This was the end. Discordant piano notes closed in around her, faster and faster, she couldn’t—keep up—and—
Kaede opened her eyes.
Was she alive? She couldn’t tell. As she looked down at the class trial room’s solid floor below her feet, she breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this was all a dream. She hadn’t killed anyone, all her classmates were alive and well, they’d get out of here together, and Saihara…
Saihara was ignoring her. His hat obscured his face, but Kaede noticed how his shoulders hunched in while he silently trembled.
“Hey, are you okay?” Kaede asked as she moved to stand closer to him. “No need to cry. It’s fine, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
He didn’t respond. It was almost as if he had no idea she was even there.
That was alright. Kaede would stay beside her friend for as long as he needed.
“Hey, Saihara-kun, can you hear me?”
“Akamatsu-san is dead. She’s dead, and I…” Saihara’s voice trailed off.
“Saihara-kun, I’m right here!”
Again, no response.
“Wait, Momota-kun, don’t—”
Momota tried to give a motivational speech, after punching Saihara no less, and a horrible feeling formed in Kaede’s stomach. If Momota was ignoring her too, then he couldn’t see or hear her, and if he couldn’t see or hear her, then that meant she was…
Kaede really had died up on that giant piano, and come back to haunt the living. Her classmates shuffled out the door, while the remaining bears disappeared to who knows where, leaving her to trudge back to her trial stand and gaze into the colorful, frosted windows of the room.
“They can’t hear you either, huh.”
Kaede whirled around. Who had said that? The room was empty—
Well, empty of anyone alive, at least.
All the guilt Kaede had felt during the investigation came rushing back, only a hundred times worse.
The boy she’d killed sat cross-legged on empty air above what would have been his trial stand, his dejected expression a sharp contrast to his smile in the portrait below him.
How long had he been sitting there?
Tears started to form on Kaede’s face, and she wiped them away with the heel of her hand. No matter how she felt, about being a ghost or a murderer, she had to apologize. Even if Amami didn’t want to forgive her, even if he hated her, saying nothing at all to him would still be wrong.
Amami broke the uncomfortable silence before Kaede could say anything. “Realizing you’re a ghost sucks, doesn’t it.” He laughed, a joyless laugh. “I get it. Earlier, when you guys walked into the library, and then when I saw my—what you were all looking at, I…kinda freaked out, to be honest.”
“For—” This would be difficult, but she had to say it. Kaede took a deep breath. “For killing you. You did nothing wrong. By jumping to conclusions, I ended your life. If I hadn’t been so careless, if—if I had just thought before acting, we could have figured out a way to get past that damn time limit without any deaths.”
“If you hadn’t done anything, everyone here would be dead.”
“You’re right, I guess,” Kaede replied. Had he forgiven her already?
“Besides, you’re not even the one who killed me.”
Kaede took a step back. “What?”
“That ball, the one that fell, I dodged it. But then, Shirogane showed up behind me with another one, and…” He grimaced. “She must have taken the ball that I dodged, in order to make you look like the culprit. She framed you.”
“Shirogane, she’s…” Kaede thought backwards, to a secret door that had closed just as she and her classmates arrived at the library. Had Shirogane been with them? No. And to have left so quickly, she would have had to use the secret door. Only the mastermind could do that. “She’s the mastermind, then.”
“Looks like it.”
“But, I still—”
“You were trying to end this killing game, same as I was. I can’t blame you for that.”
Both of them were silent for a while. Kaede leaned back experimentally, and her heart leaped for a fraction of a second as she found herself floating in the air. Multicolored light filtered through the windows, making it seem as if morning had already arrived.
How much time had passed, anyway? Kaede had no way of knowing, as this room was underground. Electric lightbulbs must have been placed right behind each window.
A Monokub would probably return soon to place a portrait at her trial stand, the X across it signifying that Akamatsu Kaede truly was dead. There would be two portraits in this room, then, red paint crudely splashed over vacant smiles.
Amami floated down from where he’d been, and stood at Gokuhara’s trial stand instead of his own. He stared into the center of the room, an unreadable expression on his face.
He sighed. “Great. This is just great.”
“We found the mastermind, but we can’t tell anyone because they can’t hear us.” He glared at the floor. “I was trying to end this, and you and Saihara-kun were trying to end this, and now…now it’s all gone to shit.” Kaede looked at him, shocked. She’d heard Amami sound ominous and intimidating before, but not angry. “Sorry,” he said in a quieter voice. “I just wish things had gone differently, that’s all.”
“So do I.” Kaede stared at her shoes. “This isn’t how any of this should have gone.”
A memory from just after the trial appeared in Kaede’s mind. “I need to go check on Saihara-kun,” she blurted out. “Are you—will you be okay if I do that?”
