Chapter 1: Meeting the Others
Kuro sat up pensively and observed his surroundings. He was in a bunk bed on the bottom bunk, and all around the wide room were other bunks in rows, others lying in the beds passed out. Windows lined the walls, though little light shined through them; it was grey outside. Beside each of the beds was a large locker encompassing two compartments in each; the bottom compartment on the locker beside his bed was labeled “Kuro”. Kuro got to his feet and went into the large bathroom area at the end of the space, absolutely baffled. Staring into the mirror, he spritzed cold water onto his face.
“Where is this? What happened last night?”
Kuro wasn’t a drinker. He didn’t have black outs. In fact, he was notably very skilled in remembering things, and so the fact that he couldn’t collect his thoughts not only puzzled him but angered him.
“This doesn’t make sense,” he scrutinized his reflection.
Kuro’s messy black hair hung about his head in long strands, going down his cheeks and covering his ears as well as running down to the nape of his neck, curling slightly toward the end of each strand. His cool, blue eyes flickered in confusion. He wore a smug, long-sleeve black shirt and jeans, his usual apparel, and shook his head as he explored the bathroom area, filled with showers and stalls, the floor lined with blue tile. He returned to the mirror one last time.
“How long have I been out?” he muttered, opening his mouth and rubbing his teeth to feel if they were clean.
“What are you doing?” a voice from behind caused him to jump as a form appeared in the mirror.
“Whoa!” Kuro darted around, facing the calm looking boy.
“I didn’t mean to scare you!” he rose his hands, backing away a bit and giving Kuro some space. “My name’s Hajime. I just woke up here a few minutes ago. I’m not sure where I am… do you by any chance know where we are?”
Hajime had short, light purple hair and bright and inviting yellow eyes. His face was radiant with life, and his countenance was quite cheery. His voice was warm and comforting.
“No… I’m sorry, I don’t; I just woke up here too. None of this rings a bell. I usually have a really good memory, but I don’t know how I got here, and even what I did yesterday, or the day before…”
“Yeah, I’m in the dark too,” he shrugged.
“I’m Kuro by the way,” he extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Uh,” Hajime chuckled as he drew his left hand to shake rather than his right as to avoid the hand that had been in Kuro’s mouth.
“Oh,” Kuro laughed awkwardly, then both passively as they shook.
“Let’s wake up the others. Maybe somebody knows what’s going on.”
Kuro walked around the dark space, uncomfortably shaking awake the random teenage strangers, all seemingly his age. Another thing they shared was that they were all male. Now all awake, they eyed each other. Not one of them knew how they had gotten there.
“Has anybody been outside?” One of them questioned. “Maybe we can get a better spec of what’s going on.”
The group sifted outside, and down the few steps off a tiny deck lining the entrance of the dormitory. Kuro counted twelve of them in total, including himself, to see a grouping of girls across a dirt plain about twenty yards away. The group studied each other mysteriously, both seeming very confused. Kuro took in the environment: it was dark, as clouds brewed in the sky. Two buildings stood out: the one the boys had exited, a large cabin of some sort, the roof coming up into a sharp point from two thick slopes on either side, and the dorm across from them mirroring it where the girls came from; it too had the same roof and small porch.
They all seemed around the same age as Kuro, eighteen, and he scratched his head as he took in the bizarre situation. All around them were trees shadowed by the dark sky, and a cool, stormy breeze blew about. There was a fire pit in between both camps, and nothing but dark green forest surrounded the area. Kuro could tell by the countenance of the others that they too had no idea what was going on.
The two groups met in the middle, then examined one another.
“So I’m just gonna be the one to affirm,” a girl began with powerful green eyes and long brown hair that fell down her athletically toned frame, “that none of us here know where we are?”
“Look,” another of the girls pointed out into the distance at a wide path stretching through the forest; her blonde hair shone radiantly in the darkness, done up with hair bands as other strands escaped and hung down to her lower neck, and her icy blue eyes reflected her interest. “Maybe we can figure out where this is if we check that out. Seems like the only place to go besides the dorms.”
All the strangers followed her lead, making their way into the spacious, winding trail that lead in between the forest. It was layered with cold, dark soil, and inside the woods there were no bird chirps or animal sounds; nothing but the eerie, unsettling wind shaking the trees. No one said a word, as nobody had any idea what to say to one another. Kuro fidgeted with his pocket as they walked.
