"N-no, I just... really admire you. I admire... your strength..." He sniffled, and turned away so Mondo didn't have to see him cry. He set his bag on the bench. Chihiro could hear Mondo, pacing in the spacious locker room, but kept his attention on his own hands, unpacking his tracksuit. It had been just as hard as he thought, but it was done. Mondo knew. And he trusted the stronger man to accept the truth.
Mondo moved close behind him, breathing heavily. "That's right... I am strong... Strong...I'm strong!"
Chihiro started to turn. "M, Mondo?"
"Stronger than you." Mondo's chest heaved. Chihiro caught a flash of movement, too fast to react, too fast to cry out. "Stronger than Daiya!" He shouted. Something heavy, and hard, slammed into the back of Chihiro's head.
"Nnn~" A small cry escaped his lips. He took a few shaky steps away from Mondo, onto the rug. Then, his knees crumpled beneath him, and they banged against the floor as he fell. He felt dizzy, and there was a wet sensation spreading across his scalp, running down his neck. It should have hurt, why didn't it hurt. He swayed on his knees, his vision floating and blurring, his lips trying and failing to form words.
Chihiro fell, onto his side. The blood from his head wound soaked into his light brown hair, and into the beige rug. Before his vision went completely dark, he thought he could see Mondo, standing over him, surveying what he had wrought. He wanted to call out, to ask why, but he had always been so weak. And so, Chihiro Fujisaki died.
Chihiro woke up, and his hand brushed through his hair, caressing his scalp where Mondo had hit him. But there was no blood, no wound. His body was whole. He looked around.
He was in his room, at Hope’s Peak, sitting on the edge of his bed. It had a blue tile floor, and magenta walls, a dresser, a wall clock, a closet that would be filled with extra copies of his uniform, and a door leading to a small bathroom. He was still wearing his olive-colored school uniform, with a wide skirt and a matching light jacket. He was still in the same body, the same frail, short, petite, girlish body. And his heart was still beating, and he could feel the chilly air against his skin. Had, had last night really been a dream? He touched the back of his head again. It had been so vivid.
He let out a single, soft sob. In the dream, he had been brave enough to tell Mondo the truth, to ask for his trust and his help. He had been so happy to open up about his problem, so excited to change. And, then…
He could still hear Mondo’s heavy breathing, still feel the sudden crack against his skull. But, he noticed something off about his room. The heavy metal panels that had been fixed to the windows were gone. Maybe… maybe that meant the whole killing game was a dream. Maybe he was just starting his first day at Hope’s Peak Academy. He stood up, and walked over to the window.
His heart seized up in his chest. His window looked out over a swirling landscape of violet clouds, tinged with green lightning. Spires of stone loomed up out of the clouds, and Chihiro could see distant, winged creatures moving through the nightmarish fog. This wasn’t Hope’s Peak. This wasn’t even Japan.
Something about the room shifted, and Chihiro knew he wasn’t alone. Someone moved to stand behind him, someone much taller, with a very distinct pompadour. “Aah!” Chihiro screamed, and spun around. He fell against the wall, and held his hands up in front of his face. Mondo loomed over him, and Chihiro’s eyes tracked up his tall, impressive physique. Until he saw Mondo’s eyes, their haunted, distant look, and Chihiro noticed the sag in his shoulders, the trembling of his lips. Mondo Owada stood over Chihiro, struggling to find the words.
Seeing him like that calmed Chihiro’s nerves. “I’m sorry I screamed,” he said, “You just startled me, is all. I had a very, distressing dream last night. I wasn’t expecting to see you.”
Mondo raised a hand over his eyes, and a long, painful sigh wheezed out of him. “It wasn’t a dream, Chihiro.”
“Hehe,” the laugh felt strange, hollow. “No, no, that doesn’t make any sense, you see, in my dream, you…”
“I killed you.” Mondo looked out the window, instead of at Chihiro. “In the boys’ locker room on the second floor, with a dumbbell.”
“You…” Chihiro’s hand again found its way to the back of his head. “I…” What do you say, to your murderer?
Mondo reached down and offered his hand. Chihiro let the taller boy help him up. They looked out the window, at the impossible landscape together. "I kept your secret. Or, I tried to." Mondo said. "I moved your body into the girls' locker room. And I fried your handbook, in the sauna. Nobody saw your real name."1
Chihiro gnashed his teeth. "It's not my real name, it's-" he stopped, and took a deep breath. "I don't, I don't care about that, right now." He looked back up at Mondo, whose face was stony hard, staring at nothing. "Did they execute you, like Leon?"
