The world had died and Kyosuke Munakata pinned its corpse under his foot, submitting it to his will. The world was dead and the sliver of hope for revival kept him going.
And now, the revival depended on this careful plan.
Munakata strode down the hall in long strides. Hands clenched into fists, he focused on his target in the same way that he always did: unforgiving, unyielding, unwilling to relent. At the end of the hall, he paused in front of a set of double doors, taking note of the sound of low voices on the other side. Munakata allowed himself a small moment of reprieve.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Two subtle movements. Just like the two years it had taken to get to this moment, and damn if he wasn't going to let another slip-up jeopardize the outcome, not when he was so close.
Munakata made his entrance. The voices immediately fell silent. The room he'd entered was a repurposed board room, plunged in darkness save for a few computer screens. Several armed guards lined the walls. From the side, Juzo Sakakura—tall and imposing as always—stood stock still, sparing Munakata a nod of acknowledgement and nothing else. There would be time for pleasantries later. Across from him, a long table had been set up with three seats. The centre spot—the one Munakata intended to occupy—was vacant. On one side, Kazuo Tengan. On the other, Chisa Yukizome. She offered a fond wave.
“Fashionably late as always,” Tengan quipped. The old man leaned with his arms folded on the table, his infuriatingly calm smile highlighted by the austere lighting.
“I don’t have to justify myself to you,” Munakata countered. He rounded the table and took his seat. “Let’s get straight to business. I don’t want to waste any more time on this case than needed.”
“Are all these guards necessary?” Chisa asked from his side, voice low. “Using all this manpower for one person seems like overkill.”
“I don’t want to take any risks,” said Munakata. “If I know him, he’ll try to use this situation to his advantage.”
“Sorry, Kyo—Munakata. It's just—you do realize that we’re talking about an eighteen-year-old here, right?”
“Junko Enoshima wasn’t much younger than he was when she initiated the Tragedy. Age means nothing, not anymore.”
Munakata braced himself. Now was the time.
“Shall we begin?”
Munakata's gaze travelled from Chisa, who nodded, to Tengan, whose thin lips pulled into a tight, noncommittal frown.
"I must admit, Munakata, this seems to be a waste of resources, since you're so thoroughly convinced of this boy's guilt," Tengan remarked. “A hearing to decide his fate appears to be more of a formality than a necessity at this point.”
"Ah, I see you read my report, then."
"Indeed I did." A sharp bar of light passed over Tengan's glasses as he dipped his head. "I only mean that it's unusual for you to take this extra step when it would be much easier to have him executed on the spot. You've gathered enough evidence that no one would bat an eye if you did so."
"We need to maintain records for posterity's sake. When this Tragedy nonsense is over, we're going to need records to prove justice was served properly. The courts are in shambles as it is, it is our responsibility to set an example."
"So the Tragedy is nonsense now? Huh."
"Don't get coy, Tengan. I gave you the option to abstain."
"Why, Munakata, I would never dream of missing a chance to see you throw your weight around."
Munakata decided to let the jab slide. Instead he continued, "This is a Remnant of Despair we're talking about. He isn't exactly a normal criminal and a conventional proceeding would be...troublesome. No murderer, rapist, or dictator could reach the depths of depravity he and other Remnants have achieved."
"I have yet to be convinced."
"Then clearly you didn't read my report thoroughly enough. I promise you that by the time this hearing is finished, you'll be convinced of his guilt." Munakata took a breath. Tengan knew how to get under his skin, but now was not the time for petty squabbles. "Let's begin. Is the prosecutor ready?"
“A prosecutor?” Chisa raised an eyebrow. “You really are taking this 'informal hearing' seriously.”
“More than you know.”
A clear, professional voice warbled out in the stillness. “I’m ready, Mr Munakata.”
A lithe, elegant form melted out of the darkness to stand before the panel. She was a young woman not out of her adolescence, dressed in a white dress with a black pinafore. From head-to-toe, she carried with her an immaculate sense of order and ceremony, perfectly poised to perform her duties to the letter.
“The panel recognizes Kirumi Tojo, former Ultimate Maid and the lead investigator in the case,” said Munakata.
“Wouldn’t the actual Ultimate Prosecutor have been a better pick?” Chisa asked.
“Miss Tojo is more than qualified to lead the investigation. She’s displayed nothing but efficiency and professionalism."
“Thank you, Mr Munakata,” Kirumi gave a slight curtsy. “And I would like to further thank the remaining panel members for agreeing to this hearing. The world will remember this moment.”
Tengan’s brow clamped over his eyes. He was unreadable. That unsettled Munakata.
After regarding Kirumi with cold calculation, Tengan said, “It wouldn’t be appropriate to have any kind of proceedings without the accused present.”
“I strongly advise against that,” said Kirumi. “The accused has a history of disruptive and manipulative behaviour. I am concerned that he will attempt to create contradictions in the evidence."
"Be that as it may, in a formal court, the defendant has the right to be present. If we are setting an example for the rest of the world, then it would be prudent to follow the same guidelines. Wouldn't you agree, Miss Tojo?"
For a far-too-long second, Kirumi's eyes remained steady and tenacious. The only sign of underlying annoyance came in the form of an almost-missable twitch on her left cheek.
Recovering, she said, "If that is your desire, then I will not object further."
“Excellent," Tengan smiled. "Mr Sakakura, please bring the defendant in.”
Sakakura looked to Munakata for confirmation, to which he nodded. There would be no avoiding it. Still, Munakata mentally braced himself for the literal shit-storm about to waltz through the door, kick over the table, and create a torrent that not even the Future Foundation would escape.
Sakakura hadn’t been gone for a minute when they heard the sounds of a struggle coming from outside the room.
“Gosh, do you think he needs a hand?” Chisa whispered to him.
“He has it under control,” Munakata said. He kept his uncertainty to himself.
Sakakura reentered dragging a chair behind him. It wasn't an ordinary chair; it was the one the Future Foundation used to secure especially uncooperative prisoners. The occupant was firmly strapped in and the chair could slide across the floor without much effort. Despite this, when Sakakura positioned him before the panel, the boy had the appearance of anything but a dangerous criminal.
The accused Remnant was a pale, dark-haired boy, bright-eyed and youthful. He was wrapped in a straitjacket—an extra precaution—with additional straps around his waist and legs. A gag was over his mouth, preventing him from speaking. All-in-all, the boy didn't look like he was capable of the pettiest of crimes, let alone enabling the world's worst genocide.
Munakata knew better. He knew the stories about Junko. He knew how innocent she seemed, how carefully she'd cultivated her image.
Moreover, he knew about Kamukura.
All the same, Chisa gasped beside him and rose to her feet. In her frenzied state, he half-expected her to leap over the table and immediately fuss over the wretched criminal like she was his mother.
“Is all of that necessary?!” she exclaimed. “He’s just a kid!”
“This ‘kid’ has attempted to escape fifteen times,” said Sakakura. “He also bites.”
To illustrate his point, Sakakura held up his hand. A fresh row of red bite marks was visible on the side.
“I know this is difficult, but we need to take these precautions,” Munakata assured her. “Please.”
The silence howled , broken only by the dozen or so soldiers cocking their rifles to aim directly at the boy in the chair. He peered at them with what was at best faint amusement, drinking in the attention instead of being terrified of it. Dangerous in every sense of the word. Chisa must've seen some flicker of it, because she lowered back into her chair. Although she didn't voice her protests, her eyes flared with concern and disapproval.