“What?” he felt a bulge in his pocket and removed it. “My Walkman?”
Kuro felt the black Walkman in his hands, his headphones tied around it neatly. He untied it and observed the screen of the device, its characteristic scratches spread about the glass.
“This is definitely my Walkman. What the hell?”
At last, the strangers found themselves in an opening, an octagonal, one story metal building before them. Beyond it were three paths each marked with wooden signs illegible from the current distance. No one neared the shy structure until a boy with fiery, scarlet red hair stepped toward it, then pushed open the door. He walked inside and the others followed. Within was a single, expansive, cylindrical metal room, black screens lining every wall, projecting the word, “Welcome!”
Everyone filed inside, and at once, the screens began projecting words, all of them in sync.
“Good morning, participants! We’re very sorry to separate you from your families at such an important time in your life, your high school graduation, but you have been specially selected for a very important experiment!”
“Experiment,” the red-haired boy grumbled angrily. “What the hell are you talking about?!” he interrogated the quiet walls that continued typing.
“We are well aware that you are all wondering where you are, if you’re safe, if your families are safe; first, do not worry, your families have not been harmed in any way. Where you are currently located is unfortunately undisclosed, but what we can tell you is that it’s a sort of campgrounds. Beyond this forest and further down the path you took to get here is a city; feel free to explore in your downtime, but don’t go too far! Every morning you will report back to the building you stand in now for instructions. We like to refer to it as the ‘Conference Hall’.”
“Finally, are you safe? That depends. Are any of you skilled in solving murders?”
The room was engulfed in a sinister atmosphere as everyone took in the words of the walls.
“The experiment you have found yourself in is very simple: have any of you ever played ‘killer’? That game where you sit around the table with your friends, each of you with a designated role? The appointed killer winks at all the members of the table, signifying killing them. Either he does, or somebody catches him and the remaining players live, the killer losing. That’s kind of like what’s happening here, except it won’t be as simple as catching somebody winking.”
“This is bullshit!” a hulking boy roared in frustration. “What the hell are you talking about, killers?!”
The screens couldn’t hear him, though they responded to his question.
“Twenty-one of you stand in this room. Twenty of you are innocent civilians. One of you… is an incredibly dangerous, psychotic murderer!”
“Who is it?!” the giant boy scrutinized the crowd. “Which one of you is it?!”
“Silence!” a girl with short, fox-pelt orange hair hushed him. Her blue eyes were cold, and her face sported sharp, powerful features, her fit body similar. “Nobody’s going to just raise their hand and let you clobber them. We need to pay attention to what we’re being told.”
No one dared argue with the intimidating young lady, and so they continued reading the words in dread.
“There are three possible outcomes for this experiment. First, if the murderer succeeds in murdering all of their fellow participants, they leave with their bloodlust satisfied. The second outcome is that one of the civilians catches the murderer in the act or solves a case and nails them. Still, the experiment doesn’t end if the murderer’s identity is revealed; he or she must be killed for the civilians to win. At last, there is the third possibility: if the civilians can escape the experiment’s perimeters, they are free to leave, and the murderer will be executed. However, let us warn you right now: the exit is not located in the woods. Again, let us warn you: the exit IS NOT located in the woods. We’re trying to help you guys out. As much fun as watching you step into a bear trap or on a landmine would be, which- hint hint- may have been placed all throughout the forest beyond the trails, we would suggest otherwise. Honestly, the forest gets so thick you probably wouldn’t be able to get through it anyway without blazing miles worth of trees, despite the sinister traps we placed everywhere. Oh, did we let that slip? Our bad. So, yeah; don’t look there. If you think we’re bluffing, go ahead; we’ll throw some popcorn in the microwave. But if you’re smart, you won’t stray beyond the trails.”
“This can’t be real,” a girl with the lightest voice that the group had ever heard whimpered bitterly. “I want to go home…”
“Be careful trying to find your way out, participants. Every day you will be required to follow the instructions given to you that can only be found in the Conference Hall. If you don’t follow the instructions, you will receive dire consequences. Do not attempt to rebel; it will end badly for you.”
Mixed emotions spanned across the crowd. Some faces were lined with dread and terror, others cold apathy, and even some anger and hatred.
