Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chapter 3 (h)

Hate. Hate me more, Teramoto.
I love the way you are looking at me right now. I love that ugly, ungraceful face warped by anger! It makes you look so pathetic and stupid! I want to bring you to the point where your grimaces will leave permanent wrinkles on your skin! I will imprint the mark of the loser on your very body!
But... something is wrong... she is changing.
Does that mean she figured out a way to fight back? Well, it is fine with me. It only means that my favorite game will be prolonged. Nothing will change in the end.

Teramoto: "Pfft... ha ha ha ha!"

She is... laughing? Seriously?

Teramoto: "Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha..."

Erika: "Well well... And here I was worrying that you'd fall in despair, given the fact that you're likely to get expelled from this school. And here I was worrying that you'd break in tears, given the fact that you might be thrown in a jail. But it seems you're taking this surprisingly well. I am so relieved!"

Teramoto: "Aah, sorry, sorry! I just couldn't help but realize how stupid this is."

Erika: "Do you think this is stupid?"

Teramoto: "I think your childish attacks are."


Teramoto: "Honestly, I was expecting better from you. You're just making fun of me, distorting my words and making sarcastic remarks. If you thought I would be impressed by all that, I'm sorry to disappointing you. I've dealt with people's jokes about my beliefs all my life. In the end you're just belittling things you do not understand, like everyone else. And what exactly did you accomplish? The people that are with you didn't believe me to begin with. Is that all the precious contribution you're giving? Is that why your presence was deemed necessary? If that's so, I'm sure they're as much disappointed in you as I am. If you're really the great detective you claim to be, why don't you try to explain what they couldn't?! Go on, Furudo Erika. Isn't it why you're here? I'm listening."

This is bad.
What is the deal with this girl? I have never met someone who follows the principle of attack as the best defense more than she does. My strategy was effective, but I have made a fatal mistake, a bad miscalculation from my part, and she spotted it! This is not the right battlefield for what I was trying to achieve. The people around me are not my allies, they are my enemies, and Teramoto somehow realized it. All that I proved is completely pointless to them, because, as she said, there was no need to show the blatant implausibility of something they did not buy to begin with!
What a cursed girl! I tried to shame her, and she is putting me into shame for trying!
And as if that wasn't enough, she dares to issue a challenge. She is asking me to solve her riddles. She is asking that to me! As if I really couldn't!

"Should I expose her tricks, here and now?"

No. Unlike this girl I am not the kind of person that attacks in full force at any given chance. I prefer to tease the enemies and keep them occupied, while I build a huge army behind their back to destroy them in a single devastating strike! Inflicting something less than a complete crushing defeat will not please me enough. This isn't the right battlefield.

"Should I let her win, for now?"

I am a prideful person, but I do not fear shame if it is to achieve my goals. Teramoto's biggest weakness is her exaggerated confidence in her tricks, it would be stupid not to exploit that. It's not like she completely deflected my early attacks, so this is not a clean victory for her. This will hurt a bit, but I must pretend she defeated me on this ground. It's all right, Erika, we just need to put on an enraged and frustrated face. Yes, just like that, a bit more...

"She will pay for this a thousandfold!"

Yes, just think about the time of our vengeance, Erika! Just think how sweet it will be! If you think about that, it will all come easily. This is nothing, absolutely nothing. Nagaoka who is silently gloating will pay as well.

Through the silence that suddenly fell upon the gym, the chime signaling the start of lunch break can be heard. It is as if the referee decreed that the match must be suspended. This is an informal meeting after all, we cannot possibly be so cruel to let these poor girls starve.
Satsukawa looks left and right, checking whether there is still someone who wish to ask more. He correctly interprets my lack of reactions as a sign that I am done for the day. Teramoto must be feeling victorious, a small consolation prize though, considering what she will have to face in the near future.

Satsukawa: "I think this is enough. From my side we obtained all the informations we required."

Wakamatsu: "Yes, we've heard enough, I see no point in discussing this any further. You can go, but do not think that means you're off the hook. It just means we no longer need to hear what you have to say. We will make you know our decisions regarding this whole affair, especially you, Teramoto. That is all."