“You may proceed, Miss Tojo,” Tengan nodded to the Ultimate Maid.
The boy’s head whipped around and his smiling eyes landed on Kirumi. He cocked his head to the side.
"Thank you," said Kirumi. "Sitting before you is Kokichi Oma, the former Ultimate Supreme Leader. He was intended to be a student of the 79th class of Hope’s Peak Academy and be a model for our society—a paragon of hope. He now sits before you accused of theft, fraud, assault, vandalism, terrorism, and 2367 counts of first-degree murder.”
Kokichi Oma nodded in agreement at each of the charges.
“And yet, all of that pales in comparison to his most serious crime,” Kirumi continued. “Mr Oma is accused of being a member of the Remnants of Despair and a close disciple of Junko Enoshima—the Ultimate Despair, herself. As a Remnant, he’s committed acts of terrorism that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. He’s enabled his fellow Remnants to continue the struggle to this very day, prolonging the Tragedy and costing more and more lives while we sit here in this very room. Due to the nature of his wrongdoings, it’s impossible to perform a conventional trial, which is why we have gathered here today: to decide his fate.”
Tengan shuffled through the papers on the desk, fiddling with his glasses.
"I'm not convinced of your impartiality, Miss Tojo," said Tengan. "Were you or were you not in the same class as this young man?"
"It is true that we were intended to be in the same class at Hope's Peak," Kirumi confirmed. "However, although he accepted the initial offer to attend the academy, Kokichi Oma never showed up for that year. I did not know him until this investigation began."
“He didn’t? Why not?”
"We believe that he was aware that the Tragedy was about to occur and separated himself from the scene of the crime. Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence that substantiates that. Whenever the accused has been questioned, he has given contradictory statements of why he never went to Hope’s Peak. The primary basis of this case relies on witness testimony rather than physical evidence. Much of the witness testimony is documented in the files provided to you, but I do have a two individuals here today to provide—”
Kirumi cut short when the door slammed open with a resounding crash. A dark figure barrelled in. They moved so fast that they slammed into the table, where they crouched over, panting heavily.
"I'm sorry for interrupting!" the individual panted.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Munakata shouted, rushing to his feet.
“Oh—Shuichi!” Chisa exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
The individual drew himself to his full height—which proved to be nothing impressive. He was much younger than Munakata initially thought, probably around the same age as Kirumi and Kokichi. However, his demeanour was different. His expression went tense, laced with fear and doubt the other two lacked, as if he was hoping to slink away and turn himself invisible at the slightest confrontation. Trembling all over, the boy shrunk away from Munakata.
“...Yukizome, who is this?” Munakata asked, glaring at Chisa.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” Chisa smiled. “He’s one of my agents. Although...I thought you were out on assignment, Shuichi..."
"I'm sorry, but I had to come," said Shuichi. “I know this is unconventional, but if the panel will allow it, I’d like to present some arguments of my own.”
“What for?” Munakata asked.
“I...I’ve been conducting my own investigation into Kokichi Oma’s association with the Remnants of Despair.”
Chisa blinked at him. “What.”
Munakata also blinked. “What.”
Kirumi let out a long sigh.
“It’s been a side project, if you will,” Shuichi continued. “At first I followed the case because I was interested in it, but then I noticed some circumstances that led me to do some investigating on my own.”
“That is very unconventional,” Munakata said carefully. “An investigator was already assigned to the case. Are you questioning her competence?"”
“N—Not at all! But I think I’ve found some details that—that warrant further analysis, things that might have been overlooked.”
Many emotions spiralled through Munakata at once: cold indignation, fiery frustration, lukewarm bewilderment. In the back of his mind, he vaguely thought that he should be raging at Chisa for not controlling some amateur investigator in her department, for jeopardizing his plans. If so much as a flicker of doubt was cast upon the evidence, that would be it. It would all unravel. Kokichi Oma would spirit away. The Remnants would continue. Munakata’s careful control would be threatened.
But looking at Chisa he realized that he couldn't possibly summon the strength to be angry at her. Not when she gazed at him with such careful regard, her lips smiling, her eyes encouraging him to do the right thing. Funny how they managed to carry a complete conversation in silence.
Relinquishing his vice-like grip on the table, Munakata sat back down and turned his attention to the boy in front of him. Dressed in the usual Future Foundation suit, the only deviation from the uniform was a cap concealing one eye.
“Shuichi Saihara, was it?” Munakata sounded out the name carefully, cataloguing it in his mind for future reference.
“Uh-huh,” Chisa nodded. “The Ultimate Detective himself.”
“The Ultimate Detective? Wasn’t that Kirigiri?”
“He was in the year below.”
Of course. When Hope’s Peak had been up and running, it was generally discouraged to have two students with the same talent in the school simultaneously. An exception was sometimes made so long as they weren’t in the same year.
“So you were in the 79th class as well?” Munakata surmised. This was turning into quite the class reunion.
“T—That’s right, sir,” Shuichi nodded. He spared a side glance to Kirumi, giving her as warm a smile as he could given the circumstances. “Hi, Kirumi.”
“Shuichi,” she said. “A pleasure to see you again.”
Her words were welcoming, but her tone was icy. Picking up on the frigid atmosphere, Munakata catalogued that into the back of his mind.
“Yukizome, do you vouch for him?” Munakata asked.
“Shuichi’s a very thorough detective, pretty much on par with Kirigiri,” Chisa assured him. “If he has something to say about Oma’s case, we should hear him out.”
Munakata inwardly groaned. This just wasn’t his day. “I’ll allow you to stay, Mr Saihara, but I’d advise you to think very carefully about what you present to the panel. For now, Miss Tojo, you may proceed.”
Kirumi’s gaze lingered on Shuichi for an extended second and her forehead didn’t clear. It took far too long for her posture to soften and break the gaze.
“As I was saying,” said Kirumi. “I have summoned two witnesses to this hearing to provide their testimony and support the conclusion that Oma is a Remnant. Do I have your permission to call a witness?”
“Proceed,” Munakata answered.
With a flourish, Kirumi gestured to the door. Sakakura went to open it, and the first witness filed in. Munakata knew the face at once, as did most of the people in the room, he suspected: it was Sohnosuke Izayoi. Lean, imposing, and aggressive, he regarded his audience with boredom, not looking in Kokichi's direction.
“I believe you are familiar with Sohnosuke Izayoi, former Ultimate Blacksmith and the leader of the Future Foundation’s ninth division,” said Kirumi. “Mr Izayoi, if you will.”
Kirumi gestured to a chair set off to the right of the room. Izayoi obediently sat down, arms and legs folded and looking more bored than intimidated.
“Mr Izayoi, are you acquainted with the accused?” Kirumi asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Izayoi. “I was the one who captured him.”
“When and where was Oma apprehended?”
“Two years ago. Kyoto.”
“Would you please tell us about the circumstances that led to his capture?”
“Fine. He stole my stuff. I tracked him down. I captured him.”
“...We’re going to need more details.”
Izayoi’s steely gaze flickered.