He deflated a bit, and returned Chihiro's look, his face drooping. "Y-yeah. Kyoko and Makoto are pretty smart, they figured it out. Although, Byakuya knew the entire time. He-" Mondo's fist clenched, and he slammed it into the wall. "I don't want to talk about Byakuya."
Chihiro tilted his head. "So, your plan didn't work, I guess. I hope the others figure a way out of that place. I-" He swallowed. "We could have made it out together. You, you didn't have to kill-" Tears flooded his eyes as he tried to say "me."
"Dammit, Chihiro, I-" He stood there, shaking his head, clenching and unclenching his hands. "I messed up. I lost it, in the moment. I never meant to hurt you."
"'Never meant to hurt me?'" Chihiro snapped back. "You stove in the back of my head! I-I don't understand, I trusted you, I-"
"I'm sorry!" Mondo blushed, in the silence that followed, then shook his head. "Uh, that doesn't even begin to cover it. There's nothing I can do that can make what happened alright. Just, I wish I could take it back. More than anything. Even if it meant you got to go back and live your life, and I had to stay here." He looked around. "Wherever the hell here is, anyway."
Chihiro paused. He sounded honest, and more open than he had ever seemed in life. And, on some level, he wanted to forgive him, still wanted to trust him. But it was too much, too fast, and he still didn't understand. But seeing Mondo wonder about their location brought back his own curiosity as well. This was like Chihiro’s room at Hope’s Peak, but it definitely wasn’t.
They stared at the bedroom door. Then, Mondo crossed the room, Chihiro following close behind. And Mondo opened the door, onto a spacious, black and white checkered marble hall. The two could see a glittering golden chandelier, over a long banquet table. "What the hell-" Mondo muttered, as he stepped into the room beyond. Chihiro trailed along behind him. The walls were cold gray stone, decorated with tapestries depicting bizarre and gruesome scenes. The ceiling was so high that it disappeared into darkness. Several smaller chandeliers ringed the grandest one. There was no visible support for them to hang from, they appeared to simply float in midair.
There were more doors, like the one they had just stepped through, along this wall and the one opposite. Some of them were also creaking open, and figures cautiously emerged, mostly in twos and threes. Eyes roved over the vast, grand room, as the guests converged on the banquet table. Chihiro studied the people, and was surprised to realize that he knew many of them. There was Hifumi Yamada, and Sakura Ogami, and...
And Leon Kuwata. Leon Kuwata, the red-haired baseball star that Chihiro had seen pelted to death with baseballs. He walked near Sayaka Maizono, the girl he had killed to warrant his punishment. The two seemed uneasy with each other, both looking anywhere but where the other one stood, and they parted ways as they moved around the table. That was it, then. This was a banquet for the dead.
But those others that Chihiro recognized, like Sakura, had still been alive when he'd died. So, there had been more deaths... Chihiro shivered, thinking about how much worse the killing game must have gotten. Still, a number of his classmates were not there, like Makoto, and Kyoko, and Yasuhiro. Some of them may have survived, then, and they had found a way to end the game without killing all but the winner. That was... something, he supposed. He couldn't help but ache to see them, though. Makoto had been kind to him. Chihiro had even dared to hope he might accept his painful secret, and, in time, the others might as well. He thought about how kind Makoto was. He glanced over at Mondo. Perhaps he had trusted the wrong boy.
But Mondo was staring at someone else, and he had a sickly, shaky look to him. Chihiro followed his gaze, and his heart broke just a little bit more. A young man stood there, near the edge of the room, standing about a head shorter than Mondo, dressed all in white with dark hair, and a vacant look in his wide, red eyes. Chihiro wasn't sure if he had noticed Mondo, or himself. Kiyotaka just seemed- lost. Chihiro stepped forward between, breaking the agonizing silence. "Taka?" He asked quietly.
The vacant red eyes turned to him, and they flushed with tears. "Ch- Chihiro. This started because you-"
"Hey, man." Mondo muttered, moving to stand behind Chihiro. "Guess you made it here too, huh?"
"Here?" Taka muttered. "Where is here? I must be dreaming. Because you're not dead. And you didn't kill him." Taka waved a hand at Chihiro, when he said this, and smiled. Chihiro flinched at the pronoun, unsure of what it meant. "That's what this is, right? A happy dream. Or, or maybe the whole thing before was a nightmare... and this is real. You're both, you're both still here."