So this is the end.
The girls stand, they bow, and they quickly leave the scene. There are many things we learned from them and many others that we still need to learn. My encounter with Teramoto left me with a bitter aftertaste. What were her objectives in the end? She wasn't really trying to make us believe in her occult theories, she repeatedly stated that she was fine with that. She only involves girls, and she leaves those who do not believe alone; that means she is not as foolish as to think she can convince everyone. But she cares about those who do, she cannot afford to lose them, and that is why she still played her part. No doubt those first years students will talk about what they witnessed for weeks to come. Teramoto values the image of herself that she created more than anything else, that is why she didn't escape, that is why she fought a desperate battle. She played her cards to minimize the damage as much as possible, without giving up her position. What a girl! I am not sure if I should wish she is the mastermind behind this case, because she makes such an amazing villain, or if I should wish the opposite, because if it was really her, it wouldn't be much of a revelation.
In the meantime the teachers and the principal started a discussion among themselves, and there is people all around taking away the chairs and the desks. Satsukawa was pulled into the ongoing argument. As for Oosugi, he left the gym without saying a word. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. Maybe he had a previous engagement, or maybe...

Erika: "That... bastard!"

Dlanor: "Is something wrong, Miss Erika?"

Erika: "Look Dlanor, maybe I'm wrong but... knowing how that Neanderthal's mind work..."

Dlanor: "Do you believe he is following Miss Teramoto?"

Erika: "Maybe, but that's not what worries me. He most probably reached the conclusion that Teramoto is involved in the crime. But she sounded pretty confident about her alibi, and someone as smart as her, someone who can count on so many followers, would she really kill a person by herself?"

Dlanor: "In that case, Mister Oosugi must be thinking that the executor is someone else."

Erika: "See? You also agree! Then whom Oosugi is most likely hunting right now?"

Dlanor: "Miss Kagami Hibari."

Erika: "Damn right! We cannot let him do that, Dlanor! Hibari is mine! She's my prey! I spotted her first!"

Dlanor: "However, would Mister Satsukawa agree with the plan of competing against his superior?"

Erika: "Where's the problem? He'll just follow me as soon as he sees me running!"

Satsukawa: "Hey, Erika? Is everything all right?"

Erika: "Satsukawa-san, we need to go!"

Satsukawa: "What? Uh... hey! Where are you going! Stop!"

Like hell I will stop just because he tells me so. I start running as fast as I can toward the exit. I have gained a head start by taking him by surprise, so I should be able to get far enough before he catches me.
Or maybe not...
A man appears out of the blue just in front of me and we almost crash. He couldn't have chosen a worse timing!

Erika: "Rokudou!"

Rokudou: "Milady!"

Satsukawa: "Don't let her escape! Rokudou-san!"

Rokudou: "By the gods! Whatever is happening?"

Erika: "I'm not escaping, I'm just in a hurry!"

Satsukawa: "You rushed without giving any explanations! At any rate it's good to see you finally arrived, Rokudou-san."

Rokudou: "The pleasure is mine, Satsukawa-san. And I'm terribly sorry for my delay, Milady, an unexpected complication in my work prevented me to join you earlier."

Erika: "It's all right Rokudou, but you chose the wrong moment to appear."

Rokudou: "Is it really such an urgent matter, Milady? I haven't served you your tea yet."

Erika: "My tea can wait! Follow me!"

Satsukawa: "Can I ask where's our destination at least?"

Erika: "I don't know! Somewhere!"

Satsukawa: "Seriously, that girl..."

Rokudou: "She seems to be in high spirit. Has something good happened?"

Satsukawa: "Normally I'd say it's the opposite, but with Erika, you can never be too sure."

Rokudou: "That's very like her. Hu hu hu!"

I quickly run to the main building, there are students all around, and this will make my search a lot more difficult. However this is also true for Oosugi, so, even if he has a head start, I might find to the target before he does, with a bit of luck. Where is Hibari's classroom? That might be a good place to start from, but that is also the first place that Oosugi would go to. Then I need to trust my intuition and assume she isn't there. A hyperactive girl like her probably rushed out of the classroom as soon as the bell chimed. If I am right, then there are good chances I will win this race.
The cafeteria on the first floor; Hibari is more likely to be here, if she doesn't bring her bento from home. But even assuming she is in this place, with so many students flocking and fighting for the limited food, it is nearly impossible to spot her, especially considering her diminutive stature. Even then I must try.
I slip through the many bodies, checking every corner, from every perspective. Satsukawa is doing his best to keep up, but in this situation his bigger build is giving him a disadvantage.
She is not here. I am about to give up, when I spot one of her club members. There are little chances she knows where I can find whom I seek, but there is no harm in trying.

Erika: "You! Do you know where Kagami Hibari is?"

