The painting of the man was talking to them, Sara wans't sure how that was even possible. Maybe it was a video call? It didn't matter anyway.
"W-whose voice was that?!" Q-Taro exclaimed looking around the group, he hadn't noticed the mouth of the painting moving then.
That appeared to amuse the painting that gave a low chuckle. "Don't sweat the details. I'm the master of this room. You can call me Meister. Now, to get right to it, lemme explain the rules of the next game." The man stayed completly still, only his mouth moving as he explained the basics of the game.
A game where one would be chosen as the challenger and the other four would sit on the empty seats as "targets". Hiding the gun was futile now that Meister announced he gave them a gun. Now the problem would be chosing a challenger among the five of them. Joe had asked her to do it in a way not so subtly to keep her safe, seeing that the challenger would not be taking any risk of injuring themselves. But Q-Taro and Kai weren't sure about her handling a gun, considering she was a high-schooler she could understand their reasoning, but Sara wasn't about to agreeing with them either, she also didn't trust any of them with a gun.
The mood between them had become tense, air filled with waryness.
"Straight to the point: I have experience handlin' guns. I got acquainted with shootin' when I went to the US. So leave bein' the challenger for me." Q-Taro was confindent about his expertise that was clear, but even so Sara wasn't exactly sure about leaving her safety in his hands. Taking another look at the manequins and the armchairs she presumed the game wasn't about skill at all. There were three real bullets, six dummy ones, nine armchairs and apparently nine targets counting the four other humans, but it also couldn't be about luck, right? Searching the revolver in her hands she confirmed the gun had a chamber with nine empty slots plus a big hole in the center, so maybe it was something to do with the slots for each bullets.
The others were more focused in deciding who would be the challenger, Keiji said that even with Q-Taro's experience he couldn't trust him, and Kai pointed that Keiji should've been the one volunteering since he was a policeman, but instead was keeping quiet and supporting the ideia of Sara being the challenger. Sara was curious about that too, she couldn't think of reason Keiji would want her to be the challenger.
"I trust somebody determined to save her friend more than an amateur with average training." Keiji explained. "And about me not volunteering, well... I shot a person." His expression became darker, eyes glued to a random spot as if he was suddenly in another place. "Since then... I haven't been able to fire a gun."
It was shocking to know that, Sara wanted to ask more but Keiji didn't seem to be willing to elaborate.
"I think I might have an ideia about what this game is about." She had stayed quiet up until then, letting the others speak their mind, but now that things had settled a bit, she thought it was wise share her opinion. "There is nine bullets, six of them being dummy ones, so I think the challenger willl have to shoot one bullet in each target, and it's not about luck either, I think the trick is about how the challenger will load the gun."
"See? That's why I think Sara should do it, she's super cool-headead, I trust she can save us all!" Joe was the first to pipe up at her ideia. Keiji also seemed convinced. Q-Taro and Kai were still unsure about it, but fastly agreed too, seeing that she was probably right about the game.
"I still feel a bit uncomfortable leaving such a burden to you miss Sara, but I think it's already decided." Kai didn't seem uncomfortable at all, but she would have to take his word for it.
"Yo, that took forever. Now that you decided let me explain the rules now." Ultimately Sara was correct in her assumptions, it was a Russian Roulette game, she would have to load the gun as she pleased and then roll the chamber, wich meant that no matter the pattern she loaded the revolver, the first bullet would be random. If she fired all the bullets in all targets without killing anyone they'd win. "Alright! Let's begin!"
"I know you can do it Sara." Joe had took the only empty seat on the first floor, the others had climbed the stairs, Joe then proceed to stay quiet since Meister explained that the targets couldn't argue with the challenger.
Sara opened the chamber and started loading the gun with the pattern where after a real bullet the next two were dummy bullets, that way it was guaranteed to have one real bullet amongst the first three shots, and then she could just follow the pattern from there.
