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Absolution of Humanity

Chapter Text

Once my feet touched the ground, the nylon fabric of the parachute enveloped me, plunging my senses into utter darkness. I could feel my knees buckling from under me. Then it came - the pain. I could not pinpoint where it originated from, though it had obviously came from somewhere in my body. It was sickening to know that I was in pain and that it overrode any thoughts I had in regards to reality itself. I suddenly felt emptiness. How many moments had I spent in the darkness, unmoving? My whole body seemed to be struggling to coordinate with what thoughts dwelled in my mind. Need I remind myself what I am? I am human, of course, right? I’m frightened - truly. Am I slowly going insane? No - that’s wrong, and I know it! I know damn well exactly who I am! ...I’m-

Ah!

Wait...

There it is!

That must be the third... How many times must I hear my fellow man roar at one another? No, wait. That’s wrong. The term “man” wouldn’t be so proper to describe us characters now. That man behind the screen referred to us as players. Of course, this isn’t a board game; we’re playing a rather sick game here, and we’re definitely counting down our numbers. How many did that man say there were, anyway? Actually, I don’t recall him ever saying anything about our numbers. Another blast erupted in the distance, and I immediately recalled the chilling words of the man behind the screen: “In order to go home, you’re to kill seven people.” We were all given bombs of our own, with BIM designated as their name. We were instructed that each one of us was likely to possess a different sort of BIM. These BIMs were our weapons - our tools sharpened for the massacre. If I remembered correctly, all of us players were first situated in what looked to be the back of a cargo plane. I remember the glances we had given to each other. We were all fearful of one another. Our eyes, clouded with mistrust, evidenced it all. And this is the result.

Damn.

They’re hunting rather early, aren’t they?

I must’ve spent quite some time, for my next thoughts wondered whether or not I should be leaving. My arms flailed about, but every attempt was met with resistance. It terrified me - truly. Had I already been killed, felled by the chilling intensity of the wind and the ground that now reeked of my body’s seeping blood? No, wait. Calm down... That’s silly - truly. I’m the main character of my own story after all. Isn’t this a common setting, too? In a game, the main character doesn’t die unless his death actually means something to the plot. Such thinking was convenient at the time. It was then, while lost in my own thoughts, a gap suddenly formed in front of me, blinding me one second and the next spent illuminating what laid in front of me: an opening. I could see it - right there! Staring through the opening, I could see that life still existed on the other side, and therefore confirming that I still existed. How cowardly of me - truly. I can’t have myself blocking it out; I need to escape. Though it must’ve been but mere moments for when such thoughts clouded my mind, my desire to escape this seemingly perpetual darkness increased tenfold.

The wind howled, tearing through the parachute’s nylon fabric. Why had it suddenly become so difficult to stand? My hands stretched forward, desperately clawing to pull myself from under the parachute, and yet my arms buckled underneath the nylon fabric. I could hear the wind howl, taunting me. A shiver worked itself up to my spine, and the thought of the darkness blinding me was my motivation. Though I did so awkwardly, I pulled myself forward, every effort met with agony. I could hear the ground rustle from underneath me. Grass, perhaps? Clumsily, I emerged from underneath the parachute, with the occasional tossing of its dark green nylon fabric as it clung to me. A couple of attempts at ripping the nylon fabric had proven futile before, and the wind belittled me as a result, blowing with intensity. With enough effort, the parachute ceased to accompany me, reduced to a pitiful shadow as the wind carried it off.

My head lifted off the ground as my knees planted themselves on the ground. What laid before my eyes was a jungle. It was just as I had thought, or, much rather, just what the man behind the screen had told us players. I had caught glimpses before I had landed, but I knew now where I was situated in. Judging by the intensity of the wind, I must have landed in a small clearing elevated above the jungle surrounding me. A couple of more observations, with the occasional turning of the head, then proved my theory. I could probably move, but I’ll be needing to stand first.

However, before I could do anything, the jungle that laid in front of me had burst into searing flames. I wasn’t even close but yet I could feel the heat radiating from the jungle’s depths. This was not a work of nature but the work of man in nature’s stead. It was simple. It was so simple. One of the players had let out a roar and, as a result, they had overdone their actions, burning the nearby trees. I stared in awe. Our tools of murder could do so much. It was shocking - truly. These tools of the massacre, possessed by my foes, were also by my side. It was inside this silver-colored bandolier that held weapons in arm’s reach. The thought itself was uncomfortable, thought I could do no such thing to discard the source. Even if I had decided that killing wasn’t the only way out, I would eventually be hunted down by one of my fellow players. These weapons are now a necessity for my survival. Of course, there were many things that couldn’t be avoided. Somehow I knew that I would eventually kill a person, and this was not based on any egocentric thought rather on an intangible feeling. It was now all too easy to hurt, all too easy to kill, and all too easy to commit the irreversible.

There were screams filling the air where there were flames residing. They weren’t screams of agonizing pain but rather screams of anger. I could definitely imagine them but yet that wasn’t the case. Somehow I knew where they were. I could see where they were moving. I could feel every emotion poured into every action. I could tell one of them was suffering yet not from pain but from fear. As for the other person, the one in pursuit, they were sure of their victory. When I attempted to stand, my body staggered backward but yet managed to catch itself as my right foot planted itself in the ground behind me. It was then I realized: While standing about, lost in thought, I was vulnerable. I could die here, in this jungle, where no one would ever know my very character.

A shiver worked its way up my spine.

It was fear that truly motivated me now, guiding my whole being to what I perceived as safety. I could of sworn whatever lay deep in the jungle was approaching fast. I needed to be safe - this I knew. Several seconds had past when another blast roared from a distance. A small step quickly turned into a jog. Instinctively, I turned to my left. I could hear the screams no more but yet I could feel the movements approaching that very clearing from before, transitioning their battle to there. They were still back there, trying to kill each other, and, regardless of their motives, one of them would emerge victorious. But there would be a cost, just as there always will be, for with every person killed, they would be casting what little of humanity they still held within themselves.

When I looked at myself, I felt no different.

Chapter Text

The events of the cargo plane were still clear in my head, for I had made sure to pay a great deal of attention to every detail. It all began there - this game, the thirty-two of us put into it, and the man behind the screen who gave us the incentive to kill one another.

I remember a hand shaking me awake on that uneventful day. My eyes opened drowsily. In front of me was a bespectacled man, perhaps around my age, kneeling down to my level, carrying a look of concern. I didn't question his sudden appearance at the time, for my eyes trailed to examine my surroundings. It was then that I realized that I did not recognize this place. Where exactly was I? My first thought had been about myself expecting to awaken at a rather early time by an alarm clock. However, now had certainly not been the case. For some odd reason, when taking in the fact that I had awoken, not in the warm comfort of my bed, but in the cold, dank floor of a dimly lit room, I had remained calm.

"Hey. Look into my eyes and focus. Are you feeling feverish, or anything?" The man asked out of concern. My eyes turned toward the direction of the man's calming voice, and as I did so, he slowly pressed the palm of his hand against my forehead, feeling for my temperature. Having not found anything unusual, the man retracted his hand, letting out a sigh as he did so. "It seems like you're fine, just like the others," he said, relieved. The man stood up, his gaze still fixed on me, and then leaned forward, extending a hand in my direction.

"Can you stand up?" He asked.

I nodded and then took the man's hand.

As I stood up, using both the man's hand and the wall behind me for support, I couldn't help but notice just how cold the metal wall was and this strange feeling I had. The thought of us moving quickly came to mind, but before I could voice such a thought, the man spoke once more, catching me off guard.

"Wakahisa Kiichiro."

...Wait. What did he just say?

For a couple of moments, neither of us spoke, allowing the awkwardness of our situation to persist. Wakahisa's left hand ran through his short, light brown hair. "...That's my name," he began saying, "you can address me by my first name - I really don't mind - using my family name is a bit too formal for me." The awkwardness must have been infectious, for he seemed less confident than he had been before. Every so often his dark brown eyes glanced in my direction, anticipating an answer, with his hand continuing to grasp at the strands of his hair. Eventually, after having no answer given to him, he broke the silence. "Um, this is the part where you're suppose to tell me your name." Right. Right. My name. "Ah, sorry about that, Waka - I mean - Kiichiro-san," I said apologetically, attempting to excuse my lack of conversing, "I'm Mizushima Takumi." The name itself was rather strange, and immediately I found myself regretting it wholly.
"Do you always find yourself deep in thought from time to time, Mizushima-san?" Was that why he hadn't spoken? Thinking back, why was he even checking up on someone he hardly even knew? If I remember correctly, he did mention that he had done the same thing for some of the others. Although I didn't say anything, he took my silence for an answer. "I suppose it really doesn't matter too much," he began to walk away, with his head still turned toward my direction, "just make sure to tell me about anything you find."

I nodded.

Now that I think about it, Wakahisa was rather well-dressed. He conducted himself in a polite manner and such was even more appropriate in regards to his attire: a black and white striped vest, a white long-sleeved collar shirt, with a black tie fastened around the collar, and black pants. I believe his shoes were also black. It's much better than the black suit I'm wearing. I look like a typical salaryman right now compared to the rest of 'em, I bet, and no matter what I do it seems I can't shape this messy, light brown hair of mine. Damn. Just what does this man do to look so good? Should I ask him? No - I shouldn't. Stop being ridiculous - really. That's not what I really want to ask him.

When I took a look around, I saw that there were others conversing with one another, some of these conversations centered around trivial matters, but most discussed seriously on our confinement. There were also others who laid unconscious within the room, particularly a woman with long black hair whom several others tried to awaken. Why exactly are we all here in this first place? In this cold, dank prison, there were masked men, armed with stun guns, positioned in front of every walls, eying us with caution, acknowledging that they themselves were in control. I counted eight or ten of them - perhaps I miscounted and there was actually more than that. Was this much really necessary? Speaking to any of them yielded no response, and not even an insult fazed them; a tall blond-haired, bespectacled man nearby had confirmed this not too long ago. These men composed themselves as if they were statues, unyielding and dutiful, with the only trace of their humanity seen through every glance of concern for the time displayed on their watches. They were anticipating something - something grand.

It was strange when I now thought about it. All of it was strange. It had started when I had woke up. When my hand was pressed against the metal as I got up, I could've sworn I felt a strong feeling gathering in my palm, as if I was been pushed and pulled at the same time. Were we moving? Perhaps it might've been what they hit us with that I was unable to make sense of this.
It was then that I realized that the periods in which the masked men glanced at their watches was growing shorter, signalling that the grand event itself would soon be revealed shortly to us, the audience. I then glanced at my own watch out of anticipation, only to find that it no longer worked.

"Ladies and gentlemen!"

A booming voice suddenly spoke, accompanied by a bright light emitted from a monitor to my right. Instinctively, I turned, hoping for answers. "How are you all feeling?" The voice belonged to a rather stocky, older man dressed in overalls over a striped shirt and a cap depicting a giant lizard alongside words I could not make out. His appearance made him seem childish, and yet that was probably what he was striving for. It was through the screen that the man spoke to us, with little to no pause between each word. "Good? Very good! I am so pleased to see that we have such an agreeable amount from you folks, and I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for agreeing to participate in our game designed just for all of you players!"

Every word was but a small part comprising a rehearsed act, and yet the derisive tone accompanying the man's every word seemed almost natural. This intimidating presence…. Are we truly under this man's control? Is this why the very questions I wanted to voice are still but thoughts?

"Now, let us begin with the instruct-"

"To hell with that!"

A voice bellowing with indignation interjected. His presence had shaken off our engrossment with the man behind the screen's words, prompting many of us, including myself, to direct our attention to a rather stocky, elderly man with a grey stubble. "I've had enough of your bullshit already! I don't know what plans you have for us, but us humans have dignity, and we-" He never had a chance to finish, for his next moment was spent resisting several of the masked men who had pushed him onto the ground, with one motioning a stun gun toward his temple. Shortly after, the man was convulsing, his unrestrained right hand striking the ground repeatedly. Several screams erupted from within the room, each embodying the fear that dwelt beneath our very flesh. I felt that I had no choice but to stare at the sight in front of me. It took only but a couple of more moments after when he resisted no more. A single shock of electricity had silenced him, rendering him still, like a boxer knocked out cold, and it became clear that any one of us was likely to follow the same fate had we walked that man's path. We were truly under this man's control.

"So rude, and I was about to introduce myself to you all!"