Club member: "Eh? Ah... I think she was looking for Teramoto-senpai..."

She must have heard the news. Then where Hibari would go first? Teramoto's classroom. But obviously Teramoto was not there. Now if it was me, I would have simply waited, but considering it is Hibari... she is probably roaming around looking for her leader! This is bad, not only I must find her before Oosugi does, I must find her before she finds Teramoto!
Let's think this rationally. Considering the situation, moving at random is probably a bad idea, then I should rather wait where Hibari is most likely to appear by herself. Of course! There is only one set of stairs you can use to go up and down. I just need to cling on the hope that she is still on the move.

Erika: "Let's go!"

Satsukawa: "Where this time?"

Erika: "Second floor!"

Rokudou: "I fear I am too old for all this running around, I will wait you here, Milady..."

No point in wasting time answering, every second is precious. The stairs on the second floor are exactly at the center of every possible direction, so if one was looking all around school he would definitely need to pass from here. But now that I am on the actual spot, I am haunted by doubts. What if Hibari went outside? What if Oosugi found her? What if she is already with Teramoto? Or, what if Oosugi sees me?

Satsukawa: "Why did we suddenly stop?"

Erika: "I have decided to wait for my prey to appear here, rather than hunting her."

Satsukawa: "And your prey is?"

Erika: "Kagami Hibari, of course."

Kagami: "Uggah!"

Did I just hear that? How careless. Distracted by Satsukawa I didn't notice the person that was coming from the stairs above.

Satsukawa: "Oh, talk about the devil!"

That was probably not the right thing to say. She knows that Teramoto has been questioned, and now she knows that we are looking for her. This means we have already set off all of her alarms.
This is really not the best of all the possible situations. Now it will be a lot harder to make her talk, but I shouldn't complain too much. In the end it appears that I found her before anyone else and that means luck is on my side after all.
The first thing I need to do is to bring her to a safe place where Oosugi will not find us. Hibari is most likely going to deny everything just like her leader did, but she will not last for long. I don't want Satsukawa to get the wrong impression that I have become useless just because I let Teramoto win a battle. This is time to make up for that. I will bring Hibari down on her knees, or I am not Erika Furudo!

Erika: "What a wonderful coincidence! I was just looking for you, Kagami Hibari!"

Kagami: "So it's just like I feared... you're here for me, right? Right?"

Erika: "Uh? Well, of course we are..."

Kagami: "I spent all the time thinking about it! I couldn't sleep at night! You can leave fingerprints on paper? Or you can't? I didn't think you could at the time! But then I wondered... what if? What if I left my fingerprints?! Uggaah! Why didn't I think about it before?!"

I cannot believe what I am hearing. Incredulous I look at Satsukawa, he is as much as confused as I am, minus the slight amusement.

Satsukawa: "Hey, calm down now. Why don't you come with us and tell us the whole story in a tranquil place?"

Hibari becomes literally white and starts shaking her head repeatedly.

Kagami: "Come... with you? Come... with you? No! No! I didn't do it! I didn't do anything!"

Erika: "Well you must have done something, right? Why don't... you..."

I cannot finish the sentence. Why can't I? Well, it is pretty simple. It is not like I have suddenly lost my voice or anything. It is not because somebody interrupted me. It is simply because it would be meaningless to continue. Because the person I was talking to can no longer hear me. And she cannot hear me, because she is no longer in front of me. She sprinted away so fast I could barely notice, like only a trained basket player could.
She is escaping. And this is so stupid that it caught me completely by surprise. Where exactly is she escaping to? Up, she is going up. It is the most retarded direction she could have taken, even by assuming she had any chances to get away to begin with! And even if she manages to leave the school, whatever she thinks she can do? But this is completely pointless, because that girl is a total idiot and the fact that she is panicking is making it even worse, as hard as it is to imagine!
I once again find myself staring at the incredulous eyes of Satsukawa. We are both speechless.

Erika: "That idiot is escaping! I have prepared myself with several strategies to make her yield and talk, and what for?! She just spills the bean and run away as if admitting her guilt already! What the hell is wrong with that girl?!"

Satsukawa: "Let's go, Erika! She can't go anywhere!"

Erika: "Damn right! I'll slap her until she gains some sense! And that might take a very long while!"

