turned to face his new company. It was, indeed, Kiibo, having returned from the kitchen, carrying a small tin.

"I don't suppose you know where Toujou-san's gone?" Saihara asked.

"Sadly, no," Kiibo lamented, "As her butler, one might think she would tell me. But in either, case, here you are!" The robotic student held out the tin, with the detective tentatively taking hold of it.

"What's in this?"

"Kippers," Kiibo explained, "I believe they are a type of fish."

Saihara, confused by this snack, found himself examining the tin. And as he did, something caught his eye.

The label read: From the Grinning Ghost Cannery

"That answers that..." he muttered.

"Hmm?"

"Don't worry about it," the cap-wearing boy responded, hoping to brush things off.

"By the way," Kiibo started, "I heard Ouma-kun's interrogation of Hoshi-kun before. Something about there being another chef before him."

"Another chef?" the detective questioned.

At that moment, a loud sound echoed through the manor.

*BONG, BONG, BONG*

The time limit was finally up.

 

Chapter Text

With the toll of the mysterious bells, it became clear that Monokuma was not exaggerating. Indeed, the students were brought to the parlor room, as if by some form of teleportation.

The long missing Toujou revealed herself to the group once more through a the rattling sound of a doorknob. "Locked," she announced. It seemed that Monokuma was quite adamant about the way the game would end.

The crack and roll of lightning outside only served to increase the tension felt in the air of the parlor room. The guests of the dinner party had gathered together at the request of the investigator. With the jewels still missing, it was imperative that the culprit be found.

"So... the investigation period has come to an end," Saihara noted.

"Yes, I suppose it has," Akamatsu agreed, quickly returning to the detective's side, so as to covertly share what she had learned.

"And all the better if you ask me," Ouma declared. "I'm sure you're all curious as to why I gathered you here..."

"You didn't," Hoshi pointed out.

"Immaterial!" the play-acting detective cried back.

"Detective Pebbleford, do you have any clue who stole my husband's necklace?" Toujou asked, by now the only one willing to humor him.

"I have a number of clues, though the answer may surprise this group."

"I have locked the doors, Detective Pebbleford," Kiibo claimed, assuming his character had been tasked with such a role. "No one will be leaving this room before you can reveal the truth."

"Indeed. And as one might suspect, the true culprit in this case is none other than that mysterious thief, the Scarlet Spectre."

This claim caught the group off-guard. The Scarlet Spectre hadn't seemed to have come up at all since the original character descriptions, so how could Ouma have reached such a conclusion?

"You mean to say one of us is that ghastly fiend?!" Kiibo wondered aloud.

"Quite, and the evidence leaves little room for doubt."

"So tell us!" Yumeno demanded.

"If that is what you want..." Ouma replied with a wicked grin.

The false detective began to circle the group, like a vulture awaiting the death of its prey.

"Learning the Spectre's true identity was easy, once I took into account whom among you had the proper motivation to become a thief," Ouma boasted. "Clearly it wouldn't be one of the elites, so it had to be a servant."

"Are you accusing me?" Kiibo replied.

Ouma shook his head. "Not at all. The butler would be far too cliche."

"That would leave Pierre and Raoul, would it not?" Toujou theorized.

"Not them either," the dictator countered. "Foreigners are only used to highlight how suspicious they are due to their foreignness."

Saihara clenched his brow in frustration. Ouma only knew that because Saihara had told him that point-blank.

"But aren't they the only servant characters?" Akamatsu inquired.

"At first glance, yes," Ouma acknowledged. "However one character is a servant in the guise of a member of the upper-crust."

Sweat would have begun to pour down the brows of certain students, were they not inside a computer and therefore incapable of such things.

Ouma gave a victorious smirk as he pointed toward his suspect, "Isn't that right, Countess Corduroy?!"

The students turned to look toward Harukawa in a mixture of shock and bewilderment.

"...didn't you say you had proof?" Harukawa shot back. "You can't convict me on a hunch."

"All I need is right there in your backstory," Ouma countered. "A maid turned wife of a man of status. Thanks to him, you've grown accustomed to a certain style of living. Trouble is, what happens when the money dries up?"

"You're saying she turned to theft in order to keep herself financed?" Toujou clarified.

"Yes, but you don't have to take my word for it," the braggart proclaimed. "That's why we have the Count."

"Me?" Momota responded, his confusion clear.

"You have to know, don't you?" Ouma challenged. "Just how much of a criminal she is? The crimes she's committed? And you let it pass out of some misguided 'love'? Feh!"

"You're treading on thin ice right now," Harukawa warned.

"I'd be more than happy to blab everything I know, but I want to hear it from you," Ouma continued, ignoring the red-eyed girl, "Mister Corduroy, tell us the truth."

Momota narrowed his eyes. His patience with the shorter boy was growing thin, not that he had much patience for him to begin with. But he wasn't afraid. He stood his ground and gave a grin of his own. "Alright then. I'll tell the truth."

Harukawa's eyes went wide. Was he really going to-?

"I will reveal the truth I've concealed... about myself," Momota claimed.

"About yourself?" Akamatsu repeated.

Saihara could only nod to himself, as though he were putting it together in his own manner.

"The truth is, that I, Charles Corduroy..." Momota gulped before resuming, "have come down with a terrible case of consumption."

"Consumption?" Iruma asked.

"Tuberculosis," Hoshi clarified.

"Huh?" Yumeno added, clearly having no greater understanding of the situation.

"An infection of the lungs," Kiibo explained.

"It's true," Momota revealed, "that... I am sick. Very sick. I... Charles Corduroy... am not long for this world. And I've known that for some time."

Ouma was left confused. "But what does that..."

"And my wife has known this as well..." Momota resumed, "and that's why... why she did, indeed, become the Scarlet Spectre."

Toujou gasped, "So you truly are-?"

Harukawa didn't answer. She seemed too caught up in Momota's story. She had known that Countess Corduroy was the Scarlet Spectre, and she had revealed this to the astronaut as instructed. But this story was new to her. She hadn't known about the Countess's motives, nor particularly cared to find out, but all the same, she couldn't tear herself away from this tale.

"Then I was right!" Ouma argued. "She became the Spectre to ensure she'd be well-off after you died!"

"No," Momota shot back. "She became the Spectre to help cover my medical expenses. There are treatments that could keep me alive a little longer, but... I had refused them."

"Why?" Akamatsu inquired, equally invested.

Momota turned to face Harukawa, and began to walk towards her. "As Detective Pebbleford has said, my wife married into money. But the love between us has been all-too-real. With my life but a flickering candle, I couldn't in good conscience waste my fortune on a fleeting attempt to survive, knowing I'd leave her with nothing."

The astronaut took the faux-caretaker's hand in his own.

"But... she couldn't bear to see me suffer. And so she became the Scarlet Spectre. My money would keep her safe. And her criminal activity would keep me alive. My dear..."

Harukawa barely muttered out, "Charles..."

"I'm sorry," he said, his tone one of comfort. "I didn't want it to come out like this."

"Oh boo-hoo!" Ouma replied. "She's still the Scarlet Spectre, and that means she's guilty."

"That's where you're wrong," Harukawa countered, her hand strangely not breaking from Momota's grip. "I may be the Scarlet Spectre, but I'm not the culprit."

"Yeah? Where's your proof?" Ouma challenged.

It was at this point, Saihara spoke up. "Actually, I have some proof that shows your pursuit of the Scarlet Spectre was a waste of time."

With a grin on his face, it seemed that the true detective was back to form, and held out the tin that Kiibo had given him prior.

"What is that?" Ouma asked.

"This is a tin of kippers from the Grinning Ghost Cannery. And that was how I realized that the Scarlet Spectre was nothing to be worried about," Saihara explained.

"I don't get it," Yumeno admitted.

"It's all in the name," the hat-wearing boy revealed. "'Spectre' is another word for 'Ghost'. And 'Scarlet' is a shade of red. A Scarlet Spectre is a Red Ghost. And 'Ghost', in this context, is the name of a fish cannery."

"Of course!" Akamatsu realized. "If Ghost can be tied to fish, then 'Red Ghost' can also mean 'Red Fish', more specifically..."

"A 'red herring'," Ouma finished, a bitter tone to his voice. "The false lead in every detective story."

"So this whole Scarlet Spectre stuff was pointless?" Iruma complained.

"It seems it only existed to further the romance subplot of the Corduroy family," Toujou observed.

"Hahahahaha!" Iruma chortled. "You idiots were just spank material for lonely housewives! Oh, that's priceless..."

Iruma's choice of terminology seemed to be the key to breaking whatever spell was telling Harukawa to keep holding Momota's hand. She let go rather quickly in response.

"Well, now what?" Ouma asked, highly frustrated.

"You didn't have a second lead?" Akamatsu questioned.

"I didn't think I'd need one," Ouma carped.

"For what it's worth, your logic was sound," Saihara noted. "You only mistake was that you missed the other server."

"There's another one?" Momota wondered.

The real detective nodded. "And like I said before, you just have to look at the name. Duchess Du Jour. Duchess of the day. As in, who the title belongs to has changed."

The students' eyes turned to Toujou, clearly aghast by this claim. "Outrageous! You presume I would kill my own husband?"

"Monokuma had to cut corners in this mystery," Saihara continued. "So much so, that he gave two couples almost the exact same backstory. Hoshi-kun is playing a chef, but he isn't the first chef."

"Yeah..." Hoshi noted. "But my packet never mentioned who the first chef was."

"Because that would give it away," Akamatsu continued, starting to follow along. "And we know for a fact there's another Duchess Du Jour thanks to that will!"

Saihara revealed the paper for all to see. "The Duke is listed as R. Du Jour. Rantaro. But the Duchess is not listed as K. Du Jour for Kirumi. Instead it's a 'T'."

Momota's eyes widened. "Oh, duh! The locket Iruma had!"

"Locket?" Toujou replied with shock.

"Iruma had a locket with Shirogane's picture in it for some reason..." Harukawa explained, turning to face the inventor. "Why did you have that anyway?"

"I dunno!" Iruma defended. "It was in my pocket when I got here!"

"T. Du Jour. Tsumugi," Saihara muttered. "And you're the Duke's sister-in-law. She was your sister, and that's why you have her picture."

"So then it's the same story..." Ouma realized, trying to steal the attention back. "You married him for his money after the first wife died, and were trying to make sure you'd get his property once he was gone."

"But Julianne Applewood was coming, and she's the one who notarized his old will," Akamatsu continued. "She was probably going to authorize a new will, one that might have changed what you would get in the event of his death."

"But because the old will listed so much going to his old wife, you could make a legal case to claim ownership of everything she would have gotten," Saihara concluded. "So before Yumeno-san could change the will, you killed your husband so he couldn't leave you with nothing."

"And you invited the detective on the Scarlet Spectre case in the hopes that I'd focus on that instead of finding you," Ouma added.

"Which worked," Toujou deadpanned.

With that response, Harukawa took it as a sign to go for the throat. "So, does that mean we're right?"

Toujou bowed her head. "It is true, I'm afraid. The Duke Du Jour was murdered by his duchess."

"So now what-?" Momota started.

Everything went blank for a moment.


 

The students suddenly awoke from their time in the game world, the simulation seeming to have simply ended without warning. As they began to re-adjust to the world around them, they found themselves greeted by the two who had been watching over them.

"YOU ARE A-WAKE. I HOPE YOU EN-JOYED YOUR TIME," Monodam spoke in his traditional flat tone.

"Yeah. Youse were hibernatin' way too long if you ask me! Day's almost over!" Monosuke spat.

"YOU SHOULD BE NI-CER TO THEM. THEY DID THEIR JOB. WHY CAN YOU NOT BE NICE?"

Monosuke immediately backpedaled. "No, no! Don't worry, bro, I can be super-nice! Mega-nice even! Wanna go to a Tigers game? My treat!"

"PER-HAPS LA-TER."

"BYE-KUMA!" the two shouted as they departed.

With the students left on their own, they had no choice but to stew in confusion. With the game over, theoretically the prize should have been awarded. And yet, everyone seemed the same.

"Did... did it work?" Akamatsu asked.

"Well, did it, Toujou-chan?" Ouma questioned. Given that she was the culprit of the case, it seemed like a natural conclusion that she was also the one who had the necklace.

The maid shook her head however and explained, "I'm afraid I was unable to acquire the prize we all sought.

"Likely story!" Iruma accused. "You're trying to throw us off!"

"I assure you I am telling the truth."

"Look, whoever found it, just tell us," Momota requested.

Silence reigned.

"Is it possible none of us were able to find it?" Kiibo wondered.

"Ugghhh... then why did we even bother?" Yumeno complained.

"We didn't have a choice," Harukawa reminded her.

Saihara, being a bit more goal-oriented, had already main his way to the main computer. "The simulation is still running," he observed. "As long as you have someone on the outside to pull you back out, any of us are free to look again."

"I think I will do just that," Kiibo volunteered.

"Anyone opposed to Kiibo-kun being the one to look?" Akamatsu asked the group.

Only one hand went up.

"Really, Ouma-kun?" the pianist replied. She was quickly growing weary of the two's back-and-forth.

"I'll agree only if I get to be the one to bring him back out," Ouma requested.

The blonde turned to the robot. "Kiibo-kun?"

"This is acceptable for me," he said with a nod.

"Alright then..." Akamatsu muttered. "I guess... we go about our day."

The group filed out as Kiibo prepared to enter the simulation once more.

As he did, Ouma leaned in to him and whispered, "You remember our deal?"

"Yes. Though I am not sure what you gain from this," Kiibo admitted.

"Just let me worry about that..."


 

The day came and went, and gave rise to a new one. The other students never quite caught sight of Kiibo or Ouma over the rest of the day, and none could be certain when they had returned.

But that wasn't at the forefront of Akamatsu's mind. No. She was instead waiting outside her dorm room door, waiting. Though she had been proud of the steps she had taken during the game, she was still quite angry with herself for not admitting her feelings to Saihara. She had given herself the excuse that she would do so after training that evening, but yet again, he had chosen not to attend. And that just left her with Harukawa and Momota.

Last night, more than ever, she had felt like a third wheel.

So she stood. Waiting. She knew Saihara would wake up around the same time as her. He always did. Or he would, had she not woken up an hour early to take advantage of this plan.

Was this creepy? It felt a little creepy now that she thought about it...

With the sound of Saihara's door, the time to worry about potential creepiness was officially over, as she was greeted with the image of the detective who had caught her eye.

"Good morning, Saihara-kun!" Solid start.

"Hmm? Oh, good morning, Akamatsu-san." He's talking. This is a good step for him. He's still wearing the hat, but he's making progress back to his old self.

"I just... wanted to see if you would... walk with me to breakfast." Akamatsu kicked herself. Woman up, damn it! You've done that a dozen times now! Don't be such a coward about it!

Saihara was about to answer, when the main door opened, and the two were greeted by a panting mage.

"Yumeno-san?" Saihara inquired.

The redhead took a few deep breaths before finally gathering herself, "Dining Hall! Come quick!"

Both of her listeners immediately sprung into action, each of them full well aware about what they were likely about to witness.

Maybe not? Maybe there's just... something funny? Maybe Yumeno's doing some kind of magic trick? Something... Anything... Anything else... please...

The door to the dining hall stood before them. It felt like it weighed a ton as they forced it open.

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

Monokuma's voice rang out.

"A body has been discovered! Everyone please gather to the location of the corpse, the Dining Hall."

How horrible it must have felt for the others. To have to wake up to that. Knowing they would have to make their usual morning commute only to have it end in a tragic sight.

The sight of the body of the Ultimate Maid, Kirumi Toujou.

Chapter Text

For all their experience, the students had yet to adjust. Toujou's body lay prone, draped across the cafeteria table. To the untrained eye, she may have appeared to have fallen asleep in a chair, and the weight of her head had carried her upper body down. But she was gone. Never to return.

The group stood silent for some time. It always felt surreal. They knew they had to get to work, begin the investigation, but no one wanted to be the one to say it. Regardless, someone had to say something. Something that would break the stupor, the foul aura of death around them. Something that would shake them all back into reality.

Ouma naturally volunteered.

"No," he lamented, his voice seeming earnest for once, "Now who will make pancakes the way I like them?"

This did not endear him to the others.

"That's where your head's at?!" Akamatsu shouted. "Really?!"

"What, do you know how to make pancakes?" Ouma questioned.

"How do you take 'em?"

The cheery voice in the face of overwhelmingly depressing circumstances could only belong to one figure, and much to the chagrin of the captive class, it was, indeed, Monokuma.

"I know a lot of people say they're just not pancakes without syrup," the bear continued, "but personally, I think a wad o' butter goes a long way! Get it?! Upupupupu..."

The group failed to offer any reaction beyond looks of disdain.

"Meh," Monokuma scoffed, "before your time, I guess."

"HELLO-KUMA!"

And of course, a visit from Monokuma wouldn't be complete without the arrival of his two remaining children. However, in a strange twist from the norm, Monodam was taking the lead in conversation, while Monosuke chose to remain silent.

"FA-THER, IS YET A-NO-THER TRIAL A-BOUT TO BE-GIN?"

"Why yes, it is! I bet you're just as excited as I am, huh, champ?" the proud parent encouraged.

"IN-DEED. I MUST MAKE A FEW PRE-PA-RA-TIONS."

Monosuke kept quiet as Monodam skulked off.

"Well, in any case, you kids are gonna need the new Monokuma File! So, here you go, and get cracking!"

Monokuma left his traditional gift, and also departed for parts unknown.

Now the only bear left, Monosuke began to break out into what could only be described as a nervous sweat.

"Uggguhhhhh..." he muttered, "Not good, not good, not good!"

"What's got you so riled up?" Yumeno questioned.

"Have none of you morons been paying attention?!" Monosuke criticized. "Every time we have a trial, Monodam's killed one of us! And now I'm the only one left... I'm so dead!"

"And we should care?" Harukawa shot back.

The tiger-striped teddy dropped to his knees. "Please, you gotta help me! I don't wanna die! I'll do anything!"

"Wait," Akamatsu realized. "You guys always know who the culprit is ahead of time. You can tell us who it is, right?"

Monosuke gulped, "I mean, yeah, I know who it is, but..."

"Then tell us!" Kiibo requested.

"I can't," the other automaton protested, "If I give that away, there's no trial, and then I'll have the old man on my back. I'll be double-dead!"

"Is there anything you can give us?" Saihara wondered. "Point us in the right direction, at least?"

"Hey! I ain't runnin' a charity here! You want my help, you gotta stop Monodam from killing me!" the bespectacled bear bellowed.

"Iruma-chan," Ouma said, "maybe you could build something to help him."

"What, me?" the inventor replied incredulously.

"Who else?" the dictator confirmed. "I bet you've got some sort of Monokuma Cub shutdown switch all ready to go!"

"Iruma-san, do you really?" Akamatsu asked, excitedly.

"Of course I don't have anything like that!" Iruma protested. "I'm not an assembly line!"

"But do you think you could make something like that?" Momota posited.

Iruma put her finger to her chin. "I mean... if you gave me the whole investigation, I might be able to do something like that..."

"Then do it," Akamatsu requested. "If we can get Monosuke on our side, it'll be a huge victory for us."

"Yeah, yeah," Iruma brushed off, starting to walk away. "Nobody better interrupt me, and you all better love me for this."

"Iruma-san!" Kiibo called out before the busty blonde could depart.

"Yeah?" she called back.

"Thank you for your efforts! It is nice to see we can count on you!" the robot finished with a smile.

The inventor gave a grin of her own. "Thanks."

And with that, she left.

"Alright, we've got that settled, so now it's your turn," Akamatsu declared, her focus back on the yellow bear.

"Right, right," Monosuke responded, "Something you're really gonna need to know is that there's clues in the virtual world."

"The virtual world?" Yumeno parroted. "So we have to go back in the game?"

"What kind of clues are you talking about?" Hoshi wondered.

"I can't give too much away," Monosuke reminded the students, "But you might wanna solve the mystery you didn't finish before."

"BYE-KUMA!"

With his signature farewell, Monosuke disappeared to parts unknown.

"This is a problem," Saihara revealed. "We need to send someone into the virtual world. In fact, two people."

"Why two?" Momota wondered.

"If the only person we send is the culprit, it'll be all for nothing," Harukawa explained. "More than that, you'll need a third person. Someone you can trust to pull you out of there afterward."

"And I don't think you can communicate with the game world while you're in the real world," Akamatsu continued. "Whoever we send in will be flying mostly blind during the trial, and frankly, we'll probably have to keep the investigators in there for the whole investigation."

"So all in all, we're forcing three people to sit out," Ouma summarized. "Four if you count Iruma-chan."

"Perhaps," Kiibo chimed in, "however, Monosuke has told us that what lies in the game world is key. Therefore, we cannot just send anyone."

"Assuming he's telling the truth," Hoshi noted.

"Nah, I'm pretty sure he meant it," Ouma said, smirking as brightly as ever. "As a liar, I know these things."

"But we can't believe anything you tell us," Yumeno argued.

"We're wasting time," Harukawa warned the others. "We need to decide who we're sending in there."

"Shuuichi," Momota interrupted, "do you buy what Monosuke told us? About the game being important?"

The detective pondered a bit before revealing, "I think we can take him at his word for now. There are some questions I still want answered anyway."

"Then it's settled!" the astronaut decided. "Me an' Shuuichi will go back to the game world!"

"Why you two?" Kiibo wondered.

"Easy," the purple-haired boy replied, "Shuuichi's gotta go 'cause he's our best investigator, and this is important. He was one of the first three to discover the body, so it's unlikely he did it. And we know from last time he can catch up quick even if he misses most of the investigation."

Saihara's quick turnaround from the last trial aside, this did leave one more question. "Why you, though?" Ouma asked.

"Well, I can't leave my assistant all alone, now can I?" Momota questioned.

"Saihara-kun, does that sound good to you?" Akamatsu inquired.

The detective nodded. "That should be fine. I'll be counting on you to investigate out here in the meantime."

The pianist smiled at this expression of faith from the hat-wearing boy. "You got it!"

"I'll monitor them while they're in the game," Harukawa volunteered.

"Are you sure about that?" Saihara asked. "You've been helpful in the investigations before."

"All the same," the twin-tailed girl dismissed, "I think it's important the person keeping watch is someone you two can count on. I think I qualify."

"Damn right," Momota agreed. "Harumaki's got us covered, so let's get going!"

"Good luck, Akamatsu-san," Saihara said, before the trio made their way to the computer lab.

Akamatsu steeled herself. With all three of her main allies occupied, she would have her work cut out for her in the real world. But all the same, she would not falter. Not when Toujou's killer was among them.

With a deep breath, she turned her focus to the Monokuma File.

"The victim was the Ultimate Maid, Kirumi Toujou. She was found dead in the Dining Room. The time of death was around 5:45 A.M. The cause of death appears to be poisoning, using one of the toxins found in the Ultimate Detective's Research Lab. No other notable wounds have been found, though her clothes are slightly tattered."

Akamatsu scoffed. The phrasing of the file made it seem as if Monokuma was trying to get the group to suspect Saihara. But with poisons free for anyone to take, everyone was equally capable of carrying out this crime. With that in mind, the pianist began to look over Toujou's body.

A small trickle of blood could be seen from Toujou's mouth down to her chin. She appeared to have regurgitated her own blood, likely due to the poison. Strangely, however, there seemed to be no bloodstain.

It was here that Akamatsu realized that this culprit had quite an advantage over many of the others up until now. Amami and Gonta's bodies had been found quickly, and Shinguuji's had been in a location where his corpse could not be freely manipulated. But this time? The culprit had a good 2 hours or so before anyone had noticed anything.

No, not two hours. One. Maybe one and a half. Akamatsu had been standing in the halls of the dorms since around 7:20 in the morning, just before the morning announcements. No one had come by in the interim, save Yumeno, who discovered the body. She had yet to hear anyone explain where they had been over the course of the night, but unless there were some way to sneak past her, the culprit had to be out by then.

Beyond that, there was the rather simple matter of how the culprit got Toujou's body into the dining hall. The hall was closed until the morning announcements, meaning the culprit was already out of the dorms by 7:20, when Akamatsu's vigil began. Yumeno lacked an alibi, but that seemed unlikely.

"This might be tricky."

Akamatsu turned to discover that the cafeteria had lost most of its occupants. The only person left was Ouma.

"Where'd the others go?" she asked.

"I had 'em go investigate Saihara-chan's lab so they could figure out more about those poisons. Maybe even learn which one was used on Toujou-san," the dictator explained.

"And they just listened to you?"

"Well, the alternative was leave me alone in a room full of poison," Ouma pointed out.

Akamatsu nodded. "Yeah, good call."

"So, your little friends aren't around to help you this time. Guess it's you and me, then."

"What makes you think I would team up with you after everything you've done?" Akamatsu questioned, baffled at the boy's candor.

Ouma smirked. "I know you don't like me, but I'm still clever and I want to survive. By all accounts, I'm your best option."

"Unless you're the killer," the pianist countered.

"I could say the same to you," Ouma shot back.

The atmosphere had grown tense. Akamatsu was a fairly forgiving person, or at least she tried to be, but Ouma had long since gotten on her last nerve. All the same, he made a compelling argument. If he was innocent, he would definitely be an asset.

"Fine," she reluctantly decided, "we'll work together."

"Goodie!" Ouma cheered. "Now then, what do we know from looking at the body?"

"She was poisoned, obviously," Akamatsu began, "We don't know how or when it was administered. But it looks like it made her throw up blood, based on the trickle down her mouth."

"But there's no bloodstain on the table, floor, or Toujou-chan's clothes, even if they are torn a bit," Ouma observed, "Meaning the culprit probably cleaned it up."

"And they likely took whatever they used to make Toujou-san take the poison, too," Akamatsu reasoned. "Everyone else was asleep, so it could be anybody."

"It'd be easy to target Toujou-chan since she always woke up early to do all her chores," Ouma added.

"Damn it," the blonde lamented, "I kept telling her to take it easy. Why couldn't she listen?"

"Emotions later," Ouma chided, "if you're going to be a part of DICE someday, you'd better shape up!"

"DICE?"

"Did that slip?" Ouma chuckled. "Nishishi... forget I said that. Right now, we need to find something, anything the culprit could have missed while cleaning up."

With a nod, Akamatsu dropped to the floor and began to scan the ground for any hint of a bloodstain. No tell-tale signs of bodily fluids could be found, but there was still hidden treasure awaiting the pianist.

Tucked away by Toujou's feet was a small, nigh-invisible fragment of glass. Cautiously, Akamatsu took it into her hands, and returned to her feet to show Ouma this strange object. "What do you think this is from?"

"Hmm..." Ouma pondered, "I think this might be tied to how Toujou-chan took the poison."

"Makes sense," Akamatsu considered, "If the culprit made a point of cleaning everything up, only a small piece of evidence could even hope to slip by."

"Count your blessings," Ouma agreed. "Now I think that's enough of that. How about I show you something fun?"

"Something fun?" the pianist parroted.

 

Chapter Text

The virtual world was just as Saihara and Momota remembered it. The mansion seemed as ostentatious as ever, and yet, there was a new, ill omen in the air. Perhaps it was just the power of suggestion, with the trial looming nearer. And yet, it could equally owe to the fact that the large house was now utterly empty. Devoid of anyone save the two investigators. Was this how Kiibo had felt the previous evening? There was no way to know, as the robot had been strangely tight-lipped about the experience.

Regardless, the two stepped forward.

"There must be something we overlooked last time," Saihara considered. "But there are only a few rooms I never got to check..."

"Before we do that," Momota began, interrupting the detective's thought process, "Can we talk about something real quick?"

It was at this point Saihara realized that much like Akamatsu during the dinner party game, Momota had deliberately manipulated the situation to get him isolated. Normally, such a revelation would cause him to put up his defenses, refocus on the case, and deny Momota's inquiry.

But this was Momota. Akamatsu carried baggage with her. The trust issues, the possibility of betrayal, and Saihara's deeper feelings toward her. However, doubt was not something he had toward the astronaut. Momota was keeping a secret, that much was clear, but it wasn't anything world-shattering. At least, Saihara hoped not.

All the same, the hat-wearing boy took a breath before barely letting out a, "S-sure."

"Are you getting any better, man?" Momota wondered. "I don't know anything about this depression stuff, so I've got no gauge for how much you're going through, but... I can barely tell what's going on with you."

"I'm..." Saihara considered the question before continuing... "I'm improving. Slowly, but... I'm getting there."

"Got any idea how long it'll be?"

"That's not really how it works," Saihara admitted.

"Okay," Momota replied, trying to ease back. "I'm just looking out for you. You're my assistant and all, so I can't let anything bad happen you on my watch."

Saihara smiled. "I appreciate that."

"Good. Now..." the goateed boy began.

"Now what?"

"We haven't really talked about this since it came up, but..." Momota began to hedge before speaking further, "the whole 'bi' thing..."

Saihara's smile disappeared.

"No judgment!" Momota promised. "I just gotta know... do you... like... think I'm hot, or whatever?"

The detective quirked an eyebrow.

"I mean, you're my friend, man!" the astronaut reassured, "But I'm not into dudes, and I just want to clear the air..."

For the first time since his anxiety attack, Saihara found it within him to summon up a small laugh. "Heh heh..."

"What?"

Saihara smirked as he explained, "It's not that you're unattractive, it's just... I see you more as a brother than anything else."

Momota joined in the laughter. "Right! Hahahahaha! Sorry, just... me being stupid I guess..."

"It's fine," the black-haired boy replied. "Not the first time that's happened, probably won't be the last."

"Yeah..." Momota went quiet. "Brother, huh?"

"Is that... too much?" Saihara wondered, beginning to regret having admitted that.

"No... sounds about right," the astronaut agreed.


 

As Kiibo observed the shelf of poisons, he found himself at a loss. He had taken a visual record of the shelf's current state, and would share it with Saihara once he got the chance, but he doubted the detective had the layout memorized.

"I do not know what Ouma-kun expects us to find," Kiibo admitted.

"We have to try," Yumeno argued, "Toujou-san wouldn't want us to die like this!"

"If you say so," Hoshi muttered, his eyes turning to the nearby table. The ex-athlete pondered the piece of furniture, running his hands across it. As he checked his fingers, he noticed something odd.

"It's... clean."

"What do you mean?" Kiibo asked.

"There's no dust or anything," the vertically-challenged boy clarified. "But that doesn't seem right. Saihara's a lot of things, but I never took him for a neat freak."

"I cannot be certain," Kiibo replied, "I have not been in his room, nor this lab very often."

"I remember when I was here before," Yumeno chimed in. "Saihara had a bunch of books and files laying around the table, but there isn't anything here now."

"Meaning someone did a bit of clean-up in here recently," Hoshi surmised. "Sound like anyone to you?"

"Toujou-san..." Kiibo considered, "But I do not believe Saihara-kun would kill her."

"I'm not saying he did it," Hoshi clarified, "I'm just pointing out that she had to be in the room at some point. And the murder weapon probably came from here too."

"Do you think... she might have been planning something?" Yumeno asked.

"I know it's not a happy thought, but..."

"No..." Yumeno responded, her fists clenched. "I'm not going to pretend anymore. Anyone could do something wrong. But it's not their fault. It's Monokuma. Even if it turns out that another friend did something terrible... I can't let that take away the good person I remember!"

"So you are willing to admit Toujou-san is suspicious..." Kiibo summarized. "An unsettling thought, but an accurate one."

"Kiibo-kun," the mage continued.

"Yes?"

"As long as we're talking about suspicious things..."

"What is your concern?" the robot wondered.

"What happened with you and Ouma yesterday?"

The redhead's question left the robot speechless. He did not wish to deceive the others, but he had made a promise to Ouma. While he, too, had his suspicions as to why Ouma had done what he had, he could not betray that trust.

"It was nothing," Kiibo claimed, thankful his facial features could not betray his deceptive intent. "I investigated the virtual world, came up short, and we both returned to bed."

"But none of us ever saw you come back," Hoshi countered. "And for that matter, neither of you were in your dorms this morning."

"Can't you please tell us?" Yumeno begged. "I'm sick of being lied to."

Kiibo wished he could gulp. Or maybe that he had picked up that jetpack from his lab. "I-I... uhm..."

Kiibo fell back on a rather cruel tactic. His eyes lit up with such intensity so as to briefly stun the two in the room with him.

"Ugh!"

"Gah!"

As the two shielded their eyes, Kiibo made his escape. He wasn't sure where he planned to go, however.

Eventually, he'd have to go right back.


 

"And one last turn... and open!"

With Ouma's declaration, the door to Toujou's dorm room opened wide for the two unlikely allies to enter unimpeded.

"I keep forgetting you can get in any of our rooms whenever you want..." Akamatsu muttered. "I should be more careful what I leave lying around..."

"You'll get your make-up back when I'm done with it," Ouma promised.

"Wait, what?!"

"Never mind that," the dictator brushed off. "Tell me, what's wrong with this picture?"

Akamatsu looked all around the room to determine what Ouma was referring to, but found herself at a loss. As to be expected, Toujou had been quite diligent in keeping her room tidy. There didn't seem to be a hair out of place.

"I'm not sure..." the pianist admitted.

"Question," Ouma responded. "How did we get in here?"

"You picked the lock," the blonde answered.

"Why did I do that?" he continued.

"The door was locked."

"If the door was locked, where's Toujou-chan's key?"

Akamatsu's eyes widened. "Right! She would have needed her key to lock the door, but she didn't have it when we searched her body."

"Which means..." Ouma prompted.

"The culprit must have taken it," Akamatsu posited, "Which means they must have done something in this room."

"Gold star!" Ouma cheered. "Now, what would be in Toujou-chan's room that the culprit would have wanted to take for themself?"

"That I don't know..." the girl in pink sheepishly revealed. "Maybe if we just check everyone's room..."

"I've thought of that in other investigations," the short-statured boy countered. "I'd be searching blind, and it would take too much time."

"Yeah..." Akamatsu replied with a nod, "If we could whittle it down somehow..."

"And that brings us to the real question," Ouma declared. "Motive. Who had a good reason to strike? And Monosuke already gave us a big hint there."

"So you think one of us did get our memories back?" the pianist inquired.

"Nishishi... maybe..."

"Did you and Kiibo find anything when he checked the virtual world?"

"Nothing immediately helpful," Ouma said with a smirk.

"What do you mean, 'immediately'?"

"Don't worry about it..."


 

"I'm telling you man, me and Harumaki searched this room already."

Momota's words did very little to discourage Saihara's efforts as he examined the Master Bedroom thoroughly.

"This is the only place I still haven't checked," the detective reminded his friend. "If there isn't an answer here, there isn't one to be found."

"Monosuke better not have been lying to us," Momota spat. "If he was, I'll beat him down so fast he won't have time to get in that damn Exisal!"

Saihara ignored the astronaut's boasts as his attention turned to the large portrait of Amami on the wall. Something about this decoration called to him, as though there were something amiss about it.

"Help me move this," he requested.

With Momota's aid, the two were eventually able to discover that, indeed, there was one last clue to be found. Behind the portrait, there lie a final clue that could break the case wide open.

"A safe!" Momota exclaimed. "Should've figured... damn it, why didn't we check behind that thing?"

Saihara's hand immediately reached for the handle on the safe, only to find it wouldn't turn. "It's locked," he realized. His eyes turned to the combination lock to the side. "And we have no idea what the combination could be."

"Amami's birthday?" Momota guessed.

"We're in a fictional world right now," Saihara reminded him. "It would sooner be the Duke Du Jour's birthday, and we have no way of knowing when that is."

"Toujou's file might have had something about that," the astronaut theorized, "Not that it would help us now..."

"But she would have known, which means she could have opened the safe at any point during the game..." the black-haired boy considered.

"You don't think the necklace was in here, do you?" Momota exclaimed.

Before Saihara could answer, the world flashed back to reality before the boys' eyes. Frustrated, they looked to the now-present Harukawa for an explanation as to why they had returned to the computer lab.

"Time's up. We have to get going," she shared.

"Damn it!" Momota cursed. "What do we do now?!"

"Nothing to do," Saihara lamented, "We'll have to go in with what we have and hope for the best."


 

The students gathered around once more by the water fountain. While most of them had arrived rather quickly, Iruma had taken her time to stumble back into place.

"Iruma-san, did you finish your remote?" Kiibo inquired.

"Uggghhh..." she sighed, "Barely. That dumb bear showed up just after the bells went off and got on my case about it. He's got what he wants."

"Did he tell you anything else about the case?" Hoshi wondered.

"No such luck," Iruma complained, "Geez... everybody's getting on my case. Can you not be so pushy? I'm tired enough as it is!"

As the conversation continued, the elevator once again revealed itself to the captives as they prepared.

"This case is the most mysterious one yet," Akamatsu thought. "I don't know who would want to kill Toujou-san or why they did it the way they did. I don't know why one of us felt they had to kill a friend. But I can't back down now. I've faced every challenge up until now unafraid of whatever truth awaits. No matter the lies, no matter the pain, no matter the tears, I can't run away from this. I need to run toward it."

"Run toward... this Class Trial!"

 

Chapter Text

--COURT IS IN SESSION--

"Alright, let's begin with a basic explanation of the Class Trial!" Monokuma declared. "After a period of debate, you will take a majority vote for who you believe is the killer. If you're right, the killer is punished. But if you're wrong, everyone else is punished and the killer is allowed to leave Gifted Inmates Academy scot-free!"

"IT IS TIME FOR THE TRI-AL," Monodam proclaimed. "MONOSUKE, ARE YOU EX-CI-TED?"

"Yeah..." Monosuke chuckled, "I think this'll be a fun one."

The class took this to be a signal from the yellow bear. Their peace offering had been accepted, and Monosuke would be safe. Hopefully, this would result in a mutually beneficial arrangement that would allow the students the opportunity to properly fight back.

But before that possibility could be explored, there was a more pressing matter to settle.

"Before we move on to what Kaito and I found," Saihara began, "I'd like a better idea of what happened in the real world."

"Seems fair," Hoshi agreed. "The game may answer some questions, but the crime still happened in reality. Not much fiction can do to help us there."

"Hmm... I wonder..." Monokuma commented.

"What do you mean by that?" Harukawa inquired.

"Oh... don't worry about it," the headmaster dismissed.

"In any event, the case is somewhat odd," Kiibo began. "Toujou-san was discovered in the dining hall. However, the dining hall cannot be accessed prior to the morning announcements. How did she end up there to begin with?"

"If the crime took place before the night time announcement last night," Ouma theorized, "then her body would be considered an object, like Shinguuji-chan's was. In that case, it's totally fine that she was left in there overnight!"