“Fine,” he said lowly. “There isn’t much to say. The story isn’t nearly as exciting as some people make it out to be. This happened six months after the Tragedy occurred, a little over two years ago now. I had been recruited into the Future Foundation and was tasked with manufacturing weapons for our peacekeeping forces. I wasn’t the leader of the ninth division at that time.
“Kokichi Oma was a thorn in the Future Foundation’s side. He’d made public declarations that he was a Remnant of Despair and he claimed involvement in the mass suicide of the Hope’s Peak Reserve Course students, however he’d evaded capture for six months. He came to my attention when his organization started intercepting shipments of weapons. My weapons. I was not amused. I was especially frustrated that somebody,” He glared pointedly at Munakata, “wasn’t doing anything about it.
“When I realized that the higher-ups in the Future Foundation weren’t going to act, I took matters into my own hand. I found out that Oma’s organization had several safe houses located throughout Japan, however since I was acting independently, I didn’t have the manpower to investigate all of them. That is, until I received intelligence that indicated his current location.”
“Where did the intelligence come from?” Kirumi asked.
“The intelligence came from within his own organization,” Izayoi revealed. His words were razor-edged, enough to disembowel.
From his chair, Kokichi’s eyes widened and then shrunk. Everyone in the room was moving—tapping their fingers, shifting in their seats, moving their arms—but Kokichi was motionless in every sense of the word.
“One of his subordinates came to their senses,” Izayoi went on. “They didn’t want to be a part of a Remnant’s plans. That didn’t save them, however. When I received the intelligence, I immediately went to their hideout in the hopes of intercepting Oma before he could cause any more damage. When I got there, ten members of his organization attacked me—and I defended myself. After they were dispatched, I realized that Oma wasn’t among the dead.
“When I recovered the shipments, the Future Foundation acknowledged my initiative and promoted me. I had the resources I needed to keep hunting for Oma. Two weeks later, I personally apprehended him in Kyoto, after which he was transferred to this facility and he’s remained here ever since. There, that’s my story. Can I go now?”
“Can I question the witness, please?” Shuichi spoke up. It was so sudden that several people in the room jumped.
“...If you must,” said Munakata.
Kirumi stepped aside, not looking at Shuichi as they switched places.
“You said that the intelligence you received came from within Oma’s organization,” said Shuichi. “How do you know that?”
“Because one of its members approached me, dumb ass,” Izayoi told him. “It wasn’t exactly a secret that I was looking for Oma. They came to me."
“Why not arrest them right then and there?”
“I didn’t have the authority to arrest anyone. Also, I needed their cooperation in order to corner Oma."
“Who was this person? Did you get a name?”
“No. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The members of his organization didn’t use their actual names; they all used card suits as aliases. That little monster over there was Joker.”
“So you didn’t even get the alias of this person. How could you be sure that they were part of his organization?”
“Because she was one of the ones that ended up dead.”
Shuichi paced in front of Izayoi, looking thoughtful. “If she was in the process of betraying Oma and his organization, why would she fight with the others when you tracked them down?”
“Who knows. Maybe she had a death wish.”
“You never found out what her motivation was.”
“It doesn’t matter. I was going to deal with her the same way that I planned to deal with the others. She betrayed Oma and his organization, but she still harboured a Remnant."
“Do you know why his organization stole the shipments?”
“To be a pain in the ass, that’s why.”
The corners of Shuichi’s mouth pulled into a frown. He placed a finger on his chin. Then, apparently remembering that he wasn’t alone, looked to the panel.
“I have no more questions,” he said.
“Then the witness is excused,” Kirumi stepped forwards. “Mr Izayoi, you may leave.”
“Finally,” Izayoi said. He got to his feet and marched out without looking back.
Once he was gone, Kirumi turned her attention back to the panel. “I’d like to proceed with the next witness, if the panel would permit it.”
“At your discretion, Miss Tojo,” Munakata agreed.
“Then I’d like to call Juzo Sakakura forward.”
Sakakura stepped up before Kirumi had even finished her sentence; he must’ve been anticipating it. Like Izayoi, he didn’t look at Kokichi, and took the chair with what was at best casual indifference.
“Mr Sakakura, please tell the panel what your relationship is with the accused,” Kirumi said.
“‘Relationship’ is a strong word,” Sakakura grumbled. “For lack of a better term, I’ve been his jailer ever since he came to this facility. And I’ve been held accountable every time the little monster’s attempted to escape.”
“Here we go,” Munakata sighed.
“Fifteen times,” Sakakura continued lowly. “Fifteen. That’s how many times he’s tried to escape. He nearly succeeded on two occasions! And that’s the ones I know about! Don’t even get me started on all the other shit he’s done.”
“Such as?” Kirumi asked.
“Everything from graffitiing his cell walls to selling DVDs.” Sakakura threw his arms up into the air. “I don’t even know where he got the DVDs! There weren’t even any movies on them! It was just two hours of him singing Frank Sinatra songs and somehow he managed to make more than 90,000 yen from selling them to the guards! I’ve had to fire eighty-four guards since he showed up here!”
Sakakura massaged his forehead.
“He flooded his cell, he incited a riot, he bribed the guards,” Sakakura went on, counting off his fingers. “He convinced a guard that he was his own twin—the 'good' one, and that the 'evil' one had already escaped. He told another that the Tragedy was a government conspiracy! He did this all in solitary confinement. He’s stuck in his cell twenty-three hours of the day and still...he still manages to cause trouble. That isn’t just a Remnant of Despair sitting there. That thing is a monster.”
“I understand that you’re frustrated, but please maintain your composure while you’re testifying,” Kirumi instructed him.
“Frustrated is the smallest word for what I am,” Sakakura snapped. “The monster has it out for me. He sent me a letter declaring his undying love in the hopes that he could convince me to let him go.”
From his chair, Kokichi batted his eyes.
“DON’T YOU DENY IT, YOU LITTLE FREAK!” Sakakura roared, pointing accusingly at Kokichi. “I KNOW IT WAS YOU!”
Shuichi stepped in. “May I?”
Kirumi glared, but stepped aside.
“How long has Oma been in solitary confinement?” Shuichi asked.
“Pretty much since he got here,” said Sakakura. “I put him in there after his first escape attempt.”
“It sounds like he’s caused a lot of trouble since his imprisonment. Is there any evidence that suggests he’s been directly corresponding with anyone on the outside, for example other alleged Remnants of Despair?”
Shuichi turned to the panel. “Could I question Oma?”
“I don’t approve of that,” Kirumi intervened. “As I mentioned at the beginning of this hearing, Oma has a history of manipulation and deceit. If he’s allowed to speak, he will attempt to misdirect the panel in an effort to preserve his own life.”
“I don’t think a fair hearing can be held without hearing from the accused,” said Shuichi.
“The accused has been questioned in the past. All of his interrogations over the past two years have been documented and recorded.”
“Yes, but I haven’t had a chance to interrogate him.”
Tengan peered at Shuichi over the top of his glasses. “You’ve been conducting an independent investigation into Oma, and you’ve never interrogated him?”
Shuichi lingered on Tengan, then gently travelled over Munakata, and his gaze finally settled on Chisa. She gave him a slight nod of affirmation.
“A—Actually, sir,” Shuichi stammered. “This—This is actually the first time I’ve seen the accused in person.”
“Absolutely ridiculous,” Munakata barked. “Your incompetence is astounding. What kind of so-called detective doesn’t even question the suspect?”