Without further delay, we start our pursuit. We reach the third floor but Hibari cannot be seen on either wing. Satsukawa is quickly considering where to go, when a sound coming from above attracts our attention. Normally I wouldn't think it possible that our target decided to go further up, but considering what she has done already, this is actually pretty plausible. There is nothing up there, just the roof. There shouldn't be anyone on that place. Then the sound that we have heard must have been caused by a panicked Hibari that can not even tell left from right anymore. She trapped herself, she must be stuck in front of a door that she cannot open. That was quite a brief runaway!
We quickly climb he stairs, ready to face Hibari and to catch her, should she try to break through.

Erika: "That's as far as you go! Kagami Hiba..."

No. This must be a joke. This is a joke, right?

Satsukawa: "What the..."

The door is open.
Why? How? I am pretty sure it was closed yesterday, and according to Takamiya that is how it normally is. Does that mean that Kagami Hibari has the key? But why? That doesn't make much sense. But then how come the door is open now? I remember I have found it closed, then I opened it, but I closed it soon afterward. Then what? Nagaoka opened it again with another key, then he asked me to return the one that I stole. Then I left the place with Satsukawa following me and...

Erika: "That stupid Nagaoka forgot to close the door! This is unbelievable!"

Satsukawa: "Calm down, Erika! It's a dead end anyway!"

Right. She only bought some time. There is only one way to the roof, and that is right in front of us. In the end she is still trapped.

Satsukawa: "Listen, I'll go ahead and try to catch her. You stay near the door, in case she's hiding somewhere waiting for a chance to slip behind our backs.

Erika: "That sounds like a plan, let's do it!"

Just like Satsukawa suggested, he rushes forward while I place myself in front of the only possible exit and stand firmly. However it only lasts for a few seconds, because we instantly spot Hibari not far from us. Just like an animal trapped inside a cage, she is frantically and hopelessly trying to find a way out that cannot possibly exists. No matter how much she looks beyond the fence, there is only void all around her.
We slowly and cautiously walk toward her. We cannot underestimate this girl, she might actually be able to pass through us, that is what she does all the time on the court. If we had to play by the rules we probably wouldn't even stand a chance, but here we can grab her and tackle her without regards, so she cannot underestimate us either.
When she notices us, she turns around and pointlessly pushes her back against the fence. She is really scared, exaggeratedly so. We are not going to eat her or anything.

Kagami: "Stay back! Don't come near me! Go away! Go away! Leave me alone!"

Satsukawa stops, he seems to be worried. It takes me a few seconds, but then I realize what he fears. On that state of mind Hibari might decide to jump, that is a serious possibility. We must be cautious.

Satsukawa: "Kagami, it's all right, nobody is accusing you of anything."

Calling her by her first name, nice move. Satsukawa is trying to act as friendly as possible.

Kagami: "You're lying! I know! I'm not stupid! You're lying! You're lying! You're lying! I didn't do it! It wasn't me! I wasn't meee!"

She is crying, what a stupid girl!

Satsukawa: "Listen, Kagami. We don't know what you've done. Why don't you explain us? I'm sure everything will be all right, if you make us understand."

Kagami: "Uggaah! You stepped closer! I told you to stop! Why are you stepping closer?! Stop! Stop it!"

Satsukawa: "I didn't! Look, you want me to step back? I'll step back. Look."

Kagami: "It wasn't me... why? Why?! Uuuuh! Uuuuh!"

She turns her head and looks down behind her shoulders. This is not a good sign.

Satsukawa: "Kagami Hibari! Look at me! I'm on your side! I want to help you! Please, listen!"

But Hibari shakes her head, and she starts doing what we both feared the most. First her right leg, then the left, she is now on the other side of the fence.

Satsukawa: "Don't do it... Kagami! Whatever it's your problem we can solve it together! There's always a solution! There's always a solution to anything!"

The girl is standing on the other side of the fence.
Only her tiny hands holding onto the cold metal are preventing her from falling.
She is there, she is without hope.
She only wants to find a way out, she only wants to be free.

"Don't do it."

When you have no hope left, what else can you do?
When you don't care about anything anymore, what else can you do?
The ground is so far below, and yet it isn't scary, it's almost as if it's issuing an invite.
Come, come to me, I will grant you freedom.

"If you do that, you will die."

The typhoon is raging all around me, the sky is roaring.
This boat cannot hold for much longer.
The abyss is calling me!
Why am I even hesitating? This is why I came here!

"Your assistance is needed."

Who are you? No, I know who you are!
You want to use me? You want me to become your pawn?
You think that someone like me might be of any use to you?
Is that what you're telling me? Witch of Miracles?!