My head slowly turned to meet the tyrant. He looked unimpressed, his eyes staring at us with disdain. "Ah! Why must there always be such people to ruin this event for all of the good ones?" He feigned the appearance of a man who had been unexpectedly disappointed, with his right hand covering both of his eyes, and his head shaking from side to side. Shortly after, a crooked smile slowly formed, giving us the impression that he was about to continue. "Well," he began saying, retracting his hand in the process, "we shouldn't keep you all waiting, right?"

“Well! Let’s get started!”

An image suddenly appeared on the screen and then rapidly shrunk to the left side of the screen. The man casually pointed out a plane and directed it toward what looked to be an island. "Ladies and gentlemen! The thirty-two of you are currently being transported via airplane to a certain island in the Pacific, and remember, not a single one of you are subjected to any of the laws of Japan once you step foot on this island, so feel free to indulge yourselves once you get there!" His smile never once faltered as he explained such to us all. "Oh, right! I almost forgot! The game - yes, that's right! - needs to be played first, so you'll have to put off everything else until you finish up with it. Now, I will only explain once, so pay attention!" His hand slowly rose, producing two objects that were similar to a ball and a cube. "We call these little pocket-sized explosives BIMs, and you're to battle it out with them. Battle against whom, you might ask? Why, with everyone standing around you, of course!"

"Y-You're kidding, right?!"

"There's no way!"

"How are we to..."

When the man behind the screen had begun informing us of our situation, my body became tense. From the moment I had woken, I had thought of my fellow captives as being one in the same. We were all placed in the same situation, confused, with the same questions, and with the same fear for our alien environment. When the man behind the monitor told me then that we were to kill each other, my lips quivered erratically.

Thump.

I could hear it.

Thump.

Or much rather...

Thump.

I could feel it.

Heartbeats pounding from not just my heart but from my neighbors’ and their neighbors’. Whatever trust we had all mustered up between one another was now starting to dissipate. We knew what each one of us were thinking, and that was what we feared the most. Could I really kill these people? I couldn't, right? But then again, could they kill me? At this point, every one of them must be against me. They were all probably thinking of the same thing as I was before: ‘Isn't this Japan? Nobody could easily get their hands on explosives.’ But they did have them. The man behind the screen had confirmed it for us all. Our reality was no longer what we once knew it to be. It was with that thought that all I could think of doing now was to escape immediately.

I wanted out.

Now.

I turned around, my back facing the man behind the screen. Sweat had begun to form underneath my white-collared shirt, and all I could think about was loosening the black tie around my collar as I lightly pushed a younger man aside, distancing myself from the rest. As I turned back, to catch sight of the man behind the screen, I noticed the same man from earlier - the one who had insulted the masked men - staring back at me, and it was then that I glanced at the piercings on his lips before noticing he had a two more on his left ear. The blond-haired man regarded me suspiciously, but eventually he returned his gaze at the man behind the screen. By the time I had finally calmed myself down, I had already backed myself against the nearby wall at the back of the room, slowly sliding against it toward the floor, crumpled like a mannequin with his strings cut.

Observe everything. Your life depends on it. Don't be like everyone else.

The sudden announcement of this game of killing had been too much for us, and so many of us suddenly found themselves voicing opinions of their own. I stared at the man behind the screen, speechless, for I suddenly felt that absorbing every word this man had spoken would be pivotal to surviving this game. But those were but thoughts, and they most likely never to become much more than that. I had to convince myself that I was calm, and to do so was to give myself the impression that I still had some level of control. This man's words were my salvation. I would survive, right? While everyone else is panicking, I would have to prove to be better, and that's simply because I listened more than those who were voicing their obnoxious opinions.

I glanced around, observing the actions of others.

Most of them were panicking, spouting off what was obvious enough to everyone, seeing the need to repeat information as being of the utmost importance. Their indecisiveness would prove to be a liability, for no longer would we be subjected to laws of society. Those are the ones who might end up dying first.

"You can't just do that, you asshole!" A man yelled.

But didn't he do just that, asshole?

Before I knew it, I was already looking for Wakahisa. I needed somebody reliable, and he seemed to fit the character. Chances are, he probably was having the same thoughts as I had. However, when I spotted him, his actions surprised me. He was doing the same damn thing as the rest of them. Repeating information, voicing his own useless opinions…. At least he thought about keeping everyone calm, but by doing that he'll only be brought down by the rest of them. I had expected better from him. Wasn't he like me? It's usually us people, the ones who think more than others, who are much more suited to getting through in this world of ours.

Perhaps we had but a couple of moments too much for ourselves, for the sound of the stun guns screeched throughout the room. There were a couple of people who screamed, and yet there were no bodies convulsing around any of us.

It was a warning.

Finally, the man behind the screen spoke, silencing us. "Don't mind them, they're just setting their stun guns up to the maximum voltage possible. After all, we do need to get through with this as quick as possible. So, no more interruptions!" The screen in front of us showed various images, each giving us details on every type of BIM we could possibly start out with. It was awesome. For instance, there were BIMs that chased down foes via propeller, BIMs that spat out fire in four directions, and also BIMs that relied on a timer to explode, but there were many more than just those three.

While I was busied with remembering what each type did, the man continued. "Lastly, here comes the most important objective to winning this game. Please look at your left hand." As instructed, I did so. It was rather strange. There was a green chip embedded in my left hand. Though I was shocked to see such on my hand, the chip itself had felt almost natural, as if I had had one my whole life. I had a rather difficult time believing that I hadn't noticed such a thing until now. "I believe some of you have already noticed, but there is a small chip implanted in your left hand. Please be aware that any attempt to remove these chips are futile, for it can only be done surgically. Well, there is a easier way…. If your heart or lungs stop functioning, then you should be able to remove them quite easily! But really, you probably shouldn't try that. After all, this chip acts as your radar for locating one another."

Apparently, one could do this by focusing a good amount of strength into their middle finger, which would then send a sonar wave to detect the presence of another player. And if we happened to kill another person and could not find their chip(s), then we could contain and project the radar's waves by putting some more strength into the radar, or something along the lines of that. I found all of this rather confusing, especially given the fact that the man explained all this in but a few minutes.

"All right! That seems to be all that needs to be explained here, and we've just arrived at our destination just in time…after we circled it about five times…" His eyes glared at us momentarily, sending a shiver down my spine, but they soon relaxed. "Alas, it's time for us to say our goodbyes and drop you all off at your stop!" Drop?! "My assistants, please open the back so we may release the cargo!" It was but only a few seconds before we felt the intensity of the wind. I turned around and saw that one of the walls had opened, revealing itself to be the back end of a cargo plane's deck.

Of course, I should've known….

I had but only one glance before my thoughts were interrupted by the screams of my fellow abductees. My head rose with urgency, knowing there were horrors awaiting every one of us. Uncertainty grasped my every thought. I could see it in front of me - everything. One by one, we were being forced off the cargo plane's deck. I was absolutely terrified, to the point where I questioned my situation, fruitlessly scouring for any hope in the dimly lit prison. Should I act? Should I not act? My indecisiveness was perfectly reasonable; after all, I wasn't the only one who had succumbed to fear. Not knowing what course of action I should take, I turned and looked onto the man behind the screen, hoping for any words of advice that he may voice.

But that was all but a thought, a thought that held no significance in this world.

"I wish you all the best of luck, players! Make me proud, all of you!" The man behind the screen waved at us, all while grinning. When he finally stopped, his eyes had suddenly grown serious. The pleasantries were now over. This man, proclaiming to be our host, looked on at us with such disdain in his eyes, eager to watch us cower under his control. A grin slowly formed on his face, prompting me to then realize that the very one who I considered to be my salvation was also the very cause of my damnation. In this small world, he was god. It was foolish of me to think otherwise.

Eventually, one of the masked men took notice of my idleness and walked over to me with a large backpack and a white bandolier. "Take this," he ordered, handing me the bandolier before continuing, "then strap this onto your back, and then move over there to jump." His stun gun motioned in the direction of the cargo plane's mouth. After doing as he asked me to, the man then reminded me of where to move in order to jump. Of course, that was not a suggestion on his part. However, even though I did as he said, I was more focused on the stun gun he held rather than his orders, causing me to not notice the man who then shoved me aside, frightened for his life. As I tried to maintain my balance, I bumped into a nearby woman and fell forward, only to have my fingers stepped on by another person. I screamed in agony. Not a single one of them truly cared for one another, and that was to be expected. As I stood up, grimacing at the pain that erupted from my fingers, I noticed that the black-haired woman, the same one whom those people had been attempting to awaken before, was still unconscious. Well, she's pretty much screwed. I thought little of it after that, for I found the sight of the masked men activating their stun guns behind me intimidating.

No way….

They're really going to stun me!

Before I knew it, I was pushing my way forward, shoving others when I could, and stepping over others just to distance myself further from danger. Karma always finds a way to step over you if you're stepping over others. "Serves them right…." For some reason I was laughing nervously, but I soon realized what I had done. When I got to the end, I stopped and gazed at the island below, taking in the height at which I would be falling from. I stepped back, only to be pushed forward by one of my fellow players. "Stop, please! Don't push!" I was now pleading. My body hit the cargo plane's deck, with my head facing the sight below. As I tried to get up, someone kicked me in the stomach, prompting me to wince in pain as I rolled off the cargo plane's deck. The wind blew with intensity at the time, and even now I still remember it very clearly. I felt as if I was about to die at that time. However, reality is much more crueler to those who survive.

After some time had passed, I found myself on the island, cowering in fear.

In actuality, I was no different from the rest of my fellow players, for fear had become my motivation on that cargo plane. What am I to myself? I am but only a human, and yet even after contemplating such thoughts repeatedly, I still found myself desperately clinging to the idea of me being better than this - this life.

------

A loud noise interrupted my thoughts.

I could hear it - a scream.

It was not a scream that arose from fear but rather one made out of sheer agony, for the very words rippling through the air were but curses. It was a man's voice that I heard screaming incoherently. It involved something between how fate had been cruel and how his leg had been blown off, with the rest impossible for me to make out. Shortly after, the screams stopped. Perhaps he was speaking softly…. However, another explosion came, accompanied by a scream from the man himself.

Silence followed.

From a nearby clearing, I stood, with my eyes fixated on the sea of trees before me. The flames grew, and the smoke rose ever more from them. I had no doubt that that man had been murdered. I was mistaken, however, on that first thought, for murder was now impossible to commit. To commit homicide is to act in opposition of the laws placed upon those belonging to society itself. If we took the words of man behind the screen as truth, then this island, and the very horrors inhabiting it, were not subjected to the laws of Japan. The proper definition for the individual acts partaken within this massacre could only be defined as the killing of another. There were no such things as those who murdered and those who were murdered on this island, for there exists only those who are killed and those who partake in the killing.

In actuality, the definitions of both murder and killing were not synonymous at all.

Society itself does not exist for us on this island, and, after witnessing the scene from before, I highly doubt the social obligations placed upon us would have as much impact as they did before. In Japan, murderers were punished for their crimes, and it was through such punishments that its citizens grew reluctant to commit such acts. Murders based on logic are far more difficult to commit than those based on emotion, and it is the latter that happens more often than the former. Murders based on emotion are not committed after premeditation, which means these culprits committed such acts without any consideration given to the consequences that may befall upon them. If not for the punishments of such crimes, murders based on logic would happen much more frequently than those based on emotion, for it is these very punishments that discourage would-be murderers and leave the more persistent ones to premeditate on eluding the law itself. But now, with no law guiding us, the reluctance of such thoughts that the thirty-two of us possessed would begin to lessen, and the killing of one another would now be left far more simple than elaborate.

Although I was no longer sprinting, I still made sure to distance myself as much as possible - and this had to be done in moderation, for I couldn't afford to waste energy that I may need later in another encounter. The thought of me staying in that clearing from before weighed heavily upon my mind. Fear, again, was my motivation. Once I had gained a better grasp of my surroundings, I was able to think much more clearly. My pace was now more relaxed than it had been before. One could definitely find themselves lost here, in this jungle, and the fact that every tree was seemingly identical to the next wasn't of much help. In time, I began relying more on the ground I was walking on rather than what was laid out in front of me. The fact that the trees all looked too similar to one another reminded me of the humidity in this area. Sweat was already clinging to my clothes. If the nights are this hot, then I definitely would loathe the heat of the days to come.

Exhausted, I plopped myself on the ground at a small clearing and then proceeded to get comfortable. I soon found myself unfastening the black tie from my long white collar shirt hastily, followed by the unbuttoning of the first, second, and third buttons of my shirt.

Now seemed like a good time to get a better grasp of the situation.

