Utsuro no Hako:Volume4 Chapter1
 ▶First Day <A> [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
Crush. Transparent hands reach into my body and crush my organs. I'm getting crushed, minced, shrunk - in order to fit into this game. I feel my whole body rotating dizzily as if I were thrown into a washing machine along with some clothing.
While bearing the physiological unpleasantness of such an experience, I become as transparent as those hands. I become as light as if I've lost my entire body, and slowly open the eyes that I unknowingly closed.
The first thing that enters my sight is a blank concrete ceiling and a naked light bulb that hangs from it.
My heart speeds up.
Once again I've been placed in this prison-like room.
...no, that's not quite correct. To be precise, it's the first time that I've truly come here. I'm going to fight a battle in which I really cannot make a single mistake.
I recall the promise I made with Daiya.
«You can survive if nobody kills anyone during those eight days.»
«And---if you can bring about that kind of ending, I will destroy the 'Game of Idleness'. That's the 'fairness' you've been talking about, right?»
My goal is to crush the 'box', save Maria, and return to the real world.
We could solve the 'Rejecting Classroom' and the 'Sevennight in Mud' by finding their respective 'owners' and persuading them to hand over their 'boxes'. But that won't work this time. Daiya, the 'owner' of the 'Game of Idleness', cannot be persuaded.
Therefore I can’t persuade him; I have to win a match against him.
I'm supposed to lead the group so that no one will kill anyone else. I'm supposed to reach an end where nobody dies.
I look around. Just like last time, I see a toilet and a washbasin in this small room. Furthermore, there's a roughly 20-inch monitor, a table, and a jute bag on top of the table.
The contents of the bag are the same as well. A ball-point pen, a memo book, a blue watch, seven portions of solid food, a portable device and a knife.
«PleaSed to - meEt you»
The disgusting green bear, Noitan, greets me like that this time.
---'Pleased to meet you', huh.
It feels sorta awkward, but it is the correct greeting. I may feel like I’ve met him several times already, but actually it's our first true meeting. Only my NPCs, my copies, have met him thus far. I have only seen this meeting before in the form of a [vicarious experience].
«Gufufu - PleaSed to - meEt you - Kazuki-kun - Alright - you wiLl now - select yOur [class]»
"...? I can select my [class]?"
«Yes - [Kingdom Royale] is designed so - that the player - has the advantage - over the NPCs - This applies - for the - psychologically-superior position - you have because you - know that the others are NPCs - and also for - the [vicarious experiences] – with which you were able - to learn about their behavior»
"And choosing one's [class] is another of those advantages..."
Noitan's graphic disappears and the [classes] get displayed on the screen.
I notice that [King], [Sorcerer] and [Revolutionary] are grayed out for some reason.
«The grayed out [classes] - are the ones - you can not select! - That is because - they were already - selected by - the other players»
Noitan explains, answering my question.
Already selected [classes], huh. [Revolutionary] was Daiya, [King] was Yuuri-san and [Sorcerer] was... I didn't have the chance to find out, but it must have been Iroha-san.
"But why was such a rule set up?"
«BecaUse the players - who had their turn fiRst - would be at - too great a disAdvantage - without this rUle! - They would gather - less infoRmation - from the [vicarious experiences] - aftEr all - For that reason - we giVe them more freedom - in selecting thEir [classes] - to keep things fair.»
I see. ...well, I still think the first player is at a pretty big disadvantage, though...
Anyway, that means I can select [Prince], [The Double] and [Knight]. ...as one would expect, the remaining [classes] aren't exactly ideal for controlling the flow of the game.
I notice a certain thing.
I can only select from those three [classes]. That also means that the dangerous [classes]: [King], [Sorcerer] and [Revolutionary] will definitely be assigned to others.
I recall the second game in which Yuuri-san was the player. That time, I had been the [Revolutionary]. A tragedy occurred nonetheless, but... what would have happened if Koudai Kamiuchi had been the [Revolutionary]?
I'm sure it would have ended up even worse. I probably wouldn't even have been able to save Maria.
If Daiya or Koudai Kamiuchi become the [Revolutionary] this time---
I shudder. If that happened, it wouldn't be possible to solve the game peacefully without incident.
...no, I mustn't become timid. I must still lead them to the <E>-block of the eighth day without a single death.
«Choose - alrEady»
Urged by Noitan, I return my attention to the monitor.
[Prince], [The Double], [Knight] - which of them gives me the best chance to lead the group without anyone dying? Ultimately, I think the key has to be restraining the [Revolutionary]. Therefore---
I reach out my hand to press my chosen button.
«Are you - suRe?»
While urging me to choose already, Noitan still poses such a question!
The [class] that's suited to bring the [Revolutionary] onto his side because their victory conditions are similar. And the [class] that has powers of deterrence on top of that. It is---
I press the button for the [Knight].
The screen changes immediately and Noitan's graphic appears again.
«Alright - Kazuki-kun just beCame - the [Knight] - I hoPe - you will hide your desire - for revenge against the otHers - as it's written in the character setting - betrAy them - and slice them - with your swOrd»
"...revenge, huh. Don't make me laugh."
When I murmur that, the mouth of the green bear splits open into a wide grin.
«No, you hold a grudge against those guys that deceived you and killed brutally, don't you? They tried to kill you for their own life's sake even! Hehehe»
He stops tottering and says those wicked words without any distortion. I remember. That ugly green bear can talk fluently when it chooses to.
"...You couldn't be any more wrong! I don't hold any grudges!"
«Stop playing the saint already, you piece of shit! Or would you readily forgive anyone while laughing like a dunce when you're about to get killed, you fucking masochist? You think that it's them who ought to die and not you anyway, don't you? Well, of course you do. After all, the others thought so, too, when they slaughtered you.»
"No way I'd think li---"
But there I stop.
Of course I don't bear a grudge against them. I don't want to take revenge either. I don't feel like doing so at all.
However --- Yuuri-san and the others did indeed kill «me». Though that was just my copy, of course.
I can't achieve my goal if I don't put my life at stake. Therefore I'm prepared to risk my own life to protect the others. There might even be the need to become their shield and take everything upon me.
---for the sake of protecting the people that killed me several times.
Can I do that without wavering? Without doubt? Honestly speaking... I'm not really confident. So, will this slight doubt prevent me from achieving my goal?
I shake my head.
There's no meaning in thinking like that.
I just need to do everything in my power to build a consensus where everyone can trust each other. If I manage to achieve that, no one will start killing.
Maybe that's not quite right. ...no, it's not right.
That wouldn't be enough.
Of course a relationship of mutual trust is necessary. But that alone is nowhere near enough. Koudai Kamiuchi would still move as he pleases, Yuuri-san would still betray in order to survive, Iroha-san would only do what she believes is right and Daiya wouldn't cooperate anyway.
So, what am I supposed to do?
«Won't you listen to me! Just slaughter that bunch in a bloody frenzy and you're fine, you sneaking murderer!»
«Do you even think you could hold hands with everyone while knowing there's a murderer among them? Give that thought up! You have to rule the others like your dirty slaves!»
"...shut up. Slaves, my ass! I could never---"
...No, is he right? Do I really have no other choice?
I'm not saying that the game can only be solved by killing each other. What I’m thinking is that it can't be solved by merely trusting each other.
Right, in other words, in order to win---
---I have to rule over them.
What's that? In order to break out of this game, someone has to reign over the others like a «King», just as the title of the game implies: [Kingdom Royale]?
So I can win if I become the «King»?
Am I suited for that? It isn't realistic; there's no way I could manage to pull this off.
But at the same time, I realize:
That's the only way to make sure no one kills.
If that’s the way things are---
«I'm just a powerless girl in this [Kingdom Royale].»
«---but still, I want to protect you even if I have to pay with my own life.»
---I'll do it. In order to protect Maria, who is just a powerless princess in this 'box', I'll do it.
«Come on - it iS time - to greet the foLks - that killed yOu»
Noitan disappears after this and the door opens.
Ugly desire dwells in that darkness. The malice that I'm supposed to fight against is out there.
I clench my fist.
Yeah... I got it!
Become the «King».
 ▶First Day <B> Big room
The six of us are already gathered in that hospital-like room.
Similarly to the second round, Iroha-san's knife threat was prevented by Daiya, so no knife has been pressed against my neck.
Thanks to that, the tension in the air wasn't too high and the events were progressing similarly to the second time. And like that time, we decided to do a self-introduction at the suggestion of Koudai Kamiuchi.
While listening to their self-introductions, I think about how I can bring the respective person under my rule.
"I am Iroha Shindou. My hobbies are---"
The student council president Iroha-san. Her watch is orange. She's extremely talented. According to her, her extraordinarily high concentration is what makes her similar to a superhuman. She has a very frank character and almost never lies. She seems to be rather insensitive towards the subtleties of her own and others' emotions, which may be because she usually stands above others. If she strengthens her resolve, she can even suppress her own emotions completely and become a murderer.
She likes Yuuri-san, but to me it looks a bit like that is just how she rationalized her own emotions in order to deal with the negative feelings she got from that love issue.
In other words, a bomb is hidden in her relationship with Yuuri-san.
I think she will not betray me if I manage to win her trust. She also has the power to control the atmosphere, so she would be a most reliable ally.
"I-I am Yuuri Yanagi."
The top student of class 3-1, Yuuri-san. Her watch is beige. Contrary to Iroha-san, she's very sensitive towards the emotions of others and is able to control their impressions of her. Furthermore, her character is so determined she even takes advantage of others' favor towards her. Since the emotions she openly shows are mostly fake, it's very hard to notice this.
But essentially she's just a scaredy cat and actually good-willed. So she will absolutely not commit a sin if there's no need to do so.
It seems she doesn't simply think of Iroha-san as a good friend.
In other words, her relationship with Iroha-san is unstable from her side as well.
Rather than trust, it's important to calm her down by showing her the benefits she gets from cooperating with us.
"I'm Koudai Kamiuchi, nice to meet you."
The first year, Koudai Kamiuchi. His watch is green. He is an individual who doesn't hesitate to kill, going so far as to even enjoy the situation we are in. Because his actions are determined by what he finds «interesting» and he's indifferent about his own life, it's hard to read his actions. He's used to violence for some reason. Even Maria or Daiya will stand no chance against him if it comes to a one-on-one fight.
He's attracted to Yuuri-san, but that doesn't mean that he's considerate towards her.
There's no use trusting him, so I will certainly not be misled by him. He's the only clear enemy. To overcome him, I will probably have to build an environment in which he's unable to commit murder.
"I'm Daiya Oomine."
His watch is black.
He's the 'owner' of the 'Game of Idleness', but his stance in [Kingdom Royale] is still unclear.
Of course I have no idea how to cope with him.
"I'm the first year Maria Otonashi."
Her watch is red. The princess.
I stumbled. It seems I was so concentrated that I relaxed unconsciously when Maria's introduction ended.
"What are you doing there, Kazuki? Are you trying to act like an airhead character?"
Maria looks at me with half-opened eyes and Yuuri-san starts to giggle.
However --- it can't be helped, sure, but I don't feel too good about analyzing others as if I was trying to clear some game... well, they are NPCs as a matter of fact, though...
But I still don't think that matters. Even when they don't remember the past three rounds, even when their life and death in here doesn't affect them in reality - the NPCs are still exactly the same as the real people.
"It's your turn."
Maria suddenly urges me.
"Eh? What turn?"
"It's not 'what.' It's your turn to introduce yourself."
"Aa, I see."
The others' gazes naturally focus on me.
I'm about to open my mouth---but falter.
...right. I mustn't readily introduce myself. If I follow them and act as if I don't know anything now, that would bring up the question why I kept secrets from them and cause distrust later.
On the other hand, it's also dangerous to just tell them everything I know right now. If I say something I shouldn't, they will consider me suspicious.
"...Kazuki, why don't you say anything?"
But now is the best chance to tell them about the 'Game of Idleness' without being doubted since Noitan hasn't explained the rules yet. I must reveal something.
The problem is how to select the information I'm supposed to unveil to them.
I resolve myself and open my mouth.
"I'm the second year Kazuki Hoshino. I'm Daiya's classmate and I have become acquainted with Maria already before her school entrance. Furthermore---"
I gulp down my saliva once and continue,
"---I'm the [Knight]."
Question marks appear on their faces.