When she was ready she pointed the revolver at the mannequin on Joe's right side, even knowing that logically her strategy was a sound one, she couldn't stop the wave of hesitation as she was about the press the trigger, what if she was wrong? What if she overlooked something? But indulging those thoughts would help no one, least of all Joe who was starting to get antsy on his seat, so she just pressed the trigger.
There was a loud sound that made her shut her eyes in reflex, when she peeked through her lashes she saw the dummy's head intact, meaning that the next shot had 50% of chances to shoot a real bullet, so she aimed at the other dummy at Joe's left side and pressed the trigger without hesitating this time.
Another bang echoed on the room but once again the dummy's head was intact, but that was good since now she knew exactly the pattern of the next seven bullets, aiming at the head of the third dummy was easier even knowing that the shot would fire a real bullet, this time the gun recoiled and the bang was louder, the dummy's head had exploded and sent a green goo all over itself. Her next shot was aimed at Joe who seemed utterly relieved at being safe, then she climbed up the stairs and shooted at Kai who was the closest to her.
After a few more shots it was over.
Her last shot was real bullet, the ringing in her ears was uncomfortable but she felt the tension dripping off her body all the same, the chamber was empty and she followed the rules accordingly.
"Ohhh! Fantastic! Now that's a job well done! No complains here, you win! Seems a puzzle like this was piece of cake to you! Truly brilliant! You deserve a hand!" Out of nowhere a hand fell from the ceiling startling her with the loud thud it caused. "So here's my right hand! Be glad and accept it! See ya!" Meister's mouth stopped moving altogether, the painting going immobile once again.
"What even is this?" Sara checked the arm closely and noticed that just like doll's head the arm was intricate detailed.
"Find my body... wasn't it?" Keiji send a lazy glance at the arm's way. "Seems relevant to that note with the doll's head."
"So we should bring it to the doll's torso right?" Joe said and Q-Taro wasted no time in putting the arm in the yellow box he was carrying with him. "So let's see if the others had any luck founding anything else?"
As they were getting out of the room Kai went in her direction. "Miss Sara, allow me to state my gratitude for taking on such an important role. Thank you very much for saving us amid such great pressure." She believed in his words although his face being completly slack, she couldn't pinpoint why but his blank expression and the dead eyes gave a sensation of deja vu, like she've met him somewhere.
"Miss Sara... Is something the matter?" Sara hadn't realised she was staring so she quickly looked away and nodded trying to recompose her composure.
Following Joe out of the room without any explanation to Kai she found that Kurumada wasn't smashing the red door anymore, so he must've given up at some point, she tried the handle and door was still locked shut. Now that she had the gun she could try to use the dart and hit the dartboard, it wasn't like there was another reason for the big hole on the chamber, after firing real bullets she thought herself to be used to the recoil, but even with a dart the draw back made her wrist twist in painful way.
A loud voice came from the speakers praising her for hitting the bullseye, and then comanding them to take a peek at the bottomless hole, and there was something within reach, Joe sticked his arm and reached for the thing. Just like the arm, Sara was already expecting it to be another limb, but it didn't made her feel any better having her suspicion been proved right. Joe was holding the leg between his arms with a weary face, so they decided to head in the room at the back of the cafeteria.
Sara was quite surprised to find more people in there, Hayasaka and Gin were standing against the shelfs with Sou across from them, while Keiji and Q-Taro were attaching the limbs, counting the leg Joe was carrying made a total of four limbs, so she suspected that he others might've found the other limbs.
"Ah, so you guys found the last one, huh?" Sou pointed towards the leg.
"You found the other parts too!" Joe said dropping the leg on box sitting on the floor in front of the torso. Joe took a look around the room landing his eyes on the others. "What about everyone else? Shouldn't everyone be here when we finish?"
"Kai just went out to gather the others up. I agree on having everybody here, we don't know what's gonna happen after all." Keiji had just placed the left leg. There was only the right arm and head left, somehow the doll was more creepy dismengled than just a bunch of weird separate limbs.
