My current objective is the teacher's room, it should be on the third floor, so not very far from here.
I quickly run down the stairs reaching the level below. It only takes me a few seconds before spotting the sign that marks the place I am looking for.
When I burst inside, everyone jumps on their seats and stares at me with dumbfounded expressions. There is no time for introductions or useless talk. First things first: who among these persons is more likely to answer my question quickly and without complaining?
Erika: "This is an emergency! You! Do you have the key to the meeting room?"
Teacher: "Uh? The key to the meeting room..? It should be with the rest inside the key box..."
Erika: "Anyone else?"
Teacher: "Excuse me, what's happening? Where's Satsukawa-san?"
Nagaoka and Wakamatsu must have told to every teacher that I am not to be trusted , especially if they do not see my babysitter around.
Erika: "Ah, it's all right! I see you've one of those things here too."
I reach a nearby desk, where I have just spotted a table microphone similar to the one I have seen inside the meeting room.
Erika: "I just need to press this button right?"
Teacher: "Yes... No! You can't use that!"
Erika: "Do not hinder me! A suspect of murder is currently running freely inside this school! What if something bad happens?! Will you take responsibility?!"
Teacher: "I... I..."
Erika: "Just as I thought! Then sit down quietly and let me do my job!"
This should stall him for enough time, and technically I didn't even lie.
I grab the microphone firmly with my hand and I lower my head until I am close enough. It must be few words, and they must leave an impression. The whole school must be awakened to my call. No matter the confusion it will raise, the more the better, everyone must be alerted. The prey must hear it and be struck by fear! The prey must listen to my declaration and lose any hope! No escape! No mercy! This is what you chose for yourself, Kagami Hibari! If you want to play the part of the lone girl against the whole world, I shall grant your wish!
Erika: "To all the students of the Mitsugi institute! I am the great detective Erika Furudo! Currently a prime suspect for the murder of Hitomi Gotsuji is trying to defy the law by escaping! Her name is Kagami Hibari! She is the president of female basket club! She is still inside the perimeter of this school! Do not let her run away! If you see her, alert the nearest teacher! If you're daring enough, stop her! Grab her! Pin her to the ground until our men arrive! Kagami Hibari must be stopped! She must not be allowed to abandon these premises! Let the hunt begin!!!"
The teachers all around me are literally shocked. Not bad, this view. Even if my announcement will not produce the wanted result, I will still think that it was worth it.
Teacher: "What in the world did you just do?!"
Maybe I should add something. Yes, I think I should probably say one more thing. I push the button again.
Erika: "Aaah, people, violence is all right, but do not exaggerate, okay? We need her alive. Thank you!"
Teacher: "Are you craaazy?!"
He rushes to the desk to prevent further communications, but it doesn't matter. I have already reached my objective, so I simply move aside and let him grab a microphone that has not longer any value to me. He holds onto that for no apparent reasons, maybe he is wondering if he can undo the damage that I have caused. Too late for that.
Erika: "Good! Now it doesn't matter where Hibari goes. Running as if she was followed by the devil like she does, she will be easily spotted. Students will scream as soon as they see her, alerting everyone nearby. In addition there must be at least a dozen of hot blooded stupid guys that will try and stop her, for the fun of it if nothing else! And she cannot hope to hide anywhere either! In fact, she must be panicking even more than before at this point! She must be thinking everyone is her enemy! What do you think, Dlanor?"
Dlanor: "A reckless strategy, but very effective, Miss Erika."
Teacher: "This is absolutely irresponsible! You've thrown the whole school into chaos!"
Erika: "Yes! And what of it?!"
My reply left him completely speechless. Whatever can he say to that? The poor man!
The screams of the students can already be heard, the riot has begun. This is a glorious day!