Chihiro wasn't sure what to make of his deliriousness. After all, he had been dizzy when he'd died, but waking up here had brought him back to his senses. "What happened, Taka? Where were you before you woke up here?"
"What?" He shook his head. "Hmm, the physics lab, on the third floor. Someone had slipped a note under my door, said they'd found a way out." He blinked. "I guess they did."
He stepped back and grabbed Mondo's arm and pulled him back. He leaned down, and Chihiro whispered, "I don't think he knows he's... dead. He seems so... different. Broken."
Mondo shook his head. "This is my fault. Hell, it's my fault all three of us are here, dammit." Standing up straight, he said "Listen, Taka. It's good to see you... in a way. I'm sorry about what happened. I'm gonna help you get better."
Taka smiled, but his eyes were still haunted. "What do you mean better, bro? You're here. That's all I needed." He moved forward, and before Mondo could react, wrapped him in a tear-stained hug. "Nothing bad happened. We're best buds, and we're going to look out for our friend Chihiro, and everyone else."
Mondo returned the hug, cautiously. "Y-yeah. We're going to look out for everyone." He flinched. "Just, you know, hugs don't really suit me, ya know? People are gonna start looking over here."
"Oh, of course, bro. Hey, is that food?" Taka pointed over to the banquet table, where, sure enough, there were silver platters and places set for the diners, though there was no food set out for them yet. "Come on! I feel like I haven’t eaten in forever!" He grabbed Mondo's hand and dragged him away. Chihiro followed at a close distance.
Most of the guests had seated themselves by the time Chihiro took his seat. He wanted a little distance from Mondo, and was still worried about Taka, so he sat on Taka's left. The other guests were taking seats around the table. Some people were arguing, or yelling, but Chihiro had trouble following the conversations. He didn't know about half of the people here, and felt curious about them. Luckily, one sat at his other side.
He was short, actually about the same height as Chihiro, and was very rotund, with rosy cheeks and a slick pompadour. He was dressed all in white, with a red apron, and Chihiro wondered if he might be a chef. Chihiro overcame his usual shyness, and ventured a greeting. "H-Hello. I'm Chihiro Fujisaki. It's nice to-"
The boy turned, and his confused and worried look lit up in an instant. He smiled, and Chihiro could hear his tongue moving around in his mouth. "Well, I suppose after you've been thrown in a volcano, your day can only get better."
"W-what?" Chihiro stuttered.
"Well, I'm just saying," he stroked his chin. "There are some beautiful people here, Ms. Fujisaki. I'm Teruteru Hanamura. And it is-" he licked his lips, "very nice to meet you."
Chihiro tugged his skirt down, trying to hide more of his legs. "Ummm, I'm flattered." He swallowed. Oh, it was always the worst, when this happened. "But, I-I don't think that's something you want, Teruteru."
He squinted suspiciously, stroking his chin. Then he smiled. "Ah." He pointed at Chihiro, and snapped his fingers. "You’re actually a boy, aren’t you?"
Chihiro's teeth chattered in his skull. "What? Why w-w-would you say something like that?"
Teruteru waved off his concern. "Relax, relax, keep it down. I'm a, well, a worldly guy. I've seen a thing or two. I'm pretty open-minded. And don't worry, I can keep a secret. And uh, just between you and me-" he winked, conspiratorially, "-that's not really a deal breaker."
"I, uh, thanks, I think." Chihiro held up a hand to his eyes and turned away. He'd never been this embarrassed- but, his shivers started to calm, as he realized. Someone else knew his secret, and didn't think less of him for it. "Um, I'm not comfortable with- with whatever this is. But thank you, for keeping my secret, Teruteru."
Teruteru leaned back in his chair and pulled a comb out from somewhere, and started running it through his hair. "Hey, no problem. Us sexual deviants need to look out for each other."
Chihiro slammed his hand on the table in shock, and shouted "I am not a-" He blinked, people were looking at him. He slipped back, tried to shrink down in his chair, and wished he was dead. Well, deader.
A red-haired girl with deep grey eyes and freckles glared ice at Teruteru from across the table. "What the hell did you say to her, Teruteru?"
The little chef smiled awkwardly and held up his hands. "Hey, hey, I didn't mean anything. Just having a little fun."
The red-haired girl, Mahiru, turned to Chihiro, and her face softened. "Ignore him, sweetie. Teruteru's a gross little troll, he's not worth your breath."