"...Kazuki-kun. With «Knight» you're referring to some kind of medieval «Knight»?"
"I guess so."
"Aah, you just startled me. I almost thought you were conferred knighthood by some queen or something. So, is «Knight» a metaphor for something, or---"
She gets interrupted.
«Yaa yaa yaa, as someone seems to be arbitrarily disclosing things, I will instantly tell you about this [Kingdom Royale]!»
«Okay thEn - I wiSh all oF you a - good fight! - Just dOn't end - the gAme by - doing somEthing - as bOring- as tuRning - into muMmies everyone - okAy?»
Having finished explaining [Kingdom Royale] to us, Noitan disappears.
"Could we get an explanation now, Hoshino-kun?"
Iroha-san asked. She had glanced at me suspiciously several times during Noitan's speech.
"Why did only you know about [Kingdom Royale] at that point in time? And why do you know your [class], although no one should know this yet?"
Right, this is what it meant to reveal my [class]. I'm the most suspicious character for knowing this information no one should have right now.
I am the suspicious character Iroha-san has been searching for in each round by threatening us with her knife.
It wasn't me who reacted to her question, but Yuuri-san.
"It's not advantageous at all for him to reveal his [class] like he did, right? It would have been much better for him to keep silent and to deceive us if he wanted to win the game..."
"So I think that Hoshino-san purposely did something disadvantageous to discomfit the wire-puller of this game."
I'm relieved. Someone actually understands why I've revealed that I'm the [Knight].
"...he purposely did something disadvantageous, huh. ...Yeah, maybe."
Iroha-san relaxes her quite stern expression.
"But the question is, why did you do that?"
Iroha-san says and turns her sharp gaze to me.
I nod quietly at this gaze and start to speak,
"There's something I want you to believe."
What I mean is the other victory condition.
«You can survive if nobody kills anyone during those eight days.»
Those are Daiya's words.
"There is a way to slip out of [Kingdom Royale] without meeting the victory conditions."
I noticed that they all held their breath.
"An end where everyone turns into a mummy isn't provided. In other words, if we all manage to survive until the <E>-block of the eighth day, the game will be aborted."
This is my goal and at the same time it's the solution everyone should be wishing for.
It's not like any one of them wishes to kill in [Kingdom Royale]. They just can't avoid murdering in order to survive or to protect the remaining others. Yuuri-san and Iroha-san just committed murder when they were the players because they concluded that there was no other solution.
Showing them that there's another solution besides killing each other is the best way to prevent murder. Thus, I absolutely had to tell them.
"Now that you mention it... didn't Noitan-san also say something along these lines? That we shouldn't do something as boring as turning into mummies. Turning this sentence around... it might... back up what Hoshino-san just said."
Yuuri-san murmured. She's searching for a basis to believe my words because she took this information favorably.
It's only natural to easily approve of convenient information. Therefore I just need to tell them the truth bit by bit until I can ultimately tell them the details about the 'boxes' and that Daiya's its 'owner'.
Yeah, I'm headed in the right direction.
If we all aim for the same goal, murder can't possibly occur.
"I'm afraid I can't consent yet."
---if there wasn't this bothersome person.
Koudai Kamiuchi is here. And he gets bothered when there's no killing as he wants to enjoy [Kingdom Royale].
"Do you have an objection or what?"
When Iroha-san asks him like this, he flashes a frivolous expression and answers while scratching his head.
"Well, sure enough, I agree that Hoshino-senpai  is related to [Kingdom Royale]! But does that automatically mean that we can believe in his proposed solution?"
I could clearly see the uneasiness becoming thicker in Yuuri-san's face.
"This solution could just as well be a lie, couldn't it? Maybe Hoshino-senpai benefits in some way when we believe it, right?"
"That's... not true!"
"Then tell us your foundation that proves that it's not just idle talk."
I falter. How should I explain it? How much do I need to explain such that he understands me when I don't even know if they'd believe me when I told them the truth?
"Why can't you explain yourself? Shouldn't you be able to tell us everything without hiding anything if you really wanted to lead us out of good will?"
As I fail to object, he attacks me even more.
"You can't explain it, huh. ...I see, I just found a plausible explanation!"
"You're a spy. If Hoshino-senpai is a spy who tries to confuse us, everything makes sense."
That one word was powerful.
That one word turned my words upside down and made them suspect me.
Wariness dwells in Yuuri-san's eyes.
Iroha-san furrows her eyebrows.
There's no way those two could determine whether to believe me or Koudai Kamiuchi as they don't remember the past rounds.
This is bad. If it goes on like this, I have no chance of becoming the «King» since they won't even trust me to begin with. Even worse, they might think of me as an enemy.
I reflexively turn my gaze downwards upon being the focus of cold gazes.
I can't think of any words to resolve this situation.
Is it already too late?
Have I already lost?
Can I really not win in the 'Game of Idleness'?
Koudai Kamiuchi flashes a grin and seems already sure to have won, but---
"Cut it out already, Kamiuchi."
His menacing grin gets erased by her voice.
I calm down just by the fact that she raised her voice. I start smiling.
Right, she always helps me out. I don't have to worry anymore. I'm safe n---
......That's not good at all. Why am I calming down?
It was this kind of dependence that lead to the bad ends. Didn't I learn this firsthand during the previous rounds?
But... although I'm aware of this--although I'm supposed to save Maria, not the other way around--I accepted her help again.
"Stop trying to trick Kazuki into looking like the bad guy."
Koudai Kamiuchi widens his eyes and spreads his arms exaggeratedly.
"Whoa, please don't say strange things. Isn't it obviously Hoshino-senpai who's trying to trick us all?"
"Then tell me why you're trying to create confusion."
"...what do you mean?"
"You don't get it? Then that's proof that you have no proper personality."
"Wait, wait... why?"
"I'll tell you: if you thought like an ordinary person, you would want to follow Kazuki's proposal, leaving aside whether you believed it or not. Also, for pointing out that his proposal is suspicious. One would normally do it differently."
"Really? Isn't it normal to press a question upon Hoshino-senpai when he's suspicious?"
"You wouldn't do it like that. That is because Kazuki tries to prevent a slaughter with his proposal. Even without knowing Kazuki's intention, you should want this proposal to prove itself true. Despite this, you're distinctly denying Kazuki. You're distinctly denying a person that made a proposal to prevent a slaughter."
Koudai Kamiuchi closes his mouth.
"Are you aware that it's dangerous what you're doing here? In a sense, this could become the spark that leads to killing. If you just wanted to make the others pay more attention, you would still need to do it more carefully. ...well, of course it's different if you want to encourage us to take part in the game."
After getting silenced, he starts to object again smiling wryly.
"...sure, I may have gone too far. But then why is Hoshino-senpai unable to explain anything?"
"Even you gather that this place is abnormal, right?"
Koudai Kamiuchi purses his lips at Maria's sudden words.
"Well, yeah...? So?"
"This is a space that was created by aliens from Sirius for the purpose of observing the mode of life of us earthlings."
I'm sure that's what she's been aiming for. Maria raises the corner of her mouth.
"Do you believe me?"
"...no way I would!"
"So what kind of reason for this incident would you believe then?"
Koudai Kamiuchi frowns upon hearing her question.
"I don't mind whether it's a lie or fiction - just explain the reason for this space to us so that we can understand and agree to it."
He thinks for a short while before he answers "...no, I can't."
"So let's assume Kazuki knows the truth, but this truth is something as absurd as my story about the Sirius aliens - do you seriously think he could tell us that, right now, right here? Could he really say it while knowing he would become disadvantaged without doubt?"
Having been silenced like that, Koudai Kamiuchi stole a glance at me.
He was smiling as always, but in his eyes was---
---a light that bore unconcealable madness.
Even I only saw it for a split second, so I'm probably the only one who noticed this madness. In the next moment, he flashed a carefree smile and spread his arms affectedly.
"Okay, okay, I lost. I was too absorbed in trying to bring my doubts to light, so I didn't think about the others enough. I'm really so sorry!"
I saw that Yuuri-san and Iroha-san relaxed just a little at seeing his smile.
But I know the danger behind that smile. It's a smile to skillfully conceal his madness. I know, because I was tricked by it once before and lost.
But for the time being we could avoid the worst situation of us rivaling each other.
«Don't worry, Kazuki. I will protect you.»
I clench my fist.
---it's no good like that. Not at all!
If I stay so weak that I get overwhelmed this easily by Koudai Kamiuchi, I will definitely give in to this 'box'.
And Maria will be killed by the 'Game of Idleness'.
 ▶First Day <C> [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
«Your [class] is [Knight]»
This obvious message is written on the monitor.
The others should have seen this screen by now as well. I can only pray that the [classes] were distributed in my favor.
«Hey you bastard, what's wrong with you that you expose facts of your own accord?! How will you make up for this if it gets boring because of you damn hypocrite! If that happens give me back my money!»
Noitan started to curse right after appearing, but as usual I can't counter with anything.
«Choose your partner for the [Secret Meeting], you scum.»
The blood-shot-eyed Noitan vanishes and the photographs of six people appear.
[Secret Meeting], huh. I know exactly who I'll choose. I reach out almost reflexively for Maria's picture---but stop my hand halfway.
Is it really alright to pick her?
It's no mistake to choose Maria. In order to save Maria, I will certainly need her cooperation.
But... I reached out my hand reflexively. Almost without thinking.
Is that because I instantly concluded that it is the right choice?
...as if. Even after what just happened out there, I'm unconsciously trying to rely on Maria again.
Therefore, I should not choose her, no matter if it's right or wrong to select her.
I will cut off my dependence on her.
"I will fight, alone."
Therefore, I'll choose the person I'm going to beat first.
I stretch out my stopped hand. I choose---
«Hoho - this iS - an uneXpected - tuRn»
I will become the «King».
For that sake, I will first put Iroha-san under my rule.
|[Iroha Shindou]||->||[Yuuri Yanagi]||15:00~16:00|
|[Yuuri Yanagi]||->||[Iroha Shindou]||15:00~16:00|
|[Daiya Oomine]||->||[Kazuki Hoshino]||15:00~15:30|
|[Kazuki Hoshino]||->||[Iroha Shindou]||16:20~16:50|
|[Koudai Kamiuchi]||->||[Daiya Oomine]||16:20~16:50|
|[Maria Otonashi]||->||[Daiya Oomine]||15:40~16:10|
 ▶First Day <C> [Secret Meeting] with [Daiya Oomine], [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
I've already prepared myself for the [Secret Meeting] with Iroha-san, but the one with Daiya is first. Which means that he selected me quicker than I chose Iroha-san.
Since I was all ready to speak with Iroha-san, this is kind of a let-down, but I get a grip of myself right away.
I must be careful.
Daiya arrived immediately at my room when it was time. Before even sitting down on the table, he scowls at me.
"...hey, are you really Kazuki Hoshino?"
An unexpected question.
It's more like the others can't be called real since they are copies, but he doesn't know that.
No, but that he poses such a question means that he's not aware of being the 'owner' of the 'Game of Idleness'. Daiya's NPC fights under the same conditions as the other NPCs.
...Wait. Does that mean that----
"......Daiya. How do you think about this 'box'?"
"You have some nerves ignoring my question and asking one yourself. ...Anyway, let me tell you."
He continues, frankly showing me his discomfort.
"This 'box' is trash."
As I thought.
"There's no meaning in the existence of a nonsensical 'box' that just exists for making people play a game about killing each other."
This Daiya thinks exactly like the Daiya of the second round.
In fact, his words are almost the same as in the second round. It's obvious now that I think about it. Daiya's NPC hasn't taken over his memory. It's only natural that he would take the same actions since their amount of information is the same.
And if memory serves me right, in the second round he---
"Who's so stupid to play such a pathetic game like [Kingdom Royale]?"
---tried to stop [Kingdom Royale].
In other words, my goal of stopping [Kingdom Royale] matches the goal of Daiya's NPC. So you could call him an «Ally».
No, Daiya isn't my only «Ally». Except for Koudai Kamiuchi, all the other NPCs don't want to kill actively either. As a matter of fact, only the players did so in order to survive, because they knew that the others were NPCs and thought there was no other way out.
...a chance of winning may just have come in sight a little.
"Daiya, there's something I want to tell you. Okay?"
"Your stance is the most dangerous one."