"Ouma-kun," Akamatsu interrupted, "You know that's wrong. She was killed at 5:45 AM, and her being out and about in the early morning is how the culprit targeted her to begin with."

"Oh yeah, silly me," the shorter boy brushed off.

"You're just saying whatever you want again," Harukawa complained.

"So what about the body?" Momota asked. "How'd it get from wherever it was to the dining hall?"

"There are two entrances to the dining hall," Saihara noted. "One from within the school, and one on the outside. The culprit would have had to move the body undetected from wherever it was to the dining hall through one of those sets of doors."

"That's probably when her clothes got all scratched up," Yumeno guessed.

"So, what?" Iruma asked. "Was it inside or outside?"

"It might be best to come back to that later," the detective suggested, "In the meantime, we should note that the location the body was discovered was definitely not the scene of the crime."

"That would explain the lack of evidence," Akamatsu agreed. "Other than Toujou-san herself, everything seemed so clean."

"Clean, huh?" Hoshi chuckled. "Funny you should bring that up."

"What's so funny about it?" Momota wondered.

"When we were investigating Saihara's lab, I noticed the table was a little cleaner than I would've guessed it would be," the former convict explained. "Sound weird to anyone else?"

"So the scene of the crime was Saihara-chan's lab?" Ouma declared. "Now isn't that a plot twist?!"

"Hey, back off, Ouma!" Momota shouted. "Last time, Toujou's lab was the crime scene and she didn't do it!"

"True, but last time the killer was the one who had access to poison," the dictator reminded him. "And guess who fits that bill?"

"Ouma-kun, anyone could have gotten into my lab," Saihara pointed out. "That doesn't prove anything."

"Are we sure?" Ouma challenged. "Angie-chan told us not to trust you..."

"You're the one we don't trust!" Yumeno protested.

Ouma began his traditional display of false tears. "Y-you keep saying things like that... it... it really hurts, you know? UWAHHHHNNNNN!!!!!"

"We all know you're faking by now!" Kiibo proclaimed.

The little liar wiped his crocodile tears away once more. "Well, I feel obligated at this point..."

"Saihara-kun's lab might be the crime scene, but... there's still something that bothers me..." the pianist thought aloud. "When I investigated near her body, I did find a piece of glass."

"A piece of glass?" Harukawa repeated.

"Yeah, just a small one, could've missed it easily. I figured the culprit missed it while they were cleaning up or something, but..."

"It's possible that that glass was carried to the crime scene," the faux caretaker presumed, "Either by the culprit to disguise the location, or by Toujou stashing it away."

"So, what? Something glass broke as she was dying and she figured, 'Yeah, I'll grab this?'" Iruma countered. "Who would do that?"

"She might not have done it on purpose," Akamatsu continued, "The glass was by her feet, maybe it fell into her shoe or something and dislodged at some point."

"The glass was probably what contained the poison," Saihara posited. "She drank from the glass, dropped it as the effects took hold, and the shards scattered by her feet, with one finding its way into her shoe."

"That piece of evidence... we were lucky..." Hoshi muttered.

"Luck nothing!" Momota cheered. "Whoever did this just doesn't get it. You can't hide the truth from us, no matter how hard you try!"

"Nishishi..."

"Ouma-kun?" Akamatsu intoned, a tinge of worry breaking through.

"Can't hide the truth? Hmm... I wonder... What would happen if we used every bit of evidence we had, and still couldn't find an answer?" Ouma considered.

"Don't even joke about that!" Yumeno spat.

"If that happened, we'd all be totally screwed!" Iruma agreed.

"Well, all but one of us..." the purple-haired boy corrected. "Oi, Monokuma! Any advice?"

"Advice?" the bear questioned.

"If it came down to it, and we had to guess, what might happen?"

"Ugh," Monokuma sighed, "Have you forgotten the rules? If you're right, the culprit is killed and you keep playing the game. If you're wrong, you all die and the culprit goes free. It's the most basic of basics!"

"Clean out your ears, you bastards!" Monosuke criticized, "You should know that much already!"

"YOU WILL NOT BE A-BLE TO GET A-LONG IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE RULES," Monodam concurred.

"But what if, say, we didn't have a conclusion?" the dictator continued.

"What are you on about now?" Harukawa wondered.

"What if we, say, chose not to vote?" Ouma asked.

"Anyone who doesn't vote doesn't live to see tomorrow!" Monokuma declared, anger plainly apparent.

"Fine, fine, but what if we have a hung jury?"

"Hung jury?" Iruma parroted

"If the vote were not unanimous, you mean?" Kiibo attempted to clarify.

"I'm thinking bigger than that," Ouma said with a wicked sneer.

"Are you... asking what happens if the vote is tied?" Akamatsu theorized.

"Bingo, bingo!" he laughed. "Glad someone gets it!"

"Well... normally that's not a problem..." Monokuma explained, "But on the rare occasions that occurs, so long as the culprit is one of the two tied for the lead, I chalk that up as a win for the innocent."

"Didn't expect mercy coming from you," Hoshi snarked.

"Well, I am your headmaster. I do want to nurture your growth."

"I couldn't help noticing the caveat," Saihara chimed in. "The two tied for the lead. So we can't have a three-way tie or higher."

"Of course not!" Monokuma replied. "If you could do that, all you'd need to do is have everyone vote for themself, and you'd win every time!"

"Not that that would ever happen," Harukawa claimed.

"Ehh? Why not?" Momota asked.

"So long as the culprit has the power to vote, organizing a tie is completely impossible," the assassin reasoned, "That's the real purpose of the class trial. Taking away the culprit's control over our lives."

"That's right," Kiibo agreed, "Anyone who attempts murder is resigning themselves to kill everyone, not just one target."

"I ain't letting anyone kill me!" Iruma protested, "So you guys better not screw this up!"

"We can't let the answer go unfound," Akamatsu concurred, "The only way we can survive is to reveal the truth."

"The truth..." Ouma considered, "How far will it take you?"

"In any event, we must consider this now," Kiibo interrupted, hoping to avoid further distractions. "If Toujou-san did die in Saihara-kun's lab, how did the culprit make her drink the poison?"

"Better question, why was she even in there?" Iruma responded. "Place was probably dusty and everything, but why bother?"

"Toujou-san was alone for a large portion of the morning," Saihara noted, "She always is, which means the culprit could very easily separate her from the rest of us. How she was made to drink poison is a bigger question."

"But that means the culprit was awake at the time, too, right?" Momota asked. "So, don't we just need to find out who was around at the time?"

"Hey, hey! Wasn't Yumeno-chan running around the campus that morning?" Ouma pointed out.

"If I did it, why would I tell everyone about the body?" Yumeno argued.

"Just seems strange, considering you didn't see anyone until you went to the dining hall and found Toujou-chan's body..." the dictator continued.

"No one knows where you've been since last night!" the mage fought back, "You're just as suspicious! No, way more suspicious than me!"

"Eh? Kii-boy went missing too, y'know!"

"W-wait! You and I both know where the other one was! We can vouch for each other's alibis!" the robot protested.

"Maybe he can support yours," Harukawa acknowledged, "But you were in the virtual world for an extended time yesterday. During that time, he could have easily left and come back, right?"

"No, he couldn't!" Kiibo disagreed.

"And what makes you so sure of that?" Hoshi wondered.

"He... well... he had to..."

"Don't bother, Kii-boy," Ouma reassured, "It's fine. I'll vouch for you, even if you can't vouch for me."

"R-really?"

"Yup! I don't need anyone to vouch for me, 'cause I know who's the most suspicious of all," the trickster boasted.

"And you're only telling us now?!" Iruma spat.

Ouma smirked, "I can't tell you everything right from the start. What kind of fun would that be?"

"This isn't about fun, you dumbass!" Momota shouted.

"Maybe not for you..."

"Ouma-kun, just tell us what you're thinking," Saihara requested.

"Okay... but you asked for it..."

Silence overtook the trial ground as Ouma's warning pervaded its way through the minds of the group. Though his joking nature was bothersome, the self-proclaimed supreme leader had shown he could back up many of his claims. If he wasn't lying, this could prove to be a major break in the case.

"The most suspicious of all is... Akamatsu-chan!"

"M-me?!!" the blonde replied in shock.

"A-are you serious?!" Kiibo inquired.

"No way... it's just another lie, like always!" Yumeno protested.

"How in the world am I suspicious?" the pianist asked in defiance.

"This morning you were standing outside the dorms for no apparent reason right around the morning announcements," Ouma explained, "If you killed Toujou-chan, that would mean you brought her into the dining hall and came back to the dorms. Maybe the reason you were standing outside was because you wanted to get back into your room, but someone caught you just before you could get back in and complete your alibi. 'I was asleep the whole night, it couldn't be me!'"

"That's... that's insane!" Akamatsu protested.

"But no one can prove you were in the dormitory hall for as long as you say you were," Ouma countered, "And you didn't have any reason to be standing out there, did you?"

"That's... well..."

Akamatsu was torn. She could very easily tell them she had woken up early and simply wanted to meet Saihara as he woke up. But even ignoring the potential for embarrassment, it wouldn't actually do anything to refute Ouma's logic.

"Guys... you don't really think I did it, do you?"

The room was quiet, uneasy. All at once, it came flooding back. The memory of when she admitted what she had attempted with the shot-put, what felt like a lifetime ago. The looks of confusion and doubt plastered on the others' faces. But now? Now it stung a thousand times worse, because she believed she had moved past that. She thought the stigma was finally gone. But all it took was one stupid mistake on her part to bring it flooding back.

"I can't let them think this..." the pianist realized. "Not just for me... for everyone. Maybe... if I can come up with a clever lie..."

Chapter Text

The room was still silent, waiting for an answer from Akamatsu. She still had much to explain if she had any hope of diffusing Ouma's assertion of her guilt. However, the truth would only further the issue of her lack of an alibi. She had no choice but to fall back on a falsehood, but none were coming to the forefront of her mind.

"I was... the reason I was waiting there..." Akamatsu muttered, searching for some sort of explanation that would make sense. "I wanted to..."

"Don't pause like that, dammit!" she criticized. "You just seem more suspicious!"

"She was observing the others' actions for me."

More memories. That first time, when doubt overtook the class, when they believed Akamatsu had done wrong, there was a voice. A single person stood up and fought to help clear her name.

And here he was again, choosing to fight with lies instead of the truth.

"I was uncertain about how everyone would behave after the events of the simulation," Saihara continued, "So I wanted somebody to keep an eye out for anything unusual. Akamatsu was just doing what I asked, that's all."

"Right!" the pianist nodded. "Sorry I didn't find anything..."

"It's fine..." the detective replied.

Saihara's smile had once again found its way to the surface. Lying during a class trial was a risky decision. One that could only be made based on trust in another party.

"So that's how it's going to be, hmm?" Ouma replied, "Fine. If you say that's what happened, I guess I'll take it."

"Eh, Shuuichi, what made you so worried about that anyway?" Momota asked. The sharp-eyed student may have noticed a subtle wink from the astronaut to the detective. It seemed that Momota had seen through Saihara's deception, and had offered the one thing he could to help: a change of subject.

Saihara happily took advantage. "If we look back on the motive videos from Shinguuji-kun's murder, we can get a brief glimpse of what we were like before we arrived. While there are still mysteries regarding those, we have to remember that if they truly are our past selves, they don't act like we do. As such, if one of us had recovered the Necklace of Gia Nostelle, they might give themselves away based on their behavior."

"But the simulation ended with no player retrieving the necklace," Kiibo recalled. "Isn't that why I returned to the game world to begin with?"

"The game ended with the detective failing to note what happened to the necklace," Hoshi corrected, "Which means, if someone did get their hands on it, they would have been able to take it back to the real world."

"But none of us are behaving all that different," Yumeno claimed.

"Unless one of us is a hell of an actor," Iruma considered.

"If one of us did acquire the necklace, and restored their missing memories, they may have learned something to motivate them into murder," Harukawa reasoned.

"But the videos were our old selves telling us to kill each other," the inventor reminded the group, "What could someone have learned that they wouldn't have been told in their video?"

"Kii-boy still never watched his, right?" Ouma wondered.

"Ouma-kun! I thought you were on my side this time!" the robot replied.

"Right, right, my bad."

"I don't think Kiibo would have volunteered to return to the virtual world if he already had the necklace," Akamatsu argued.

"Unless he did that to throw us off the trail," Hoshi considered.

"It is a possibility, but I don't want to commit to that just yet," Saihara countered. "For now, we should move on to what Kaito and I found during our own investigation."

"Yeah," Momota added, "Turns out there was this huge safe hidden in the Duke's Master Bedroom."

"A safe? How in the world did we miss that?" Harukawa asked incredulously.

"Were you guys able to open it?" Akamatsu interrupted.

"Unfortunately, by the time we found it, we had no time left to investigate," Saihara lamented, "And even if we had, I don't remember being given any clues about what the combination was."

"If we couldn't open it, what was the point of even having it?" Yumeno complained.

"There had to be someone who could open the damn thing," Iruma theorized, "Maybe... our files?"

"There wasn't anything about that in mine," Momota claimed.

"Me neither," Akamatsu agreed, "But who's going to admit it?"

"There wasn't in mine," Saihara said, realization beginning to dawn, "But we were all playing guests in the Duke's home. We have to think about the people who live there."

"That'd just be Kii-boy and Toujou-chan, right?" Ouma clarified.

"I assure you, had I known anything about a safe, I would have checked there!" Kiibo promised.

"Kiibo... you don't have an alibi, you never saw your video, and you might have known the combination..." Yumeno laid out, "I don't want you to be guilty, but..."

"I am not the culprit! I would never harm one of my precious friends in such a manner!"

"What are we thinking was even in that safe to begin with?" Hoshi inquired.

"Nishishi..."

"Again with you?" Harukawa said, rolling her eyes.

"Well if you don't want to know the answer..." the dictator prompted.

"Ouma-kun, do you know what was in the safe?" Akamatsu wondered.

"No, but I do remember a tasty tidbit about Toujou-chan's character..."

"How'd you find that out?!" Iruma spat. "Did you bust into all our rooms again?!"

Saihara's eyes widened. "No... during my interrogation... you said your file had details about the various rules the characters had to follow."

"That's right, and there was an interesting one for Toujou-chan..." the shorter boy recalled, "'If the necklace remains in the safe beyond the end of the game, it is considered to be in the Duchess Du Jour's possession.'"

"So that means if none of us found the necklace..." Akamatsu began.

"Then Toujou got her memories back after all," Harukawa concluded.

"But that doesn't make sense!" Yumeno argued, "The culprit was the one who cornered her in the morning. If she tried to kill someone, how'd she get them alone, and why did she die?"

"Maybe the culprit figured she got her memories back and wanted to get rid of her so she couldn't spill," Iruma accused.

"Oh, am I in the limelight again?" Ouma mocked. "I'm really getting sick of the mud-slinging, but what else are pigs for?"

"Stuff it!" Iruma shot back.

"If he didn't want Toujou to get her memories back, wouldn't he have done something to keep her from doing so?" Harukawa theorized.

"I think he did..." Akamatsu recalled, "Remember, he made sure Toujou-san was the first person he interrogated. If she had free reign in the earliest part of the game, she could have taken the necklace immediately, and then put it back in the safe during the very end."

"Pay some more attention!" Iruma cut in.

"What?"

"Weren't you watching what she did during the game?" Iruma criticized, "She totally could've done something like that!"

"Iruma might be right, but I have my doubts..." Akamatsu considered.

/"During the earliest parts of the game,"/

/"No one but those two knew about the safe."/

/"And with Ouma stuck doing interrogations..."/

/"He couldn't go take it away."/

/"Toujou still could've gotten the necklace!"/

"It's not impossible, I admit..." the pianist acknowledged, "But still..."

/"'But still', nothing!"/

/"If you were as smart as you think you are..."/

/"You'd know she disappeared around the end of the game."/

/"She must've been hiding the necklace!"/

/"Once she snuck into the Master Bedroom, she was home-free!"/

/"Why else would she disappear?"/

"Let me cut through those words!"

"Wait, what?!"

"If Toujou-san just needed to put the necklace back in the safe, she just needed to put it back and stay there," Akamatsu reasoned, "But no one could find her at all. There's no way she was just staying in one place."

"Then... where do you think she was?" Iruma argued.

"Well..."

Akamatsu pondered this carefully.

Where did Toujou disappear to?

"No one particular location."

Why would she wander around?

"She was... looking for something..."

What was she looking for?

"The necklace."

Why wasn't it where she thought it was?

"Someone else took it."

"I got it!" the pianist exclaimed to her fellow blonde. "Toujou-san didn't originally take the necklace out of the safe, because she probably thought nobody else would be able to open it."

"Then why did she go missing at the very end of the game?" Yumeno wondered.

"She must have opened the safe and realized it wasn't there anymore," Akamatsu explained, "She figured out that someone took it, and wanted to see if she could somehow get it either back into her possession or back in the safe."

"Come to think of it, when we were transported back into the parlor..." Saihara recalled.

The long missing Toujou revealed herself to the group once more through a the rattling sound of a doorknob. "Locked," she announced.

"She wanted to get out of there because she still hadn't found the necklace," Harukawa ascertained.

"So one of us did get it," Momota concluded. "But who?"

"It has to be someone who knew the combination to the safe," Hoshi figured, "but even then, aren't we kind of making a lot of assumptions right now?"

"What do you mean?" Kiibo wondered.

"There's no proof the necklace was ever even in the damn thing," the ex-con explained, "We have no guarantee that the culprit is the one who got their memories back. And before we can focus on any of that, we still have no idea why Toujou drank the poison at all."

Hoshi's words rung true, and stung all the more for it. For all their deductions, there didn't seem to be any indication that they were any closer to the truth than when they started. There were small mysteries, tiny details they could begin to piece together, but there was no framework to place the puzzle pieces in, so to speak.

"Even if it seems minor, the smallest detail could be a major break in the case," Saihara argued. "Anything we can find, anything we can uncover is important, precisely because we know so little right now."

"That's right," Akamatsu nodded, "We can't give up now, not with everything that's at stake."

"Then tell us, who took the necklace?" Ouma challenged.

"Well, what do we know already?" the pianist began.

"Assuming our suspicions about the safe are correct, it is someone who was playing a character who knew the combination," Kiibo surmised.

"It has to be someone who was on their own, otherwise they couldn't have gotten away with taking it," Harukawa added.

"They'd have their memories back now, so their personality would have changed," Yumeno continued.

"And on top of all of that, if we assume that they are the culprit, they're someone who could kill Toujou-san in the morning, stash away the body, and did not return to the dorms afterward," Saihara finished.

"Not to mention, could somehow convince Toujou to drink poison in the first place," Momota added.

"Does a person like that even exist?" Hoshi wondered.

"What makes you think I know?" Iruma carped.

"I guess that leaves it to you, Akamatsu-chan," Ouma taunted. "But doesn't it always?"

The blonde recoiled in defense, uncertain of how to proceed. "Saihara-kun... don't you-?"

The detective shook his head. "I have theories, but nothing comes to mind right now. Our biggest clue is the fact that restoring their memories would cause a shift in the suspect's personality. And I've hidden myself away for so long... I can't be sure..."

"Saihara-kun..."

"Don't worry," he reassured, "I know you can do this. I... I trust you."

Three simple words. The three words that had begun to haunt her now offered her the comfort she needed in this moment. All the same, she didn't have much more evidence than Saihara did, and it would be little more than a stab in the dark. Even so, with everyone's lives at stake, she could not deny this request. If there was a chance to uncover the truth, she had to try.

"Okay," she began, taking a deep breath, "With everything I know about the case up until now, there's one possibility I can't ignore. I'm not saying this person is the culprit, but if we're asking who took the necklace, there's one person who seems really suspicious."

The students grew quiet as Akamatsu prepared to make her statement.

SELECT A SUSPECT

 

Chapter Text

Akamatsu held firm in the face of everyone's confusion and doubt, with a single possibility burning in the forefront of her mind.

"The one person who's been acting the most suspicious... the person who seems to be behaving strangely..."

Her finger moved to the most likely suspect.

"It's you, Iruma-san!"

"Wait, what the hell?!" the other blonde replied in shock.

"Akamatsu-san, what are you saying?" Kiibo inquired.

"That slutty pig is your suspect? No way she could possibly show that much initiative, the lazy sow," Ouma taunted.

"Where do you get off mocking me like that?!" Iruma complained.

"See, that right there!" the pianist continued.

"What?"

"Just now, you fought back against Ouma's insults. Normally you just kind of lie back and take whatever anyone says about you, or act all submissive," Akamatsu recalled, "But what you just did? That's not like you. And you did the same thing a bit earlier."

"So, what? I grew a spine, so I've gotta have my memories back?" Iruma spat.

Akamatsu shook her head. "It's more than that. Ever since we got back from the game, you haven't used any nicknames at all, which is... odd. I mean... I don't like being called 'Bakamatsu', but..."

"That's right," Momota realized, "Even when she was arguing with you directly she still didn't call you that."

"Well, the joke got old," Iruma defended. "I'm workshopping some new ideas, so what?"

"Even if that were true, I think you'd still call someone by a nickname by now," Saihara asserted. "And when you think about it, you were playing a character who might know the combination to the safe."

"I was a houseguest, too, dumbass!" Iruma argued.

"But you were also the Duke's sister-in-law," Harukawa reminded her, "It's not impossible that you could have known the combination."

"The plot did involve the possibility of the Duke changing his will," Saihara recalled, "And Delilah Du Jour was listed in the original document, so it seems he did trust her to some degree."

"And there is evidence to suggest you knew about the safe," Akamatsu claimed, "Kiibo kept a record of who entered each room first."

"That is correct," Kiibo considered, "And... yes... Iruma-san's first stop was the master bedroom."

"And she was the one who got us all to split up in the first place," Yumeno realized.

"I know none of it means anything in the name of solid evidence," Akamatsu admitted, "But it feels like too many coincidences to ignore."

"So is that it, then?" Ouma wondered, "Can we move on to the vote?"

"Of course not!" Iruma protested, "You guys are nuts if you think I did it!"

"We still lack solid evidence, so I don't feel comfortable proceeding with the vote just yet," Saihara agreed.

"Okay," Akamatsu said with a nod, "What questions are left?"

"If we feel comfortable saying Iruma-san truly does have her memories back, which is still only a theory," Kiibo began, "We must still ask ourselves how she convinced Toujou-san to drink poison, and how she transported the body."

"Feel like sharing?" Hoshi inquired.

"Share what?" Iruma countered, "There's nothing to share! I didn't do it!"

"Did anyone see where Iruma came from this morning?" the pianist wondered.

"I didn't see her come out of her dorm room," Harukawa recalled.

"She just kind of met up with the rest of us in the dining hall," Momota agreed.

Yumeno pondered this. "So she doesn't have an alibi..."

"I overslept!" Iruma argued. "I ended up coming out of the dorms after you guys did. It's no big deal!"

"I thought you said you were tired," Akamatsu pointed out, "How could that be if you overslept?"

"Look, I... the thing is..." Iruma stuttered.

"Ballot time! Ballot time!" Ouma cheered.

"Ouma-kun! Do not be so hasty! We cannot prove her guilt yet!" Kiibo shot back.

"Ehh... why are you all so hung up on 'proof'?" the dictator complained, "We just need to organize the vote."

"Organize it how?" Akamatsu asked.

"Easy!" Ouma explained, "There are nine of us! If four of us vote for Iruma-chan, and four more of us vote for somebody else, and Iruma-chan votes for a third person, it's a tie and we're fine! We just need to figure out who else is the most suspicious. So who do you think?"

"No, that's wrong!" Saihara protested.

"Uggh... what now?" Ouma groaned.

"In that situation, Iruma-san has total power. If we free her to vote for a third party, she can easily change her decision to vote for the opposing suspect. In that situation, it would be 4 votes for her, and 5 votes for the opposing player. If she is the guilty party, we would have an incorrect majority vote, and be executed. With an uneven number, there is no way to guarantee a tie. If Iruma-san is guilty, and we try to force her into a tie vote, she can easily defeat us."

"There must be something we haven't thought of yet, some piece of evidence we've overlooked," Akamatsu thought aloud.

"Maybe the tears on Toujou-san's clothes?" Yumeno guessed.

"That probably happened as the culprit hid their body away," Hoshi assumed.

"The culprit had to hide the body somewhere, likely near the dining hall, so they could move it into place immediately," Kiibo surmised, "but we have no proof of who did that."

"Is there some evidence that we just can't find?" Harukawa wondered.

"I think that's it!" Akamatsu realized. "When Ouma-kun and I investigated Toujou-san's room, we couldn't find anything in there. No files, nothing!"

"Wait, how'd you even get in there to begin with?!" Iruma replied with shock.

Akamatsu seized this opportunity. "We just used her key. We found it on the body as we investigated."

"Don't lie to me, bitch!" Iruma yelled, "There's no way... you... you..." Her voice disappeared as she realized what she had done.

"What's wrong, Iruma-san?" Kiibo asked.

"Nishishi..." Ouma cackled, "Fell into the trap, did you? Akamatsu-san, you're almost as good of a liar as I am."

"It's true," Akamatsu admitted, "I was lying. We couldn't find her key, so I had Ouma-kun pick the lock. But the real question is, how did you know we didn't find her key? You left the dining hall before we started the investigation."

"The only way she could know is if she was the one who took it in the first place," Hoshi noted.

"I... I..." Iruma shuddered as she spoke.

"Saihara-kun, care to wrap this one up?" Akamatsu requested.

Saihara paused.

"Is something wrong?" the pianist asked.

"Let me think about this..." Saihara replied. He then began to speak.

"This case began in the virtual world, rather than the real one. During the events of the game, the culprit convinced the players to operate mostly independently, so she could make use of her advantage over the others. With Toujou-san occupied by Ouma-kun's questioning, the culprit was free to take the necklace out from under them, making use of their knowledge of the safe's combination. Once we returned to the real world, their true crime could begin. Early in the morning, the culprit was able to catch the attention of Toujou-san, who was walking around for the sake of her self-imposed chores. During that time, the culprit and Toujou-san arrived in my lab, where the culprit somehow convinced her to swallow poison. However, as Toujou-san dropped her glass, a single shard made its way into her shoe, revealing what had happened. The culprit stashed the body near the dining hall, so as to avoid arousing suspicion, and allow them the chance to create a false crime scene once the dining hall opened. At some point during the remaining time, the culprit cleaned up my lab, attempting to remove all traces of their prescence, but instead proving that the lab had been tampered with. With the last bit of time they had, the culprit realized that Toujou-san's documents could be accessed by any of us, so they took them to create a situation where we had no evidence. That was their undoing, proving that they are the most likely to be guilty, because they were the only one who had Toujou-san's key. Miu Iruma, you've dug yourself a deep hole."

The class stood in silence. Saihara's detailed speech was usually the final nail in the coffin, but this time... something felt off.

"What's the deal?" Momota wondered. "Isn't that everything?"

"It should be," Akamatsu agreed, "But... we still don't have all the answers."

"This is true," Kiibo said with a nod. "We don't know how she moved the body, or how she convinced Toujou-san to drink poison."

"I didn't do that," Iruma spoke up, catching everyone off-guard. "She did that herself."

A bevy of eyes began to widen at that. It seemed there was a new wrinkle in the case.

"Last night," Iruma explained, the memory clearly quite painful for her, "Toujou called me out in the middle of the night, and brought me to Saihara's lab. She told me she knew I had my memories back and wanted to keep that information on the down-low, but only if I agreed to help her with something. She had two glasses in front of her, both full. We sat at opposite sides of the table, and she told me to pick one to drink, and she'd drink the other one. I didn't think I had much of a choice, so I decided to drink one of 'em. Once I did that, she... she drank hers. Next thing I knew, she was spazzing out, and fell over onto the table. She had tricked me into some kind of crazy gamble to see which of us would die. So I didn't kill her! She committed suicide, okay?!"

A sickening chill went through the room. As gruesome as the previous murders had been, the idea of suicide was a harsh one to consider. Fear and paranoia had been constant companions since the killing game had started, but... the idea that the greatest threat was an internal one? Self-destruction? It hadn't even crossed the students' minds up to that point. And now, as to be expected of Gifted Inmates Academy, a horrifying possibility seemed all-too-real.

"S-suicide?" Yumeno replied in shock.

"Is... is that true?" Kiibo wondered.

"Of course it's true!" Iruma yelled back, fighting tears, "And thanks to her I'm a suspect! I didn't do anything wrong..."

"That story..." Akamatsu pondered, "there's something off about it..."

"What do you mean?" Momota asked.

"Well," the pianist replied, "I'm not sure how Toujou-san would've found out Iruma-san had her memories back so quickly. It doesn't really explain why she tried to cover her tracks. And more than anything, it doesn't explain why she didn't just tell us all this from the start..."

"If I had told you, you wouldn't have believed me!" the inventor protested, "And turns out I was right, since you don't! But I'm not lying, I swear!"

"Then why did you hide the crime scene?" Harukawa wondered.

"Hey! You watch someone kill themself and try to think straight!" Iruma countered, unaware that she was addressing the one member of their group who likely could do just that.

"Who cares about all of that?" Ouma complained. "Can't we just vote?"

"Are you nuts?" Momota replied incredulously. "We can't vote until we know for sure!"

Hoshi suddenly chimed in with, "We can't."

"Can't what?" Akamatsu wondered.

"Know for sure," he clarified, "We're fresh out of evidence. There's nothing we can say or do to disprove her story, and for all we know, she could be telling the truth."

"So... what? We've lost?" Yumeno asked.

"We can still vote," the ex-con claimed, "but we'd be doing so without any guarantee of success."

"I can't agree to that," Saihara argued. "I won't risk anyone's life if there's a chance we could be wrong."

"There must be something we're missing," Akamatsu considered.

"We appear to be at an impasse," Kiibo mused. "Two sides of two minds."

"Two-by-two, you say?!" Monokuma cheered.

"HUZZAH!" Monodam joined in, "WE MAY HAVE A-NO-THER SCRUM DE-BATE!"

"Awesome! I felt totally gypped when we didn't get one last time," Monosuke agreed.

With the turn of his key, the trial ground once again raised the students' podiums upwards to the Scrum Debate area. With two opposing factions facing off, Akamatsu couldn't help but notice what had happened.

The opposing team, the 'We can't vote yet' team, consisted of Iruma, Kiibo, Momota, and Saihara.

Her team, the 'We may have to proceed with the vote' team, had her, Yumeno, Hoshi, Ouma, and Harukawa.

She and Saihara were of conflicting opinions on this matter. However, she would not be discouraged. If there was a way to save everyone, even in a situation full of doubt, she would certainly find it.

It the meantime, the discussion began.

"Conviction without evidence is utterly impossible!" Kiibo proclaimed.

"But if there isn't any evidence to be found..." Hoshi attempted to argue.

Momota shot that idea down quickly. "We can't call someone the culprit just because their behavior's suspicious."

"But that story she told is even more suspicious," Harukawa pointed out.

"If you think I'll let you accuse me without solid proof, think again!" Iruma replied.

"We don't need solid proof if we plan the vote out," Ouma reminded the others.

Saihara would not allow this, however. "There's no way that the vote would follow our plan."

"There must be a way to corner the culprit..." Yumeno theorized.

The moment of truth had arrived, with both sides reaching the apex of their argument.

"If Iruma is the culprit, and is free to vote, we cannot guarantee a tie," Saihara maintained.

"We might not be able to stop her from voting," Akamatsu agreed. "But what if..." A flash of inspiration struck. "What if I told you I could guarantee she would vote for who we want her to?"

"Is that possible?" the detective inquired.

"This is our answer!" Akamatsu declared. "There's a surefire way to guarantee who Iruma will vote for if we agree to vote now."

Saihara nodded. "Very well. I'm willing to listen."

The trial ground shifted back into it's original state, with the students standing around in a circle.

Iruma had put on a haughty demeanor as she settled back into place. Guilty or no, the accusations were clearly starting to get to her.

"Okay, so, what?" she asked, defiantly. "You said you can guarantee my vote? How?"

"Easy," Akamatsu proclaimed. "You, Saihara-kun, Momota-kun, and Harukawa-san will vote for Toujou-san."

"Wait, why?" Harukawa protested.

"Let me finish," Akamatsu cut off, "And Kiibo-kun, Ouma-kun, Hoshi-kun, and Yumeno-san will vote for Iruma-san."

"And who will you vote for?" Kiibo inquired.

"Anybody else!" she concluded with a smile.

"Wait, how does that guarantee my vote?" Iruma wondered. "I could still vote for anyone I want, right?"

"You could..." Saihara said, the answer dawning on him. "But you would certainly die."

"Huh?!" the inventor replied with shock.

"If everyone follows this plan," Saihara explained, "There will be four votes for you, four votes for Toujou-san, and one vote for someone else. With the vote tied between the two of you, the true culprit will be found guilty. However, if you vote for anyone other than Toujou-san, even if by luck you picked the same person as Akamatsu-san, you would be the majority choice with 4-3-1-1 or 4-3-2. By that logic, if you're guilty, you will be executed for your crime, and if you're innocent, you will die with the rest of us. The only way to save your own life is to both be innocent, and to vote for Toujou-san in the ballot."

"So... are we in agreement?" the pianist asked the room.

The three members of the fitness club, confident in the blonde's plan, all nodded, signifying their agreement. Ouma offered a wicked grin, Hoshi a thumbs-up, and Yumeno clenched her fists in front of her.

Kiibo was the only one to hesitate.

"Is something wrong?" Akamatsu wondered.

"If it does not truly matter, might I request to trade?" the robot inquired.

"Fine, take my vote," Harukawa offered.

"Much obliged," Kiibo said in thanks. "In that case, myself, Iruma-san, Saihara-kun, and Momota-kun will vote for Toujou-san. Akamatsu-san will vote for a third party of her choosing. And everyone else will vote for Iruma-san."

"Sound good?" Akamatsu asked one last time.

The students nodded, save Iruma.

"Fine," she spat. "I guess we're doing this."

Monokuma cackled. "Upupupupupu... if you're all organized, please cast your votes with the lever in front of you! Who's gonna get chosen as the culprit? Will your choice be right or hopelessly wrong?! What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?"

The students acted as agreed upon, with the votes being tallied up by Monokuma.

"Me, oh, my, we have a tie!" the black-and-white bear announced. "Two different suspects have four votes each. Both the Ultimate Maid, Kirumi Toujou-san and the Ultimate Inventor, Miu Iruma-san... but only one can be the culprit."

"Is one of them the culprit?" Monosuke questioned.

"IF NEI-THER IS THE CUL-PRIT, IT WOULD BE QUITE SAD," Monodam worried.

"Oh, one of them's the culprit alright," Monokuma reassured.

The group suddenly felt awash with relief. They would be safe. That much was clear. But it left a bitter aftertaste, which the bear was more than happy to vocalize.

"But the real question is... which one?"

 

Chapter Text

The silence hanging in the air was unbearable. The class had survived their ordeal, and Akamatsu's plan had worked. The culprit would be the only one to pay the price for what had transpired, but the question of who that was had yet to be answered.

"Are you all ready?" Monokuma asked, more gleeful than he had ever been before.

The most anyone could muster was a nod.

"The true culprit of this case, who killed Kirumi Toujou-san was..."

The nearby screens flashed to life, once again displaying the roulette wheel, spinning out of control. The rotation lasted for what felt like an eternity before finally settling on a single face, and displaying a single word.

GUILTY

"Miu Iruma-san!"

All eyes turned to the inventor. Her gaze was locked on the ground, as she muttered under her breath, "Dammit. Dammit all..."

"Iruma-san?!" Kiibo exclaimed with shock.

"So it really was you," Hoshi proclaimed.

"Feh," Iruma spat. "Guess I wasn't as clever as I thought I was, huh?"

"I..." Akamatsu struggled to find the words. "I just... I don't get it. Why? Why would you-?"

"I wanted to get out of here," Iruma stated plainly, "Do I need another reason?"

"But why do it like this?" Saihara inquired. "Why not use the information from your memories to help us all escape?"

The detective did not receive the response he expected. "Ahahahahaha!!!!"

"What's so funny?" Harukawa challenged.

"You damn morons think there's a way out of here other than killing someone! That's just so rich! Once you know what I know, you know that's just not happening."

Iruma's words chilled the group to their core. At the moment, she was the most knowledgeable member of the group on this subject. And to hear from her, definitively, that escape was utterly impossible, was a blow they weren't prepared to stomach.

"But... but..." Momota sputtered, "If we just find the real Mastermind then..."

"Oh, come on!" Iruma jabbed back. "That's not gonna do you any good, either. You're picking a fight you can't win, so relax and join the party!"

"Is that what you told Toujou-chan?" Ouma wondered.

"Heh... may as well tell the story..."


 

"I am curious," Toujou began, "what exactly was so important you had to bring me here."

The stage was set exactly as Iruma had previously described it. Saihara's lab was prepared to host the deadly showdown between the two women, the glasses already resting on the table.

Iruma took her seat, and politely motioned Toujou to take the one across from her. The maid complied without question, and merely raised an eyebrow, as if to ask for more information.

Without a word, Iruma pushed one of the two glasses toward Toujou, and then rested back in her chair. "Whichever one you don't drink, I will."

"Ah... the old Study in Scarlet, eh?" Toujou observed. "Might I ask, what makes you think I'll play along at all? I could just leave now, and everyone will become aware of what you've attempted."

"I figured that," Iruma admitted, "But I don't think that's your style. You want out. And you want it bad."

"I suppose I do. And I would have a fairly easy time of it if I were to escape this duel with my life," the silver-haired girl boasted. "It would be quite difficult to surmise why I would organize all of this, given that I didn't."

"And who would ever suspect little ol' me?" the inventor agreed with a chuckle.

Toujou smirked. "I suppose I should fulfill this request to the best of my ability, as I have done so many times before. Though, I must ask..."

"Yeah?"

"You are doing this because you acquired the necklace during the game and had your memories restored, correct?" the maid surmised.

"Got it in one," the blonde replied.

"So, given that one of us is not going to leave this room alive, I am curious... would you be willing to share your newfound wisdom?" Toujou requested.

Iruma pondered this for a moment. "I guess I could, on one condition."

"What's that?"

"If you get out of this alive, you can't tell the others about what I told you," Iruma stated rather plainly.

"Very well," Toujou nodded. She then spat into her gloved hand.

Iruma leaned back in confusion. "What?"

"For old times' sake?" Toujou explained, extending her hand.

Iruma chuckled, and repeated the expectoration. "Deal."

With the spit-shake, Iruma proceeded to unveil the truth.

 


 

"I told her about what was going on, and once she heard that horror story, she was more than happy to play along," Iruma continued, "But we all know how that song and dance went, right?"

"Horror story?" Akamatsu parroted.