First of all, the man behind the screen had deceived us players. He may not have lied to us, but he withheld information from us. Although he told us that the radar detected others, he never said anything about us being detected in the process. When those two people down there were using their radar, I could feel their presence, and I knew they could feel mine. That's why I knew I had to run. It wasn't cowardly of me to run, it was clever of me to. I confirmed the unknown and survived, therefore I now knew better on how to act appropriately if a similar situation arose. If I stayed there, there might've been two people dead instead of one, and I definitely don't think I'd be the one collecting the chips.

Second of all, my BIMs. On the ground to my left laid a white bandolier with black lined around the edges. It was rather heavy for its size, so it was a small comfort knowing I didn't have to carry it right now. Of course, its heaviness seemed reasonable enough, especially considering that we were carrying explosives in each one of these bandoliers. I remember the man behind the monitor showing one to us, so I knew instantly what it was when it was given to me. He called it a "pouch," however. Although shouldn't "bandolier" be the correct word to use since they carry explosives? I suppose it doesn't really matter, so long as the person understands the message that's being conveyed to them.

When the thought of checking the contents arose, I hesitated. For some inexplicable reason I feared that the BIMs might malfunction and explode, even though we were instructed that they could only do so after activating them by pressing their switch. I knew eventually that I would have to use them, so I looked at the contents anyway. However, I made sure to do so slowly. After confirming my fears to be false, I observed the contents, only to find myself disappointed. Honestly, I was hoping to receive a BIM that was simple to use, like that BIM that follows people around via copter or that BIM that creates a barrier around you, but this…this is just disappointing….

I was carrying those BIMs that exploded via detonator.

What exactly was the name of this BIM, again? It was probably called the "remote control BIM," but as I continued to think about it, I started doubting it even more than before. I really wish I had some confirmation on these sort of things…. Shortly after, I found myself having learned a great deal of things about my BIM. I had a total of eight BIMs - and I suspect everyone else had the same amount in order to have a "fair game" of sorts. The remote control BIM had a small number inscribed on the edge of each BIM belonging in the set, and each BIM, of course, had their own number, which numbered from "1" to "8." To make things even more convenient, a small, dim light would appear on one of the eight buttons of my detonator, indicating what BIM number I had activated. Like the BIMs themselves, my detonator had its buttons numbered from "1" to "8." The detonator itself was also styled into a wristband, for the owner’s convenience, meaning I didn't have to worry about losing it.

After some time had passed, I figured I had stayed in place for too long, and so, after gathering all my items, I set off. In actuality, I wasn't quite sure how well I might fare in the future, and I didn't have any particular goal other than finding shelter of some sort. However, the fear I had felt from before was now dissipating, and in its stead arrived a newfound confidence that I was in a much more better position that I had been in before. With my bandolier strapped to my waist and the knowledge I had acquired, I found myself much more prepared in this game of survival. As I pondered such thoughts, I quickened my pace through the jungle.

The first morning on this island was now arriving, and it was damn well beautiful.

Chapter Text

"Do you have the footage of his death ready, Uezono-kun?"

It hadn't even been twenty minutes after the second game started when the first player was killed. Name: Fujimoto, Juro. Age: 27. BIM-type: Cracker. Although Uezono Naoki didn't know him in person, he somehow felt responsible for his death. It was an unreasonable thought to have in his line of work, especially since he had put that man in such a situation in the first place. Even so, Fujimoto-san was one of the people Uezono was to observe and report on from time to time, and a small part of Uezono had hoped Fujimoto-san would be alive long enough for him to develop as a character. But screentime isn't divided up equally, sometimes there are characters who are minor in existence, yet play a crucial role in developing another character. Uezono knew this.

Who was this Fujimoto-san anyway...? According to the documents his folder carried, he was a man who once showed promise in his younger years. Fujimoto-san once belonged to a two-man-group set on forming their own style of music through harmonica and guitar and then bringing it into the music industry. During that time, Fujimoto-san and his partner Nishimura Isamu lived together, chasing after the dream they both long sought after even during their high school years. The youthful Fujimoto-san, the vocal specialist, his voice representing the emotions poured into their work. The quiet Nishimura-san, the songwriter, his words containing a "meaningful meaning," a phrase he often used. Although the two hadn't signed off a contract with any record labels, they had already succeeded in garnering a local audience at the street corner they performed on. Though the road was far, their dream seemed much more tangible than it had before.

But of course, all stories have a tragic counterpart to them.

After one of their weekend performances at their street corner, the two were then approached by a representative from a well-known record label. The man's offer: to have Fujimoto-san debut as a solo artist. After much argument, the two-man-group had split, but not without tension between them. The youthful Fujimoto-san thought he had achieved his dream, yet in reality he was never even close to doing so. In a year, his popularity flared and then burned out, leaving him smothered by the industry, just as many solo artists who could not stand out had. In the following two years, he was reduced to supporting an up-and-coming lead singer of a band as their acoustic guitar counterpart, but his determination was not as bold as it had been before, resulting in his ties with the record label being severed.

Months later, Fujimoto-san attempted to contact Nishimura-san, only to find out that the man had long given up their dream, now pursuing the role of a father. The youthful Fujimoto-san felt angered, betrayed even! How could this man give up on the dream the two of them pursued? Was it not their dream? Was it not their dream? But then Fujimoto-san realized one thing: he had given up first. His anger turned to lament, then to self-pity, then finally to acts of self-effacing. The "meaningful meaning" their music once had was nothing but a decorated husk, for Fujimoto-san had now realized that he would never be able to truly convey the wishes the two once had, nor could his passion compare to the passion Nishimura-san once had. Fujimoto-san could only blame himself over one hasty decision that changed everything.

When the nomination form came in the mail, asking who he would want to disappear in his life, he thought to himself how good it would be if such a thing could be true. However, he could only pretend that such a thing could be true. Without hesitation, he nominated himself. When he finally came to his senses, he was already in the cargo plane's deck, wondering whether it was his actions that brought him there or his wishes that did.

He hadn't accepted the reality before him. No, he was still contemplating between his actions and his wishes, even when he had landed on the island. When he finally encountered another person, he hadn't held back, thinking he had brought this upon himself as the person he met had done so to themselves. His death greeted him with fire, and he burned ever so brightly. There was nothing beautiful about it, only a tragedy unwritten - a tragedy unspoken. If it wasn't for the island, then never would anyone have known how undeniably human these people were.

There were tears that day, not on the island, but from behind a computer monitor. It was unreasonable for there to be tears. There was no way that the man who shed them should feel directly responsible, he didn't kill him after all, and what was shown was not even real footage of the event but computer graphics. It was unreasonable to shed tears. And yet...

It was on that day that Uezono had cried, because no one else would.

------

In front of my eyes was the first person I had met on this island. How long had it actually been since I last laid my eyes on a person? It couldn't have been more than a couple of hours, not even past noon! And yet I'm so frightened that my whole body has gone stiff. I can feel the fear rising through each hair erected across my body. My body lays flat, my every limb struggling to remain unseen yet also unheard. My every thought is centered around my existence and his. Have I been seen? Have I been heard?

How much time had I spent lying here? My clothes are already soaked from sweat and dew. I feel disgusting; I am disgusting. My body is shivering in this uncomfortable position. Where is he? His footsteps have grown quiet, but does that mean he's now farther from me? Even if that were the case, is he just feigning a moment of ignorance? I hadn't even seen him until that white uniform of his was right ahead of me. Hell, he's probably in high school - even fits the description, too. He's walking so carelessly. It's all too easy now to get killed out here. Honestly, I don’t want to do it, but if it means going home quickly without less trouble, then I’ll have to.

My hand reached into my bandolier. The unfamiliar feeling of metal comes into mind as I produce a BIM. My eyes glanced at the BIM in my hand. A "4" was marked on it, and so I knew what button was to be pressed. The detonator is on my left wrist. All I need to do is activate the BIM, throw it in his direction, and then push its respective button. Boom, right? It's so simple and yet so frightening too, but I need the confidence to kill. He's walking so carelessly that he wouldn't take notice of me until I push the button. My whole body is even more tense. A small beep in this jungle could easily give me away. But then again, this jungle isn't exactly a quiet one, it could be enough to mask the distinctive beeps my BIMs make. But there are no precautions to be taken here.

I slowly rose, nervous from the anticipation of a possible battle. But it isn't a battle I want; I want a quick end to this. I need to apply pressure to win. There is only so little time to do so much. Before I knew it, I found myself pushing off forward with my right foot. My movements were hastening, the adrenaline was filling me! The grass blades rustled violently, my confidence brimming!

Button!

Push!

A distinctive beep sounded off, signalling my killing intent. My right arm was now raised, anticipating the moment. My eyes quickly glance around for that familiar whiteness I last saw, searching for the opportunity. And yet I saw no opportunity, for there was no whiteness to be found. Where is he? Is he hiding from me? I was right, wasn't I? I was right all along! He knew about my presence and feigned ignorance! Where could he be hiding? That boulder over there? It has a twin over on my left! The trees? Hell, they're everywhere! The adrenaline I felt before was soon overpowered by fear. The shivers I knew all too well had started coming back to me once more. My hands withdrew themselves closer to my chest, my left hand still clutching the BIM marked with a "4". My location is revealed. I'm surrounded by uncertainty, the kind that tells me nothing of where the first move will begin.

"I'm sorry about my sudden appearance. If I’ve frightened you, then I think you should know that I am frightened as well." Although I only wanted to voice an apology, it had come out hastily. However, there was no response to be found. Was he truly listening? Somehow I felt a bit calmer. Perhaps I had finally found someone I could share my thoughts with, someone who I could speak to after all this time. It wasn't even a day, and yet I was fearful for my life. Whatever confidence I had would usually wane sometime in the near future. I never considered myself as outspoken, and maybe I am perhaps timid, but I won't deny my capricious nature. After a couple of moments spent in silence, I spoke once again.

"Early this morning, not even a couple of minutes after we were dropped off this island, a man was attacked and then killed. Although I didn't see him, he was screaming the whole time. His thoughts, or rather, what thoughts he could have had now bear weight on my own. I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible. Even though I was nearby, I was frightened. I did what I thought only I could do - I ran and I kept going, never stopping, always listening to his pleas.”

I truly did felt guilty, but more so for myself rather than toward that man. The powerlessness I felt was not something I couldn’t forget. I looked down at the others for their hasty opinions, but now I realize the lengths people go when frightened. Sometimes we put on a front; some openly go against what we believe is wrong; some take a more passive approach and insult it or question it; some are indecisive but only because they struggle to process so much; at times, there are also strong-willed people, like Wakahisa, who strived to comfort others; and then, finally, there are people like me, who can only hide their fear through calculations and arrogance.

“Are you not there?”

From nearby, a bird flew over, startled by an unknown creature. The sounds of the jungle could only be heard. Even though I awaited a response, I was only greeted with silence. By now, one would usually get some sort of response by now.

After some time, I mustered enough courage to send out a sonar wave. I hadn't done it before, but I had felt it from that time. It didn't even last for a second - it was that quick. However, I felt no presence. Surely he's somewhere nearby, right? I quickly sent another sonar wave - same result. Another one - all the same. The radar itself was not broken, for one could feel the sonar wave sent from themselves and when it died off. Three times had bore no result, so there must've been a trick to it all. All of a sudden, the feeling of that boy being nowhere to be found had grown on me. After a couple of minutes spent looking for him, my suspicions were confirmed. I felt somewhat foolish now. Valuable time had been wasted over nothing. Paranoia had gotten the best of me, to be specific.

But it wasn't like this was the first time I overthought about something. If you took me to a restaurant to order food, then I'll probably end up picking the first thing I had thought of after several moments spent doubting the second one. To be honest, it's not even the decision that I worry about, it's what could happen if I picked the wrong one. I mean, if I was eating a hamburger - which are disgusting pieces of fat squeezed between grease-soaked buns that someone invented after discovering a new way to cut down on resources without losing the deal itself (I hate food franchises, with a passion) - then I would definitely regret my choice. It's a really good thing that I don't bother going in the first place.

A couple of moments later, I was busy self-reflecting, my feet carrying me with no purpose. The destination didn't matter so much, for I was more concerned over how awkward I had felt from back then. Too many mistakes had been made, and yet I didn't even have to get my leg blown off to realize that. For instance, these dress shoes are very restrictive, but walking bare-footed is out of the question. How could one possibly expect themselves to even run in these? It would definitely hurt, but if I ran by pushing off with my toes rather than my whole foot I would have much more ground covered. I'm no athlete, but I could endure it for now. And I guess if I'm going to be traveling with my work coat, then I'll just tie it around my waist for now - it's hot as hell (and the sunrise has already bled out).