“For your first set of instructions, we ask that you go to the campfire and share with the group your name and something about you, an important aspect of yours that signifies your character. Oh, and just because we don’t want you to feel too far from home, we’ve left you each with something you hold very dear to you. If you wish to store that something away, you have every right to; we understand your desire for privacy. Thus, you’ve each been given a locker beside your beds. Your locker combinations are written on strips of paper beneath each of your pillows. We suggest you get to yours before anyone else does. Now that we’ve gotten through everything, we ask you to be careful, and we wish you luck!”
The screens flashed off, leaving the baffled room in further silence. The strangers robotically trekked back to the campfire. Logs sat in a circular formation around it, seven in total that could fit approximately three people on each, and everyone was seated. The boy with red hair drew an old-fashioned, expensive looking, silver lighter, his mouth curling into a fascinated grin as he flicked it, his eyes reflecting the flickering flame.
Soon, the fire was lit, and the grim coolness of the storm was somewhat saturated by the warmth of the blaze; it was nice to see something bright again inside the dreadful, grey campgrounds.
On Kuro’s right sat Hajime, the boy from earlier in the bathroom area, and a boy with large gages sat to Kuro’s left. Everyone quietly took in what they had been told, the fire barely alleviating the pressure but restoring some hope amongst the bleakness.
“I guess I’ll start,” the boy with gages lifted his hand reclusively, drawing all eyes to him. “My name’s Milo.” Milo had short, black hair with blue highlights wisping throughout it, and a calm, condoned expression. His eyes were a caramel brown shade, and his voice was strangely melodic. He wore a handsome blue polo shirt and comfortable cargo shorts. “I’m a musician. I’ve been playing instruments since I was six. Let’s see,” he scrunched his face as he tried to remember; this ordinarily would’ve been easy, but he was evidently nervous by the situation. “I, um, have played the violin for twelve years now. I took up the cello too… it’s probably the simplest but my favorite is the acoustic guitar. I got into it a few years ago as a freshman. That’s the thing they left me. My guitar.”
Everyone was quiet; Kuro wondered if he should acknowledge him in any way, but before he could, the girl on the next log to Milo’s left started up.
“I’m Caroline,” she announced. Her purple hair fell neatly, long down her back, but more noticeably were her eyes; behind her round, brown glasses was a regular, bright red eye, but the left eye was different; it appeared as if her pupil had been sliced by glass or some other injury, and it was cringing to look at. She wore a thin, purple dress that went down to her knees, and she wore no pants underneath. “I’m an expert in the paranormal,” she grinned, something no one had done until this point. “I was left with my spirit candles.” Caroline was a fearful presence; Kuro vowed to never let himself alone with her, and the others seemed to get the same vibe.
The girl sitting next to Caroline slid away from her anxiously, and Caroline smirked at her.
“And what’s your name, dear?”
“I’m… I’m… Kiri,” she forced out, locked in Caroline’s terrible eyes.
“What makes you so special, hmm?” Caroline rubbed her cheek, and Kiri couldn’t move or speak.
“Back off her,” the boy sitting at the end of the log next to Kiri pushed her off.
“I like singing…” Kiri continued, and her voice was the lightest thing any of them had ever heard. She was very frail and short, and she seemed younger than her age. She wore a bright yellow, flower-patterned top and baby blue skirt underneath. Kuro couldn’t help but feel horrible for her. Short brown hair hung down to her shoulders, and her quivering grey eyes nervously scanned the others as she spoke. “They let me keep the charm my mother gave me for high school graduation…” She held it up from her chest, as it hung around her neck; it was a very beautiful sterling pearl.
“My name’s Hide,” the boy at the end of the log stated. He had bright orange hair and determined green eyes, and his face bore a passionate confidence. His arms and legs were athletically toned, and he seemed very swift. His voice was light for his age but nonetheless strong sounding. “I’m a parkourist. I love that stuff,” he tried to grin, but nobody grinned back. “I’ve been doing it since I was young. My parents are always like, ‘You’re gonna kill yourself doing that!’ I guess not…” he alluded to the possibility of his being murdered dryly. “Whoever kidnapped us let me keep my jacket,” the comfortable, thin green jacket hung around his body, the hood hanging behind, as he wasn’t wearing it. He wore a pair of durable cargo pants beneath. “It was a graduation present from my parents.”
“I’m Natalie,” the girl on the next log explained. Her hair was wild and lengthy, a neon green shade, and her eyes a sparkling amber. She had a nose piecing and wore a dark, fishnet top with long fishnet leggings. Her voice was dull and uninterested. “I do body art. My body art equipment was left with me.”