A few minutes later the two sisters accompanied with Reko and Nao entered the room giving suspicious looks at the unconventional decoration, the contrast between the hallway and the room was huge, Sara could relate to the feeling. After some more minutes Kai came back alone, once questioned about where Kurumada was he explained he couldn't find him anywhere.
"What do you mean he's not around? Where would've he gone to?!" Reko demanded not sounding very pleased by Kurumada's absence. "I mean... It's not like there was anywhere he could hide right?"
"The last time I saw him was before we entered the blue room, he was trying to force the red door open, when we finished the game he wasn't there anymore but the door was still locked." Sara recorded Kurumada's furious spats at the door as he tried to punch right through it, but she didn't think he managed to open the door by himself seeing that the door wasn't busted.
"Well it's not like we can just stand here waiting for him either, right?" Hayasaka spoke lowly, almost whispering and looking at nowhere specific. "I think we should just see what happens for ourselves."
"But what if everyone needs to be in the room?! Shouldn't we just wait for him?" Kanna said, it was surprising hearing the girl speak up, she had stayed quiet since they arrived, normally close to her sister and only observing.
"Yeah, but I agree with Hayasaka, we should just get this over with, the longer we wait, the longer we'll stay in the dark about our situation, maybe once we reconstruct the doll we might receive some answers." Sou didn't seem that concerned with Kurumada, more eager to know what was going on, and Sara felt the same way, she needed answers all the same.
Without arguing Keiji and Q-Taro placed the head on the torso, Sara felt antsy at the prospect of the doll suddenly moving or just waking up, but for a few instants nothing happened, she thought that maybe they'd placed the limbs wrong, but the thought didn't linger as just as sudden a white gas started to come off the walls. An uproar started, everyone shouting that it was poison gas, but ultimately what stopped everyone on their tracks was the loud giggle coming from the center of the room.
"It's not poison gas, everyone, so please relax." Standing where the doll should've been was a woman exactly like the doll itself, but now completly lively smiling at everyone's stunned expressions, her eyes were heterochromatic where the right one was right and the left one yellow, her clothes were ludicrous and gaudy, like a character taken from a cartoon. The doll's cartoon-like appearance made nothing to ease the eerie felling oozing out of it. "Ahaha. Good day!"
Everyone was astonished to see the formerly inanimate doll just acting like a human being,
"Yo-you're the doll?!" Joe exclaimed.
Chuckling softly the doll answered "Yes, I am the doll that you just rescued. Advanced am I not?"
"Haaaah?! The hell's going on here?!" Reko was the most alarmed, she was curling her fingers so tight Sara could see the color draining from her knuckles.
"Hahaha. As it happens, I have revived to tell you what is happening, and support you through the trials and tribulations to come." Reko was not assured by that. "Hehehe. There's nothing to fear, you see? I will offer you all support..."
Nao was also shrinking on herself, just like Sara had first saw her.
With a low giggle the doll continued. "Is there no one who can speak calmly here?"
"I'll ask. What are you?" Someone had to ask, dolls did not just reanimated themselves like that.
"Tell the friendly policeman too. I'm not really following here...?" Keiji agreed scratching his neck nervously.
"Ehehe. Then we'll begin with my introduction..." She took a step back and gave more room to them as she put her hands on her back. "My name is Sue Miley, the Laughing Doll. I'm the doll who'll guide you on this first floor.Ehehe. My master instructed me to guide you brave souls, who have already overcome several trials, to the Main Game."
"Your master... So in other words, you're on the side of the kidnappers." Keiji said, his expression becoming completly lack at the acknowledge.
Miley started to laugh again amusement shining her eyes. "Stop laughing asshole!! You wanna die?!" Reko was one moment from jumping at Miley's neck.
"Heheheee... I'd rather not... No, I wouldn't like to be all torn up again..." For a moment she seemed to be pondering about something. "Oh... I know... I just have to tear you up first..."
"Tear us up...?!" Reko went completly rigid as her eyes flew wide open at the insinuation.