“I’ll be fine. I was going to go look for my research lab, anyway.”
“You still don’t know your talent?”
“I…” He paused before continuing. “Yeah, I don’t.”
“Well, I hope you’re able to find it out.”
Amami smiled. “Thanks,” he said. “I hope you get to talk to Saihara-kun.”
“Thank you,” Kaede replied. Despite everything that had happened, she felt the beginnings of a smile on her face as well.
Kaede walked through the closed door and into the elevator. Her face fell. It was quiet in here, she realized. Too quiet, too dark, and too cold. Or maybe everything was cold to her now, since she was a ghost.
Fear froze her in place as she floated in the elevator, a small dot in the middle of an empty cavern of concrete and metal. Here she was, a ghost who now knew she had died for nothing, a ghost who couldn’t even use whatever new abilities she had to fly up and see her friend.
But she couldn’t give up. Not here, not now.
Even as a ghost, she would do what she could to end this horrible situation. She’d asked her classmates to face the truth and move forward, so she would do that as well.
Kaede closed her eyes, and pushed herself up as if swimming to the surface of a lake. Had that worked? She opened her eyes, and saw the elevator getting smaller and smaller below her, as she flew up and up, faster and faster, until—
The dome stretched in all directions above her. Kaede put her arms out to stop herself from moving. Her whole body was shaking. Moving up so fast had terrified her, after—well.
She breathed in…then out. In…then out. The trial was over. Done. Not happening anymore. Balling her hands into fists, she stood up straight. She had to find Saihara.
Where would Saihara want to go, Kaede wondered—then she realized. Other than his dorm room, she could only think of one place. Taking a deep breath in, she floated toward the huge building that housed her research lab.
Kaede didn’t need to walk through a closed door to get into her lab—the door was already halfway open. Moonlight filled the room, bouncing off of countless CD cases lined up on shelves along one wall. And there Saihara stood, searching for something. “Clair de Lune,” she heard him mutter to himself, “Clair de Lune, where is it…”
Clair de Lune. She’d told him about that piece, hadn’t she? A bittersweet feeling filled Kaede’s heart as she watched Saihara place the disc in a CD player she had forgotten about until now.
The song began to play. Saihara walked across the room to where Kaede stood, and she relaxed, if only a little. He had no idea she was there, but even so, Kaede…right now, she just needed to be with a friend. She hated this situation, hated what she’d chosen to do, hated how it hadn’t even mattered—
“Yeah, I’ll try.”
What was Saihara talking about? Kaede wiped her tears away with her sleeve and listened.
“I don’t know if I can do it, but…”
As Saihara continued speaking, a warm, glowing feeling filled Kaede’s heart.. Her final encouragements to her classmates had not been in vain. And Saihara—
Without her, Saihara wouldn’t be lost. Kaede wished that she could help him, but as much as it hurt to see him like this, she trusted that he would be all right. He would move forward and end this killing game. He would face the truth, for everyone.
The song was nearing its conclusion. Kaede walked up to the piano and sat down. This piano and bench felt solid, just like everything had when she was alive. “Yup,” she said, “That’s our promise. I believe in you, Saihara-kun.”
Had he heard her? Kaede couldn’t tell. Even if he hadn’t, she didn’t mind this time. She had only one more thing to say to him.
The next morning, sunlight reached everywhere in the dome. It bounced off of the stone path, making it sparkle, and shone through plants all around, illuminating them in brilliant green.
This place was beautiful, but still a cage. Kaede glared at the impossibly blue sky.
Even Kaede couldn’t escape. She’d tried, after leaving her research lab and realizing she had not moved on to the afterlife just yet, but the dome’s wall felt just as solid as the piano.
She’d had to hold herself back from punching it.
Why was that all she could interact with besides her piano? She wished she could do something, instead of floating around aimlessly, phasing through objects, and trying to comfort people who walked by with defeated expressions on their faces—only to remember no one alive could see or hear her.
Was this to be her existence from now on—watching her classmates fall to despair, and not being able to do anything as this place eroded their souls away? That sounded like hell.
“I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”
Kaede spun around in fear. Had someone else died overnight?
No, she realized, as she noticed a familiar green-haired boy floating about a meter above her, one of his eyebrows raised in curiosity.
She hadn’t killed him—Shirogane had, Kaede reminded herself. Even so, as she realized for the first time just how see-through he looked as a ghost, more like a reflection on a window pane than an actual human being, her whole body tensed up.
“Hey, are you okay?” Amami floated downward, until he was almost standing on the path in front of Kaede. “You seem a bit out of it.”
“I—I’m fine,” Kaede replied, hoping she sounded convincing. “It’s just…” She swallowed. “Why not?”