"...what the...? Sure enough, I may look like a dangerous individual seen from the others' point of view. After all, I might be able to kill someone if it's necessary. ...but so what? Why do you say that now? Do you want to persuade me because I'm dangerous?"
"...No. I didn't mean to say that you're dangerous, but that you're in danger the most. In other words, you're at risk of being killed."
"Don't talk bullsh---"
But he stops instantly.
"No, it's not all that wrong, huh. Leaving aside whether it's really 'the most,' I agree that I could easily become a target because of this personality of mine. Because I look dangerous to them!"
"That's not the only reason."
When I say this, Daiya stares at me wordlessly.
"It's also because you're the 'owner'."
"Hah? Don't mess with me! Sure, I'm an 'owner', but I'm most definitely not the 'owner' of such a 'box'."
Come to think of it, he also defamed this 'box' as nonsensical or something in the second round. I'm amazed he can say that, in spite of using it as a way to stave off his boredom...
Or is it also a lie that he's using it to stave off boredom? Does he really have a hidden goal which I shouldn't know? And not even his NPC is able to see through the real Daiya's intention?
...I don't know, but I'd better hide the information that would make this confusing.
"...no matter what the truth is, Maria thinks of you as the creator of [Kingdom Royale]. Therefore, I think there's a high possibility that the others would falsely assume that crushing the 'box' - or killing you - solves this case when they get to know that."
In fact, in the second round he was killed first because of that.
"...Well, possible. But still, it's funny that I'm not being told «don't kill anyone» but «don't get killed by anyone»."
Saying so, he scowls at me.
"As I thought, you're strange somehow. Our good-natured Kazuki Hoshino normally wouldn't be capable of such a thought. Even if you really hit upon this, you would never tell me with so much confidence. What's with that attitude? Almost, as if you've already---"
He stops there.
"...I see... it finally makes sense to me. That's also why your attitude towards Shindou and the others seemed strange to me, huh. Hey, --- it's not the first time you're playing [Kingdom Royale], right?"
That's Daiya as we know him.
He was able to arrive at the truth with only this little information, although there would be many other possibilities. His capability really is amazing.
"...judging from your expression, looks like I'm right. Well, the truth doesn't matter to me. I only need to know what you're trying to make me do after making me answer your question. So, try telling me your plans."
Daiya speaks arrogantly.
"But be prepared to be used by me."
I unconsciously close my mouth.
In this [Secret Meeting] I originally wanted to find out how he's going to move. Put another way, I didn't have concrete plans of what to do with him.
However, I came to know that we share our goals.
Couldn't this be the greatest chance I have? I'd be able to work together with Daiya.
I mean, there can't possibly be a situation where he listens to me more unaffectedly than now. If he believes me, we can do something about his situation of being an easy target. And most of all, I'd have access to his outstanding wit. That would be a huge leap towards the achievement of my goal.
Of course it's still risky. If he wants, he can easily make use of me as he said. I don't say so because I've become faint-hearted, but because it's a fact I experienced in the first round.
"I know the system of the 'Game of Idleness' well."
I can't stay silent anymore. I guess it was already decided that this would happen since the time I revealed being the [Knight].
"There's a lot I want to tell you, but first I'll teach you how the previous three rounds of [Kingdom Royale] progressed! In the first round---"
Like this, I started explaining to him.
Daiya silently listened to me, almost without interrupting me.
Unable to tell him everything in the remaining time, the [Secret Meeting] ended with the appointment continuing in the next [Secret Meeting].
 ▶First Day <C> [Secret Meeting] with [Iroha Shindou], [Iroha Shindou]'s room
I don't know whether the cooperation with Daiya will go well. But for now I'll switch and concentrate on the next matter.
The partner of the next [Secret Meeting] is the person I ought to clear first---I ought to control first---Iroha Shindou. I've already decided what I'm going to tell her to achieve that.
The reason why I want to bring her under my rule right off. It's because she has the power to change the mood more than anyone else.
Therefore, I have to move before she can do something that's disadvantageous for me.
At least she shouldn't completely reject what I have to say, judging from her attitude earlier.
Reassuring myself, I enter Iroha-san's room.
And yet, I wonder why? Iroha-san was standing there, expressionlessly, with crossed arms, almost as if she was awaiting an enemy.
"May I ask? Why did you choose me as your partner for the [Secret Meeting]?"
A wariness she hasn't shown in the big room.
I answer her while feeling a little anxious.
"Because I wanted to make you my comrade first, Iroha-san!"
That's no lie.
Iroha-san narrows her eyes suspiciously.
"Umm, what do you mean?"
"...most people call me «Kaichou» when they first meet me, you know. Thus it feels awkward being called by the real name right away. It seems like I'm hard to approach familiarly."
Now that she mentions it, I was calling her «Kaichou» as well until she told me to stop...
"Anyway... why would you want to make me your comrade first? ...wait, better not say it. You noticed that I'm trying to control the mood anyway, right?"
I'm perplexed at her stunningly quick understanding.
"You're troubled when I arbitrarily do something that ends up worsening your position. Hence, you want to quickly make me your comrade, right?"
What the hell? It's almost like she predicted what I was going to say.
"Let's assume that one obediently follows someone like a little child and it ultimately leads to a good outcome, okay? Even if things went well by luck, I can't appreciate such people. Because it means stopping one's own thinking and leaving one's life to someone else, you see. Say, don't you agree?"
"It just doesn't suit me. Obeying someone's instructions, dancing to someone's pipe - that's no fun. ...Um, where were we? You said you want to put me under your control on the pretext of making me a comrade?"
As I thought.
As I thought, she has already seen through my intention.
"But as I said, I choose to not move by your leadership. We choose to move by thinking «ourselves»."
Iroha-san doesn't answer the obvious question of whom she refers to that way.
There's only one person that would join forces with Iroha-san at this point in time.
There's only Yuuri, who once tried to kill Iroha-san through [Sorcery].
...there's no way this could be a good course of events.
"Honestly speaking, I basically wanted to believe what you told us in the big room!"
"But you know, in our [Secret Meeting] Yuuri pointed out that you seem to one-sidedly know us well. Well... of course people hear about us to a certain extent through rumors, but she said that you're not on that level; that you seem to know about us more in detail."
But Iroha-san doesn't let me interrupt her.
"I don't care what you know about us. That is because I know that you're in a special position. But you know, the problem is that you hid that fact. You didn't reveal to us right away that you have information that gives you an advantage to fight in this game."
"I-I didn't mean to...! No. I just didn't say it because that's not something you can say right away!"
"Yeah. May be. But there's no guarantee. I don't know whether you're the instigator or an endorser or an opponent of this game. I want to believe the latter, but if I'm wrong, our lives are at stake. Don't you think it's too risky for us to just obey your words?"
Therefore, she doesn't follow me.
Aah, shit... it's an obvious consequence.
"Don't worry. I won't ignore your opinion, Hoshino-kun. I will properly hear you out! But «we» decide whether we believe it. Our life depends on it, so we can't just blindly follow someone. Therefore, I won't become your «comrade». Sorry."
I do think her judgment is appropriate and I also think it seems like the best decision to make for them.
It's also a situation where it seems like I can still achieve anything.
But it only seems like that---I can't anymore-
This is already a dead-end.
"What? Do you still want to try persuading me? No problem. I'll listen!"
To tell the truth, I thought I could expose almost everything to her like I did with Daiya. Because I expected that she would comparatively accept my story favorably as she's capable of calm decisions. At least I think she would have supported me more or less in my goal to «end the game without anyone dying».
"...I changed my mind."
---it won't go that way anymore.
After all, Iroha-san would tell everything to Yuuri-san. And as soon Yuuri-san's opinion mixed in, a change would definitely occur.
That is because unlike Iroha-san, who can view things objectively, Yuuri-san doesn't believe things that aren't in her favor. For example, I don't think she would believe that she's only a NPC at the moment or that she bears the sin of murder on her shoulders.
What would Yuuri-san do after hearing my words, that are unfavorable to her?
I can see it clearly.
She would deny it.
She would consider me her enemy.
And then she would aim to win [Kingdom Royale], making use of Iroha-san.
In other words---she would commit murder.
Therefore, this is already a dead-end.
There was still spare time.
But I didn't find anything to talk about anymore.
 ▶First Day <D> Big room
And I had to see the consequence of my failure right away, in its worst shape.
"I think we need groups."
Iroha-san waited for the moment everyone was sitting to say that.
I failed to immediately grasp her intention. Iroha-san and Yuuri-san are cooperating, after all. Why does she need to announce this to everyone?
But seeing her smiling at me, I understand.
This is some kind of constraint.
A constraint against me and the «person who knows the reasons for [Kingdom Royale]» in whose existence she believes.
Iroha-san has put me on the enemy side because I failed to achieve anything in our [Secret Meeting].
"It seems there is the need for an explanation. First, let me confirm our goal. Naturally that is to get out of here without any killing incident. Am I right?"
No one objects.
"Okay, Hoshino-kun proposed one method to achieve this. According to him we automatically get out of here if all of us survive. That sure sounds like an attractive proposition, really! But don't you agree that it's too dangerous to believe him blindly and move as he wants us to, without knowing his true motivations?"
After checking that everyone's listening seriously, she continues.
"But well, there's no real other good plan that comes to mind, is there? We can't even tell for sure whether he's telling the truth or not. But that also means that no murder will occur. Why? Because no one would commit murder for winning the game when there's this attractive proposal that might be true."
"Well, I guess so."
Hearing Koudai Kamiuchi's agreement, I can barely manage to not scream out «You're the only one that's not like that!».
"In other words, we would ultimately follow Hoshino-kun's goal. Without fully believing him, we would spend eight days without doing anything."
"Maybe. But in the end we may get saved as he said, and in any case, it's much better than to kill each other in the game, isn't it?"
Iroha-san answers her as Maria nods.
"Yes, sure, but there's also someone who's not like that, isn't there?"
Then, Iroha-san says without changing her expression,
"The instigator of the game."
The person she perceives as her enemy.
She didn't mistake whom to consider as her enemy. But it's not possible to defeat him - because his non-NPC version isn't here.
Thus, Iroha-san drifts off the correct path to take.
"I don't know what his intention is, but the instigator of this game definitely wishes to see the repugnant scene of us fighting each other. Or can you find any other aim in such a meaningless game?"
No one objects. Because everyone can agree to what she's saying, even without definite proof.
And I know that she's actually right. This 'box', that was created by Daiya as a way to stave off boredom, does indeed not wish that things proceed without anything happening.
But let me repeat this: he isn't here.
"Therefore, someone --- someone who supports the instigator --- will certainly change the flow so that people will die in this game."
Iroha-san speaks while clearly looking at me.
She has mistaken her enemy.
"...do you want to say that Kazuki's going to do that?"
"No, I didn't say so. I only want to say that there might still be someone among us who wants to change the flow. And that it's dangerous if he manages to do that. Therefore, we will divide into «groups»."
"Into «us» and «the instigators»."
I see. Thinking that there are «instigators» isn't Iroha-san's only mistake.
"Yeah. Why not?"
"I think... we need to do so, too."
Her gravest mistake is to think that no one would spur on the game apart from the «instigators».
Fair enough. When I was an NPC, I also didn't want to believe there were people like Koudai Kamiuchi who actually want to play a killer-game. I also didn't notice that Yuuri-san would go as far as committing murder. Both are things I wouldn't have come to know without experiencing the second round.
It's not something she could possibly notice without remembering the previous rounds.
But Iroha-san continues her explanation, having no idea of all that.
"Our greatest concern right now is the trap of the instigator. But we can ward this off as long we don't act as he wants us to. No, rather we should comprehend his intention and use it against him to grasp an outcome where no one kills anyone."
Maria asks with a frown,
"That's why you want to divide us in «groups»?"
"Exactly. I think that, if we all act separately, someone will fall for his intention. On top of that, we all have our own interests. The worst case scenario I can think of is that one of the psychically weaker people will start to suspect the rest and make the grave mistake of committing murder.
But what if our wills are united? What if we all have a will that can't be shaken, whatever happens? The trap of «the instigators» would degrade to being a joke! Therefore, I'm saying we should build «groups» with a united will. Of course the «the instigators» who want to trick us won't be able to enter there."