Suddenly a powerful slam attracts everyone's attention away from me and to the entrance. An enraged oni just made his appearance, his face completely red, his mouth open wide showing all of his horrid teeth. He stands there, gasping, groaning, snorting and he looks like he is in pain. He points his trembling finger at me and tries to say something, but apparently he lacks the oxygen for it.
Erika: "Oh my, Nagaoka-san! You shouldn't strain your old body that much, it's not good for your health! Please, don't die on me here, and if you really must, at least do it as the victim of a murder I can investigate about."
Nagaoka: "Y-you... y-you... *cough* *cough* *cough*"
Erika: "Are you feeling all right? Hellooo? Are you still with us?"
Wakamatsu: "What's going on here?! Why is she here?! Where's Satsukawa?!"
Oh, reinforcement just arrived.
Wakamatsu: "Why did you let her use the microphone?!"
Teacher: "I... She said it was an emergency!"
Wakamatsu: "Stand back, for heaven's sake! I need to stop this madness!"
The teacher gladly moves aside, and lets the principal deal with the problem of what to announce to the inflamed students. It will not be easy to make them desist from starting a man hunt.
Nagaoka: "Satsu... kawa! Where... is he?!"
Erika: "He's pursuing Kagami Hibari, of course! Did you really think this was just a joke? It's a pretty serious matter, and I've just taken the most sensible decision!"
Wakamatsu: "There's nothing sensible about inciting a whole school against a single girl! Why can't the police just handle this by itself! Why do students need to be involved?! This is absolutely insane! Wait! Where do you think you're going now?!"
Erika: "Do you even need to ask? It's only a matter of seconds before Hibari is caught. I need to be there to question her. If you're really that worried I might cause more damage, then make Nagaoka follow me."
Wakamatsu: "Follow her!!!"
Nagaoka: "Y-yes... yes! You! Stop! Stop there! *cough*"
In his current state I doubt he will be able to keep up. Once again I find myself running through the corridors of this school, but there is a noticeable difference now. The crowd of the students is in turmoil. They are spread everywhere, talking animately and running around. Many of them are looking below through the windows trying to spot Hibari from their vantage point. Some of them recognize me as I pass, and make way with confused and intimidated looks. I hear the voice of Wakamatsu, trying her best to put out the fire that I started, but it doesn't seem that she is being listened to. From the look of it, it seems that my target is outside, and after all it would make little sense if she decided to go back inside, considering there is the higher concentration of people here. The problem is where she is exactly. This might be a relatively small school, but the grounds are still vast and full of structures and trees where one can hide behind.
As soon as I exit from the main building, I realize that I was pointlessly worrying. There is a huge crowd not very far from where I am, and they are all standing around the same area trying to see beyond the wall of bodies in front of them. Hibari must have been caught already, which means this operation ended with a success. However this isn't really a victory for me. All this confusion must have alerted the law enforcers that I have seen stationed nearby early this morning. With all certainty they are already there, likely led by Oosugi. After all the work I have done, that overgrown simian gets the prize!
Erika: "Oh, Rokudou. There you are."
Rokudou: "Ha ha ha ha! Oh boy, you should've seen what you've caused! What a riot! What a riot! Only you could've done something this crazy and yet terrifically effective! Only you! My precious Milady! Ha ha ha ha!"
Erika: "Your flatters are welcome, but there are pressing matters I need to attend to."
Rokudou: "Of course! Of course! Ha ha ha ha!"
I walk toward the crowd and using my detective authority I command them to let me pass. They all turn around and stand aside, a path opens just for me. At the end of the way, beyond the human barrier, I see exactly what I was already expecting. Hibari is lying on the ground, with Oosugi brutally holding her arm and Satsukawa trying to calm her down. She is crying and she is refusing to stand up, as if that will really change anything. There are police officers encircling them, two of which are telling the students to disperse, but without much success.
I grit my teeth in frustration. There are serious reasons to believe Hibari is implicated in the murder, and that means there are legal grounds for Oosugi to take her directly to the headquarter. No doubt this is what he is planning to do. Should I just let him have it his way and wait for the report? I don't want that! But I see very few options available, and they might fail.