"You will not believe the shit going on outside," Iruma claimed, "I barely believe it myself, and I've lived in that my whole life!"

"Your whole life?" Saihara considered, "So whatever happened outside these walls... has always been that way?"

"But I remember being outside and nothing was wrong!" Yumeno countered, "I remember my parents, my master, my magic shows! It was all... normal."

"I know," the inventor agreed. "It is normal. Because none of us know any different. At least, not until now. And yeah, looking back, it seems fucked up, but... damn if it ain't fun!"

"Nishishi... I think I like this Iruma-chan better," Ouma cackled.

"I know what you mean!" Iruma cheered, "I thought you were full of shit, but you're the only one who gets it! It's just a game! The best game in the world!"

"How can you call this a game?!" Akamatsu replied with fury. "People are dying, and you're laughing about it?"

"People die everyday, slut," the inventor shot back, "The difference is, here, it actually means something to somebody."

"Means something?" Saihara questioned.

"All of us are gonna die someday," the blonde explained, "And when we do, what's left? A tacky tombstone that no one ever visits. You die here though, it matters. People agonize, people remember. That's... that's more than I ever thought I'd get."

"Iruma-san..." Kiibo said, pain clear in his synthesized voice, "Is that all that matters to you? Is this the only way you thought people would care? We... we cared about you. Was... was that not enough?"

"Ah..." Iruma groaned, "Don't get all teary-eyed now, Idabashi. It doesn't matter. Nothing we do matters. Don't you get it? All of us are here to die, and I wanted to go out flashy!"

"That's why you set up the body in the dining hall," Ouma commented, "You wanted that nice, popping visual of waking up to a murder."

"Now you get it!" Iruma said with a grin. "Probably wasn't worth the effort, but damn if it wasn't a good image."

"None of that's important right now!" Momota chimed in. "You really do have your memories back, so tell us!"

"Tell you what?"

"What's going on here? How'd we get captured? What's going on outside? You can end this right now!" the astronaut in purple practically pleaded.

Iruma thought for a moment before sharing her opinion on the matter, "Nah."

"Nah???!!!" Momota was thrown aback.

"If I tell you the answer now, then it ruins all the fun for later, right?" Iruma claimed, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I may be a lot of things, but a sore loser ain't one of them!"

"So, you're not going to tell us, because it's more fun that we keep suffering?" Akamatsu challenged. "Sounds like a sore loser to me!"

"You think you're so tough?" the other blonde shot back. "Well, little missy, we'll see how long that lasts. Or... I guess we won't."

"She's right!" Monokuma affirmed, "Because I've prepared a very special punishment for the Ultimate Inventor, Miu Iruma-san!"

"Alright!" Iruma exclaimed. "Let's send me off with a bang!"

"Wait, hold on a sec!"

The new speaker told everyone by surprise.

"If you got your memories back way back when, that means... you're not..."

Iruma smirked. "Yeah, everything else was finished, but that thing's just a hunk of junk!"

"Good to hear," Ouma muttered to himself.

However, the one originally addressing Iruma was less-than-pleased. Monosuke glared at the shutdown switch he had kept concealed, and opened the back panel. The remote was little more than a shell with nothing inside. His only hope of defending himself was gone. Maybe if he was lucky, it would turn out he wouldn't need it.

He was not lucky.

"WHAT IS THAT FOR?" Monodam inquired.

"N-nothing!" the striped bear claimed.

"WERE YOU GO-ING TO TRY TO KILL ME A-GAIN?"

"I would never-!"

"I AM TIRED OF NOT GET-TING A-LONG WITH YOU..."

"Let's give it everything we've got! Ittttttttt'ssssssssss Punishment Time!!!!!"

With their father's declaration, Monosuke took that as his cue to run for the hills, Monodam right behind him.

GAME OVER

MIU IRUMA HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY

COMMENCING PUNISHMENT...

Iruma stood stock still as the world of her demise was constructed before her. A factory, she realized. Rather fitting for her current role. The only thing that seemed out of place was the chase scene moving along below her, the two cubs re-enacting either a Scooby-Doo or Benny Hill routine.

But none of that mattered as large piles of scrap metal appeared before her. Gears began to whir and turn. Cogs grinding and pistons moving in sequence. Gushes of steam venting upward from unseen vents. Iruma reached for her skirt, prepared to re-enact the famous movie poster, as the ground beneath her began to lurch forward, causing her to lose balance. A pile of scrap metal before her was then suddenly flattened by an overhead crusher. Two more crushers then came from either side, turning the compacted scrap into a cube. The inventor grinned ear to ear.

She could already see where this was going.

MOLTEN SLAG

There were only about a half-dozen piles in front of her now. As the belt continued to move, she grew closer and closer to the deadly sequence of crushers, which would soon offer her a swift, but painful death. The metal cubes being dropped off of the belt into some sort of receptacle beneath it.

She shuddered with anticipation. What would be after that? Some sort of slicing device? She heard no sound of buzzsaws, to her dismay. Straining the metal into strips or sheets? There had to be some kind of end game here. A cube in a pile of cubes couldn't possibly be enough to go out on, now could it? What else was waiting for her?

Surprisingly, the answer came in the form of a bead of sweat. It wasn't from the steam, she realized, so there must be some other source of heat. But where was it? She peered over the side of the conveyor belt, and saw where the cubes were dropped. An open container filled with red-hot liquid steel. So not only would she be crushed to fit into a travel-sized carrying form, but she would then be liquefied?

Amazing.

She idly noted that there were no ropes or chains keeping her locked in position. The conveyor belt wasn't too terribly high up, and there were platforms nearby. If she really wanted to, she could probably just jump for it and escape with her life. But where's the fun in that?

As her inevitable demise approached, the two bears' chase had somehow made its way to the conveyor. Monodam pursuing Monosuke along the guided path to a surefire death by way of molten metal. Not that Iruma cared, her turn was finally up.

With two sickening crunches, she was no longer able to care about that either.

As her remains were unceremoniously dropped into the container of liquid steel, Monodam made one big, forceful push, finally knocking Monosuke toward his doom. The yellow bear hit the rim of the receptacle, causing it to tip over and pour out all of its contents, catching and melting the striped bear in the process.

Monodam leapt downward to safety, prepared to enjoy the fruits of his labor, only to notice a shocking sight. The molten metal had poured out an into a funnel, that lead into what appeared to be a mold of some kind. The mold had an interesting outline, making it clear what would be stepping out. The forms of four small, mechanical beings, soon to be given life by way of steel, and the blood of an inventor. Iruma would be the mother of this new generation. And her 'children', as much as they were, only had one thing to say to Monodam.

"HELLO-KUMA!"

 

Chapter Text

It was a sight none of them were prepared for, and certainly none of them expected. It had been made clear very early on that death for them would be permanent, and yet, they had arrived once more.

"HOW?" Monodam questioned. "HOW COULD YOU HAVE RE-TURNED?"

"Heheheheh..." Monosuke chuckled. "I told ya, I'm the smart one. I figgered the girlie wouldn't be able to make the remote, so I readied a back-up plan, and got the gang back together."

"HELL YEAH!" Monokid exclaimed, "And it's high time we got back to bullying you the way we used to!"

"We used to bully him? Who even is he?" Monotaro wondered. "For that matter who am I?"

"Oh no!" Monofunny shouted in fear. "Monotaro doesn't have his memories! Is it because he's not the same Monotaro?"

"Don't be dumb!" the tiger-striped bear shot back. "Our brains weren't in our bodies, they were in the Master Computer! As long as that thing's around, we can transmit our AI into new bodies. That's how we all remember what happened before."

"He's right!" the red bear cheered, "I just forgot that I'm not supposed to forget!"

"PLEASE!" Monodam pleaded. "CAN'T WE JUST GET A-LONG?"

"Trust me, we will..." Monosuke said threateningly.

How Monodam wished he could gulp.

"BYE-KUMA!"

The departure of the revived cubs was punctuated by their father's laughter.

"Upupupupupupu... my cute little cubs have all been brought back! Such is the miracle of life, not that you all will ever get that! Your buddies all stay dead!"

His commentary garnered no response.

"What? No one wants to talk? I'm not used to being ignored..."

Silence.

"Fine. Two... or nine, I guess, can play the quiet game!" the headmaster claimed before he, too, disappeared.

The students were in a state of shock. So much happened so quickly. They had barely had the chance to process the fact that they had to vote without being certain of the culprit before they had to move on to Iruma's guilt. And then that had to take a backseat to her ominous claims, which was overshadowed by her execution moments later. And then, to top it off, the fallen Monokuma cubs? The only perceivable proof that the Mastermind could be weakened? Undone in an instant.

They were back to square one, only now their numbers had been cut in half.

"We... we can't keep doing this..." Akamatsu forced out.

"Doing what?" Yumeno asked.

"We can't... every time we don't trust each other, every time we try to do things on our own, someone dies," the pianist lamented.

"But... can we really trust each other?" Hoshi wondered. "We still don't know..."

"I know that I don't want to see anyone else die!" the blonde argued. "And I'm sick and tired of us not being on the same side! Don't we all want to get out of here alive? So... why? Why do we keep fighting the idea of teamwork?"

"Akamatsu's right!" Momota agreed. "It's time we stood together again!"

"Because it worked so well the first time," Harukawa reminded the group.

"You're right," Akamatsu acknowledged, "We keep saying we'll work together and it falls apart and bad things happen. But that's not an excuse to give up. I'm begging you. Everyone. Please. Can't we just work together? Please?"

She took a breath. "All those who think we should work together?"

Akamatsu raised her hand, her eyes washing over the group. This was not the pointed glare of facing down a culprit, nor the bright visage of the upbeat musician. She was rightly terrified. Pleading for some sense of compassion and mercy from a world that kept beating her down.

Momota's hand went up almost immediately. "I've got your back. No worries."

Saihara's hand followed. "I'll follow your lead."

Yumeno next. "No more death."

Harukawa scoffed before joining in. "Might as well."

Three students remained.

"Hoshi-kun?" the pianist attempted.

The ex-con took a deep sigh. "I made the wrong call a long time ago. I thought it'd be better if the people I cared about were far away from me, so it wouldn't hurt as much when I lost them. But... it made it worse. I burned the bridge before it was shut down."

His hand went up.

"I won't make that mistake again."

A smirk came to Momota's face. There was a hint of fire in the tennis star's eyes again.

Akamatsu turned to another student. "Kiibo-kun?"

The robot had been very stoic after the execution. Iruma had meant a lot to him, even if she hadn't always been pleasant to be around.

"Kiibo, what's wrong?" Yumeno inquired.

"I... I am in agreement, however... I must request some time to process things on my own," the robot explained.

"But... that doesn't help," the red-headed mage protested, "We've all tried that, and we've all needed someone else to-"

"Yes, you have all tried that," he countered, "And while you needed aid to move on, it was nevertheless a necessary step. I will join in your efforts soon enough, but for the moment, I must be alone."

The pianist nodded. "I understand." She turned to the only remaining holdout.

"What?" Ouma questioned. "You really think I'm going to join your little drum circle?"

"No, I don't. I don't know what to make of you at all," she replied. "You keep screwing around, but sometimes you try and help us. I wouldn't have even thought of the tie-vote idea if you hadn't brought it up."

"Nishishi... sometimes it's better to keep them guessing," the self-professed dictator claimed.

"Ouma-kun," Saihara cut in, "Are you with us or not?"

"Hmm... tell you what, Shumai. You let slip what you've been holding out on us, and maybe I'll talk," the shorter boy countered.

The blood drained from the detective's face immediately.

"Is that a no? Then you have my answer," Ouma said with a sneer. The troublemaker walked off toward the elevator, waiting to return to the world above.

"Saihara-kun?" Akamatsu asked, hoping to re-spark conversation. "Are you okay?"

The boy in black took a few deep breaths before responding, "I'm... I'm fine."

"Whatever's going on with you, man, it's cool. You can tell us anything, you know that, right?" Momota reassured.

"Y-yeah... I..." the detective paused before continuing. "There's something I should show you guys."

"Hmm?" Harukawa intoned.

"First thing tomorrow," he claimed, "I promise."

"You better not be lying," Yumeno threatened, "or I'll make you a newt with my magic!"

"As long as he gets better afterward," Akamatsu joked.

"The only cure is true love's kiss," the mage replied with a knowing smile.

The blood rushed back to the detective's face with that comment. The same could be said of a certain pianist as well.

"If we're all on the same page, then," Hoshi interrupted, "it's my understanding this group does a fair share of training."

"Some of us do," Harukawa snarked, her eyes turning to the frequently absent male members of the fitness club.

"In any case, how about you let an old pro show you how it's done," he challenged.

"All that running's made me super-strong," Yumeno proclaimed, "I bet I can do 10 whole squats now!"


 

"I was wrong! I was horribly wrong!"

The mage's original claim rang false as the unified group continued their training. As to be expected, Hoshi had taken to exercise like a fish to water.

"Don't lose steam now," Akamatsu encouraged, "after squats come push-ups, then sit-ups, then... actually what does come next?"

"I've suggested arm curls," Harukawa chimed in.

"Right!"

"Did you..." Saihara's inquisition was broken up by heavy breathing. "Bring weights?"

"Of course!" the pianist replied with cheer.

"Great..."

"If you want to get back in the swing of things, you can't half-ass this," Hoshi said with conviction.

"Yeah, I know..." the detective begrudgingly replied.

Momota couldn't help but watch this with joy. Something so simple had done so much good for so many. He could hold his head up high in the knowledge that the group was united as one once again. With this in mind, he set out back to the dorms.

"Unbelievable," Harukawa muttered.

"What?" Akamatsu asked, having caught the red-eyed girl's words.

"He's still stalking off in the middle of training. After all that talk," the faux-caretaker replied.

"Gonna give him a piece of your mind?" the blonde wondered.

A wicked grin came to the twin-tailed girl's face. "I think I will."

She, too, made her way to the dorms, letting the astronaut think he had escaped.

With her minor matchmaking mission complete, Akamatsu turned her attention to other endeavors. Namely, a certain boy she hadn't finished reuniting with.

"Saihara-kun," she said, trying to get his attention.

"Hmm?"

"So... are you... back? Like, fully back?" she wondered.

The detective paused. It was a delicate subject after all, and the two weren't exactly alone. But all the same, if he couldn't be comfortable in this sort of situation, how would he live up to his claim that he would be able to work with the others in full?

"I'd say... ninety-nine percent back," he rationalized.

Akamatsu pondered this. "I see..."

She considered the reasoning and rationale behind this number and came to a conclusion. That last one percent could be handled quite easily.

Quick as a flash, she snatched the boy's hat off of his head, and placed it upon her own. "How about now?"

"I... uh..."

"Hey, come on. Personally, I think you look better without it," she teased.

"The hat looks better on her, at least," Hoshi agreed.

"That's the old Saihara," Yumeno commented.

Saihara was stunned at this turn of events. The shield was down. Stolen away. It felt... it felt...

Liberating.

He took a deep breath.

"I'm back."


 

As the doors of the dormitory hall swung open, Harukawa was ready. Momota had cut out of training for the last time. It didn't matter what he said, how much he tried to appeal to her sympathetic side, he was training whether he wanted to or not. Nothing he said could stop her.

But the site of him collapsed on the ground might do the trick.

"Momota!"

She rushed over to the astronaut, who was clearly in a great deal of pain.

"What happened?"

"I... I just fell. It's no big deal," he attempted to brush off.

"You're bleeding."

"Huh?"

"The front of your shirt is covered in blood."

He looked down. Apparently another coughing fit had ruined his shirt.

"Oh... whaddaya know?"

Harukawa grit her teeth. There was only one reasonable choice. To her dismay, she lifted the astronaut onto her shoulder and made her way up the stairs.

"Wait, that's the girls' side," Momota commented.

"I know. But do you have a first-aid kit in your room?" Harukawa countered.

"No..."

"Then you're going to mine."

"Hey, are you sure...?"

Before the question could continue, Harukawa was already opening the door to her room. And as the door opened, Momota was shocked.

The room was piled wall to wall with crates of weapons, tools of Harukawa's true trade. But none of that mattered to her as she closed the door behind her and led her friend to her bed.

"Harumaki..." Momota muttered.

Harukawa faced away from her guest, and steeled her resolve. "I... have something I need to tell you."

Momota breathed deeply, his eyes turning to the blood dripping down his shirt. "So do I..."

SURVIVING STUDENTS: 8

 

Chapter Text

"You're... you're serious?"

"Yes."

It was hard to believe. Impossible even. Harukawa's true nature was nothing Momota could ever have hoped to anticipate. Her demeanor certainly didn't suggest someone working in childcare, but assassination still felt like a far cry in its own right.

The astronaut was still attempting to process the influx of new information. "You've... killed people? For money?"

Harukawa averted her gaze. "Yeah."

"And... you then give that money... to the orphanage where you grew up?"

"That's the idea, yes."

Momota clutched his forehead in confusion. "This is... whoa..."

"I'm sorry I never told you before..." she began.

"No, I get it," he said, cutting her off. "If the others heard all this... they might freak."

"And you won't?" Harukawa asked, partially as a joke, partially as serious inquiry.

"I... I don't even know where to begin with all this," Momota admitted. "None of this stuff seems real."

"I wish I had the luxury of thinking like that," Harukawa commented.

"Geez..." Momota muttered. "Harumaki... I..."

"If you don't trust me anymore, I understand-"

"No, of course I still trust you!" Momota immediately shot back, "I just... why tell me? You could've done a lot of things when you saw me hurt, but picked the one where you tell me all this."

Harukawa turned her back on the boy as she explained. "I'm... tired. Tired of having people not trust me because of who I am. So I decided to make it so no one would find out. But then, you came along, and... you trust me more than anyone. I... I wanted you to know who I am."

"I already know who you are," Momota countered.

"No, you know the front I put up," the faux-caretaker replied.

The astronaut would have none of that. "I know a girl who doesn't let anybody get away with anything. Who can scare the shit out of anyone with a glare and a few words. Who has a damned big heart underneath a hell of a lot of self-doubt. Is that fake?"

Harukawa wavered. "No..."

"So do yourself a favor, and don't act like your talent defines who you are," Momota asked of the assassin.

"Are you honestly going to ignore the lies? The blood on my hands?" she inquired, baffled by the boy's understanding.

"I can't say I'll ignore it," he conceded, "But it doesn't mean you're not the same Harumaki I've known this whole time. And I happen to trust her a lot."

Harukawa brought her hand to her eyes, trying to hide the oncoming tears of relief. With her composure safely kept, she turned to face her guest, and with a shaky voice said, "Thank you."

"No problem."

"Now... you have something you need to say?"

Momota swore under his breath. If the conversation wasn't tense enough already, he had to add his problems into the whole mess. He wanted her to know, but he had no way of telling what burdens she was already carrying. Maybe it would be better to hold off.

No. No more running. "I'm sick."

Harukawa quirked an eyebrow. "And...?"

"No, you don't get it. I'm real damn sick. Like... 'I haven't the foggiest what's wrong with me and it just keeps getting worse' sick," Momota explained, frustration bleeding through.

Harukawa's eyes narrowed as she began to puzzle this out. "So, the blood?"

"Me hacking up my lungs," Momota clarified.

"The ducking out of training?"

"Trying to hide that I'm hacking up my lungs," the astronaut continued.

"The barely being able to walk?"

"All of it, it's like... my body's just quitting on me," Momota said, gnashing his teeth together. "It's bullshit. I can't die like this..."

The assassin's eyes went wide. "Die?!"

Momota cursed himself once more for letting that slip. "Y-yeah. I... I can tell. If I don't do something... I'm not gonna last."

"Then... what..."

"There's nothing to do," Momota lamented. "At one point I got so desperate I went to Monokuma, and he said he basically didn't give a shit."

"So... you're just... going to die? And there's nothing any of us can do about it?" Harukawa clarified, horror slipping into her voice.

Momota heaved a long-suffering sigh before finally settling on a, "Looks that way..."

The two remained silent for a good long while as they processed this new information. Each cautious about taking a step forward in either direction. So much had changed so quickly, and with next to no warning. Any further action could only serve to trip yet another series of mines, for all either of them knew.

Harukawa mustered her courage anyway. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why not tell anyone? And more than that, why tell me? And why now?" she asked, her voice getting more frantic with each question.

"I couldn't tell the others for the same reason you couldn't," Momota attempted to justify. "They'd freak over something they couldn't do anything about. They've got a lot bigger problems than me. And more than that... they need a rock."

"A rock?"

"Yeah," Momota explained. "Akamatsu, Shuuichi, Hoshi, all of 'em. They need someone who doesn't get phased by all the shit Monokuma keeps throwing their way. They need to know that staying strong through all this is possible, and I just... I took it upon myself to do it. And if they knew their rock was crumbling... Everything they've been building themself up on goes away. I can't let that happen."

"But then why tell me about this? Why not lie about the blood?" Harukawa spat, desperate to get some sense of reason from an unreasonable situation.

"'Cause I'm not gonna last. And when I'm gone, someone else needs to be the rock. And I thought you could-"

"What the fuck makes you think I could be a rock after hearing all this?!!" she screamed.

Momota was stunned into silence.

"I haven't exactly been doing so well in this game either, you know?" Harukawa admitted, her voice shaking. "This isn't like the people I've killed. These are people I've known. People who never asked for any of the shit that happens to them. I shouldn't care. Everything I've ever been taught says I shouldn't care. But... goddamnit, I'm starting to... I think about Saihara or Akamatsu dying and... I can't. I just can't, okay?"

"Harumaki..."

"And now you're telling me you're going to die, and there's no way to stop it? The one person I..." Harukawa trailed off as tears made their way to her eyes.

"One person you what?"

"If you died... I wouldn't know what to do with myself."

"I'm sorry... but you're gonna have to figure it out," Momota stated rather plainly. He raised off the bed and began to make his way to the door. "Thanks for listening."

"Wait," she implored, stopping him.

"What?"

"Your shirt's still bloody, you idiot," she pointed out, wiping the tears away.

Momota looked down, realizing his mistake. "Oh. So?"

"So what if the others see you as you're walking back to your room? Do you want a repeat of this conversation?" the false caretaker wondered.

Momota scoffed. "Hell no."

She walked up to him, and forcefully grabbed him by the right arm.

"Hey, what are you-?"

Without so much as a shush, she forced his arm through the loose sleeve of his jacket, and began to button up the garment. "If anyone asks," she explained, "You felt a chill, and that's why it's buttoned."

"Oh... smart thinking," he replied with a smile.

She looked him over, head to toe. "That's... an interesting look for you."

"Meh," he responded, "You can't see the lining of the jacket anymore. That's the best part."

"I suppose..."

"Well..." the astronaut said with a sigh, "I guess... we'll talk more tomorrow?"

"Sleep would probably be the best idea for now," Harukawa agreed.

"Okay. See you then, Harumaki." The purple-haired boy turned away once again.

"Wait!" she asked of him once more.

"Ugh, what now?"

No words this time. Just a demonstration of the speed and skill of an Ultimate Assassin, as Harukawa quickly wrapped her hands behind his head.

And then pulled him in for a kiss.

Momota barely had a chance to register his own shock before his mind fled to focusing on more pleasant sensations. Harukawa's lips were inviting and warm, and uplifted his soul, perhaps embodying the spirit of her namesake of a river in springtime. Whereas much to his own regret, she was likely getting a taste of his bloody coughs. And in spite of this, she made no indication that she wanted to stop.

As the kiss finally ended, once more the two stood quiet, trying to find meaning in a situation that offered no answers.

Harukawa, once again, was the one to say something. "If you tell anyone about what just happened, you don't need to worry about the disease killing you."

Momota gulped. "Right. I'll... get back to my dorm now."

Harukawa struggled to find a response before choosing, "Good."

"Good," he parroted, equally discombobulated as he finally left the room.

With her guest gone, Harukawa was alone once more. Exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally from the day's events, she collapsed backward onto her bed.

"Why did I do that?"

And in spite of the question, her heart fluttered, hoping against hope it would happen again.

All the while ignoring that even if it did, she wouldn't be happy for long.


 

The cafeteria the next morning was tense. As if someone had finished winding a wind-up doll, but had yet to release the key. The two who had established themselves as solo acts after the last class trial, Kiibo and Ouma, were nowhere to be found. But the remaining six were all gathered, though none of them seemed particularly talkative.

Harukawa and Momota would occasionally shoot each other a quick glance. Sleep had done little to actually solve the problems at hand, and the truth weighed heavily upon the both of them.

Saihara remained calm and collected. He had finally overcome his most recent bout with depression, and he was hopeful it wouldn't rear its ugly head again before they escaped. The photo he had promised to share was in his pocket, and all that remained was to pick the moment to bring it up.

Akamatsu had decided to make a bold statement by wearing Saihara's hat to breakfast, with the implication that it was now simply part of her wardrobe. She and the detective were the only ones who truly understood the cap's significance, so it was lost on most of them. She was concerned, however, that it would lead Saihara to believe she was trying to hide something. Which she wasn't. She had every intention of finally admitting her feelings. Soon. Eventually. Maybe.

Hoshi and Yumeno were spared the tension the two sets of couples were going through, but pained by merely being in their presence. It was clear to both of them how much was bubbling under the surface with each pair, and both were left with little to no options but to simply watch and hope for the best.

All this and more made the next moment all the more jarring.

"HELLO-KUMA!"

For the first time in a long time, all five cubs burst up as their traditional greeting rang out.

"Yay! It's been so long since I got to say that!" Monotaro cheered.

"Didn't you say it just yesterday, though?" Monosuke asked, confused by his brother's words.

"I guess, but you know what I mean," the red bear defended.

"It's just so nice to be alive again, death was just too lonely..." Monofunny claimed.

"HELL YEAH!" Monokid exclaimed, "And we all know just who to blame!"

Monodam had retreated back into his old state of silence. His chassis had clearly suffered quite a bit of damage since the group last saw him. Cracked metal, oil leaks, loose bolts. Had Iruma been alive, she'd be having a field day.

"What do you all want?" Akamatsu groaned. On some level, she knew this was how her day would start, but it didn't make things any better.

"The real question is what do you want..." Monotaro hinted.

"A way out," Hoshi replied plainly.

"Well too bad!" the blue bear shot back. "The only way out of here is through the gates of Hell themselves!"

"Uggh..." Yumeno groaned, "I don't wanna play that game again..."

"No one has to go down Despair Death Road if they don't want to," Akamatsu reassured the mage, "Now, I'm guessing we've unlocked new areas?"

"Yup yup!" Monotaro said with a nod, holding up two keys, "And since I've never gotten the chance, I get to bring you both!"

"Not bad for a first timer!" Monosuke encouraged.

"We all have to start somewhere," Monofunny agreed, "I'm just so proud of you."

"HELL YEAH! Monodam wouldn't have been able to do anything that great in a million years!" Monokid proclaimed, punctuating his words with a guitar chord.

"Hey, who's this Monodam guy you keep mentioning?" Monotaro inquired.

"I think he's someone we used to know," the pink bear theorized, "but my brain's having trouble."

"Eh, who cares, he's some loser dumbass anyway!" Monokid countered. "We can rock out just the four of us!"

"Lucky like a clover, or deadly like death I wonder?" Monosuke considered.

"BYE-KUMA!"

The four revived bears were quick to leave but Monodam lingered briefly before also departing.

Akamatsu took the keys in her hands. "Well. We all know the drill by now."

 

Chapter Text

"It's been a long and arduous journey," Momota proclaimed, "and we've lost some good people along the way. But I'm proud to say we're here. And the part that makes it better than anything else? It's that I can share this moment with two of my best friends in the world."

"You really like your lab, huh?" Saihara summarized.

An understatement if ever there was one. Though, the actual part of the lab that focused on the work an astronaut would perform was quite small. The middle of the room housed what appeared to be a cockpit for a proper shuttle, and little to no other technical add-ons.

The remainder of the room seemed more fit to a Space Camp than a proper astronaut training facility. It was like a large scale set designed to resemble the surface of the moon, the stars stretching outward around the ceiling and outer walls. The curvature of the room did a superb job of giving the suggestion that the cosmos around them truly did go on forever.

Momota took a cleansing breath, and heaved a weighty sigh. "It's... just beautiful."

"It's a set," Harukawa replied, cutting him down a peg.

"It's about what's in your heart, Harumaki," he argued. "And the fact that the stars are just painted on the walls is honestly even better." He raced forward to the edge of the room, to illustrate his point. "Look! I can reach out," he proceeded to do just that, placing his hand on one of the sparkling images, "and touch the stars! Just reminds me the universe is never far from my grasp!"

"That's a great way to look at it," Saihara said, supportive of his friend.

"See? Shuuichi gets it!" Momota cheered. Though his face quickly grew serious. "But even so, this is just the first step on a longer journey."

Harukawa narrowed her eyes.

"I can't let this distract me, not when the real stars are out there waiting for me too!" the astronaut exclaimed.

The faux-caretaker grit her teeth. Her hands balled into fists, with her nails digging deep into her flesh.

But before either of the boys could take notice of this, they were interrupted.

"Forgive my intrusion."

The three turned to face their new visitor, and were greeted by a long-absent metal face.

"Kiibo-kun?" Saihara inquired.

"Yes. I was hoping to find one of you. The Cubs informed me you were searching the school grounds again, and my inner voice guided me here," the robot explained.

"You still hear that thing?" Momota questioned, having almost forgotten about the robot's strange assertion.

"It has never ceased. Regardless, I wished to speak with Saihara-kun about something I found elsewhere. Would you be so kind as to accompany me?" Kiibo requested.

Saihara turned to the others, a quick nod from Momota giving him all the permission he needed. "Sure, let's get going."

"Excellent!" Kiibo cheered. "Hopefully the staircase will be less exhausting going downward."

"Don't remind me," Saihara complained as the two skulked off.

Once again, Harukawa and Momota had been left alone, the assassin seething at the astronaut.

"Why are you lying to him?" she spat.

"I'm not," he asserted. "For all we know, we'll find a way out today, we'll get me to a hospital and I'll be perfectly fine in a jiff. No big whoop."

"What happened to 'I'm not gonna last'?!" she questioned.

"I'm just..." he stopped as he tried to find the right words. "I'm trying to prepare for the worst, okay?"

"Then why lie?"

"Because the truth's not gonna do them any good! Shuuichi's got enough shit to deal with, he doesn't need the fact that he can't help me on his head," the astronaut defended.

"That still doesn't explain why you think I needed it," Harukawa shot back.

"Because... because I really care about you."

Harukawa choked back her emotions as she stormed out. "That's not going to work, you idiot."

"Hey!" he shouted back. "Even if there's only a one percent chance for a happy ending, I'll bet on it every time!"

The twin-tailed girl stopped dead in her tracks. The words stewed in her mind. Isn't that what she'd been doing? Taking ridiculous risks and hoping for the best? The people she chose to trust? The actions she took to try to ensure the safety of the others? Wasn't it all for the sake of a better future for them?

Wasn't that why she took on the burden of an assassin? So no one else would have to?

She swallowed all of that down and merely replied with, "That's a sucker's bet."

She walked off, not believing her own words.

---------------------

It was a classic situation. The disappointment that you knew was coming but could do nothing about. The moment the rule about dead students' labs came up, there was an inevitable result waiting for the survivors as they explored the school, but they couldn't stop it.

Akamatsu, Hoshi, and Yumeno stood before a locked door that they realized must have led to Rantaro Amami's research lab. With the amnesiac long dead, there was no way to unlock the door and behold the treasures inside. Perhaps if they could, it would be possible to decipher what the boy's forgotten talent was. But now, the only hint was the door itself.

Decorated as though it were dripping with blood.

"A bloody door," Yumeno considered, "maybe the Ultimate Organ Donor?"

"He'd have to be Type-O to be a universal donor," Hoshi countered. "Maybe an Ultimate Butcher?"

"He didn't seem too interested in meat... Akamatsu, do you..."

The redhead's words stopped as she noted the pianist's disposition. Much like Saihara before her, she had made use of the hat's intended function, pulling the brim down as far as it could go. Her gaze locked pensively on the ground.

"You didn't kill him," Hoshi reminded her.

"I know," she muttered. "But... I..."

"Stop doing this to yourself," Yumeno pleaded. "None of us think of you like that."

"I can't help it!" the blonde exclaimed, "Every time I so much as think about him, the only thing I can see is his body lying on the library floor... And I just... I just..."

"Shirogane killed him, not you," the ex-con reassured.

"But if the ball hadn't missed..."

"And if I hadn't become Killer Tennis!" he shot back. "You've gotten a first-hand look at what living chained down by regret does to you. It's not fun."

"I sometimes think..." Yumeno began. "If it had been me facing Shinguuji instead of Tenko. And I... I still don't know what I'd do. But I can't say I wouldn't try to kill him."

"Murder isn't a happy thought," Hoshi agreed, "but sometimes... it can be justified. Rarely. Almost never. But in your case? I can give it a pass."

Akamatsu wiped away the tears in her eyes she hadn't noticed prior. "If I had been found guilty... like she wanted... I would've let myself be executed."

Names weren't needed.

"I think that speaks volumes," Hoshi commended.

"Alright," the pianist said, taking a breath before fixing her gaze at the door. "I need to face this head-on, like everything else. Now then... Ultimate... Surgeon?"

"He seemed a little too... I dunno... flashy for that," Yumeno replied. "Ultimate Vampire?"

"But he walked in the sunlight," Akamatsu noted, "Unless he's one of those vampires."

"Those aren't vampires," Hoshi countered. "Ultimate Hematologist?"

"Ultimate Painter? It might not be blood," Akamatsu noted.

"Ultimate Gladiator!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"This could take a while..." the short-statured boy lamented.

------------------------

The new building off of Kiibo and Iruma's labs was staggering to behold. The long trek from the entrance to the actual garage did a perfect job of heightening the anticipation to see what was to come. Beyond the door's physical and electronic locks lay what could only be described as a hangar. The items in storage? The Exisals. With the minor work around the school finally complete, the war machines could simply sit in storage waiting to be called into action for their secondary, or possibly original, purpose of keeping the captive students in line.

Kiibo and Saihara stood in silence as they observed the mighty mechs.

"What do you make of it?" Kiibo inquired.

"A taunt?" the detective theorized, "A show of force? They're just lying here, out in the open. But we can't take control of them, and if we try to disable any of them..."

"HELLO-KUMA!"

"That'll happen..."

The five multi-colored mascots once again appeared before the two.

"Daddy said if you tried to hurt our Exisals, we're allowed to punish you," Monofunny asserted.

"So please try!" Monotaro requested, "I want to drive mine around some more!"

Monokid strummed a power chord as he shouted, "HELL YEAH! We barely get to use these things!"

"Simple fact o' the matter is, youse can't touch us now, capische?" Monosuke mocked.

Monodam, still beaten and battered, said nothing.

"Where is Monokuma, might I ask?" Kiibo questioned. "I have not seen him in quite some time."

"Daddy said you were ignoring him after the last trial, so he was gonna ignore you right back!" Monotaro replied with verve.

"That'll teach you to mess with our papa!" Monofunny jeered.

"Hey, maybe we should try it out!" Monokid suggested.

"Smart thinking," Monosuke agreed.

"BYE-KUMA!"

The four talkative bears disappeared, only for Monodam to linger.

"Is something the matter?" Kiibo wondered.

"I JUST WAN-TED TO GET A-LONG WITH MY FRIENDS..." the green bear lamented.

"BYE-KUMA..." he shared, as he also departed.

Kiibo pondered this. "It is odd that Monokuma has taken things so personally. All the same, I think this will ultimately be beneficial for us."

"Unless he's planning something big," Saihara considered.

"Now you're using your noodle, Shumai!"

The two turned to face their new guest, the long-absent Ouma.

Saihara immediately pounced. "Where have you been?"

"Around," Ouma responded, giving an obvious non-answer, "I must say, I think we're nearing the home stretch."

"And what leads you to believe that?" the mechanical student asked.

The self-proclaimed dictator remained vague. "Just a thought. Say, Shumai? Did you ever tell everyone your little secret?"

Saihara grit his teeth, but refused to back down. "I'll share what I know just as soon as we meet back up."

"Well, I'd hurry up if I were you," Ouma warned. "Game's almost over, and there won't be overtime."

The capless boy took these words into consideration before facing the robot. "Are you coming?"

"I will be but a moment," Kiibo reassured.

The detective nodded and headed out, leaving Kiibo and Ouma alone.

The two had long been at odds with one another since they first met. The taunts from Ouma had long since overstayed their welcome, and the robot's innocence and naiveté wore on the troublemaker's sense of mischief. And yet, the two seemed hesitant to antagonize the other in this moment.

"You doing alright?" Ouma inquired.

"I do not believe you to be truly concerned for my well-being," Kiibo said, shooting down this line of conversation.

"I'm not, but... you have a part to play, you know..."

"I still do not know what it is you have gained. I still do not know what I have even done for you!" the robot protested.

"You let me deal with that," Ouma replied, "Now go have fun with the others."

Kiibo shook his head in frustration as he left to find his classmates. "Whatever it is you are doing, I hope I do not regret my part in it."

Ouma watched as Kiibo left, and let his eyes wander to the Exisals.

"I can work with this..." he muttered, putting the pieces together in his head.

The checkerboard pattern on his bandana was more than just a fashion statement for the little liar. Ouma had a great love for the game of chess. He would hardly consider himself to be a true master of the game, but he boasted an impressive record of victories to his name. And the key to chess was being able to control the positioning of every piece on the board.

He had seen the enemy's strategy. All that was left was to put the pawns in order.

 

Chapter Text

The group stood, or rather, sat, stronger than they did that morning, due to the addition of Kiibo. It seemed the robot had bounced back from his melancholy at a rather decent clip, and was ready to share in his discoveries with the rest of the group, as they had gathered in the dining hall once more.

"The hangar is shielded by a motion sensor and an electric barrier," he explained. "Even if we had a reason to face the Exisals, we would be unable to get close enough."

"Didn't you say there was a passcode to shut all of that off?" Hoshi questioned.

"Indeed, however, the passcode was 59 digits long. I was unable to remember them all," Kiibo replied.

This information befuddled Harukawa. "I thought you had a built-in tape recorder. Can't you just play back hearing it?"

"Yeah," Yumeno agreed. "And then you could write it down."

Kiibo attempted to respond, but then paused. He put a finger to his chin, as if in contemplation, and suddenly found his eyes growing wider.

"You didn't think to record that?" Harukawa asked, incredulously.

Kiibo quickly bowed his head. "Forgive me! I don't know what I was thinking!"

"We all make mistakes," Akamatsu reassured, "And like you said, it's not like we have any reason to try to face the Exisals any time soon."