Chihiro nodded, uncomfortable with holding Mahiru's gaze for long. He wished someone else would do something distracting, anything to pull attention from him- and that's when the fog machine started. Thick, white smoke started roiling up from a depression in the middle of the table, eliciting queries and shrieks of surprise from the guests. It poured into Chihiro's lap, and obscured his vision. He tried to get up, but, suddenly, belts emerged from the back of his chair, wrapped around him, and pinned his waist to the seat. "What the hell is this?" roared Mondo from nearby, and Chihiro could hear him trying to tear himself out of the chair, or drag it away, anything to escape.
Then, a bright red flash from the center of the smoke seared Chihiro's eyes. He shut them, and shook his head, trying to clear it away. While his eyes were closed, lit only by the shimmering, red after-image, he heard that voice, the high-pitched, squealing voice that haunted the last few, terrible days of his life. "It's the time you've all been waiting for! Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to start the Killing School Bonus Round!"
Chihiro reflexively tried to vomit, but his stomach was empty. His body heaved against the restraints painfully. On his left, he could hear Teruteru, muttering numbly, "It's not real, none of it's real, none of it-"
"Monokuma!" howled a deep, sonorous voice Chihiro did not recognize. "You cowardly imp! You would keep me from the halls of my icy domain? Release me, and face the wrath of Gundham Tanaka!"
"Puhuhu," Chihiro's vision cleared, and he could see that hateful robotic bear Monokuma, standing in the middle of the table, turning to look at each of his guests in turn. He was small, the size of a large plushie, white on one side and black on the other. "Oh, shut it, Tanaka! If you're so eager to get to hell, you'll get your chance!"
"What is the meaning of this, Monokuma?" Celestia Ludenberg asked. She spoke calmly, one delicate, pale hand playing with her black hair, but her bright red eyes were intense, focused. They always were, Chihiro realized. He wondered how she had come to be here. "We are all dead, yes? How have you brought us together?"
The diabolical bear waved his tiny paw dismissively. "When you get rescued from the jaws of hell and invited to my beautiful castle, it isn’t polite to worry about the details, you know. Just be grateful, you miserable bastards!"
"Grateful!" demanded Leon, banging both hands on the table and scowling at Monokuma and everyone else. "How the hell do you expect any of us to be grateful, after what you made us do?"
"Made you do, Leon Kuwata?" Monokuma held up his paws before his devilish grin. "Puhuhu, what exactly do you think I made you do?"
"-Ah!" Leon's scowl deepened, and he stared off at the floor.
Monokuma continued. "Now, if certain, *cough* parties could stop interrupting me, I could explain." He put his paws behind his back, and started marching up and down the table. "You lot are here because you're a bunch of sorry losers, you know that? I invited you to play in two of my killing games, but you just couldn’t cut it. Most of you can't go a week without at least one of you keeling over. And the rest of you, well, I could find more competent murderers as prizes in my breakfast cereal. But, I am a generous, and loving bear, so I'm gonna give you all one more chance to get it right!"
"You don't mean-" Chihiro started.
Monokuma spun and pointed directly at him. "That's right, you sorry little pipsqueak! I want you to kill! Stab, shoot, poison, bludgeon, crush, burn, whatever! Mwahahaha!"
"No!" Thundered a voice, deep and full of rage. Sakura Ogami, the strongest person Chihiro had ever seen, grimaced at Monokuma. She had a dark face, lined with vicious scars, and long white hair. Her bulging muscles seemed at odds with the schoolgirl uniform that barely contained them. "You can't control us again, you demented coward. We'll stand together. We'll beat you, without playing your game."
"She's right," answered another voice, just as deep and full of strength, and -oh, no- Chihiro noticed the big man, far off on his left, for the first time. He wore a black leather jacket and a heavy chain with a whistle dangling from it, and had a pointed beard. And his muscles, wow, he even made Mondo look skinny. "If we work together as a team, we can overcome anything."
"Puhuhu, what are you two meat-heads going to do, fight me?" Monokuma tilted his head slyly. "How'd that work out for you last time? Eh, Nekomaru?" The big man went silent, and bowed his head. "Do you wanna get in the robot again? Or maybe I'll put you in a designer toaster this time, featuring my cute, marketable face, whatcha think?"
"This is stupid," Mahiru insisted. "All we have to do is not play. No matter what motive he gives us, no matter how much he tries to push us around." Her eyes narrowed. "It's no fun for you, if we don't play along, is it?"