Hibari finally stands on her feet. Timidly she looks around, all the schoolmates watching and judging her. So pathetic, so humiliating, she is already the murderer in everyone's mind. Serves her well, no point in feeling sympathy for those who bring their misery upon themselves.
As she bites her lower lip and cries, something catches her attention. She recognized a girl she knows well among the crowd. In an effort to reach her she tries to break free from Oosugi's hold, with no avail.
Kagami: "Maaayaaaa! Maaayaaaa! What should I do?! What am I supposed to do?! Maaayaaaa!"
Oosugi: "Shut up, brat! Just stop resisting and silently come with us!"
Kagami: "Uggaah! Stop pulling me, you beast! I didn't do it! I didn't do anything bad! Maaayaaa! Uaaaaah!"
Hibari is forcibly taken away, while screaming, yelling and pointlessly trying to escape. They are leading her toward the exit, just like I have imagined. Satsukawa is going with them for now, but I am sure he will return. He saw me, and I have perceived disapproval in his stare. I wonder why.
Meanwhile everyone's focus has shifted to Teramoto, included mine. Hibari can wait, this is a lot more interesting. Teramoto is paralyzed. She is still looking at the empty space where just a while before Hibari called her name in tears. Her fists are tightly clenched, her lips are slightly separated and warped, her pupils have become little dots.
I gingerly walks close to her, closer, closer. I maliciously whisper in her ear.
Erika: "Hey, Maaaayaaaaa... Isn't this really bad for you? *giggle* *giggle*"
Her head mechanically turns to her right, where I stand with an impish grin. Her stupor rapidly converts into hate as her mind realizes who is the person in front of her.
Teramoto: "You... you! What the hell have you done?!"
Erika: "What have I done? I made sure that Hibari would be caught, thus preventing her from compromising further her position. She is the one who decided to run like an idiot, you know?"
Teramoto: "Why did you tell to the whole school that she's a prime suspect of murder?! Kagami is not a murderer! Why don't you figure that out already, great detective!"
What? What is this?
Normally I would respond with a witty remark, something like: "of course she isn't a murderer, she was just manipulated by the demon!" But this is unexpected, did I misunderstand the situation again? I have been told that Hibari is Teramoto's sidekick, but it looks like this is different. In the first place why someone as smart as Teramoto would choose a complete idiot as her right arm? I should have realized it sooner. If Hibari was simply a pawn, Teramoto would actually find convenient to put the blame on her, especially if she herself is the real culprit, or the mind, as Oosugi probably thinks. There is a chance that this might be all an act, but it really doesn't seem so. I don't smell any lie. Hibari is not a pawn, not a sidekick, not a tool. She is a friend, her best friend, as incredible as it may seem.
But what strikes me the most is what she just said at the end. Is she asking me to help her? Is she telling me that she wants me to clear Hibari's name?
Someone is rapidly approaching us. Lost in my thoughts I didn't notice it before, and now he is very close, he is advancing like a fury. I step aside just in time to avoid being pushed away, I am not the person he is aiming to. Teramoto notices him and she quickly puts on her usual arrogant face, with both arms crossed.
Teramoto: "What is it, Oda? I don't like the way you're looking at me. I'm sensing a very high amount of negative energy surrounding you, I'd prefer you'd stay aaaaah..."
Oda grabbed her arm and pulled it violently. She almost lost her balance and fell; all traces of her usual air of superiority suddenly vanished. No matter how much power she holds as the leader of a vast group of people. Right now she is just a defenseless girl being picked on by a guy who is almost twice her mass.
This is pretty interesting.
Teramoto: "Have you lost your mind, Oda?! Leave me at once! Or else..."
She tries to sound assertive, but I sense fear in both her voice and eyes.
Meito: "I don't give a damn about anything anymore!"