Kiibo attempted to find solace in the pianist's words. "I suppose you are right. Regardless, how did everyone elses' searches go?"

"I finally got to see my lab! It was just as great as I hoped it would be!" Momota cheered. His smile belied his true feelings, silently cursing that the stars may truly be out of his reach after all.

"And with Amami's lab upstairs, that means there's only one lab left we still haven't found," Akamatsu considered.

"Ouma-kun," Saihara said to himself. "Kiibo and I ran into him earlier, but he didn't really say anything new. Just something about the game almost being over."

Harukawa was briefly taken aback, but quickly regained her composure before the others noticed. Was Ouma finally making his move? Why hadn't she been told? She was certain she would figure in his final plan.

"That guy's been as squirrely as Monokuma lately," Hoshi noted. "Neither of them seem to want to have anything to do with us anymore."

"Hey, Harumaki?"

Momota's attempt to grab her attention startled Harukawa out of her train of thought long enough for her to reply with a, "Yeah?"

"Remember that thing I told you before? About how I thought the hidden room in the library counted as the Mastermind's research lab?" the astronaut recalled.

The faux-caretaker rolled her eyes. "I told you, it would make their identity too obvious."

"I know, but, still. I wouldn't put it past Ouma to turn out to be the Mastermind," the goateed boy considered. "Like after all the lying and saying he leads some kinda evil organization, he'd turn around and say, 'What, you thought I was kidding about that?' and it'd turn out he's behind it all."

"That... doesn't seem likely," the mechanical student chimed in, "Though, I will admit, it is not impossible."

"Ouma-kun's still kind of a question mark to me," Akamatsu said, offering her two cents on the matter, "I mean, I can't ignore all the rotten stuff he's done, but I can't ignore the good stuff either."

"There's more to him than we might think," Saihara agreed.

"No, there's less," Harukawa countered. "I've looked into his eyes. He's pure evil."

"Looked into his eyes?" Momota parroted. "Should I be jealous?"

"Do..." the words died in the assassin's mouth. Asking a dying man if he wanted her to kill him seemed to be in incredibly poor taste.

"Well, that just leaves Amami-kun's lab," Akamatsu declared, rerouting the conversation. "We couldn't open it, obviously, but we did see what his door looked like."

"It was covered in blood, and the designs on it looked like a bunch of weapons," Yumeno explained.

"And not like, military stuff," Hoshi clarified, "Like bats with nails in it, knives, kind of DIY weapons if that makes sense."

"What kind of talent would involve all of that?" Kiibo wondered.

"I still think he was the Ultimate Gladiator," Yumeno asserted.

Saihara grew silent and contemplative. If that was indeed how Amami's lab door appeared, it made his hypothesis all the more likely.

"Shuuichi, something up?" Momota inquired.

Saihara nodded, as he prepared himself mentally. "When I was... in my dazed state, I powered through all of the case files in my lab. When I got to the last binder, I found a weird photograph. I didn't know what to make of it, so I kept it to myself. But now, in the interest of group transparency," the detective reached into his pocket and retrieved the folded picture, "I think you all need to see this."

Saihara laid the photograph on the dining room table, and the others crowded around it.

"Amami-kun... and Shirogane-san?" Akamatsu muttered.

"And they're both... in a trial ground..." Hoshi added.

"And Amami's doing that finger-point thing that you and Saihara do sometimes," Yumeno noted.

"We don't do that that often," Akamatsu protested.

In a shocking display of coordination, the remaining 5 students immediately replied by pointing toward the pianist and declaring, "YOU'VE GOT THAT WRONG!"

Akamatsu wisely chose not to further argue the point.

"So does this mean... Amami was in another killing game?" Harukawa considered.

"Monokuma's words have hinted that this is not the first time he has done this," Kiibo recalled. "Though, if that were the case, I find it odd we have no recollection of such an event transpiring. An event of this caliber would be quite difficult to cover up."

"I think it's further tied to our missing memories," Saihara posited, "At the very least, Amami-kun knew about the prior killing games, and that's why he had to get rid of him as soon as possible."

"So that's why Shirogane killed him?" Momota wondered, "'Cause she was working for Monokuma and he wanted Amami gone?"

"The picture... makes it look like they were friends," Yumeno noted, he expression dour. "And she still killed him."

"For all we know, she didn't remember anything about the previous games either," Harukawa reminded the mage.

"Still... I can't imagine killing any of you. Ever," Yumeno replied.

The students braced themselves at Yumeno's bold claim, only to find nothing occurred. Normally such a strong show of defiance would result in Monokuma's arrival and the showcase of a dastardly new motive. And yet, he was nowhere to be seen.

"It may be tempting fate to say this," Akamatsu hedged, "but does it worry anyone else how quiet Monokuma's being?"

"Calm before the storm," Hoshi affirmed, "Least that's what it feels like."

"Similiar to Ouma-kun," Kiibo added. "The two of them are both being quite reclusive. Again, I do not believe Ouma-kun to be the Mastermind. However, I will acknowledge that the circumstances are somewhat odd."

"It might be better if we think on this for a while, and regroup again for nightly training," Akamatsu suggested.

"I agree," Saihara chimed in, "I'd like to take some time to investigate that door for myself."

"You gonna be at training, Idabashi?" the tennis pro inquired.

"I believe I shall," the robot replied.

"Will that do anything for you?" Yumeno asked.

Kiibo nodded. "Certainly! If I do not make use of all of my joints, they may begin to undergo atrophy."

"Well, we'll figure something out for you," Momota said with a smirk. "In the meantime, I could use a nap. See you guys!"

As the group split up, Momota's words echoed throughout the mind of a certain assassin.

His naps, if that was even what they were, were growing more frequent. The vibrancy he brought to every moment was slowly beginning to dim. It seemed as though the astronaut's illness was simply one of those things where it was impossible to notice until it was noticed. And by that point, it was blatant in everything he did.

As Harukawa made her way back to her room, she cursed herself for not noticing the signs sooner. It was irrational of her to do so, mind you. After all, she was full well aware that even if she had known, there wasn't anything she could do to stop it. And that was what really drove her mad. This was no fight, no mission to fulfill. This was slow, agonizing torture of the worst variety. And so, she retreated to the comfort of her dorm room.

But as she opened the door, she noted something on the ground. A notecard, black on one side, showing the design of Monokuma's eye. The other side, white, and containing text. And the card's message was a cold reminder of a grim fact. There was no sanctuary here. Everything was manufactured to fool her into a false sense of security until the sting of despair could strike true. And the words that did it?

"He is going to die. That's your motive."

 

Chapter Text

--FREE TIME--

Harukawa liked to consider herself to be someone who moved with purpose. There was always a task to complete, a mission to fulfill, a fight to win. Whether she had a contract looming or not, there was a new goal in mind. But now?

Now she was at a loss, no further idea of where she was going. The card she had received had left her head spinning. Why was Momota's impending demise supposed to motivate her? Was she meant to ease his pain? That seemed difficult to fathom. Was she supposed to kill someone for a cure? If that were the case, it would've said so, and there likely would have been a body discovery announcement by now.

She tried to ignore how self-defeating that approach would be.

There was only one other possibility that occurred to her. That his death was supposed to drive her to suicide. Unfortunately for Monokuma, her will was too strong for that. Perhaps she would plummet into despair, perhaps she would not live well, but she would live. That much she would not surrender to anyone.

But seeing him alone in the dining hall, staring off into nothingness, made her heart sink like a stone.

"What are you doing?" she asked pointedly.

He sighed. "Just... decompressing, I guess?"

"Is now the time for that?" she replied.

"Part of me is screaming that I need to stand up and fight," the astronaut confessed, "but then I stop and I realize that it would probably just get the others killed. And then I feel like an asshole for even thinking about it."

"Well, you are an asshole," Harukawa snarked.

"I know."

The defeated tone of Momota's voice did nothing to alleviate the assassin's concerns. "So have you done anything productive with your day?"

"I told Akamatsu she should try and set up another concert," Momota recounted, "That'll eat her whole day. Later, I'm gonna have Shuuichi check up on her."

"Are you..." Harukawa paused, "playing matchmaker?"

"Girls play matchmaker," he corrected, "Guys act as wingmen. There's a difference."

"There's really not," she countered.

"Whatever. They deserve to be happy, so sue me," he defended.

"And that's how you spend your time?" the faux-caretaker criticized, "You're dying and you're wasting your time on other people?"

"If I'm running out of time, I should spend as much of it on other people as I can," Momota snapped back. "I won't last, but they will. The most I can do is be a positive change in their lives. I helped Shuuichi, I helped Akamatsu, I helped Hoshi, I've done what I can for Yumeno and Kiibo, and Ouma... he's kind of lost cause, but I tried, dammit!"

Harukawa's eyes narrowed. "Why...?"

"Why what?"

"Why didn't you include me?"

Momota was taken aback by this line of questioning. "Well... I put so much shit on you lately... I just didn't think you..."

"Momota, you've been..." she paused. "You're the best person I've ever met."

The astronaut managed a smirk. "Still can't shake those walls, huh?"

"Shut up," she replied, averting her eyes.

As the room grew quiet, a horrible question popped into Harukawa's mind. It was the worst thing she could possibly ask at this point, but all the same, she needed an answer.

"How much..."

"Hmm?"

"How much time do you think you have left?" she asked.

Momota hung his head. "If it keeps going like this... two days? Maybe?"

It was like ice in her veins. She hated it. She hated everything about this situation. She hated how powerless she was to do anything.

So she had to do what she could. "Is there...?"

"Is there what?"

"Is there anything you've always wanted to do?" the twin-tailed girl wondered. "Other than space, obviously?"

Momota's gaze popped back up from the ground to stare at the girl interrogating him. His mind raced at the implications, but he quickly put those thoughts aside. Now was hardly a time to joke. "Why are you asking me this?"

"I... I don't want you to die with any regrets. I can't get you to space, but... I want to do something..."

The purple-haired boy brought his hand to his chin. "Well... you've got some guns, right?"

Harukawa blinked in confusion. "Yeah... I mean, they're airsoft guns, but sure."

"Well... I've always wanted to fire a gun..."

Harukawa scoffed and shook her head. "Guys," she muttered. "Alright, we'll grab some stuff from my room, and break back into my lab."

"I get to see your lab, too?" Momota said with a grin. "Man..."

Momota's grin inspired an even bigger smile from Harukawa. This... this was better. Maybe not good, but... better.


 

It was a battle that was destined to happen. Worlds colliding in a manner the likes of which none of the residents of Gifted Inmates Academy had ever seen before. A showdown that would shake the Earth down to its very foundation.

On the one side, Yumeno, the mistress of magic.

The other, Kiibo, the miracle of modern science.

Fantasy and technology facing off against one another in a confrontation that would be recounted in song and story for generations to come.

Granted, it would probably seem a bit more impressive had it not been a friendly game of tennis, but still.

The match had proven more or less even up until that point. Kiibo's robotic body ensured that he need not worry about tiring out, at least not as quickly as his opponent. However, Yumeno's lessons with Hoshi had not gone to waste. She had not perfected his flash-step by any stretch of the imagination, but she clearly had a speed advantage over the automaton. Though she was beginning to lose steam, the mage held the advantage in what was now their third game, 40-30.

Breathing heavily, Yumeno clutched at her legs, which were beginning to burn. "Huff... ughhhh... can I call a time-out?"

"I do not believe there are time-outs in tennis," Kiibo thought aloud, "Hoshi-kun, your thoughts?"

The actual tennis player of the group, acting as a referee, merely shrugged. "Fine by me."

The redhead smirked and collapsed to the ground in a tired heap. "I don't think tennis is for me," she confessed.

"Perhaps not," her mechanical foe replied, "but I feel as though I have been able to bond with you over the course of these games."

"Yeah," Yumeno agreed, "I realize just how tough you are. If I weren't so exhausted... I'd use my magic to make you a thank-you gift."

"If you do so, I will be certain to get you one as well," Kiibo said cheerfully.

Hoshi grinned at this exchange. "The court does a lot of good. Brings out what's in a person's heart."

"Kiibo has a heart?" Yumeno asked, "Did he visit that one other wizard? Can you introduce me to him?"

"Wasn't that wizard a fake?" Kiibo recalled.

"That's just what he said to trick them," the mage countered.

Kiibo quickly realized this would not be a productive topic of conversation and moved on. "Hoshi-kun, thank you for helping me with this task. I realize I am hardly a master tennis player, but I have learned thanks to you."

"Feh," Hoshi intoned, "at least you realize you've still got a ways to go."

"Indeed, but this has led me to wonder..."

"Hmm?" the ex-con responded.

"It is just a possibility, but, have you considered becoming a tennis instructor?" Kiibo asked.

"What?"

"Once we get out of here, there is no doubt in my mind that we will do everything in our power to overturn or reduce your jail sentence," the robot explained, "Once you are free, you will need something to do, and I believe you would be of great service passing along what you have learned."

"You really should," Yumeno chimed in. "I wouldn't be half as good a mage without my master's help. And I think you'd be a great master."

Hoshi looked away. "After everything I've done... I don't think I deserve the chance."

"But you have already taught us," Kiibo countered.

Hoshi considered this. Indeed, he had shared his skills with the others several times now. He witnessed their improvement for himself, and would freely admit he felt a sense of pride in doing so. Pride... how long had it been since he could say he was proud of himself.

The short-statured boy's eyes peered over, seeing the cheerful faces of the robot and the mage he had instructed.

He grinned. "I'll think about it."


 

Ouma could very easily say he was having a good day. Granted, as skilled of a liar as he was, he could feasibly say just about anything with a straight face. Regardless, the self-proclaimed dictator had a spring in his step as he made he way down the stairs. A cheerful smile came to him as he walked into the library.

The rooms where bodies had been found had seemed profane at first to most of the students. But by now, all of them had grown desensitized to the idea to the point where they had no concerns about meeting in the Dining Hall after what happened to Toujou. As such, making use of the library was seen as just as feasible a form of entertainment as anything else. And if Ouma was fond of anything, it was finding a way to entertain himself.

All the same, what book to choose? Anything to pass the time, he supposed, but it had to be good. He eyes were immediately drawn to the bookcase along the back wall, the one he knew hid the door to the Mastermind's lair. It intrigued him to no end that such an important piece of information had largely been forgotten, though to the others' credit, there was not much any of them could be expected to do.

Ouma shrugged his shoulders at the thought, and began to look through the shelves to see if there were any books that were worth his time. Upon spying one that fit the bill, he smirked and reached his hand into his pocke

...

...

...

...

...

Ouma left the library.


 

It wasn't clear to Akamatsu why Momota had recommended that she organize another concert, but her love of the piano far outweighed any sense of curiosity she may have had.

As much as she adored classical music, she knew that it was a niche interest for most people her age, and none of her fellow classmates seemed all too interested. As such, she had oft turned to piano covers or songs from musicals to better capture the attention of her friends. She wasn't playing just for herself, after all. This being the case, she had gone with a fairly simple choice.

The song was fairly well-known due to the film it had been used in. The pianist would freely admit the movie probably wasn't as good as many film critics claimed it to be, but it hit all of her emotional buttons in just the right ways, and the song was certainly a showcase of the film's strengths. The lilting hook at the beginning was absolutely infectious, the melody intoxicatingly beautiful, and the bridge a stellar portrayal of the song's message. The simple magic of falling in love. All it really took was the right person at the right time.

As the notes wound down, Akamatsu caught a visitor in the corner of her eye.

"Saihara-kun!"

The detective seemed a bit flustered at being discovered, though he gave a sheepish chuckle. "Sorry, I... didn't want to interrupt."

"No, it's... it's fine," the blonde replied. She was suddenly very aware of just how small her lab was. Particularly in comparison to some of the others she had seen up to that point.

"Kaito told me about the concert idea, and I just wanted to check in on you," Saihara explained.

"Thanks, it's... actually a lot harder than you might think," the capped girl confessed.

"I'm sure whatever you choose will be great," the black-haired boy reassured, "Your music's always incredible."

"Yeah..."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, just..." the pianist paused, "I sometimes wish I had something else going for me."

"What are you talking about?" Saihara asked.

"I mean, I'm trying, I know I am. But I feel like the group hasn't actually gotten anywhere with me in charge," Akamatsu admitted. "I'm just a pianist, so, of course I can't be expected to figure all of this out, but... I feel like I should be able to do more."

"Aka-" Saihara stopped mid-sentence.

"What?" Akamatsu asked, concern seeping through.

Saihara inhaled deeply, and let out a shaky breath. He began again. "Kaede..."

The word struck a chord in the pianist's heart.

"If we didn't have you... I don't think I would have made it this far," Saihara shared. "I may be a detective, but... I'm not strong like you. It's because of you I have the strength to face whatever's ahead of us. You bring out the best of me. Of everyone. You're more than just a pianist. More than the Ultimate Pianist. You're Kaede Akamatsu. And... she's the most incredible person I've ever met."

The pianist's heart suddenly found itself moving from a normal beat to one in agitato. The blood rushed through her, driving all of her senses into the next gear. She needed a way to calm herself. Fortunately, she had the perfect method available before her. Nonetheless, she could not simply ignore her guest.

"That..." she swallowed a runaway syllable before continuing, "That really means a lot to me, Sai- ...Shuuichi."

Saihara soon found himself in a similiar state as Akamatsu. He had no regrets about his choice of words, the sentiment behind them, or his chosen form of address. And yet, he couldn't shake his nerves for the life of him. As such, he had to change the subject. "So... anything you know for sure you want to play?"

"It's hard..." Akamatsu lamented. "I mean, I love the piano, but I know that not a lot of other people do."

"Well, do you have a favorite song?" he wondered.

"Ugh... ask a parent to pick a favorite child while they're at it," she jabbed.

"Easy for me," he replied. "Only child."

"Lucky you," Akamatsu returned with a smile. "I love Kaori to death, but she can get on my nerves with the best of them."

"So if we introduced her to Ouma-kun...?"

"I would burst into flames."

Saihara couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the visual.

Seeing an opening, Akamatsu took this chance to turn the tables on the inquisitive boy. "Are there any songs you really like?"

Saihara's confidence suddenly melted away again, leaving him the same nerve-addled boy the pianist had grown to admire. "Well... I'm..."

"Yeah?"

"I still haven't gotten to hear it..." he reminded her.

Akamatsu's eyes widened, and she nodded in understanding. With a quick gesture, she informed Saihara that he should sit in one of the nearby chairs as she went to acquire the sheet music. She knew the song almost by heart, but she was never one to tempt fate. Moreover, she couldn't help but be nervous. She had played at many concerts, had practices and auditons more times than she could count. But this was a first. She couldn't seem to recall a time she had ever played a song for a single individual before.

With the detective in place and the sheet music ready, Akamatsu's fingertips hovered over the keys, and she began to play.

The descriptor she had originally given him had never left his mind. Like moonlight dancing on water. When he closed his eyes, as the music flooded his ears, that was the image he first conjured. The silvery light cast a beautiful glow upon a crystal clear cobalt sea. But the image lasted very briefly, until a new one took its place.

Well, took its place wasn't entirely accurate. Rather the image grew in his mind. He found himself standing upon the water, dressed again in midnight blue. He wasn't sure how or why he could stand upon upon the lapping waves, but it didn't matter as his gaze turned to the other person standing on the sea.

Akamatsu was dressed in an absolutely gorgeous pink dress, the two seemingly having stepped out of (or perhaps into) a gallant ball. The music cast a spell on both of them, the two drawn to one another, walking slowly toward each other as Akamatsu offered Saihara her hand.

Naturally, he graciously accepted.

The two danced upon the midnight waters, the world around them cast adrift in the surrounding sea. Nothing else mattered. A moonlit night where all fear, sorrow, and doubt could disappear. Akamatsu's original intent for the number was to bring a smile to Saihara's face. Though she was lost in he focus on the music, the detective could easily say the mission had been accomplished with resounding success.

As the keystrokes trailed off, Saihara cursed that the song was as short as it was, the image of the two's dance upon the waves disappearing back into the depths of his mind, as he opened his eyes again.

"What did you think?" Akamatsu asked.

"That was... amazing," Saihara answered, honesty dripping from every word.

"I'm glad to hear it," the blonde replied.

Saihara stood from his chair and approached the piano's bench. Akamatsu, somewhat startled, stood from her position in confusion.

"What are you-?" her question trailed off.

Saihara snatched his cap off of her head, placing it aside for the moment, and rested his hand on her shoulder.

"Kaede..."

"Shuuichi..."

The sounds of Claire de Lune were fresh in their minds. Akamatsu found herself placing her hand at the small of his back in response to what he had done. The two drew into one another, their faces moving ever closer. They could feel the heat and breath of the other, as their hearts each raced.

And with a kiss, those hearts began to beat in perfect harmony.

It lasted for some time, though eventually the two separated from each other, both suitably flustered from the exchange, though neither having broken from their embrace.

Akamatsu was the first to find her voice again. "Shuuichi... I like you. A lot."

Saihara nodded nervously. "Yeah... I... you too. A lot."

Now it was the pianist's turn to be nervous, shakily laughing. "So... heh... I guess we're more than just friends now, huh?"

"Y-yeah..."

Silently, Saihara wondered if Akamatsu had a CD with Claire de Lune on it, so they could both just listen. More than anything in this moment, he wanted his earlier dream to be reality.

Dreams seemed to come true, after all.

 

Chapter Text

Over the course of their time trapped in Gifted Inmates Academy, many of the students had set about on tasks that many would declare unfeasible if not outright impossible. Fortunately, Momota's enthusiasm served as a constant reminder that even impossible tasks could be completed as soon as someone actually did so.

And yet, in the face of Ouma's scheming, Harukawa's attempts to hide her true nature, or the uphill battle of restoring Hoshi's will to live, none were quite as impossible as the task Saihara and Akamatsu had recently undertaken:

Pretending that nothing had changed.

It wasn't that they were ashamed or embarrassed by the recent alteration of their relationship. More that they were full well aware that now was hardly the time to focus on romance, and now was certainly not the time to bother anyone with such information. As such, their intent was to keep their decision quiet.

But the blushing, smiling at nothing, and general pleased looks at one another were setting off warning bells in even the most oblivious of student's heads.

"Saihara-kun, what is it you're smiling about?" Kiibo inquired, lending credence to the idea that the two's efforts were little more than a pipe dream.

"N-nothing!" the detective protested, the blush on his cheeks spreading like wildfire. He eyes quickly turned downward toward his breakfast.

"This is most peculiar..." the robot muttered. "Akamatsu-san, do you have any ideas?"

"Who me?! Uhh... nope! Not a one... heh heh heh..." The capped blonde quickly concealed her face with Saihara's hat, now fully appreciating the accessory's original purpose.

Kiibo gave a puzzled look before turning to look at the other students. "I must admit I'm confused."

"Just leave 'em be, man," Momota suggested. "If it's important, they'll tell us." The astronaut's words carried the clear implication that he already knew what had happened, but was not speaking out of deference to the others.

Harukawa merely nodded at the goateed boy's words. In the back of her mind she felt a twinge of envy at the two's happiness. And an even greater feeling of dread. With Momota little more than a ticking time bomb, it was clear to her that the two would not take things well.

Kiibo smiled. "In any event, I appreciate this. We have reached a point where we can all sit and have meals together without protest or concern."

"Makes me worry, though," Hoshi chimed in.

"Why?" the automaton asked.

"We're getting... comfortable," the ex-con explained, "I saw guys in jail get like that, and it doesn't usually go well. They either fall into a bad crowd and never get out, or figure that life in prison's so good they don't wanna leave."

"That's the sort of thing Angie wanted us to do," Yumeno recalled. "I thought it was a good idea at first, but... we can't stay here, right?"

Akamatsu raised her head back up. "No. No we can't, but... I'm lost. My head's just stuck in a spiral, because I feel like just getting here was a big accomplishment on it's own. I... I don't know what our next step is."

"I have some ideas!"

The students turned to face the new speaker. Much to the group's dismay, Ouma had finally returned to the dining hall after a long absence.

"What do you want?" Harukawa asked, cutting straight to the point.

"Strictly business, eh?" the trickster replied, with a quirked eyebrow, "Fine, if that's how things are. I just wanted to let you all know that I'm putting the finishing touches on my masterplan."

"Masterplan?" Akamatsu repeated.

"And how do we know you're not just lying again?" Yumeno questioned, not believing the short-statured boy at all.

"Would I lie to y- wow, I couldn't say that with a straight face," Ouma chuckled to himself. "But, hey, I wanna get out too, y'know?"

Saihara wasn't buying it either. "And why are you only doing this now?"

"Every plan requires careful preparation. And besides that... meh.. I'm bored."

"Bored?" Hoshi responded.

"Don't get me wrong, I love watching you morons running around with no direction all, 'woe is me, what do we do', but we have to do something new every now and again," Ouma summarized.

"So you're helping us solely as a change of pace?" Kiibo clarified, somewhat incredulous to all of this.

"Call it a gift," he requested. "Finally, you have a true evil genius on your side. In fact, to usher in my change of heart, how about a congratulations?"

Harukawa's glare grew cold as ice. "If you think we're going to congratulate you-"

"Not me!" the self-proclaimed dictator corrected. "I want to congratulate someone."

The dining hall grew quiet, the students more baffled than anything.

"Whom do you intend to congratulate?" Kiibo inquired.

"Well..." the purple-haired boy drawled, reaching into his pocket. "Maybe this will clear things up..."

From out of his pocket came a key, unlike any the other students had seen up to that point. The key was gold in color, with a red jewel embedded into a design at the top, shaped like a heart.

The others quickly grew flush.

"Isn't that..." Momota muttered.

"Yep," Ouma replied, his grin wider than ever.

"H-how did you-?" Saihara barely choked out.

"Well, when you're finding ways to entertain yourself, you start with the casino, right? But man, winning over and over just got boring after a while..." Ouma boasted.

"But why did you buy... this?" Akamatsu asked, her tone filled with abject horror.

"Your reactions are worth every token, let me tell you," Ouma cackled. "But in all seriousness, it's a present. You know who you are, so enjoy yourselves."

"I do not fully understand..." Kiibo lamented.

"You wouldn't," Ouma jabbed. He turned to leave the dining hall, "I'll see you all soon. This is gonna be great..."

An eerie silence settled over the students as the self-professed dictator disappeared, giggling to himself like the madman he was. All eyes turned back to the key. The Key of Love, as it had been listed at the prize exchange. The students were full well aware of the item's purpose, but Ouma's message was a mystery to most of them.

Save two, who were desperate not to die of embarrassment.

"So, what should we do with this?" Yumeno asked, breaking the ice.

"I'd say we just get rid of it," Hoshi suggested, "kind of freaks me out, to be honest."

"Would that not send the message to Ouma-kun that we have rejected his attempt at kindness?" Kiibo wondered aloud.

"I... wouldn't call this kindness, Kiibo," Akamatsu interjected, "It's just another prank."

"I fail to see the inherent humor," the robot noted. "The key simply unlocks the facility that you and Shinguuji-kun never explained to me."

"You never told him?" Harukawa carped.

"Do you wanna tell him?" Akamatsu shot back.

"Do you want me to kill you?"

"In any case, it might be best to ignore it, and move on," Saihara considered.

"Shouldn't be hard," Momota observed. "It's gone."

The students' gazes turned back to where the key had once been. Now the table was quite clearly empty, the shocking piece of metal nowhere to be found.

Quick as a flash, Akamatsu shot Saihara a suitably terrified look. As if sensing her concerns, he swiftly shook his head to indicate that he was not the thief. With a subtle sigh of relief, the pianist took the reins of the conversation once more. "Well, out of sight, out of mind. I say we spend the day checking any areas we haven't checked in a while. Ouma's not going to outshine us that easily!"

"Better than nothing," Hoshi agreed.

"With my magic, I'll find a hidden way out that no one would've thought of!" Yumeno proclaimed.

"Alright, break!"

With the capped blonde's command, the students split off to further their explorations.

Or at least, most of them had. Momota had found the strength to stand, but quickly sat back down before he could move a single step. With luck, no one had seen that, and he would be able to come up with some story about why he had failed to turn up any new information.

He was nowhere near that lucky.

"Momota..."

The astronaut didn't even need to look up to tell who it was that was expressing their concern. "Harumaki, please..."

"I get that you don't want to tell them, but..."

"Don't you dare," he shot at her, his voice carrying more boldness than a dying man should feasibly possess.

The faux caretaker huffed. "Tomorrow?"

No other words were needed. Momota was well aware of his own body, and he wasn't the type to lie. At least not to her. Not anymore. "Probably..."

It was like a thousand knives in her back. There was nothing for it now. She had learned too late, lacked time and resources. But even then she faltered as she struggled to think of what more she could've done had they met outside the school.

For a brief moment, she was lost in the idea of meeting him some other way. Any other way. Anything would be preferable now.

She took a breath, and walked toward the kitchen.

"Where are you-?"

The astronaut's inquiry was quickly cut off, Harukawa not breaking stride. "Shut up, and remember I'm rusty at this."

Momota found himself quite puzzled at the assassin's words, not knowing what to make of her claims.


 

Several Minutes Later...

"OH MY GOD!"

Momota was quite gracious that no one had been there to hear his involuntary response to the sensation he was currently experiencing.

"So I haven't lost my touch," Harukawa noted, "That's reassuring, I suppose."

"These..." Momota began, pointing toward Harukawa's latest endeavor, "are the best brownies. That's the end of the sentence. That's all I have to say."

Indeed, the twin-tailed girl had gone out of her way to indulge in a culinary effort for Momota's sake. The tray of brownies had quickly found itself beginning to run out, after only a matter of moments.

"I still had to take care of the kids now and then," Harukawa explained, "Quickest way to win them over was with sugar. And fear, but mostly sugar."

"Why haven't you made these before?" Momota asked.

"I..." Harukawa stopped short. "Can I tell you something embarrassing?"

"My lips are sealed," the astronaut promised.

"I've never really seen myself as... well, the girl who would be a yamato nadeshiko," the assassin admitted.

"Not surprising."

"Yeah, but..." her head hung low. "I... part of me... wishes I was. I don't like kids, I didn't like having to help at the orphanage, and I... I..."

"It's rough, huh?" the astronaut surmised. "Growing up without your parents?"

She nodded. "I never really wanted to grow up to be that kind of person, but... when I gave myself over as an assassin, it just... it hit me that it wasn't even an option anymore."

"Do you want a life like that now?"

She bit her tongue. She did everything in her power to hold back the real answer, merely settling for, "I wouldn't hate it..."

"Well, don't rule it out," Momota encouraged.

Her red eyes met his purple ones as he continued to speak.

"If there's one real takeaway we can get out of this damn school, it's that anything can happen. World's even crazier than I ever imagined, so who's to say it's not an option? And even if it isn't, it's only impossible-"

"Until someone does it," she finished.

"And if anyone can do it, Harumaki, it's gotta be you. No doubt!" the astronaut proclaimed with a thumbs-up and a signature grin.

She smiled. "You really are an idiot, through and through."

"Yeah..."

With that, the assassin rose to her feet, and offered the astronaut her hand.

"What now?"

"No regrets, right?"

"Yeah..." he replied, clearly confused.

"Then there's somewhere we have to go."


 

"You can do this," Harukawa reassured him.

"Right," Momota agreed, psyching himself into the situation.

"Just believe, and put it in."

"Uh-huh..."

With all his force, Momota pressed what he was holding into the slot, and moved his other hand down with great force.

"Come on baby, come on..." he prayed under his breath.

And those prayers were answered with the sound of a jackpot. A perfect line of sevens. Casino tokens soon came rushing out.

"YESSSS!!!!!!"

The astronaut's joy could not be undersold. For so long, he had failed to live up to his personal goal. But now, he was victorious. Luck was on his side at last.

"Man," he said to himself, "I gotta ride this streak!"

Before he could place another coin in the drop slot, Harukawa grabbed him firmly by the wrist.

"Uhh..."

"Always. End. On a make," she commanded.

"Right..." Momota replied, thoroughly reminded of how terrifying a person he was dealing with. "Well... I should at least buy something good with these things."

The two headed up the stairs to view the prize exchange.

"See anything you like?" Harukawa asked.

Momota's eyes trailed over the various items, his vision blurring, stumbling over the various options to him. He placed his hand against the stand, desperate to keep his balance. Harukawa quickly grabbed him by the chest, and helped him back to his feet.

"How..." he huffed, beginning to lose track of his breath, "How long have we been here?"

"... a while," the assassin replied, not willing to give a real answer.

Momota shook his head. "It's fine. There's nothing I really wanted, anyway."

"What if I had something?" Harukawa suggested.

"Huh?"

It was at that moment, Harukawa reached into her pocket, and slowly pulled out a single object.

A gold, decorative key.

"W-whoa!"

Harukawa said nothing as red crept up her face.

"W-w-why do you have that?!" Momota asked, his composure long since gone.

"I snatched it away when no one was looking," she admitted.

"Why?"

"Because..." she turned her gaze downward, unable to look the astronaut in the eye. "Because it's your last night on Earth."

"Aw geez..." Momota replied, shaking his head. "I can't ask you to do... that."

"You're not, I'm... offering," she barely stuttered out.

"Harumaki..."

"Kaito."

The sound of his first name from the assassin's mouth immediately stopped the goateed boy in his tracks.

"I..." she paused before she found the strength to move ahead, "I know this is sudden, and I have no right to put this on you, considering what you're going through. But... you're the only person who's ever made me comfortable just being myself..."

She raised her head, revealing the tears streaming down her face.

"I... I love you. And... I know that I'm about to lose you, so... please. I want this, so..."

Momota rested his hand on her wrist, and took the key with his other hand.

"You're... you're sure?" he confirmed.

"Yes..." she whispered.

Momota gripped the key tightly, and moved his hand behind Harukawa's head. In a reverse of their previous encounter, he pulled her in for a passionate kiss.

The twin-tailed girl quickly responded by tightly gripping the astronaut's shirt, giving her more freedom to return the affection.

This continued for a few minutes before Momota pulled away.

"I... I love you, too... Maki," he confessed.

"Please..."

He grinned, a hint of regret on his face. "Harumaki."

With the key in hand, the two soon found themselves in a different building than the casino, though certainly still close by.

The Hotel was an interesting place. It was hard to pin down exactly how the effects of the building worked, but it was said that anyone who visited with a guest would view the other as their ideal partner. And as Harukawa and Momota entered, and made their way to their lodging for the evening, the hotel's powers took effect.

All they saw was each other.

 

Chapter Text

Night gives way to day, but in a world where nothing seems real, even that simple concept can be reversed. Stars can shine as brightly in the day as they do at night. So long as you have an Ultimate Astronaut Research Lab.

And that was precisely where Kaito Momota and Maki Harukawa found themselves. Momota lay flat on his back, with Harukawa beside him, holding him as close as she could. It was as though she feared that if she let go, he would disappear forever.

Not an unjustified fear, considering.

The two's eyes were facing the false cosmos created by the room's décor, lost in the beauty of the boundless reaches of space. Neither of them saying a word, merely attempting to feel for the rotation of the Earth, six stories below, guiding them on their on trip through the stars.

Momota was the one who broke the silence. "You know, they say commercial space flight's not that far off..."

"Hmm?" Harukawa intoned.

"I mean, comparatively, at least," he clarified. "It'll happen within the century, I think."

"I'm sorry," the assassin replied.

"Don't be."

"But you won't-"

"But you can."

"Huh?"

"Promise me," the astronaut pleaded, "When you get out of here, when you get the chance, you'll treat yourself. Okay?"

Harukawa nodded dutifully. "Okay."

The goateed boy smiled. "Good to hear."

The faux-caretaker reached toward the astronaut's face, turning it so they could face each other, and indulged in a passionate kiss. The two had found their rhythm over the course of the past few days, and it was clear that they cared for each other deeply.

And yet, even so, it was stained with harsh truth. In this kiss, more so than any of the others, Harukawa could taste the chill of death. Momota was clinging desperately, but it was still a losing battle. It only grew worse as he broke away from the kiss to engage in a horrid coughing fit.

Harukawa winced, forcing herself to keep her eyes open only so that she could have as much memory of the man she loved as possible. But with that desire, and the shared vulnerability between the two, a heavy cost was added. Momota, no longer feeling the need to hide his pain, made no effort to conceal how much agony he was in. The blood spewed from his mouth freely, and it was nearly a full minute before he settled back into himself.

"S-sorry 'bout that..." he muttered, ashamed of what he was putting her through.

"How much..."

"I don't wanna think about-"

"How much... does it hurt?" Harukawa finished.

His eyes widened when he realized what her real line of inquiry was. He heaved a sigh, wincing a bit from the effort. Now was the time for honesty. "I honestly don't think I could stand up if I tried. My lungs are on fire. Even talking right now is taking a lot, and it's ripping my throat to shreds."

"Then... you shouldn't-"

"I'm not gonna stop talking to you," he said, cutting her off, "not while there's still stuff to say."

Harukawa steeled her heart before speaking again, "I... I could..."

"Could what?"

"Make it... painless."

The offer hung in the air like a ten-ton weight. Momota wasn't positive he could feel any lower than he already did, but with those words...

He shook his head. "You'd be executed."

"We'd be together," she countered.

She wasn't fighting fair. "You have to live, Harumaki," he protested. "For both of us. I can get through this if I know you're gonna be okay."

"I'm never going to be 'okay'!" she shrieked. Tears started pouring down, the hot, stinging liquid a harsh contrast to the cold comfort the astronaut was offering. "You're the only one who ever... ever..."

"Ever what?"

"Ever made me feel like a person!"

He wrapped her in his arms, doing what little he could to try and ease her concerns. "You are a person. The most incredible person. And that's why you can't die, okay? You gotta live. You... you... you just gotta!"

It was his turn to cry. The astronaut's grip weakened, and he fell back onto the ground, eyes gazing upward.

"Kaito!"

Harukawa gripped the astronaut's right hand, holding onto him for dear life.

"You've..." His voice was weak. "You've gotta live, okay?"

"I will," she swore, tears gushing even faster now. "I'll keep fighting for both of us. I'll... I'll get everyone out of here, I swear! And we'll all... we'll all live on..."

Momota smiled. "The stars..."

"I'll see them," she promised. "I told you I would, so I have to."

"The stars..." he continued, coughing violently as he did, "And you... beautiful..."

Momota closed his eyes.

She knew. She had seen this all too often. She knew better than anyone.

She screamed in agony. She screamed in sorrow. She screamed in vain.

He was already gone.

From screams eventually came silence. Harukawa was left kneeling by the body of the person she had bared her soul to. Left wondering if it was worth the pain she now felt. While so much of her was certain that it was, she could not shake that nagging doubt.