“You didn’t do anything for me to be mad at, don’t worry. I just thought that after saying goodbye to Saihara-kun, you’d be able to move on. You two were friends, weren't you?”
“We were, but I guess I have more regrets than not talking to him enough.” She laughed, hating the sadness she noticed in her voice. '“How are you doing, though? Had any luck with moving objects yet?”
“No. I can interact with the dome, but other than that, I…” His expression changed, all warmth gone as he remembered something. “Yes, actually,” he said. “I have.”
“What is it? Something in your research lab?”
“Correct.” He turned away from her. “But showing you could be very dangerous for both of us.”
Kaede frowned. “No one can see or hear us, remember? It’ll be fine!” She didn’t want to be rude, but she wasn’t wrong.
“Oh, right. Forgot about that.”
Amami sighed. “Let’s go, then. I’ll lead the way.”
The two of them floated through wall after wall, around corners and hallways. After a while, Kaede started to wonder if Amami even had a research lab.
Maybe he’d lied, and he—no. Kaede trusted him! He had a talent, whatever it was. What would Kaede say next, that this was all a simulation, or that she and her classmates used to be evil and had forgotten it? She pushed those improbable thoughts aside, and followed Amami, until—
“All right, we’re here.”
His research lab was…unsettling, but that wasn’t what kept Kaede standing at the door, afraid of being an intruder.
What kept Kaede there was a memory that wouldn’t leave her, of walking into the library, and knowing—just knowing, as soon as she saw a body on the floor—that her plan failed, and an innocent person had died because of it.
She could have easily been the one to kill him. Why would Amami want her in here?
Kaede knew Shirogane had killed him, but that didn’t make things any better in her mind. Shirogane. Kaede hated her, she decided—even more than she hated herself for messing up so badly.
“You know you can come in here, right? You don’t have to just stand there all day.”
“Thanks,” Kaede said shakily. “Are you sure, though?”
“Yeah. I know this room is more than a bit uninviting, but I’m fine with you being in here.”
Kaede floated inside, still a bit worried that he would change his mind and kick her out. “So,” she asked, “What is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you’re able to interact with something in here. What is it?”
“Oh. That.” He frowned and glanced to his right. “It’s right over here, actually.”
Kaede followed his gaze to a table on which a laptop sat, a flash drive plugged into it. “Is there something on there?” she asked.
“Yep.” He stared at the floor. “I guess I have to show that video to you now.”
“Do you not want me to see it for some reason?”
“I don’t mind if you watch it, but…are you sure you want to?”
“Yes.” Kaede looked at Amami in confusion. “If you can interact with that laptop, it must be important.”
“Fine.” He opened the laptop. “Just know,” he said as he left the room, “that I have no memory of creating this.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Wait, creating this? He had made whatever was on that laptop?
A video began to play. It showed Amami, back when he was alive. With a strange red background behind him, he sat in a chair, all his focus on the camera. He was recording a message to…himself? As the camera zoomed in incrementally, what he was saying became more and more disturbing. What did he mean, this wasn’t his first?
Or that he had wanted this killing game, and would win no matter what?
And who prevented him from saying everything he had wanted to say?
The video ended. Kaede floated out into the hallway. Amami was floating near one of the hallway’s tall windows, his face turned away from her. “Is it over?” he asked, not bothering to turn around and look.
“I guess you have a pretty different opinion of me now, don’t you.”
Kaede didn’t know what to say to that. “I’m…not sure,” she finally replied. “I mean, we all lost our memories, including you, so…”
“We did, you’re right.” He crossed his arms. “However, there is still the possibility that I—that I started all this. That I’m the reason everyone's stuck here. That I erased my own memory and left everything to Shirogane.”
“No, I don’t think you did all that.”
“How can you be sure? I mean, I lied about forgetting my talent.”
“I didn't remember at first, but then my Monopad told me. Just like that video said, I’m the Ultimate Survivor.” He laughed. “That turned out well.”
“You weren’t the one who went through the secret door—that was Shirogane.”
“Doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything.”
“No. Even though you lied about forgetting your talent, I don’t think you’re the true mastermind. If you were, you would have wanted to continue this horrible situation for as long as possible, not win. And...and a mastermind could probably say anything they wanted to their future self.”
“Besides,” Kaede continued, “you said you wanted to end the killing game. That’s the kind of person you are now, so I believe in you.”
Amami turned around, an expression of surprise on his face. “Thank you,” he said. He smiled, a genuine smile that reached his eyes.
“There’s one thing I want to know, though.”
“Why are you trusting me?”
“You haven’t given me any reason not to.” He paused. “When we all arrived here, you rallied everyone together. In a situation like this, that takes a lot of strength—and courage. I don’t think I could have done that,” Amami said with a sigh.
