The first thing Anzu became aware of was the light.
There was a blinding light that filled her vision, blocking out recognition of everything else until her mind and sight gradually began to clear. She realized that she was lying inside the Yumenosaki Academy gymnasium, and what had been filling her vision were the lights overhead. She blinked a few times, aware of a dully throbbing pain in her head. When it gradually cleared, she sat up and looked around the room.
Everyone from Yumenosaki’s idol department seemed to be here—she did a quick head count, exactly thirty-seven, plus herself. It appears most of them had just woken up, and were just as confused as Anzu. Why were they here? Anzu panicked a bit when she realized she couldn’t remember anything, no matter how hard she tried. Where were they before they came here?
—Ah, that’s right. The graduation banquet.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she remembered. To give a final farewell to the third years who were about to leave, the entire school had held a banquet where everyone feasted and joked and bid their senpai good luck. It was hosted at a fancy restaurant outside of the school, and of course Anzu was one of the people who organized it. She remembered leaving presents for all the third years, and remembered being moved to tears when they all decided to give a last performance just for her…And it was there, during the performance, that she felt her vision begin to blur, and then—nothing.
“H-Hey, Anzu-chan? Um, are you okay?” Someone called out to her. It was Makoto, who had just hurriedly put on his glasses after finding them on the floor next to him. He sounded worried, but it was hard not to be in a situation like this.
Anzu nodded. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not hurt or anything? I think we all blacked out, and that’s scary…”
“It’s all right, Makoto.” Anzu patted herself down, made sure she wasn’t injured, and gave Makoto a cute grin with a wink to reassure him. “Everything’s in fine order.”
Subaru’s voice rang out, to the right of her. “That’s good~! It’s strange enough that we’re here, but it’d be even worse if our precious Producer were hurt! Wait, why is everyone making gloomy faces? We’re idols, we should smile…☆”
He was the only one with enough positivity to smile in a situation like this, but Anzu decided not to say that out loud.
“Does anyone remember anything about coming here?” Hokuto, sitting on her left, addressed the room. He maintained a calmer composure than most of the students, but it was clear that he, like everyone else, had no recollection of how they ended up here. Even Eichi, who has supreme rule over the academy, and Rei, who always seems to know everything that was going on, held expressions of bewilderment. If they were faking it, then it was a level of acting capable of surpassing even Wataru.
“It has come to my attention that we may have been drugged, and then brought here.” This time it was Keito. He adjusted his glasses before continuing: “Everyone remembers passing out during the graduation banquet, correct?”
There were nods of agreement. An air of unease settled over the room. “Who did this, and what do they want with us? It’s a crime to drug and kidnap people, you know. The bastard who did this needs to get sent to jail.” Izumi crossed his arms in disdain as he said this.
“True! It is a hero’s job to find and eliminate the villain that has done this!” Chiaki’s voice rings out, booming as ever.
“But…Izumi-chan, why would anyone kidnap us and then take us back to our own school?” Arashi asked, rubbing his cheek with a worried expression. “Maybe an emergency or something happened. Anyway, we should head outside to check.”
No one objected, so Anzu took the lead to stand up and cross to the gym doors, pushing them open. Somehow, it was already daytime outside, and the sunlight that flowed into the room was so warm and bright it didn’t seem real. Anzu frowned. They had been unconscious for at least a night. Had no one come to look for them? This seemed strange. Something was wrong.
She walked outside the gym onto the school field, and as everyone followed, there were a few gasps of surprise, and it wasn’t hard to realize that something was indeed wrong.
“The ocean.” Kaoru said from behind her, with a mixed tone of awe, shock, and concern. “It’s right there.”
“You have made an intelligent observation, Hakaze-dono,” remarked Souma dryly.
Indeed, beyond the school field was a small area of sandy beach, and then…water. A vast expanse of it, that seemed to go on infinitely. The water seemed to encircle Yumenosaki Academy entirely, turning the school into some sort of island. The sound of crashing waves on the beach and the smell of sea salt would have been soothing if not for the absurdity of it all. Of course, Yumenosaki was originally near the edge of the ocean. But it had never been in the middle of it like this.
“The ‘ocean’ is ‘calming’…” Kanata said with a content expression, seemingly unaffected by their predicament. “We should all ‘bubble, bubble’ in the ‘ocean’…”
“This is ridiculous.” Mao shook his head in disbelief. “It must be a dream, right? There’s no way all of our city could suddenly get drowned, leaving only our school intact.”
“Wahahaha! It’s the aliens!” Leo yelled out. “We’ve been abducted to a strange parallel universe!”
“Is it the same on the other side of the school? Are we trapped? Hold on, I’ll check!” Before anyone could respond, Mitsuru had already dashed off with surprising speed in the direction of the courtyard and the front gates. Arashi, Adonis, Nazuna and a few others ran to follow him, with the rest of the group trailing behind. Sure enough, the water went around the entire academy, essentially trapping them inside. There was no land to be seen, anywhere, in any direction. By the time everyone had gathered around the fountain, the feeling of being stranded was setting in. Hajime clutched at Tomoya, looking terrified. “What’s going on…?”