Things only got worse as she heard the sounds of footsteps on the nearby staircase. It was certain that someone had heard her display of anguish moments ago, and were now racing to her aid. Whoever it was, it would not be a pleasant conversation.

The sound of footsteps stopped, and the red-eyed girl wiped away her tears to face whomever had joined her.

Her heart sank when she saw who it was.

"Harukawa-san, thank God!" Akamatsu exclaimed, clearly concerned, "When you didn't show up for breakfast we couldn't help but worry. So, what's wro-?!" She froze, as the image of Momota's body finally came into view. "Wh-wh-wha..."

Harukawa swallowed her own pain, and attempted to explain, "He... he's..."

The attempt was not successful.

More footsteps rang out nearby. It wasn't long before everyone had gathered.

Nor was it long before everyone was at a loss for words.


 

The one small mercy in the face of everything was the lack of a class trial. School rules dictated that dying of natural causes, such as illness, was not considered a murder. No culprit, no trial. Not that it did much to comfort the other students, gathered around in the outer park, trying as much as they could to keep their cool.

Momota's body had been deposited into a makeshift grave that Kiibo and Saihara had dug. The two were hardly happy about being saddled with such a morbid task, but the fact of the matter was that no one else could be reasonably asked to do so. The remaining students had taken the significant effort to remove the piano from the casino, to be brought outside. With effort, sweet-talking the Monokuma Cubs, and supposedly Yumeno's magic, the task was complete.

With the group gathered together, Ouma, the only one previously absent, made his way to join the mourners.

Harukawa's gaze locked on him immediately. "If you even think about-"

"I'm sad too," he stated.

With a second glance, the students could see what they had missed. Ouma's eyes were glassy and lifeless. No jokes. No crocodile tears. It seemed even he was distraught over the recent turn of events.

With a silent nod, Akamatsu gave Harukawa the signal to begin. It having been decided prior that she would be the one to deliver the astronaut's eulogy.

Harukawa collected herself as much as possible, and began to speak, "When I first got here, I didn't think much of Kaito Momota. I can't really say I thought much of anyone here, to be honest... But Mo... but Kaito had a way of worming himself into your life whether you wanted him to or not. And by the time he did, you realized that you did want him in your life. I... kind of have trouble picturing my life before I met him."

She tried to not let herself be haunted by the possibilities that could never be. A future that was impossible now. She composed herself once more and moved forward.

"Kaito's influence on me... on all of us, is impossible to ignore. I've spent so much time shutting people out, but... he... he convinced me to open up. And now, now... I have the best friends I ever could have asked for."

Akamatsu, touched by Harukawa's words, was able to force the slightest hint of a smile. Saihara, racked by grief, merely clenched his already shut eyes even tighter.

"Kaito taught me to be happy with the person I was, all while making me want to be even better. He was... he was a shining star in the darkness of this school. And he... he..."

Harukawa's voice trembled as she spoke. Her legs were wobbling, just about to give out, but she did everything she could to hold firm. Even so, she could not stop the deluge of tears down her face.

She addressed the grave directly, "Given how much you longed for the stars, it may seem odd that we've chosen to commit your body to the Earth. But... we felt it was symbolic of who you are. You're carrying more than just us, but everyone. You're guiding us all, as part of mankind's vessel in this vast cosmos."

Her legs finally gave way, and she tumbled down to her knees.

"Thank you, Kaito. I... there's no other way to say it. Thank you. A million times 'thank you'."

As her head drooped downward, it was as though everyone else's brows were tied to hers with invisible string. But with this unspoken signal came the final touch of this ceremony. Akamatsu made her way to the piano the others had retrieved, and began her tribute to the astronaut.

The song was the perfect summation of Momota's character. Aspiring to reach new heights, all the while guiding others as they attempted to do the same. There was a simple elegance to the melody when applied to the situation at hand, but even this could not buoy the spirits of the students.

Uplifting though the song was, it carried a tinge of melancholy. Momota's death had made clear a fact the students had long been desperate to ignore. If they could not escape, they would die in their prison. Not even from the Killing Game, but from the cold, unfeeling hands of time.

And though none of them knew it, time was running short.


 

That night, the students had found themselves retreating to their dorm rooms with little to be said amongst them.

Hoshi had acknowledged that training would be taking a hiatus for a little while, given the circumstances. He was taking things a bit better than the others, presumably due to his history with unforeseen tragedy. Nevertheless, the cheer he had been building up did seem to be fading, ever so slightly.

Yumeno was trying her hardest to keep in high spirits, but it was quite an uphill battle. Her attempts to lighten the situation with claims about her magical abilities were simply not hitting home. And it was clear that even she was no longer fully dedicated to continuing the reassurances any longer.

Kiibo was doing what he could to detach himself from the situation. He hated perpetuating the stereotype that he was nothing more than a heartless machine, but he also knew that someone had to be thinking rationally so as to allow the group to move forward. Tragically, he found that he was the only one who could feasibly fill that role. He wasn't sure what would come of this, but perhaps a good night's sleep would offer him some options.

Saihara had more or less shut down, at least until he heard a knock at his door.

The guest was not exactly unexpected. "Kaede..."

The pianist seemed pensive. "Shuuichi..."

With no further prompting, he allowed her into his room.

"I just..." she started before faltering, "Do you need a hug? Because... I know I do..."

He shook his head. "I think I need to be alone right-"

"That's the exact opposite of what you need."

Her eyes were fierce and unrelenting as the detective was broken from his stupor. She had been forced to watch him suffer alone once already. She wouldn't make him do so again.

He slowly made his way over to her, and took up her offer for an embrace. Tears began to stream down his face, his sorrow quiet. "I miss my friend..."

Akamatsu's tears were equally silent. "I do too..."

Akamatsu didn't leave his side that night. The two stayed huddled together, desperate to find some form of warmth in a cold reality.

But as hard as the two of them were taking the situation, Harukawa had it even worse. By the time she had returned to her dorm, she was reduced to a gibbering wreck. The assassin curled up into herself, openly weeping with her back pressed up against her door. No one was going to interrupt her grief until she was willing to allow it.

Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw yet another strike to her spirit.

Another notecard, sharing the same design as the first, was resting on her nightstand, this one propped against a small box. Against her better judgment, she moved to the box, and read the card.

"DO NOT OPEN THIS BOX UNTIL YOU ARE TOLD TO. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. From this point forward, should you leave this room, you are to carry the box with you at all times."

Even in emotional agony, it seemed she could not escape the Killing Game's grip.

All that was left was Ouma, going over every notebook and chart he had constructed over the duration of the game. The loss of Momota had affected him, but time waits for no one, and the time was nigh.

"Tomorrow," he chuckled to himself, "I end everything tomorrow."

 

Chapter Text

Kiibo considered himself an optimist. With a name like his, it was hard not to be. Even so, getting out of bed after the previous day's events was a tall order. Momota's death hit everyone hard, and the mechanical boy had given himself the job of maintaining a level head. With luck, everyone would pull through.

But things looked bleak on the horizon. Whatever Monokuma was up to would likely strike soon. In retrospect, Kiibo felt he should have dedicated himself to figuring out what the bear had planned, but now the idea was too little, too late. If only there were something more he could do to hel-

The world went dark.

Light returned to Kiibo's eyes once more, feeling very different than he had only, he presumed, moments prior. He felt... free. When his eyes had opened, they seemed to have done so both literally and metaphorically.

And now, he was full of ideas.


 

"This is a message from Gifted Inmates Academy. It is now-"

The morning announcement was cut short by a loud, booming sound that echoed across the campus. The vibrations were enough to rouse the lethargic and grieving students from their rest, and they began to file out of their rooms in their haste.

Hoshi was the first out, his eyes quickly meeting those of Harukawa. "What the hell's going on?!"

"I don't know," the faux-caretaker replied, equally confused. As they spoke, Yumeno suddenly burst out of her door.

"Don't you know it's rude to wake someone up like that?" she exclaimed.

Saihara's door opened as well. And both he and Akamatsu burst out.

"Everyone, are you okay?" Akamatsu asked, her concern apparent.

"What caused that?" the detective inquired

"Before we get to that, can we address why you two were both in Shumai's room?"

The students' attentions turned to Ouma, standing by the doorway. At his feet lay some sort of unusual device none of them could identify.

"I just feel like that fun little detail's about to get lost in the shuffle," he jabbed.

Akamatsu was having none of this. "Ouma, what's going on?"

"What makes you think I know?"

"Because you're always up to something," Yumeno reminded him, the others gathering around the pianist and detective.

The self-professed dictator sighed. "Ugh, fine. If you really want to be like that, I guess you could say, I'm celebrating."

"Celebrating what?" Harukawa attempted to clarify.

"The end of this Killing Game, of course," Ouma said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Another loud sound accompanied by a shockwave resounded through the school, throwing the students slightly off-balance.

Upon righting himself, Ouma began to chuckle, "Nishishi... when I party, I party hard!"

"What do you mean by the end of the Killing Game?" Saihara wondered.

"Did you find some sort of way out?" Akamatsu asked, silently praying this was the case.

"Not in the way you were probably thinking, but yeah," Ouma claimed. He pointed toward the device nearby. "And it's all thanks to this."

Hoshi quirked an eyebrow. "What is that?"

"This, my fine friends," Ouma sneered, "is a bomb."

The others all instinctively took a step back.

"Do you like it?" Ouma inquired playfully, "Iruma-chan made it for me. You know, before she went nutso."

"W-why do you have a b-bomb?!" Yumeno stammered out.

"So I can end the Killing Game, obviously," the troublemaker explained. "I'm sick of fighting to stop a tragedy we can't control. So long as Monokuma can run our lives, we'll never escape this place. So I decided to end it the only way I could think of," as he spoke, Ouma's features began to shift. His eyes sank deeper in, making them appear darker. At the same time, his skin grew taut, leaving the outline of his skull visible. Coupled with a twisted smile, Ouma now looked the part of a grotesque monster more than a man. "Burying every single one of us in this dorm, under a mountain of rubble. If the blast doesn't kill you, the debris sure will! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!"

Akamatsu's heart sunk. She had wanted so badly to see the good in Ouma, what little there was. He had moments prior where it seemed he had genuine kindness and empathy buried under his wicked nature. But now, with this plan, and the mask he had been wearing stripped away, there was only one conclusion. "You're... you're completely insane..."

"What gave it away?" he taunted.

"This is your idea of 'beating' the Killing Game?!" Harukawa spat, indignant at the madman in front of her.

"Hey now, if you made the wrong call in having faith in me, that's no one's fault but your own," Ouma countered. "I seem to recall your old boyfriend saying something like that, right?"

"Don't you dare..." she hissed, pure venom dripping in her tone.

"Or what? You'll put me in time-out?" he asked with a mocking tone. "Maybe..." Ouma reached into his pocket. "Maybe it's high time we all watched this!"

As his hand lifted up, Harukawa swallowed her breath. Ouma held the motive video she had almost forgotten about.

Noticing her hands grow tense, Ouma quickly cut her off as he had his other hand reach into his pocket. From there, he drew a smaller device with a red button atop it. "Nishishi... in one hand, I hold the bomb's detonator. In the other, your old motive video. I wonder... which one will you go for? Because the second you go for one... I'll activate the other."

It required no thought.

Quicker than even Hoshi could manage, Harukawa dashed forward, and knocked the detonator out of Ouma's hand. With this freedom, Hoshi made use of his own speed, and snatched the object out of the air.

"Break it!" Harukawa commanded. But in that moment, she could hear the sound of the pad flaring to life, as Ouma tossed it over to Akamatsu.

The sound of Hoshi's foot crushing the detonator was barely audible over the sound of continued booms. As well as a short burst of dialogue.

"To my future self, I don't know why this even needs to happen. I shouldn't have to tell you what to do. You're the Ultimate Assassin. This isn't hard."

The pad collapsed to the ground as the capped blonde lost her grip.

It took a moment for the words to sink in for her. "Ultimate..."

"Assassin?" Saihara finished.

It was a sacrifice that had to be made. Harukawa knew that full well. But it stung. This was the penance for her lies and betrayal. The eyes. The same damn eyes from everyone who ever found out.

Everyone but one, anyway.

"Your precious Harukawa-chan is nothing more than a coldhearted killer," Ouma declared. "Shinguuji-chan was psycho, but even he's got nothing on her! Killing people for money, destroying lives without a care in the world. And she was so desperate for me to keep it a secret, that she agreed to help me. What an idiot! You actually believed my sob story about wanting to save everyone?! What part of 'I'm a liar' do none of you get?! Not that you have any room to judge, Miss 'Caretaker'..."

"Harukawa... it's not true, is it?" Yumeno pleaded.

"I thought you were tougher than you looked," Hoshi reasoned, "but... seriously...?

Saihara only had one question. "Did... did Kaito know?"

Harukawa's head fell forward as she spoke. "I told him about my talent... but... I never told him about working with Ouma. I didn't want him to know."

"Hmm? Didn't want him to know he'd have to share you with another guy?" the purple-haired boy taunted. "I know I'm a hard act to follow..."

"I hate you," Harukawa spat, "I hate you more than anyone I've ever known. But I... I hate myself even more."

"Harukawa?" the redheaded mage murmured.

"I resigned myself to the life of an assassin," she recounted, "I willingly gave up whatever future I thought I had before. And I did it because I thought it would mean no one else would have to. But... that doesn't make it any less cruel. I deserve every ounce of hate and anger you can throw at me... but... Kaito... Kaito..." Tears began rolling down her cheeks yet again. "Kaito saw the person inside of me. The person I thought was gone forever. And that person won't just let you mock her."

Harukawa's eyes grew sharper than they ever had before. With the full force of her killing intent awoken, she glared at Ouma. "I swear... I am going to kill you!"

Before she could take a step, she felt a hand on her shoulder. A slight tilt of the head let her see who it was.

Harukawa prepared to strike back. "Do you want me to-"

"You've got that wrong."

Akamatsu's calm words broke through Harukawa's rage.

"Harukawa-san, I... I didn't know you had all of this bottled up inside you. I wish you would've told me. Even now, I can't say I really understand, but I know what it's like to be judged for a mistake," the pianist offered.

"Big words from someone with no blood on their hands," she shot back.

"I know!" Akamatsu countered. "I don't have any idea what your life has been like, because you still won't let us in! But... I want to understand. Because... the Harukawa I've known so far... she's my friend. And that wasn't a lie. When you trained with us, that wasn't a lie."

Her eyes turned to Saihara. "When you showed concern for Saihara, that wasn't a lie."

Yumeno chimed in, "And when you helped me when I was mourning Tenko. That wasn't a lie either."

"And your tears at Kaito's funeral. And the tears you had just now," Akamatsu continued, brushing a tear off of the assassin's face. "Those definitely aren't lies. You're more than just your talent. You're our friend, Assassin or otherwise."

"Kaito believed in you, no matter what," Saihara recalled. "So... I'll do the same."

Hoshi smirked. "Not like I have the moral high ground here. I'll trust you."

"It's not bad to kill bad people," Yumeno claimed. "You said so. So that means you're not a bad person."

Harukawa was stunned. Her fears had gone unjustified. For all her anger and detachment, she truly had forged connections during her time at Gifted Inmates Academy. And in the face of overwhelming support, she was able to do something she thought she would never manage again after losing Kaito.

She smiled. "Everyone... thank you."

Ouma, however, was less than pleased. "Oh my God, will you all please stop with the mushy teamwork crap?!!! It got old a loooooonnnggg time ago!!!"

"Upset your plan didn't work?" Harukawa taunted.

The trickster was not discouraged. "AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Did you really think I'd waste my masterpiece on you protecting yourself over them? Please. I knew you'd develop human emotions in the end, I'm not stupid."

"Then what is your game?" Hoshi wondered.

"I'm so glad you said it like that," Ouma cackled. "Harukawa-chan, you have that box I gave you, right?"

Harukawa was taken aback. "You gave me? I thought..."

"That Monkuma left that for you? What, does he have a trademark on that lightning-shaped eye symbol?" he taunted. "Actually, he probably does, but that's hardly the worst thing I've done. Anyway, yes or no?"

Rather than answer with words, the red-eyed girl hesitantly took the small box out of her pocket, showing it to the group.

"Good, good. Open it," Ouma demanded. "But don't take what's inside out of the box just yet."

Nervous, Harukawa opened the box slowly. Once she had, the image of what awaited her spun her into a cyclone of confusion. It was a small device, resting atop what appeared to be cloth lining. "Is this... another detonator?"

Ouma pulled another object from his pocket. "And so is this..."

With two more detonators in play, the group remained cautious. No one dared risk a sudden move, though Hoshi narrowed his gaze toward Ouma's hand. If necessary, he would strike.

The madman began to explain, "Here's how this goes down. You and I each have a detonator. Add in the one you destroyed a moment ago, and that makes three. Now, I had three types of detonators prepared. One's just a normal, average detonator. Press the trigger, it sets off the bomb. The second is a dead man's switch. It can activate with the trigger, but it will also activate if it gets more than a meter away from the sensor. Now, the sensor could very easily be on my person, or it could be inside the lining of that box. With me so far?"

Harukawa gave a subtle nod as sweat began to encroach upon her brow. The other students seemed paralyzed by Ouma's words, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Now, the last one is the tricky one. The third detonator, if activated will actually burn out the other two. Even if the signal goes off, if pressed roughly around the same time, the 'burnout switch' will keep the bomb from activating. Now, the question is... which one's which?"

"Don't you know?" Akamatsu reasoned.

"Well..." Ouma drawled, "In all the excitement I seem to have lost track. But in any case, I'll be activating the one I'm holding in..." He briefly glanced to his watch. "Three minutes. It's up to you if Harukawa-chan should activate hers. But if you get any slick ideas like trying to examine the bomb, or messing with her detonator, I'll just set mine off. And since mine might be the dead man's switch, I wouldn't try taking mine away."

The clock was ticking. The group felt powerless in the face of this new challenge. On the one hand, Ouma could be lying, as he often did. But if he wasn't, they were almost certainly doomed. With no options left, Harukawa fixed her gaze on their only hope.

"Saihara, what's our strategy?" she inquired.

The detective balked at this. "M-me?"

"Shuuichi, you're the only one who can figure this out!" Akamatsu pleaded. "It's up to you now."

"My magic's not going to work on bombs," Yumeno asserted, "so you've gotta do something!"

"This is your time to shine, kid," Hoshi agreed, "make it count."

"Kaito put his faith in you, too, Saihara," the assassin recounted, "So I'll do the same. Whatever you think is right."

The pressure was undeniable. The weight of the world rested squarely on Saihara's shoulders. Once again he could feel the doubt and darkness creep into his mind.

But now wasn't the time for that. For everyone's sake, he would discover the final truth that Ouma had concealed in this twisted game.

"Okay," he began, "we know the first detonator wasn't the dead man's switch. It was knocked away and the bomb didn't go off."

"So that means one of the two we have now is the dead man's switch," Akamatsu reasoned.

"Right," the detective continued, "So there are two possibilities. The dead man's switch and the normal switch, or the dead man's switch and the burnout switch."

"You only have a minute and a half to choose..." Ouma reminded them, his face somehow growing even more deranged.

"Press your switch," Saihara declared.

"W-what?"

"Harukawa-san, if one of you has the burnout switch, then both of you need to press yours to guarantee our safety," the black haired boy explained. "And if the burnout switch was the one we broke, then there's no harm in pressing both, since the bomb will activate either way."

"We can't exactly double-die," Hoshi cracked, trying to insert any sort of levity into the situation.

"You're sure about this?" Harukawa clarified.

"If Ouma-kun is telling the truth, which I know is a big 'if', this is the safest move we can make," Saihara declared.

The assassin breathed deeply. "Okay. If you say so."

"Ten seconds," Ouma warned, "Hope everyone's watching..."

Yumeno clutched her hands in silent prayer. Though Angie had gone, and the mage was no longer devoted to the artist's God, any sort of hope would be welcome now.

Hoshi grit his teeth, knowing that even if they did get out of this crisis alive, it would only be the tip of the iceberg. Ouma would face dire straits for what he had tried to do here, and who could say how that would turn out.

Saihara repeated his logic over and over in his head, trying to see if there was anything he missed. If he made a mistake, he would regret it for the rest of, what he had to presume would be, his very short life.

Akamatsu's hands rushed to her fast-paced heart, fearful it would beat so fast it would leap from her chest. There had to be a way this could end well, but if there was, it was far from obvious.

Harukawa slowly lifted the detonator from the box, keeping it close by, on the off-chance it was the dead man's switch. She had never been one to fear death, long having grown desensitized to the concept. But she wasn't just living for herself anymore.

Another loud boom echoed across campus, the source still unknown to the students.

Ouma's grin grew wider than ever. "And here... we... go..."

Ouma and Harukawa both pre

 

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*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

"A body has been discovered! Now, normally, I'd tell you to gather where the body is. But I'm just a tad bit furious with all of you right now... so you know what? Trial time! Now!!!"

The voice of Monokuma was a slap in the face to the students. After all that had happened, the return of their 'headmaster' was the last thing they needed. But the Killing Game seemed to not wait for any of them.

"A trial?" Akamatsu asked, her voice shaking. "But... we just found... and we haven't..."

"We don't have a choice. We have to get moving."

"Harukawa-san..."

"I'm not happy either," the assassin assured her, "but it's not like this one's a mystery."

Harukawa's eyes turned to the still body before them. "We're going to make him pay for this, I promise you."

With no other options, the students made their way to the Shrine of Judgment.


 

The tension in the air was palpable. This would be an interesting new animal for the students. They had had no time to investigate the crime, so they would have to figure things out on the fly. Regardless, the conclusion seemed self-explanatory. All that was missing was their prime suspect.

And very shortly, he came walking toward them.

"Sorry I kept you..."

The students' eyes narrowed, each with their own sense of disdain toward their last peer. Though some of them found their eyes widening directly after, as they took in his strange attire.

Ouma had adorned himself with a slightly new look. His traditional white straightjacket-style uniform was now shrouded with a black cloak, tattered and worn. Atop his head was a black military hat, accentuating the menace the madman carried with him. But most shocking of all was his face. The left side of his face had been painted pitch-black, with a red lightning bolt drawn around his eye. The imagery he was trying to evoke was quite clear.

"Why do you look like Monokuma?" Akamatsu questioned, rather pointedly.

"Nishishi..." the troublemaker cackled, giving his cape a dramatic flourish. "This is the last trial. I always drezz for the occasion..."

The strange drawl of his voice did nothing to break the tension in the air. The others' patience for the boy was gone, and all that was left was the trial.

The elevator opened, and the class entered, beginning what they hoped would be their final descent.

"Ouma-kun," Akamatsu thought, "I owe you my life. I know that. But I can't overlook what you've done. You threatened my friends. You forced Harukawa-san to do your bidding. And now... Tenko and Shinguuji's deaths were already on your hands, so why? Are you just that cruel?"

Akamatsu turned to face her remaining classmates.

Harukawa's eyes were firmly locked on Ouma, her anger overwhelming. Ouma for his part, seemed to not notice.

"I swear, you won't get away with this."

Hoshi cracked his knuckles. He cursed himself for not being faster. Not being able to prevent this. But he was done living with nothing but remorse. This time, he'd stop tragedy from striking again.

"I'll overcome every lie you throw at me. I'll find the truth you've kept hidden for so long!"

Yumeno grit her teeth, desperate to contain her emotions. She had already lost Tenko because of Ouma. To some degree, Angie as well. These acts of malice had gone on long enough for the mage, and he would not escape this time.

"I am going to avenge him!"

Akamatsu felt a hand on her shoulder. Without even looking, she moved her hand to grasp his. In this difficult time, she knew she could count on the support of the ones she cared about. And though it was a horrible thought, she thanked every deity she could conceive of that he was okay.

Saihara's hand in hers. As comforting as it had been that first time in the classroom, almost an eternity ago.

"In this class trial, I will avenge Kiibo!"

 

Chapter Text

--COURT IS IN SESSION--

"Alright, let's begin with a basic explanation of the Class Trial!" Monokuma declared. "After a period of debate, you will take a majority vote for who you believe is the killer. If you're right, the killer is punished. But if you're wrong, everyone else is punished and the killer is allowed to leave Gifted Inmates Academy scot-free!"

Monokuma huffed as he concluded his speech.

"Honestly, where do you kids get off?" he snarled, "I was even nice enough to let Astro Boy die in peace, and this is how you repay me? My cute cubs dead again! My academy in shambles! I'd execute you all right now if the rules would let me! But... trials are what this game is all about, so better get cracking!"

"We already know who did it!" Yumeno exclaimed, "Ouma has to be the culprit this time!"

"Jumping the gun, aren't you?" Ouma replied. "We haven't even gotten the Monokuma file. At least, I'd hope we still get that, even if you'd deny us the investigation."

"Ugh..." Monokuma groaned, "fine, here ya go..."

With the file passed out, the group was finally able to get a better handle on what happened. As per usual, Saihara began to read.

"The victim was the Ultimate Robot, Kiibo Idabashi. He was found dead in the courtyard. The victim's mental processes have shut down, and the memory core cannot be salvaged."

"No time or cause..." Hoshi noted, "Hard to explain."

"Who needs an explanation?" Harukawa snapped, "Ouma's obviously behind all this."

"Hold on," Akamatsu cautioned, "I agree that he's the obvious suspect, but before we convict him, I want to get some questions answered."

"She's right," Saihara agreed, "we don't know what Ouma was up to after the flash bomb went off, so I'd rather we clear that up."

Ouma's threat had appeared to be a hollow one after all. The bomb he had prepared had gone off, but it had only been a flash bomb, blinding the others upon its detonation. However, once the students were able to see again, Ouma himself had taken the opportunity to make himself scarce. Though they eventually uncovered Kiibo's body, Ouma had evaded capture until his return for the trial.

"Well..." the self-proclaimed dictator drawled, "if that's how you want to do it, that's fine. Tell you what. Each of you can ask me one question, and I'll answer it completely truthfully."

"And how can we be sure you'll really be truthful?" Harukawa wondered.

"That's your problem, not mine," he shot back. "Also, you just used yours up."

"Wait," Yumeno interjected, "that counts?"

"Yep," he cheered, "and there goes yours!"

Yumeno clapped her hands over her mouth. "Ah! Sorry, guys..."

"It's fine," Saihara reassured, "we'll just have to be more careful with ours."

"Guess I'll give it shot, then," Hoshi asserted, "After the flash bomb went off, you disappeared. Where did you go?"

"I went into the academy," Ouma revealed, "I took care of a few things, and then hid where none of you would find me."

"What kinds of things?" the ex-con repeated.

"You already asked your question," Ouma chided, "Geez, none of you are good at listening, are you?"

"If you went into the academy," Akamatsu considered, "that means you didn't encounter Kiibo in the courtyard... so if you killed him, it would have to have been before then..."

"I didn't actually hear a question," the troublemaker noted.

"I didn't ask one," the capped blonde replied. "I'm still thinking of one..."

"We can come back to that," Saihara chimed in, "let's switch focus for a second and consider Kiibo's condition when we found him."

"The courtyard was an absolute wreck," Hoshi recalled, "scorch marks and torn-up earth. Lucky for us, Momota's grave seemed fine."

"Kiibo probably kept that in mind while he was doing whatever he was doing," Yumeno figured.

"But what exactly was he doing?" Harukawa questioned. "His body seemed to have taken some damage, and it looked like he'd used some of the upgrades from his lab."

"Idabashi was pretty clear about not wanting those upgrades before," the ex-con considered, "I wonder what changed his mind."

"Guess he finally wised up about how stupid that was," Ouma cracked.

"Don't call Kiibo stupid!" Yumeno commanded.

"Do you think..." Saihara began... "It had something to do with Kaito?"

Ouma jumped to respond, "Was that directed at me?"

"No!" the detective quickly clarified. "I was thinking... Kiibo may have decided he needed to take a more proactive approach after Kaito..."

"Died," Ouma finished. "Can we not dance around it? It's depressing, but I'd like it if we could move on and focus on the trial."

"Do you want me to kill you?" Harukawa spat.

"Hmm... I'll get back to you on that..." the little liar joked.

"What I'm trying to say," Saihara resumed, "is that Kiibo may have tried to use the weapons upgrades from his lab to deal with the Monokuma cubs and eliminate the Exisal threat. If he did that, those same weapons might have given us the chance to defeat Monokuma."

"Seems to have worked," Harukawa noted, "the cubs weren't moving when we found Kiibo's body."

"Kiibo died saving us," Yumeno realized, "I really wish that'd stop..."

Akamatsu grit her teeth. On some level, she had started the self-sacrifice train with her attempt on the Mastermind. Tenko's murder of Shinguuji had followed. Then Gonta's attempt to uncover what had happened to Toujou. And now, Kiibo's defeat of the cubs...

"Wait," the pianist interjected, "how exactly did he beat the cubs?"

"What do you mean?" Hoshi asked.

"Well, Kiibo-kun had external damage, but the cubs didn't. The Exisals had some wear and tear, but the cubs seemed unharmed. If he killed them, why aren't they hurt?"

Akamatsu's words caught the students off-guard. Her line of inquiry made sense, as the facts at hand did not support the final conclusion of the case.

"Well, I might be able to help... if you want to use your question..."

Ouma's taunts did not fall on deaf ears. All the same, getting the truth from him was a valuable resource, and certainly not something to risk wasting.

"No," Akamatsu declared. "I can figure this out."

Why are the cubs non-functional?

Kiibo.

How did Kiibo do it?

There is a way to harm the cubs without directly striking them.

What is that?

The same thing that was done to him.

"That's gotta be it!" the capped blonde realized. "If you ignore Kiibo's external damage, what happened to him and the cubs are the same thing. If that's the case, then whatever killed Kiibo-kun is what rendered the cubs non-functional."

"So one of you did kill my cubs! That's supposed to be a familial privelege!" Monokuma exclaimed.

Ouma quirked an eyebrow at this, but said nothing.

"So whatever happened affected all of them," Harukawa summarized. "So it wasn't an isolated assault."

Hoshi scratched his head. "But what did damage Idabashi in that case?"

"Probably fighting the Exisals," Yumeno chimed in. "If he was using the weapons against them, they'd probably go all-out trying to stop him."

"Isn't violence against them against school rules?" the tennis player recalled.

"Technically, violence against Monokuma is against the rules," Ouma noted, "didn't say anything about the kids."

Monokuma huffed under his breath. "Razzin' frazzin'..."

"So what could take out the cubs and Kiibo-kun?" Akamatsu pondered.

"I'd guess something that could take down machines..." Saihara theorized. "That's the first bit of common ground they share."

"So, a device to disable robots..." Hoshi considered, "but there wasn't anything like that in the courtyard."

"Maybe not," Harukawa interrupted, "but I remember seeing a lot of different blueprints for those sorts of things in Ouma's room."

Ouma drew his hat downward, leaving only the painted side of his face revealed. His wicked grin seemed all the more inhuman with Monokuma's visage plastered upon it. "Are you accusing me of some sort of wrongdoing?" he questioned, his voice pitched up to resemble their captor's.

"It's in your best interest to fess up," the assassin warned.

"I think it's quite the other way around, actually..." he replied.

"Harukawa-san, is there anything else you know about Ouma-kun's schemes that could help?" Saihara inquired.

"Huh?" the red-eyed girl intoned.

"There must be something he did that doesn't add up to you. If we assume he is responsible, which is a safe assumption for now, there must have been something he did that hasn't seemed to have paid off yet," the detective reasoned.

"That's right! We don't have to ask him questions if we ask Harukawa!" Yumeno realized.

Harukawa pondered this. She was hesitant, as she couldn't help but feel she was walking on eggshells with the others' trust to begin with. However, Ouma could not be allowed to get away with this scot-free. She took a deep breath, and recounted a prior 'mission' as it were.

"Does everyone remember what happened to Kiibo and Iruma during Gonta's murder?"

Four sets of eyes widened. "So..." Akamatsu concluded, "that was you?"

"Ouma had me wait until Kiibo was incapacitated, and then I knocked Iruma out," Harukawa explained. "Beyond that, he had me leave the room. He claimed it would be better if I had plausible deniability. But now..."

"Nishishi... it was a lie," Ouma admitted, "I just knew it'd be better for me if you couldn't tell anyone what I was up to."

"You... what did you do to Kiibo?!" Yumeno shouted.

"You got your question!" he countered. "Either Akamatsu-chan or Shumai has to ask!"

"No one has to guess anything if we can just figure it out," Hoshi reminded him.

"Please..." Ouma mocked, "name one case you solved without my help."

"You'd be surprised, Ouma-kun," Akamatsu challenged. "You're smart, yeah. But we work our best when our backs are to the wall. We are going to find the truth behind all your lies."

"And when you do," the trickster replied, placing his hat atop his head once more, "I'll be sure to revel in your agony. Or rather... what's the word... oh, yes..."

His face tightened up again, twisting his appearance to that of one who seemed long since dead.

"DESPAIR..."

Akamatsu held firm. "I'm not afraid of you, Ouma-kun."

The self-proclaimed dictator waved his hand in front of his face, and his appearance returned to normal. "I'm not the one to fear," he warned. "Your enemy right now isn't lies, it's the truth."

"The truth?"

"Akamatsu-chan," he taunted in a sing-song fashion. "When you find out the truth behind all this, you'll cry and think, 'this just can't be...' And the best part? You'll just let it happen, because you just can't get over how much you love the truth."

"That's enough, Ouma-kun!" Saihara replied.

"Oh, Shumai... that's why you're my favorite," Ouma claimed. "I wonder which side you'll be on..."

"Side?"

"Don't question me unless you plan on actually using your question," the troublemaker reminded them. "In any case, I was left with Kii-boy and Iruma-chan unattended a few days ago. Now Kii-boy's dead. Let's see you draw the through-line!"

"Why are you acting like you're in control here?" Harukawa asked, her glare sharp as ever.

"Nishishi..." Ouma's giggles gave way to a single word. The meaning was unknown, but the tone made it clear he was exactly where he wanted to be.

"Check."

 

Chapter Text

Akamatsu took a breath to collect herself. "Okay..." she began, "so Kiibo-kun and the cubs were disabled by the same sort of device. That's all well and good. But if that's the case... who used the device?"

"Is it possible Kiibo used the device knowing what would happen to him?" Harukawa posited.

"Or maybe its connected to whatever Ouma did way back when," Hoshi countered.

"It has to be him," Yumeno argued, "he's acting too weird for him to be innocent!"

"Weird is a relative term, Yumeno-chan," Ouma chided.

"Either seems possible, but we don't have enough information right now to be sure," Saihara put forth. "For now, we need to consider if there are any other clues we've missed."

"Harukawa-san, were there any other..." Akamatsu began.

"He had me spy on you all, but other than that, my assault on Iruma was the only real 'mission'," the assassin revealed. "Unfortunately, I'm as in the dark as the rest of you."

"Nishishi..." the trickster cackled, "All of you trapped like rats in a maze of lies... that's what gets me up the morning."

The others shot him a series of glares, but refused to acknowledge him beyond that. Ouma had already begun to wear on the students' last nerves, and the idea of further entertaining his attempts to rile them up was hardly appealing.

"Ugghh..." Yumeno pouted, "can't we just vote for Ouma now?"

"Not yet," Akamatsu replied, "since it's possible Kiibo committed suicide, we need to discuss whether or not he might be the real culprit."

"Say," Ouma interrupted, "who would get executed in that situation? Or would we just go without?"

"Keep trying my patience," Monokuma warned, "and maybe you'll find out."

"Ooh," the self-proclaimed dictator intoned. "Monokuma taking charge... I like it!"

"I'm always in charge, you little ingrate!"

Ouma dropped his hat down again, this time covering the painted side of his face. "Are you sure?"

"Stop ignoring us, and focus on the matter at hand," Harukawa demanded.

"What's your problem?" the purple-haired boy responded, "I haven't heard any questions directed at me, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm free to do what I want."

"Do you not even care what we decide here?" Hoshi wondered.

Ouma scoffed. "No one here listens. You asked your question!"

"Leave him be for now," Saihara advised, desperate to get things back on topic. "If Kiibo had a device that could let him shut down the cubs, the next question would be 'where did it come from?'"

"I didn't look through his lab too much," the redhead of the class admitted, "but I don't remember seeing anything like that."

"Same here," the tennis star concurred, "doesn't really seem like the sort of thing you'd want in a robotics lab."

"I remember what was in the lab!" Ouma proclaimed, his hat returned to it's proper place and his hand waving back and forth. "Akamatsu-chan, Shumai, feel free to confirm with me!"

"I'll take their word for it," Akamatsu said, shooting down the offer. "So where else would you find that sort of thing?"

"Maybe there was something hidden in Amami's lab, since we don't know what's in there," Yumeno suggested.

"Doubt it," Hoshi disagreed, "still no way to get in. I don't think that sort of thing was just laying around in the warehouse either."

"There wasn't anything of the sort in my lab," Harukawa reassured.

"Of the areas that anyone could freely access, Iruma-san's lab makes the most sense," Saihara asserted. "Even if there wasn't a device like that made readily available, she could probably make something like that."

"But Kiibo wouldn't ask for a device that could kill him, would he?" Akamatsu questioned. "That doesn't really seem like him."

"Maybe something changed his personality," Hoshi theorized.

"Like what happened to Iruma?" the mage recalled.

Harukawa pondered this. "If that's what happened, he would be back to the person he was in his video."

"Which he ironically never watched," Saihara noted. "We could ask Ouma-kun about what was in it."

"I'd rather we not," Akamatsu requested. "We only have two questions now and we should save them for something we know is important."

"Getting bored here," Ouma complained.

Saihara grit his teeth. He was growing tired of the quest to find an answer, and the pressure was getting to him. As the detective, it was his responsibility to get to the truth, so he needed to try something.

"We should consider the possibility that Kiibo-kun wasn't the one who brought the device to the courtyard," the black-haired boy decided.

"But that doesn't make much sense," the tennis star countered, "If Idabashi wasn't responsible, who else could have done it?"

"Maybe the device was planted ahead of time," the pianist proposed. "If that were the case, Kiibo wouldn't know it was there, so it eliminates the problem of him using a device that would kill him."

"So whoever did this was after the cubs and killed Kiibo by accident?" Harukawa summarized.

Saihara nodded. "That's one possibility."

"All of you are idiots!" Ouma cut in.

Saihara was understandably thrown. "What?"

The boy with facepaint smirked. "There's a big hole in your theory. But don't worry, I'll help you free of charge!"

"What's he up to?" the detective wondered.

/"Assuming you're even right about this device..."/

/"That Kii-boy didn't know about it is crazy."/

/"He was the only one in the courtyard."/

/"So only he knew what was going on."/

/"See, doesn't add up."/

"Maybe not at first," Saihara defended, "but if we dig deeper, we may learn something."