“Nice to meet ya’ll. Name’s Clay,” the southern gentleman beside Natalie removed his brown cowboy hat in a respectful bow. His voice was low and stoic; he had sandy brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a brown vest over a blue cotton shirt as well as a pair of worn wranglers. “I got to keep ma’ hat. It was my Pa’s before he bit the bullet. Died two years ago; got a real bad case of pneumonia working in the rain. We don’t live near no doctor. Wasn’t long before he was gone.”
“I’m… sorry to hear that,” the blonde girl from earlier sympathetically replied; Kuro remembered her as the one who had pointed out the path to the Conference Hall, with the glowing blonde hair done up by hair bands and icy blue eyes. Her voice was nurturing but self-assured, and she seemed to be a girl who could handle herself. “I’m Erika. One thing I really like doing is exploring. I used to go on expeditions with my parents all over the globe; they’re archeologists. They left me with the very first artifact I ever dug up,” she took off her armlet unveiling a silver bracelet with a small, shimmering sapphire inside it. She wore a tan thermal shirt and brown shorts with many pockets and various pouches.
“My name is Suterusu,” the boy on the next long professed. He sported dark black hair; it was short, thin, and clung tightly to his head. His grey eyes seemed to be half there, and his low voice would be intimidating if he didn’t speak so quietly, as if he hadn’t found his purpose in life. His face was very plain and almost expressionless as he introduced himself. He wore an olive drab T-shirt with an army star in the middle that revealed his thin, wiry muscles, and thick, camo-patterned pants, that also contained many pockets and compartments. “I dropped out of high school and got my GED. I went to boot camp and just got back not too long ago. After about a year of duty I came back home; then I ended up here. I know none of you are going to like what I say next, but I was given my service pistol, an M-1911 with a loaded magazine and holster. I’m intentionally not wearing it now so as to not scare any of you. But if there’s a murderer about I think I’ll start carrying it. Sorry if that bothers you guys.”
The girl beside him scrutinized him before she began speaking. In fact, her face was always a cut-eyed, stern expression; it appeared both determined and filled with fury. Kuro wondered if she were feeling those emotions or if her face were simply shaped that way. He recognized her from earlier, the one who had spoken up against the bulky man in the Conference Hall. “Inari is my name. I’m an MMA fighter.” Everyone waited for her to continue. She said nothing more. Her orange hair was medium-length; it fell in random strands around her head down to her jaw and lower neck. She wore a tight fitting jet-black top and jet-black yoga pants. Her blue eyes intimidatingly combed the boy beside her until he began.
“You look like a girl that sure puts the damn in damage,” he winked, and her sharp face didn’t budge from its dark expression. “Jeez, tough crowd,” he flustered. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet everyone! My name’s Ben,” he smirked sprightly. He was short and skinny, and unkempt brown hair shot wildly in every direction all the way over his eyes. His eyes were a curious violet. His shirt was a bright red graphic-T with a bizarre frog mutant on it, and his brown pants were baggy and torn. “I’m a comedian. I write down all my jokes into my journal. I’m gonna be a famous comedian someday. Oh, yeah, the journal’s what they left me with.”
“Your stupid shirt’s a joke,” the bellowing man from before huffed; Kuro hardly believed he was eighteen. Perhaps he had failed several grades? Short, rigid blonde hair graced his head in a crew-cut and commanding, grand blue eyes rested within his attractive face. Muscles bulged intimidatingly about his body; veins coiled in his brawny arms and stallion legs. He had on blue jeans and a white T-shirt with a red varsity jacket atop it. “The name’s Nash,” he announced with his condescending, proud, low voice. “I kick ass in football. I was the team’s quarterback since I was a freshman. Got lined up with a sport’s scholarship before I even turned seventeen. Everyone wants me,” he smirked. “They gave me a football. Not sure why; I doubt any of you tools know how to play the game anyway.”
“Ok…ay then,” the girl beside him awkwardly started in response to the jock lustfully staring at her. “I’m Aiko. It means “child of love”,” she beamed. Her voice was very sweet and inviting, and she had breathtaking, shimmering pink eyes, with light pink hair to match. It fell down her back in horizontal disks, like a small pink cyclone swirling down her lithe back. She had tan, flawless skin, and her beauty was impeccable. “I’m a model back at home,” she giggled. “I was given my make-up,” she blushed. “Gotta stay pretty! Oh, and I love strawberries!” her face curled into a playful grin. She wore a pink frilly skirt and a slightly cleavage revealing, tight-fitting, fashionable pink crop-top that revealed part of her skinny stomach.
