-4/9 SATURDAY, AFTERNOON, SHUJIN ACADEMY
Shujin Academy was hailed all over Tokyo as one of the best private high schools to attend. Any who graduated here was guaranteed an accepted application at most, if not all universities around the country. The teachers were highly acclaimed with multiple degrees and a strict curriculum, and it even had an accomplished Olympic medalist hired as the gym teacher, who headed the national winning volleyball team. Everything seemed perfect.
It's the first week of school.
Kimisawa Airi opened her eyes, her irises as deep as red wine, and began to doubt.
She turned in her seat, and stared at the bruises and defeated demeanor of Mishima Yuuki, her classmate and an outside hitter on the school's volleyball team.
Who gave him those bruises? She knew little about volleyball, but even a sport wouldn't be giving him such a variety of discolorations all over his body. In fact, she had seen other members of the volleyball team in similar condition. It was only the beginning of the semester, and it wasn't even close to sports season when the regional sports tournaments would be held, so why?
All these questions swam in her mind, distracting her from the lesson. It was a good thing Kawakami-sensei didn't seem to care, though her occasional glances implied she knew that her student wasn't paying attention.
Airi grimaced, fidgeting with her mechanical pencil.
She didn’t recall anything from the lecture, but since it was the first week, it mattered little. More importantly, why had the teachers not stepped in about their injured students?
The bell rang, signaling the end of classes for the day. Most of the students as well as the teacher got up and left the class, swarming the halls to go home.
Deciding to try to find an answer to the questions nagging at her, Airi stood up as well, making sure to straighten out her uniform to minimize any wrinkles. Shouldering her bag with one hand, she walked up to her bruised classmate's desk.
He didn't notice her approach, too distracted with packing his books with fumbling hands and lowered eyes.
"Mishima-kun?" She called out with as gentle of a voice she could muster, and what she made sure was a kind smile.
His head of short indigo hair shot up, a startled expression appearing on his face. Her smile dimmed at the hint of pure panic in his brown eyes that then settled into its usual anxious look.
"A-Ah yes, Kimisawa-senpai?" Mishima stammered quietly, fidgeting with the sleeves of his white turtleneck. "Was there something you needed..?"
She tucked some of her rose colored hair behind her ear. "How was your day?” She asked, ignoring the Senpai moniker. “You seemed rather depressed during the last period."
He took a moment to process her words. His hands continued to play with his sleeves, pulling, rubbing, pinching. She caught a glimpse of a red-purple bruise on his wrist, matching the ones on his knuckles and the areas between his thumb and pointer finger. "Um, it was all right. I was just um, thinking...of future exams..?" His voice trailed off, and he looked away.
Airi tilted her head, her braid falling over her shoulder. "Those are pretty far off, I don't think you need to worry about them now.” She decided to press further. “Is something else bothering you?"
His breath hitched at the question, and the fear in his eyes came back in full force.
Airi's brow furrowed, and she couldn't help but feel worried. Could this be more serious than she had first thought? What exactly was he hiding?
Mishima shot up from his seat, his body rigid. His hair shadowed his eyes, avoiding looking in her direction.
"No, nothing's wrong!" He bit the inside of his mouth. "Please excuse me. Practice is starting soon and I can't afford to be late again, he might..." He suddenly stopped himself and his breath hitched. "Ack— N-nevermind, see you tomorrow, Senpai!"
With that, he rushed out of the room without a glance back.
Airi was glued to her spot in the now empty classroom.
‘He’? Did he mean the coach, Kamoshida-sensei? There were punishments in sports, sure, but...
She clenched her hands, and with a sinking feeling in her stomach, grabbed her bag and went down the same way. Mishima had already disappeared, and with it being a Saturday, most of the students had already vacated for their weekends off, leaving the halls eerily empty.
For a school that she had attended for over a year, she suddenly felt like a stranger.
Nearing the gym on the first floor, Airi still had yet to bump into anyone except the janitor in the stairwell. Where was the school staff? She hadn't heard about any meetings, so there should be at least a few staff members around, whether it would be a teacher or an administrative clerk. Thinking back on last year, they weren't around this area of the school then, either, once Fudo-sensei was suddenly let go and was then replaced by Kamoshida-sensei in the middle of the year for competitions.
Airi gripped her bag, the strap biting into the calloused skin of her palm, and quietly made her way to the side entrance of the gym.
The door was unlocked. Already the sounds of practice could be heard from the squeaking of sneakers and volleyballs hitting the lacquered wooden floor inside. From what she knew, the volleyball team had mandatory practice three times a week, even during holidays and off-season.
Everything was starting to paint an ominous picture in her head.
Silently, Airi cracked the door open. The bright lights inside the gymnasium blinded her, and it took an uncomfortably long amount of time to adjust.
When her vision returned, she froze, and her blood ran cold.