Monokuma slumped over in mock defeat. "Oh, you've got me. I could just kill you all right now, but that would only be fun for about five minutes. No nonono, it's only fun if I make you do it." His eye flashed red again. "Luckily, I know just how to do that, puhuhu." He rubbed his hands together. "You see, children, I am in possession of a very rare secret. Right now, you are trapped somewhere, between life and death, perched on the precipice of hell itself. But, if one of you manages to graduate, that is, kill a fellow classmate and escape the scythe of justice, I can restore you to life. But only one of you can escape. The rest, well, you'll be plummeted into the depths of hell, sooner or later!"
A young-looking girl seated near Mahiru, with overlarge blonde ponytails and dressed in an orange kimono, snorted arrogantly. "And why should we even believe you, you dumb bear? This is so stupid…”
“I agree with Hiyoko.” A thin, sickly, pale young man with white hair wheezed through his nose, his arms clasped around his chest. “We’ve already failed. We’ve already proven we don’t have real hope. Even if you do have such a power, Monokuma, none of us deserve it.” He began laughing, and shaking about in his chair. “So, why don’t we end this now? If we all agree not to play this bear’s twisted game, he can just dispose of us, and save himself the disappointment.”
The small girl, Hiyoko, ground her teeth. “Hey, shut your dumb mouth, I never said…”
But the white-haired boy just talked over her. “Why don’t we put it to a simple majority vote? If you think Monokuma’s telling the truth, and we should play his killing game so one of us can have another chance at life, raise your right hand. If you think there’s no point, and you’d rather just be cast into whatever hell awaits failures like us, raise your left.” And he raised his own left hand, by way of demonstration.
“H-hey, can we really decide something like that without talking about it first?” stammered Hifumi Yamada, a large, round boy with a droopy, wide face. “I really don’t wanna be in one of these games again, but there has to be another way besides, uh…”
The white-haired boy smiled. “There’s no point in more discussion. We face a simple choice between a slim hope and certain despair. If you haven’t given up on living, you know the right choice to make.”
“Nagito’s right,” Monokuma grinned devilishly. “I hadn’t planned to give you much of a choice in the matter, but I suppose I can indulge your insipid free will. If you reaaaallly don’t wanna have more fun, just raise your left hand. But, a few rules. Once your hand is up, you can't change your mind. Keep it up until everyone's decided. And, let's keep this civil. If you start fighting, I might decide to change your vote for you. Well, let's not waste time. Chop chop, people, make your choices.”
Some right hands went up right away. Celestia’s, Leon’s, Sayaka’s. But Sakura was the first person after Nagito to raise her left hand. “I have no intention of being a part of your schemes, you monster, and I have no trust in your word. I would rather face hell than believe you.” A tall girl, with gray hair in long braids, glasses, and red eyes raised her left hand as well. “Earning my life back would serve no purpose.” Teruteru followed suit, shrugging. “I don't really want to die, but the sooner I wake up, the better.” The big man with the pointed beard, Nekomaru, followed suit. “I’m sorry, everyone. But I don’t like what I would be going back to.”
Then Byakuya Togami raised his right hand. “It doesn’t matter how terrible the situation is. If we stand united, we can find a way to survive. I don’t know exactly what happened before, but I know that petty disunity tore us apart. I would hope we learned our lesson and can do better this time.” Chihiro squinted. He looked like Byakuya, tall, glasses, blonde hair, green eyes, and his voice matched. But Byakuya would never say something like that, and there was something else that was off, that Chihiro couldn’t place. But, his words had the desired effect. A girl with a lot of piercings and long dark hair, streaked with color and styled into a pair of little horns, practically jumped out of her chair, raising her right hand. “Yeah! Byakuya’s back, woo hoo!” More right hands followed quickly, Mahiru, Hiyoko, and a reluctant Hifumi.
Junko Enoshima, a girl with bright pink hair tied up in big ponytails, raised her right hand as well. “A chance to play some more, huh, from this side? Ha, haha." And then, another Junko raised her left hand. Wait, what? No, Chihiro’s eyes weren’t fooling him. There were two Junkos, though the second one was staring daggers at the first. A lot of others seemed to notice that there was a second Junko, but before anyone could comment on this, the boy who called himself Gundham Tanaka raised his left hand. “To return from the dead is a foul act beyond the overlord of ice’s supreme villainy. Instead, let us hasten to the abyss, that we might conquer hell together!” Chihiro wasn’t sure who the overlord of ice was, but then a purple haired girl, dressed in a nurse’s outfit, raised her left hand as well. “If-if I go to hell, will my beloved be there?”