“My name is Hitoshi,” the final boy on the log described. He had blonde hair that formed in small spikes atop his head and powerful, scarlet red eyes. His body was muscular, not nearly as burly as Nash but still note-worthy, and his voice was on the lower end of the spectrum; it was diligent and stern sounding. He wore a long-sleeve brown shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows revealing the veins in his wrists, and simple jeans with a belt. “I’m a fan of blade-play. I’ve been messing around with swords and knives since I was a kid. Taken several martial arts on them. They left me this, my first balisong,” he removed a red-handled butterfly knife. It instantaneously flashed around his hand in a series of expert twirls, until, just as sudden as it began, it froze, the blade perfectly shutting within the handle as he put it away.
“Wow, how many are there of you people with weapons that they shouldn’t be allowed to carry? We should confiscate them,” the brash, red haired boy from earlier avowed, sitting on the next log over.
“Hell no you aren’t,” Hitoshi scolded, and Suterusu dryly shook his head in disagreement.
“Why should you be trusted? I say we take a vote!” he screeched.
“Just introduce yourself,” a boy across the fire-pit coldly commanded.
“Damn, okay,” he gritted his teeth. “I’m Katsu. I blow shit up,” he smirked. “I’m sort of a pyro.” His wild red hair stood out from the beginning, but in the fire it intensified even greater, his orange eyes the same shade as his flickering creation. He had a nose ring, and he seemed impish and immature. He wore an orange T-shirt with big words in black print reading, “SLASHER” across it, and baggy blue jeans. “I was given my lighter,” he gleefully drew the one he had lit the fire with, flicking it and watching the flame dance before putting it away. “But seriously, I think we should take their weapons.”
“I think you should keep your opinions to yourself,” Natalie cut her eyes at Katsu, annoyed with his impulsive opinion-sharing and energy.
“Hey, I’m just trying to keep broads like you safe and-”
He went silent.
“Damn you’re cute!” he exploded with fascination, causing Natalie to awkwardly scoot back on her log.
“Aww, come on,” Ben cut in, “you’ve gotta admit, for a pyro he’s pretty hot,” he jested. “Can’t you feel the fire between you two? I think you guys would be a match made in Heaven!”
“Man… those jokes are awful,” Hide shuddered.
“Anyway,” the girl sitting next to Katsu cut in, “I’m Kyoko. I just finished my nursing program alongside high school. I guess I could’ve started early if we hadn’t been kidnapped.” She wore a button up white, collared shirt and pristine white shorts. She had rectangular glasses that stored her strongminded yellow eyes, and long, sterling-white hair was tied back behind her head in a professional manner. Her voice was focused and skeptical, and Kuro found himself admiring her in some way. “Still, I guess that’s what happens sometimes. Life doesn’t make things simple. We’ll just have to get through this together. I was brought in with my nursing log. I like to document my medical experiences. I haven’t had any real ones yet… but I have been trained. If any of you get injured, I’ll be there.”
“We really appreciate that,” the boy next to her kindly responded. “I’m Adam. I mess around with computers and stuff. I guess you could call me a hacker,” he chuckled. His voice was a mix of clever composition and self-assuredness. He had jet-black, pointy black hair and neon green eyes. He wore sharp black glasses, and his face was layered with fuzzy black stubble. He wore a grey graphic-T, a black top hat on the shirt and the words “hacker” written beneath, and on his left wrist was a tattoo of a black power button filled in with green binary code. His pants were knee-length black shorts with a seemingly self-crafted pouch hanging around one of the belt loops. “They gave me my laptop. They left me my charger and some batteries in the pouch I crafted bored as a kid, too. It’s been hanging from my pants since I was twelve. Maybe I can help us find a way out with my computer,” he tried to smile.
“Unlikely,” a boy with black hair on the next log over rebutted. “I doubt they’d make it that simple. I’m Noriko. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to meet you all, but it isn’t.” His voice was pessimistic and intellectual, the same from earlier that had commanded Katsu to continue introducing himself, and he too wore black glasses. His hair was neatly combed to the side, and his eyes were a dark color as well. “I’m a chess player, among other things. I graduated top of my class. I don’t get along well with others. I was left with a chessboard. Seems rather pointless here.” He wore nice clothes for the event, a black blazer with a red tie and black dress pants.