"Hmpf," Daiya snorts at her explanation, "I got your reasoning, but how do you plan to build those «groups»? To begin with, how can you distinguish the instigators from the others?"
"There's no way I could distinguish them, is there?"
Iroha-san says as if it was a matter of course.
"What? But then---"
"Therefore---I'll just take their freedom away."
Iroha-san says without letting Daiya speak out.
"...I can't seem to understand you. Will you threaten everyone who doesn't agree with you or what?"
Daiya raises an eyebrow.
"Yeah, the opposite. I won't take away the freedom of the people that don't follow my plan, but of those who agree with me."
Not only Daiya, but everyone here widened their eyes.
"I won't allow any objection against me from anyone who belongs to my «group». I'll have them swear absolute obedience to me. And I will kill anyone who betrays me."
Looking straight at me, when I said that, she explains,
"Let me tell you how I'll do it. First, I'll make the ones who approve of me hand me over their food supply. If we can believe that Uglypoo, we will die by turning into mummies if we don't eat anything in the <E>-block, right? Therefore, I will flush away everyone's food in the toilet as soon someone even shows a sign of betraying me. If they properly obey me, I'll give them one portion at each <D>-block. Well, by food management, you can achieve the same effect as the [Revolutionary] does with [Assassination], you see."
"Wait, wait, wait."
Daiya stops her explanation.
"Why should anyone want to enter your «group» while knowing what awaits him there?"
Iroha-san flashes a cold smile to his question.
"Everyone who belongs to my «group» vows me absolute obedience. Of course, they cannot do anything. They also can't try to stir up a killer-game. Therefore, I will judge everyone who belongs to my «group» as a victim that was involved in this game or as a loser who gave up fighting against me. On the other hand, I judge everyone who doesn't belong to my «group» as an enemy that has the intent to fight."
Iroha-san stops once and takes a breath.
Then, she raises the corner of her mouth slightly and declares,
"If you want to prove that you're no enemy, then at least toady to me!"
Everyone loses their tongue to her rude words - even Daiya.
In short, Iroha-san's saying that it's not optional to enter her «group», but forced, and that everyone who does not obey her will get erased by her.
Taking a glance at our silenced faces, she continues without changing her expression,
"I hit upon the method to clear this game. Someone with the right will has to rule over the others. Mh, well, you could say it's becoming a temporary «King»."
Becoming a «King».
It's the same conclusion that I've come to.
"I know that I just said something extremely selfish. Of course it's possible that I make a wrong decision. It's also possible that someone will die due to my mistakes. I admit this possibility! But I'm sure you agree that it's much better than acting separately, getting into chaos and starting to distrust everyone, right?"
"Where's the necessity for you to do that?"
She answers frankly to Daiya's remark.
"But I don't think there's anyone who's more suited for it than me."
She says confidently. Daiya scratches his head after hearing that and continues,
"That's not the only problem. From our point of view, we can't deny the possibility that you are the instigator yourself. Before we can follow you, you need to prove to us that you're trustworthy."
"I see. I forgot because I'm not one of «the instigators». ...you obviously won't believe it when I just say it like this, huh. Well, can't be helped, I'll just show you."
Saying this, she pulls up her shirt.
"My resolve of becoming the «king»!"
A knife is there.
"W-What are you---"
Ignoring me, she thrusts the knife into the table. Yuuri-san stiffens because of the loud, dull sound.
"Take a good look, guys! This is what you call resolve!"
She tears off her uniform's scarf and wraps it strongly around her left little finger so that her blood almost stops.
What on earth is she---
My comprehension can't follow her actions. But completely ignoring this fact, she grasps the knife before her eyes with her right hand.
Unbelievably sharp, determined eyes. She raises the corners of her mouth and breathes wildly. Cold sweat appears on her forehead.
She makes Yuuri-san retreat with the sole force of her glance. And then---
She roared and---
"Ha! Ahaha, ahahahahahahaha!!"
---cut off her own little finger.
Neglecting Yuuri-san who has turned pale and lost her tongue, Iroha-san continues to laugh.
"W-What are you doing---?!"
Maria, who was unable to react to the sudden turn of things as well, rushes to Iroha-san, tears off her white shirt and starts to stop the bleeding. Iroha-san didn't stop this, but breaths wildly while contorting her mouth.
Then, she turns her awe-inspiringly determined glance to me.
Of course I'm overcome with fear by such a thing!
"How is it? Do you think someone who just wants to enjoy such a pathetic game would be capable of this kind of resolve? Do I, who can cut off her own finger with mere determination, really look like such a rookie?"
"No way, ha! Haha! I! Do! Certainly NOT enjoy this game! I'm strong and won't give in...! I'm a born leader! Got it, guys?!!"
We got overwhelmed.
We have no other choice but to obey, seeing her like this.
This is---Iroha Shindou.
This is---Iroha Shindou's resolve of becoming the «king».
"Entrust them to me! Your life, your soul - entrust them to me just for the while we're in this game! I'll bear everything for you! I'll take all the responsibility and bear it until I break!"
She throws her little finger away.
To display us that she cut off any attachment to such things.
"Follow me, people! And be prepared, my enemies! As if I'd let it go your way, you fools! I'll rule this place! That's right, I---"
Then, she speaks sharply:
"I will become the «king»!"
I can't help but get timid. There can be only one «king». There can't possibly be two at the same time. In other words, I will absolutely have to fight against her, who is a superhuman without any doubt.
That's unreasonable! There's no way I could win.
My immense fear suddenly lights up a new thought in me:
...couldn't I just leave becoming the «king» to her?
It's not important who the «king» is. As long there's someone capable who rules the place and ultimately no one kills anyone, I can achieve my goal of protecting Maria. So isn't it okay to entrust her with everything?
I know. That's not possible.
I mean, she can't fight against her enemy. She is just an NPC and her real version has already ended her fight.
I look around.
Yuuri-san is shivering and emptiness is starting to dwell in her eyes.
Koudai Kamiuchi seems calm, but he can't conceal the enjoyment in his eyes.
But Iroha Shindou hasn't noticed. Because of her outstanding nature, she can't take notice of the delicate signs of the human heart.
If she becomes the «king», she's only going to get betrayed and killed like the [King] in the scenario of [Kingdom Royale].
Right, therefore, I have to do it.
I can't rely on Iroha-san. I can't rely on Maria. I can't rely on anyone in this fourth round of [Kingdom Royale].
After all, I'm the only one here.
Right now I'm the only one who's really fighting against Daiya, who's in that dark room.
I look at the finger she has thrown away.
Iroha-san, I understand the extent of your resolve.
I also know that you're an amazing person.
But still --- you're not geared for it.
You can't become the «king». You're an embarrassing child who's trying to become the «king» while playing just a minor role here - get lost.
The only one that has the right to become the «king»---is me!
 ▶First Day <F> [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
After that, Yuuri-san and Koudai Kamiuchi joined her «group». Leaving aside Yuuri-san, I didn't expect Koudai Kamiuchi to approve that easily. Well, most likely he hasn't given it any deeper thought, though.
Maria and Daiya have put their decisions on hold for now. Since Iroha-san also seems to think that absolute obedience isn't that simple to decide, she will wait until the third day --- or to be more precisely, until its «D»-block when we all gather.
But even now, we're already suspected to be on the side of the «instigators».
Not only Iroha-san, but also Yuuri-san is surely on guard against us, even if you can't see it on her face. We are already opposing each other. And there's no way anyone would believe the word of someone in an opposing «group».
But, well, of course, I have to move. I have to break her delusion of being able to become the «king».
To begin with, there's no way this game could be stopped with a «group» system. Koudai Kamiuchi's hideousness can't be suppressed by such a thing and I also don't think that Iroha-san's able to control Yuuri-san's actions. Those two may have joined the «group», but they haven't submitted themselves. Iroha-san can't know about this without knowledge from the previous rounds.
Therefore, I have to destroy the «group»-system itself.
But I don't think this is manageable by attacking her now that she has strengthened her resolve. She has already made becoming the «king» her goal.
I know all too well that she won't be shaken anymore once she has set something as her goal. I've come to know that firsthand during the third round and with her cutting her finger just now.
So, I have no choice but to attack another person.
The person I should charge naturally flashes in my mind.
She won't be easy to persuade. But I can only destroy the «group» through Yuuri-san.
Yeah, right. Let's charge Yuuri-san tomorrow.
I close my thinking there and lie down on the bed.
I think the situation didn't turn out too well. I think I was totally too weak. I have to become more resolute and act better. But for now---
First day, no victims.
 ▶Second Day <B> Big room
"Okay, hand them over."
At Iroha-san's command, Yuuri-san and Koudai Kamiuchi lay their food portions, knives and, for some reason, their watches on the table.
Iroha-san takes them upon nodding and puts them on on her left arm that lacks a finger. Somehow I understood that this is supposed to be a sign that she's ruling the two of them.
...but it still seems strange to me that she can remain so straightfaced, as if she hadn't had that little finger to begin with. ...Doesn't it still hurt?
"Ah, don't even try to speak to them, okay? I restricted what they are allowed to say."
Now that she mentions it, those two haven't opened their mouth except for greeting us.
Judging from this state of affairs, I'm sure they also revealed their [classes] to her.
"Well, «we» won't have anything new to talk about with you, so if you've got anything, call on me."
Maria steals a glance at me but doesn't open her mouth after all. Maria knows that this is the deed of a 'box'. She knows that we can doubtlessly approach a solution if we convey this fact properly to the others.
But she can't say it.
Now that Iroha-san has built «groups», it doesn't matter anymore whether it's the truth or not. What matters is whether Iroha-san can believe it or not. And if she can't, then it'll be very hard to recover afterwards.
At least Maria won't be able to move until she knows why I already knew of the 'Game of Idleness'.
Therefore, it was inevitable that Iroha-san started talking to us one-sidedly, acting calm as if nothing had happened. She seemed interested in our everyday lives and happily addressed ordinary topics like our hobbies or what we're doing on our days off. But we know of the danger of our words being misunderstood. It was almost as if the prosecutor and the accused had a come-together party in the courtroom.
During all this time, I was looking at Yuuri-san while answering Iroha-san carefully.
She had her gaze turned downwards almost the whole time.
If she starts to move---
I recall the second round. Unlike Iroha-san who acts openly, Yuuri-san acts secretly. It's too late once her secret maneuvering gets revealed.
Will Yuuri-san really do anything? Being so calculating, I don't think she will take overly hasty actions if she has come to the conclusion that Iroha-san's plan will work the best to survive...
Yuuri-san suddenly notices my gaze and raises her head.
Even while being a bit nervous, she flashes a wry smile as if to sympathize with me. Her defenseless smile still carries the charm of a little animal, so I can't help but think she's cute.
Is she trying to make me think she's cute?
She's not shunning me, but trying to make me her ally in this state of affairs?
No, I'm thinking too much into it. Even she doesn't produce each and every expression purposely. I know that.
I know that... but I noticed something else.
Did I just wonder whether she will move or not?
Why am I still so carefree to ask myself such questions? Things aren't at that stage anymore.
In the second round, she started acting immediately after arriving here --- well, of course being the player may have sped that up. But her actions are always fast. Thus, she's already planning something in this round, too.
Yuuri Yanagi had started moving long ago.
 ▶Second Day <C> [Secret Meeting] with [Yuuri Yanagi], [Yuuri Yanagi]'s room
|[Iroha Shindou]||->||[Maria Otonashi]||15:00~15:30|
|[Yuuri Yanagi]||->||[Iroha Shindou]||15:40~16:10|
|[Daiya Oomine]||->||[Koudai Kamiuchi]||15:00~15:30|
|[Kazuki Hoshino]||->||[Yuuri Yanagi]||15:00~15:30|
|[Koudai Kamiuchi]||->||[Iroha Shindou]||16:20~16:50|
|[Maria Otonashi]||->||[Kazuki Hoshino]||15:40~16:10|
The way things went forced me to immediately have a [Secret Meeting] with Yuuri-san.
Therefore I was unable to keep my appointment with Daiya. But that really couldn't be helped.
I enter Yuuri-san's room.
When she notices me, she promptly stands up from the bed and bows repeatedly.
"I'm sorry, Hoshino-san. I'm not allowed to speak with you in the [Secret Meeting] either. So I'm afraid I won't be able to speak even if you want to talk with me..."