Finally, there's the issue with my BIMs. They're definitely not much for throwing. If I wanted to lessen the timeframe between the time I threw one and the time I detonate it… Oh. Oh. Actually, I just got it. Yeah, that could work... So, I won't have my BIMs activated beforehand, because that's a damn good way to die when you trip over something. It's like holding a knife upright in your dominant hand, but then you suddenly sneeze! You'd end up stabbing yourself in the face, thinking you were just going to cover your mouth. Hell, that's a shitty way to go! Now, what I could do is hold the detonator in my left hand, throw with my right, then detonate with my left. So simple, yet so clever. But the problem is when these things explode: do they detonate instantaneously or several beeps later? I've never seen one of these things explode, but it would be counterproductive if the latter were true. You know what, maybe I'll-

There wasn't much time to finish that thought, for before I knew it, I had fallen over forward. For some odd reason, my first thought was of how good of an idea it was to not activate my BIMs. But really, shouldn't I be wondering why I'm tripping here? Seriously, who the hell tripped me? Oh, wait. A leg tripped me. Yeah, that's definitely a common trait associated with tripping someone. Now, why is it lying down?

Oh…

Lying down right beside a tree was a black-haired woman. From the looks of it, she was either in a drunken stupor or she was just unconscious - I favored the latter. Probably didn't see her as quickly as I should've. Then again, this tree does cover most of her body from view. Wow. This is a damn big tree. Actually, they're all damn big, but this one is just bigger.

My eyes then glanced to the woman. She's definitely not much of a talker, I can tell. Her parachute is still strapped to her, and yet there's no significant tearing to be found. Even though this is a pretty dense jungle, her parachute should've at least caught onto a branch or two. Probably just speculating too much here. Her items aren't very noteworthy, just a small purse full of useless things. As for that bandolier of hers… I grabbed ahold of it and quickly checked the contents. Inside were cubes, about eight of them. They were definitely explosives, and I was right to assume we all had eight of 'em. As for the woman herself, she wore attire typical to an office lady: a black work coat, a white-collared shirt underneath, and so on. Aside from the glasses, the long black hair, and that she's around my age, she's very plain. I didn't look on any further than that.It suddenly dawned upon me that I recognized this woman. No, we had never officially met, and I didn't catch nothing more than a couple of glimpses at her face, but I did remember her. She was that same unconscious woman from the cargo plane. How many hours had she'd even been here? It was practically a miracle she was even alive.

I quickly sent out a sonar wave, expecting a person to be nearby. It died before sensing anything, so there shouldn't be anyone around. Couldn’t afford to be careless, not after everything that had happened. I then took a look inside that woman's bandolier and retrieved a BIM. If I'm right, then her BIM-type should be the timer, the one that has a countdown before exploding. I heard from that man behind the screen from when he was comparing the timer to the cracker that these things are one of the more powerful BIMs. My eyes glanced over to my left hand. The chip embedded in it gleamed in the sunlight. It brought memories of the objective the man behind the screen gave us to complete in exchange for a chance to escape off this island. Just like me, this woman also had a chip embedded in her left hand.

It soon occurred to me of how simple it would be to kill her and take both her BIMs and chip. It would mean one step closer toward escaping. I suppose if I'm going to kill her, then I should use one of my own. This woman’s BIMs are more suited for close encounters, especially since I can just stop the timer at any point.

I produced a BIM from my bandolier, then tossed it over close to where the woman lay. But my body was trembling the whole time I did so. Was I feeling guilty about what I was committing? I might be, but there was something much more than that present. It was unreasonable that I would hesitate now even though I had the intent to kill that man from behind. Was I becoming more aware that I was about to commit something irreversible? I glanced at the detonator. "3" had lit up. Just one finger was enough for me to kill this person - enough for me to steal the most important thing she held dear. I didn't take pleasure in any of this, only assholes do that. But even though I am an asshole, I still want to believe that what I'm doing is at least somewhat justified. I know I'm lying to myself, but just the fact that I'm keeping up this lie is enough for me to start believing.

This left hand of mine holds a detonator. It also represents how self-centered I am and of how apathetic I am when it comes to others. My aloof self was always grasping at things, only to let them go as soon as I am bored of them, never satisfied, never happy, always wanting… Always so petty… But after so many years of living with yourself, you start to become almost content with yourself. Perhaps content isn't even the right word to use now. Nowadays it seems you're either living your life complacently or just acceptant of what life is. As for me, both seem plausible.

But this… This, however, felt so wrong.

It was wrong, and I knew it, even through the lie I kept repeating to myself. Maybe I was just thinking that I was doing her a small favor, going back to retrieve that BIM, deactivating it, and then returning it to my bandolier, only to pull out a BIM marked with an "8" and plant it. I had this whole idea that I was doing myself a small favor by picking out the "8" since it would be the most inconvenient number for me to push. But really, it was just me distancing myself away from what was amoral.

I looked over at the woman. She would probably die without pain, and she wouldn't have any regrets to name or anybody to surround her lonely self. It would be a lonely death. I took ahold of her purse and looked inside for any identification. I then found her driver’s license in a wallet she was keeping in the middle. Her name: Himura, Tomiko.

It only takes one finger to push that button.

One button...

One finger...

To my relief, a sound unlike anything belonging to the jungle was heard. It was so out of place, and yet so familiar. When I looked above me, I finally saw it - I saw the cargo plane. Was it the same one that we came out of? Probably. My eyes traced every movement it made. It was slow, but perhaps it only looked like that because it was so far away. Surely every person still alive is seeing what I'm seeing. It was then that I saw that the cargo plane was dropping small objects every now and then as it flew over the island. No - they were being parachuted to us. If I had to guess, then it would be that they're meant for us to take, meaning they're supplies for us to gather. A look at my watch revealed nothing, it was broken - probably tampered with - and I had forgotten about this fact.

My eyes then glanced over at Himura. The very fact that she was alive was miraculous - too miraculous, actually. I would've done it, even when I was hesitating before. Thankfully, however, the very thought of killing her was no longer present, for I convinced myself that an explosion would have alerted others of my presence. It was a weak attempt to lie to myself, but I slowly began believing it the more I repeated it to myself. I already knew my presence would be sensed with the radar, but I assured myself that I had the advantage with two BIM-types at my disposal.

I quickly deactivated my BIM and returned it to my bandolier, it wouldn’t make sense to just leave it here. I took another look at Himura. If I ever did come back, then I would only repeat what had transpired before, only I would finish what had started. Before leaving, a part of me had wished that I could come up with more excuses to keep her alive longer.

This confidence of mine was weak and prone to waver, however, it also kept me moving forward when I was on the verge to crumble. I admit that I'm a very weak person, petty even. However, the most human aspect of me was my desire to live, bearing every sin that I had committed and would commit. This was yet another lie I told myself repeatedly.

Chapter Text

A voice startled Hatsuyo Osaragi, and her eyes snapped open. A bright blue sky greeted her, belying the dangerous reality she was in. Her head ached all over, as if someone had struck her over with a hammer. For a moment, she wondered where exactly she was, only to soon recall the events that led to this very moment. Her walk home on a particularly sunny day. The kidnapping. A rude awakening inside the cargo plane. The game of death. And now this. This was her reality. While the girl was collecting her thoughts the voice from before was heard once more.

“You slept rather quickly, Osaragi-san.”

She would’ve immediately recognized the voice had her head not felt as if it were pounding. Immediately she wondered if her head would crack open, her brain spilling out as if it were yolk. Reflexively, she placed her right hand against her temple. Her lips formed a small smile. No - of it wouldn’t happen. She was not as fragile as an eggshell, and it was a silly notion to begin with. But her smile didn’t last long, for it was time to abandon all silly notions and face reality. Hatsuyo turned, facing the voice’s owner, her eyes cast to the side, all in an attempt to avoid the man’s gaze.

“Sugitani-san, what time is it?” Hatsuyo inquired, ignoring the older man’s previous statement.

In front of Hatsuyo was a man no more than forty, his figure being neither remarkable nor overwhelming in physique; if one were to comment on his appearance, the word “ordinary” would most likely come to mind. ‘An ordinary salaryman caught up in an extraordinary situation,’ that would be an unsurprising thing for one to say. Hazuki Sugitani was the older man’s name, and although he went under that name for his whole life, he had still not grown accustomed to it, preferring almost everyone to refer to him by his family name only.

The older man glanced at his watch. “11:46 PM,” he responded.

Hatsuyo grasped the hoodline of her light green hoodie - a nervous tic of hers. There was a look of disbelief across her face that lasted briefly. If she recalled correctly of the last time she asked for the time, then she would have a rough estimate of about twenty minutes or so. It was a short time, however, it was time spent long enough in a vulnerable state. She hadn’t planned to sleep at all, not with a stranger who couldn’t bring himself to leave a young girl alone.

Seeing the girl’s frustration plain on her face, the older man’s lips formed a small smile, before speaking once more, his tone both reassuring and kind.

“Don’t worry, you weren’t out for too long.”

Hatsuyo looked to the side opposite of the older man, deep in thought. Ever since the two had met, she had made a habit to not come into eye contact with him. There was nothing especially suspicious about the man, though the situation itself easily made him suspicious. He seemed to be the type of man who wore his emotions openly, but it was always those sort of people who were the most suspicious. There were always those who were overly familiar with others for the sake of exploiting them. He didn’t seem like one of them, Hatsuyo thought. But one could never be too sure with a stranger. Come to think of it… Hadn’t he woken her? Surely there must have been a reason in him doing so?

“It’s not that that I’m more worried about,” she lied, “it’s why you woke me up in the first place that I’m more concerned of.”

Sugitani’s expression spoke silent apologies to her. He did not want to disturb her rest, but he felt the matter was urgent enough. “I heard explosions not too long ago,” he then pointed to his right, indicating the area, before continuing, “right over there - it wasn’t too far, but still…it’s something to think about. But even so, I wanted to know if you rested long enough. You seemed stressed this morning, and-”

‘...I don’t blame you’ were the words never spoken, for Hatsuyo responded curtly, her voice now louder than usual. “It’s fine, really. You don’t have to go through so much trouble just for me.” It was more of a reminder for herself than for the older man.

“I see,” the older man said, his lips forming a small smile.

“Did I just say something funny, Sugitani-san?” The younger girl scoffed, her eyes narrowing.

“No, not at all. Not at all.” He could only do so much to suppress a chuckle from escaping his lips. He was briefly reminded of his own daughter’s behavior, and the small moments before she had become engaged. The older man then changed the subject, still smiling all the while.

“How about we head off and look for more people?”

Hatsuyo nodded, and then followed the older man. Despite her outer self, Hatsuyo did not want to be left alone. And the older man, no matter how much Hatsuyo tried to convince herself otherwise, seemed to be a pleasant enough person to be around. It was then that Hatsuyo recalled something that the older man said, and so she quickened her stride, her mood stirring.

“Sugitani-san,’ the girl began, “didn’t you just say you heard explosions?”

“You’re right, I did.”

“Then what the hell is it?” The older man was taken aback by this, all the while the girl continued, “If we’re to run with our tails covering our asses, then how about you be more honest about it?” The girl half-expected Sugitani to respond to her as he usually did, but the man spoke not a word, he just stared at her, his gaze unfamiliar. The girl then sighed, realizing her poor choice of words, before then speaking, this time much more softly, “Look, I’m sorry. I just really don’t like sugarcoating everything, it ends up distracting me too much when people do.”

“It’s fine,” the older man spoke, his voice calm and reassuring. “I tend to say such things when I’m not sure myself.” The man’s age especially showed with the wrinkles he bore on his face. One could say that the many worries this man had was reflected off the amount of wrinkles he bore. “I want to find others who think like us and want nothing to do with this game. If we stand together and show everyone that it’s possible, we can end it for sure. That’s what I think, at least.”

“Huh... So we’re to become bomb-wielding pacifists, spreading love, and not explosions?” Hatsuyo deadpanned. “That’s a funny thought.”

Sugitani gave a forced laugh, before then changing the topic, “How about we head over somewhere higher? We need see this island for ourselves.” As the older man said so, he began to take a quick survey of his surroundings. Fortunately for him, his hopes were fulfilled, for to his left, past the jungle’s reach, was a nearby cliff. A small smile formed on his face, and then it widened into a grin. He then turned toward to Hatsuyo, still grinning. “That cliff over there will do well for us. How about we head on over there?”

