“Yo! What’s your name?”
You looked up to see a boy dangling his arms from the back of his chair. He wore a baggy jacket with white ruffled hair and sparkling red eyes. It was the transfer student. He looked like a vampire, ripped straight out of the books you had wanted to read but hadn’t had the opportunity to finish. He smiled as your eyes darted towards his teeth and back to his face. No fangs. You closed your book and looked at him.
“My name is Y/N L/N,” you said softly.
“Y/N L/N?” he asked, “My name is Itsuki Nakamura. Y/N, Y/N... kinda sounds like N/N. Can I call you N/N?”
“Call me whatever you like,” you replied, reopening his book and continuing to read. Everybody else called you what they liked anyway.
He stayed quiet as you flipped a page. You could feel him moving and looking at the cover of your book. He got up, walked behind you, and started reading from your shoulder. You shifted around in discomfort but didn’t speak. You stayed quiet as so did he. His eyes tracked your every movement: every time you flipped a page, tilted your head, or fidgeted your leg. What a nuisance.
“What do you want?” you asked.
“Nothing,” he replied while innocently blinking at you with wide doe-like eyes. “I’m just reading.” He gasped. “Are you assuming I have ulterior motives?! I would never!”
You blinked blankly at him. He just scratched his neck with a chuckle.
“I heard you skipped a grade?” he prompted as your gaze narrowed. “You skipped sixth?”
Your grip on your book tightened. Words of whispers you had heard from your classmates began to unpleasantly ring in your ears.
“Wow, L/N skipped a grade?”
“She must be really smart?”
“Amazing. She must be able to do anything.”
You squeezed your eyes shut to tear yourself free from your suffocating thoughts. Pointless. There was no point in thinking about others anyway. Just as you mom had said: you should only focus on her and yourself. Nothing else matters.
“You must work really hard, huh?” he asked.
“Huh,” you breathed, the word tumbling out of your mouth and eyes fluttering open.
A simple phrase. Something you read in a generic book. Or heard from everyday conversations. But in a certain context, it made something well up within you.
He laughed, the sound of it tickling your stomach for some odd reason. You blinked again as he opened his eyes and grinned at you. His red eyes sparkled with joy and childlike wonder.
“Y/N and Itsuki,” he said, “I like the sound of that. How about it?”
You could hear the sound of your heart beating and your pulse racing. You took a tentative look at his outstretched hand, one that wasn’t criticizing you or shrinking away.
Nothing else matters.
You took his hand, “Sure.”
He was just going to use you anyway.
“Great!” he exclaimed, “How about we go do something?”
Just like all the others.
Your eyes flew open at the repetitive noise that echoed through your ear canals.. Blearily blinking your eyes, you stretched your arms and slowly got up. Your back cracked like one of those ASMR videos Itsuki once showed you where those people chopped up chocolate or something along the lines of that.
Suddenly, you heard muffled yelling to the right of yourself. It was coming from the same direction as the recurring pounding sound. To your right, there was a glass wall with some messy writing on it from the other side. On the other side of that glass wall was another room. Next to that room was another room with a wall of glass. What was this, a mirror maze like in the books you read? There was another person there. Meaning, you were in one room and that other person was in another with a room in between the two of you. You looked and freezed on the spot once you saw that a girl with orange-ish hair and emerald green eyes was glaring at you. She pointed a finger at you and continued to scream like a siren. You looked at her side ponytail tied securely, the green scrunchy adorning her wrist, the jacket that hung around the tight skirt on her waist, and the signature gold necklace that hung around her neck with a flower on it. Of course you recognized her. You recognized that voice. You recognized that orange-y hair and hard green eyes. You recognized the ponytail, the scrunchy, the jacket, and the necklace. You would never forget her face. Had this been anyone else you wouldn’t have cared whoever that was, but it was her. You were deathly shocked and terrified at the same time.
And she recognized you as well because you could assume she was cursing your name across the glass while spitting venom. Question was: what were the two of you even doing here? Huh? How the hell was she here? Where even were you anyway? Trapped? Was Itsuki okay? What about the convenience store clerk? Questions bombarded you all at once and you had no idea how to answer them. What was even happening?
“What the fuck?” you asked yourself in a murmur as the girl screamed her lungs out at you. She was strangely disarrayed, not like her usual cunning and calm demeanor.