Some members were diligently hitting volleyballs at the wall, smacking as hard as they could. It would have been perfectly innocuous if not for the bags under their eyes and the bruises around their arms and knees from when their uniforms shifted.
Clear handprints and shoe marks.
Others were standing with their backs against their teammates, who threw volleyballs at them with all their strength in a mockery of endurance training.
Airi trembled— in fear or anger, she couldn't tell. Why was this happening?
She looked around a little more and gasped, the tiny inhale drowned out by the sound of pained grunts.
There was Kamoshida-sensei near the back of the courts, and in front of him was a shivering Mishima, head held submissively.
She couldn't hear anything from their conversation— they were too far away— but her eyes didn't deceive her. Her classmate had gotten a new bruise on his face since she last saw him twenty minutes ago.
Kamoshida stood there with his hands on his hips, looking down at his student with a sneer on his rectangular face. The former Olympic medalist's appearance was of a classic jock's; tall and muscular with a tight white shirt that showed off his physique and name brand blue sweats and sneakers. He had a head of curly hair that did not compliment the shape of his face and his broad nose, and a stopwatch hung around his neck as is proper for a gym teacher.
Despite his sterling reputation, he was clearly berating the downtrodden teenager.
Leaving Mishima in tears, Kamoshida then moved onto—
The female volleyball players.
Airi watched in horror as the older man stepped much too close to one of the girls, his hands lingering on her hips as an excuse to fix her form. He was close enough that even though Airi didn't have a good angle from the door, she could tell he was all but pressed against her.
The female volleyball player’s entire body was tense, like a rabbit ready to flee, and was forced to endure the unwanted touch. The other girls averted their gazes, and the worst part was that none of them looked surprised or even disgusted. Only resigned.
Airi clenched her fists, her nails digging into skin. No words could describe what she was currently feeling.
How dare he. What did he think he was doing as a teacher? Did he think he was getting away with this?
She dug into her bag for her phone.
She needed to photograph evidence to show Principal Kobayakawa. There was no way she would let this go on any longer.
Airi groaned silently when she grasped nothing. She probably left it inside her desk, but that wouldn’t stop her from telling someone, anyone , about this.
With one last look, she slowly closed the door and quickly walked across the courtyard toward the main building.
She could go to the student council president— it was her duty to report to her— but the principal would be more effective, especially against a teacher.
All but sprinting up the stairs, Airi arrived at the office on the third floor in short time. Straightening out her uniform, she took a deep breath and knocked, mentally scolding her fast beating heart to calm down.
"Yes, come in!" She heard through the door.
Sliding it open, she walked into the office and made sure to close the door behind her with a careful snap. Stopping in front of the only desk in the room, she bowed. "Kobayakawa-Kōchō, I’m Kimisawa Airi from class 2-D. I would like to speak to you about something."
The principal— a rather grotesquely rotund man clad in a mustard yellow suit that strained to stay buttoned— looked up from his paperwork and gleamed a blinding smile that never failed to set her on edge. If Kamoshida was the epitome of good health, then the principal would be the complete opposite. Bald, with no discernible features, and very much overweight to the point where his chair creaked with his every breath.
"Ah!" He exclaimed. "If it isn't one of the top students in the school! What a coincidence! I saw your end of the year report earlier, and I must say, you definitely have what it takes to get into the best Universities." He laughed jovially, his bald head shining red from the large window behind his chair. “You’re only behind Niijima-san! Surprising, but then again, it’s not really so surprising since you’re on scholarship.”
He then took out a handkerchief to wipe his rather perspired forehead. “I suppose the pressure to stay on it would motivate you to do well. You must be grateful to be able to attend our prestigious school on our budget. To think, you wouldn’t have been able to afford here otherwise! You would’ve gone to a public school on the government's dime!”
Airi didn’t know how to respond. “Yes, thank you, Principal. I’m... grateful to be able to learn here, and will strive to maintain my grades."
Of course he had to mention the damn scholarship.
He shuffled his papers out of the way and clasped his swollen hands to give her his full attention. "Now, what is it that you want to speak to me about? Is it about a letter of recommendation?" He grinned, stretching his wide face even further. "I can certainly arrange for one next year, as long as your grades continue to be so wonderful! Or is this about your uniform? Unfortunately, while the scholarship covers the cost of tuition and trips, it doesn’t extend to extra uniforms or supplies. You’ll have to pay out of pocket."
Airi shook her head. "No sir, I’m fine with this ensemble if the staff accepts this.” She gestured to herself, specifically at the black bolero jacket and white button-up.
Only her plaid skirt counted as official uniform attire, but at least she looked like she belonged. The bolo tie with a gem broach was a bit much, but she liked to believe it looked authentic.
“Though I thank you for your offer," she continued, "I wanted to discuss Kamoshida-sensei."