“Why?” Nash challenged. “You think we’re too dumb to play with you?”
“You of all people, certainly.”
Nash rose frustrated from his log, but Hajime stood up and rose his hands.
“Everybody settle down; tensions are high, I know. But if we start in-fighting we’ll never get anywhere. Twenty of us are innocent.”
“He’s right,” Adam backed him up. “Let’s just keep it cool.”
“We can’t ‘keep it cool’,” the girl beside Noriko argued. “There’s nothing ‘cool’ about this place.”
“Except the weather!” Ben chimed in, causing the girl to shoot him a look of disgust.
“And what’s your name, Princess Period?” Ben retorted crossly. “At least introduce yourself to us.”
“I’m Asahina. You’d better never call me that again unless you like getting kicked in the balls,” she gritted her teeth. The girl sported a fit and athletic frame, specifically her rounded calves; Kuro remembered her from earlier; she had been the one who had affirmed that nobody knew why they were here. She appeared very dry at first, but Kuro got the notion she wasn’t normally so pessimistic, but only this way due to the situation at hand. She had confident green eyes and brown hair that fell around her body, and her voice, though spoken with frustration, was very alluring to him. She wore a dark green tank-top underneath a sporty grey jacket and short, grey jogging shorts. “I’m a runner. I got left with my pedometer and jacket,” her tone was less angry now, almost regretful, as if she wished she hadn’t introduced herself in such a frustrated manner.
Everyone studied the girl at the end of the log next to Asahina waiting for her to speak. She was a spectacle to say the very least. All over her body were blue tattoos forming lines down her arms and legs, her chest down to her cleavage and below, and even up her face onto her cheeks. On each of her knuckles was the tattoo of an individual, blue eyeball. Her attire was a formal, long sleeve, black shirt with three buttons toward the top and a black skirt. She had long, shiny white hair that fell in a dead, frizzy manner, and wide blue eyes; her skin was bright white, almost ashen. At last, she began speaking. “My, name’s, Rin.” She said it slowly, strangely, and unsettlingly, and Kuro was baffled by her. “I play the piano. I was left with my faaaaaavorite sheet music.” The way she spoke disconcerted everyone; she randomly annunciated certain words and her speech was drawn out. It was unnerving.
“Guess I’m up,” Hajime broke the silence in response to Rin’s bizarre introduction. Kuro couldn’t deny how comforting his voice was, especially in a place like this. He seemed very levelheaded and able to keep peace amongst people with ease. “I’m Hajime. It’s a pleasure to meet all of you,” he smiled, though he knew few would smile back, and he appeared to understand why, as no offense took over his calm, warm expression. “I’m a writer. I like to write short stories. Kinda’ stupid but I was left with a feather pen,” he drew it from his pants pocket. “I picked this up when I was a kid. My mom got it for me. She said it was my gift as a writer. I type my stuff on a computer obviously but it’s fun to write down notes with it and stuff,” he laughed. “I also got my idea pad. That’s what I call the journal I jot down all my story ideas in, and where I draw my characters. Oh, yeah, I like drawing too, forget to mention that.” His light purple hair was fascinating in the reflection of the fire, and his yellow eyes were warmer than it. Hajime wore a long-sleeve, light purple shirt that resembled pajamas, and black sweatpants. Kuro greatly appreciated his company already, though he feared trusting him, or anybody for that matter.
“My name is Kuro,” Kuro finally introduced himself. “I’m not really good at introductions,” he nervously announced. “I’m sort of a detective. I’m majoring in Criminology. Or, was, I guess. I always wanted to be a crime solver. I’ve taken a few classes on it, but most of what I know I’ve looked into privately. I hope I can be of service to everybody.” Kuro anxiously prodded at his long, black sleeves, resting his arms on his blue jeans.
“What’s your item?” Asahina asked in a dull tone, though not as cruel as before.
“Oh, sorry,” Kuro fumbled as he revealed his Walkman, his headphones neatly tied around it. “I like to listen to music when I study or do murder investigations.”
Everyone’s eyes widened by the statement, and he immediately cut in.
“Fake, murder investigations. Online tests and stuff that expand your ability to solve crimes. You know, like scenarios. I’ve never investigated a real crime scene. I hope I get to someday, but… not here,” his dark blue eyes stared down at his hands, his unkempt black hair falling down his face.
“Guess we know who dies first,” Caroline beamed.