Chihiro, Mondo, and Taka were the last undecided voters. And Mondo’s left hand slowly went up. “Mondo, bro, what, what are you doing?” Taka asked.
“I think Sakura is right. There’s no point in indulging Monokuma’s sick games. And besides, I…” He looked away from Taka and Chihiro. “I don’t think I could live with what I did, anyway.”
Chihiro suddenly realized how close the vote was, and how much he did still want to live, even if it meant trying to live through this again. “What? Mondo, no, please…”
“Think about it, Chihiro. Do you really want to go through this, again? Do you think it’ll turn out differently? Do you think it would matter if you were stronger?”
Taka looked devastated. "I, if that's what you want, Mondo, I guess-" his left hand twitched.
"Taka, wait," Chihiro swallowed his fear, and raised his right hand. “I think we have to try. We have to try to do better, even though we might fail.”
Taka looked back and forth, between his two friends. Then, he sat up straighter, and raised his right hand high. "Sorry, bro. I think Chihiro's right."
Monokuma was rubbing his chin, giggling manically. "Well, there it is, eleven to nine, turns out you do like playing my little game after all. I'm so happy I think I might puke. Oh, and if there had been a tie, I was totally just gonna flip a coin." He shrugged. "So yeah, you guys were this close."
A chorus of sighs washed over the banquet table. Chihiro noticed that a few who had voted for instant death sighed as well, suggesting they were not as confident in their choice as they seemed. Nagito's raspy laughter followed the sighs, like a string breaking on a violin. "Good, good job everybody. I knew that, when faced with utter despair, you could not but choose hope. I'm sure whoever the successful blackened is will emerge from this test as a true beacon of hope, carrying the last wishes of the rest of us back into the world.”
“Shut up!” Hiyoko squealed. “Shut up, shut up, shut up! Ugh, we outta tie this dumb bastard up again.” She glanced to Mahiru. “…Only, this time, lock him in a room by himself and feed him through a hole in the door, so nobody has to see his crusty face or listen to his garbage mouth.”
“Puhuhu!” Tittered Monokuma. “Well, I think that’s enough fun for now. I’ll let you kids get to know each other over a nice dinner. After that, get a good night’s sleep- your rooms are marked. Tomorrow, the bloodshed can begin anew! Ta-ta!”
The hidden fog machine began to belch white smoke again, obscuring the banquet table. When it cleared, Monokuma was gone, and the restraints on the chairs had unhinged and retracted. Covers had appeared over the platters, and tantalizing smells fought for dominance across the table. Yet the room fell deathly silent with Monokuma’s departure.
Byakuya was the first to remove his meal cover, and he smiled serenely. “Oh, glorious bounty of the golden arches. It has been far too long, since I have had a burger fit for a king.” More lids came off, and the silence broke into complimentary murmurs. Everyone had something different prepared, seemingly to their own tastes. Chihiro wondered how they could move so quickly, from the topic of the death game to enjoying a meal together. But, he realized he was quite hungry, actually.
His platter had a big, juicy steak, cooked rare, with a side of green beans. Not even close to what he would normally want, which seemed odd- but then he realized it would make sense for someone trying to gain muscle to eat a lot of meat. Monokuma, or, whoever decided the menu, was trying to predict his desires. That unnerved him more than if he just guessed everyone’s favorite foods. But, he took to his steak anyway, and found that it was quite good. A hole appeared in the table near his table, and elevated a drink in a tall crystal glass to accompany his meal. Chihiro sipped it, and his face puckered. A protein shake, with who knew what- but it’s what he needed to get strong, right?
He watched the others eating, trying not to stare at any one person long enough for them to notice. Some, like Hifumi, Hiyoko, Nekomaru, and Byakuya were devouring their meals with reckless abandon, and little regard for what they looked like. Teruteru was eating slowly, but talking loudly about how it could be improved, though no one was listening. Some, like Mondo, were obviously subdued, staring off at something else, only taking a disinterested bite now and then.
It hurt Chihiro to see just how dejected Mondo was, and he didn’t know what to do about it. He wanted to just forgive him, but… how do you just forgive something like that? Could Chihiro trust that Mondo would never lose control again, would never hurt someone? He shivered. He couldn’t forgive Mondo, not yet, and that meant, if he still wanted to get stronger, he had to find someone else to help him train.