You stepped back as the girl began to bang on the glass once more like a maniac. You knew she was going to have a hard time since she never was the most athletic person.
‘Oh shit,’ you thought, as you saw the deranged look on the girl’s face. It chilled you to the core. She still frightened you after all these years. Her green eyes seemed to see through you as strongly as ever as she surveyed her surroundings. 'Is she trying to murder me? Well, I guess that’s...’
The glass began to make some sounds of breaking as you could see the girl’s hands beginning to redden upon impact. Your eyes scanned the room, looking for something. Anything. What were you even supposed to do?
‘Shit shit shiiiiit,’ you thought, ‘My God, she is going to murder me.’
You needed to stop thinking so pointlessly and focus. Your gaze landed on the writing on the glass which you hadn’t observed closely before. You scrambled over to it, nearly slipping on the smooth tiling of the floor. As you read it, you could hear glass cracking from where Haruka was. You internally cringed.
"...Beginning voiced guidance."
'What the?' you thought, looking around the room for a speaker system. Haruka looked perturbed, but more calm than you did.
"The First Trial will now begin."
'First Trial? What's going on?' you pondered to yourself as you began to assess your surroundings more clearly. There was writing scrawled on the glass that you could see. Another set of writing was also present on Haruka's side of the room.
"Haruka and Y/N, the rules are simple. Read the instructions on the glass wall in order to escape. There is no time limit."
The speakers shut off. You felt a rush of panic surge through you, mixing with your blood and melting down towards your toes. The sickening feeling of death swelled in your mind and made you feel sick, and the fact that Haruka was there didn't make you feel any better. Well, first thing's first: you had to read.
The rules are simple. Rules: This is a game of lies. There is one lie in this room. The only way to escape is to make the other person drink the bottle in the center room. Those are the rules. After the other person drinks it, the one who didn’t drink will live. Try to survive.
Your gaze darted towards the other glass wall, the backwards writing flashing at your eyes. You would do something, but there was one big problem. You sucked at riddles. It could mean anything and you just woke up, perplexed and not knowing what the hell to do. Your arms trembled, shit you were panicking.
‘Crap, does that mean I have to drink it?’ you thought, ‘Or does she have to do it? Either way, this is murder .’
The glass broke on the other side, fragments of glass scattering across the floor and soaring through the air. Haruka managed to carefully step her way inside of the center room and scan the area. You thought she would come after you, but instead she hastily made her way to the center of the room and grabbed the bottle. You inwardly cursed.
‘What if she goes after him again?’
Fear and instinct overtook your body as you moved without thinking.. With one clean kick, you shattered the glass. You cursed, some of the sharp edges scratching your leg and tearing at your pants. Ignoring the pain, you began to duck under the glass. Carefully but quickly, you retracted your leg and went into the other room.
Well now you could hear her laughing properly. You hated it. Her giggles and laughter that used to taunt you back then.
“Back for round two?” you snarled, tilting your head up. She was acting so out of character.
The girl had already unscrewed the cap of the bottle as her green eyes narrowed at the cap on your head. You frowned.
“That’s his,” Haruka said with a predatory stare that made you want to smack her or run. "Is he here?"
"Dunno. We weren't together last I saw," you replied nonchalantly, trying to keep your composure.
Normally, you were a pacifist that didn’t want to physically engage in any conflict. You fought with words. Fists were Itsuki’s job. Sara would try to get a teacher, reassure Joe or restrain Itsuki. Ryoko was a mediator. Joe was the one that panicked or also got physically violent. Again, you were the one that chose a side and used your words, but you had stayed silent about this incident for far too long. Your mind flashed to the time where Itsuki flashed a sad smile at you, while rubbing his neck way too much to your suspicions.
‘First time for everything,’ you thought, cracking your knuckles.
“What are you doing?” you cautiously asked, eyeing the bottle, the room, and Haruka. The girl paused and looked at you for a moment, the time called "forever" seemed to pass by in a second.
A smirk crossed her features, one that you thought you’d erased from your memories forever. Especially when she has her hands around your--
“I thought you were smarter than that,” she said with a smug grin. She held up the bottle for you to get a better view. “Didn’t you read the rules, dumbass? The lie in this room is this bottle.” Haruka began to move the bottle in a circular motion, the liquid swirling inside while making a sloshing sound.