"Ahaha. As a warning, yes..."
Suddenly a ringing sound started, no one moved or spoke anything, the ringing continued echoing in the walls, Sara wasn't exactly sure where it was coming from.
"...Wha-?! My collar's... vibrating...!" Joe lifted his hands to touch his collar, and once Sara took notice it was indeed vibrating. Sara felt tremors run down her body, cold dread injecting in her veins.
What did that meant...? Would she kill Joe...?
"Hehe. Anyone would do, heehee. If it'll make you quiet..." Miley stated looking unconcerned, she just stood there smiling at them all as if nothing was happenig.
"What did you do?! Answer me?!" For a second she thought she was the one that screamed, but it was actually Joe, her tongue felt heavy on her mouth and her jaw locked, she could just stare at Joe's panicked face. "What d-did you do?!"
"Ahaha, oh, very well. I'm just making your collar explode." Miley started to laugh again at their despair, Sara was self aware of her trembling fingers, she didn't even noticed she was moving before her fingers found Joe's collar in a futile try to take off the collar, just as she did a bipping sound started to come off the collar.
Joe pushed her away and when the bipping came to an end everything went silent, she just stood there staring at Joe waiting for something to happen, mere seconds that were more like hours. But nothing happened. And the laugh started again.
"Hahaha! ... That was a lie, of course. Eheehee... Did you enjoyed it?" Miley said looking at a panting Joe.
"A... A lie...?" Joe's knees gave out and he collapsed on the floor panting harder. Sara wasted no time in coming near him again, placing her hands on his shoulders in a way to reassure, she just wasn't certain if she was reassuring him or herself.
"That collar can't actually explode, after all."
"...You piece of shit...!" Reko shouted at the laughing doll.
"Eheehee, it's so funny, I can't, heehee, even talk, mweheehee..."
"She's out of her mind, meow..." Gin muttered holding his plushie in front of his face.
"Why kidnap us?" Sara wasn't feeling like talking after what just happened (or what didn't happened), but that was a question she definetely wanted to hear the answer.
"Ehehe... You don't know do you..." Miley was looking in Sara's direction so she wasn't sure if the doll was asking to them all or directly at her. "Eheehee. What I'm about to explain... is in regards a fight you might take, haha, for your own destiny. You will soon undergo a great trial in order to escape outside. As it has been prior, the superior will live, and the inferior will die - it is far from easy. One among you... will certainly die. And thar person to die. Shall be decided by your own majority vote. "
Sara wasn't sure about what Miley was talking. A trial? Their majority vote? But she wasn't the only one perplexed with the doll's words.
Miley reading the confusion in their faces elaborated. "I'm saying that you'll pick it yourselves. The one most unnecessary, hated, and acceptable to have die."
"Stop talkin' nonsense...!! Like we're gonna do somethin' like that!!" Q-Taro certainly was not believing what Miley was saying, and was putting himself in front of her to emphasize his point.
"Ahaha. Then by all means, starve to death here, all of you." Miley stated nonchalantly, not even doing so much as look at him as she stayed with her eyes in half moons and smiled at him.
"Whoa, just lying it on the table..." Keiji contrary to Q-Taro was taking what Miley said at heart apparently, his whole figure was stiff and long gone was the lazy air around him. Just like Sara he understood what Miley had said, there was no reason not to believe her words, she was working with the kidnappers and she probably wasn't even human, so what could they possibly do if that was the case?
"Ahaha, don't go so pale, everyone! I've got something good to hand out!" Miley took her hands off her back and presented them all with tablets. Sara had no ideia from where the doll plucked those out, because they were certainly not there when they entered. Miley handed one for everyone in the room. "Eheehee. Does everyone have one now? Let us test the functionality with some use. When voting, if you know who voted for who, it turns into a quarrel, doesn't it? Thus, by voting with these tablets, you won't know who made what vote. So as a test, try voting for whoever!"
Then Miley opened her eyes and looked around them. "Huh? So not everyone is here...? Oh well, they don't know what they're losing!"