“With all due respect, sir, the reason that I didn’t interrogate the defendant was because Sakakura quite literally chased me away whenever I asked to see him...”
“Did not,” Sakakura denied.
“You said you’d throw me in jail...”
“Did not,” Sakakura snapped, his voice as shrill as a defiant child.
This was exactly what Munakata had been terrified of, and his fears were further confirmed when no one was able to come up with a legitimate reason to not let Kokichi speak. He gestured to Sakakura vaguely. At once, Sakakura was on his feet and closed the distance between himself and Kokichi, pausing only to give him what he had no doubt was the most lurid, scathing glare he could manage. Sakakura removed the gag.
Kokichi took a minute to stretch out his jaw.
“It's about time,” he said. “You're missing out on the sound of my wonderful, wonderful voice.”
“Shut up,” Sakakura snapped, and then grumbled under his breath, “Gonna regret this.”
“Aw, do you think so poorly of me, Juzo?” Kokichi asked. Fat tears blossomed in the corner of his eyes. “After all we’ve been through together, this is how you treat your one true love?”
“Don’t you fucking start!” Juzo shouted. He quickly removed himself to stand in the back of the room.
“Where you going?” Kokichi called after him. “C’mon, be a pal!”
In response, the many soldiers cocked their guns and aimed them right at Kokichi.
“Are all those for me?” he asked quietly, as if it was an afterthought.
“I have questions for you, Oma,” said Shuichi.
“Eh? Questions? But the Future Foundation’s so good at coming up with answers! You don’t expect me to come up with answers that they don’t approve of, do you?”
“This isn’t about the integrity of the Future Foundation. This is about you.”
“I’m really not an interesting person, I promise. Although I might become a more interesting person if you can talk them into letting me out of this chair.”
“That’s enough, Oma,” Munakata spoke up. “You will refrain from misdirecting this hearing and answer his questions.”
“Hello to you to, Kyosuke,” said Kokichi, leaning to look past Shuichi. “Been a while. How're you and your girlfriend getting along? You two married yet or are you still throwing bedroom eyes at each other?”
“That’s none of your business,” Munakata snarled.
“Ugh, this is boring!” Kokichi whined. “You wake me up at an ungodly hour, tie me up, drag me out of my nice cushy cell, and now I don’t even get to hear the latest Future Foundation gossip. Boring!”
“Oma, this might seem like an obvious question, but I feel that it’s one that needs to be asked,” Shuichi interrupted. “Are you really a Remnant of Despair?”
“Sure am,” Kokichi answered. “I’m the leader of an evil secret organization with 10,000 members. We have despair parties on Fridays. At least we did. I imagine that without me, the parties haven’t quite been as exciting.”
“According to the accounts I’ve uncovered, your organization only had ten members, not including you,” said Shuichi.
“Ha! You fell for that, did ya? Hate to break it to you, but the morons Sohnosuke killed were scapegoats, the lowest-ranking members of my organization. They were about as expendable as it gets. I should send Sohnosuke a thank you card for getting rid of them before I had to.”
“Only a Remnant would hold life in such callous disregard,” Kirumi sneered.
“Unless he’s lying,” said Shuichi. “You said yourself that he has a history of lying.”
“Be that as it may, he is a Remnant. There can be no mistaking that.”
Shuichi gave her a careful stare, one of restraint and caution. He ignored her and turned back to Kokichi.
“The charges allege you were responsible for the mass suicide that led to the deaths of Hope’s Peak’s Reserve Course students.”
“Could those losers even be called actual students of Hope’s Peak?” Kokichi asked. “It’s not like anyone would miss them.”
“...Except their families.”
“Eh, I’m sure that those guys were so boring that their families didn’t even notice they died. I mean, even they knew how boring their lives were. All I had to do was walk around and tell them to kill themselves, and they did it!"
“You went around telling over two thousand students to kill themselves.”
“And they did it.”
“Somehow I feel you’re lying.”
“Feelings don’t equate to evidence, Detective,” Kokichi smiled wickedly. “Can you prove I’m lying?”
Shuichi frowned. “No. But I can’t prove that you’re a Remnant of Despair, either, so I’d be a poor detective if I persecuted someone based solely on speculation.”
“There’s no logical reason for him to claim he’s a Remnant of Despair,” Kirumi intervened. “He stole from the Future Foundation. His organization hampered our efforts. Anyone who opposes the Future Foundation is clearly an agent of despair.”
“I’m not so sure that that logic is sound,” said Shuichi. “This hearing was called to determine Oma’s fate, but from my perspective, the investigation hasn’t conclusively proved if he's a Remnant. And since it's clear that Oma isn't about to provide any reliable testimony, then the basis of this case is even more reliant on physical proof, of which there is none."
“What are you saying, Saihara?” Munakata demanded.
“I’m saying that there are a lot of unanswered questions in Oma’s case,” Shuichi elaborated. “We don’t know for certain how he was involved in the mass suicide, nor do we know the motivations of the subordinate who betrayed him.”
“Motivations?” Kirumi seethed. “What possible consequence could that have? A Remnant's sole motivation is despair—logic beyond comprehension.”
“In any investigation, motivations are key pieces of evidence. Why would she betray someone that she’s worked closely alongside for years? If she held a grudge towards him, that might have motivated her to say things about him that weren’t necessarily true.”
“So now you’re speculating that Oma isn’t a Remnant,” said Munakata.
“Well, I...” Shuichi swallowed. The rush of clarity had receded, and Munakata could see the detective fumbling for words. “I—I just think it would be presumptuous to sentence someone who’s been accused for crimes as serious as this without understanding their motivation or concrete evidence. I won’t dispute that Oma was responsible for the stolen weapons, but can we be certain that he has ties to Remnants? All evidence that implies that has been circumstantial at best.”
“Wow, he’s actually trying to defend a nefarious criminal like me!” Kokichi marvelled. “You’ve got balls, Shuichi!”
“This is ridiculous,” Munakata sighed. “I won’t tolerate half-baked speculations.”
“B—But it isn’t half-baked speculation!” Shuichi insisted. “I really don’t think—”
“He’s got a point, Shuichi,” Kokichi chimed in. “I am a villainous Remnant, the bad guy your mom told scary stories about! No one in their right mind would claim to be one without it being true.”
“But there’s no proof!” Shuichi exclaimed. “There’s absolutely no proof that he’s a Remnant. A person can’t be convicted without evidence.”
“Quiet,” Munakata ordered.
Whatever further protests Shuichi had died in his throat, and he stared at Munakata with childlike fear.
“Oh, you made him mad,” said Kokichi. “This is gonna be good.”
“You be quiet, too,” Munakata snapped.
“What’s the matter, Kyosuke?” Kokichi cooed. “Are you mad because Shuichi here is ripping apart your argument with cold, hard logic?”
“W—What?” Shuichi stammered. “But you’re the one who said you were a Remnant—”
“I was lying, of course. Unless I’m lying about lying about being a Remnant. It doesn’t matter what the truth here is, because Kyosuke here doesn’t care about that. I confessed, I got in the way of the Future Foundation, and to him, that’s a big no-no. Poor Kyosuke! He’s a hard ass but on the inside, he’s a sweet, sensitive guy who wants to kill anyone who threatens humanity’s future. People like me.”
Munakata rose out of his chair. He stepped over the table.