The girl gave a small smile and nodded. However, it wasn’t a case of her coming to an understanding, but rather something more. Those words irked Hatsuyo. In fact, she held them entirely in contempt. If the man truly did believe those words, then he was nothing but imprudent, relying on his own emotions to decide how others may or may not feel. No solution that simple ever worked in this situation.

What silly thoughts he has, she thought to herself.

As the two continued silently, with the only noise heard being their footsteps sliding across the gravel beneath them, a large noise suddenly boomed overhead. It was so sudden that it frightened Hatsuyo, so much that she flinched slightly, before then regaining her composure. She glanced over at Sugitani briefly, only to see his gaze directed upward. A small bit of her was glad that he hadn’t seen that side of her.

Following Sugitani’s gaze, Hatsuyo look upward, taking in what had caused such a noise. What she saw was obscured by the clouds, but a part of her knew what it already was, yet still she wanted to confirm it with her own eyes. Her legs carried her upward, her distance to the edge of the cliff shortening, as if she was in a hurry to greet the lonesome figure overhead. The wind blew ever more strongly, and the green hood she wore drooped down to her shoulders, revealing her shoulder-length jet-black hair. Her brown eyes took in the sight before her once more, and she finally saw the figure clearly. She was right all along, it was...

“...A plane,” she said to no one in particular.

Footsteps drew closer to Hatsuyo, and eventually their owner responded unexpectedly to her statement. “Osaragi-san, do you think they’re sending more people into this game?” The girl then glanced over her shoulder at the older man. His movements were slower than her own, but that was to be expected for his age.

“No, I don’t think so. If that were true, then there wouldn’t be no need for that man to put such an emphasis on the amount of people on this island.” Her answer was not only brief but incisive as well, though the latter was mostly a result of her discomfort with the man. She was not used to relying on others, after all.

The older man adjusted his glasses, a habit of his whenever he was deep in thought. He did not actually need his glasses; however, his wife’s insistence that they made him look more intelligent had left a deep impression on him to this day. As the older man stared at the cargo plane overhead, his brown eyes caught sight of black objects being thrown from its deck. Of course, they were only black from a distance, but that line of thought hadn’t occurred to him yet. It wasn’t until each object released a parachute - each sporting a different color - that the older man suddenly realized what exactly was descending toward the island. They could only be…

“Supplies... Of course, they’re dropping us supplies!”

Before the older man could say anything, Hatsuyo had stolen away the words from him. The older man suddenly felt a pang of disappointment in himself, though that soon dissipated when a sense of urgency had arisen among them.

“We’d best check. If we don’t get them, then-” Hatsuyo said, her tone expressing urgency, before heading off. Her pace soon quicken to a jog, her eyes focused on the nearest prize descending. She was agile for her size, and she took pride in such. At the age of twenty, she had already convinced herself that she would never grow any taller than she already was, but it was at times such as these, when her movements hasten, that none of that mattered. She was alive, doing what not many could even come close to doing.

“Sugitani-san, I’ll be leaving you behind at this rate!” Her voice miraculously reached the older man who was struggling to match the girl’s pace. Although he was not physically tired, the sight of her running ahead of him had succeeded in making him feel so.

“H-Hang on! How are you even running so fast?”

“What?!” The girl yelled over her shoulder. Apparently she had not heard him.

“N-Nevermind! Just keep doing what you’re doing, but do it carefully! I’ll be right behind you - somehow!”

Many thoughts ran in Sugitani’s head. He wondered briefly whether or not supplies were even being parachuted to the people on the island. The thoughts of it being a trap were strong, but that conclusion didn’t answer the question of where they would gather food and water. After all, that man said that they weren’t going to find much of any of those two on the island. Still, Sugitani wondered if they should even be reckless in the first place.

------

Leaving behind Himura-san, I headed off in the direction of the nearest parachute. It shouldn’t be too far from here so there wasn’t much need to rush. There’s no point in wasting energy just yet. Every so often I would glance at the parachute, making sure it was still in sight. However, the trees overhead would sometimes block my view, sometimes for what seemed to be minutes. Anxious, I would imagine someone else already making off with the supplies, but I would eventually see it every time - a silver duralumin briefcase - descending nearby, building my confidence as I neared its location. Now that I think about it, even if someone did manage to make it there before me, I could just track them down with the radar. And if it really came down to it, I could easily dispatch them with that girl’s BIMs.

That girl’s BIMs relied on a countdown function, so I would have to wait a while before I could throw it, but the explosion would definitely be much larger than my own BIMs. Seems like all my BIMs rely strictly on how I time them. Eventually, I began imagining various scenarios and how I could use each BIM appropriately. Since my own BIMs relied on me to detonate them, I should rely on them for when I’m fighting in narrow spaces. As for open spaces, that girl’s BIMs would probably be more useful in those cases. I felt pretty damn clever, honestly, so much that I started grinning a little to myself. Hell, I’m probably the only one who even-

Suddenly, I stopped, only then realizing that I had spent more time in my own world than in reality. Panic settled in, and I looked around hastily, desperate to catch at least a small glimpse of that red parachute. But it was all to no avail. Just how long did my eyes stray away from it? I can’t even remember how long it was when I was thinking. Holy shit... Holy shit... I can’t believe I let this happen…

I raised my left hand in front of me and concentrated. And then I felt it. A sonar wave shot from my left hand, surging, spreading, before then detecting the presence of others. I opened my eyes, now knowing how many I needed to watch out for. Three people. Two of them were close together, so I’m guessing they’re either fighting or are together. They’re far away and are moving in the opposite direction, so I can just dismiss their presence. Now the last one revealed much more. Seeing as how he’s moving in a direction that isn’t far from me, I’m guessing that’s where the supply case is. Honestly, I didn’t want to do this, but my screwing up forced me to. Damn, I’m going to have to run a bit faster, aren’t I?

It takes a while to do so, but I manage somewhat. Eventually the red parachute overhead lowers itself among the trees. I suspect I’m the closest one, so I rush forward, ready to take hold of the supply case. But it wasn’t long before I stopped midway, for I then realized I wasn’t the first one to arrive.

“No! Damn, no! Not now, not now!” I couldn’t help but curse aloud, my teeth grinding against one another, as I saw a girl a distance away from me walk toward what looked like a supply case caught in a tree by its parachute. Reflexively, I hide behind a nearby tree. I’m rather sure she hasn’t seen me, but I can’t be too sure. Exactly how the hell did this happen? How could I be so damn stupid? Without so much of a thought, my hand went inside my bandolier, fishing for a BIM. When I produced the object in front of me, I felt even more slightly irritated that the number I drew was a “4,” a goddamn number in the middle. Not wanting to waste any time, I grabbed hold of the bandolier at my waist and held it in front of me, putting back the “4” and then drawing an “8.” It was so damn important that I don’t forget how many I have left if I ever have all of them activated.

I honestly have no idea when they’ll send supplies down to us, so it’s in my favor that I take hold of this supply case right now early in this game. I don’t have a BIM planted, so I guess I’ll have to throw it at her, but then again this doesn’t seem like the- Oh hell! I completely forgot. I have that girl’s BIMs with me. I quickly put back the BIM back in its proper place, then take out one of her BIMs. Since it runs on a timer, I’ll just have to throw it when it when it hits “4” or “5,” I guess. That seems about right.

And so I press the button, activating it, or so I thought would happen. Instead of that distinctive beeping noise, all I hear is me pressing the button over and over and over and- Why? Why won’t this shit activate?! Is it broken?! Is it- Oh, of course. A small frown plasters itself on my face. I probably should’ve killed her back there, I realize. Somehow the very thought of it doesn’t bother me so much now, it’s as if it were a casual thing. Then again, I’m no longer panicking now. Now filled with relief, I can think much more clearly. I now realize what I have to do. It’s simple enough, and all I have to do is put on an intimidating front. Placing my finger on the “8,” I then press it, activating it.

------

Looking back at when the two had met, Sugitani remembered Osaragi’s apparent mistrust in him and how she demanded they trade looks at each other’s BIMs. Even after he looked at her BIMs, he had no clue as to what hers did, let alone his own. Even more so, back in the cargo plane the older man hadn’t fully processed all of the information from the quick rundown that man gave them. By the time Sugitani checked the contents of his bag, he half-expected to find a grenade-like object, but instead what he got were golf ball-sized bombs, each dangling from a keychain of some sort.

As for their current situation, Sugitani wondered whether or not he was even capable of protecting Osaragi. He wanted to be more cautious around the game in question, yet he also didn’t want to be straight with her and start discussing tactics, that would only unsettle her, he thought. He needed to somehow-

And then he felt it - the strange feeling.

It felt like his whole body was being invaded, so much that he came to an abrupt stop, his hand resting on a nearby tree as he breathed heavily. It almost sounded as if he was choking. What is this feeling? How do I know...these things that move outside of my body? Why? He asked himself many questions, mostly to reassure himself that he had an answer for them all. But he didn’t.

In front of him, Osaragi came to an abrupt stop as well, alert for anymore dangers up ahead. Casually, she held out her hand and then sent a sonar wave out, detecting several people. Her eyes lit up, now knowing just what situation the two of them were in. “There’s about five of them - seems like two of them are together and the other two are alone but not far from each other. All of them are far away, so I wouldn’t worry too much. The last one isn’t moving, but I wouldn’t bet that they’ll stay that way for long; that’s the one who sent out the sonar wave.” She reported, before then continuing her pace, with Sugitani trailing behind.

“H-How can you tell?” Sugitani inquired, gasping for air all the while.

“I’m not all that sure myself, but this thing,” she began, her eyes glancing at the green object embedded in her left hand, “it tells me where people are, and it even tells me how they move. You have one, too, so you should have the same ability.”

Shortly after, Sugitani sent out a sonar wave. It was strange, yet also somewhat nostalgic, as if he had always had the green chip embedded in his hand. His mind could “see” how far his sonar wave went and when it detected the five people, just as Osaragi had said. Of course, he also detected Osaragi, but he didn’t count her. The older man made a mental note to himself that he could make a rough estimate of his distance between whatever he detected. He had to remember that he might not always be accurate when using this gem-like device.

“What a strange device, and it isn’t even painful - almost as if I had it for a long time.”

“Makes you think just how fucked up reality is for us.” The girl commented. Had she always spoken like this? Sugitani hadn’t realized up until now just how distant the girl had been from him. She may have spoken every now and then to him, but her topics only pertained to their situation, rather than anything about herself. Not saying a word, the two continued on. Sugitani couldn’t help but anticipate that something dreadful lay up ahead, not when the two had finally arrived to where the parachuted object was. Had it not been for the distinctive red parachute attached to it, they might have never found it.

“Osaragi-san, do you think you can reach it?” The older man said, finally catching up to the girl. His breathing was somewhat heavy, but he wasn’t close to exhaustion. The girl quickly replied, “I can do it myself, so don’t worry too much.” As she said so, the girl jumped, her arms reaching out to grasp the supply case above her. She wasn’t even close to narrowly missing it. From a short distance, Sugitani watched her. It was a bit of an amusing sight for him to watch. However, he knew that they couldn’t afford to spend too much time here. Five people, no matter the distance, was still an overwhelming number to think about.

“I really don’t think you can reach. Just let me do it.” The older man told her. He had meant to say it out of concern, but the stressful tone he carried out sounded as if it was carried out of annoyance for the girl’s actions. Osaragi interpreted it as such.

“I already said I can handle it myself, damn it!”

Was that hostility being spat at him? How could Sugitani even possibly handle someone who was being so unreasonable? Though he would normally be offended by such behavior, Sugitani supposed that it was for the best that Osaragi realize her own mistakes through self-imposed failure. Eventually she would give up and allow him to do it for her, which would mean avoiding any tension between them. Somehow the girl reminded him of his own daughter. In a lot of ways, Osaragi acted like her - that need to prove something to the world, for one. He figured that it was best to treat the situation comically, yet he couldn’t help but be concerned for his surroundings. He figured he could do both anyway, so long as he was caution.

“All right, Osaragi-san. But if you need me, I’ll-”

“Don’t move!”

Before Sugitani could finish his words, a voice had cut him off, accompanied by the sight of the stranger it had belonged to. It was also in that exact moment that Hatsuyo had managed to unlatch the briefcase from the parachute, before then realizing the two of them were not alone. Sugitani cursed himself for being so careless, thinking his reasoning to have been solid, only to have it shatter the next. His eyes glanced at the stranger. Just like Hatsuyo and Sugitani, he had a bandolier as well, except he sported two instead of one. It was duly noted that this man had already killed another person. However, the very feature that drew their attention to the man wasn’t even that fact, it was the device held in his right hand - a detonator, and one could tell, by the faint glow emitted from it, a bomb would go off if he so much as slid his finger over the button.