Once again, Kaede was left speechless. “Don’t…don’t go and downplay your own strengths!” she finally managed to say. “If you hadn’t said or done anything, there’s a lot our surviving classmates and I wouldn’t know!”
“Thanks.” His gaze turned to the floor. “But I…” Something about his tone sounded different now, more honest. “You gave everyone hope. I admire that.” He let out a nervous laugh. “Sorry,” he said. “I just realized that sounded like I was talking to a gravestone.”
“It’s ok,” Kaede replied. “I am a ghost, after all.”
“You’re right, you are a…”
“And thank you.” She felt a smile break across her face. “I’ve been feeling like a bad person, and berating myself for not doing enough, but what you just said…I’m glad I was able to do something, at least.”
Neither of them knew what to say for a while, but the silence wasn’t awkward at all. Light filled the hallway as the sun moved across the sky outside. Kaede looked down at her hands, and breathed out. She felt as if she had let go of something she’d been carrying for too long.
“Hey, you still have the nail polish from the other day,” Amami finally said. “And good job barely chipping it at all.”
“Oh, you’re right!” Kaede replied, noticing the layered designs that were still there. “Also, thank you for painting my nails. That was really nice of you.”
Kaede meant that. When he’d painted her nails, Kaede had been able to take a break from the constant stress of the situation and just be. She had only been able to do that a few times while she was alive here. The memory warmed her heart.
Except for one thing. Kaede’s mouth went dry as she realized it.
“Is something up?” Amami looked at her with a concerned expression on his face.
“No,” Kaede replied, “I’m just thinking.” Shirogane had been right there. She had been right there, the whole time, and neither of them had done anything to—
They hadn’t had any way of knowing. Besides, dwelling on those thoughts now wouldn’t help anyone. Kaede took a deep breath in, then out, thankful she could still choose to breathe as a ghost. She looked out the window. One of her surviving classmates walked along the path, and something tightened within her.
“I’ve been wondering,” she said.
“About what?” Amami asked.
“Why are we still here?” He looked at her in surprise. Kaede continued. “I mean, our souls are probably tied to this place for a reason. Maybe I’m here to atone for my mistakes, but…”
“We can’t be here just to watch our classmates and do nothing as they suffer. And yet, here we are, unable to do much of anything while Shirogane plans who knows what. It’s just…” she frowned. “There has to be a reason. I refuse to accept that there isn’t.”
“I agree,” Amami said. “We can’t just be here for no reason. Maybe…”
“Do you have an idea?”
“I might be wrong, but I think we’re here to help end this. The killing, I mean. We know about Shirogane, and, well, neither you or I died peacefully. Doing what we can to end this will avenge us, as well as save our classmates.” He looked directly at Kaede, sounding more serious than ever before. “And that will allow us to move on.”
“You’re probably correct, Amami-kun,” Kaede said quietly. She couldn’t say anything else.
What Amami had just said…made sense. It shocked Kaede, but at the same time, felt right in a way she couldn’t ignore.
Kaede now knew her purpose in life—well, not life, exactly. It scared her a bit. After Shirogane was defeated and the killing was over, she would feel at peace.
She would have to say goodbye, though. To her past, of recitals and blurred faces. To playing piano, her one true passion. And to her classmates—her friends, even if she hadn’t spent much time with them.
She didn’t want to move on just yet.
“Hey,” Amami asked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Kaede said, then she noticed something. A droplet, shining in the early afternoon sunlight, had fallen onto Amami’s left hand. Amami’s shoulders were hunched, too, and he looked as if he was gripping the windowsill for support, even though his hands phased through it. “What about you?” Kaede asked. “Are you—”
“I’m fine.” He cut her off. “Really. I was just thinking.”
“The nail polish bottle. I put it on a shelf in my dorm room, but it fell off and rolled under my bed, and I…” His voice was shaky. “I never picked it up.”
“Well, you can try,” Kaede said in her best motivational voice. “I think, since we’re both here to end this, we aren’t…we can’t just be powerless spirits. Maybe, with time, and if we work hard enough, we’ll be able to interact with more than just the outer wall and some things from our research labs.”
Amami wiped something from his eyes, then grinned at Kaede. “You’re probably right,” he said. “There’s a lot we still don’t know about this situation. But we can do this.”
“Yeah,” Kaede agreed, feeling more certain she was doing the right thing than she had in a long while. “We can do this.”
Moving forward would be difficult. Kaede knew that. Yesterday’s catastrophe probably wasn't the last obstacle she and everyone else would face.
Nevertheless, Kaede felt hopeful. She had faith in herself, and all her friends, dead or alive. They would face the truth. They would end the horrible situation they were trapped in.
They could do this.