Chisa reached out to him. “Kyosuke—”
“You’re right to be afraid,” Kokichi grinned wickedly. “I killed over two thousands students and I’d kill billions more just to keep from getting bored. Our motivations might be different, but you’d sacrifice anyone to preserve the future. I bet you’d even sacrifice your girlfriend over there for a bit of security.”
Munakata was barely conscious of his fist coming into contact with Kokichi’s face. One moment, he was trapped in his self-contained world of order and reason. Then, Kokichi’s chair fell back and he landed on the floor with a crash.
Kokichi cackled. Awful, terrible, heart-wrenching, spine-tingling laughter bounced around in the following silence, shaking Munakata out of his shock, forcing him out of his world. He willed himself to have control, and surrendered it to the burning rage heating his belly and fraying his nerves. Lying on the ground before him, Kokichi stared up with a fresh black eye, his eerie smile stretching from ear-to-ear.
Munakata reeled on the spot, taken off guard by Kokichi’s blatant insolence. Then, some part of him recovered, and he pulled himself back in.
Righting his tie, Munakata returned to his seat. As soon as he walked away, Shuichi hurried over to Kokichi’s side and pulled him back upright.
“I bet that’s not gonna be on the record, is it?” Kokichi quipped.
“I told you to be quiet before—I will not repeat myself,” said Munakata. “Saihara has made his position on the matter of Oma’s guilt clear. Tojo, do you have a response?”
“Indeed I do,” Kirumi stepped forwards. “Saihara is incompetent.”
“Ouch!” Kokichi snickered.
“K—Kirumi?” Shuichi spluttered. A deep line appeared between his eyebrows, his expression drawn with naked hurt.
“I must apologize to you, Miss Yukizome,” Kirumi addressed Chisa. “I have absolute faith in your competence as a leader of the Future Foundation. The fault does not lie with you. The fault lies with Saihara, himself—I, myself, do not doubt that he has good intentions, however his inability to conduct a proper investigation has led him to a false conclusion."
Shuichi looked like someone had given him a good smack and he couldn’t quite recover. Unable to articulate, his mouth hung open like a puppet that had had its strings cut.
“He wishes to live up to the standard set by another former Ultimate Detective: Kyoko Kirigiri,” Kirumi went on. “In his admirable but reckless efforts to gain renown as a just and fair investigator, he failed to thoroughly analyze certain elements of this case. He did not interrogate the defendant nor did he gather any new evidence that would corroborate his arguments.”
Shuichi flubbed about and managed to splutter out, “B—But I didn’t interrogate Oma because Sakakura—”
“And he blames others for his own shortcomings. Saihara is unreliable. I, however, have dedicated two years of my life to ensuring that the monster known as Kokichi Oma is brought to justice. Oma is a pawn. A dangerous pawn, but a pawn all the same. I recommend that the panel have him executed for his extensive crimes. He may be only one Remnant of Despair, but killing just one shows that they can’t escape the Future Foundation.”
“She knows her stuff,” Kokichi remarked. “I don’t know about you guys, but I think I’m in for it.”
“I agree,” said Munakata.
“Sir, can I say one more thing?” Shuichi pressed.
“No, you may not.”
“I won’t repeat myself again. Speak out of turn again and you’ll be removed.”
“Sir, we’re talking about a life here! If the Future Foundation gets this wrong, then the integrity of—”
“Sakakura, see him out. The panel has wasted enough time on this as it is.”
Sakakura seized Shuichi's right arm. Shuichi wiggled out of it and approached the panel, hands outstretched and expression strained with desperation.
“Mr Munakata—” Shuichi started.
“Geez, give it up already,” Kokichi snorted. “Man, I hate it when people grovel to someone who isn’t me. It’s just embarrassing!”
Finally, a sense of resignation and shock washed over Shuichi. Then, Sakakura pulled on his arm and dragged him to the door.
“Thank you for your contributions, Mr Saihara,” Munakata called after him, trying to keep the sarcasm at a minimum. He promptly turned to Chisa. “I never should’ve let him open his mouth.”
“Shuichi’s a good kid,” Chisa said soothingly, her voice quiet so that it wouldn’t carry. “Even if his suspicions turn out to be nothing, maybe we should consider listening to him.”
“I’m sorry, Chisa, but this needs to be done. You understand the serious repercussions as well as I do if Oma isn’t found guilty.”
Chisa went quiet. Munakata turned so he wouldn’t have to look her in the eyes and prayed that she wouldn’t interfere. His gaze instead wandered across to Tengan, who had remained silent and resolute throughout the ordeal. He gave Munakata a slight nod.
“Very well, we’re ready to rule,” said Munakata. “Kokichi Oma, you’ve been found guilty of all charges. In two days time, you will be executed.”
“Alright!” Kokichi beamed as if this was the best news he’d ever gotten. “It’s about damn time. Y’know, you could’ve saved me the trouble and done that outright.”
Munakata massaged his forehead. “Sakakura...spare me the headache and get him out of here.”
“Aw, already? But we were having so much fun together. Don’t send me back to my room so soon, Kyosuke.”
Sakakura seized the back of Kokichi’s chair and dragged him towards the exit.
“Don’t leave me, Kyosuke!” Kokichi wailed.
Munakata pinched the bridge of his noise. Unfortunately, that didn’t drown out the sound of Kokichi and Sakakura exchanging choice words all down the hall.
It was what he’d been doing for the last two years, and damn if he was going to stop now, not when freedom was within reach, having finally drawn close enough for him to touch it. Deep in the essence of his soul, all he had to do was lean forward and grab it.
Sakakura was making it difficult.
Then again, Sakakura had made it difficult since the moment they met eyes.
Even though Kokichi spent most of his time in his cell—a place devoid of outside stimulation—he liked to think that he had a good handle on the facility’s layout from his escape attempts. Sometimes, he’d managed to get out, then realized that he wasn’t going to be able to grab his freedom, and was forced to run back to his cell before anyone noticed he was missing. The good thing about those failures was that it had given him vital opportunities to scout out locations, figure out patrols and where the cameras were, narrow down the weak points, and find supplies.
But it seemed that he was going to have to move up his plans if he hoped to avoid the execution.
The chair made an awful grinding noise as Sakakura dragged it down the hall, further and further from the room where Munakata, Chisa, and Tengan had peered down at Kokichi with mild indifference. The hearing had taken him by surprise; Kokichi had almost given up on the hope of getting a proper sentencing a year ago. He didn’t even know that today was the day until Sakakura and ten guards had rushed his cell and wrestled him into the straitjacket.
His thoughts were so immersed in recalculating his escape that he almost missed Shuichi Saihara, the boy detective who was now hurrying after them at a brisk pace.
“Mr Sakakura, could I talk—” Shuichi started.
“Did Munakata say it was okay?” Sakakura asked.
“Then how about you beat it?”
“You must be really stupid if you thought you could actually save an evil Remnant like me,” Kokichi jeered.
“I was trying to help you,” Shuichi said.
“And I didn’t ask for it. If you’re determined to be a do-gooder, go waste that energy on someone who actually wants it, ‘kay?”
“Shut up already,” Sakakura snapped.
“Are you jealous because I have eyes for someone else now?” Kokichi asked.
“I said shut up!”
“W—Why would you tell me to shut up?” Kokichi teared up. “I thought we were friends! Why are you so mean, Juzo?”