“Hey, hey. Now aren’t we already at a good start?”

The man seemed almost casual about the whole ordeal, but that was only the initial impression. His speech seemed awkward, rehearsed even. When the two showed signs that they knew not what he was talking about, the man began to speak, but then glanced over to Sugitani’s direction. A surprised expression appeared momentarily before it then disappeared. The man quickly recollected himself, now directing the conversation toward Sugitani. “Hey, Oji-san, did you know I planted a BIM in that briefcase that girl has?” Having heard that, Osaragi eyes darted nervously between the supply case and the strange man. There was a mixture of not only fear, but confusion plastered on her face. After a small pause, the strange man continued, “Just do what I say, and then everyone will leave intact.” Sugitani dared not withdraw, for the consequences spelt an unpleasant future for both him and Osaragi.

“Now,” the strange man continued, “BIMs. Supply case. Hand them all over.”

Whatever suspicions the two had now surfaced to reality. Had it not been for the BIMs, their situation would have been almost laughable, what with the man’s awkward way of making threats. There was one thing that was assured, however, one that the two found a small hope in - the man hadn’t killed them yet.

Why hadn’t he?

“Yeah, so... The situation... It’s clear now, isn’t it?” The man spoke, running his left hand through his hair as he did so, apparently a nervous tic of his. “One move means one push, and-” His very presence had now become more than awkward - it was irritable. It seemed the man felt that his threats had to be cemented by repetition. Eventually, Osaragi began to disregard his tedious words, favoring glances toward Sugitani over them. Sugitani himself had regained his composure. Perhaps he, too, realized how strange their situation was.

“Sugitani-san, I don’t suppose he’s a friend of yours, right?” She inquired, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

“If you’re going under the assumption that salarymen make easy friends with one another, then no, I don’t believe so.” The older man deadpanned, before turning to the man in front of them, eyes both calm and reassuring. Sugitani took a small breath, then made his piece. “There’s not much use in delivering a synopsis of our situation, but I can understand this - you do not wish to kill us.”

The man was silent, yet his whole body shook slightly. Was the man motivated by fear? Sugitani believed so. After all, who wouldn’t after being put on a foreign island, away from the daily conveniences of your previous life? Every person was only human, and they did terrible things when they’re scared. Sugitani believed he could do something, something right. The older man continued, slightly more hopeful than before.

“We’ve clearly started off on the wrong foot, so I believe it’s best to start by trusting one another. and part of that is knowing exactly who you’re placing your trust in.” The older man then gestured to himself. “My name is Sugitani Hazuki,” he said, his lips pressed together into a small smile, “and I suppose one could say I’m nothing extraordinary, though I like to phrase that as being ‘extraordinarily ordinary,’ if you know what I mean.” It was a cheesy-ass phrase when you thought about it.

The strange man hadn’t even said a word nor had he decided to detonate the BIM, his only response being that he kept his eyes focused on Sugitani. Sugitani took this as a sign to say the most essential part of his argument on trust.

“What is your name?”

There was a small pause, yet the man in front of them had clearly heard them. His lips slowly opened, beginning to word something, before trailing off. When he spoke the second time, his name rang almost as clear as a bell.

“M-Mizushima Takumi...”

Sugitani smiled. The future seemed bright, a chance that blood wouldn’t be spilt in it, and it would begin with this one encounter between this man and him. “It’s good to meet you, Mizushima-san.” He then gestured over to Osaragi, “Over here is my companion, Osaragi-san. Since we’ve made our introductions, we’re now more than just strangers,” Sugitani began, his behavior becoming more lax, so much that he took a step forward, “I think we-”

“Fucking don’t move, goddamn it!”

Mizushima’s detonator-held hand jerked forward, presenting the device to Sugitani. This assertiveness of his was unexpected, so much that Sugitani took a step backward, the thought of fleeing never crossing his mind.

“Nearly got blown to bits right there, Oji-san. Don’t go doing any careless shit like that again.” The man ran his left hand through his hair violently, as if he were attempting to rid a parasite that had latched onto his scalp. Shortly after, Mizushima spoke, a certain venom seeping into his sentences. “Don’t go senile on me.” The man’s lips curled into a wry smile, “I’ve got no qualms when it comes to killing you, but I’d like to avoid such situations whenever I can.” His words weighed heavily on the atmosphere. Not a word was spoken by Osaragi, and even Sugitani, whom had advocated for all of them to be on friendly terms, had grown silent.

“I’ve killed somebody already. And these things,” he said, pointing at his own bandoliers, “these serve as evidence of that very fact.” It was true, the two of them had forgotten about the bandoliers he carried with him. Perhaps it was the detonator that drew their attention, so much that they overlooked everything else. “Come on, tell me,” he continued, “how can I possibly trust someone who can trust a killer?” It was obviously rhetorical, for his next sentence voiced an answer. “You can’t, obviously. Not even in everyday society will you ever encounter a saint who would refuse to turn you in. In the end, the only reason I can think of is that you’re lying.”

“I’m not lying, Mizushima-san. If you would put that thing down, then maybe we could-”

“Seriously, stop lying. How long have you been staring at me to not notice that I carried two bandoliers? Do you honestly think negotiating with a murderer gets you any trust? If anything, I’m less suspicious than you.”

“Mizushima, I’m only-”

“No! No! No! Hand the supply case over or I’ll push the damn button! Here, I’ll even count down for you. Ten… Nine…”

“Fine, but keep your goddamn word!” Hatsuyo’s voice was curt. There was no reluctance to be heard. “You are really fucking annoying. At this point, if it means shutting you up, I’ll just give you the damn thing!”

“W-What are you doing, Osaragi-san? Those are- Those are our supplies! We can’t just...just hand them over!” Sugitani said, stammering all the while.

Before he knew it, the girl was already shouting at him. “We came out all the way over here just for this, and then we wind up giving it away that easily to the first asshole we meet!” It was perfectly reasonable for her to be angry, for she always strived to become the better person. Her pride was the only trait she had in order to keep herself sane in this situation, and her losing to this “asshole” was her losing to herself. “Are you absolutely fucking kidding me, Sugitani-san? Because I’m not dying because of this asshole,” she spat, her finger pointing at Mizushima.

Hatsuyo begrudgingly removed the supply case’s strap from her shoulder and then threw it in Mizushima’s direction. It felt like an eternity had passed before the the supply case landed on the ground, skidding as it did. The gravel beneath it made an irritable sound as it scattered. The strange man suddenly started smirking a little. He had won, hadn’t he?

“I wasn’t lying before, Mizushima-san. I meant what I meant,” the older man said. There was no anger in his eyes, only a look of hurt dwelling within them. Mizushima only looked at the older man, his now more human-looking. “In the off-chance that you weren’t, then I apologize.” In truth, some part of him even suspected that they were telling the truth, yet he couldn’t stop, even when he may have had several chances to make amends. He was much too prideful to back down.

“No, I don’t think you ever would,” the older man said, disgust evidenced in his tone. Irritated, Mizushima ground his teeth against one another. The older man had no right to say such things after all, for Mizushima's should've been understood. He was only playing the game as logical as he could without resorting to violence. How dare he look down on his views?! His opinion was a well-validated one after all.

“Hey, do you want to know something?” Mizushima asked, his question obviously rhetorical. "I'm a hero.” For some inexplicable reason the man was smiling, so much that it was nauseating for the two to even see.

“I… I don’t follow. What exactly do you mean by that?” The older man inquired nervously. He half-expected Mizushima to go back on his word.

"He's saying he has some great backstory for fucking us over," the twenty-year-old girl chimed, sarcasm evident in her tone.

Ignoring her, the strange man continued, “Just think about it. Out of everyone here, I’m practically the only asshole actually doing something. Hell, you could even say I’m trying to stop the violence in my own little way.” For a brief moment, Mizushima’s gaze fell on the briefcase before turning back toward the two, realizing his mistake quickly. “Oh, right. Almost forgot. I’ll be needing your BIMs as well.” He had finally mentioned what both Sugitani and Hatsuyo had hoped he would’ve forgotten.

Sugitani had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this, yet it was already happening. “That I cannot do. You’re basically asking us to walk around the island defenseless.” There must’ve been some way to get around this. If he only had a moment to think, then-

“You must realize that I’m the only one that can make threats I can follow, Oji-san.”

He suddenly didn’t need one anymore. Sugitani realized once more that the most unsettling thing about Mizushima wasn’t the awkward threats he made, or the cringe-inducing speech he gave, it was the fact that they weren’t dead. There was a reason behind that, something so obvious that they couldn’t see it because of fear itself. The older man suddenly gave a forced laugh. Hatsuyo and Mizushima stared at the older man, both equally disturbed. It was obvious that now wasn't exactly an appropriate time to laugh, yet here was Sugitani, laughing. "Let's stop this already, okay?" Before Mizushima could even respond the older man had already produced a BIM in his left hand. It was clear now, Sugitani’s designated BIM-type was the cracker.

"Wha-What hang on! The hell are you doing?" The strange man had already gone back to stammering, and his detonator-held hand lowered as a look of panic spread over his face. The nail had been hammered in firmly. Sugitani, however, was indifferent, bored even. "I'm doing what you're doing, only I can actually follow my threats through." There was a hint of indignance in the older man’s tone. It was a sign that Sugitani had finally realized that he had been wrong to place his faith in this complete stranger.

Hatsuyo, still unclear of Sugitani’s behavior, watched over the two, a mixture of confusion and fear on her face. Just what exactly was Sugitani even doing? Her lips opened, mouthing a few inaudible words, and then she spoke out clearly. “Sugitani-san! Do you have a death wish, or something? That man is armed!” It was important to her that she remain at least somewhat hostile, for she felt that exhibiting fear would give the strange man in front of her confirmation that he was in control.

The older man, however, didn’t so much as turned, only voicing a few important words to her. “He’s not in control anymore, Osaragi-san; we are.” At the beginning, logic had escaped the two, and in its stead fear arose. Whatever power Mizushima had over the two was nothing but a sham, and it was only then that Sugitani had realized the absurdities Mizushima concocted. “When Mizushima-san approached us, he told us that he had armed the supply case with a BIM inside it. That was a lie, however. In truth, he never did such a thing. He saw that we had obtained the supply case first, came to us with empty threats, and manipulated us into thinking his threats were real when we saw his detonator.” Sugitani didn’t need to worry anymore. He was sure that Mizushima wouldn’t dare run, and even if he did, Osaragi could probably intercept him.

“S-So you’re saying he was actually spewing bullshit the whole time?” Hatsuyo inquired, to which she received a nod from Sugitani. Even though she had already realized that what Sugitani said was true, it was in her nature to seek confirmation of any facts before acting upon them. Slowly, her frown left her. “Then I guess even if he did arm the supply case with a BIM, we could’ve easily overpowered him anyway.” There was some confidence restored in her demeanor, and the fact that she had produced an implosion-type BIM in her hand was a clear sign of this. With what Hatsuyo stated, that was the second flaw in Mizushima’s plan. However, the third one was…

The girl then gestured toward Mizushima, letting him know that she was speaking to him. “But now that I think about it, you could’ve saved yourself by taking out that activated BIM from your bandolier. You could’ve easily done it by hiding it behind the supply case.” With that statement now made, Hatsuyo’s mouth curled into a smirk. “Now I wonder just why you didn’t? But then again, I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore.”

It really didn’t.

------

Panic surged through my entire being, and the urge to both flee and stand still conflicted me ever so much. How could I do this to myself? I let my conceit overpower my reasoning. I was going to do exactly what Hatsuyo said I could’ve done, but I didn’t. Why did I let them keep me talking? I could’ve done it, I could’ve. I was distracted the whole time, right? That’s probably why all of this happened to me.

“Mizushima-san, please just give back our supplies, and then we’ll let you go. We can do all this easily.” It was the old man who spoke, the terribly conceited one. He shouldn’t be doing this to me, he should understand my position first. It’s taking all my effort just to restrain myself from bashing in his skull with his own glasses. If only they weren’t holding those bombs, then I could kill each of them right now. Goddamn, isn’t it just scary? I actually think I could do it, honestly.