Erika, this is different. From this height she won't die. She will break a leg, she might even lose the use of both, in the worse case she will go into a coma. She won't die. Are you listening? Are you listening?

My body moves by its own accord. One step and then another.

Erika: "The girl is standing between life and death!"

Satsukawa: "Erika? What are you doing?!"

Erika: "You must save her! Show her the way!"

Satsukawa: "Stop it! Don't!"

Erika: "Grant her a miracle! Lady Bernkastel! My master!"

And the girl takes the final step. Her tiny figure disappears from our eyes.

Satsukawa: "No!"

Erika: "Noooo!"

We rush forward as fast as we can. I do not hold back and I hurt myself when I hit the fence. What for, anyway? Is there even any point? Why did we run here? To see what remains of Hibari's body? To see if she is still alive? To see how much of her blood flew on the ground?
We both remain there looking down for a few seconds, speechless.

Erika: "This... can't... be... true..."

Satsukawa doesn't answer, he is completely shocked.

Erika: "This is a lie... Tell me this is a joke..."

Satsukawa: "Aaaaah..."

He falls on his knee, Letting his upper body hang limply on the fence.

Satsukawa: "Thanks God! Thanks God!"

Erika: "Are you kidding meeeeee?!"

We got it all wrong. We completely misunderstood the situation. Hibari didn't suddenly become crazy.
A fire escape. Emergency stairs. This must be a jump of just a few meters, this is probably nothing for someone like her. We were fooled! She got us again!
This sudden realization wakes me up from my stupor. I am back to myself again, and my soul is burning with anger! With my determination renewed I decide to follow my prey by jumping like she did.

Satsukawa: "Are you crazy?! You stay here! I'll follow her!"

As much as I hate to admit it, he has more chances than me to catch her. Reluctantly I decide to let him go instead and I watch him as he crosses the fence and jumps on the stairs below. In the end he finally got his chance to put to fruition all the time he spent training to pursue... dangerous criminals.

Satsukawa: "You stay there, got it?!"

Erika: "Yeah, got it! Move on! Don't let her escape!"

Like hell I will just stay here doing nothing!
When I turn around, I see Dlanor staring blankly at me.

Erika: "There you are! Thanks for helping! I almost didn't notice you were still with us!"

Dlanor: "I am just a kid."

Erika: "She must have reached the ground by now, and that means she can escape from practically everywhere. The fence surrounding these school grounds is just there for the sake of appearance. We cannot let her get away, Dlanor! Come with me! I've got a very nice idea!"

Dlanor: "Yes, Miss Erika."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chapter 3 (g)

Oosugi: "I see, it's cursed. But... how do you know? Did you happen to see that sword with your own eyes perhaps?"

Teramoto: "Not only I, many people did."

Oosugi: "Aaah, maybe I'm starting to understand. So you've seen that sword before, it was already inside the shed. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

Teramoto: "Naturally. You could have asked the same to anyone who was brought there."

Oosugi: "Then the only thing I still don't understand is why that sword was there. How did it end up inside a P.E. shed?"

Teramoto: "Obviously, I brought it there."

Whoa, Teramoto! Are you sure about that? I suppose you thought you couldn't deny what you have already told to so many people, but this is pretty dangerous. I don't think you understand the risk you are exposing yourself to.

Oosugi: "So that sword is yours."

Teramoto: "Do not misunderstand me, I've brought the wakizashi inside the shed where it would be safe, but it was inside this school to begin with."

Oosugi: "Where did you find it?"

Teramoto: "Below the ground, sealed inside a box. But the seal that it was meant to contain its curse was badly damaged and it was not longer working. That's how I was able to perceive it, and sensing the danger it posed, with the help of my club members, I unearthed it, I sealed it again, and I brought it where it could be of no harm."

Oosugi: "It appears you obtained the opposite effect, missy."

Teramoto: "..."

Not only ancient Babylonian statuettes, now even cursed swords? There is just no way I can buy her story, but even supposing it is true, that still doesn't save her. A sword is still a weapon, no matter if she believes it is cursed or whatever, she was supposed to inform the authorities about the finding. This is a blatant infraction.
Moreover Oosugi doesn't care about trivial details. Teramoto brought the sword inside the shed, to him that means the murder weapon belonged to her. It doesn't really matter if she stole it, found it, or anything. And this is all that matters to Oosugi, to him this is already a victory. He is very superficial, but in the end I can't completely blame him. Evidences and facts are all that he is required to find. There is little point in wasting time trying to judge or understand. All that he needs to do, is to provide elements that can be used in a courtroom. The rest is up to the prosecutors.
Oosugi will not press it further since this is an informal meeting, but I am sure he already has his eyes set on Teramoto.