“I said shut up, you little monster! God, I can’t wait until they execute you. I’m gonna get a fucking front row seat.”
“Wh-a-a-at? You mean you aren’t gonna do the execution yourself? How disappointing.”
“Don’t fucking tempt me. And you!” Sakakura shouted to Shuichi, who was still trailing behind them. “Stop fucking following and go bother someone else.”
Shuichi slowed and then stopped altogether. Sakakura pulled Kokichi to the elevator and shoved him in, but before the doors closed, he got a final glimpse of the so-called Ultimate Detective who had so foolishly fought for another person’s life.
For an extended second, their eyes met and Kokichi was stunned by what he saw. No cold indifference, no hatred, no outright terror coiling around his soul and squeezing the life out of him—no, none of that. The look sent a shiver to Kokichi’s heart. It was pity. He hated it. He gave Shuichi a dark glare and a wicked smile, the true look of a Remnant. He watched in fascination as pity melted away to a strange cocktail of fascination and dismay.
Then the elevator doors closed. Kokichi revelled in the feeling of the slight jolt as the elevator descended downwards. His cell was usually so quiet that any sensation was a good sensation, even the bad ones. The subtle vertigo of the elevator descending sent fresh shivers through him. Sakakura tapped the floor impatiently, his arms firmly folded as if to protect himself from some unseen threat.
Sakakura wasn’t his favourite person to talk to, but he was the one person Kokichi had had the most contact with since he’d been in Future Foundation custody. Looking up at him from this angle, he looked more imposing than usual: all muscle and thick lines and a hard, unlikeable face.
Beneath that muscle, Sakakura was an insecure mess as good at lying to himself as Kokichi was to others.
“You really aren’t gonna miss me just a little bit?” Kokichi asked.
“No,” said Sakakura.
“Not even a teensy little bit?”
“...I might miss beating you up.”
“Ouch! That hurts. Literally. I still have bruises, y’know. Still waiting for an apology.”
“You asked for it. I told you not to mess with the plumbing.”
“You didn’t have to ram my head into the toilet seat. Kinda rude, is all I’m saying. But I guess prisoner abuse is just a thing you’re good at, which is fine! We all have special skills and everyone knows what yours is.”
“Fucking hell, maybe I will ask Munakata if I can do the execution,” Sakakura grumbled.
The elevator door slid open. Sakakura dragged Kokichi’s chair over the threshold and into the strange silence that constantly shuddered over the segregation wing.
Kokichi memorized each turn they took. He knew it by heart already, but it didn't hurt to make sure that his mental map was accurate. His cell was on the second floor of the block. He’d been there for about seven or eight months after setting a fire in his last one. The doors were solid steel, consisting of little more than a small vertical window and a food slot.
Home sweet home.
Sakakura dragged him inside, undid the straps, and shoved him forwards. With the straitjacket holding his arms in place, he floundered about like a helpless infant, barely managing to roll onto his back. Sakakura was already stepping out the door.
“Hey, don’cha want to get me out of this?” Kokichi asked.
“Do it yourself!” Sakakura snapped.
He slammed the door shut.
Kokichi grinned at the door. “Nice seeing you again!”
It only took a minute or two to wiggle out of the straitjacket; he’d mastered the trick long before being cornered by the Future Foundation. Kokichi deposited it on the floor in an indistinguishable white lump, as if shedding a layer of skin, and moved to the window to peer out.
All was quiet. Sakakura was gone. Lunch would be soon.
He had no choice, then. He’d been expecting an execution, but not quite so soon. There was no avoiding it, no more delays. He’d have to escape today.
He scanned his cell and took inventory of his supplies. In segregation, worldly possessions were few and far between. There wasn’t even a bed, probably because that was the thing he'd set fire to last time. He kept his lock picks taped under the toilet rim and he retrieved them then. Hidden behind the toilet was a makeshift lighter he’d made from a battery, duct tape, and a bit of wire. Crude, but effective. Finally, he had a power cord kept in the same place. He coiled that around his arm and put the rest of his items into a pocket.
Now, he had to wait.
Kokichi crouched near the food slot and waited. Waiting was the worst part, waiting was what he had been doing after every failed escape. This time he could do it. If he didn’t, then his life was over.
He mulled over his plan again in his mind and it all depended on the food slot.
Over the last few months, Kokichi had been selectively starving himself. Not to the point where the guards noticed or his health was in jeopardy, but enough to lose some weight. He’d get a meal, eat a portion, then flush the rest. The change was so subtle that anyone who saw him would attribute it to stress. Other members of DICE had spent time behind bars, and Kokichi remembered from their stories that it wasn't uncommon to shed a few pounds.
But thinking about DICE ignited a stabbing pain at the front of his skull. Kokichi squeezed his eyes shut and said each of their names like a strange, silent prayer. That done, he shoved them out of his mind and focused on what the sky would taste like.
Kokichi was tempted to pace like he typically did when he was wound up, but he didn’t stray from his vigil. He waited and thought about the sky and the sun and the overwhelming urge to run. Running was what he was best at doing figuratively and literally. Based on conversations he’d overheard, the Tragedy had gotten worse before it started getting better; he wasn’t sure about Japan’s current condition. He imagined it had fared better than in other parts of the world, parts of the world where they didn’t have organizations like the Future Foundation. As much as he detested them, as much as he detested Munakata, they did do some good work, even if it was half-assed.
The food slot popped open. The tray of food nudged in.
Kokichi rushed forwards.
“Hey, keep that open!” Kokichi shouted. He stuck his hand through the slot and grabbed onto the latch, preventing it from shutting.
“What—get the hell off!” the guard demanded.
“Keep it open,” Kokichi demanded.
“Back off, Oma.”
“No, you’re going to keep it open.”
“Y’think this is a democracy? Back the fuck off or else!”
Kokichi smiled. “If you don’t keep it open, I’ll tell everyone that you’re my accomplice.”
The guard paused. Then, scoffed, as expected. “Oma, you’re a liar. No one would believe you.”
“I’m gonna die in two days. Maybe I got nothing left to lose, so in my final moments, I’m willing to dish out a few names. Maybe you’re one of them.”
It was a lie. He didn’t even know this guard’s name, only that his gloved hands were dark and had done terrible things.
Either way, the lie left the guard unbalanced.
“...You really want this thing open that badly?” the guard asked.
“That’s all you gotta do,” said Kokichi. “You leave it open, I forget your name. Simple as that.”
The guard sighed. “Fine, it’s not worth the headache. But I gotta close it when I come get your tray.”
“It’s a deal. Now go do your job and stop harassing me.”
Kokichi kept his hand latched to the outside in case the guard tried to double-cross him, but to his relief he didn’t press the issue and moved on with his rounds.
Good, good. This was good. Everything was fine so far.
Kokichi’s racing heart disagreed. A prickle of adrenaline pulsed throughout his body, putting his nerves on edge.
He took the tray and shoved a handful of rice into his mouth; who knew when he’d have a chance to eat again. Crouched by the food slot, he kept tabs on the guard's location based on the squeak of the trolley. He was going left. Kokichi's adrenaline was swelling to a monstrous size.
Kokichi tilted his head and pressed it against the slot. It took a bit of pressure to get it through. He'd carefully measured out the size of the slot and he'd known it would take force, but that didn't make it easier. His heart throbbed. This should work. Once he got his head and shoulders out, the rest of his body would slide out easily. It had to.