“The bottle?” you asked, your eyebrows creasing.
‘She came to a conclusion that quickly? This guessing game is full of way too many holes to be solved just like that.’
“There is nothing in the bottle that will harm me,” she declared, taking a smooth swig while maintaining contact with you the entire time.
Something in the pit of your stomach told you that the bottle was bad news. You watched as all the liquid in the vial slipped past the girl’s lips and to her mouth. The same one that would make their way to your friend’s, even though he insistently told her “no” and that he didn’t like to do it in public. Haruka placed the bottle on the ground and wiped at her lips with the back of her hand. Then her mouth shaped into a malicious smile that sent chills down your spine.
“Well, I guess you might as well die now,” she said with a cheerful grin, arms widespread.
Though you didn’t find humor behind her words, you thought they were utterly stupid.
‘What do you expect me to do?’ you thought drily, ‘Keel over and ask some other worldly being to strike me?’
“And I might as well have that,” she told you as she began to walk over to where you stood. "He'd probably want it back."
Her hands reached for the hat on your head. No, you would never let her have it. Your gaze shot down at the shards of glass widespread all over the ground.
You immediately clutched it on your head and glared at her. “No way.”
Haruka let out a feral snarl and lunged at you. Sticking a leg out, she ran into it and stumbled back. She clutched her stomach with a glare you hated. She was acting so strangely. Did she really change for the worse last you saw her?
“Eat shit, you--” you started to tell her.
“AGH!” she screamed, cutting through your words as she began to run at you.
Out of fear, you ran from her. You saw her skin turning blotchy red all over, covering her pale skin that was nowhere to be seen anymore. Her eyes began bulging like a dead fish, her body convulsing. Haruka fell over as spit began frothing from her lips which began to turn blue. The girl’s eyes rolled up into the back of her head.
“Shit!” you exclaimed as you ran up to her. Her leg swung out at you which you swiftly avoided.
“No… way…” she wheezed as she looked wildly around the room.
“Shit, are you okay?” you asked once more, coming over while dodging her flailing limbs.
She then choked on her saliva, the noises driving straight into your soul like knives. Her hand with the scrunchie outstretched in her direction as she reached out for you.
You began to reach out for her and tried to do something. Haruka suddenly avoided your grasp when she shuddered violently. Her fingers twitched and curled back and her head thrashed back and forth. Her hair flipped around forcefully and her body began to contort. Tears began to stream down her cheeks and you had no idea what the hell to do. Haruka screamed for the last time, scratched at her face which left red marks at her cheeks as she then stopped moving. Blood began to trickle out of the wounds she had inflicted upon herself and mix with her tears. You fell to your knees.
“...Haruka?” you asked quietly, getting no response from the girl who had gone still. “Oh...”
You sat there for a moment, just gazing at her lifeless form which looked too real to be true. There was no way she was dead. How… Just what had happened?
You looked at the bottle lying next to you and picked it up. Turning it over, you looked at the bottom. It said the numbers ‘7348’. You observed the bottle for another moment and shakily stood up. Walking over to the glass shards where the rules had once been, you squat down to take a good look at them. Tapping your trembling hand against your head, you tried to piece together the puzzle.
‘The lie,’ you thought, ‘Must’ve been the rules. It never said whether or not there was poison in the drink. The rule was: “The only way to escape is to make the other person drink the bottle in the center room”. She thought close, but not exactly. She twisted the rules and completely disregarded them. She thought the lie was the bottle, so she drank it. The writing even told us the person who drinks it would die. And the writing…’
You reached a hand over to the shattered glass pieces and picked one up. You looked at the messy letters scrawled on them.
‘The writing was messy because it was written backwards,’ you thought, ‘The rules were in the room, so that’s how the rules were the lie.’
You looked over at her body, motionless.
‘Shit,’ you thought, ‘What the fuck do I do?’
You walked over, straightened out her body and put your hand on her forehead. You closed her dilated eyes and began to use the jacket around her waist to cover her face.
‘She deserves at least this even though I don’t know if I can forgive her,’ you thought.
You got up, observed the table that originally had the bottle on it, and saw a combination lock on the side. You entered in the numbers as a slot popped out with a key. Carefully grabbing the key you looked around. Scanning the room, you saw a door and walked towards it. Opening it, you saw nothing but darkness. You pat your pockets and realized your phone was gone. All you had was Itsuki’s hat and the headphones around your neck which still had a dangling wire. You wrapped the wire around the band of the headphones and took a deep breath.