Meito: "You know something, right? You must know something! Stop denying it!"
Teramoto: "Let... me... go!!!"
Meito: "I'm sick of this shit! If you know something you must talk! NOW!"
Teramoto: "Ghhh... Oda! Stop! You're hurting me!"
Sumomo: "Meito-kun! Please, calm down!"
It looked as if nothing could stop Oda's fury, but Takamiya's voice seems to be effective. The big guy freezes on the spot, and for a while he does nothing. He just breathes heavily looking straight into Teramoto's pained eyes.
Sumomo: "Please, Meito-kun! You're not the kind of guy that would hurt a girl. No matter the reasons, you'd never do it. Am I right?"
He finally lets Teramoto go. She quickly retracts her arm and starts rubbing it, in a mix of fear and resentment.
Sumomo: "Teramoto, forgive Meito-kun. He... you understand, right?"
Meito: "Why do I need to be forgiven by her?!"
Erika: "It's all right, Oda, it's all right! You have no reason to be so impatient."
Erika: "Don't you see? We're getting closer to the truth each new day. We have Hibari now, she definitely knows something, and we'll make her talk."
Meito: "What did Hibari do? What she has to do with what happened? Is it because of Teramoto? It must be something that she made her do after all!"
Erika: "We don't know yet. All that I can say is that Hibari is the one who placed Hitomi's message inside your locker."
The crowd of students surrounding us begins discussing animatedly.
Sumomo: "Why did she do something like that..."
Erika: "Who knows? I have a few hypotheses, but there's no point in pointless speculations, we just need to ask her."
Teramoto: "Hmph! You're just wasting your time. Kagami is innocent, she would've never killed the ace of her basket club!"
Sumomo: "Hmmm... she has a point..."
Meito: "But then why?! She must be implicated somehow!"
Teramoto: "Think whatever you want! I'm leaving!"
The sea of students splits allowing her to pass through with ease. She didn't even say a word. What an amazing, interesting girl. I want to know more about her, more about her secrets, more about the role she has taken, more about her dreams. I want to explore all the facets of her mask, and the true self that hides behind it.
Then just for this time, since she is such an entertaining girl, I have decided to grant her wish.
Erika: "I'll do it."
The many heads of the students turn left and right, going back and forth from me to her and so on; as if they were watching a tennis match.
Erika: "I'll do what you wish."
Teramoto turns around and looks at me skeptically.
Teramoto: "What is that supposed to be? Another of your sarcastic remarks?"
Erika: "I'll help Hibari getting out of the mess she put herself in."
She looks surprised, and she reacts by nervously adjusting her glasses.
Teramoto: "I thought she was a prime suspect to you."
Erika: "Not even remotely! I've just said that because I wanted everyone's help in catching her. You're underestimating me, Teramoto, I already knew that Hibari is innocent. She's just a very stupid girl who managed to got herself in a lot of troubles."
Teramoto: "Yes... she's an incredible... gigantic idiot..."
Erika: "But is it really okay with you? Are you absolutely fine with that?"
Teramoto: "What's that now? Why should I oppose that?"
Erika: "I'm not saying that you're the culprit, but there are quite a lot of strong suspicions on you. Even assuming that you're innocent, and I'm not admitting it, you wouldn't certainly be the first case of a judicial error. If Hibari ended up being considered the one to blame, you'd be free from any accusations. Wouldn't it be more convenient for you that way?"
She smiles at me. It is the same challenging smile I have seen on her when our confrontation started.
Teramoto: "Do you really think I'm such a heartless person? I have no wish for an innocent to be condemned just to remove suspicions on myself."
Erika: "I'm not promising that I won't make her talk, in fact I plan to do the opposite."
Erika: "Are you still fine with that?"
Teramoto: "Do as you please."
And with those words she parts.
I wonder how much trust she has on her friend, and more than that... I wonder to what extent her friend is determined to never betray her, now that her own life is at stake.