His head popped out into the open. He was forced to look left at the back of the guard delivering the food trays. Dammit, he had to be at least six feet tall.
Kokichi wiggled his body. This was no better than the straitjacket. He shifted his shoulders enough to force one arm out. He used that one to leverage himself and push back against the door. Then, the rest of his body followed. Starving himself had been a good move; any larger and he would've gotten stuck, and as it happened he barely managed to make it out. Years of being light on his feet had made silence of something of a second nature to him, so when he somersaulted out, he was careful to brace himself against the floor to prevent noise.
The guard was turning toward another cell. Kokichi worked quickly. He pressed himself against the wall and sidled to him, unwrapping the cord from his arm. How hard could it be to take out a six-foot man wearing body armour?
The adrenaline had gone from a mild pulse to an all-out tsunami. Kokichi hurried forwards, light on his feet, as quick as could be, remembering all of the times he’d had to pick pockets and make a break for it. This couldn’t be much different. He held the cord between his hands, the plug digging into his palm. The guard suddenly rushed toward him. Except it wasn’t the guard who was moving. It was Kokichi. It was Kokichi who was throwing the cord over his head. It was Kokichi who was seizing both ends and then pulling as hard as he could.
The guard let out a wheeze, a gasp, and then he was down, clawing at his neck. No words. Just shallow breaths followed by nothing as Kokichi wound both ends of the cord in his hands and pulled, pulled, pulled.
“C’mon, pass out!” Kokichi hissed desperately. “Pass out already!”
It might've been ten seconds, it might've been hours. The time heaved past him, dragging its weight, creeping, skulking, extending the torture for both of them. The guard struggled, vaguely reaching and brushing Kokichi’s hair. Kokichi counted the seconds away in his hand.
He reached twelve when the guard went slack. Kokichi released the cord and the guard collapsed, landing on the ground with a dull thud.
“Shit!” Kokichi breathed. “Shit, please don’t be dead...”
Kokichi felt for a pulse. For a terrifying moment, he thought that there was none...and then the slight movement of a vein sent a cascade of relief through him.
There wasn’t any time. Kokichi’s plan had played out so many times in his head that he now moved on autopilot, snatching the guard’s stun gun and then his security card. There was no sense trying to hide the body; the cameras were unavoidable, so Kokichi had to rely more on speed than discretion.
Kokichi followed the path Sakakura had taken him when he’d returned him to his cell, along the cell block and to a secure door. The door required a key card. To the immediate right was the sole shower used in the segregation block, a small crevasse with a chain link fence blocking access and a cloth blanket for minimal privacy. He’d hated it, but honestly, he’d always revelled in the chance to get out of his cell.
Fishing out his picks, he unlocked the gate and tossed the blanket into the corner. He fished out his lighter and gripped the wire between his index finger and thumb. Kokichi took a breath and willed his hands to stop trembling as he put the wire in contact with the end. The result was instant. A flick of fire sprang up and he tossed the makeshift lighter onto the blanket.
Kokichi didn’t wait to see the result. He used the key card on the locked door and it opened with a low buzz. His heart was pounding. Any second now, someone would realize his disappearance; the fire would only provide a few precious seconds.
He didn’t hesitate. Out in the hall, he immediately headed for the elevator...
...And the fire alarm sounded.
“That was quick,” he mused. Kokichi broke into a sprint.
He made it to the elevator without encountering anyone and slammed his fist into the call button. The doors opened at once and he dove inside, repeatedly pressing the basement button. Just under the wail of the alarm, he heard hollers, footsteps, and perhaps everyone in the facility descending on the fire. In a heart-pounding second that extended into eternity, Kokichi made himself as small as possible and crammed himself into the corner. When the doors closed, he stole a moment to catch his breath.
There was a camera positioned in the upper corner of the elevator. Kokichi made eye contact with it. He’d known that there would be no way to completely avoid detection, though he’d rather fancied the idea of just disappearing altogether. Since it was there, though, he blew it a kiss and made a heart shape with his hands.
Suck on it, Sakakura, he said in his mind. Better yet, suck Munakata, suck on the person who had deluded himself into thinking he’s the noble hero.
When the doors opened again, Kokichi stepped out without checking to see if it was vacant. There were no cameras in the basement. No budget for them. Kokichi had once hidden down there for three days before Sakakura finally figured out where he was, and still there were no cameras. It hadn’t been freedom, not really, because freedom meant he could go and do whatever he want. The basement had just been a slightly larger prison that smelt like cleaning supplies and it was even harder to get food. There was an advantage though, an advantage that the Future Foundation had overlooked when they repurposed the facility.
This hadn’t always been a Future Foundation building. Kokichi wasn’t sure what it was before, maybe it was some government building, maybe an office, maybe a place where businessmen in fancy suits discussed the future of the world while trading large amounts of money. Whatever the case, while Kokichi had been down here before, he’d discovered an important detail, a weakness that the Future Foundation couldn’t wish away.
It was the Tragedy itself.
Whatever this place had been, whatever its old identity was, it wasn’t built to house prisoners. That modification had come later, and that was it’s weakness. It had holes regular prisons didn’t have, tiny corners worn away by the war and the fighting on the outside. As a result of fighting, wear and tear, and lack of care, the walls were cracked, and there was an overall sense that the basement wasn’t as well-cared for as the rest of the building.
More importantly, there was a subway station next door.
Of course, the subway had long been out of service. It had pretty much crumbled right after the Tragedy and many people died during cave-ins and attacks by the Remnants. That left a lot of empty tunnels, a lot of places where he could hopefully slip through. Truth be told, his plan hinged more on luck than careful planning. There was no telling if he’d come face-to-face with a blocked tunnel or if the Future Foundation had placed security measures in there. That wasn’t even counting the possibility of encountering members of the many factions running rampant across the city.
He would just have to cross his fingers.
Kokichi headed down the hall, but didn’t get far when he heard faint voices up ahead. His heart stopped. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone done here save for maintenance workers. Worse, his probably-an-exit was in the direction the voices were coming from.
There was no avoiding it. He’d have to go toward the voices. Even if their conversation ended, this was the only way back into the main facility. Kokichi glanced upwards into the tangled mess of pipes running along the ceiling, normally too crowded to be of any relevance, but maybe just enough to hide him.
Kokichi pulled a folded chair out of an adjacent closet. He and stepped onto it, then leapt up. It took about four tries to grab the largest pipe, and a tremendous amount of effort to haul himself up. There was much less maneuverability than he’d anticipated. His back was pressed against the ceiling, his body spread across the pipe. Still, he was able to shimmy his way down, his hair catching in faint cobwebs, his breath coming out in shallow gasps.
Then, he caught words.
“—leave until you give me an explanation.”
“I do not owe you anything.”
Kokichi knew those voices. He almost froze. It was Shuichi and Kirumi. He continued creeping forward, as light as possible, as their voices drew closer and closer.
“I’m not letting you leave,” Shuichi emphasized.
“You are angry.”
“You’re damn straight I am. Just what the hell was that back there?”
The voices were now right below him. Kokichi leaned over the pipe just enough to get a view of them.