Yuuri-san should definitely think that I'm one of «the instigators» and be on guard against me. That's for sure.
And yet she's trying to signify that she's just following Iroha-san without particularly disliking me.
So that she's still able to make me her ally if it's necessary.
......but even if she's that crafty, I have to bring that to an end.
"...Iroha-san isn't here! Will you still follow her instruction, nevertheless?"
"Um... I also have to show Iroha my portable terminal."
Iroha-san truly doesn't overlook anything. But that was within my expectations.
Therefore, I have a counter plan.
"I'll be frank: are you really okay with this?"
"U-Umm... as I said... I can't answer you. Really."
"Do you think that Iroha-san's plan will succeed?"
When she looks around bothered, her look stops on the table.
Because she has noticed that something is written on the memo book I've put on the table.
«Our conversation won't leak if we write»
Things written on a memo sheet won't be recorded on the portable terminal. This is something I noticed in the second round when I received a memo sheet from Koudai Kamiuchi.
Yuuri-san widens her eyes and gazes at me. Looks like she's figured out the meaning of this.
I hold the pen out to her. But it seems like she can't decide on what to do right away. Apart from folding her hands in front of her chest, she doesn't move.
"...I got it! You can't say anything, right? I won't say anything either, then. Aah-ah, what a bummer. So I just wasted a [Secret Meeting], huh..."
In order to trick Iroha-san, I fake my words and then move my hand.
«What do you really want to do? Will you follow Iroha-san just like this?»
When I'm done writing, I hold the pen again out to Yuuri-san.
But she just shakes her head to signalize me that she can't.
«No matter what?»
I tried writing this, but she still gives me a negative answer.
...well, nothing to be surprised about. No one would readily listen to someone he's on guard against.
Thus, I'll tempt her.
I'll tempt her so that she won't be able to stay calm anymore.
I write the words that shall accomplish that.
«You didn't even love him.»
Surprised by that sudden, cryptic sentence, she looks at me with widened eyes. But, I won't stop now. I'll upset her even more by shocking her and make sure she will have to answer me.
«You went out with the boy Iroha-san loved, right?»
The effect was outstanding.
Yuuri-san's shoulders have started to tremble fiercely and her face has become horribly pale.
I make a composed face and hold the pen out once again. Yuuri-san looks back and forth between my face and the pen several times before she eventually comes to the conclusion that she can't reject it anymore and accepts it with teary eyes.
But as it seems she still wants to play dumb; she wrote 《What are you talking about?》 with a trembling hand. However, when I stay silent without any reaction, she immediately tears off the sheet and crumples it up.
Yuuri-san then starts to write with a single tear drop sliding down her cheek.
《why do you know?》
《it should be impossible to figure out》
《iroha herself shouldn't have noticed yet》
After finishing, she passes the memo book back to me, along with the pen. She wipes her tears away and turns eyes up to me.
......Ha, I won't be rattled by such an expression!
《You told me yourself.》
To be exact, I heard it from Iroha-san but it'd be a pain to explain that now.
Yuuri-san shakes her hand almost fearfully.
《i don't get you! i've never told you anything like that. what on earth are you referring to?》
As expected so far. It was my aim to get her to ask that 《why?》.
Thanks to that, I can finally write what I wanted.
《It's not my first time playing [Kingdom Royale]》
Yuuri-san gazes at me anxiously; looks like she doesn't understand just by that.
But if I write it like that, she should be able to guess with her sharp mind.
《I've played this game several times with the same players. Now's the fourth time.》
Yuuri-san widens her eyes. Then, comprehension slowly starts to dwell in her eyes, but at the same time she starts to tremble in fear.
《Therefore, I also know a lot about you》
Yuuri-san shakes her head frantically as if to deny what I wrote. Then, she demands the pen herself.
《right! i would never tell anyone about my ex!》
《Under usual circumstances, yes. But are you really confident about not telling anyone in an abnormal situation such as this?》
《I've been with you for three games. Therefore, I believe I know you pretty well.》
《That's also why I noticed something.》
Why was Iroha-san suddenly so unapproachable when it came to our [Secret Meeting]?
I figured that out when I looked at the name of the person she had the previous [Secret Meeting] with.
《You talked Iroha-san into building groups, didn't you?》
She quickly covers her mouth with her left hand before even more slips out. She then starts to nervously write on the memo book without removing her hand from her mouth.
《what are you talking about? do you want to say that it's my fault that it became like this? everything? there's no way i could do that!》
《The Yuuri-san I know can do that.》
Of course it's not like she knew everything. She would have never been able to predict that Iroha-san would cut off her own finger.
But knowing Iroha-san's personality so well, she should at least have been able to guess the following as well:
《At least you should have known that Iroha-san would try to bring us under her rule.》
Yuuri-san turns her gaze to the ground and closes her mouth.
《The Yuuri-san I know uses others to survive.》
When she has no other choice in order to survive.
That is because unlike Iroha-san, she can't possibly become the 《king》 herself. With her personality it's impossible to rule over the others and unite the wills of all the members.
However, she is able to control the person that has become the 《king》.
That's why she tried making Iroha-san the 《king》. She tried to control us indirectly. She planned to ensure her own safety by that.
She still doesn't raise her head and keeps silent.
After that, she didn't move for a while. But before I knew, her breath has calmed down again.
She moves her arm at ease and starts to wordlessly write something on the memo book.
《i'll assume that you experienced three games. and i'll assume that you know me well.》
She slowly tears off the sheet and writes on the new one.
She raises her head.
Because her eyes were the blank eyes I've seen once before.
《if i apologize now and cry "i'll do as you say," will you be satisfied? if so, i can do that for you as much as you want!》
And then, really, tears appear in her eyes. After making this truly sad-looking face, she writes following.
《it's a child's play》
I've already lost.
《Listen, that's not what I》
Yuuri-san doesn't even look at what I'm writing anymore. After falling into silence, she stuck a half-hearted smile on her face and lay down on her bed.
I planned to make her give in to..., no, I didn't even want to go that far. I just wanted to make her realize the truth and become my ally. Then, I wanted to do something about Iroha-san, taking this as a foothold.
But I obviously mistook the means.
Sure, if I had just directly told her the truth, she wouldn't have believed it. But, was there really no other way? Why of all things did I choose to attack this fearful girl?
«No, you hold a grudge against those guys that deceived you and killed brutally, don't you? They tried to kill you for their own life's sake even! Hehehe»
I recall what Noitan said to me.
Perhaps he was right? Did I unconsciously prefer to consider them as enemies I have to defeat instead of friends I have to save? And that's also the reason I attacked her?
If so... I might have been caught by the trap of this damned 'Game of Idleness' without noticing.
 ▶Second Day <C> [Secret Meeting] with [Maria Otonashi], [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
Maria enters my room bad-tempered, with her arms crossed.
"...Finally. Finally I can properly speak with you. Geez... what's going on in your head? You should have come to me directly to discuss things first. But no, you---"
Maria stops and frowns.
"What's with that gloomy face?"
So my face looks that depressed, after all?
The shock of my failure was so big that I was sitting on my bed, hanging my head.
"Hah... you're overflowing with fretfulness. So, what happened? Did Yanagi turn you down?"
"Turned down, huh... well, yeah, something like that, I guess."
She looks surprised for a moment because she was just joking, but then she lets out a deep sigh.
"You were already making a move on her...? Well, that's what it means to be a natural philanderer, huh. Did you think you could succeed because she looks so helpless? What an embarrassing misunderstanding. With those looks, she must be idolized by a whole bunch of guys. Someone like you with a preference for female clothing stands no chance."
...no, it was you who forced me to wear that get-up.
But I don't even have the energy to retort and keep silent, my face still downcast.
"...in the first place, how dare you fall in love with a girl you met only yesterday? If it was Mogi, at least..."
I reflexively raise my head because she became silent. Maria scratches her nose and scowls in my direction, whereupon she sits down next to me with excessive vigor.
She wordlessly punches my shoulder.
"Kazuki, buy me a strawberry tarte."
And tries to scrounge from me for some reason.
"Don't look at me like that. I'm saying that I'll keep you company because you lost so embarrassingly. I'll be so kind as to listen to your pathetic excuses that dumped losers use all the time. Like that you didn't really care about her, or that she wasn't all that cute. A strawberry tarte is actually pretty cheap if you think of it as payment for the trouble I'll have by enduring your unsightly state of mind."
"I don't know about Yanagi, but I'll be with you. That's what I'm saying."
Maria says so with a composed face.
Since she says it so bluntly, as if it's nothing special, I can't help but be surprised by her kind words. But then I smile because she cares so much.
Right. It's not the situation to be depressed. Indeed, I lost. But it should not be too late yet. I still have ways and means to use - without making a mistake this time.
In order to protect Maria.
"Sorry, Maria. It's not like I confessed to her and was turned down."
"...I know. There's no way you'd have enough guts to do it. That was merely a joke to cheer you up."
Wasn't she dumbfounded just now...?
"So, what happened between you and Yanagi?"
"I failed at persuading her."
Maria suspiciously raises an eyebrow.
"Yanagi? Not Shindou?"
I nod. When I answer like this, Maria holds her chin with her hand and ponders for a while.
"Why? Could you conclude that that was a necessary step to take by considering your available information? ...Ah, right. To begin with, I wanted to ask you what on earth you actually know."
Maria's face tells that she's profoundly convinced that I'm going to rely on her and tell her absolutely everything.
That's certain. Having spent a whole lifetime together with me, she can see through me.
"...Sorry, but I'd rather not tell you."
I have since experienced several tragedies she doesn't know of.
I was shown several times that I must protect her.
"......what... are you saying? You won't tell me? Why?"
"I think I mustn't depend on you each and every time."
"...why is that? That's not a problem of depending or not, is it? Isn't it obvious that it's better trying to find a solution together than alone!"
It sounds perfectly reasonable. With my brains, I might make another mistake just like before. I'm aware that my own abilities are unreliable.
But what would happen if I told her about our situation? For example, what if I told her that she's just an NPC? She would certainly consider herself replaceable and would neglect herself even more than she already does!
I can't let her do that. Everyone has to survive.
Maria's self-sacrificing actions---stand in the way of reaching my goal.
Therefore, I can't tell her after all.
It's best when Maria acts as little as possible.
Maria opens her mouth with a sad expression.
"...did I hurt your pride by helping you out all the time? Do you think that I look down on you? If I acted in a way that made it seem to you like that, I apologize."
"I've never thought like that!"
She probably didn't mean to burst out like that. Maria averts her eyes awkwardly and continues more calmly.
"...then... depend on me!"
...perhaps, I would have considered those words strong and reliable in the past.
But now I can't think like that anymore. It even looks like the opposite to me.
I know, after all.
I know Maria's aware that it's nothing but selfish talking.
Hence, her previous statement---
"I will save you!"
---was just a sad cry really.
Well, that's how I see it, but that doesn't change what I have to do.
"...Maria, can you keep silent about the 'box' for a while? I think it's dangerous to tell Iroha-san about it."
"...you have no intention of clearing me up?"
When I say so, Maria drops her gaze and crosses her arms.
"...I see. You must have thought about it, so it can't be helped, I guess."
Suppressing her feelings, she tries to accept it.
She is, however, not able to fully conceal the bitterness on her face.
Maria stares at me, acting expressionless. Our relationship isn't so shallow that I wouldn't notice the sadness in her eyes.
And then, she says,
"You are... Kazuki, right?"
She, who has always been able to look right through me as if she could read my mind, --- who, during the 'Sevennight in Mud', even told me that she could recognize me by the usage of my facial muscles --- said that.
So, just shocked... shocked that she said such a thing, I'm left completely dumbfounded.
Maria averts her eyes.
With her gaze turned away, she whispers weakly,
"...nothing. Please forget it."
 ▶Second Day <F> [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
Since the [Secret Meeting], Maria's attitude hasn't particularly changed.
I'm sure that statement was just a tiny verbal slip. Proof of that is that she didn't tell anyone about the 'boxes'.
Because no one aggravated the situation, things stayed the same.
But that's only for today.
Iroha-san demands an answer regarding the question of whether to join the 《group》 or not on the third day.
But anyway, today has ended.
I collapse on my bed.
Second day, no victims.