“Amazing! This is an adventure set in place for all of us…Shall we sit back and enjoy the new twist of destiny laid out in our scripts?” Despite the situation, Wataru still laughed boisterously, flinging a few rose petals out of seemingly nowhere. If he was worried about the situation, he certainly didn’t show it. Alongside him, Kanata and Natsume seemed to be the only ones who were standing back to calmly watch. Anzu shook her head. As expected, it was hard to tell what they were thinking.
Anzu tried reaching into her pocket to find her smartphone—if she could contact one of the teachers, or at least her parents, she could maybe get an idea of their situation. But she realized that her phone was gone. In its place was an electronic device of some sort—it was no bigger than an ID card, and when she pressed the on button, her name and photo flashed onto the screen.
“Um, does anyone know what this is…?” she asked.
“What is it?”
Among the students clamoring to see what she had, and a few fishing in their own pockets to find theirs, a voice rang out from above her—a cheeky, obnoxious, discordant voice she had certainly never heard before.
“That’s your electronic student ID card! All of you lot have one!”
Everyone whirled to look for the origin of the voice, which appeared to be…a small…stuffed…bear. Standing on the top of the fountain as if it had appeared from nowhere.
For what looked like a stuffed animal, it had a rather repelling appearance. It was colored half sparkling gold and half a dull blood red. As if that wasn’t enough, its left eye was shaped like a star, while its right eye was a thin sliver that looked like a demon’s. Its shape was cute enough, but somehow everything about this bear reeked of malice.
“Uhm?” Anzu managed, not quite comprehending what she saw.
“Good morning, you lot! I’m sure you all have a lot of questions to ask right now—but don’t worry, your new headmaster Kirakuma will tell you everything you need!”
No doubt about it, the bear is talking.
“The stuffed toy is talking…” Nazuna said, frowning. “This isn’t another one of your eccentricities, is it, Itsuki?”
Several pairs of eyes turned to Shu, standing at the far edge of the crowd, because the talking toy just reminded them too much of a certain doll that he always carried. Shu bristled when he felt the attention on him.
“Non! Such a distasteful piece of junk could not possibly be created by my hands. I am insulted that you would even think that. However, if it were a crude emulation done by Kagehira, I would not put it past him.”
“Nnah, it wasn’t me, Oshi-san,” Mika spoke up from next to Shu, eyeing the bear suspiciously. “It’s scary an’ cute, but it gives me the shivers somehow…”
“Hey!” Everyone whirled back to the bear, who seemed to be quite angry. “It’s not good manners to ignore your headmaster! I’m not a toy, either. I am the one and only Kirakuma!”
“Umm, excuse me, Kirakuma…san?” Hajime asked, polite as he always was, even addressing a stuffed bear. “You said that you’re the headmaster? I don’t quite understand what that means…”
“It means exactly what it sounds like!” The bear put on a smug expression. “I am in charge of you lot now, from the beginning of this excursion to the end! As you can see, I’ve been designed with idols in mind!” It wiggled its body, flashing its sparkly golden color. No one was impressed.
“Hey, you bastard! So you’re the one behind all this? What’s this all about? Why is our school suddenly a fucking island in the middle of nowhere? Answer me or I’ll smash the stuffing out of you!” Koga was already gritting his teeth, seemingly ready to lunge at the small bear like a wolf. Anzu tugged on his sleeve, trying to pull him back. The bear looked harmless, but Koga could end up hurting himself if he lashed out at it.
“I was just getting there!” The bear looked pleased with itself. “Students of the idol department at Yumenosaki Academy…You have all been invited to a game of Mutual Killing! The rules are simple. Kill someone, and ensure no one figures out you’re the culprit. Only then can you leave, and the rest of you…”—it turns, with a menacing glint in its eye that caused Anzu to draw back—“will die.”
There was silence for a few deafening seconds. Then the crowd erupted with noise, shouts and yells of shock and disbelief.
“The fuck do you mean by that, bastard?!” Koga.
“You’re asking us to become murderers?” Tetora.
“That’s too cruel! I don’t want to diiiie!” Hinata and Yuuta, in unison.
“Silence, everyone, please.” The voice wasn’t loud, but it rang out with a strong and clear authority, and almost immediately the noise within the group dimmed. The person that had spoken was Eichi, who showed no display of emotion as he calmly continued with a smile, addressing the bear. “I’m sorry, can you explain the situation in some more detail? You can’t possibly mean for us to kill amongst ourselves?”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” the bear said with a devious grin. “It doesn’t matter how—stabbing, smashing, choking, hanging, burning, drowning—anything goes! None of you will get to leave until you kill another person. After a body has been discovered, you will be given some time to investigate, and then a Class Trial will be held where you try to figure out who the murderer is. If you guess correctly, the murderer will be executed. But if you guess incorrectly, the murderer can leave, while everyone else is executed! How exciting is that?!” The bear put its paws to its belly and cackled a chilling laugh that certainly did not befit its appearance. Everything fell silent but for the faint sound of the waves.
Anzu breathed in, and then out. She tried to stop herself from trembling. She didn’t want to believe anything she was hearing, but there was still a question she wanted to ask.