I remained silent after the older man’s question. I had to get my thoughts together, to at least think of a plan to escape before I absolutely had to comply. When I didn’t say my answer as quick enough, the female delinquent in front of me grew irritated, her patience thinning. “Hey, asshole. Sugitani-san may be going easy on you, but I personally wouldn’t mind getting rid of a parasite.” The older man turned toward the girl and raised his hand, a gesture of his to tell his companion to stop talking. Instead the girl spoke, an unruly tone in her voice, “Hey, I’m only telling him what I would do if he didn’t!” An annoyed expression on the older man’s face appeared momentarily as he turned before disappearing.

“I said it before, we’re not going to hurt you.”

“But that’s only because I have this supply case,” I replied, all the while lying to myself. I had suspected that they were actually good people, but my pride was talking, and even though I had a feeling I was just making the situation worse, I couldn’t help myself. “You can’t risk blowing me up along with the case, right? Oh, and I have these two things,” I said, pointing at my bandoliers, “it’d be silly to just let me go, right?” How could I lose to these two? Why should I anyway? I spent a lot of effort to get this, and they were nearby by convenience.

I knew it would happen, and it did. “Osaragi-san, keep an eye on both of us, please.” The two exchanged nods. Slowly, Sugitani began to approach me. He was going to take everything from me - everything I needed to survive! By this time, I was already retreating backwards. Reflexively, my hand reached into my bandolier, only to then realize that I was still holding a detonator in that very same hand. Making haste, I awkwardly reached inside with my other hand. “Sugitani! Get away from him!” Who was it that was talking? Someone was running, too. The girl? I couldn’t clearly say, because my eyes were darting around, searching for it. “Osaragi-san, don’t! Don’t you kill him, damn it!” The two voices argued for a bit, before quickly realizing that I had already pulled out a BIM - the very same one I had activated.

I remember the explosion happening so fast.

Sugitani turned in my direction, his eyes dilating in fear of what I possessed. I raised my left hand, not caring if it wasn’t my dominant one. At the same time, Osaragi rushed toward Sugitani’s flank, her arm arched behind her, readying to throw. I was quicker, though. She would take the full impact of the blast, and if I was lucky, then so would Sugitani. That’s what I thought at least. It turns out I wasn’t quick enough, however. A sonar wave was sent out, and the three of us detected it, freezing all the while, as if we were playing an absurd game of charades. My eyes darted about in the direction of where the sonar wave came from. There was so many trees - so many - yet I was sure that it came from that general direction. Finally, I saw him as he darted out from behind a tree in this sylvan sea that surrounded us. His figure told me everything - he was charging straight for us! I didn’t recognize him instantly, but that familiar white shirt caught my eye. He was that damn-

A gigantic burst of light enveloped our sight. It happened so quickly, so quickly that I hadn’t registered it being an explosion until a cloud of smoke arose in front of me. Whoever it was that I saw had thrown a BIM at us! And, just like that, we had all regained ourselves. There was a mixture of cries from all three of us, with the female delinquent cursing through it all. I suddenly remembered that I was in the midst of retreating, and so I turned- Only to be greeted by a mechanical foe that propelled itself toward me.

My legs locked up mid-way, prompting me to come tumbling forward onto the gravel - the sound of it skidding as I did - narrowly missing the homing BIM as it sailed over me. And then the all-too-familiar beeping sounded off, this one coming straight from my hand. I had inadvertently pushed the button from my detonator. There wasn’t much time for thoughts. In that brief moment, I threw the BIM behind me, and then ran awkwardly, only to stumble forward onto the gravel beneath me as I did. My teeth gritted in both agony and fear; I was agonized by the intense pain that shot from my legs up to my brain, but most of all I was agonized by the fear I felt. There was that sinking feeling inside my stomach that lasted only but a mere second, yet it was so intense that my entire being felt swallowed from within. Were these really my last moments? It’s frightening as hell, so damn frightening. The appalling sight of gravel in front of me... It could very well be the last thing I see. Slowly, I began to stand up, wincing at the pain that surged forth from my legs. I could feel them bleeding out. Goddamn, I don’t want to go out this way. No one deserves this, not even-

Then came the second explosion.

It came rippling across the jungle, and by the time I could conceive what had happened, I was already on the ground, my world spinning as I looked in front of me. I felt unbelievably dizzy, and it was a struggle to look at anything, so much that my head collapsed onto ground. So tired… So tired… Why?

My last thoughts at that moment were the very regrets I carried with me on this island. I remember them too well. The man I once called my best friend leaving me, and the betrayal I carried out against him that prompted him to. How selfish I was. How selfless he was. All he wanted was happiness, and I took it into these selfish hands and stole it for myself. He was my best friend! Really, I just don’t get it. I don’t get how I did or just why I could even do such a thing. I was jealous, I know that, but still…but still... These thoughts carried me over into the darkness, engulfing my very being. How long had I been fooling myself, pretending to be happy all this time? Years? Days? Yesterday? I can’t remember how that story went... There once was a man who seldom thought of others, but one day he…

One day… That’s how it went.

Chapter Text

There’s a familiar quiet that overcomes me, yet it’s not a nostalgic one. What greets me now is a stillness in the darkness. It’s a silent depression, one that has yet again appeared to envelop my world, strangling any speck of aspiration held within it. I was almost close to forgetting it, too - what, with all the stress and agony in its stead. What are those dreams when you’re aware that you’re dreaming? I’m not so sure, yet I’m absolutely sure. There’s that word that I know, yet can’t remember…

What was it anyway…?

But it doesn’t matter anyway. This dream will eventually come to an end, and I’m likely not to remember it by the time I awake. It’s been a while since the last time I was able to recall any dream of mine. Although it’s not like all of them ever meant anything to me. They seem more like subtle reminders of the past, with many beyond recognition.

It’s been so long, hasn’t it?

Inside the dream is my own apartment. What’s really strange is that the way I’m looking at is as if I’m doing so from afar, and the walls are both visible yet invisible. Simply put, I can see inside, yet I can see the walls themselves from the outside. But this is probably one norm when you’re inside a dream; it probably doesn’t matter how you explore it, it’s just how you get to it that matters truly.

I’ve long forgotten what it felt like to live outside of the dull confines of my apartment. I remember how the apartment looked like before. It was an empty space, yet it seemed to be teeming with potential, just like me. At the time, I was studying literature at a nearby community college. I don’t think it mattered all that much that it was a community college, it was something at least. But knowing me, I was probably studying without much of an aim in mind. And, of course, it didn’t take too long until I lost interest and soon dropped out altogether. Somehow none of it was surprising to me at all, almost as if I always knew, except I probably did deep down.

In front of me is what my apartment has now become. Inside, the floor itself is a sea of clutter, with tiny fabric islands formed by piles of clothes scattered about. I had long neglected to wash and dry my clothes. It seemed reasonable enough to just wash it all in one go instead of doing it from time to time. There were so many ways to save myself time, yet so little ways to actually spend it. But to be frank, sometimes I believe it’s just me distracting myself from ever being close to productive.

By now, my very being was breathed into the walls of this place called home. Every piece of this apartment is a piece of me. Even the once bright green wallpaper now peeling off in the corner is a part of me. But everything about it all is riddled with neglect, with dust being the form it took on. It’s an atrocious sight - and looks like a classic scene from the pages of regurgitation - but if you look away long enough you won’t have to see it anymore. It’s simple enough to do, especially for someone like me.

But whenever I do look at it, there’s this sinking feeling in my stomach. It doesn’t exist, yet it actually does. This is the feeling of silent depression; it’s a feeling of helplessness that spreads through one’s own body, and it’s the very root of my idleness. Just like this wallpaper that I long neglected to replace, my whole being was starting to peel away, exposing the ugliness that I long hid from this world. That’s how it was… That’s how it always will be - or so I thought. Just how long ago did I tell myself that I would replace the wallpaper? Probably a day or two - long after it was habitual not to. Here I am, in my small world, in this cluttered mess of a room, staring at the wallpaper, watching it peel away, neglect taking on the form of dust… There’s that need to change it. That need to make it better. That need to-

Just... Just when the hell am I going to change it?

A spiderweb hangs lazily from the ceiling, a breeze blowing past it all the while, yet still the spiderweb remains. Staring at it, I wonder just when had it been spun. Even more so, where exactly has its owner gone to? Have they found a new home - something better than the fragile thin fibers that held together their old one? Perhaps the spider yearned for something more than just spinning webs? But what about the spiderweb itself? I’d imagine it’d be quite upset, assuming it felt emotions at all. The closest thing it had for a friend had abandoned him for something “better” than him after all. But maybe it isn’t even the owner’s fault, maybe “better” just came in the form of not being worse off than before. Perhaps the spiderweb cheated the spider out of webbing? Or perhaps the spiderweb was guilty of endangering its owner’s offspring? In the end, the spiderweb was really holding back its owner from doing better.

It’s not an unlikely story anyway.

Speaking of stories… I write them, or tried to, or at least am trying to try to. I once relished in the idea of being an aspiring writer. But the word “aspiring” was just an excuse to romanticize my occupation - or lack of. In reality, I was barely finished with something resembling a prologue while my colleagues were busied with writing the exciting climax for their own stories. Hell, even the word “prologue” was another excuse for romanticizing my work.

Writing itself takes a strange combination of anxiety, euphoria, and lethargy. Every so often you find a little bit of motivation to keep you going, but it never lasts for too long. Distractions occur and bring you away from what really matters. By the time you come back, you look at the computer screen you were typing out in - the very same one you practically poured your whole heart into in the course of several months - and you think to yourself: “How could I write this shit and still be satisfied with myself?”

It’s absolutely hilarious - really. The very thing I relish in was the very thing that showed me how unaccomplished, how pretentious, and how discontent I truly was. Of course, I wouldn’t stay for too long when I was like that. I frequently escaped into another world - two of them, in fact! We got the internet and my imagination at work here, with the latter being self-explanatory.

There’s this moral superiority that overcomes me when I pay a visit to the internet. Of course, I don’t go out of my way to make people’s lives feel like shit; I’m one of those people who relishes in dealing with the people who do. It’s absolutely intoxicating! Making it clear that your opponents are lacking in common sense, so much that one must make an argument about common sense first before you can argue about what you really wanted to argue. How invigorating! To completely destroy your opponents so much that the last of their entire being resembles an orphaned parrot, squawking ill-chosen obscenities and spoon-fed dumbassery due to their incapacity of expressing anything remotely witty. After all, nothing a parrot ever says has a spark of originality - it had to be taught first.

However, sooner or later, you realize how depressing it all is. The more insightful you become of such people, the more you realize how the two of you aren’t all that different. You realize that you yourself are quick to judge others. Hell, the first thing you note about any black foreigner is the color you identify them as. You can be a hardcore equal rights activist for all racial groups, but you can’t help but think about that one black jellyfish floating in an otherwise perfectly pale sea. I would kill to stop thinking this way, but it’s so ingrained in our society that it’s near-impossible even if I did it. Is society unintentionally designed to separate individuals into categories? There’s another question I don’t have an answer to.

Here’s another thing you probably share with these assholes: a pretentious attitude you constantly flaunt around, mistaking it for what you would refer to as “your mark of intellectual superiority.” Remember that book I said I was writing? Complete utter crap. It’s not even enough to call a book, or even a prologue, if you remember. Even now I have no idea what I’m doing, yet I still remind people that I’m an aspiring writer with a little “Did you know that I’m a writer?” Complete utter bullshit. In actuality, I wasn’t writing anything, I was just justifying everything on paper!

Even when I wasn’t writing, I would constantly think about when I would start writing again, but I always ended up putting it off somehow. Sometimes it happened tomorrow, but most of the time it was after nearly a month had passed. There was always something keeping me back. Distractions were present all around me. They frequently came in the form of people, with an obnoxious complaint accompanying them. Exactly how long ago was it when I started thinking this way? I don’t know, and I don’t care, except I actually do.

There’s absolutely nothing I can do to change this world, even though I can think about all the options where I can. It’s like choosing your own favorite ice cream, you don’t even consider the other options, you just go with the taste you know best. If I take this analogy and try to apply it to my life, would I realize the next step at becoming a better me? Probably not - I know myself too well after all. Other than that, it’s a terrible analogy in the first place.

In my childhood, my one small dream was to become a police officer. The very thought of helping people put this huge smile on my face. Imagination was a real skill to master as a child back then. I could easily turn even the most horrendous law-breaking criminals into honorable law-abiding citizens - I was just that good. It was funny how simple people were to me back then. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to that me. Sometimes I wonder if what I think about past me is really accurate to how past me really was. Was I less selfish? Did I truly have concern for my life ahead? I ask these things all the time. Of course, like all childhood dreams, there comes a point in your life when you start maturing and start coming to terms with how shitty the world can be, and that’s when the dream is killed for good. In my case, it came in the form of realizing that I was living in an abusive environment at home.