Satsukawa: "Teramoto, do you understand the gravity of the situation you find yourself in?"

Teramoto: "... I understand..."

Satsukawa: "Shouldn't you tell us the whole truth then?"

No, it would be actually worse for her if she told us the whole truth, and she is smart enough to know that.

Teramoto: "I'm already telling the truth, and no matter what you say, I know what I've done and what I didn't!"

Satsukawa: "The facts are all against you, Teramoto."

Teramoto: "Are they? What could you possibly have against me, when I didn't do anything wrong!"

Satsukawa: "Both the place where the murder happened and the murder weapon were under your responsibility. I'm afraid to say that you don't find yourself in a good position."

Teramoto: "And what of it?! Can you prove that I was there at the time of the crime? There are people that can testify I wasn't! And what about the fact that I had been there just the day before? There are hundreds of students that can tell you how unlikely it is that I would go there two days in a row. And the murder weapon? Is there any proof that I used it to kill Gotsuji? I've been at the crime scene? Yes, but so did everyone else! I knew that there was a sword inside the shed? True, but so did many others! If you really have substantial proofs against me, I'd like to know which they are!"

Satsukawa: "What about the fact that only you knew how to open the door of that shed?"

Teramoto: "Didn't I already tell you? It was probably the demon..."

Nagaoka: "Stop with that nonsense, Teramoto! There's no such demon!"

Teramoto: "Then if you don't acknowledge his existence and the fact that I've bound him to my will, on which grounds you claim that only I can open that door?"

Nagaoka: "You... You obviously used some kind of trick!"

Teramoto: "Fine by me, if that's what you want to believe! But if you think so, then you also need to acknowledge that anyone could have used some kind of trick to open that door! If not, explain! What is this trick that only I can perform?!"

Nagaoka: "That's..."

Teramoto: "Satsukawa-san, perhaps you have an explanation."

Satsukawa: "..."

Teramoto: "Perhaps you also have an explanation as to why so many students believe the demon exist, in spite of the fact we live in a world that refuses to acknowledge the supernatural. Perhaps you can explain why even the skeptical Maeda has doubts. Perhaps, Satsukawa-san, you can explain what was the sound you've heard coming from a shed where no one, according to you, was present!"

A reckless all out attack, and Satsukawa was left completely speechless. How does she know?
So it wasn't just my impression, someone was watching us back then. Teramoto herself? Or maybe it was simply one of the basket club members; they already knew we were there. Kagami Hibari perhaps? At any rate Teramoto must have come to know what happened, and she must know what caused that sound. This is more likely one of her tricks, one of those 'demonstrations' she uses to impress the guests she occasionally brings there.
The problem now is that Teramoto managed to confuse even Satsukawa, throwing back on his face an event he is still bothered by. But I think her attack is even more insidious. She probably knows that Satsukawa didn't tell anyone about that strange sound he heard. Now even if he tried to argue back, he would have to explain the story to the others, and what exactly would he tell them? He would just become another pawn in Teramoto's hands.
This confrontation has come into an impasse. They made their point, and Teramoto played her cards pretty well, there is nothing more to say. She decided to attack rather than escape or to simply defend, and I think her strategy paid in the end. She will not come out of this unscathed, but she avoided a major crisis.

Erika: "Well? Wasn't it a well played match?"

Everyone's eyes are now focused on me, and it feels absolutely great.

Nagaoka: "A well played match?!"

The hilarious outraged reaction of Nagaoka makes me giggle. I send a confident glance to Satsukawa who is sitting next to me. He thinks for a while and then he nods.
All right, this is finally my turn!

Erika: "Let's be honest, you must admit that the girl has guts. To be in her position and to fight all of us with such strength and fervor! She really is something. No wonder she's the most famous student of the whole school."

Oosugi: "Humph."

Oosugi grunts and shakes his head, but the raised corners of his mouth tell me that he is amused in the end.
Teramoto is staring at me with circumspection. She must know I can't possibly be on her side. Rumors spread fast in this school and she must have already heard a lot of stories about me.

Nagaoka: "That's nothing to be proud about! It's absolutely irresponsible to praise this girl for her defiance!"