His smile dimmed at the mention of the gym teacher. "Oh? Did you want his autograph?" He joked. "I 'm sorry, but you'll have to gather the courage to ask him yourself for one!"
"No, sir," she said firmly.
She had to say it. She couldn't let him get away with this.
"This may sound far fetched, but…” She took a deep breath, trying to concentrate above the deafening beats of her nervous heart. “I think Kamoshida-sensei is abusing the volleyball team."
His smile disappeared in an instant. "Now why would you say that?”
“I saw bruises—”
He interrupted her yet again before she could say more. “That is a rather serious accusation, Kimisawa-san. Kamoshida-sensei is an esteemed teacher; the best in this academy! Volleyball is an intense sport, and that means the team gets a little roughed up now and again. I'm sure whatever you may think of him, it is unfounded."
“But sir, he was touching—”
He brusquely waved her concerns away with a bloated hand. "Slandering a teacher is a deep offense, one that someone like you can’t afford to make. I don't want to hear any more of it. Now please, school has ended for the day…” His expression turned thunderous. “...And I'm sure you have better things to do than to bother me with your nonsense!"
Airi was shocked to the point of silence, and her mouth closed with a click.
How could the principal say such things? Shouldn’t he care about his students’ welfare? That was what a principal was supposed to do, right?
She bit her lip before hurriedly walking out of the office without bowing or even waiting to be dismissed.
He didn't even listen to her! If he had just heard her out, then..!
She stopped and clenched her eyes. The bruises on Mishima stood out in her mind, and a sharp tinge of guilt hit her. She couldn't even do something as little as this...
Heading into her classroom, she walked in just to grab her phone, but not without glaring at it first.
If she had had this with her from the start, maybe she could have proven it. Then again, considering how the principal treated her words, there was no chance he would had even bothered letting her pull out her phone for proof.
Passing by staff that seemingly appeared out of nowhere without a word or greeting to them, making them frown at the lack of respect, she walked out of the building. Ducking into the nearby vending machine alcove, she leaned on the wall with a frustrated sigh.
What could she do?
She didn't want anyone hurt. She had seen the proof scattered on Mishima-kun’s skin. He was enduring all of this— no, not just him. The entire team. Both the boys and girls were being treated horribly, the girls especially. She knew their names, their faces. Not well, but she knew. Why didn't she look deeper into this? Why didn't anyone else?
How was it possible that no one else noticed? Didn’t their parents—?
She stilled and covered her mouth, bile threatening to rise up her throat from how horrible that train of thought was.
Or they did notice...and weren't doing anything. Was that really it..? They couldn't bring themselves to care for their kids, even when they were coming home with bruises and split lips every day? Just for the prestige of winning tournaments and scholarships?
The hand that wasn't covering her mouth gripped her phone tightly.
Why was all of this happening..? She had thought that parents would care about their children. That school staff would help them, not...not abuse them for their own sick amusement.
She thought it would be different here...
“This school…” she breathed out with a tremor, “is like a dungeon to them.”
One that she was trapped in too, along with several others, and unable to run away.
Couldn’t she do something? Anything ? Or was she worthless here as well..?
Horror, anger, resentment, sorrow.
They all rose up within her in a nauseating wave. Familiar, disgusting feelings that she had hoped would never appear again. Not when she was finally getting somewhere in life.
A loud beep suddenly startled her.
Looking down, she realized the sound had come from her phone. On the screen was a bright red logo of a stylized eyeball, radiating a mysterious and almost threatening aura.
She hesitantly tapped it, and a search box appeared.
"Please enter a name, a location, and a keyword," the app stated in a feminine voice.
A strangely familiar voice, too. One that echoed in her ears and felt like it resonated inside her very being…
For some reason, she almost expected a masculine voice to accompany it.
Shaking her head of abstract thoughts, she focused on the screen with a frown.
Was her phone being hacked? It was secondhand, so it might not be secure, but still. She knew she had never downloaded an app like this.
And yet, something about it...
She tapped on the map function a couple of times, curious as to what it would do. It had a map, so was it some sort of GPS?
Her thumb hit the school's location, and it updated with a ping. "Now heading into the Palace. "
The desk lamp’s harsh glow reflected off of his inhuman teeth.
"So, she has taken the first step and opened her eyes."
He glanced toward the living doll, and then to the two he had separated from one, their yellow eyes staring away obediently.
The location they were in was silent except for the occasional echo of dripping water.
He had pondered to himself whether or not to interrupt, but found himself much too curious about this specimen to interfere. How would things change, now that she had begun to question? Would she even survive to meet the tricksters?
The results would be very interesting, whether or not she succeeded in this trial. The audience wanted a good show.
It had been silent for far too long.
"Bring the trickster here."
The twins snapped to attention. “Yes, master,” they said as one.
Let us begin the game.
2/3/18 update with Airi's official art done by me! Redone 8/31/18. Redone AGAIN omg me 12/22/19