“Why us? Why the students of Yumenosaki Academy?”
“Hm? Because isn’t it just a treat to see these idols, who should be representing hope and happiness, struggle against the doom of despair?” The bear cackled again. “Absolutely riveting! I wouldn’t miss this show for a second.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Kaoru called out, waving his hands and wearing an uneasy smile. “I get it now. This is a reality program, isn’t it? You’re putting us idols onto this strange set under a weird set of game rules to film what we’ll do. I saw cameras everywhere, that’s what they’re for, right? It has entertainment value, I get it. But honestly, isn’t this going a little overboard? It’s not like we’re actually going to kill anyone…”
There were nods and murmurs of agreement, and a few sighs of relief. But the relief was short-lived, fading away as the bear spoke again.
“That is incorrect! The security cameras are there for yours truly to watch over your every move and ensure you are all playing by the rules. If you look in your ID card, you’ll see a list of the rules. Be sure to abide by them, or else you may be executed! This isn’t one of your TV shows, you lot. This isn’t the entertainment industry. No—it’s far more menacing than that! Fight for your lives, little idols!” Anzu had to look away. She feared that bear’s taunting grin would be imprinted in her mind for life.
“To hell with that bullshit! I’ll wipe that smirk off your face right now!” Koga snarled, clearly at his limit of endurance. “What do you mean, you’re going to kill us, or make us kill each other? You think we’re gonna listen to you? There’s more than thirty of us! You aren’t gonna make us murderers through this crazy game of yours—I’ll show ya!”
Try as she might, Anzu couldn’t prevent Koga from breaking free of her grip and lunging toward the bear on the fountain. “Wait!” she cried out, but Koga didn’t listen.
Rei was rushing forward, trying to apprehend his junior before he did something rash, while there were a few other students cheering Koga on, telling him to get rid of the demonic toy. Koga pushed Rei aside just as he was about to grab him, and stepped onto the ledge of the fountain to give the bear a good flying punch—it landed a good distance away on the hard ground.
“Ha! Nothing but a shitty toy!”
As Koga marched over towards where the bear had landed, intending to smash it into pieces, it sat up looking none the worse for wear—and a whole lot angrier.
“Rule Number One: Violence against the headmaster is PROHIBITED!”
The bear’s voice was followed by an ominous rumbling coming from somewhere underground. Anzu felt her stomach clench. She was struck by a bad feeling, a really bad feeling, and if she didn’t do something immediately—
“Doggie!” Rei yelled, with an urgency she had never heard before, from just behind her. “Move away from there!”
“Hah?” Koga turned slightly, barely registering his voice.
Anzu moved before she could think. She ran and hit Koga with a flying tackle, with her entire body strength—which was stronger than it appeared to be. The grey-haired boy let out a yelp, clearly surprised, as he was knocked face-first onto the ground a few feet away. Anzu took that split second to grin—after a year, this is finally payback for what you did to me on my first day of school. And then she hit the ground hard, exactly where Koga had just been standing.
And six razor-sharp spikes burst out from the cement ground beneath her, impaling every part of her body until it was nothing but a bloody mess.
Time seemed to stand still for a moment as everyone tried to register what had happened. And then all pandemonium broke out.
Koga couldn’t tell if that was someone else screaming, or himself—someone had just died in front of them, and not just someone, it was their producer, who cared for every one of them, who always worked so hard for them, who had given them more than they could ever repay in their lifetimes—and she had sacrificed herself to save Koga. He felt nauseous, he wanted to wake up from this terrible dream—but the bloodied corpse in front of him was all too real.
The students were panicking. Some covered their eyes and turned away, unable to bear the sight of Anzu’s tattered corpse. Others were rushing forward madly to check on her. Being the closest, Koga scrambled there first. The spikes that had just punctured her had already retracted back into the ground, leaving six gaping holes that were too agonizing to look at. He put a hand on her shoulders and shook her, hoping that she had at least a little bit of breath left. But there was no hope. Their producer was, without a doubt, dead.
“I’m sorry…” he held her hand against his. “I’m so sorry…Anzu…Damn it, why did you have to die?!”
The chaos was interrupted by the cheeky voice of the bear that they had all gotten much too familiar with. “Quiet, you lot! If you don’t get used to seeing your friends dying, you won’t last very long in this game…Ehehe!”
Koga looked up. Amidst everything the bear had somehow escaped and was now sitting on a tree above him. What’s more, one of the bear’s paws had transformed into a lethal-looking blade, and it was positioned directly on top of him, as he bent over Anzu. He spat at the bear. “You sick bastard!”
“I’d be cautious with your words if I were you!” The bear cackled. “Thanks to your friend’s heroic sacrifice here, you’ve escaped your punishment. But if you annoy me, I’ll go on and give you the punishment you deserve, you know?”
As much as he wanted to pulverize that monster, Koga kept his mouth shut. He dared not fight with the blade suspended above him.
He glanced around, seeing everyone finally coming to terms with what was happening. Some of them would really die. This realization sunk deep inside them, so much that even the loudest members of the group fell utterly silent.
And throughout it all the bear’s voice rang out again.
“As I said…Kill someone, and then you’ll be able to leave.”