Nekomaru was an obvious choice. But, Nekomaru didn’t know Chihiro’s secret yet. Thinking about telling someone again made Chihiro’s stomach tie up. Taka had called Chihiro ‘him,’ which meant he knew, and the other people from Chihiro’s killing game probably knew as well. Maybe one of them might be a good choice,
A loud tinging sound interrupted Chihiro’s thoughts. Byakuya was standing before his empty platter, striking his empty glass with a fork. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he had finished first and everyone else was still eating. “I think we should start off with some ground rules, and get to know each other. If we can resist Monokuma’s evil designs, there may be a way for us to get out of this as a group.”
“What the hell makes you think you get to talk?” snarled Mondo. “Aren’t you the one who made fun of everybody for wanting to work together? If you really want that, stay out of the way.”
A strange look crossed Byakuya’s face. He swayed on his feet, and looked unnaturally pale and clammy. “And aren’t you the one who committed the second murder, Mondo Owada?” Celestia cut in. “I agree with Byakuya. If we work together, there’s no reason any of us needs to die.”
Hifumi snorted. “Oh, that’s rich, coming from you.”
“No one gave you permission to speak,” Celestia chided. “You lazy, fat, perverted, adle-brained waste of organs.”
Hifumi recoiled, whimpering into a napkin. Hiyoko grinned, her tiny face lighting up with vile glee. “Oh, I like her.”
“You would, you pus-filled little gremlin.” The girl in the nurse’s outfit smiled sickly. “Maybe this time I’ll kill you slowly. Do you want to know what I could really do with a scalpel, Hiyoko? How much blood you can really lose before you die…”
“What the hell Mikan?” Mahiru stood up and moved over to Hiyoko, putting her hands around the smaller girl’s shoulders and her body between Hiyoko and Mikan. “What’s gotten into you?” Hiyoko started crying silently, and shrinking away.
“Yeah, you’ve got a lot to answer for.” The girl with the colorful pointed hair, and an equally colorful outfit pushed her chair back, marched over to Mikan, and shoved a middle finger right up to Mikan’s nose. “I want you to know I was awake the entire time. I couldn’t control my own body, or scream, or anything, but I knew what was happening. And I knew who was doing it.” She shoved Mikan backwards, and her chair tipped over with a resounding thud, spilling the nurse onto the floor, with a pitiful whimper. “I trusted you, Mikan. I-I thought, maybe you could trust me…”
Byakuya started chiming his fork against his glass again. “This, this right here, this is what I was worried about the most.” He waited for everyone to calm down, though Hiyoko and Mikan were still crying. “Everyone here committed a murder, or was murdered. That means we’ve all got a motive for revenge, or someone we think we need to watch out for.”
“Ah,” Celestia swirled a glass of wine, or, more likely, grape juice. “I see, now. The bear doesn’t even have to give us a motive. We’ve already made one.”
Byakuya seemed to think for a moment. “Yes. That seems to be the case. But whatever mistakes we’ve made, or whoever hurt us, we’re here together, now. Those of you who were murdered, we can’t afford for you to hold a grudge against your killer. And the killers need to feel safe against reprisal.” He turned and stared directly at Teruteru, who wilted beneath his imperious gaze. “I don’t understand exactly what happened, but since we appeared in the same room together, I’m guessing you are the one responsible for killing me. Is that right?”
“Uh, heh, heh…” Teruteru’s round face glistened like a ham. “Yeah, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t trying to kill you, but-“
Byakuya cut him off. “I don’t need to know. What’s important is that we all get out of this, if it really is possible for us to return to life. I can’t promise we can become friends, but I do promise not to seek revenge for what already happened.” He turned his eyes to the rest of the table, scanning each face in turn. “Everyone needs to make that promise, no matter how angry you are, because if we all fail here, it won’t matter.”
The girl with the horns frowned, but nodded. “…Ugh, ok. Ibuki forgives Mikan.” She reached down and offered a hand to the sobbing nurse, who hadn’t bothered trying to get up. Ibuki hauled her to her feet.“Just, don’t kill me again, k?” Mikan made a soft sound, and her eyes filled up with tears.
Hiyoko’s face shriveled up. “You got to be kidding me! How am I supposed to forgive that crazy bitch for cutting my throat?”