Erika: "I see, that's definitely true from your perspective, Nagaoka-san, but what about the perspective of the students? Just look at Teramoto's friends sitting next to her. What do you see in their eyes? Don't you see how proud they are of their leader? Don't you see how they look at her with admiration? Have you ever been looked at in the same way when you were a student? Or... at any given moment of your life?"

Nagaoka: "W-what?!"

Wakamatsu raises her hand to stop him and shakes her head. She is probably reminding him that he would just make a fool of himself by arguing with me. Nagaoka grits his teeth in frustration, but in the end he looks away and crosses his arms.
In the meantime Teramoto regained her confidence. She is smiling at me with an even more arrogant attitude than before. She must have already figured out that my words of praise are actually a trap. Thanking me or declaring to agree with what I said would mean to openly admit her defiance, and she must play the part of the good student that is just defending herself from false accusations.

Teramoto: "I've heard about you. You must be the woman that claims to be the great detective Erika Furudo."

Unsurprisingly Teramoto's first move is another attack, a cautious strike, that doesn't expose her too much. She is good, but she lacks in subtleness. Her strategies are way too easy to read.

Erika: "That's right, I'm Erika Furudo. Pleased to meet you, Maaya Teramoto. I hope we'll become good friends. *giggle* *giggle*"

Teramoto: "I suppose it is your turn to interrogate me. Is there anything you wish to ask? I'm prepared and willing to answer any question."

Erika: "Oh, I'm sure you are, Teramoto, you're such a good girl! And I was so enthralled by the story you told us a while ago. Did you ever consider becoming a writer?"

Teramoto frowns and adjusts her glasses with her middle finger. A sign of nervousness?

Teramoto: "I will probably write several books in the future, essays about my view of the occult arts and the spiritual world, of course."

Erika: "And they say young people today lack in ambition!"

Teramoto: "I'm a very ambitious person, and I have no fear to show it. I think it's a good quality."

Erika: "Sure it is, as long as it doesn't make you cross the line. Where did you draw your line, Teramoto?"

Teramoto: "I'm... I'm very self-conscious of the rules of society, I'd never break them."

Erika: "Good to hear that. What about morality?"

Teramoto: "... Which morality?"

Erika: "Yours, Teramoto. Do you have any?"

Teramoto: "Ha ha..."

A nervous laughter? She seems to be lost for words and I think I see anger in her eyes.

Erika: "What's the matter, Teramoto? Are my questions troubling you?"

Teramoto: "I'm not quite sure I understand what you're trying to demonstrate."

Erika: "Let's talk about your... literally fantastic story."

Teramoto: "..."

Erika: "I really liked the part of the ancient Babylonian statuette. Relics from lost civilizations add an exotic and mystic flavor to the plot, but I think you should have fleshed out its description. For example what kind of material was it made of?"

Teramoto: "... I don't know the particulars... The spirits didn't tell me."

Erika: "It survived the passing of thousand of years, it couldn't certainly be made of a weak material don't you think?"

Teramoto: "..."

Erika: "I think you should say it was made of bronze. If you said it was made of clay you'd sound pretty stupid. In the first place clay is fired at extremely high temperature to produce the final result. Stone is also a very bad idea. Bronze works on the other hand. It was pretty common at that time and if you stretch it a little you can say that the arson reached a temperature high enough to melt it. Yes, bronze! That sounds good enough. What do you think?"

Teramoto: "What..."

Erika: "But there's a more difficult problem. It's an awful plot hole... Hmmm... that's really a nasty one... I'm not sure it can be fixed..."

Teramoto: "Wait a moment! What are you talking about?!"

Erika: "Ah, let me check one thing first, just to be sure. If I consider the description you've made about the american aerial strike, the number of victims and the extent of the damage, I can only think of one historical event that can match with all that. That would be Operation Meetinghouse, right?"

Teramoto: "Oh, so you figured that out. Of course that's the one I was referring to. Anyone with a decent knowledge of contemporary history of Japan could tell."

Erika: "Well... isn't that a very big problem, Teramoto?"

Teramoto: "What problem?! I can't see any!"

Erika: "Really? And yet you said it yourself, war is merciless and cruel!"

Teramoto: "What does that have to do with anything?!"

Erika: "Come on, Teramoto, don't play dumb now! If you wanted to maximize the effectiveness of an air strike against an entire enemy city, when would you strike?"

Teramoto: "How does that even matter?! They... uh... ah..."

Erika: "Operation Meetinghouse started after sunset, of course. Incendiary bombs were dropped on Tokyo for the whole night. Do you understand now?"