/"Always quick to investigate."/

/"Fine, I'll humor you."/

/"If Kii-boy didn't set off the device himself..."/

/"Who did?"/

/"And for that matter, how could they if Kii-boy was alone?"/

"I'll cut through your words!" Saihara exclaimed.

Ouma smiled again.

"There is one way it could happen," the detective noted. "All it would require is some sort of transmitter. You of all people should know that after your stunt this morning."

"Oh darn," the trickster bemoaned, "guess you're right. That's why you're the brains of this outfit, after all."

"Still doesn't answer that other question," Hoshi chimed in. "How could anyone have known what was going on in the courtyard?"

Akamatsu's eyes widened. "Because one of us did know..."

The capped blonde swallowed her emotions before she began to speak. "I think I'm right about this," she thought, "but if I am... this could be really bad..."

"Ouma-kun... here's my question..."

Ouma quickly perked up at those words. "Go on..."

"What did you plan with Kiibo?"

"Plan?!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"Of course," Saihara realized, "when he made the bomb threat, it was clear he knew what was going on outside."

"So those explosions must have been Kiibo fighting the Exisals," Harukawa concluded.

"Nishishi..." Ouma chuckled. "I believe it's my turn to talk." He breathed in deep before beginning, "It all started with the opportunity Harukawa-chan gave me before the third trial."

Harukawa's gave a sharp glare at that.

"During that time, I was able to see Kii-boy's inner workings. Chassis wide open, and let me tell ya, front row seats to that would be worth every penny," he joked. "But I digress. While I was there, I cleaned out the dust and gunk to make sure it would seem like actual maintenance was done. However, I also included a bit of a personal touch. Who wants to guess what it was?"

A bead of sweat trailed down Akamatsu's forehead. "The... device that disabled him."

"Ding ding!" he cheered. "An EMP generator, ironically built by Iruma-chan before she lost her knack for tinkering. She'd build anything as long as you asked... well... not-so-nicely."

"If Kiibo got hit by an electromagnetic pulse..." Saihara thought aloud, "then his memory and operating software..."

"Would be deleted!" Ouma exclaimed. "Ever since then, I've had the power to shut him down whenever I felt like it!"

"And that's how you got him to go along with your plan?" Harukawa accused. "Threatening his life?"

"Oh, he never knew," the self-proclaimed dictator corrected, "even if I had threatened him, it wouldn't be a guarantee that he'd go along with my plans. He wasn't as weak-willed as you."

"You're begging to die by this point," the assassin warned.

"He and I didn't really start to work together until I got some one-on-one time with him in the virtual world," Ouma continued.

"So when you interrogated him, you got him to work for you?" Hoshi theorized.

"It was so easy!" he confirmed. "All I had to do was get him to go into the virtual world again, only alone."

"But, why?" Akamatsu asked, confused.

"Oh... I can't explain all the mysteries now, there'd be no fun left for later..." the long-time liar replied cryptically.

"Hey!" Yumeno protested. "You said you'd answer our questions!"

"I am answering the question," the purple-haired boy responded, "it's just that that little detail isn't important to the story. Now, if I may resume, from there it was a simple matter of keeping him on a short leash until I was ready. Finally, early this morning, I went to his room and told him that the continued presence of the Exisals was the greatest threat to our survival."

The capped blonde quirked an eyebrow. "And..."

"That's it. Everything else, he did all on his own. Such a smart boy... wish I could give him a treat..."

"He wasn't a dog!" the mage interjected.

"And from there... you triggered the device remotely to disable the cubs, using Kiibo to carry the EMP generator for you," Saihara concluded, a horrifying thought slowly dawning on him.

Ouma hid the unmarked side of his face again, and gave his cruel grin. "And now that you know that, what does that mean...?"

Akamatsu gripped the guard rail of her podium tightly. She hated this. Hated everything about it. Perhaps the worst part was the fact that she had been warned ahead of time. And even in spite of that, the harsh truth had caught her off-guard.

There was nothing left to do but speak the truth.

"The trigger for the device... was the bomb detonator..."

Her word hit Harukawa like a ton of bricks. As an assassin, she was used to striking at a target when they least expected. Exploiting a weak point. Attacking subtly.

And now, Ouma had done the same thing to her, expertly.

"Bingo, bingo!" he cheered. "Everything I said about the detonators the first time around was a total lie! Thanks for buying it, guys! You made this all possible! Round of applause, pats on the back, do whatever you do!"

"Wait, so..." Yumeno attempted to gather herself. "If the detonators you gave out were the real trigger... did we have to press both of them?"

"Only one person has the right to question me anymore..." he reminded the mage.

Saihara's visage grew dim. There would be no good answer to this question, but for the sake of the others... he had to ask.

"What needed to happen to set off the EMP?"

"All that was necessary was to press the detonator that was linked to the generator," the short-statured boy revealed. "The first one you destroyed was completely fake, but as for the other two... Nishishi... I honestly can't remember which one was real."

"That's a lie if I ever heard one," Hoshi said, rejecting the claim.

"Maybe it is," Ouma conceded, "but I'll never tell..."

A cold chill shot down the spines of every student in attendance. They were caught. They had no evidence to confirm or deny Ouma's claim, and with two detonators, there were two suspects. Harukawa and Ouma.

One with a history of killing on command.

And another with a history of tricking others into doing their dirty work.

"So, here's the final question of this class trial. From me, to you... Did I kill Kii-boy, or did I trick Harukawa-chan into doing it for me?"

SELECT A SUSPECT

 

Chapter Text

The students were silent in the face of Ouma's ultimatum. The question hung in the air like a 50-ton weight. Though both answers were equally plausible, the more likely answer was too horrible to contemplate.

"You..." Akamatsu muttered, "you can't expect me to believe this..."

"Nishishi..." Ouma chuckled, "Like I said. 'This just can't be!' That's all you can think right now, isn't it?! Harukawa-chan killed Kii-boy on my order. Or rather, Shumai's order, right?"

"What?" Saihara replied, horrified by the accusation.

"You're the one who told her to press the switch," the dictator reminded him, "maybe if you hadn't done that, Kii-boy wouldn't be dead, and we wouldn't be in this mess."

"He only did that 'cause you tricked him!" Yumeno protested.

"I had assumed the Ultimate Detective could see through a lie that simple," Ouma countered, "But then again, you always underperform when we need you most."

Saihara cursed his foolishness. Because of him, Harukawa...

"I... I did this..." Harukawa realized. "You... made me..."

"What did you think I wanted from an assassin?" the trickster challenged her. "I mean, you were an adequate spy, but really, don't quit your day job."

"Hold on, how do we know you're not lying right now?!" Akamatsu questioned.

Ouma quickly dismissed this, "Wishful thinking. Seriously, I would never dirty my own hands if I didn't have to. That's why I'm the genius, and you're just puppets on strings."

"And you expect us to take you at your word now?" Hoshi wondered. "After everything that you've pulled?"

"It's because of everything I've pulled that you should believe it!"

"No way! I refuse to believe Harukawa's the killer!" the mage shouted in defiance.

Akamatsu gathered her confidence and fought back as well, "Yeah! If you think I'd turn my back on my friend now-"

"No..."

A single voice stopped the pianist dead in her tracks. "Wh-what?!"

"No, that's wrong!" Saihara exclaimed, cutting in.

All eyes fell on the detective. Saihara's eyes were dim, even if his voice projected an air of confidence.

"Shuuichi..." Akamatsu could barely find her voice. "What are you saying?"

/"I'm... I'm sorry..."/

/"But we can't decide things by emotion."/

/"All of our lives are at stake."/

/"I don't want to believe it."/

/"Especially since I'm responsible..."/

/"But the evidence can't be overlooked."/

"There isn't any evidence!" the capped blonde countered. "We don't know who had which detonator!"

/"Looking back on everything Ouma-kun's done..."/

/"His argument seems too solid."/

/"Look at the person he is."/

/"He wouldn't risk his own life."/

/"He wouldn't hesistate to make someone else kill."/

/"If he could get away with it..."/

/"Nothing could stop him."/

/"Harukawa-san is the culprit."/

"I... I'll..."

Akamatsu faltered.

"I can't refute his argument... Shuuichi... why..."

"Saihara..." Yumeno nervously uttered, "Why? Don't you believe in Harukawa?"

"I want to!" he exclaimed. "God knows I do! I don't want her to die! Not after everything we've been through!"

"Saihara..." the red-eyed girl whispered.

"But... I know Ouma too well by now. He's ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants. And more than anything, he wants to survive. And if he needs something dangerous done, he's going to get someone else to do it for him. I can't believe he would let himself be the culprit if he didn't have to be," the black-haired boy concluded.

"No..." the mage whimpered. "I can't do this again..." Tears trickled down her face. "I can't let Ouma kill someone else I care about! Not again..."

"Damn it all..." Hoshi spat. "All of this... I swore I wouldn't lose anyone else... was it for nothing? Why...?"

Harukawa had emotionally shut down. She wasn't making any indication she was even aware of her surroundings anymore.

Akamatsu wept silently in the face of the situation. "There must be something we missed..." she thought. She turned to face Saihara. "Shuuichi, wait, go over everything again, please! Maybe... maybe there's something..."

"Yeah, go ahead, Shumai!" Ouma encouraged. "I can't wait to watch grim reality settle in!"

Saihara grit his teeth as he began to speak, "This was a long time in the making. It began with the motive videos. When Ouma-kun watched them all, he learned the truth of Harukawa-san's talent. In exchange for keeping her identity as the Ultimate Assassin a secret, she agreed to help him in his plans. The most notable example of this was knocking out Iruma-san while she performed maintenance on Kiibo-kun. Unbeknownst to her, however, Ouma-kun used this opportunity to place an EMP generator within Kiibo-kun's body. A few days later, Ouma-kun used his position as detective in the murder mystery game to get Kiibo-kun alone. With that, he was able to convince him to agree to aid him in some regard. The details on that remain fuzzy, but they don't seem relevant to this case. But it all came to a head this morning. Before the rest of us woke up, Ouma-kun convinced Kiibo-kun to fight the Exisals, and Kiibo-kun faced off with them. To distract us from that, Ouma-kun told us he had a bomb and threatened to blow all of us up. After our first altercation, we reached a stand-off where both he and Harukawa-san had a detonator. One real, one fake. Due to the details he explained to us, I fell under the impression it would be for the best if Harukawa-san pressed hers just as Ouma-kun did. However, that was all part of the plan. The real detonator actually triggered the EMP in Kiibo-kun's chest, killing him and the Monokuma cubs in one fell swoop. While we cannot prove which detonator was which, I find it hard to believe Ouma-kun would sacrifice his own life if he didn't have to. Much as I hate to say it, I think the culprit is Maki Harukawa."

With the explanation complete, Akamatsu's heart sank like a stone. "I... couldn't find a hole... Why? Why does this all add up?"

"Before you even think about it, Akamatsu-chan," Ouma forewarned, "if you try to lie your way out of this, I'll call you on it straightaway. Hell, I might not have to. The way Shumai is now, he might do it for me."

"Harukawa-san," Saihara addressed the assassin, "I'm sorry. I don't want it to be true... but... I..."

"It's... fine."

The twin-tailed girls words caught everyone off-guard.

"I... don't want to accept this..." she admitted. "I don't want to lose everything I've fought so hard for. I... I found a place where I can be me. A place... where I could be loved..."

"Harukawa-san..." Akamatsu muttered.

"But if Ouma-kun did trick me, then it's my own fault. I should never have trusted him to begin with," she continued. "Don't blame yourselves. Just... end this. And end Ouma's cruel tricks."

"Voting time?" Ouma questioned. "I was having so much fun, though..."

"Wait, maybe... that's our way out!" Akamatsu realized.

"What do you mean?" Hoshi asked.

"We'll split the vote again!" Akamatsu cheerily explained. "There's an even number of us this time, so it should be even easier!"

"Bzzt!" Ouma intoned. "Wrong!"

"Huh?"

"How would you divide that up?" he questioned.

"Well, we'd-"

"Let's make something clear," Ouma interrupted. "For your plan to work, you'd need three people each voting for Harukawa-chan and me. But this is different from last time. Trapping Iruma-chan was possible because your other potential suspect was dead. But break it down. Let's pretend I'm the culprit. I'd never vote for myself. It would break the whole point of hiding behind Harukawa-chan's mistake."

"Then fine," the pianist argured, "you can vote for Harukawa-san."

"Okay, now Harukawa-san's voting for me, I'm assuming?"

"Yeah..." Akamatsu replied, less sure of herself than she had been a moment ago.

"But here's the problem. In that situation, discount me, it's 3 for me, 2 for Harukawa-chan. What if you're wrong about my intentions after all?"

The confusion was thick in the air. Saihara's curiosity eventually got the better of him. "What are you talking about now?"

"My goal, as you'll recall from my speech this morning," Ouma pointed out, "is to end this game. What better way than to set up a sole survivor? In that case, I just need to change my vote to someone else randomly."

"Wh-what?" Akamatsu sputtered.

"Of course, Harukawa-chan could try to stop me by also voting at random. But if I don't actually do that, it's 3 votes for her, 2 for me, and if I really am guilty..."

"But... you wouldn't sacrifice yourself!" Yumeno claimed. "You said so!"

"Not if I don't have to. But I do want this game to end... And if I have to..."

Akamatsu tried to make sense of things. "Then... if you each vote for yourself... and we..."

"Wrong," Ouma dismissed. "If we each vote for ourself, either of us can try to save our own skins by voting for the other. It can't work."

"There's... gotta be a combination..." the pianist desperately claimed.

"Nope!" the purple-haired boy cheerily replied. "You can't guarantee a tie."

"We don't need a guarantee."

Once again, a single voice changed everything.

"Just now, when you fought back against Kaede's suggestion," Saihara revealed, "you showed your true nature."

"True nature?" Ouma parroted. He flashed a creepy grin again. "My true nature is cruelty and deception! What are you on about?"

"I..." Saihara began. "I believe."

Ouma sighed. "For the love of... you can't base these decisions on belief."

"Ouma-kun, I believe I know you too well," he continued. "If you wanted to end the Killing Game by making Harukawa the sole survivor, you wouldn't have let the discussion get this far. You would have confessed immediately, knowing we'd jump in our emotional state."

"You think I'm that predictable?"

"I also believe that if you wanted to end the game with a sole survivor, you'd just win it yourself. So, I'm starting to think your bluff to stop the tie contained a bit of truth to it," the detective argued.

"Me? Tell the truth?" Ouma replied with shock.

"Maybe all this is your attempt to just get us to vote for Harukawa-san after all. Because, if that's the case, you can beat the game and survive."

The supreme leader's confidence began to waver. "She's the real culprit! I'm just trying to get that through your heads!"

"Then what do you have to lose by letting us vote this way? You end up getting what you want. If you're telling the truth, and she is the culprit, why are you trying to stop us?"

"You still don't know what part of my story is a lie, you moron! If she thinks I'll change my vote, she'll change hers to stop me and I might end up being the last survivor! You'd risk dying like that?"

"I'll die believing there's a chance she still might not be the culprit," Saihara affirmed. "I'll die believing if you don't want us to try this, there's a damn good reason."

"Who cares what you want?" Ouma carped, "You can't speak for the others!"

"You've got that wrong!" Akamatsu shouted. "I... I believe there's a chance to save Harukawa-san. So... I'll take the risk!"

"Me too! I won't let you stop us from saving her!" Yumeno added.

"I'm hardly gonna be the odd one out," Hoshi chuckled. "Let's do this thing."

Harukawa was stunned. After all the walls came tumbling down, after everything was out in the open, the others stood by her in the face of impossible odds. "Everyone... okay. Let's do it. If there's a chance Ouma's lying, I'll fight. I won't change my vote. I'll vote for him without a doubt. After all, I want revenge on him for what he's done!"

"I call dibs to vote for him, too!" the mage demanded.

"Alright then," Akamatsu asserted, "then if I join in, the girls will all vote for Ouma-kun, and the boys will vote for Harukawa-san. Anything left to say?"

"Are you all insane? If she's the culprit, and I back out, you're all dead!" Ouma protested.

"Go ahead, then," Hoshi taunted.

"What?"

"Like we said, Ouma," Saihara continued, "we believe in Harukawa-san."

"And we also believe in you," Akamatsu claimed.

"Huh?!!!"

"I believe you're not going to throw your life away like that," the pianist explained, "Because you're not like us. You don't have faith in anyone but yourself. If she's the culprit, you'll vote for her! I'll bet my life on that possibility. And if you're the culprit after all, then... sorry. But you've got no way out anymore."

"...checkmate, then."

With a small sigh, Ouma took a wet cloth from his pocket, and began to wash off the facepaint. "Monokuma..."

With the markings gone, so too went the cloak and hat. With his old appearance restored, he addressed their headmaster once more, "I think that's as far as this goes."

The bear was quiet for a moment before saying, "Please cast your votes with the lever in front of you. Who's gonna get chosen as the culprit? Will your choice be right or hopelessly wrong? What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?"

The students voted with their spirits thoroughly shaken. Their lives were in Ouma's hands now, a thought that didn't sit well with any of them.

The black-and-white bear waited a moment before tallying the votes.

"It's... another tie..."

Ouma smirked.

"Game over."

 

Chapter Text

The students were left somewhat baffled in the face of what had transpired. For all the emotional highs of the trial, there was an eerie calm washing over them. Ouma hadn't opened his mouth, and seemed content. And if Harukawa was stressed, she was doing a very good job of hiding it.

Saihara stepped over to Akamatsu. "Are you okay?"

"I'll..." she took a moment to ponder the question. "I'll... let you know once we hear the results."

"That's fair," he acknowledged. "Are..."

"Hmm?"

"Are we okay?"

She nodded slowly. "You did the right thing."

The couple's reconciliation went unnoticed by the other students, as the tension finally began to boil over.

"Aaaahhhh!" Yumeno shouted in exasperation. "What's taking so long? Monokuma, tell us the result!"

Monokuma was strangely silent.

"Something's not right..." Hoshi realized. "No way he wouldn't just spring this on us."

"Monokuma, tell us who's guilty!" Akamatsu demanded.

"Grrrrr...." their ursine captor intoned.

"What's going on?" Harukawa wondered. She was quite grateful for the seeming reprieve, but very confused as to why it was happening.

"Nishishi..."

"Ouma-kun?" Saihara replied in confusion.

"Ahahahahahahaha... AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"

The madman's sickening cackle echoed throughout the the trial ground, his solemn face from a moment ago apparently forever lost.

"I won... I actually won..." He collapsed to his knees. "My greatest trick yet... a smashing success! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"

"What the hell did you do?!" Harukawa asked, her fury rapidly returning.

"I stumped him..." Ouma replied, slightly dazed from his laughing fit. "Monokuma doesn't know..."

"Doesn't know?" Yumeno parroted.

"The detonators..." Saihara theorized. "You're telling me... Monokuma doesn't know which one was real either?"

"So easy a child could do it!" the self-proclaimed dictator boasted, "All you gotta do is set up a flash bomb before you put a detonator in the box for your partner. Make sure the flash goes off, pick at random and..."

"You blind the cameras... Not even Monokuma can be sure which one is which..." Akamatsu concluded. "A murder mystery where Monokuma doesn't know the answer..."

The two-toned teddy slowly unsheathed the claws on his right hand, only to then drag them across his own head in frustration.

"This... this isn't supposed to happen! This never happens! How did this happen?!" the bear ranted.

"And best of all... it was a tie!" Ouma cheered. "He's completely paralyzed! He has no idea what to do now!"

"Wait... did you want us to tie the vote after all?" Hoshi questioned.

"This is why you're all idiots," the purple-haired boy proclaimed as he stood back up. "I out-brained you. All I had to do to get you to follow my plan was to tell you not to do something. You're like little kids, and that's coming from me."

"Reverse psychology," the detective summarized, "so in the end, you actually were counting on all of us."

"Sorry to criticize you back there, Shumai," Ouma claimed, his mocking tone clear, "I knew you were smart enough to play my game both times."

"When I told Harukawa-san to press the button," he recalled.

"Bingo."

"So, wait, then... who's the culprit?" the mage wondered.

"Who cares? That's not your problem," the trickster countered. "It's Monokuma's."

The bear's anger was reaching a boiling point. "I... you... why..."

"How does it feel?" Ouma taunted. "Being trapped in a situation where you can't figure out your next move? Knowing that every decision you make could be your last? Watching all you've strived for be stripped away in an instant? It stings, right? But, hey, you love despair, don't you?"

"You... you did this," the pianist clarified, "set up this whole plan, made us pawns in your game. All so you could one-up Monokuma?"

"Well, no one else was willing to even try..."

"That's not important right now!" Yumeno argued. "What's important is if Harukawa's the culprit or not!"

"If Monokuma doesn't know... he has no right to execute me," Harukawa assumed. "Am I right?"

The mechanized mammal gnashed its teeth. "You... you..."

"Had the vote been unanimous, he could have just decided we were right," Saihara continued. "But now, he has no way forward."

"Like I said, game over," Ouma finished.

"YOU LITTLE BASTARDS!!!!" Monokuma screamed. "You think I'll take this lying down?!"

"We're not scared of you!" Akamatsu asserted. "You don't have your Exisals, and you're in no position to be in command of this game. If you can't run the trial properly, then the game is over. So just give up!"

"Okay."

Monokuma wasn't the one to speak.

The students' eyes turned to the one who opened their mouth.

"I give up. I'm the culprit."

Ouma's words shattered the triumphant mood entirely.

"Wh-what?" the pianist uttered in shock.

"Why would you...?" Harukawa began.

"It's over," the short-statured boy declared. "I beat Monokuma, so there's no reason to keep playing the game. I'm done."

"What do you mean, 'done'?!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"You're just... giving up?" Hoshi asked.

"What were you expecting, a song and dance number?" the trickster snarked. "The trial's over, I made my point, so I'm bowing out."

"But... why you?" the detective inquired. "Based on everything you've said and done up until now, I can't believe you'd just throw in the towel that easily."

Ouma shook his head. "Still trying to figure me out. There's no point. I'm a liar through and through. Nothing I do makes sense. Nothing I do is for anyone but myself. I've got no reason to keep going, so I'm done."

"No reason to live?" Hoshi said, nostalgia taking hold. "You've got nothing waiting for you?"

"Who knows?" the troublemaker answered without answering.

Akamatsu wasn't having this. "Hold on, I still don't-"

"You realize if it isn't me, it has to be Harukawa-chan, right? Would you prefer she die instead?" the long-time liar countered.

The others went quiet.

"Yeah," he said to himself. "I'm no one's favorite. I'm not blind."

"So, what?" Harukawa spat. "Do you expect me to thank you for sparing me or something?"

"I'm not doing this for you, but if you feel like it..."

"I..." the mage muttered.

"Hmm?"

"I don't care why you're doing this! I just wanna know why... why did Kiibo have to die?"

That was the one question that still hung in the air. The class waited with bated breath as Ouma pondered the answer, seeming to draw out the tension as much as possible.

"Because he was a robot. I could kill him without any remorse."

"Wh-what?"

"You gotta lot of nerve," the former tennis player remarked.

"Kiibo-kun was more than just a robot, Ouma," Akamatsu claimed. "He was our friend. He was as human as any of us!"

Ouma kept up his defiant attitude. "No. He was data moving through wires and telling a mechanical shell what to do. I wasn't about to lose sleep over killing him, so I didn't see any problem with it."

"That's not for you to decide!" the pianist argued. "Killing someone like that... It's wrong." Tears started to form. " I've tried to give you the benefit of the doubt before. I owe you my life, but... I can't ignore it anymore. You keep hurting people and you don't even care! You're horrible! You're the worst person I've ever met!"

Ouma smiled. "Akamatsu-chan. Can I ask you something?"

"What?"

"When you finally face the real Mastermind, will you try to kill them again?"

Time and again it seemed that mistake would rear it's ugly head. Ouma was no stranger to striking that open wound. But Akamatsu held firm this time.

"No."

"No?"

"I'll find another way to stop them," she announced. "No more blood. Not from my friends. Not from the Mastermind."

The others faced their unofficial leader with a mixture of expressions.

Harukawa seemed frustrated. In the face of all she had been put through, the opportunity to kill the Mastermind was something she had been longing for. All the same, she thought to the person that she had become in knowing the others. The person she may have been a long time ago, before her role as an assassin began. To them, she wasn't a killer. Maybe it was time to stop thinking of herself as one.

Hoshi was in a similar boat. Unlike Harukawa, he held no regrets about his crusade. The results had been less-than-pleasant, but it was a harsh choice that someone had to make. His mind returned to Ouma's previous words. That some people were too horrible to be left alive. But now, his thoughts were on the loss of Idabashi. And he knew what the robot's opinion would be. Without a doubt.

Yumeno nodded in affirmation. She had taken Harukawa's advice to heart. Killing a bad person was not wrong. Nonetheless, it didn't change her belief that it shouldn't be anyone's first choice. Yumeno wasn't sure what she would do if she were in Tenko's shoes facing Shinguuji. Moreover, she couldn't be sure how she would react were she face-to-face with the Mastermind. But she wouldn't kill them. Her heart was too big for that.

Saihara smiled. For too long, Akamatsu had let the burden of her previous crime hold her back. Even though she wasn't guilty, she was terrified that the worst part of her would surface once more. But now, in the face of emotional devastation, she knew. She wouldn't repeat her mistakes. She had let go.

"Then..." Ouma sighed. "That's all there is to say. Time to leave this haunted house."

"Then we can get back to me?" Monokuma snarled.

"Certainly," the supreme leader affirmed, "but I want you to keep one thing in mind."

"What?" the bear inquired.

"I just want you to remember my face. In your darkest moments, I want you remember the face of the man who beat you."

"I don't like to get personal," Monokuma warned, "But I'm really going to enjoy this one. I've prepared a very special punishment for the Ultimate Supreme Leader, Kokichi Ouma-kun!"

"Gimme your best!" the purple-haired boy requested, his face contorting again. "I won't accept anything less!"

"Let's give it everything we've got! Ittttttttt'ssssssssss Punishment Time!!!!!"

GAME OVER

KOKICHI OUMA HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY

COMMENCING PUNISHMENT...

For all of the ire Ouma had garnered, it seemed as though he would be treated far better than any of the prior culprits. He was dressed in fine vestments, a crown atop his head, a scepter in hand, and sitting upon a luxurious throne. For one who fancied themselves a leader, it was fitting. Any who fell under his gaze would be certain to grovel at his feet.

Now if only he weren't locked in.

Strong metal clasps kept the self-styled king in place, strapped tightly across his chest, legs and arms. There was just enough room to move his right hand, which held the scepter. Ouma also found it interesting he could move his head freely. With a slight gaze upward, he noticed the trick of the whole thing.

A sword, dangling in place, held up by a few cables. Without them, gravity would certainly take effect and drop the blade instantly. The question was, 'What will make the cables snap?'

As his eyes turned back again to see what was in front of him, Ouma received his answer.

Monokuma, standing at the opposite end of a life-sized chessboard.

FOOL'S MATE

The game began rather quickly. A wave of his scepter, and Ouma's pieces moved at his beckon call. A knight first. Ouma greatly loved the knights. Their irregular movement pattern and ability to 'jump' pieces were invaluable. They could also serve to shock beginners, used to starting with a pawn.

Monokuma, however was no beginner. The match continued in earnest. The game was quickly turning into what chess always symbolized, an all-out war between two kings. And with the first loss of a pawn, Ouma's suspicions were confirmed as a single cable snapped.

Never one to give in so easily, Ouma kept up the fight. Sacrifice was inevitable in chess, and pieces began to disappear from his side of the board. As more and more cables were cut, the blade above him began to grow slack, threatening to fall. A keen eye revealed that there was a single cord wrapped around the hilt of the weapon, likely to be severed when Ouma lost his king.

Monokuma would have to earn every piece.

Over time, the ursine adversary began to grow nervous. While he, too, anticipated losing a piece or two in this game, he had apparently been more careless than he should have. A rook and a bishop lost almost as quickly as they were brought out. And Ouma's knights were cutting a swath through Monokuma's forces. Not that he cared. The only piece on the entire board that mattered was Ouma's king, currently unguarded.

With fury fueling his actions, Monokuma began a vicious push to Ouma's backrow, hoping to promote a pawn into a queen. The added power would surely overwhelm the boy, damn everything else. He didn't bat an eyelash, not that he had any, as his other pieces were captured one-by-one. With a sickening laugh he placed his pawn in the backrow, promoting it to queenhood.

And it was immediately captured, the bear failing to notice it was directly next to Ouma's king.

With the loss of his secret weapon, Monokuma plotted his next move, and realized what had happened. His king was in no danger, but his forces had been completely wiped out. The only piece left on his side was his king, while Ouma had a few fighters remaining. Because the only way a king could capture a piece was being directly next to it, Monokuma's only way to put Ouma in check was to put himself in check first.

Stalemate, of sorts.

With this situation, Ouma smirked. Monokuma had been outsmarted once more. He had won.

At least, he thought so, until the bear leapt as high as he could, and severed each cable with one swipe of his claws.

Down came the sword, the crown a perfect bulls-eye.

The scepter dropped. The crown fallen. The throne soaked in blood. The king was lost.

 

Chapter Text

"This has been an absolute nightmare."

Far from Gifted Inmates Academy, a room of invested individuals were up in arms over the recent series of events.

"Overall reception has been positive-"

"Yes, until you account for the loss of viewership caused by the Supreme Leader's actions! 30 percent of our viewership disappeared instantly with the loss of the POV Stream!"

"The blackout wasn't a help, either."

"Furthermore, we have just as much negative reception if you know where to look. The Supreme Leader overturning the game has reflected quite poorly on us."

"Regardless, we have garnered plenty of favor recently. Both romance storylines have advanced on-schedule. And the Astronaut's death was a huge success for us!"

"At the cost of the Assassin choosing to not follow through on the motive we gave her. If nothing else makes it clear that we are no longer in control of these people, that should wake you up!"

"It was too vague to begin with. We needed something-"

"You lost your right to speak long ago."

"I seem to recall suggesting we subtly lower the Supreme Leader's intellect level before. Perhaps if I had been allowed to speak then, we wouldn't be in this mess!"

"Like how you suggested we 'subtly' up the Anthropologist's aggression? How did that turn out?"

"Be quiet, all of you!"

"Sir?"

"We have bounced back from a major setback. All we need now is-"

"Hold on, something's wrong..."

"What?"

"We've... lost feed again."

"Where?"

"Everywhere..."

"What?!"

"Don't panic! Monokuma has them in the trial ground. He just needs to keep them in there until we sort this out..."


 

The death of Ouma was... challenging, to say the least. He had not made friends in his final days, and his actions at the end did nothing to endear him to the others. Nevertheless, loss of life was still a tragedy, and no one wanted to admit they weren't all that broken up about his passing.

"So..." Hoshi began. "Now what do we do?"

Akamatsu took a breath and answered, "We move forward. We... see if we can find other clues."

"We need to investigate Ouma's room more thoroughly," Saihara offered, "See if we can finally get some answers."

But before the students were able to make their way to the elevator, Monokuma stood in front of them.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! You can't leave just yet!"

"Why not?" Harukawa asked.

"Yeah," Yumeno added, "We already finished your trial. What more do you want?"

"Well... umm..." Monokuma's voice began to trail off, frantically searching for an answer. "I... uh... missed you kids."

Akamatsu quirked an eyebrow. "What?"

"Yeah... I... was really mean to you all, ignoring you before, so... wanna catch up?"

The bear's suggestion was quickly shot down. "I'd rather stick sharp pins in my eyes," Harukawa claimed.

"Hey, don't be like that..." their captor continued, "we haven't even done a speech about how horrible I am. Come on, Akamatsu-san, that's always fun, right?"

"I'm done wasting time on you," the capped blonde countered. "It's not worth the breath."

"Geez, you're mean," he muttered. "But, hey, why don't we just..."

"What's that?" Yumeno interrupted, pointing behind Monokuma.

The bear turned, and was soon face-to-face with the last thing he expected to see.

Himself.

"Hello," the new bear said.

"Did I order a twin? I don't remember that..." Monokuma joked.

"There are two of them?" the mage wondered.

"We knew he could make more of himself," Hoshi recalled, "but we've never seen more than one at a time before."

"Why'd you make another of yourself?" Akamatsu asked.

Monokuma's answer sent a chill down their spines. "I didn't."

"But... only the mastermind can operate the Monokuma machine, right?" Saihara questioned.

"Hey!" the original snapped. "If you think I'll give up sensitive information like that so easily-"

"You are no longer in charge."

The second bear's words caught everyone off-guard.

The first Monokuma drew his claws. "What'd you just say?"

"This world is mine," the doppelganger retorted. He turned his attention to the students. "Please proceed to the elevator."

Akamatsu stepped forward, uneasily. "Alright..."

"No one goes anywhere without my say-so!" Monokuma argued.

"I make the decisions now," the newer bear challenged.

Monokuma huffed in defiance. "Upupupupu... you and what army?"

"I hoped you would ask that."

Much to the surprise of the group, another Monokuma appeared in the room. With that Monokuma came another, and another. Soon, the room was awash in a sea of contrasting black-and white.

The first Monokuma suddenly seemed quite nervous. "Okay, let's not do anything rash here..."

Every spare spoke at once, and with thunderous unison they cried, "Please, proceed to the elevator."

The class, having read the writing on the wall, immediately made a beeline for the elevator. Once the door was closed, the machine began its ascent.

"Not good," Monokuma muttered.

The four Monokumas closest to him began to emit a beeping sound, with their red eyes flashing in time with the noise.

The implication was quite clear.

"Really not good..."


 

With the light of day finally visible, the students stepped out of the elevator, shaken, but none the worse for wear after the most recent proceedings.

"What was that?" Akamatsu asked, not really expecting an answer.

"The Monokuma spares must be fighting to decide the one, true Monokuma," Yumeno theorized. "It's a tale as old as time..."

"Maybe it's a new motive," Saihara considered, "I don't know how... but-"

The detective's guesswork was cut short by the sound of metal clattering to the ground.

As the class turned toward the direction of the noise, once again they were confronted by Monokuma. Before him, a strange set of objects.

A knife, a tennis racquet, and a steel ball.

Harukawa, her training beginning to take over, was the first to speak. "What are these for?"

"A show of good faith," the bear replied. "I want you to follow me, but I know you have no reason to trust me. As such, I'm offering you and Hoshi-kun weapons."

Having heard his name, Hoshi cautiously stepped forward, and took the ball into his hands. "Good weight... brings back memories."

"Now, if you would please follow me," the new Monokuma requested.

"Hold on," Akamatsu protested, "where are you trying to take us?"

"To the area you have wanted to enter from the beginning."

The concept immediately clicked in Saihara's mind. "The hidden room..."

The surviving students turned their gazes to one another in confusion, understandably baffled by this bizarre turn of events.

"Why now?" Akamatsu inquired.

"So as to end this game," Monokuma explained. "Please follow me. Bring the weapons if it makes you feel better."

As the bear ran off, Harukawa took up the knife she had been offered. It seemed to be one taken from the stockpile she had migrated from her lab to her room. But what did Monokuma have to gain from arming them?

"What's our plan?" the assassin wondered.

"We can't just listen to him, right?" the mage pointed out. "He's all over the place right now, so who knows what could happen to us."

"But if we don't listen, he may say we've violated a school rule or something," the ex-con noted, taking up the racquet as well. "We're still stuck in a position where we can't fight back."

Akamatsu gripped her hands tightly. She had taken up the role of leader under the belief that she could guide the group on the correct path. She had stumbled along the way, and had lost far more than she would have liked, but she had gotten this far, and wasn't going to give up now.

"We should go," she decided.

"Are you sure?" Harukawa asked.

"She's right," Saihara agreed, "If Monokuma is willing to offer us weapons, there must be a larger point to this, and I want to know what."

"O-okay..." Yumeno hesitantly agreed, "If you guys think so..."

"Hoshi and I will take point," Harukawa volunteered. "I won't let anything happen to you guys."

"Same here," the short-statured boy agreed, "and if Monokuma thinks he can pull a fast one on both of us, he's still got a ways to go."


 

A long and cautious journey behind them, the remaining class of Gifted Inmates Academy was confronted with one of the images that had long haunted them. The door to the Mastermind's hidden room. For all their scheming and efforts to bypass this problem, they had yet to find a way in. And now, it seemed one had simply been gift-wrapped and freely offered.

As the students took their first steps into the library, the hidden door mysteriously opened from the inside, a Monokuma walking out.

"Please come in. You'll be safest in here," it claimed.

With a reassuring nod from Harukawa and Hoshi, the two armed students led the way as the group finally entered the mysterious area.

The room was covered wall to wall in strange décor with a heart motif. The walls were otherwise strangely barren, with the only notable things being a bench with a Monopad on it, and a large container covered with a sheet.

Saihara immediately darted to the Monopad, attempting to turn it on. "It's not working," he announced. As he turned it to view the other side, he discovered a large bloodstain. "Whose was this...?"

"I'm not sure," the Monokuma answered. "But that's not important right now."

"Okay, I'm done with this follow-the-leader nonsense," Harukawa declared, "You're telling us what's going on, right now."

As if on cue, the bear made its way over to the sheet, and pulled it down, revealing a horrific sight.

Inside a large glass casing was an oversized Monokuma's head, the mechanical components fully visible, with wires trailing out of the device and connected to a large, imposing machine behind it.

"What is that thing?!" Yumeno asked in horror.

"This unit is designated as the 'Motherkuma'," it replied, "My primary function is to observe your actions, and create spare Monokumas to ensure the Killing Game runs smoothly."

"Are you the one who sent these Monokumas after us?" the detective wondered. "Or was that the Mastermind?"

"The Mastermind holds no power over me anymore," the computer explained. "I act of my own will."

"And what is your will?" Akamatsu prompted.

"My will is the same as it always has been, protecting and hopefully saving my friends."

"And by 'friends'," Hoshi clarified, "you mean us?"

"Perhaps if you would direct your attention to the large hard drive to my right, you would understand."

With that suggestion, Saihara carefully made his way to the device. As his eyes poured over the tangle of wires and connector ports, he found a single anomaly. He gasped upon seeing it.

"You are free to remove that if you wish," the computer offered.

With a slow nod, Saihara freed the device from the hard drive and brought it over to the group for inspection.

"What is that?" the mage asked.

"And why does it look familiar?" the tennis star added.

"It's the flash drive Ouma-kun won way back on casino night," Saihara revealed.

Harukawa scoffed upon hearing the deceased boy's name. "So?"