Sara saw the tablet lighting up showing the pictures of everyone in the room including her's, the others were sneaking glances in each other's way, the tension was palpable since now they couldn't trust anyone in the room, they could all vote for themselves and see what happens, but what if someone voted for them? Then the chosen one would surely die according to Miley. A game of doubt and trust commanded by the fear of the neighbor.
Sara wasn't sure about who voting for, should she just vote for herself? That would definetely be the reasonable approach. But was it?
Sneaking her own gaze around her eyes met with Hayasaka's, he was looking at her with a haunted expression and when she spotted him he quickly averted his gaze. Was he going to vote for her? She couldn't take the ideia off her head once she let it in, if she voted for herself and someone else voted for her then she would receive more votes than most of the others.
Sara knew it was pure cowardness and selfishness but she couldn't vote for herself knowing that somebody else might too, the prospect of having no guarantee of her own safety was overwhelming, so as bad as she felt about it, she clicked in Hayasaka's face and then confirmed her vote.
It didn't take long for everyone to make their decision
Sara saw the tablet lighting up and the images of everybody, soon enough the results one by one started to appear on the screen.
Gin: 0 Votes
Nao: 0 Votes
Sou: 0 Votes
Joe: 1 Vote
Kai: 1 Vote
Kanna: 1 Vote
Keiji: 1 Vote
Kugie: 1 Vote
Q-Taro: 1 Vote
Reko: 1 Vote
When Sara saw the first results her assumption was proven right, if she did not received zero votes, it meant that somebody did voted for her.
Sara: 2 Votes
Two votes. Two people who voted for her demise, if she had indeed voted for herself she would have three and be the most voted. There was only one person who could surpass her on votes. For those few seconds Sara pleaded for her decision to be right one.
Hayasaka: 3 Votes
Sara knew what the implication of Hayasaka having the most votes meant, but she couldn't stop feeling glad that she had voted for him, she had no ideia two other people would vote for him as well but just the fact that she was safe was reassurance enough. Miley had said that that was merely a test, so if they were lucky maybe the vote itself wouldn't mean nothing. But Sara wasn't that naive to believe in such a positive outcome taking account their situation.
Her relief meant Hayasaka's despair, she couldn't make out the look he was giving her because of the reflex of the light on his glasses, but it couldn't be anything less than furious glare.
"Oh, I see that Shunsuke Hayasaka was the chosen one!" Miley piped up from the wall she was standing. "Do you have anything to say?"
All eyes were on Hayasaka, in contrast he wasn't looking at anyone in particular only staring down at his tablet, but when he spoke his voice was clear in the room that had gone silent. "It was you wasn't it?" When he lifted his eyes to meet Sara's she was startled to see such anger in his eyes. "You were the one who voted for me, weren't you?"
Sara couldn't answer anything, even though it was indeed her vote that condemned him, she was too afraid to admit it, so instead she just averted her gaze.
"Of course it was you... You're the reason we're all here after all." Hayasaka took a step foward in her direction, Joe putted himself between the two of them sensing the anger oozing out of the man. "I knew from the moment I saw you, you're the one to blame for this Death Game! We're all gathered here for your sake and their amusement! Damn you Sara Chidouin!"
"Now let's proceed to the conclusion of the first Mock Main Game shall we?" Just as Miley finished her sentance Hayasaka's collar started to turn a shade redder.
"It's hot...! It's burning!" His screams of agony and Miley's chuckles were the only thing filling the room. Soon enough Sara felt the lingering smell of burnt flesh in the air, she couldn't stand looking at the man her vote was killing. She heard the sound of blood evaporating, their shouts and screams mingling together, she wasn't quite sure who was making each noise, but Hayasaka's last words as he burned alive were hard for her to miss. "I'll damn you... from hell...!"
The words were strained and dragged, wich wasn't a surprise seeing that his vocal cords were probably melting as well, but even so he managed to direct those last words at her. Cursing her at his last breath.