Teramoto: "Ugh..."

Erika: "Why were there students inside a school that late at night? Ah, this is really troublesome!"

For the first time I see worry on the faces of Teramoto's friends. They have never heard of this before, and now they are all looking at their leader, anxiously expecting her to come up with a good answer.

Teramoto: "Is that... such a strange thing that students would stay the night over at school? We do it all the time for the cultural festival... or for other special occasions..."

Erika: "Hmmm... that was a bit late for the cultural festival, but I see your point. Maybe it was a sport club staying over for a special training, or something... That's a bit far-fetched but I guess that will have to do. It's just that from the way you told the story before, you seemed to imply hundreds of students were burned alive! It was such a dramatic thing to imagine, but I guess we'll have to settle with a few dozens. What a pity!"

Teramoto: "You..."

Erika: "But historical inconsistencies aren't the only issue. If there's one thing that I hate about badly conceived novels is when the characters inexplicably do not take the most obvious and logical actions to solve a problem. It becomes ridiculously evident that they just need to take the hard path because else there wouldn't be a compelling story to tell. The worse case is when the author introduces a plot device to solve an otherwise unsolvable situation, and then simply forgets or pretends it never existed in a later part when the related problem could be instantly fixed through the same mean. I hate that, it's really disappointing! Don't you agree?"

Teramoto: "This has nothing to do with me!"

Erika: "It has all to do with you! I mean, you have bound that demon to your will! And you have a Ouija board! Why don't you just ask him who was the killer? He certainly must have witnessed the crime! Oh wait, you claim he did it himself... but through a human! Then you just need to ask him which was that human! Problem solved!"

Teramoto: "Do you expect a demon to always tell the truth?! He only tells me what he wants!"

Erika: "Then what about the souls of the students? You said that they told you things against the demon's will. You can ask them!"

Teramoto: "That won't work anymore! After the demon realized that I could hear them, he prevented further contacts! Now they can only talk to me when he wishes so!"

Erika: "And this is the extent of your powers? How disappointing! In the end you can only learn what the demon wants. I was under the impression that demon obeyed you."

Teramoto: "There are things that I can force him to do, and things that I cannot. I cannot make him tell me everything that he knows..."

Erika: "Things you can... things you cannot... That's a bit vague. It really smells like something you don't want to specify so you can turn it however you want depending on the situation."

Teramoto: "I don't think you would listen to my detailed explanations..."

Erika: "Anyway I think I've already seen through the plot twist you're preparing. Maybe you should make it a little less obvious."

Teramoto: "What the hell are you talking about?!"

Erika: "In the first place, aren't shinto priests supposed to exorcise demons? Why are you binding one and bending him to your will?"

Teromoto: "For your info, I'm not a shinto priest. And beside, this demon is too strong and dangerous to be exorcised!"

Erika: "Well that's another part of your story that I don't quite like. The demon is too weak to leave the school grounds, but he's too strong to be permanently bound. He's too weak to kill a person by himself, but he's too strong to be exorcised. You should make up your mind!"

Teramoto: "Everything is relative! I'm too strong to be tied by a single wool thread, and I'm too weak to break an iron chain! There's nothing strange about that!"

Erika: "But I'm digressing. What really caught my attention is the fact that you said from the very beginning that the demon needs to absorb spiritual power in order to regain his original strength."

Teramoto: "Yes, are you seeing another problem with that?"

Erika: "And aren't your gatherings meant to draw spiritual power from the many female students of this school?"

Teramoto: "That's in order to strengthen the magic circle!"

Erika: "Well, that sounds like an obvious a lie. A magic circle that requires to periodically absorb spiritual power? And from hundreds of students? Why don't you just admit that you're planning a plot twist? At the end you will reveal that all of this time you actually fed the demon with the souls of the unknowing guests you brought there!"

Teramoto: "Ha ha ha! That's absolutely ridiculous! What the hell are you..."

Even if Teramoto laughs it off, the first year students are seriously concerned, and they're looking at each other with terrified expressions.

Erika: "When the story reaches the climax, It is revealed that the leader the good guys have been following, is actually an emissary of the very evil they tried to fight! They've been manipulated into doing the opposite of what they tried to achieve all along! It's perfect! It's a classic!"

Teramoto: "Stop talking as if everything I said was nothing but fiction! The demon exists, it's a serious danger! This is reality, not a novel!"

Erika: "Ah, ha ha ha! Of course, this is reality! How could I miss that? My bad! My bad!"