 ▶Third Day <C> [Secret Meeting] with [Daiya Oomine], [Kazuki Hoshino]'s room
|[Iroha Shindou]||->||[Daiya Oomine]||15:40~16:10|
|[Yuuri Yanagi]||->||[Iroha Shindou]||16:20~16:50|
|[Daiya Oomine]||->||[Kazuki Hoshino]||15:00~15:30|
|[Kazuki Hoshino]||->||[Yuuri Yanagi]||15:40~16:10|
|[Koudai Kamiuchi]||->||[Iroha Shindou]||15:00~15:30|
|[Maria Otonashi]||->||[Daiya Oomine]||16:20~16:50|
"...Did I really say I'd destroy my own 'box' if nobody dies until the <E>-block of the eighth day?"
When I nod, Daiya starts to ponder silently.
I could finally finish telling him everything about the 'Game of Idleness' this time. Originally, I planned to not tell him that he's just an NPC, but Daiya noticed immediately that I was hiding something, so I had no choice but to tell him.
But Daiya didn't mind that too much. Rather, he seemed to mind being the 'owner' of the 'Game of Idleness'.
".....Hey, Kazu. What did I say to you when I sent you off?"
"Why do you want to know that?"
"Stop nitpicking and just tell me, TrashKasu-Kazu."
What? Now his insults even rhyme?
"...uuhm, when I told you that I would win, you countered with 《Absolutely impossible》. Those should have been the last words I exchanged with you."
"Oh well, for you to win against me is about as impossible as the world rotating 10 times faster than now."
Isn't that guy being too rude, right now?
"Which means that the 《real me》 believes it's impossible that nobody kills in [Kingdom Royale], huh."
"...I guess so."
Still unable to fully understand, Daiya crosses his arms. Since he looks like he's pondering whether to believe me or not, I reluctantly ask,
"...will you believe me?"
Daiya raises his head and answers without relaxing his stern face.
"If you're really Kazuki Hoshino, then I have no other choice, I guess. After all, the Kazuki Hoshino I know isn't capable of thinking up such a story on the fly, and he can't lie on top of that."
...in short, he believes me?
"...still, if you're Kazuki Hoshino... you really have changed."
"Yeah, you're still an existence that repels others' wishes, but I feel like the reason behind that changed a little. I once told you that you look like you're floating, right? That feeling weakened a bit."
"Why... is that?"
"I wouldn't know! Perhaps something happened in this 'box' that changed you?"
"In this 'box'...?"
The first thing that came to mind was Nana Yanagi.
While thinking that I've forgotten about her, having averted my eyes for so long, I've been captured by her all the while - by my first love.
I guess it's not like I am completely released from her even now. I will try to be released by forgetting her once again.
But sure enough, I realized that I can't escape. I clearly realized that fact.
Because of such a tiny change, I seem different to the others?
"To me it looks like a goal... no, a desire has evolved in you. If so, then you may not be able to master the 'box' anymo---"
Daiya stops mid-sentence.
But as if words can't reach him anymore, he's petrified with his eyes wide open.
"......master the 'box'...? I see... so that's..."
But Daiya grasped his chin and was absorbed in pondering, ignoring me. When I gave up on expecting an answer and waited, he suddenly raised the corners of his mouth.
I have no clue what the meaning of that chuckle is.
"It sure is easy to understand one's own thoughts. Thanks to that, I just got what the 《real me》 is thinking."
Daiya grins triumphantly while saying that.
Seeing that expression I can't help but feel anxious.
...what? Is Daiya scheming something?
But the NPC Daiya and I are supposed have the same goal. He's supposed to have believed me about the 《victory if no one dies until day 8》.
So, I wonder why.
Why does it feel like he won't become my ally anymore?
 ▶Third Day <C> [Secret Meeting] with [Yuuri Yanagi], [Yuuri Yanagi]'s room
The player is all alone.
He alone has information that gives him an advantage in fighting in the game, but he is unable to share it with the NPCs. Therefore, ultimately, he can only use the information to trick them.
So it might be natural that he's going to fight alone.
Killing the NPCs in order to survive while being crushed by the feelings of guilt. I'm sure that's the right way to fight in this game.
But I'm here to stop that. Because I think it's the only way to save Maria. Because otherwise I would feel like having given in to the 'box'.
But---Is it really possible to do that?
In this [Kingdom Royale] where you can make no allies?
I enter Yuuri Yanagi's room in a gloomy mood. She doesn't even look at me. While knowing it's futile, I write a message on a memo sheet.
Yuuri Yanagi tears the paper, crumples it up and throws it away without reading it.
So she has no intention to respond to me anymore.
I bite on my lips.
How can I ever rule over her when I can't even communicate with her?
Should I try to make her listen to me by making clear that I just want to save her? ...No, that's futile. I started doubting those words myself, so there's no way they would reach her anymore.
I clench my fist and look to the ground. Yuuri-san has noticed my discouragement but still doesn't even glance at me.
Is there no way left?
Have I already lost by now?
In the next <D>-block, Iroha-san is going to force us to join her 《group》. If it goes like she expects, I won't ever be able to become the 《king》.
Suddenly, I notice the memo book on the table, which probably belongs to Yuuri-san. On it, this was written:
《iroha is the [revolutionary]》
I realized the meaning of this right off.
In other words, Yuuri-san's saying:
---If you step in, I'll kill you.
I guess she's telling the truth. Iroha-san was only able to proclaim her rule because she didn't have to worry about getting killed --- in short, because she's the [Revolutionary]. Furthermore, I suppose Yuuri-san's either the [King] or the [Sorcerer]. After knowing about that [class] distribution, Iroha-san surely concluded that she won't be killed.
And, a girl that can even cut off her own finger will also be able to kill me if it's necessary.
I confirm my present condition. I have made about everyone my enemy. Yuuri-san's obvious, but also Iroha-san and Koudai Kamiuchi are my enemies, and I don't know what Daiya is thinking, just as always. And I can't allow myself to depend on Maria, who supposedly is my only ally.
In such a condition everything I do will backfire.
So, can I not become the 《king》 anymore?
Even while telling myself not to give up, I can't think of a way to turn the situation around.
It's just too hopeless.
I fall on my knees at last.
It isn't possible anymore. I'll leave the throne to Iroha-san. I don't think that will turn out well, but it's better than moving myself. I should follow Iroha-san and pray to the heavens that Daiya and Koudai Kamiuchi won't get into mischief.
I should act like a mere stone and do nothing at all, just be there.
I have --- lost already.
I raise my head to beg for pardon.
Then they enter my sight. Yuuri-san's eyes which are looking down on me enter my sight.
---hollow eyes enter my sight.
Thanks to that, I get it.
«No, you hold a grudge against those guys that deceived you and killed brutally, don't you? They tried to kill you for their own life's sake even! Hehehe»
I suddenly get the answer to those words.
---No. I don't hold a grudge against them. But... I will smash them up until they give in to me.
When I tormented Yuuri-san yesterday, I thought it was because I may have already given in to the 'box'. That I was prepared to defeat her.
But that's not true.
Didn't I always know so clearly? My mission is not to be gentle to these people that are merely NPCs.
It's to rescue the real ones.
《Please kill me.》
In the second round, the 《real Yuuri-san》 said that to me. The 'Game of Idleness' drove her that far into a corner that she had to ask for that.
But was the 'Game of Idleness' really the only reason for her suffering?
It was not. Something was already tormenting her when she was in the real world. I know that now. Because I've learned one thing in this pointless, worthless 'box'.
Things can't be undone. Yuuri-san's sin for killing Iroha-san and the others won't ever disappear.
But isn't it possible to analyze and solve that problem she brought with her from the real world?
Wouldn't doing that ease her pain a little?
For that sake, I'll win.
And I won't shun smashing up the NPCs.
That will become proof that I kept reality, my everyday life, in sight. That will become proof that I didn't give in to something like the 'Game of Idleness'.
I haven't lost at all yet.
I stand up.
The players of this game are indeed alone. But I couldn't care less.
I'm the only one here who can possibly destroy the 'Game of Idleness', no matter how hopeless the situation may be. Other than me, nobody can save the others.
If so... I'll do it.
I'll save everyone, and making Yuuri-san give in is the first step.
"......what's with that smile?"
Yuuri-san is still looking at me with hollow eyes.
Thank you. I could only notice thanks to those eyes. I noticed that she's suffering because she has gotten used to suppressing her true self. I was able to confirm that I want to do something about that.
Still smiling, I roughly tear off the sheet on which 《iroha is the revolutionary》 is written and rip it to pieces in front of her eyes, making as much sound as possible.
The hollowness in her eyes gets replaced by astonishment.
Yeah, that's how it should be.
I won't let her make those hollow eyes again!
She widens her eyes and gazes at me when I suddenly call her by her full name.
"You shall become nourishment for the real Yuuri-san."
As I know her very well, I know how she's going to react.
Aah, as expected, you made your face become pale, scaredy-cat.
You're not composed enough to ignore me anymore, right?
"For this sake, I'll destroy Iroha-san's 《group》 system. First, I'll start now with the work to make you leave it."
After being at a loss of words for a whole few seconds, she finally manages to object.
"W-What are you---T-There's no way I would leave! Besides that, I can't!"
"I said I'll 'make' you leave."
"If I tell her that... Y-You're going to get killed by Iroha, you know...? She's someone who might really do... no, she will definitely do it, you know?"
It seems she doesn't have enough composure to notice that this conversation will be heard by Iroha-san anyway.
"T-Then why do you say something like that?! That's suicide!"
"Because I'll also defeat her, of course. I won't be killed then."
Yuuri-san opens her eyes wide.
And shakes her head fiercely.
"Impossible... that's absolutely impossible. If you knew... if you knew how often I've experienced that already..."
I finally realize the origin of her suffering is this mud sticking to her.
"So, if I defeat Iroha-san......"
The origin of the hollow eyes. It's---
"If I defeat Iroha-san, will you be able to prevail over your envy towards her?"
---her inferiority complex towards Iroha-san.
It's a sensation I can comprehend very well, being close to Maria and Daiya. We have to realize all the time that we can't reach them, and fight with the fear of seeming all so little compared to them.
Even worse, unlike me she's number 2. It must have been even harder to endure, always being just a small step behind.
Her distance from Iroha Shindou - she seems so close and yet she's out of reach.
Just how vexing is it to feel this all the time?
《Right, an idiot like me should better keep silent... everyone, I'm sorry for upsetting you.》
In the first round she called herself an idiot. She always looked very unsure despite being most intelligent and commendable from my point of view.
Because she's always been comparing herself with someone she can't reach.
So was she aware of it, after all?
Yuuri-san is trembling so hard in disturbance, she's almost pitiful.
"You wanted to win against Iroha-san in something no matter what, right?"
Yuuri-san shrugs when I say so.
"You wanted to win against Iroha-san. You always wanted to win. Therefore, you also wanted to do so in this game. You thought for yourself that you could call it a win if you managed to control Iroha-san. Hence you operated accordingly."
I'm sure that's also why she deceived Iroha-san when she was the player and made Iroha-san suffer by telling her about her ex.
"S-Stop talking like you understand everything---"
She denies it uneasily, but with her usual acting-power having disappeared almost completely, it's very easy to read from her expression.
"But even now that everything went as planned, you didn't gain a feeling of victory at all."
"You were simply overwhelmed. Because you were forced to realize just how petty your plan is compared to the unbelievable determination that let her cut off her own finger."
"And after witnessing her sublimity, all you could think of was to survive by depending on her. Because she made you realize just how weak-minded and unimportant you are."
"In the first place, it was already clear to you that you couldn't possibly win. After all, you already knew that something like that would never suffice to wipe away your inferiority complex when it didn't even disappear after stealing her crush."
"Didn't I tell you to stop!?"
Together with this scream, I feel a pain running over my cheek.
...did she just slap me?
I can't believe it for a moment. No, I mean, Yuuri-san slapped me? She, who can control herself more than anyone?
And she herself widened her eyes in surprise of what she did. She's silently staring at her hand while closing and opening it.
Then, her shoulders start to shake.
Even before she could end her sentence, tears started to well up from her eyes.
"......I'm... sorry. But, please... stop already.... please don't say such cruel things anymore... please don't trample on my feelings... please... please..."
I bet it's tough.
Tough to see her own unsightly feelings.