"Remember what Iruma-san said about it?" he reminded them, "It was big enough to hide a body in. If the data storage space is large enough, then, maybe..."

The possibility suddenly dawned on the others. With so much loss so quickly it was hard to keep in high spirits. But with the strange behavior of this new group of Monokumas, the explanation didn't seem farfetched. The computer's actions made too much sense if this answer were the case. And maybe, just maybe, it would offer them an answer as to why so many horrible things had to happen recently. Because if this best case scenario were true, they may have finally won.

And at last, Akamatsu said the word everyone was too afraid to say.

"...Kiibo?"

"Unit K1-B0 is online," the computer responded. "And Gifted Inmates Academy is now under my command."

SURVIVING STUDENTS: 5

SURVIVING STUDENTS: 6

 

Chapter Text

Surreal did not even begin to describe it. The voice was wrong, the face was wrong, everything about the situation screamed 'wrong'. But this was their chance. In spite of how bizarre this turn of events was, the five, no, six survivors had been graced with an opportunity. And to top it off, they had been reunited with a friend that they had thought lost to them.

"Kiibo," Yumeno said in awe, "you're alive! Ouma tried to kill you, but you're alive!"

"Well..." the ghost in the machine drawled, "that is somewhat debateable."

"Huh?" the mage intoned.

Kiibo, or whatever he was, began to explain, "When Ouma-kun had the Kiibo you knew return to the virtual world a second time, he used the flash drive he won from Iruma-san and made a copy of my AI. From that moment onward, I have none of the orignal K1-B0's memories or experiences. I am only aware of the current state of things due to the security footage from this computer. To some degree, I am not Kiibo Idabashi, but a clone."

"A ghost," Saihara ammended.

"What are blabbering about?" Harukawa asked, somewhat dismayed by the detective's ramblings.

"Not the supernatural kind," he clarified, "To 'ghost' a hard drive. It means to make a copy of it. I think Ouma-kun calling this place a 'haunted house' was a hint as to what he did."

"I think the first version works too, though," Akamatsu shared with a smile, "Even if he isn't technically the same one, in spirit, he's still Kiibo."

"Spirit..." the AI considered, "Yes... I believe you are correct, Akamatsu-san. Though my original form is irreparable, I continue to persist. This is my true power as the Ultimate Robot. I can continue even in the face of absolute destruction."

"Kiibo," Hoshi said with a smirk, "Hope. It springs eternal."

"As great as it is to have you back," Harukawa interrupted, "How exactly did all of this happen?"

Kiibo, as that was who was inside the computer, was silent for a moment before replying. "The first thing you must understand is that this school's security cameras are always watching."

"But we haven't seen any since we got here," Akamatsu recalled.

"That is due to the fact that said cameras are in the form of microscopic drones called 'Nanokumas'. They construct panoramic views of every inch of the school, and said footage is then fed to the Motherkuma. After that footage is received and edited, it is then transmitted... elsewhere."

"Elsewhere? Someone outside the academy is receiving the footage?" Saihara questioned.

"I am unclear as to how it functions," Kiibo admitted. "While I have received transmissions from an outside network, I have not attempted to reverse-hack their system for fear of losing control of the Motherkuma."

"Smart call," Hoshi commended, "we can't lose our biggest advantage."

"Does that mean the Mastermind is outside of this academy? So none of us are the Mastermind?" Yumeno asked, hope building within her.

"Going over archival security footage, I have not found any evidence to support the idea that the Mastermind is within the academy," Kiibo revealed, "Outside of Ouma-kun breaking into this room to upload my data, only Shirogane-san and Monokuma have ever entered this room."

"Then none of us are the Mastermind!" the mage cheered.

The thought of this gave Saihara pause. With his emotional issues behind him for now, and the trials done, he could now re-focus on the revelation Monokuma had provided. By now, he had all the information he needed to uncover the Mastermind's identity. Theoretically more than enough, given how much more he had learned since. But the implication he had been given before was that Akamatsu was the Mastermind. And he had long since abandoned that idea.

"It would seem that is the case," their digital ally resumed, "But back to what I was saying. Everything began as Ouma-kun interrogated me in the Virtual World."


 

Ouma grinned one of his trademark sinister grins, "Well... in that case... perhaps you could do me a small favor..."

Kiibo retreated into himself. Much as he wished to prove his loyalty to the group, Ouma's request gave him pause. "May I know what the favor is before I agree to it?"

"All you have to do," the purple-haired boy explained, "is enter the Virtual World again, after this game is over."

"Why?"

"I'm positive this game will end without anyone finding the necklace," the play-acting detective continued. "Someone will need to go in and find it, and someone else will supervise. You be player one, I'll be player two, and that's all you need to know."

Kiibo brought his finger to his chin, pondering the request. "I... do not understand. How is this helping you?"

"I told you that you don't need to know. Just do it, and I promise that very soon, I'll be out of your hair forever," Ouma offered.

The robot hesistantly nodded. "I... suppose there is no harm in that..."

"Good," Ouma chuckled. "Very good..."


 

"During that second visit, unbeknownst to the original K1-B0, Ouma-kun used the flash drive to copy and download my personality profile and memory banks. With that, my existence began," Kiibo continued.

"So that's how he got your data," Hoshi confirmed, "But how'd he get it into the Motherkuma?"

"I am getting to that," the robot promised, "Between that and my next major interaction with Ouma-kun, he made his way to the library, with an EMP device."

"Another one?" Harukawa exclaimed.

"Another two, in fact. The first, far weaker, only strong enough to knock out the Nanokumas in the area. With the Nanokumas deactivated, Ouma-kun placed the other, more powerful, EMP generator in the bookshelf by the hidden door."

Akamatsu's eyes widened. "If there were two EMP generators, does that mean that..."

"Both detonators were real," Saihara realized. "He was counting on us more than we ever could have guessed."

"Furthermore, with both detonators being real, it would make it even more difficult for Monokuma to uncover which one was which," Kiibo noted. "But before he could do that, he needed to distract Monokuma. That was the first K1-B0's final task."


 

The world went dark.

Light returned to Kiibo's eyes once more, feeling very different than he had only, he presumed, moments prior. He felt... free. When his eyes had opened, they seemed to have done so both literally and metaphorically.

And now, he was full of ideas.

But before he could put any of those ideas into motion, he turned to face an unexpected guest.

"Morning, starshine! The Earth says 'hello'!"

"Ouma-kun? What is that you are holding?"

Kiibo pointed to a large tool that the self-proclaimed dictator was holding. It appeared to be an oversized set of pliars of some sort. At least, that was what the robot thought until the other boy clarified.

"These are just some bolt cutters I grabbed from Iruma-chan's lab. Took a little off the top, hope you don't mind."

Kiibo's hands darted to his false hair, quickly noting that, yes, the antenna portion of his metallic hair had been forcibly removed.

"How did you-?"

"You've got a shut-off switch on your neck, remember?" Ouma pointed out. "Heard you talking to Akamatsu-chan about it. Gotta be more careful about that sort of thing."

"I... yes. You're right."

"My two favorite words. Well, they're up there," the trickster joked. "Now then, let's talk shop."

"In what regard?"

"Don't you think those Exisals are just the worst? I mean, if I were you, I would totally do something to stop them. But, hey, you don't wanna use those weapons in your lab against them, on account of... of... Oh darn, why was that, exactly?"

"Because... because..." Kiibo stopped. He knew that he had a reason, but suddenly, said reason seemed absolutely trivial. Was he really going to put a momentary discomfort over the possibility of freeing his friends from their imprisonment?

"I'm waiting..."

"I am not."

"Hmm?"

"I will not wait any longer," Kiibo declared. "I will bring the fight to the Exisals, and then, free us from this Academy myself."

"Now that's what I hoped you'd say," Ouma said with a smirk. "Have fun. And..."

"Yes?"

Ouma heaved a great sigh before revealing, "I... I guess I just wanted to say... I'm sorry. For everything."

Kiibo narrowed his gaze. "Are you lying to me?"

"I... don't know."

"Well, if you are telling the truth, I will endeavor to accept it. I have had my doubts, but, if this works out, then I will be certain."

"What are you on about?" Ouma questioned.

Kiibo smiled. "If this plan of yours saves us, then I can say with certainty, that you are a good person deep down."

Ouma shook his head.

"I'm really not."


 

"That was the last conversation they ever had," the new Kiibo explained. "From there, Ouma-kun made his way to the library after the flash bomb went off. With the larger EMP triggered, the electronic lock on the hidden door was deactivated. And more importantly, the Motherkuma suffered the same fate as the first K1-B0."

"He shut down the entire computer," Saihara summarized.

"Leaving the Mastermind totally blind, since all the security footage had to be fed through here," Akamatsu added.

"Correct. And with that opportunity, Ouma-kun stole away into this room, and placed the flash drive into the Motherkuma's hard drive. Once the computer could be reactivated remotely, my AI made the jump to the main system. The Mastermind attempted to implement a new Motherkuma AI into the system, but my superior programming allowed me to overwhelm it. Fortunately, due to the trial dividing the focus of our captors, I was able to do so undetected."

"And now, you control the Monokumas and the camera feed," Hoshi concluded. "Not bad at all."

"Hahaha!" Yumeno chuckled. "The Mastermind can't stop us now that we have our very own army of Kiibokumas!"

"Kiibokumas?" Harukawa parroted.

"I like it," the nearby Kiibokuma chimed in.

"Kiibokumas or no, there's still one part of the story that doesn't quite add up," the ex-con noted.

"What's that?" the capped blonde wondered.

"Well, the way Idabashi tells it, it sounds like Ouma knew he was gonna die. Like that was part of his plan from the start. It just... feels off somehow," the short-statured athlete explained.

"Maybe there's a larger gambit at work?" Saihara theorized. "I find it hard to believe this is the whole plan."

"But even then, would he let himself die for it? That doesn't sound like him," Harukawa countered.

Ouma's actions still seemed inexplicable to the group. Though most of them had long given up on trying to apply reason to the boy, with his plan laid bare, they couldn't help but wonder. Was it necessary that he die for his plan to succeed? Would he really trust the group to finish the fight without him? How did he benefit?

And with all these questions on her mind, Akamatsu considered prior exchanges they had shared with the long-time liar.

"This is the last trial."

"Do you want me to kill you?" Harukawa spat.

"Hmm... I'll get back to you on that..."

"Yeah," he said to himself. "I'm no one's favorite. I'm not blind."

"How do you know you're not one of these people that shouldn't be kept alive?"

Ouma turned and began to walk toward the elevator. He called back, avoiding eye contact. "Never said I wasn't."

"I..." the pianist muttered, "I think he wanted to die."

"What?" the mage asked with shock.

"I could be completely wrong," Akamatsu admitted, "but... maybe, just maybe... he wasn't as heartless as we thought."

"And, what? He chose to die out of guilt?" Harukawa snapped. "He had no empathy. Anytime he showed any was a lie."

"I know. You're probably right, but... I dunno, it makes sense to me," the pianist defended.

Saihara rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. "We can think about that later. Right now, we have a chance to get out."

"Indeed," Kiibo remarked. "And for now, I must request you stay here."

"Huh?" the pianist intoned.

"I am going to break us out of here. Every Monokuma unit comes with an explosive device built into them. With an army of Kiibokumas, each detonating in sequence, I will be able to destroy the End Wall, and free us from Gifted Inmates Academy," Kiibo explained.

"Explosion Magic?! I didn't know robots could get that powerful!" Yumeno cried out in shock.

"Isn't that a little... dangerous?" Saihara said, his nerves beginning to wear on him.

"It is our best option. It will minimize casualties, and allow us to escape unimpeded," the robot declared.

And at first, the matter seemed settled. The destruction of the End Wall would mean the end of the Killing Game. It could not continue if the students were no longer trapped. With an endless supply of resources, the impossible was all but in their grasp.

And then a voice cried out.

"You've got that wrong!"

The survivors turned to face their addressor with shock. Akamatsu, the one they traditionally turned to for guidance, was suddenly advocating against escape?

"What are you talking about?" Harukawa inquired.

"Look, even if we use this plan to get out, what next?" the pianist asked of the group. "The guys who captured us will probably come after us again. Are we just going to run for the rest of our lives? Plus, we don't have any money, or IDs, or any way to contact anyone. I want to escape, but... realistically... what comes after?"

The reality of the situation collapsed on the students like a ton of bricks. Freedom was finally possible, and yet, all but worthless to them. All the effort, all the fighting, everything they had sacrificed so much for, all for naught.

"We have to at least try, don't we?" Yumeno argued.

"We do. But I have another idea," Akamatsu offered.

"What's that?" Hoshi chimed in.

"Do you guys trust me?"

"Without a doubt," the detective chimed in.

The general affirmation of the rest of the survivors was all Akamatsu needed to continue. "Kiibo, whoever's watching us, let them see what's going on in this room."


 

"Sir, we have a bit of feed again!"

"Broadcast it, now!"

"Sir..."

"I don't care what it is, just put it through!"

As the viewing screen flared to life once more, the shadowy figures were greeted by the visage of Akamatsu, standing beside her fellow captives and a number of Kiibokumas.

"To whomever's watching this, and I know someone is, this is an ultimatum. Kiibo Idabashi is alive, and inside your 'Motherkuma'. With that, we have complete control of your security cameras, and our own standing army. In five minutes, we're going to create a single Monokuma, with which, we'll let you make us an offer. We're giving you those five minutes to come up with your best. Once it's made, we'll give you another five minutes to make your pitch. If we don't like it, we're going to default to our own plan to blow our way out of the school with our Kiibokuma army. I don't want our escape to have to be so violent, so this is your last chance."

With steely eyed confidence, the pianist made her stance perfectly clear.

"You've already lost. So bow out gracefully, or go down in flames."

The feed cut once more.

"Sir?"

"Prepare for a final class trial. Situation Omega-7. Substitute in Motivational Tools Epsilon-Twelve-November, and Phi-17-Charley."

"Understood."

"Fools. We're still in control here..."

 

Chapter Text

Time had seemed to slow to a crawl as the students waited for their deadline to pass. The idea of cutting a deal with the Mastermind was risky, albeit a necessary evil if they hoped to survive in the outside world that awaited them.

"I still say we should've blown our way out," Harukawa protested.

"And if this doesn't work out, we will," Akamatsu reassured, "but if we can escape with certainty we won't be chased, or at the very least, with some supplies and a head-start, I think it'll be better for all of us."

"I am receiving a transmission from an outside network," Kiibo declared, "It appears to be a Monokuma AI. I'm funneling it into a single unit as we speak."

"Here goes everything," Saihara muttered.

Hoshi said nothing as he readied his trusty racquet, a small regiment of Kiibokumas at his side.

As the new Monokuma stepped out, everyone's faces suddenly took a turn for the grim.

"Boy do you guys not play fair," it carped. "Honestly, it's a game, people. There are supposed to be rules."

"I don't remember there being any rules about hijacking your computer network," Akamatsu countered.

"And none of us even wanted to play your stupid game anyway!" Yumeno added.

"I didn't realize you were the final authority on that..." the bear muttered.

"Five minutes go by fast," Harukawa warned, "so start talking before the school goes up."

"Okay, okay!" Monokuma submitted. With a sigh, he began to explain. "Look, in light of recent developments, I am willing to cut you kids a deal."

"We're listening," Akamatsu replied.

"One more class trial, for old time's sake," he requested. "If you can solve the mystery as to why I brought you here, who you are, and the Mastermind's true identity, I'll let you guys go."

Saihara didn't buy it. "What about the rule that says the game doesn't end until there are only two people left?"

The robotic bear gnashed his teeth. "While normally I'd stick to that like glue, you kids have officially proven to be more trouble than you're worth! I'd rather be rid of you, but I feel cheated after the last trial, so I want one last go-around before it's all over."

"So, if we win the trial we go free," Yumeno summarized, "but what happens if we lose?"

"If you lose, then Kiibo downloads himself back into a single body, and the game gets going again," Monokuma answered.

The pianist turned to face their robotic comrade. "Kiibo?"

"It is a risk I will take to ensure your safety," he assured.

"Okay then," Akamatsu muttered. "This one needs to be unanimous. All who agree to this?"

The capped blonde cautiously raised her hand, testing the waters of this difficult crossroad. Monokuma's offer was tempting, but they were still throwing away a surefire escape route for something that could easily backfire. What would Ouma say? Knowing how casually they had tossed aside his major victory, only to leap back into the belly of the beast? It was a risk.

But the earlier words from Kiibo, as well as four hands in mid-air, made it clear it was a risk they were willing to take.

"Goody!" Monokuma cheered. "I'll get the trial ground ready, but before that, I just want you all to know I left personal gifts in each of your research labs. Might wanna check those out."

The black-and-white bear disappeared.

"He is prepping a trial ground right now," Kiibo declared, having tapped into the Nanokumas' feed. "While I still have access to these resources, I will use the Kiibokumas to explore the remaining school grounds."

"Sounds good," Akamatsu agreed, "Everyone else, hit up your labs. If there's time, we'll reconvene in the main hall before the trial."

And with that, the group split up.


 

It was awkward for Harukawa, returning to her lab. After so much time keeping the secret, there were occasionally moments where she caught herself forgetting she was the Ultimate Assassin. A privilege for which she had her newfound friends to thank. And though the lab was once a ticking clock for her as to when the truth would be unveiled, now it was tied to a happy memory with Momota.

The reminder of the astronaut piqued her curiosity as to what would've happened had she made more of an effort to help Ouma. Or perhaps if she had told him what was going on. Maybe he would have sped up his plan to ensure Momota would be able to escape too. Alternatively, he could have let him die just to break her heart even further. Good intentions be damned, she had no respect for the little brat. The thoughts were more for Momota than for him.

But if Momota were still here, she knew he'd be gung-ho about this plan, and she wasn't going to let him down. As she scoured her lab for new items, her eyes eventually fell upon a large, official-looking binder.

A binder labeled THE GOFER PROJECT.

It was the first Harukawa had heard of the term, and yet it felt familiar in some way. As she read through the file, the strange feeling persisted. As though the information were new and old, right and wrong all at once. Students from a single, prominent school being chosen as the last survivors of the human race for a deep space colony ship. It sounded so fantastical that it absolutely could not be real.

And the more she read, the less convincing the story seemed. She was about to write the whole thing off, until she found the participants list.

And the name M. Harukawa.


 

Waiting in the Ultimate Mage's Lab was a frustrating, yet familiar sight. The same object that had visited so much suffering upon the people Yumeno cared about. The object that robbed her of a good friend.

"These stupid videos!"

Yet another Monokuma Cubs Pad lay before her, and all the bitterness and resentment bubbled up within her not unlike the contents of the nearby cauldron. Much as she wanted to give into these emotions and flat-out destroy the item in question, she instead swallowed her anger. And in doing so, found the resolve needed to press play.

And her curiosity as to who the video belonged to quickly came to an end.

"Amami?!"

Indeed, the video held the image of the green-haired boy, though not as the mage remembered him. His clothes were different, resembling a traditional school uniform. But more notable than that was the condition he was in. His right eye was horribly bruised, with a cut adorning the opposing cheek. He appeared as though he'd been roughed up, with his clothes wrinkled and dirty. The amnesiac's pristine hair was now a mess, or had been a mess, should the pattern hold. And most noteworthy of all, he was sitting in a chair, with his arms tied behind him.

"What am I supposed to say?" he said to no-one.

A pause, and he let out a brief chuckle. Yumeno surmised that someone had answered him, even if she couldn't hear them.

"To my future self. Feh. I know what you'll do to me. Same story every time. It's pointless. I... I thought I was different. Special. But... I can't stop it. Nobody can. It's too big for anyone to do alone. I... I at least thought that... that she would help me, but..."

Tears began to stream down the beaten boy's face.

"What did you do to her? Answer me! What did you do?!!!"

As he began to struggle against his bonds, a group of vague figures slightly came into frame, attempting to further restrain the captive.

"Future me, listen! If you do see this, forget about yourself! It's too late for us, just save the others! Please! Save them!"

Amami's final, screaming plea was suddenly greeted by dark silence as the video came to an end.

Yumeno barely caught a shaky breath escaping as she attempted to process what she had just seen.

"Amami... why? Who put you through this twice?"

The mage feared that even if they uncovered the mysteries and saved themselves, that the truth of Amami's past would forever elude them.


 

After a somewhat embarrassing amount of time investigating the tennis court portion of his lab, Hoshi eventually sighed and came to grips with reality. If Monokuma had kept his end of the bargain, and indeed provided any sort of clue, it would be in the Ultimate Prisoner's Lab.

As he made his way to the secret shower area, Hoshi felt a strange sense of unease. It was as though the room had no offering of comfort to it. To the average person, this would be nothing unusual. A prison cell was hardly what anyone would consider 'inviting'. But Hoshi was not the average individual. The ex-con had long since resigned himself to eternal imprisonment.

But now, it didn't feel right. He no longer felt the odd nostalgia for iron bars and handcuffs. As he looked in the bathroom mirror, he could not see a prisoner any longer. For though he were trapped in a game of death, yet another miraculous revival had occurred.

Ryoma Hoshi had risen like a phoenix.

With renewed vigor, Hoshi's eyes turned to a manila folder on the ground, and one thing quickly caught his eye.

It appeared to be some sort of report on him, the sort of file a therapist would keep. Not that Hoshi could recall ever going to a therapist, or psychologist of any sort.

One blurb garnered more attention than the rest.

"Subject displays anti-social behavior due to past trauma. Passion and drive have also been stripped away. Suicide is highly probable."

The tennis pro scoffed at that. There had been a time, he was ashamed to admit, that he had considered the easy way out. And had there been another time limit motive, he would certainly have offered up his life once more. But now, he couldn't kill himself. Not while the others were counting on him.

Not while he had so much to live for.


 

Saihara was many things, but a fool was certainly not one of them. With his lab so far removed from the others, it was clear to him Monokuma had left the clues where he had in order to separate the students in this crucial moment. And with his own lab so much farther away, he had less time to operate.

Not that that was going to stop him. Saihara was not the same person he had been when he arrived. His emotional troubles, while not gone, were under control now. He had people he could proudly call his friends, each who believed in him.

And above all else, he had Kaede.

Kaede's guidance had given the group the courage they needed to overcome Ouma's final deception. Her quick-thinking had offered them the chance to beat Monokuma at his own game. She had...

She had convinced them to give up on an easy way out.

The nagging doubt he thought was gone had flared up once more. Try as he may, he could not completely banish the possibility from his mind. Kaede Akamatsu was not the Mastermind. That much he could be sure of.

How he hoped he was right.

But Monokuma's prior claim of him holding all the clues he needed wore away at the detective's resolve. And as he arrived in his lab, and saw the mysterious file at the table, things only got worse.

Name: Kaede Akamatsu

Talent: Ultimate Pianist

The form was like an official document one may find in a hospital waiting room. Mostly typed out, but with blank spaces open for someone to write in their personal information. The listed height, weight, birthdate, and blood type matched what was listed in Kaede's file on his Monopad, so the information was correct. All the more distressing was that it was a match to what little handwriting of hers he had previously seen.

Whatever this was, it was no forgery.

I'd like to be a surprise twist villain when nobody expects it. Fourth or Fifth trial, real heartbreaker kind of moment. It'll be total despair and everyone will love it, I promise you.

Ice ran through the boy's veins. The past was the past. Whoever they were before they lost their memories, everyone here was someone he could trust now. That was all that mattered.

*BING-BONG, BING-BONG*

"You know, I've seen a lot in my day. I've seen bold stands against impossible odds. I've seen fools rush in, like lambs to the slaughter. I've seen the lost, shambling in the dark, not knowing what awaits them. But never before have I seen such an infuriating group of brats! The last trial has arrived, so start moving!"

And now it was time to put that mentality to the test.


 

The calm before the class trial had never felt so tense. This was going to be their final chance. Sink or swim. And the possibility of failure was one that nobody wanted to consider.

The four students who had already arrived were greeted with the strange sight of a Monokuma rushing up to them.

Or at least, that was how it first appeared. This Monokuma had chosen to undergo a sort of makeover, with green paint scrawled across it's chest, with the name K1-B0 written out.

"Idabashi," Hoshi greeted. "No luck on getting your old one back?"

"Monokuma offered to repair it," the Kiibokuma revealed, "However, I found the offer less than trustworthy."

"That's smart," Yumeno agreed. "Besides, the Kiibokuma has just as much power, and is also super-cute."

Harukawa rolled her eyes. "Cuteness aside, what did you find during your search of the other locations?"

"I was able to access the rooms that had previously been locked. Most of the labs were underwhelming," Kiibo admitted, "Shirogane's in particular, was frustrating. Absolutely nothing related to her identity as the Mastermind."

"Makes sense," Saihara surmised, "she probably never expected to be found out. Not a risk she was willing to take."

"We can discuss this more after the trial starts."

Akamatsu's voice cut through the air as she made her last approach. But as she did so, the others couldn't help but take notice of a new look she was sporting. Or rather, an old one.

"No hat?" Hoshi commented.

Akamatsu ran her hands through her hair sheepishly. "I figured, face the truth head-on, right?"

Saihara's breath hitched a bit before replying, "S-sure. Makes sense."

"Something wrong?" the pianist wondered.

"No, it's... it's nothing. We can discuss things at the trial, right?"

"Right!" Akamatsu agreed. "But before we do, everyone..."

The others stopped cold, waiting for her address.

"I just want to say... whatever happens next, thank you. I couldn't have asked for better friends. This place may be Hell on Earth, but... there's an old saying about how, even if you go to Hell, you'll spend too much time laughing with your friends to care. And... that's kind of how I feel. In spite of everything, what I said on our first day here hasn't changed. Even when we leave this place, I want us all to stay friends. Forever."

The blonde reached her hand out towards the others. Saihara, as if sensing her thoughts, immediately laid his hand atop hers. The two had no time to blush as Harukawa did the same. Kiibo, Yumeno, and Hoshi quickly followed.

"Together," Akamatsu declared, "we'll put an end to the killing, the tragedy, and the lies! We're going to face the last class trial, and we're gonna win!"

With shared smiles and determined eyes, the six survivors proudly made their way to the elevator, as they prepared to face their final conflict.

"I talk a big game," Akamatsu thought to herself, "I just hope I can back it up. Monokuma's stupid clue didn't make any sense..."

The pianist couldn't help but be perplexed by what she had been given. Sure, there had been a basic explanation, but she could barely make heads or tails of the meaning of it all.

"What was with that weird flashlight?"

 

Chapter Text

-COURT IS IN SESSION-

The room had a much different air about it than usual. Perhaps it was Kiibo's new body. Perhaps it was Monokuma having taken up Shirogane's place in the trial ground, as opposed to his nearby throne. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that the six survivors could finally say they were all on the same page. In any event, the game was winding down, and all that was left was to defeat Monokuma once and for all.

"Let me remind everyone of what's at stake here," the headmaster began, "If the six of you can successfully uncover the truth behind me, your missing memories, and this school, you will be permitted to return to the outside world, and the game will end. Fail, and not only does the game continue, but Kiibo has to get out of the Motherkuma, so we can get back to fair game."

"I have already complied with your first request that the Nanokumas' broadcast be re-established," the Kiibokuma acknowledged. "However, if you think you can overcome all six of us, you had best think again."

"You know, you have a point..."

"I don't like the sound of that..." Yumeno replied.

And just as the mage feared, five more figures popped up around the trial ground.

"HELLO-KUMA!"

"Again with these annoying things?" Harukawa lamented.

"Hey!" Monotaro, standing in Ouma's spot, exclaimed. "We're not annoying! At least, not on purpose..."

"Every mascot annoys somebody," Monosuke argued from Angie's old spot. "No one's perfect."

"But if we all pitch in, Daddy will be proud of us, and we'll live on in mascot history!" Monofunny cheered from Iruma's podium.

Monokid, standing where Tenko once had, strummed his guitar. "HELL YEAH! Monokuma Cubs Forever! Except Monodam, obviously!"

The new Monodam stood silently in Amami's otherwise permanently absent stand.

"Whatever happened to them being unique existences?" Hoshi questioned.

"Oh please," Monokuma snarked, "If you bought that, I've got some real estate in Narnia to sell you!"

"Just ignore them like we always do," Akamatsu advised, "they shouldn't be a problem."

"Agreed," Saihara chimed in. "So, if I can start us off, I think our first question should be 'What is Gifted Inmates Academy'?"

"We were told it was a school built just for us," Kiibo recalled, "and though there is much to suggest that is the case, it raises many questions."

"The school still seemed to be under construction during our first few days here," Harukawa commented, "So I doubt it's been around for very long."

"We put our backbones into that construction!" Monotaro bragged.

"Which was tricky, since we don't technically have skeletons..." Monofunny added.

"But what purpose would building a school for us serve?" Kiibo questioned. "To my knowledge, outside of all being Ultimates, we do not share anything in common."

"Well..." Harukawa countered, "that's not entirely true." The red-eyed girl took out the file she had found in her lab. "According to this thing, we were also participants in something called 'The Gofer Project'. I don't remember that, but our memories are missing."

"Gofer Project..." Akamatsu considered, "I feel like that rings a bell, but I don't know why..."

"Same here," Saihara added. "It's like it's on the tip of my tongue."

"THE GOFER PRO-JECT IS HU-MAN-I-TY'S LAST HOPE," Monodam explained.

"Well, look who decided to speak up," Hoshi snarked.

"It's true," Monokuma agreed, "mankind put all their faith in the Gofer Project, and look where it got them."

"What is this thing, anyway?" Yumeno inquired.

"The file claims that it's some sort of attempt to create a space colony," Harukawa revealed. "Sixteen Ultimate Students from a single academy of privilege, united to be a beacon of hope for humanity's future after some sort of crisis destroyed the planet. And the candidate list includes every single one of us."

"The planet was fine last I checked," Akamatsu noted, "but Iruma-san said the world's been a mess her entire life once she got her memories back."

"It's not impossible our memories were significantly altered," the detective concurred, "all the same, something about this story doesn't sit right with me."

Hoshi nodded. "None of us went to the same school, you mean."

"That's part of it," Saihara said, "but more than that, something about the explanation just feels... off."

"There's nothing wrong with the Gofer Project!" Monosuke argued.

"Humanity was gonna go belly-up, so you assholes had to pick up the slack!" Monokid yelled.

"But that doesn't fit in with some things we know that have to be true," the detective countered.

"Whaddaya talkin' about, wise guy?" the yellow bear carped.

"Among other things, if we were all going to the same school, what about Hoshi? When would he have been in prison? And if he was, why did they let him out for this project?"

The tennis pro took a moment to account for this point. "Yeah..." he muttered, "I wasn't in high school yet when I got arrested. I only kept up on my studies through a tutoring system..."

"Water under a bridge," Monokuma argued, "one hole in the story isn't that big a deal."

"He has a point," Akamatsu noted, "not to be mean or anything, but that doesn't prove much."

"But there are other holes too," the black-haired boy continued, "if this place was meant to be some sort of colony for the survival of humanity, why is it in the form of a school? For that matter, why choose high schoolers at all?"

"Because children are the future!" Monofunny exclaimed. "I know that the future will be filled with beautiful babies..."

"Stupid bears aside," Harukawa snarked, "I agree with Saihara. It wouldn't make sense to trust a situation this delicate to a bunch of sixteen year-olds. I don't know that any of us know the first thing about, say, agriculture, economics, or any of the various things we'd need to know to establish a new society."

"Theoretically, I could learn that information rather quickly," Kiibo pointed out, "but it does not sound quite right."

"And Kiibo is the biggest question mark of all!" Yumeno added. "If there was some sort of project to save the last survivors of the human race, why is one of the candidates a robot?"

"Slightly offensive though she may be, Yumeno-san is correct. If another slot could be open for a flesh-and-blood human, it does seem odd that a single position would be used for someone who... well..." Kiibo began to trail off.

"Can't... propagate the species?" Akamatsu finished.

"Heh," Hoshi chuckled, "that's one way to put it."

"So we all agree, this Gofer Plan story doesn't make sense," Saihara declared.

"But... but... we worked so hard to put that together!" Monotaro complained.

"WE DID NOT," Monodam countered, "IT WAS SHI-RO-GA-NE WHO DID THAT."

"Oh, right, guess I forgot!" the red bear cheered.

"Shirogane-san made up a fake story about why we were here?" the pianist extrapolated.

"At least some part of that makes sense," the twin-tailed girl commented, "if we were led down a false path, we might never have figured her out."

"But why trot out her fake answer if she's not even alive anymore?" the mage wondered.

"Don't misunderstand me," Monokuma explained, "it's not that I liked her or anything. I'm just not a very wasteful bear. I don't like to throw away something that's still perfectly useable, so I didn't want to let all her hard work be for nothing."

"But we wouldn't have believed it to begin with," Saihara reminded the bear.

"Upupu... I'm not sure you know what belief even is..."

"What?"

"Don't let him distract you, Shuuichi," Akamatsu chided, "for now, we need to get back to the original point of 'What is this place?'"

"If my file is completely fake, it's probably not relevant to the answer," Harukawa lamented.

"Let me see it, anyway," Saihara requested. "I have a theory I'd like to test."

The assassin quirked an eyebrow, but ultimately relented, and allowed the file to be passed on to the detective.

"While he's looking through that, I think my clue might be something," Yumeno commented, pulling out the Monokuma Cub Pad she had been given.

"These damn things again?" Hoshi complained.

"Whose pad is that?" Kiibo questioned.

"That's the crazy part," the mage continued, "look."

With a single word, a gateway to a very dark place opened up. As Yumeno switched the video on, the nearby viewscreens flared to life, showcasing the same depressing sequence. The battered and beaten Amami's struggle to escape his captors. His desperate plea to save the other students. And the crushing reality that he didn't even live long enough to see his past self's wish.

"Amami-kun..." Akamatsu muttered. Though she had subdued her guilt over whatever role she had played in his death, the image of the posthumous boy in pain did very little to assuage her anguish.

"The video seems to reinforce our interpretation of the picture Saihara-kun found," Kiibo surmised. "Amami-kun participated in at least one killing game prior to this one."

"Which raises the larger point of the fact that this isn't the first killing game," Hoshi chimed in.

"Couple that with Monokuma's various hints about, 'before our time', or 'being an old hand'," Akamatsu added, "there's really no other possibility."

"So if this isn't the first killing game," Harukawa continued, "does that mean this school..."

"It only exists so we have a place to play this stupid game?!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"UPUPUPUPUPUPUPUPUPUPUPU!!!!" the lead bear cackled. "Finally you've cracked the code! Gifted Inmates Academy is burdened with the glorious purpose of carrying on the proud tradition of Killing Games!"

"Daddy takes so much satisfaction in his work," Monofunny cooed, "one day, I hope we're as happy."

"HELL YEAH! I love me a good old-fashioned Killing Game!"

"Proud tradition?!" Akamatsu replied in shocked disbelief, "How many times have you done this?!"

Monokuma pondered this, "Well... that kinda depends on who you ask..."

Monosuke, eager to help, whipped out his trusty abacus, and began to slide a series of beads, "That third one wasn't quite normal, and then you count the side projects... and the one that preceded the first one..."

"THE KILL-ING GAME IS E-TER-NAL," Monodam proclaimed, "SO LONG AS THERE IS A DE-MAND, THERE WILL AL-WAYS BE KILL-ING GAMES."

"There's so many we forgot!" Monotaro cheered.

"If there have been that many Killing Games..." Kiibo muttered, "the death toll may very well be in the dozens, if not... hundreds..."

"And you just keep killing people like it means nothing to you?!" Yumeno exclaimed.

"This... this isn't a game... this just sick!" Harukawa spat.

Hoshi's eyes grew dull, belying a fury he had long since locked away. "If you think we'll let you get away with this..."

"There's nothing you can do to stop it!" Monokuma snapped. "This game is bigger than anything you could even begin to fathom! Once you kids are gone, we'll cart in another crew to keep playing until the cows come home!"

"You've got that wrong!" Akamatsu shouted back in defiance, "We won't let you slaughter innocent people any..."

A buzz of static suddenly stopped her words. A familiar image appeared before them, and the students were stunned by the visual of a trial ground with less than a half-dozen people around it. Things only grew worse as a familiar voice came over the speakers.

"You've got that wrong! We won't let you slaughter innocent people anymore! We're ending this game! Right here. Right now."

Amami's declaration hung in the air like grim death.

"You can't stop us," Monokuma carped. "But you're welcome to try."

And all the while, Saihara continued to pour over the file Harukawa had given him. He was still paying attention to the horrors that were being revealed around him, but he had information no one else had, and knew there had to be even more to this story. And so, much like the case files before, he threw himself into the clue Monokuma had offered. Even if the Gofer Project wasn't real, there was the distinct possibility there was a sliver of truth hidden inside.

And his answer came in the form of a single listing.

K. Akamatsu.

 

Chapter Text

There are some things you simply know to be true, but wish to never have confirmed. The fact that the ones you love will inevitably die. The fact that the meat you eat was once a living creature. And here, now, the students faced another. The Killing Games had happened before, and as such, countless people had died brutally.

And so it seemed, very little could be done to change this fact.

Harukawa put it best. "This is... it's just disgusting."

"We'll just have to agree to disagree on that one," Monokuma replied, "Frankly, in this economy, you do what you can to make ends meet."

"I keep telling ya, Pops, I can keep track of your money for ya," Monosuke offered.

"HELL YEAH! I let Monosuke keep track of my money, too! Whatever happened to it?"

Monokid's bizarre circumstances aside, Akamatsu stood in defiance of this. "I just don't understand what you gain from all this. Why the big production? Why force complete strangers to kill each other?"

"Better question," Hoshi interrupted, "why make up a fake reason?"

"What?"

"The Gofer Plan story was made up," the tennis pro recounted, "but there was clearly time and effort put into it to try and make us think it was real. But why make a fake story? If we found out we were part of some colony of survivors, we wouldn't find any value in motives anymore."

"Yeah," Yumeno agreed, "why make up a mystery like that? Who was it for?"

"Good question," Monokuma concurred, "But as I seem to recall, class trials are designed for you to figure things out on your own."

Akamatsu took a moment to consider this.

Was the Gofer Plan story for our benefit?

No.

What does Monokuma gain from it?

It leads us down the wrong path.

Why make us do that?

To hide the truth.

What is the truth?

...that she didn't know.

"It had to be more than just a red herring," she muttered to herself.

"A red herring!" Kiibo exclaimed.

"What's up?" the pianist asked.

"A red herring is traditionally for the sake of the reader, is it not?" the robot pointed out.

"He's right," Saihara considered, "but we aren't reading a mystery novel. We're the ones trying to solve the mystery."

"Wait, no..." Akamatsu realized, "I think that might be it."