‘Here we go,’ you thought.
Turning back, you gave Haruka one last look.
“Rest in peace, Haruka Suzuki…” you told her lifeless body as you held back the urge to flip her off. “Fuck you for all you did but I hope you just rest happily.”
You bowed towards her and walked into the darkness. Feeling against the wall, you slowly made your way through.
‘If Itsuki were here, he’d be running into the darkness no balls,’ you thought with a disgruntled expression.
Suddenly, you heard a rumbling noise from all around you. Wind rushed up from beneath you and a sensation rang throughout you inside your stomach, something airy and strange.
‘What? Am I… falling?’
“What the fuck ?!” you screamed as you kicked and reached all around. You landed on a cushion, your head echoing with dull pain as your eyes closed in exhaustion.
“I’m so sorry,” you apologized, anxiously clenching your hands.
“It’s alright,” the girl said, brushing the dust off her uniform, “I should apologize for not looking where I was going.”
“No, it was my fault,” you insisted as you helped her up.
The girl shook her head, the side ponytail on her lopsided hairstyle swaying back and forth. “It’s alright. Accidents happen.”
“You are my… underclassmen, correct?” you asked hesitantly, looking at her uniform.
“By two years, yes,” the girl answered with a nod. “I just joined the school this year.”
“My name is… Y/N L/N,” you told her. “What is your name?”
“Sara Chidouin,” she smiled. “I hope we become well acquainted with each other, Miss Y/N.”
“Please, call me Y/N,” you said with a timid smile.
“Alright then,” she grinned and held out her hand. “Please do the same for me.”
“I didn’t know the two of you were friends,” you and Joe said in unison.
Sara laughed as she waved her hand at Joe. “Me neither. I met Joe in the library. He needed help researching for science.”
“I suck at science, okay?” Joe said as Sara raised an eyebrow at him.
“Wait until Ryoko hears about this,” she said which caused Joe to flinch.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Joe asked in a whiny tone, collapsing onto the table with a thud that sounded pretty painful.
“Pretty sure Itsuki calls it ‘the wrath of women’,” you supplied quietly, glancing at the two of them.
Joe groaned. Sara giggled and looked at you, clasping your hands. “Y/N! You have to meet my friend Ryoko too! You’re such a nice and friendly person, the two of you would get along so well!”
“I’m flattered, thank you,” you said with a small smile.
“I look up to you, Y/N,” Sara informed you as she continued to hold your hands. “You’re my role model, you know that, right?”
“Why… thank you,” you thanked her, eyes wide and you were speechless.
“That look on your face is priceless,” she laughed once more.
“Was it?” you asked looking all around, feeling self-conscious, “Oh, Sara. You have to meet my friend too, okay? I’m sure the two of you would get along well.”
“I look forward to it!” she exclaimed, eyes gleaming.
“--and then Sara fell over after she tried to sit on it!” Ryoko exclaimed in laughter.
“I thought we said we wouldn’t talk about that anymore?!” Sara hissed, her gaze darting at you and Itsuki. “That’s embarrassing!”
“It’s not that bad,” Itsuki said with a lax grin. “One time, N/N had to climb to the roof of the school shed.”
“Really?!” Joe asked, almost choking on his smoothie. “Why?”
You swallowed a fry before answering. “Someone threw my lunchbag on the roof.”
“Wait, are they bullying you?” Joe asked, his expression growing serious.
You shook your head quickly. “No, no! It was probably just a prank. It was on April Fool’s Day, after all.”
“Still, be careful, Y/N,” Sara told you, looking at you worriedly. “You’re looking tired these few days.”
“I am?” you laughed while rubbing your eyes. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Sara’s right,” Ryoko said, nudging said girl with a smile. “Had she not brought it up, I would have forgotten. Sara dotes on you, Y/N. Take care of yourself.”
“I do not!” Sara exclaimed, hitting Ryoko on the shoulder.
Ryoko laughed as Itsuki grinned.
“I wanna stay like this for a long time,” Itsuki said with a small smile. “Can you guys keep that promise?”
“Of course we can!” Joe exclaimed, jumping up from his spot, “We’ll be together forever!"