After all it's something she couldn't even confess to me when she disclosed her fraud in the second round.
Why should that matter?
Exactly because she's begging me not to, I have to trample even more.
After hearing my cold words, Yuuri-san crouches down while crying and hides her face.
"If I let you go now, I won't be able to do anything for the real Yuuri-san. So, I don't mind if you hide your face, but don't cover your ears, okay?"
Of course it's painful to see her suffer like this. But, even my own feelings don't matter now.
"Do you want to know what you did in the second round when you were in my position?"
I give her the finishing blow.
"You killed Iroha-san."
Her sobbing stops, whereupon she looks up to me with her reddened eyes.
"......w-what are you saying...?"
I purposely keep silent.
"...k-killing her...? I would never go this far! Certainly... I am a coward... but I wouldn't be able to do something like that!"
She honestly believed so, without a doubt. And I'm sure she's telling the truth. She could only do it because she was the player and the others, including Iroha-san, merely NPCs.
But even so, she did kill her.
Iroha-san got to know Yuuri-san as a mischievous girl that deceived and killed her.
This fact won't change anymore.
I guess she's realized that I'm telling the truth after looking at my face, being so good at reading from others' faces; she's fallen into silence and just continues to shed tears in an absentminded state.
But I continue to speak to her.
"Yuuri-san. I will tell you the details afterwards, but you and Iroha-san both won when you were players, so you already managed to survive."
Yuuri-san slightly reacts to those words. As it seems like she comprehends what I'm saying, I continue.
"But if we don't do anything, Iroha-san won't forgive you for having killed her. And you won't be able to forgive yourself either. It may sound fishy, but I want to help you with that!"
Then, I say,
"I thought about what to do about that!"
Yuuri-san's still shedding tears, but it seems like she could regain her will. She looks at me.
"Just grasp the right outcome. Speak your minds openly in this round, but after that you need to support and trust each other again. You just have to reach this outcome! If the both of you manage to trust each other in this game, you will be alright in the future. Iroha-san should be able to forgive you, Yuuri-san."
I say so calmly.
"Therefore, you have to tell her everything. Put all your emotions towards Iroha-san into words."
I wait for her reply.
She finally opens her mouth after having kept silent for a long time.
"...I don't, get it."
She said so with a lifeless voice.
"That we have already survived or that we just have to trust each other - that all makes no sense to me."
Fair enough. She knows almost nothing about the circumstances; there's no way she could understand.
Hearing this contradictory conjunction, I raise my head.
She was smiling weakly.
"I don't mind not understanding, anymore. I'm at my limit of thinking about such cruel things all the time just to survive... it's enough already."
Saying this, she suddenly embraces me.
"So... may I depend on you?"
Apparently she can't properly control the strength of her embrace; it hurts.
This uncontrolled strength of hers seems forlorn to me.
And this surprises me.
No matter how hard it was, she's always fought alone, with her own methods. Even though she's always been anxious, she kept on fighting and withstood the pressure on her heart. Even when she was the player, she deceived all the NPCs, cornered them, killed them and, when she was overwhelmed by her feelings of guilt, regained the will to fight and managed to win in the end.
Yuuri Yanagi is such a strong girl.
In spite of that, she can't do anything but depend on me anymore.
She can't do anything but cling to the frail hope in front of her eyes, without controlling anyone.
Her condition reminded me a bit of someone.
It reminded me of 《Nana Yanagi》.
But I won't mix 《Yuuri-san》 and 《Yanagi-san》 up anymore.
For the sake of saving no one other than 《Yuuri-san》, I return her embrace and say,
"I will save everyone, absolutely!"
 ▶Third Day <D> Big room
You may find this surprising, but I was very self-confident until middle school. My grades were always the best and I played the piano so skillfully, I won prizes in various contests! I was the head of the wind instrument club and the student council president at the same time. I was surrounded by people that adored me all the time.
That might be the reason why I unconsciously considered myself special.
I was convinced that wouldn't change even when ascending to high school. But that 《special》 seat was nowhere prepared for me in high school life. Because Iroha Shindou sat on that seat since the time she gave the welcome speech of the freshmen during the entrance ceremony.
But naturally I didn't give up right away. I was confident in being able to regain this seat. Rather, I was even happy about having gained a rival.
With the belief that I would outstrip her in no time and become the number one again, I worked even harder than I did in middle school. I raised the time I would concentrate on learning before doing anything else. Of course I didn't just learn as long as possible; I also tried out various techniques to improve my effectiveness or to keep up my concentration while learning.
But I couldn't match her.
It was then when I finally started to get nervous. Because I wanted to win against her at least in grades, I stopped playing the piano which I had continued since elementary school, I stopped going to the literary club I had entered, I reduced the time I would play with my friends, I slept less and I even studied during breaks, prepared to be called wonk-chan.
But even so, Iroha stayed out of reach.
Even though Iroha took part in her club's activities, was busy with the student council and slept during classes, totally looking like she wasn't making such a big effort like me... I couldn't reach her at all.
But actually it wasn't that strange. In mock examinations, there were usually almost 100 people with better results than me, despite my great effort. There were many better pianists than me as well, and just turning on the television I would see much more beautiful women than me, one after the other. It was certainly not only Iroha whom I couldn't reach. Thus, it wasn't strange that it came like that.
I was merely taught by her that I'm nothing more than an ordinary person. That I'm not special.
Thanks to Iroha, I was able to graduate from my embarrassing conceit. I think I would have noticed that even without Iroha sooner or later.
But still, it was mortifying.
It was terribly mortifying.
Why wasn't I the special one?
Because I'd needed so much time to notice, I had already lost everything. I had lost my friends, my hobbies, my special abilities, and instead I had become a boring girl that was relatively bright but nothing more.
At that time, I noticed that Iroha was in love with someone. She tried to hide it, but to me it was more than obvious. And at the very moment when I took notice of Iroha's feelings, that boy looked incredibly charming to me. Because I thought that he had to be lovely if he managed to steal Iroha's heart.
If he had the choice between Iroha and me, who would he choose...?
- When I thought that, a wicked thought crossed my mind.
If that boy chose me---
Wouldn't that mean that I'm more attractive than Iroha?
I was aware of the hideousness of my scheme. But even so, I couldn't stop myself from going through with it.
Because I wanted to see!
I wanted to see Iroha, who always seemed out of reach, become the loser for once and be jealous of me.
I wanted her to realize.
Realize that there are people below her that are mortified because they can't reach her no matter what they do.
And then I managed to go out with him.
I pretended to be beside myself with joy and told Iroha about it with an innocent look as if I had no idea of her feelings towards him. In my mind I was chuckling because I highly expected to see her grind her teeth bitterly. It really makes me want to puke when I think back on how I was at that time.
'Come on Iroha, feel bitter! Envy me! Hate me!'
- Everything was right. Everything was right as long she just directed negative emotions towards me. Iroha's reaction, however, was completely different from my expectations.
She said with a gentle smile and stroked my head.
Of all things, Iroha --- blessed my fulfilled love.
She blessed me.
Although I was always absorbed in planning her misfortune.
Unable to believe it, not wanting to believe it, I still continued to try. I continued to make use of him while pretending not to notice that my love for him was just a misunderstanding. But even so, no matter what kind of advice I asked her for, no matter when I told her that we had split up - she would just root for me.
And each time she did so, I was shown it.
The things I pretended not to see - my ugliness, my pettiness, my wretchedness - were made clearer and stronger to me by Iroha's radiance.
Aah, I know, I know. No matter how painful it was for me --- I'm not the poor victim but the despicable culprit.
But, I can't stop.
I can't retreat.
Because I don't want to admit that I've descended from an ordinary person to a hopeless coward after committing so many sins.
I'm not thinking that my sins will be forgiven and I will stop being a coward if I win against Iroha.
But I have no other choice anymore. There is no way back.
I mean, isn't it true?
My sin isn't so light that it could be forgiven with just those words.
"And that should make me forgive you?"
Iroha-san laughs coldly in the big room where all members have gathered.
I suppose she has listened to Yuuri-san's confession that was recorded on her portable terminal.
"Do you think I'll forgive your deceit if you put on display how miserable you are?"
Maria, Daiya and Koudai Kamiuchi can only watch as they don't know the circumstances.
"I won't, you bitch!"
She says and spits on Yuuri-san who was forced to kneel in her white underwear.
Yuuri-san's only looking downwards while trembling without saying anything back. Her left cheek's swollen - I guess she was slapped by Iroha-san in her room.
It's painful to watch this. After all, I've known that this could happen. Therefore, this is also my responsibility.
But if I can't even bear this much, I won't be able to oppose Iroha-san.
"......Hey, Shindou, what on earth happened?"
Maria opens her mouth, unable to endure this sight any longer.
"It's no big deal, really. This is just what happens when you join my 《group》, vowing me obedience, and still dare to disobey my order."
"But isn't that too harsh...?"
As if in defiance of Maria's advice, Iroha-san presses the sole of her shoe against Yuuri-san's head.
"Uh...," Yuuri-san groans, which just drives Iroha-san to click her tongue and wordlessly apply more pressure, squeezing Yuuri-san's forehead against the ground.
Yuuri-san looks almost like she's genuflecting.
"Who said it's okay to open your mouth? You ought to just hang your head like an ornament. Do I even need to teach you by force until you get it?"
"S-Stop it, Shindou!"
"I won't. ...anyway. You know already, right? The time's up. You will all be put under my rule in this time-block. It's the best way I can think of so there's no need to change it, no matter what this dirty bitch thinks!"
Iroha-san declares with her foot still on top of Yuuri-san's head.
"And then I will end this game for you by becoming the 《king》."
Right, Iroha-san's this kind of human.
Like this, she treats someone whom she considered a dear friend until just now according to what she needs to to achieve her goal.
Of course it's not like she doesn't feel anything in doing so. She should be deeply hurt and also deeply remorseful. But she seals those emotions. Iroha-san is able to control even her own emotions temporarily for the sake of her goal.
That's something I realized in the third round when she killed everyone on the first day to become the winner.
Right, that's why I was able to predict it.
Predict that she would take this action.
---pull her from the false throne.
Iroha-san slowly removes her foot from Yuuri-san's head and throws me a sharp glance. Without a doubt the intent to kill dwells in that fiery look.
"...does this possibly mean that you don't plan to join my 《group》? Too bad. You're going to die!"
"No, that's not what I meant. I merely told the truth! I mean, someone as soft as you could never rule over others!"
"Soft? What are you talking about?"
Her scowl really gives me the creeps. But to seem as calm as possible, I relax my mouth.
"I'm talking about your soft reaction to Yuuri-san's betrayal! You only stripped her clothes off, punched her, spit on her and put your foot on her head? That's what all call soft!"
Iroha-san flashes a smile to display her composure, too.
"So what do I need to do so that you're satisfied?"
I then say in order to erase that smile of hers,
As planned, Iroha-san's smile vanishes and she widens her eyes.
"Right at the beginning... didn't you threaten to flush away everyone's food in the toilet as soon someone shows only a single sign of betraying you? But you didn't do that, did you? You especially put on such a show with putting Yuuri-san into her underwear, so I bet you didn't do it, right?"
Iroha-san flashes a grin.
"...Haha. It's just a show as soon as I don't really flush away the food and kill her? Your thinking is quite distorted, huh? Why can't you understand that flushing away the food is a so-called 'exaggerated expression?' Don't you get that it was something necessary to say at that time, even without actually planning to do it?"
"Even if it's like that, aren't you practically displaying to us that your 《group》 has no binding force anymore by showing us this soft treatment of Yuuri-san?"
"......What do you mean? Do you want me to kill Yuuri?"
"No way. I'm just pointing out that---"
I tell them plainly,
"---such a 《group》 system is flawed to begin with."
Iroha-san silently crosses her arms. With her fast understanding, she should know that she's going to be overwhelmed by me if she can't counter.
But she can think as much she wants. There's no way to turn it around anymore!
That's because what I said is 100% correct.
"...what exactly is flawed, then?"
Her voice sounds slightly weaker than before.
"The 《group》 is based on trust in you. But there's never been any. You made this plan on the preconception of something that doesn't even exist. That's why it's flawed. Or am I wrong?"
Just one more push.
Just one more push should be enough to pull Iroha Shindou, who was able to kill everyone or to cut off her own finger just to persuade the others, from her false throne.