“It’s so damn obvious it’s you!” Katsu shot to his feet. “Let’s just kill her now! Give me your knife,” he wrestled with Hitoshi for the balisong, then was flipped powerfully into the soil of the camp, his arm pinned behind his head.
“Never, and I mean never come running at me like that again,” he furiously commanded as Katsu struggled to break free.
“Please… everybody, stop,” Kiri whimpered too silently to be heard by the disturbed crowd.
“You all are unbelievable,” Noriko shook his head unimpressed.
“Oh yeah?” Nash gritted his teeth. “And what makes you so special?”
“Hey, if I had to pass a third grade math test I’d choose him to study with any day over you,” Ben sneered.
“Enough of these damn jokes,” Inari’s eyes formed an even more hateful expression than usual.
“Jeez, you need to get laid,” he shrugged in response.
“You know what?” Asahina rose to her feet, her hands placed in a sassy manner on her hips. “I’m getting really sick of your jokes and your pejorative talk of women!”
“Everybody, please, relax!” Hajime pleaded. “Guys, this is just day one! Just the first hour! If we can’t even get along we’re bound to die… We need to work collaboratively. We all have talents. There’s a third outcome, remember? We can escape! If we work together, we can find a way out of this! I know we can!”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” Kyoko nodded, grinning steely. “We just need to think as a unit.”
“You’d be surprised what can get done if you think as a unit,” Suterusu complied. “My fellow soldiers and I got punished for finishing our run significantly slower than the day before. That was because it rained the night before and the ground was all mud. Still, our platoon Sergeant didn’t care. He made us clean an entire field of cigarette butts, said we couldn’t eat or sleep until we were done and whoever was caught doing either of those would be skull-dragged. At first we argued, but when we stopped and focused as a team, we got it done two hours ahead of schedule. It’s all a mind game. United we stand, divided we fall.”
“Well said, partner,” Clay endorsed. “Me and my folks get everything done together. We split the work evenly. Can’t run a farm alone.”
“Yeah, that’s the right attitude, guys,” Erika smiled caringly. “Hope isn’t lost. Not unless we give up on it. We can do this, hand in hand.”
“I love this!” Aiko jolted. “I was so nervous around all of you because I thought you guys were all mean but you guys are all really sweet,” her face made a dreamy expression of care toward the otherwise strangers except that they had introduced themselves. “We’re all just scared. But it’s okay, we have each other!”
“Yeah,” Hide awkwardly laughed, “not sure if I necessarily love this, but, I think if we set aside our differences we can make a good team. Enough to give surviving this experiment thing a shot, at least.”
“Look, guys,” Adam entered the conversation, “if I can just get a clue on our location we have a chance. I’ve got the internet; what else do we need?” his glasses glinted cleverly.
“Common sense,” Natalie retorted unenthused. “What is this, a pep rally? One of us is a bloodthirsty murder,” she almost laughed. “You think they’re just gonna sit back and let us find our way out of this?”
“Of course it’s not that simple,” Kuro interjected. “But giving up won’t do anything for anybody, except give the murderer the hopelessness they need to turn us all against each other and kill us one by one. Murderers are typically manipulative; if they can cause in-fighting they can just sit in the shadows and let us do the work for them. But if we stand by each other, put our skills together and focus on getting out of this, we have the advantage.”
“Lovely speech,” Rin clapped, slowly and dreadfully like her voice. “We can just all be friends. If I were a murderer, that’s exactly what I would want, for everybody to trust me,” she bitterly giggled. “We’re all gonna die!” she paraded.
The group broke out into further debate, some hatefully cursing Rin for her grim comment, others agreeing and believing the positive thinkers to be fools, when everyone was quieted by the melodic strum of a guitar.
There sat Milo on his log beside Kuro, playing a soothing, peaceful melody amongst the crowd. He had apparently gotten up during the fray and grabbed his guitar from the boy’s dormitory unnoticed. The group no longer fought, just sat mystified by the intriguing and soulful tempo. Milo began singing, his vice even softer, and the lyrics were about remaining calm. The song was written in perspective of a mother to a son, commanding him to be weary of the wolves in the world but not be too calloused to trust people. Even Inari seemed taken in by the music, and it seemed an eternity as Milo played, the fire crackling rhythmically in sync with the piece, the stormy wind blowing gently, until at last he was finished.
“There. That’s better. Now, can everyone just relax for a moment?”