A really neat generalization is that abused kids get a beating when they go home for little to no reason. Complete utter crap. I like to think that most cases are like mine, and the media just focuses more on the horrendous cases. The one I’m referring to is the type that goes unnoticed, because it’s so ingrained in our society as a norm. These qualities called respect, honor, and success are all nothing but restrictions placed on me as an individual. According to society, I’m not required to live a life happily, I’m required to live it productively. Even more so, you get too many assholes who relish in productively, so much that they force their ideals onto you. I can’t stand any of that.

I want an escape - a real one.

None of my parents ever raised a hand above me. Actually, both of my parents were really proud of me as a child, or at least that’s what I assumed back then. Now I’m not so sure. Praise was hard to come by, and like the child I was, I ate it all up completely whenever I had any. But even that didn’t last long. When I began straying from the path my parents set for me, my younger brother came along and succeeded where I couldn’t. It was surprising enough… To once be welcomed in your home, only to now be shamed upon your arrival. My father even told me that he had failed as a parent, and my mother’s expression said the same. How can any parent ever say that to their child? It’s not even about them, it’s just a more subtle way of saying, “I’m sorry, son, but you’re a failure to our family.” It’s the most depressing thing to think about… The very people you were raised around rejecting you based on your accomplishments…? Why? Why the hell- just how the hell is that even right to think about?

Outside of my parents’ home, I felt more energetic, more lively. I had a little bit of hope in a life where I thought I little motivation to live fully. But once I got home, there was a deep sinking feeling that lowered me into a pit of shame. It clung to the insides of my stomach, and made its home inside. Sometimes I felt like it moved every so often. I especially felt it move whenever I had to feign happiness for anyone else - it was expected of myself by then. When I finally managed to put together enough money to buy my own apartment, I thought to myself that I could finally become the creative soul I always dreamed about being. Those days of playing policeman would finally amount to something. The world could learn from me and my struggles, and I could learn to love it.

You know what’s really hilarious? I thought I knew myself - really. But it just wasn’t the case. After so many years, I realized just how broken I really was. The fear of failure was paralyzing enough to keep me from ever doing anything magical or extraordinary. I realized that I wasn’t anything special, I was just a kid who thought his pen was magical enough to command the world through literature, yet all I’ve done is stain an entire book with crayons.

After all these years, my one small dream now is to live far away from people.

Believe it or not, it included living on an island - free of people. Honestly, I didn’t even care about living in a country. In fact, I was disgusted by the fact that people who I’ve never even met were allowed to place restrictions on human behavior. Even more so, I was disgusted by the traditions continuously practiced by society in general and that I would never fully stray away from them, because society was responsible for shaping my very character. Even when I pretended to not care, it affected me. I was held back continuously from ever reaching the potential I sought after.

It doesn’t even matter how much I contradict myself, my ideals are noble and true. Humanity does not truly understand how corrupt this world is and how petty their efforts to reform it have been. You have to completely deny society with an extreme to bring about a grand reformation. Those who disagree simply haven’t felt what I’ve felt - I mean it, they haven’t. This world… This everything… I want to destroy it one day with these hands of mine and then remake it into one where everybody can be happy.

That’s my world - my perfect world.

------

It’s quiet… Or at least it would be. There’s this little ticking sound in this head of mine, clocking down to something, yet I know not what it is. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in a race, waiting for the gun to fire, waiting to compete, waiting to win or lose. The result doesn’t matter, but the experience of it all is precious enough to me. But now that I’ve heard it enough, it’s more of ringing sound than a ticking sound. Is that how silence sounds? It rings when no other noise can be heard?

I dreamt of only darkness in my dreams, but when light began pouring inside of it I knew I had to wake up. For a moment, I thought I stood up and fell, but I soon realized that this was just another dream. It was similar to how one could believe they were in a classroom learning some poor choice of curriculum, and then they wake up, realizing that the classroom was real but the fact that they were awake was completely false. What’s even more interesting is the assuring sensation that one had been learning all the while.

By now, the ringing sound in my ear had become faint, before finally dissipating for good. You could even say the sight of me was akin to a deer peering in the headlights of ongoing traffic. I was not only frightened, but dreadfully frozen in place. It wasn’t even the game itself that frightened me, it was the urge to awaken that sent my mind into a frenzy. It took a couple of moments to regain my understanding - this game, our tools of the massacre, and the very people I met not too long ago.

It takes a certain willpower to free one’s self from a dream, and even more so, one doesn’t even remember ever making too much of an effort to do so. For me, it was time to wake up. And so I awoke, yet couldn’t properly recall what happened before all of this.

These eyes of mine see a sky in front of them. No - actually, it’s more like the sky’s above me and my back is to the ground. Actually, that last part isn’t right either; there’s this uncomfortable sensation behind me - or under rather. My right hand slowly felt underneath me for the object before finally retrieving it. It was my own bandolier, still strapped to my person.

It was all too strange. I don’t think I would sleep like this. Actually, maybe I would, except I probably wouldn’t if I could. But then wouldn’t I- I realized that what I thought was a dream was still my reality. While my brain was dizzying itself with trying to remember what was so important to me from before, I also thought about how it would be to live in the sky and how it could just so-

And then it suddenly dawned on me. Sugitani, Osaragi, and that high school student... They all came to mind, and that was when I knew they were important somehow. What was it that they were so important to remember? Didn’t I know Osaragi from someplace? Wasn’t Sugitani my father? Isn’t the high school student my son? Wait… Wait… All of that is absurd. Not one of those things are even true. They’re nothing but fragments of a distant dream, and I’m just recovering from it to join back with reality. I don’t even remember what my father looks like anyway.

However, there’s one thing that connects us all - the supply case. Where was it? Frantically, I lifted head off the ground and scoured my surroundings, eager to find it. It didn’t take me long to spot it, thankfully. It wasn’t too far from my side and it was still intact, minus a couple of dents it received. Exactly what caused it, I’m not sure.

From a quick glance all around, I realized that I couldn’t see Sugitani or Osaragi anymore. Had they dis- No! No! That’s not correct - not at all! At my side, a good distance away, a brilliantly charred piece of earth displayed itself. It looked like there had an explosion. Actually, there was one. Bits of metal and wood lay about, and whatever grass was left was either charred or burning. At first I was under the impression that was where one or both of them died, but there was no blood or a charred corpse to be seen. They couldn’t be dead, not here at least... One of my BIMs had probably detonated, with this being the result. But where was that high schooler’s- Oh, right. His BIM had probably been blown up as part of the result as well.

Surprisingly, I had come off from the explosion unscath. I wasn’t dead, I think. This world seems too realistic to be some immortal plain. That’s so crazy. It is just so crazy. Is this how action movie heroes feel in the stories? They rush in, beat the villain, save the girl, blow up the villain’s base, not even looking back… Yeah, of course that’s how it is - all cool guys don’t look at explosions. This feeling of godliness overcoming me...is that how they feel? But in a case similar to mine, this is the part where they stand up, feel the wind, letting the audience know that they’ve come out alive and well.

Slowly, I begin to stand, only to have my knees buckle underneath me, pain surging throughout my entire being. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I really had suffered an injury.

It was like coming out of anesthesia; you hadn’t felt it then, but now you do just after the fact. These black pants of mine were so ripped up that I could see parts of me where I was so sure skin should’ve been. But is that really me? Looking down at it, my blood looks more blackish than reddish. Is that how blood really looks like? Why is it so dark? WHY IS IT EVEN ON ME? No… No...

“Ha… Ha… Ha…”

My breathing has gone heavy and I feel sick in my stomach. My head is pounding, too. How long had I been like this? Carefully, I start rolling up my pants, with little bits of gravel falling to the side. Every so often the fabric tightens around my wound, drawing a curse from me through clenched teeth. By the time I’m done, they’re already rolled up to the area above my knees.

I can see how terrible it all is, but I’m glad it isn’t all so terrible. My legs are intact, save for all the gravel that’s imbedded in the skin around my knees. Damn… Just damn… They look like tiny bumps crying red. It’s utterly disgusting. I must’ve fallen on the gravel, but nothing like this would have happened if that were the case. Was it the explosion? Was I so close to it that I was sent skidding onto the gravel beneath me? How is that even possible? Why the hell am I not even dead yet? This is crazy. It’s too damn crazy. The hell is with this place? People are killing one another here, and it’s only the first day. I’d expected maybe the third, but not the second, and definitely not the first!

I don’t have the energy to even continue. I’m so exhausted that I don’t even care anymore. My whole body collapsed on the ground, not caring about how uncomfortable the gravel felt beneath me. There was a slight painful sensation, but I didn’t care enough to move. I was totally spent. If anything, right now was probably the best opportunity for me to lay down and rest for a while.

Carefully, I positioned my bandolier underneath my head, steadying it with shaking hands. I needed a pillow at least. Compared to before, my breathing was now calmer, so I took it as a good sign that I had made the right choice. I’m not sure how long I plan on spending my time here, but for the time being, I don’t plan on moving - at all. Even when I felt a sonar wave being sent out, I didn’t budge, even though the sense of dread was still present in the back of my mind.

Whoever it was, they kept sending it out, yet then never moved from their spot. I don’t even remember how many times they did it, but it was quite a lot. It seemed pretty obvious that they were looking for someone. Perhaps that person they’re looking for is me? It must be Sugitani, then. Osaragi didn’t strike me as that type of person. Then again, I don’t know if they’re even alive… It could be that high schooler doing it for all I know.

Finally the sonar waves stopped coming altogether, signalling that whoever it was was already done. It’s really not good to stay here, is it? I’ll move later… I don’t feel like doing anything at all… Even more so, I still have the supply case. Hopefully everything was still there, even though I never did check it. Maybe I should? Actually, I shouldn’t. Once everything settles down, I’ll check the supply case for something to disinfect my wounds, even though I should probably take care of that now. But honestly, I think the only way I’ll move is if I hear an explosion. Then again, now that I’ve thought of it… It’ll probably happen. But not to me, of course.

Definitely not me.

Chapter Text

A tiny thrush perches itself on a lonely branch. As it did so, a small creak resounds from the branch itself, yet still the bird’s weight is supported. Testing the branch’s strength, the thrush hops toward the edge of the branch before then hopping back to where she had first landed. It was a rather small one, yet more than capable enough to hold the her. Perhaps this would be an ideal place to build a nest, she thought.

The thrush turned to her side, curious to know where her mate was. She quickly found him, perched on a nearby branch, scouring for small insects to eat. A small centipede slowly crawled for shelter. Alas, her mate saw the opportunity for a fresh meal and took it, ending the tiny creature’s life. The thrush flew over to her mate, eager to share the meal. Both of them pecked at the centipede, raising their heads to swallow every so often. Eventually the food would reach their gizzards for grinding before finally reaching their stomachs.

From overhead, sunlight could be seen pouring through the leaves. The thrush sees all of this, and thinks of how much daylight she has left. Judging by this, she knew at least that it was noon. By now, the centipede had already been ripped apart in two, its guts spewing all the while. The thrush thought nothing more of this, it was a meal after all - nothing could go to waste.

But then a loud roaring sound was heard, interrupting the pleasant meal the two thrushes were having. She pauses for a moment, her head cocked in the direction of the roar. A new predator, maybe? The thrush didn’t think about this obviously, but her instincts dictated that she flee immediately if it ever was one. Quickly, she launches herself in the air, wings flapping hastily. In her beak, the lower half of the centipede hung loosely. It would be finished elsewhere. The thrush knew that her mate would soon follow, and together the two of them would find a home elsewhere.

As the thrush flew, wind blowing past her feathers, she cocked her head to the side, eager to know just what predator could make such a noise. But the predator is a familiar one, and an odd-looking one at that. She remembers seeing several of them before and how they usually never bothered her enough to make food of her. The tenseness she feels slowly vanishes, yet the puzzling nature of how these creatures hunt stays with her.

To the thrush, these odd-looking creatures weren’t putting food in their mouths. The way they hunted was unorthodox. Whatever they killed wasn’t eaten, but rather left for other creatures to eat. There was something much more complicated going on here, but the thrush hadn’t the intelligence to think carefully about it. Even so, the thrush feels… It was nagging at her, yet she hasn’t even the slightest of what it could be.

If only she could think about it.