And yet, Iroha-san raised the corner of her mouth. To show me that she's as cool as a cucumber.
"Yes, it might be hard to maintain the 《group》 system. I admit that! But so what? If it's too hard to create those 《groups》, then I just need to abandon this plan and make a new one. Or do you think I am not capable of doing so?"
That was a counter I wasn't able to predict.
She doesn't give up just by being cornered this far.
"Anyway, there is no reason for me to give in to you."
I guess so...
There's no way she would give in to me because of something of this degree. That's because Iroha-san is the one who should be defeated first, and --- the strongest enemy.
I can reach my goal if I can just do something about this strongest enemy. Daiya's goal should match with mine after all, and with the help of Iroha-san and Yuuri-san, we should be able to suppress Koudai Kamiuchi's whims far enough so he won't go as far as to kill.
The hardest thing is always to get onto the tracks. As soon as you're on them, the rest's not as difficult anymore.
And the first step I need to get onto the rails is to get past Iroha-san.
If I manage to do that, I will be able to achieve my goal.
So I will definitely not retreat. I have cornered her without a doubt, so I will definitely not retreat.
I search for the last push.
I look at Yuuri-san, who's trembling and has her head pressed against the ground.
---Aah, I see.
It doesn't even matter how much Iroha-san tries to persist, does it?
"...so, will you abandon Yuuri-san? In order to save yourself and the others?"
After all, she's already aware of her defeat.
Iroha-san answers without wavering,
Which is the affirmation I have expected.
And which is an obvious lie.
A lie she begs me to see through.
"You can't trick me like that."
So I'll put an end to it now.
"I told you before, right? Kill Yuuri-san."
"If you really want to abandon Yuuri-san, show us now. You just have to make us kneel down by impressing us with your force... by killing her, just like you cut off your finger."
Iroha-san must be thinking that she's best suited for being the 《king》. It's because she thinks so that she takes the lead. She's doing that because she thinks it's the most probable way for her to achieve her goal.
But what if she considered someone else suited for being the 《king》?
I bet she would hand over the throne to the respective person.
That's why she's testing me.
She's testing whether I'm suited for the throne, whether I can see through such a blatant lie.
Iroha-san raises a laugh.
"...well yeah, I can't! Thus, I can't become the 《king》 anymore."
Iroha-san handed over the throne to me.
Iroha-san sits down alone on an empty seat, lips pursed. "Hah...," she sighs artificially and flashes a wry smile.
Yuuri-san's widening her eyes, looking at Iroha-san who's sitting there having given up. The girl in underwear stands up, walks to Iroha-san and looks down to her.
"......why? Why don't you kill me? You would do this much, wouldn't you...? If it's to achieve your goal, you would do this much, wouldn't you?"
After hearing that, Iroha-san smiles wryly.
"Yuuri. What is my goal?"
She asks, while looking away and leaning her elbow on the desk.
"Eh? To become the 《king》... right?"
"Of course not! That is just a means to achieve my goal."
"I-I see. But then---"
Iroha-san then speaks to the confused Yuuri-san with a gentle smile, like a parent that's patiently explaining multiplication to a child,
"My goal is to protect you, Yuuri."
Yuuri-san gets even more confused.
Because this was just way too unexpected for her.
But I knew it.
In the very last moment before she died during the first game, she said 《...sorry that I couldn't save you.》 to me, despite it being the last moment of her life.
These words showed me that her goal is to protect Yuuri-san.
Of course she also tried to protect our and her own life. But considering her lifestyle, she would surely prioritize others. And she would surely want to save Yuuri-san more than some people she just met that day.
Therefore, she would never kill Yuuri-san, even if it means that she becomes unable to retain the 《group》 system.
Yuuri-san shakes her head, unable to believe it.
"T-That's a lie! D-Do you realize that I betrayed you? Isn't that also why you got angry and made me get naked and slapped me and..."
"Yuuri, are you making fun of me?"
"Do you want to say that I would change my goal because of emotional swings? You think of me as such a greenhorn? In order to retain the 《group》, I simply had to punish you symbolically in some way for cooperating with Hoshino-kun. Wasn't stripping your clothes a nice performance, being easy to visually understand and all?"
"Well, what I did there was a vain struggle. I was convinced that you would silently follow me, you know. I didn't imagine that you could ever fall into Hoshino-kun's hands. Therefore, I already lost in that instance!"
Yuuri-san intensively stares at Iroha-san who said so---but still seems unable to understand and shakes her head.
"...I don't get it! Protecting my life is your goal? Even if it was like that in the beginning, there's no way you would still think so after learning about my deceit. You would never save an atrocious person like me."
"You know what, Yuuri? You're an idiot."
"It's so simple you shouldn't even need to think about it."
But when Yuuri-san still remains clueless, Iroha-san scratches her head.
"...aah, jeez! Then tell me, have you ever thought from my point of view?"
"Your point of view...?"
"Right. Yuuri, you said that your grades have always been the best. It was the same for me! I, too, have always been the best!"
Yuuri-san seems unable to grasp Iroha-san's intention and is still perplexed.
"I wanted to stay on that seat as well! But imagine there's still someone pursuing you at high-speed. You have no other choice but to try your best then, right? You don't want to lose then, right? Just what do you think of how frantically I worked in the shadows to protect my seat?"
Surprise is painted in Yuuri-san's face.
"That you couldn't reach me even while trying your best is because I'm special? That has nothing to do with it! In my opinion, you haven't set yourself a proper goal, Yuuri! If you're asked what you want to become and what you want to achieve by learning, can you answer right away? I bet you can't! Well, because you just thought about winning against me and nothing else."
"There's no way you could win against me with such low aspirations. You made every effort? You're not in the position to say that! It's nowhere near enough! Folks that really spared no pains don't say shit like there was nothing to them!"
"......so, will I be able to become like you if I put more effort into it?"
"Aah, jeez! Are you even listening to me? There's no way you could become like me, is there? I am me. You are you. Everyone has his own qualifications and abilities, so it's absolutely impossible to become the same as someone else no matter how enviable he may be. No matter how enviable I am, you can't become me!"
"I guess you're right. Someone like me could never become like---"
When Iroha-san hears these words, she stands up with a scowl. She then grasps Yuuri-san's shivering shoulders with a bloodcurdling expression on her face.
"Right! No matter how enviable---"
"I can't become like you!"
Yuuri-san's pain-contorted expression disappears and she cannot help but gaze at Iroha-san with widened eyes instead.
"Did I seem calm when I heard that you started going out with him? Did I look like I was purely congratulating you? If so, I succeeded. Not giving my blessings to a dear friend's fulfilled love would be a disgrace, after all."
Iroha-san's formerly firm expression has already crumbled. She, who managed to look calm even when the 《group》 system failed, has seriously lost her temper.
"Do you really think there is anyone who wouldn't be mortified when her crush is stolen from her? Of course it was mortifying, even for me! Of course I envied you! But, what should I have done? He chose you, after all! I was like 《Well, of course》 when I heard about it. Can you understand that mentality of mine? Can you understand my mentality of being unsurprised that he would choose you? Or do you even think I wasn't mortified at seeing me like that? But I'm not you, Yuuri, so I had no choice but to give up!
What's that, Yuuri?! Even though you're good at reading others' expressions, why do you only fail to understand that? You wanted me to be jealous of you? Aren't you completely dumb? I... I! Since the entrance ceremony, since the very first moment I saw you---"
She grasps her shoulders even stronger and shouts.
"I was jealous of you!"
Yuuri-san is still unable to comprehend and just stares at Iroha-san.
I bet it's unbelievable for Yuuri-san. I bet it's not so easy for her to believe that the person she considered a superhuman and definitely out of her reach, envied her from the very start.
---Sorry, Yuuri-san. But I knew!
《The first person I respected and found enviable...and probably, was jealous of, was Yuuri.》
I knew since the first round.
Therefore, I also knew what's wrecking them is that they misunderstand each other.
"Even I would like to depend on someone! But for some reason I find myself unable to do so. And each time I think about that... your face comes to mind!"
She says and lets go of her shoulders.
Suddenly, astonishment starts to dwell in Yuuri-san's face that were fixed on Iroha-san.
"Iroha... why are you cry-"
"Haha, what're you talking about? There's no way I would---"
Probably with the intention of tagging along with what she believed was a joke, Iroha-san touches her cheek.
And opens her eyes wide.
Because she noticed that she really was crying.
"No way... I am crying...? I can't remember having cried, actually, ever. There's no way I would cry, especially in front of others, and still..."
But she is shedding tears.
She is really shedding tears.
It's an indubitable fact that Iroha-san is crying.
Iroha-san's expression crumbles.
Her always-strained face crumbles like a child's.
"Uah... uaaaaaaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"
She cries out loud.
That Iroha-san does.
Iroha-san who could even cut off her finger for the sake of her goal.
Unable to suppress her emotions, she cries like a little child.
"Uaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Yuuri you silly silly silly silly! I trusted you! I... was convinced like an idiot that only you would never betray me!"
She sheds a huge amount of tears and has a dripping nose.
"And yet, and yet! A superhuman! Who's that!? I mean, stop kidding meee! Why don't you get mee! I don't want to become some 《king》 either! I'm frightened of this killer game! It hurt to cut off my finger! I wish there was someone who protected me! But I had to do it even without wanting to, right!? I thought I was best suited for becoming the 《king》, so I had no other choice but to take the responsibility, right?! I didn't want everyone to die because I depended on someone, Yuuri, so I had no other choice, right?!"
Not a bit of her usual incredibility is left in the appearance of her wailing like a child.
Yuuri-san asks, still astonished.
"Iroha... what makes you want to protect someone like me...?"
Hearing this somehow strange question, Iroha-san scowls at her with bright red eyes.
"Isn't that obvious?!"
I suddenly recall something I heard from Iroha-san during the first round.
《What do you think? Did I really --- like Yuuri?》
I didn't know the answer to that question until now. The experiences of the third round alone weren't enough to comprehend Iroha-san's true intentions, which she can control to an extent as to erase inconvenient emotions.
But I finally found out.
Seeing her bare emotions, I finally found out.
"Because you're so incredibly dear to me that I want to protect you, of course!"
"Because you're so dear to me that I would have to persuade myself that I hate you when I'm unable to protect you, just to endure it!"
Finally feelings return to Yuuri-san's eyes after being just perplexed all this time.
In the next moment, tears well up and wander down her cheeks. Just like Iroha-san, Yuuri-san's tears also start to flow fiercely in no time and stick to her entire face.
---admired each other so much, for so long, that they became jealous of each other.
It may have also been the origin of some failures that occurred in this 'box', but naturally strong emotions made those strong feelings well up in them.
She embraces her.
The two crying girls embrace each other.
"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..."
"I don't want to, hear that! I don't want to hear an apology! I won't forgive you with something like that! There's something I want to hear much more than that."
Yuuri-san's at a loss for just a second, but then immediately realizes with her face dirty with tears and nasal mucus. She flashes a clumsy smile, that no one would call cute anymore, and gently whispers, unfolding the entirety of her heart,
"I also, like you from the bottom of my heart..."
These words made me finally realize.
The meaning of Yuuri-san putting on Iroha-san's watch in the second round. And also the reason why she confessed her sin of stealing Iroha-san's loved one to her.
《---please kill me.》
To make it easier for Iroha-san to kill her.
I guess wanting to win against Iroha-san was also part of the reason. But it's because she wanted to make it easier for Iroha-san to kill her NPC that she taught her specially, despite knowing that Iroha-san would become the player afterwards. She tried to save Iroha-san's life even with the preparedness of being hated by her.
It's not easy to do that. She wouldn't have been able to do that...
"I have always... loved you!"
...if she didn't love Iroha-san.
It's not even a question of forgiving or not. After all, that doesn't matter as long they love each other.
Of course their relationship in reality won't improve by that. Those two are just NPCs and not the two that are in despair right now.
But I can believe.
I can easily believe that they will have no problems to make up again and wipe the despair away.
And like that, I also had these thoughts.
Having overcome my strongest enemy and having made a first, certain step towards my goal, I was convinced:
I did it. I have doubtlessly gotten on the tracks and now I can achieve my goal. There's no way for me to lose anymore.
I won against Daiya.
- Senpai: Upperclassman or senior
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