Shuichi was right in Kirumi’s face, pointing accusingly at her. Kirumi was as composed as always, save for her half-lidded eyes. Kokichi’s first instinct was to wonder why they were having a hushed conversation in the basement, but he answered his question almost as soon as he asked it. Shuichi must’ve asked her here in the hopes of catching her alone.
“I’m sorry,” said Kirumi earnestly.
“I have responsibilities, Shuichi. It is unfortunate that they came at the cost of slandering your reputation as an investigator. I know that you are capable, but I must be sure that Oma is prosecuted for his crimes.”
“You think that’s what I’m mad about?”
Kirumi raised her gaze. “I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t give a damn about my reputation. You sent someone to their death, Kirumi.”
“Oma is a Remnant. He deserves no compassion.”
“On circumstantial evidence? Are you insane? I’ve seen the interrogations, the videos, the witness statements—it’s damning, for sure, but hardly substantial proof that he actually has link to anyone affiliated with Enoshima. There’s no sign that he’s ever directly communicated with the Remnants. The Future Foundation never had an opportunity to even question members of DICE aside from him.”
“What would you have had Izayoi do? He was attacked and he defended himself.”
“That’s precisely the point. If they were in the process of betraying him, why would they also defend him? Doesn’t that sound suspect to you? Or are you working with Munakata to manipulate evidence?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think you do.”
Kirumi let out a light huff and began to walk away. Shuichi quickly blocked her path.
“The Future Foundation needs a scapegoat,” Shuichi said in a shrill whisper. “Ever since the killing game ended, the pressure to do something about them has increased tenfold. Oma looks suspicious—maybe he’s a Remnant, maybe he’s not. What matters is that he looks bad. Want me to keep going or can you fill in the blanks for yourself?”
“...Clearly you don’t understand the importance of psychological warfare.”
“If that means sacrificing a potentially innocent person in order to preserve peace, so be it. These are the difficult choices leaders must make, Shuichi. I don’t take pleasure in taking a life.”
Kokichi craned his neck, enough to catch the look on Shuichi’s face. He eyes were wide, his mouth was downturned. Part of him was holding onto his professionalism, the other part was filled with hurt and confusion.
“What happened to you, Kirumi?” Shuichi asked. “I thought we were friends.”
“Hope’s Peak was a long time ago, Shuichi,” said Kirumi. “I have a duty to Japan, as do you.”
“I know that, but I’m not willing to sacrifice more lives. Hasn’t there been enough death already?”
“...I can see that I cannot convince you. Because of our past friendship, I will pretend this conversation didn’t happen. Please...I implore you. Do not ask more questions or Munakata will be forced to act.”
Kirumi rushed past him, her heels clicking across the floor.
“Kirumi!” he called.
Kokichi didn’t dare move until the raised voices and the click-click-click of Kirumi’s heels faded away. The alarm was still blaring from somewhere in the distance.
When the worst of the noise was gone, Kokichi hung his legs over the pipe and jumped down. The stress of the adrenaline was still coursing through him, forcing details to jump out at him in stark detail: the stale air, the subtle pat-pat-pat of his feet against the cement floor, the faint, flowery smell of Kirumi’s perfume lingering behind her. Kokichi hurried down the corridor, to an inconspicuous storage room where he’d previously hid from Sakakura and his patrols.
In his mind, he knew that there was a good chance his exit would be blocked. In his heart, he believed otherwise. He held onto the belief, the small sliver of hope, his last chance at liberation from this hellhole. Alternatives were unacceptable. Today, there was only one option: he had to get away. Either leave or die. If he died in the escape, so much the better; at least the Future Foundation wouldn’t get the satisfaction of sticking a bullet through his skull.
Kokichi reached the storage room. It opened with a quick pick of the lock and swung open. At once, sharp, cool air struck his face—the unmistakable odour of freedom. When the smell reached him, the tension building in his shoulders lessened somewhat.
The room was packed with crates, shelves, supplies, and old furniture. The last time Kokichi had hidden in there, he’d slept on an old couch and it had been the best rest he’d gotten in months, even though he could feel the springs through the cushions. Kokichi climbed over the many obstacles in his path, following the fresh air. He picked up a flashlight he’d previously stored on one of the shelves.
In the corner of the room, just behind a crate, Kokichi found a place where the wall had been damaged—maybe in a bombing, maybe in an attack, maybe by some other desperate prisoner determined to dig his way out. Either way, part of the wall had collapsed, leaving behind a cramped hole in the spot where the wall met the floor. There was no sign that it had been detected by anyone. Kokichi shone his flashlight into the hole. Just a little more and he could squeeze through; this had been his other objective when he’d resolved to lose weight. In comparison, the food slot was nothing. This was going to take a lot of patience.
Using his hands, Kokichi dug through the dirt to make the opening a little wider, ears open for a sign that anyone was coming. Thick wires protruded from the cement from where it had crumbled. When the hole was just a little bigger, Kokichi turned on his flashlight and rolled it through first. He watched the pale light roll down on an angle until it disappeared from sight. Hopefully a good sign that the opening went into the subway station like he hoped.
There was nothing to it. If he was doing this, it had to be now. Sakakura had to remember this room. He would come looking for him.
Kokichi shimmied sideways and shoved his body into the opening. At once, he got caught on the wires protruding from the cement. He grit his teeth as they ripped through his thin clothing and sliced through his skin. They held on like angry claws attempting to restrain him, attempting to pull him back into the Future Foundation. Kokichi suppressed any urge to cry out in surprise and pushed further, getting past the worst of it until slowly, surely, the storage room started moving away and he was going down.
To say it was small was an understatement. Any bigger and there would’ve been no hope of getting through. As it happened, his back and chest pressed against the tunnel walls, his legs were uncomfortably sprawled out, and he was completely, utterly reliant on his hands to feel his way through the blackness. His hands ached with the stress of pulling his body along, the dirt digging deep into his nails, suppressing the urge to cough as fragments came loose and rained down on him.
Then, open air.
It was a five foot drop, but he may as well have leapt form the Burj Khalifa with the force with which he hit the ground. Kokichi landed right on his shoulder. Pain thundered through him, but had the opposite effect that he thought pain should have—instead of paralyzing him, his mind sang, creating a rush of euphoria and glee. The adrenaline finally ran its course and reality hit him with all the force of the morning after a night of drinking. Sprawled on the ground, Kokichi rolled onto his back and laughed.
He’d done it. He was out. This was freedom. Lying in the dark, his body aching, his senses tingling, a cold chill nipping at his exposed hands. No Sakakura, no straitjackets, no hearings. The laughter exploded out of him, ripping the back of his throat and muffling his senses even though he was vaguely aware that he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Kokichi had to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing more, as tempting as it was to keep doing so, because he hadn’t quite processed what had happened, but his body knew that there was still much to be done. There was still an escape to be had. He found his flashlight had rolled not too far away. Still turned on, it illuminated a dark, cavernous field of tiled floors, beat-up posters, and broken electronics. His instincts had held fast; it was a subway and there was a maze of tunnels he could escape through. It didn’t matter which one, as long as they took him as far from the Future Foundation as humanly possible. To stay away from them, he’d walk on water and go to the ends of the earth.
He stumbled upright. Adrenaline had left him weak-kneed and clouded with fatigue. It was the sweetest sensation he’d ever tasted, and it was the sensation he carried with him as he stumbled into the safety of the shadows.