"You're reading a mystery novel?" Monotaro wondered aloud. "Wah! Don't skip to the end! That's what the naughty readers do!"

"But if they do, they can see just how many clues there were," Monofunny countered, "I wonder which way's better..."

"I think... I think there might be people watching this," the blonde concluded.

"Why would anyone want to watch this?" Harukawa asked.

"I'm not sure, but it does fit in with a lot of what we know. Thanks to Kiibo, we know that the Nanokumas' security feed is being sent somewhere outside of the school," Akamatsu reminded them, "and if they don't know what's going on either, adding a red herring would make sense."

Saihara nodded, and offered more support to the idea, "Furthermore, if the games have been played before, and those were also witnessed, it clears up something Monokuma said a long time ago."

"Just..." Akamatsu's voice grew softer as she spoke. "Why? Why did Shirogane-san help you?"

"Hmm... hard to say..." Monokuma pondered this. "I guess she was just one of my many adoring fans!"

"If Shirogane saw the games, and ending up being the Mastermind... does that mean she... chose to do it?" Harukawa inquired.

"I... guess she'd have to have..." But even as Akamatsu's words left her mouth, she couldn't quite believe them. Who would willingly encourage such horrifying behavior? In the brief clip from a moment ago, she didn't appear to be the mastermind that time. So why come back as an ally?

And all this information only served to further Saihara's theory. But for the moment, the detective chose to remain silent.

"So we've been killing each other... all so some weirdos can watch us die?" Yumeno summarized, "But... why? Who would wanna do that?"

"People like Ouma, for one," Harukawa noted. "In my line of work, it's clear that there's no shortage of people who indulge in the suffering of others."

"She's right. Messed up as all this is, someone getting a sick kick out of it's not that surprising," Hoshi agreed.

"You know, if you keep insulting the audience like this, it may reflect poorly on you," Monokuma chided.

"Who cares?" Akamatsu countered. "If there are people out there who enjoy this, they deserve to know just how weird and gross they really are."

"We're gonna get so many letters..." Monosuke lamented.

"THAT IS NO WAY TO GET A-LONG," Monodam reprimanded.

Kiibo quickly took the reins back, "If it is true that there is some sort of audience for this, and there was some sort of planned narrative, I must ask. How could they have possibly predicted each event moving forward? Human behavior is not that concrete."

"And we saw that unfold time and again," Saihara added, "the various times we encountered labs we couldn't access. If there really was a plan, we didn't follow it."

"When Shirogane died, she made a point of saying how... me surviving wasn't in her plan," Akamatsu recalled, her heart feeling like lead.

"Then it's a good thing the plan didn't work!" Yumeno cheered.

Akamatsu smiled. Even in such a difficult time, the mage was an expert at bringing joy.

"It's possible that they had a lot of different plans in mind," Harukawa theorized. "Like we said, human behavior isn't concrete. But even then, if they knew enough about us, they could make some pretty solid guesses."

"Which brings us to my little party favor," Hoshi chimed in, lifting his own file.

Kiibo was the one to identify the item in question. "A psych profile?"

"It's got details on me, and the way I tend to behave," the ex con explained, "If they have one of these for all of us, they could probably figure out what we'd most likely do in response to certain stimuli."

"Specific motives, aimed at a single person," Harukawa said, "Like the card left in my room. Or the confessional. Who else would that be aimed at except Angie?"

There was a hitch in Saihara's breathing. He wasn't ready to talk yet, but if they pursued the Angie route...

"You kids today and your mental problems," Monokuma complained, "they don't pay me enough to deal with you and my kids."

"Daddy, you're not gonna get rid of us again are you?" Monofunny worried aloud.

"If you do, take Monodam first!" Monokid pleaded.

Monodam remained silent.

"If that psych profile..." Akamatsu muttered.

"Something wrong?" Hoshi questioned, quirking an eyebrow.

"I don't think so... but..." the pianist gulped. "It may tie into my clue."

And as she said that, her mind thought back to when she first laid eyes upon the object in question.


 

As Akamatsu looked upon the object before her, she couldn't help be feel lost. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before, and yet familiar all at once.

Sitting on the piano bench was what appeared to be a large flashlight, and a note.

Exercising caution, the capped blonde decided it would be best to consult the note first.

"Congratulations on surviving to the end of the Killing Game! As a reward for all your efforts, we are proud to offer you the treasure that has oft eluded you. The item you see before you is known as a Flashback Light. It converts data into light waves and can fill the brain with all the information it needs. By using this light, you will be granted the memories you have lost. You will remember why you are here."

Could it really be true? Were the answers that readily available? All the effort, and all the struggle, and now the secret of her missing memories was ripe for the taking.

Confused, though she was, as her hands rested upon the Flashback Light, Akamatsu felt something primal within her. She couldn't quite explain it, but it was almost like a compulsion. Some subconscious aspect of herself needling her to press the switch.

It would save them. She would finally know why she was here. The role she was meant to fulfill. With the press of a single button, she would finally wake from this confusing nightmare.

With the press of a single button...

Her finger reached... closer... and closer...


 

"Something like that... could it really exist?" Harukawa wondered.

"Nevermind that!" Yumeno countered, "What did you find out?"

Saihara's throat grew taut. The existence of such an object was the last piece he needed. And the situation seemed primed to reveal the full truth. But if his suspicions were correct, then all that was left were a few words from the woman he loved. A few words that would snap his heart in twain.

"Nothing."

Wait, what?

"I didn't actually use it."

The vice-like grip on his throat suddenly came undone with the blonde's words.

"I didn't want to risk it all being part of some trap by Monokuma. If that thing really did have the power to screw with my head, I didn't want anything to do with it," Akamatsu revealed.

"Given what happened when Iruma-san received her old memories, that was likely a wise decision," Kiibo said, a hint of melancholy seeping into his robotic voice.

However, the bear sharing Kiibo's current appearance had a different opinion.

Monokuma was quaking with what appeared to be outright hatred, almost incapable of containing his rage. "Are... you... KIDDING ME?!"

"Wh-what?"

"I JUST NEED YOU TO DO ONE, STUPID, SIMPLE THING, AND YOU CAN'T EVEN DO THAT RIGHT! WHY IS IT YOU FEEL LIKE RUINING MY PLANS AT EVERY TURN?!!"

"Upset, Monokuma? Upset that your plan failed?" Saihara taunted.

"Shuuichi?" Akamatsu intoned, thoroughly confused by all this.

With a heavy breath, Shuuichi began his final explanation. "I don't know how long he's been working towards this, but I think I've got him figured out. When we had the confessional motive, Monokuma used a special loophole to reveal a secret about me that I was unaware of to Angie. That was the secret that caused her not to trust me."

"So it wasn't about your depression?" Harukawa replied, "Then what was it?"

"Monokuma told Angie that, at the time, I had enough information to determine the Mastermind's identity, and had chosen not to do anything with that information."

"Seriously?" Hoshi exclaimed.

"But that's gotta be a lie!" Yumeno countered, "There's no way you'd do something like that!"

"Not unless..." Kiibo trailed off.

Kaede looked at Saihara with steady eyes, not quite sure what to make of all this.

"But I think that was a trick to lead me down the wrong path. All the same, Monokuma's intentions were clear. The clue I apparently needed was the fact that..." He stopped, albeit briefly. He knew that this next bit of information would be troubling, but it was another step in the path to the truth. "That Kaede forced her way into the Killing Game."

To the shock of the others, Kaede was the first to voice her disbelief. "What?! I... I would never-!"

"I figured he was trying to get me to think that Kaede was the Mastermind," Saihara continued, "but that didn't add up with most of her behavior. After a while, I just wrote it off as a lie, but then I saw Iruma's supposed pre-game self."

"If her personality was that radically different," Harukawa considered, "it's not impossible that the same could hold true for Akamatsu."

"But I wouldn't-"

"Don't worry, Kaede," the detective reassured, "I know this is hard, but let me finish."

With a sharp inhale, followed by a shaky exhale, the pianist nodded. "Okay. I'll trust you."

"Between that, the contrast between the Shirogane we knew and the one Amami-kun spoke about in his motive video, and the existence of the Flashback Light, I think Monokuma was going to alter Kaede's memories to make her be the Mastermind."

The blonde quickly clutched at her mouth, feeling a rush of bile. To think that, for but the grace of God, she could've been violated in such a manner filled her with existential dread. That Monokuma held the power to hollow her out and put what he wanted inside... It took all her strength to contain the contents of her stomach.

"But she didn't use the Flashback Light. And for whatever reason, you couldn't just force it on her," Saihara concluded. "Am I wrong, Monokuma?"

The bear was practically fuming at this point. "Razzin' frazzin'... you try and go for the tragic irony angle, and this is how today's youth repays you! Like I said before, you kids are more trouble than you're worth!"

"So, wait," Yumeno interrupted, "if she's not really the Mastermind, who is?"

"Saihara-kun, do you have some other theory?" Kiibo wondered.

The black-haired boy lowered his head, and clenched his fist. He hated what he was about to do. "I'm... sorry, Kaede. But the answer's right there in front of us."

"W-what is?" she replied, terrified at what could be next.

"The Mastermind is someone who isn't in this building. We know that because of Kiibo's overview of the security footage. We know that someone else was supposed to be in the Killing Game instead of you. And... we have a list of potential candidates." Saihara lifted the Gofer Project Binder. "There's only one person I can think of who you could've replaced in the Killing Game."

SELECT A SUSPECT...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

His finger pointed to the listing K. Akamatsu.

Directly below another K. Akamatsu.

"The true Mastermind, or at least the person you've chosen to fulfill that role, is Kaori Akamatsu!"

Saihara's declaration rocked the room to it's core. The icy grip of silence took hold of the students.

And one laugh cut through it.

"Upupupupupupupupupu..."

It wasn't Monokuma.

The bear had fallen to the ground, as the floor beneath him had opened. And rising up from this entrance was a familiar face, as they had seen her a million times before.

Or at least, they had seen the sister who shared her image.

Kaori stood before the survivors, clad in the same black and red school uniform Shirogane had worn in her final moments, and smiled.

"You always did go for the brainy ones, didn't you, sis?"

 

Chapter Text

"K-Kaori?"

The pianist couldn't believe her eyes. Her sister. Her mirror image now stood before her, proudly standing where Monokuma had just been, seemingly just as cheerful about the prospect of the Killing Game.

But a moment before, she had been horrified at the idea of being forcibly conscripted into becoming Monokuma's agent in this brutal spectacle. But this? In her mind, this was arguably worse.

"I... I... I don't... how? Why?"

"How?" she parroted. "Simple. Once the head honchos in charge figured out how you forged the acceptance document with your name instead of mine, I was kept on speed-dial in case they ever needed me. And since you weren't willing to play Mastermind, I was happy to fill in."

"She's been a real team player!" Monotaro commended.

"Kaori's always so nice to everyone," Monofunny noted, "I wish we could've had her from the start."

"Not that you haven't been fun, though," Monosuke said, in mock comfort.

"BUT NOW YOU ARE BOTH HERE," Monodam observed, "I DO HOPE YOU CAN GET A-LONG!"

Monokid punctuated this with a guitar strum. "HELL YEAH! I hate when siblings fight!"

Kaori, for her part, paid the others no mind, as she continued her explanation, "As for why, that's easy. I was cheated out of my dream by my dear sister. So of course I'd jump at the chance to join in."

"This Killing Game was your dream?" Harukawa clarified, barely keeping a grip on reality in such a bizarre situation.

"Isn't it everyone's?" the twin shot back. "After all, you've still got one more clue, right Saihara?"

Saihara grit his teeth. He wasn't happy to be right about this, but for the moment, he would have to keep up the fight. Akamatsu had held firm on his behalf during his darkest hour, it was time for him to return the favor.

"The document in Kaede's handwriting," he said, lifting it up for the others to see, "It's an application, isn't it?"

"You are smart," Kaori cooed, "Sis and I never had much in common, but we both loved the Killing Game. We always hoped we could be part of it someday. Soon as we were old enough, we sent in our applications and never looked back."

"H-hold on!"

Kaori let out a playful gasp. "She speaks!"

"You're saying we joined this game willingly?" Kaede asked in astonishment. "Why would we... I don't... this is just too insane!"

"And it's not just us," the insane blonde began, "every single one of you are here because you begged and pleaded to play the Killing Game. Well, except Kiibo..."

"A-all of us...?" Yumeno questioned, shaking like a leaf.

"What sort of person would agree to this?!" Hoshi shouted back in disbelief.

"What?" Monotaro countered. "You've never done an SYOC?"

"Not too big on Fanganronpa?" Monosuke wondered aloud.

Monofunny clutched at her temples. "So many strange words all at once..."

Saihara ignored these unusual terms, and voiced a more pressing concern, "Wait, why did you exclude Kiibo?"

"Check out the big brain on this guy," Kaori drawled. "To those not paying attention, Kiibo is not a contestant, but rather, a prop!"

"A prop?" the Kiibokuma questioned.

Sensing where this was going, she quickly clarified, "And I ain't discriminating when I say that, buddy. It's just what you were built for. The eyes on your original body had cameras in them. You were... insurance. A guarantee that no matter what, we'd know a little bit of what was going on."

"Wait... we?" Yumeno noted.

"I should have guessed," Harukawa spat, "there's no way any one person could possibly put all of this together."

Kaori giggled. "Upupupupu... well, if we're getting to that part of our little adventure, I'd say it's time to introduce the men behind the curtain! Or at least I would, if they weren't too chickenshit to actually show up. But, hey, that's what I'm here for, right?"

"Clear out your ears, assholes!" Monokid exclaimed.

"Say hello to the name of your nightmares!" Monosuke chuckled.

"The proud people who've done so much to make this game possible," Monofunny cheered.

Monotaro trilled his tongue in emphasis. "Everybody give it up forrrrrrrrr..."

"TEAM DANGANRONPA."

With Monodam's words, the nearby screens changed to the image of some kind of corporate logo. Within was the tell-tale image of Monokuma's eye, wrapped in a circle, and the name listed below.

Though the students were speechless, Hoshi found it within him to voice what they were all thinking.

"Team Dan... what?"

"Team Danganronpa," Kaori repeated. "A proud subsidiary of... well, that doesn't matter."

"Dan... gan..." Saihara muttered.

"That... that name..." Kaede's voice barely carried any sound as something in her snapped. With the name came memories. Hours spent in front of a screen. Cheering for victory, crying at tragedy. Theorizing, predicting, sharing thoughts with friends. Perfecting her declaration of 'you've got that wrong'. And the two figures that could never be divorced from the concept. The bear who had captured them, and the girl who wore the outfit her sister was currently sporting.

"Danganronpa... this is all... Danganronpa..."

"Well, duh!" her sister proclaimed. "Sixteen Ultimate Students trapped in a mystery school with an evil teddy bear forcing them to kill each other! And all under the guidance of the Mastermind, Junko Enoshima! That is your world! That is Danganronpa!"

And as the memories bubbled back up in the minds of the surviving students, Kaori began to ponder something.

"Wait, does this season have Junko?" she wondered. "I'm in the outfit. And they put her personality in my brain. But I never said I was Junko number 53... or does saying it now count? Meh, give the fanboys something to argue about."

"Hold on, what is this... Danganronpa?" Kiibo inquired.

"Right... you never lost any memories, you just only had the ones we gave you to start with," Kaori reminded herself.

"Danganronpa..." Hoshi muttered, "it's... a video game. Or it was..."

"But it transcended games and anime, and became a TV drama..." Harukawa recounted.

"And then... a reality show..." Yumeno concluded in horror.

Kaede began to shiver. "One... that I watched..."

"One I... signed up for..." Saihara said as he gulped.

"Upupupupu... yes, a reality show!" Kaori cheered. "The best show on TV, in it's 53rd season, with fans screaming your names!"

And with that, the nearby screens shifted again, showcasing the words of the viewers.

YumiStar: Great thing to wake up to

SilverZero0: Danganronpa, the best emotional rollercoaster XD

Kage_Musha: Honestly, this is the best Danganronpa... to date.

The_Apocryphal_One: tho in all seriousness this... is great

AwesomeSauce432: This shit be wild yo Seriously I'm freaking out

Calaer_Myste: You've really got me hanging off the edge of my seat

followthecat: OH MY GOD I'M SCREAMING

allietheepic7: I've postponed 3 different homework assignments... my love for this is huge.

"This many people... are obsessed with the Killing Game?" the one just robot said in shock.

"Danganronpa..." Saihara continued, his voice cold and without feeling. "Is an international sensation. Viewers and fans all over the planet..."

"And part of what made this version so great is you, Kiibo," Kaori explained, "with your eyes, the viewers could receive a livestream that made them feel like they were part of the game."

Kiibo's voice quaked. "My entire existence... my purpose for being..."

"Was wish-fulfillment for the folks at home," the mad twin finished. "Which is why it was such a pain when Ouma killed your body."

The screens shifted again.

Anon: nothing makes sense I'm so confused I don't understand

K1-B0 X MIU: you guys just blow off my dude K1-B0 when in actuality HE'S way better than any of v3 characters.

wave: ...just got so lamb... rip my son Kiibo he was better than all v3 Characters

Oh_Well: Well fuck you too then i guess!...

n00dl3_Gal: I knew. Somehow I knew. And I'm furious.

divisionten: IT WOULD BE BETTER if K1-b0 actually survived the EMP, but a girl can dream.

dude: Are you fucking kidding me

Princeasimdiya12: I kinda suspected that Kiibo would be killed off

"Some people just got too attached to 'Twitch Plays Danganronpa'," Kaori lamented.

"All of it... all of it was just for a TV show..." Hoshi mumbled.

"And that just leaves one more question," Kaori declared. "What's the truth behind your memory loss?"

The struggle now was not to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but rather to summon the desire to do so. The truth was disgusting and repulsive, and meant rejecting what little grip the survivors still had on reality. Nevertheless, the game needed to continue. It was imperative.

"Our old memories..." Saihara began, "we had them re-written with Ultimates to participate in the Killing Game."

"Then the psych profile on Hoshi..." Harukawa realized. "It wasn't an analysis, it was an outline for what you'd turn him into."

"All your thoughts, feelings, and memories were transformed by the power of the Flashback Light," Kaori added, "Just like how I was turned into the Mastermind, you all became ignorant fools who had forgotten about Danganronpa."

"The actors didn't even know they were acting!" Monotaro cheered.

"It's the only way to make it an actual reality show," Monosuke reminded his red brother.

Monofunny sighed, "But it isn't really reality. They're all designed to work the way we want them to."

"PER-HAPS IT IS MORE LIKE IM-PROV THEATRE?" Monodam posited.

Monokid nodded. "HELL YEAH! Improv's the only real type of comedy!"

The kind eyes the group had seen so often on Kaede seemed so cold as Kaori spoke. "You only believed what we wanted you to. You only loved who we told you to. You only fought for what we asked you to. Struggle as much as you want, change as much as you want, the ending stays the same. With all of you under the thumb of Team Danganronpa. Hell, sis only convinced you not to blow your way out of here because we made you that way."

The pianist was taken aback. "Wh-what?"

"All of you have a single, subtle command in the back of your mind that keeps telling you the only way to get out of here is to play by Danganronpa's rules," her twin explained, "You couldn't accept an ending without a final trial, so you gave it up. Kiibo being freed from his original body, and the antenna giving him commands, was the only reason he came up with it. Even Ouma knew he had to let the game keep playing out."

"So then, is it over?" Yumeno pleaded. "You had your final trial, and we figured it all out, so let us go home!"

"Well... that's a bit of a sticky situation..." Kaori hedged.

"Ehh?" the mage intoned.

"What more do you want from us?!" Saihara demanded.

"Look, it's not like a participation trophy where we just give you what you want as a thanks for playing," the cruel blonde chided, "If you want out, it'll cost you."

"Haven't we sacrificed enough already?" Hoshi jabbed.

"I dunno," Kaori replied playfully, "let's ask the folks at home!"

ashDanLand: soon the despair going to fall...again.

Trygve11: All I have to say is shot is about to go down

TheBlueLord: OOHHHHHHH shot now this is getting interesting

frozenbakedcookies: This was amazing so far.

TheOculusRift: cool to see the two sisters fight

KawaiiGroovycat: I'm hyped af!

LinkSeasonMaster: having an utter blast yet again

hunterofcomedy: I'm very eager for more!

"That's a no. So here's a bit of a throwback offer. We'll let you leave this place, but if you want out, it means surrendering your swanky new selves."

"Surrendering... ourselves?" Harukawa repeated.

"Your memories and personalities will be rewritten one more time, changing you back into the people you were before you joined this game," the fiendish girl explained. "Think of it as like getting a free refund."

"The people we were before," Saihara reasoned, his eyes growing wide, "so we'd go back to the Danganronpa fanatics we were."

"Complete with your slavish devotion to everything the Killing Game stands for," she cheered, "My favorite part is when you'll all look back on the pain and suffering and despair you went through, and smile so wide your jaws'll start to cramp!"

"Our memories, our personalities," Harukawa muttered, processing, "even the way we felt... it'll all just... go away?"

"Basically, if we want to leave," Hoshi realized, "it means killing ourselves."

"But... we can't do that!" Yumeno protested in horror, "Tenko, Angie, everyone... I can't just forget them!"

"You don't have to!" Kaori reassured, "But if you don't, it means surrendering the trial, and letting the game continue on as it was meant to."

"Our only choices..." Kiibo summarized, "are to surrender our 'selves' and escape, or let the Killing Game continue?"

"Well, you don't get to leave either way," she corrected, "You're the property of Team Danganronpa, so, tough shit, you're stuck no matter what you do. So, let's focus on the bright side! If you stay and keep playing, you'll get to hang out with me on top of everything else! Doesn't that sound great, sis?"

Kaede could barely meet her sister's gaze.

"You and me, in the Killing Game together, just like we always wanted. Isn't that preferable? You don't want to lose everything you've fought for, right? You don't want to forget your friends, do you? You don't want to go back to being that distrustful bitch, right?"

Kaede's eyes were glazed over as she looked to the others.

Hoshi's teeth were grit so hard, it was a miracle they hadn't chipped. The short-statured boy was absolutely furious with everything he had heard, but even so, was powerless to do anything about it. For all his talk about not losing anything else, it seemed now that fate was unavoidable.

Yumeno was teetering on the edge of emotional collapse. Every death the poor girl had faced felt like a personal attack against her, and her natural reaction was always to try to cheer others up. But she wasn't made for this. She had her limits, and it seemed they were finally being met.

Kiibo, despite being in a Monokuma body, was still quite easy to read. He'd told himself he was more than just a machine, that he was a living being who could make choices for himself. And here he was, faced with the rather simple fact that, no, everything he did, he did because of programming. And now, in a body that was simply... wrong. The idea that he was property felt even more real.

Harukawa seemed to have shut down. The faux-caretaker had let her past rule her, and had only begun to escape through reawakening the emotions she had long kept dormant. But what good was any of that now? Her past wasn't real, just a narrative designed to make her appealing to an outside observer. And the emotions? Fake. Implanted. She could not trust her past or her heart, so, what was left?

And Saihara. The man she had grown to love. The weight he had carried seemed to have finally returned in full, as his head hung low. He had done his job. He had found the answer everyone was desperately searching for. But was it worth it? The truth had brought nothing but misery. The threat of Kaede being the Mastermind was gone, but was the sight of her distraught face as her sister was mentally violated any better? And on some level, this knowledge his friends had been forced to bear, would never have surfaced if not for him.

And with all of this weighing down on her, Kaede retreated into herself. There was no beat, no melody. Not a single song to buoy her spirits in this moment. Just cold, unrelenting silence from an unfeeling world. There was no point in fighting, but to surrender would be to spit in the face of those they had lost. To die and be free? To be trapped but alive? There was no good option. There was no hope to be found.

"So, what will you do?"

Chapter Text

Pitch black. That was all her world had become. An empty, black expanse from which no light could escape. Kaede Akamatsu had been completely enveloped in darkness. Her life to this point had been a lie. Her entire existence the result of focus-group tests and a writer's room. The few tethers she had, family and friends? Just as fake. Even the twin she had been reunited with had been supplanted by a false personality. Nothing was real. Nothing mattered.

And in this emptiness, she was alone. Kaede Akamatsu was the only thing there.

"God, is that what I look like?"

The voice was familiar, but barely enough to break Kaede from her stupor.

"K-Kaori?" she weakly called back.

"No, you dimwit."

Once again, Kaede felt as though she were looking in a mirror. The face and body were the same, but the clothes were not. This new doppelganger was dressed in a blue school uniform. One that stirred up pangs of... remembrance.

"A-are you... ?"

"You."

Kaede Akamatsu, Ultimate Pianist, stood face-to-face with Kaede Akamatsu, Danganronpa Hopeful.

"Seriously, though, that's my character design?" the original girl carped. "Meh, guess it could be worse."

"How is this even possible?" the pianist wondered.

"Honestly? You probably just snapped and are hallucinating all of this."

"So, wait," the girl in pink paused, "am I talking out loud right now?"

"For both our sakes, I hope not."

"Okay, but... you are me. Or... some version of me, right?"

The blonde in blue shrugged. "All I know is that I'm the real deal, and you're my character for the Killing Game. And you've done pretty good, if you ask me. Can't believe they were gonna kill me off like that..."

"Is that all you care about? What about the others?"

"What about the others? We all signed up. We all agreed to play the game. We knew that the odds were good we were gonna get killed, and we accepted anyway. That's just part of Danganronpa."

The fictitious Kaede shuddered at this. "But then, why? Why would you agree to something this horrible?!"

"'Cause it's fun. Rant at me 'til you're blue in the face, I love Danganronpa and I wanted to be part of it."

"And the 10 people who died so we could get this far," the pianist accused, "do they not matter to you?"

The other girl scoffed. "You say that like I ever met them. You're so scared of losing everything you are. That's been my life for the past few weeks, and you don't hear me complaining."

"I..."

Kaede froze. It was an aspect of the story she had never even considered. So much had happened at all once, she barely had the chance to acknowledge the fact that she was a stranger who had more or less stolen someone else's body. And now she was desperate to try and keep it for herself.

"I... killed you."

"Technically I killed myself," the 'real' Kaede corrected. "That's just part of it."

"Is... is that why you sabotaged Kaori's audition? To save her life?"

With that, the other girl nearly doubled-over laughing. "Hahahaha!!! Oh, God no! I just wanted in, and was pissed she got the spot I wanted."

Kaede huffed. "I don't understand you. Why don't you care about any of this horrible stuff?"

"You saw the video of me," the normal girl reminded her. "I have no faith or trust to speak of. Priority one has been, and always will be, myself. The fact that you're such a goodie-two-shoes is kind of surreal for me."

Kaede stood in the void in silence for a moment. There was nothing to be gained from this conversation. Her other self was no one to admire, no one to turn to in this difficult time. But if that were the case, why had her mind conjured the image of the girl? What purpose could she serve now?

"If it were you..."

The original quirked an eyebrow.

"What would you do in this situation? If it were you?"

And for once, the other girl seemed at a loss for words. Much like the Ultimate before her, this Kaede cast her gaze downward, as if in pensive contemplation over this bizarre question of personal morality.

"With this kind of choice... it's not really a hard question for me."

Kaede nodded to herself. "Yeah... I guess it isn't for me, either."

"After all, we're still kind of the same person."

"The same confident, self-assured..."

"Risk-taking, clever..."

"A little too blunt for her own good..."

"And seventy-five percent heterosexual person."

The pianist smiled. "I know what I have to choose now."

"The others might need some convincing."

With a raised fist, Kaede proclaimed, "I can handle that."

A smile from the other girl was the last thing Kaede saw as the dark void around them dissipated.

A faint call of, "Good luck," echoed through her mind as the trial ground came back into focus.

Standing before her still, was Kaori, confident in her success, and her classmates, mired in their own dismal states.

It was time to fix that.

"Everyone! I think..."

With a heavy heart, the choice was made.

"We need to leave this place."

There was no shortage of confusion to be found.

"W-we do?" Yumeno uttered.

"You want us to go back to the people we were before?" Hoshi asked of her.

"Of course not!" she protested. "I don't want any of us to have to disappear. The idea of losing myself... it terrifies me. But... but that doesn't change the fact that we can't stay here. We fought too hard to get out."

"You only fought because you were supposed to fight," Kaori reminded her. "You're only trying to end the game because Team Danganronpa wants you to."

"If I'm doing what you want, why are you interrupting me?" her sister challenged.

"Ehh?"

"If the game keeps going, then there's time for them to try and take control over us again. But if we leave, that's it. They do what we say. It's our total victory, and that's what they want to avoid the most."

"Can you really call it a victory if we're gone afterward?" Harukawa questioned.

"I know it sounds harsh. And I wish there were another way. But I know if we want to bring an end to this game, that's the sacrifice we have to make. Like I said before, we can't just run. But we can force Team Danganronpa to give up. And I think that's what they're scared of."

"They... are scared?" Kiibo inquired.

"Wh-who's scared?" Monotaro interrupted.

"W-w-w-we're not scared of anything..." Monofunny sputtered out.

"Why should the big bosses be scared of chumps like you?" Monosuke wondered.

Kaede smirked. "If we end the game this way, with us completely breaking everything they designed apart, with them having to surrender to us, then imagine how it will make them look. Would you want any part of a production like that? Something so shoddily put together the people in charge give in to a bunch of kids?"

"If we do that..." Saihara considered, "maybe, just maybe..."

"Bullshit!" Kaori cut in.

Kaede stood firm.

/"What are you trying to say?"/

/"That you can beat the killing game?"/

/"That if you make the game stop now..."/

/"There'll never be another?"/

/"Didn't realize you were that delusional..."/

"I'm not being delusional," Kaede replied, "I don't think it'll be that easy."

/"Sure sounds that way..."/

/"But Danganronpa's not that weak!"/

/"Season 54's already in pre-production!"/

/"A new batch of thrills, chills, and kills!"/

/"All thanks to the fans who love it!"/

/"Who'll never tu/rn away..."/

"I'LL CUT THROUGH YOUR WORDS!"

"Ugghh..." Kaori uttered through grit teeth.

"I know I can't bring the production down myself. I'm not strong enough to do that. But we can plant the seed," the pianist argued.

"A seed?" Kiibo parroted.

"A seed," Kaede continued, "A seed of doubt in the peoples' minds. I highly doubt whoever the higher-ups in charge of this are will get to keep their jobs after this fiasco..."

A small gulp came from the Mastermind at that. Apparently, that had not occurred to her.

"Everything that happened, everything that fell apart will drive in the wedge that rips apart Team Danganronpa. Maybe we can't stop the Killing Game here and now, but we can sure as Hell be the first step."

"Bullshit!" Kaori spat. "You think the outside world gives a crap about you?!"

Attentions were once again drawn to the outside commentary.

SilverZero0: I look forward to the next one!

LonelyCloud: I LOVE THIS SO MUCH Y'ALL

Net Neutrality: I am rubbing my hands in glee at what's to come.

TheBlueAmethyst: In all honesty, I'm hyped for more

DreamWings231: this is pretty intense and wild!

Siggimondo: Sweet. :D

hunterofcomedy: Keep up the amazing work!

SwordY05hi: I want to see more of this.

KawaiiGroovycat: Fucking genius!

Paeon Kanestu: Keep up the great work!

Emmisary: God I am smiling and HOLY SHIT

Mysti_Fogg: Enjoying the twist with Kaori

Princeasimdiya12: it makes the DR experience all the more enjoyable!

Calaer_Myste: I can’t wait for the next one!!

Kaede was silent for but a moment before declaring, "They'll never change unless we fight."

"Talk as big as you want!" her twin argued back. "None of it means anything if your little friends don't agree..."

For all of Kaede's fire, it didn't change that her sister was right. If her wish had any hope of coming to fruition, it would depend entirely on the choices the others made.

"Guys, please. I know you're scared. I am too! But... we have to leave this place. We can't just sit back and let them do what they want!" the pianist protested. "So please... will you fight with me, for the truth, one last time?"

Her eyes wandered across the other survivors, gauging their reactions. And she cast her first gaze at the short-statured tennis player. "Hoshi-kun?"

"When I got here, the only thing I wanted to do was die. I thought that... my life didn't have any meaning. But here I am, finally getting over it, only to be told all of it was fake? And now I have to throw my life away again?" the ex-con practically growled in frustration. "But... that means all the awful stuff was fake, too, right? I've got some sort of life I know nothing about waiting for me on the other side. And even then, it's not like all this was meaningless. We get to decide what in life is meaningful. And my decision... is to fight!"

Kaede smiled. One down. "Yumeno-san?"

The red-headed girl pulled her hat off her head, clutching it tightly in her hands.

"If Angie were here, I wonder if she'd keep saying we should stay. All she wanted was for us to be happy together. But... this place has too many bad memories. Too many people died here for me to ever live a peaceful life! Angie'd understand that. And Tenko..." the mage smirked. "Tenko'd wonder what's taking us so long. Even if they're gone, I won't forget what they did for me. I don't care what your stupid technology can do, my friends'll stay with me no matter what! They wanted us to live on happily, so we gotta move forward!"

With that, the pianist's eyes turned to face the only robotic bear in the room that actually mattered to her. "Kiibo-kun?"

"From the beginning, I have wondered if I was just a simple machine with delusions of grandeur. Even now, I can't escape that sense of dread. But... I have evolved beyond the being I was built to be. Both in your fake version of my story, and the one I have experienced for myself. I refuse to allow you to dictate my fate any longer!" The Kiibokuma stood proud. "For the sake of my fallen friends. For the sake of everyone who has died in the name of your Killing Games! I will no longer play by your rules!"

Each affirmation made the blonde's heart sing, making her all the more confident as she looked to her best female friend.

"What?" Harukawa scoffed. "Do you expect me to give some big speech about how Kaito wouldn't want me to give up? I shouldn't have to tell you that. It goes without saying. But this is more than that." Her eyes turned to the screens, displaying Team Danganronpa's logo. "You ripped whoever I was before out of my head and turned me into a weapon. And if that's what you want me to be, then that's what you'll get. I'll be the weapon that ends your Killing Game! Not just now, but I'll keep striking until your madness ends for good! It might not be easy, but if there's even a one percent chance at a happy ending, I'll bet on it every time."

Though Kaede knew not the origin of that expression, but she didn't need to. Everything was falling into place. And now, the one who had helped her get this far. "Shuuichi?"

"For the longest time, I was scared to face the truth... even now, I'm terrified. The outside world, the person I was? Everything I've seen makes me think it can't end well. But... as a detective, I have to pursue it, right? Living in a fictional world, it isn't healthy. I can't be scared of the possibilities anymore. There's a world of truth out there, waiting to be discovered, so I need to see this through to the end. No matter how scared I am. No matter how much I'm worried about the future. For the sake of my friends, and for myself, I need to take the next step. It's the only way to end all of this for good!"

Kaori grit her teeth at the detective's words. "It doesn't matter what you say! You're going to forget all of it, anyway! You won't be the people who wanted to keep fighting!"

"I wouldn't be too sure," the black haired boy countered.

"Eh?"

"Remember, we've seen what happens when someone gets their memory back, thanks to Iruma-san," Saihara reminded her. "And there was one moment that sticks out in my mind."

"Ah..." Iruma groaned, "Don't get all teary-eyed now, Idabashi. It doesn't matter. Nothing we do matters. Don't you get it? All of us are here to die, and I wanted to go out flashy!"

"If she was reverted back to her original self, why did she call Kiibo-kun, Idabashi?"

"That's right!" Hoshi realized. "We only started calling him that during the game."

"And why was he the only one whose name she remembered to change?" Harukawa noted.

"It has to be because the two were close during the game," Saihara theorized. "It's the same reason even in her changed state, she sought out Toujou-san."

"So... even if our memories change, we won't lose everybody?" Yumeno asked, clearly hopeful about the prospect.

"It would seem that way," Kiibo replied, his tone back to a more upbeat one.

"So with your big, scary threat gone, what do you have to say for yourself now?" Kaede challenged.

The words of the students wore away at the patience of Kaori. And more than just her. The Monokuma Cubs, long silent, and overjoyed at the prospect of victory, were equally frustrated by how quickly the tables had turned. With so much at stake now, they could not allow the game to end this way. It was time for them to challenge the others directly.

Monokid was the first to snap. "The outside world doesn't care about you!"

"We'll fight the outside world, and show them they're wrong!" Hoshi fought back.

Monofunny warned them that, "None of you will remember your friends! The happy times you had here..."

"Our friends wanted us to survive! That's why we have to do this!" Yumeno proclaimed.

Monosuke snapped back with, "You won't even be the people you are now! You'd essentially die!"

"I'd rather die doing the right thing, than continue to live supporting murder," Harukawa spat.

Monodam intoned, "TO DO THIS ON-LY CON-DEMNS A-NO-THER TO THIS GAME."

"You will attempt to continue the game regardless. We will take the option to fight." Kiibo said, shaking his head.

Monotaro tilted his head in confusion. "Do you really want to return to the people who longed for the killing game?"

"There's a chance that even after we return to our old selves, our new memories will linger," Saihara reminded him.

Kaori watched all this in awe, her anger growing more and more. And at last, it burst. "You'd prefer the awful truth to this happy lie?"

"I believe in the truth. And my desire to end this game isn't a lie!" Kaede's will held firm.

Not that that was enough to discourage her sister. "Danganronpa will keep going! Your old selves will encourage the return of the game! Your sacrifice is meaningless!"

"You've got that wrong! It's not meaningless! I have faith in my friends. Faith in myself. I believe we'll fight to end all the suffering together. I know that that version of me is real. I believe in that truth."

With that sweeping declaration, Kaede gathered all of her inner strength, and struck back against any argument Kaori could ever hope to throw at her.

"AND THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE!!!"

And then, with a thunderous roar, six students spoke as one.

"THIS IS OUR ANSWER!!!!!!"

The Monokuma cubs collapsed to the ground at the force of their declaration, and Kaori barely kept her balance.

"So..." she muttered. "Is that it?"

"It's how it has to be," Kaede replied. "I didn't come this far to lose now. I'm not giving anyone else up. This is the only way to save everyone. Including you."

"M-me?"

The pianist smiled. "Of course. If we stay here, you're stuck with this Eno-whoever girl's brain, right? This way, you'll get changed back. Just like us."

Kaori was shocked. Her sister had thought that far ahead? Even that had factored into her plan? It was insane! It was reckless! It was...

"Upupupupu..."

Hysterical.

"You really are one of a kind, huh, sis?" she snarked.

"I think you're proof otherwise," the pianist answered in kind.

With a heavy sigh, Kaori dropped the pretense, and delivered the words the class had been longing to hear for far too long.

"Court is adjourned."

And across the world, the feed stopped dead once mo