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."
"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.
"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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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.