Kiyotaka stood, squared his shoulders, and spoke. “I agree with Byakuya completely. This is a chance for us to do better and stand united.” He turned and stiffly bowed to Hifumi, and then to Celestia. “I died to a cowardly sneak attack, and I don’t know which of you is responsible. But it doesn’t matter. I forgive you, at least until this is resolved.”
Celestia nodded gracefully. “It was my plan, but it was nothing personal. I simply wanted to escape. I apologize for my actions.”
Hifumi put his hands together and turned to her. “And… what about me, Ms. Ya, um, Ms. Ludenberg?”
She frowned. “Stay away from me, and we won’t have a problem.”
“Ha!” Nekomaru rose his glass, and pointed it towards Tanaka. “It’s no problem for me. Our duel was an honorable one, and I have nothing but respect for the sacrifice we made together.”
Tanaka cackled arrogantly. “Indeed, Nekomaru. Our duel shall go down in legend for millennia to come!” Wait, Chihiro thought, Tanaka beat Nekomaru in a fight to the death? But, he didn’t look nearly as strong… interesting…
But the others seemed less enthusiastic about forgiving their killers. Leon and Sayaka were trying, but failing to make eye contact. Mahiru was glaring at the girl with the gray braids, who was calmly ignoring her. Sakura and the white-haired boy, Nagito, didn’t seem to be looking at anyone, though they seemed preoccupied.
Chihiro got so absorbed in reading everyone else’s faces, that he almost forgot about Mondo. But, sure enough, he sat dejectedly sipping from his glass, pointedly not looking at Chihiro. Of course, revenge was the furthest thing from Chihiro’s mind. But it wasn’t Chihiro the biker was worried about, it was his own guilt. Chihiro thought about standing up and making a big proclamation of forgiveness, like some of the others had done. But it would just embarrass Mondo, and it would look ridiculous anyway. He pictured it, a skinny little girl, promising not to murder the tall, intimidating biker in cold blood. He shivered. The best he could do was try to smile at Mondo, but he didn’t notice.
“There is something else I think we should clear up,” Taka said, pointing at one of the Junkos. “Why, exactly, are there two of you here, Junko Enoshima?”
The Junko he’d pointed at snarled, and then she reached up, grabbed her long, pink hair, and, yanked it off, in one smooth motion. Beneath the elaborate wig, her hair was short and very dark. Without it, her face seemed much thinner, much more severe, than Chihiro had realized. “I’m not Junko, dammit. I’m her twin sister. My name is Mukuro Ikusaba, the Ultimate Soldier. I suggest you leave me alone and try not to get in my way.”
Taka stepped back, warily. “Can you explain how you got here, Mukuro? What connection do you have to this game?”
“She was killed by Monokuma before the game started, before the rest of us met in the entry hall,” answered the other Junko. She swayed when she spoke, and her hair swished messily in front of her face. “I think there was a problem with her memory wipe not working properly, isn’t that right sister?”
Mukuro tilted her head, considering Junko’s explanation. “Yes, that’s what happened.”
“That’s why I acted so recklessly, in the gymnasium,” the real Junko went on. “Monokuma had already killed my own precious sister, right in front of me, and made me promise not to talk about it. But I let my emotions get the better of me, and made a fool of myself. I’m an idiot, I deserved to die.”
The twins glared at each other, Mukuro’s gaze icy cold, Junko’s shaky and delirious. Chihiro didn’t believe them for an instant, there was definitely more going on between them. But the rest of them probably weren’t getting answers tonight.
The meal continued in relative silence, until, one by one, the diners drifted off towards the rooms around the banquet hall. Chihiro wasn’t strong enough to finish his steak, but he ate as much as he could, feeling sorry for the cow. There was nowhere to take dishes, so everyone just left them on the table. Chihiro hadn't noticed before, but the doors were labeled with names and pictures of the students, much like in Hope's Peak. Chihiro’s room was between Leon’s and Mondo’s, so it seemed they were organized by the order in which they had died.
Chihiro was too overwhelmed to think about any of it. Not where they were, or what it had been like to die, not Monokuma’s promise that one of them could return to life, not the strangers, or the overwhelming anxiety of being in another killing game. He got ready for bed mechanically, turned off the light, and collapsed on the mattress, staring up at the ceiling. And he remembered that this was the first time he’d gone to sleep since Mondo had promised not to make him cry, since Monokuma had threatened to reveal his secret, since he had told Mondo the truth. And since Mondo had killed him. Chihiro fell asleep crying, and hoped to wake up somewhere else.