"Don't get ahead of us," you joked.
Joe continued as he spun around. "Best friends! How about we get matching bracelets, huh?!”
“I have a better idea,” Ryoko suggested with a raised finger. “How about we do something like Secret Santa. We each get a present for one person. Pull names from a hat and stuff.”
“That’s a great idea!” Itsuki exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “We should do that!”
“I agree,” Sara said with a nod. “That’s a good idea.”
“Alright, we’ll pull names tomorrow, okay?” you asked.
“It’s too bad we don’t talk one on one like this much anymore,” you murmured as you smiled at the girl. “Probably because we’re two grades older than you guys.”
“That’s okay,” Sara told you, sitting down beside you. “I’m talking to you now, and that’s all that matters.”
You smiled at her. “You’re so sweet Sara.”
She grew embarrassed, fidgeting on the spot. “I just really enjoy spending time with you. I really look up to you.”
“So I’ve been told,” you replied, laughing quietly.
Sara smiled. You grew quiet. Then her expression grew serious and you looked at her. She reached out and put her hand on yours. You could tell that she was going to talk about something serious.
“Y/N,” she whispered, still holding your hand. “You look very tired. Is something going on?”
You blinked as you pulled out your mirror. You opened the lid and looked at your dreadful appearance. Eye bags were beginning to form, your skin was paler than normal, your hair tousled, and your clothes crumpled and creased. You closed the mirror with a click.
“Sorry you have to see me like this,” you apologized while running a hand through your hair. “I’m a bit tired.”
“No worries,” she told you. “It’s understandable. I just want to know what’s on your mind.”
“Work… school,” you said, intentionally leaving another part out. “Stress.”
“Is that all?” she asked, looking at you knowingly.
“I’m positive,” you said.
She hummed and glanced around. “Where’s Itsuki?”
That’s what you wanted to avoid.
You curled in your toes and bit your lip. “Itsuki got a girlfriend.”
Sara did a double take as she looked at you. “Really?! I thought he--”
“I don’t know,” you sighed as you leaned forward, defeated. “I guess he wanted to start a relationship. While I’m struggling with my studies… and just feeling like garbage.”
“The year is almost over, so take it easy,” Sara said, scooting closer to you. “Don’t worry, we’re here for you. I’m here for you.”
“What about you?” you asked, changing the subject to something else. “Do you need anything?”
You hugged the girl. “I didn’t expect you to join the kendo club.”
“You’re the leader, Y/N,” Sara said with a timid smile. “Also, I’ve been interested in a long time. How about you?”
Your eye brow creased and you quickly erased your worries. “I needed some self-defense skills.”
Her expression grew concerned as she reached out for your hand. “Is there something wrong? I thought you said you were fine with Itsuki and everything.”
“I know, but…” you said, hesitating with your words. “Something is following me. I know it.”
“Someone’s stalking you?” she asked, her face shocked. “Who?”
“I don’t know,” you told her while sitting down on the ground. “I just know. I can hear them. I can see them. At night, I’m scared that they might break in or something. I don’t know. Sara. I don’t know what to do.”
She sat next to you and made you lean on her.
“Y/N,” she whispered as she patted your head. “You need to vent sometimes, okay?”
“Why?” you asked her, cringing at your voice.
‘God, now I sound so whiny.’
“Don’t think of self-deprecating thoughts,” she chided while pouting at you. “I know you are. Just… rely on me, okay?”
You didn’t say anything.
“Y/N,” Sara insisted, trying to make you speak. “We all love and care about you.”
Yelling. There was yelling.
“Sara,” you said, your voice shaky.
There was a squeaky, child-like yelling.
“What is it?” she asked softly, her brows creasing.
“Itsuki has bruises all over his body.”
You jolted awake as your vision began to blur and adjust to the environment. There was yelling and talking you couldn’t hear properly. The first thing you couldn’t help but notice was the heavy weight on your neck. Too heavy to be your headphones. You immediately panicked, a strangled noise softly erupting from your throat as you grabbed it. Metal. Not flesh. You let out a sigh of relief as you let go. Wait, metal? You glanced around to see people gathered together having one thing in common: collars around their necks. You craned your neck to see a crowd of people yelling and talking to one another. A buff man with blonde hair walked towards you with a casual smile. He looked familiar.
“Good. You’re awake. Let’s discuss.”