Erika: "Very well, I think Oosugi-san made a question. It would be rude not to answer, don't you think? *giggle* *giggle*."
Oosugi: "I didn't ask it to you!"
Erika: "Nonetheless I know the answer. This is the tool that Hibari used to close the shed's door."
Kagami: "Why do you know?! Ah!"
Erika: "There's no point in denying it anymore! I've already figured out everything by myself!"
Satsukawa: "But how exactly does that work?"
Kagami: "That's right! Just because you have that, it doesn't mean you can use it! You'd never guess how in a million years! It's complicated!"
Erika: "Maybe it's complicated for you, but it's just child play for someone of my intellectual stature."
Kagami: "What?! If you think you're that smart, then prove it!"
Erika: "As you wish! In the end I think it's faster for me to say it."
And I certainly prefer to be the one explaining the solution of this riddle!
Erika: "First, just imagine that you can see the crack of the closed door from above. Try to visualize that. Now imagine that you're inserting this tool in it, starting from the ring. Naturally the ring must be perpendicular to the floor, and the L-shaped part must be parallel to it. There's no other way. Push the ring all the way until it gets completely inside."
Satsukawa: "Are you sure this is right? What can you do after that? The tool at this point should be stuck."
Erika: "Ha ha! Only an idiot would give up at this point! It's pretty simple if you reason about it. You just need to rotate the tool around the axis of the the shorter arm, ninety degree, pushing the longer arm downward. The ring at this point would be parallel to the floor."
Oosugi: "Then... what?"
Erika: "Then? The next step is blatantly obvious! At this point nothing will prevent you from pushing the shorter arm completely inside the room! That's yet another rotation of ninety degree, but this time you do it by pushing the longer arm directly up, and the ring down."
Satsukawa: "Oooh, I see! I didn't think about that..."
Erika: "Now change perspective, try to visualize the door from inside the room. The shorter arm with the ring attached can be made to swing right and left freely."
Erika: "At this point you need to consider a fact. The latch was custom made by someone who designed it with the specific purpose of being opened and closed from outside using this tool. So while normally this system would encounter several logistic problems, in our case it works perfectly with little effort. For example, the ring is made to fit perfectly with the latch's handle. From outside it might be a bit difficult to hook it, since you can't see it, but with some practice it should become automatic."
Kagami: "That's right! I can do it with my eyes closed! Uggah! I-I mean..."
Erika: "This probably works better if you hook the handle from above. Once you do that, it's pretty simple. If you push the tool down the latch will open, if you push it up, the latch will close. There's nothing really that complicated about it. Does everyone understand?"
Erika: "In order to extract the tool, you just follow the same steps I described before, but in reverse order."
Kimura: "Who the hell came up with this complicated system, and why?"
Erika: "I can see two reasons. The first was to improve security; no one can open a lock that doesn't exist. I can imagine that whoever came up with this idea is a little paranoid. The second was to create the illusion that someone or something had to be inside the shed at any time. This was conveniently used by Teramoto as a way to further challenge the disbelief of the students. For what concerns the who, I have a theory, but I guess it's easier to ask Hibari directly."
Kagami: "Eh? I think that was Maaya's idea..."
Erika: "What?! Are you sure?"
Kagami: "I don't know... I never bothered asking. I always assumed it was Maaya who came up with all that..."
Erika: "Nevermind then..."
Oosugi: "What now?!"
Kagami: "Maaya is going to kill me when I'll tell her I revealed her secret! Uggaaaaaah..."
Erika: "Where's the problem? Just don't tell her."
Kagami: "Uh? But... you..."
Erika: "Why should I tell her that you told me anything about that? I don't have any reason to. Plus, I thought I made it clear that I had already figured out everything by myself. You just don't tell Teramoto a single thing about this matter, and all will be fine."
Kagami: "Is it... really all right?"
Erika: "Sure, why not? It's not like it'd be a lie or anything. By the way, Yuu Azuma never betrayed you."
Erika: "Oosugi-san simply made you believe so."
Oosugi: "Hmph! It's not like I actually said she did."
Kagami: "Y-you tricked me! You tricked meee! What's with such villain-like deceptions! Aren't you supposed to be the good guys?! Uggah!"
Erika: "By the way, Hibari, why don't you finally tell us everything from the beginning. Before that, I want to make sure you reflect on something. At this point is there any kind of secrets you still need to protect? Is there any reason to lie? We have pretty much understood everything you wanted to hide from us already. Don't you think?"
Kagami: "Uh... uh... hmmmgh... Ug... gah..."
Erika: "So? What do you say? If you still have doubts, I can assure you something. I think I have understood the general situation already, and the way I see it, telling us the truth can only improve your situation. Satsukawa-san also understood, and he reached the conclusion that you're innocent, as I did."
Satsukawa: "Yes, I can confirm that. Hibari, just tell us everything that you know."
Kimura: "Wait a moment!"
Oosugi: "The hell with it, Kimura. At this point let her talk."
Erika: "Let's begin, Hibari. This is your turn."
Kagami: "Hmmm... where should I start from?"
Oosugi: "You're in the gym with Yuu Azuma. Everyone else has already left. This is around 6:00 PM. What's next?"
Kagami: "Ah, yeah! I tell Yuu that I'm done for the day. She offers to do the boring stuff by herself as usual, and she insists I go ahead."
Same thing as she said before.
Kagami: "I go to the changing room, nobody is there anymore, I'm alone. I quickly change and I run toward the exit."
Erika: "Wait a second. You mentioned this earlier, but why were you in a hurry?"
Kagami: "I remembered that my favorite show was going to be aired that day! I didn't want to miss it! By the way... I ended up missing it anyway... uggah..."
Erika: "Wait... wait... let me get this straight... It was your idea to end training at 6:00 PM. Everyone else pretty much decided to end it fifteen minutes earlier, but you stubbornly decided to continue anyway..."
Erika: "And only after that you realized that you needed to go home as fast as possible?"
Erika: "Nevermind... I mean... how much in a hurry you were? Did you take a shower at least?"
No way... this is odd. If we assume that the culprit met the victim at 6:00 PM in front of the shed, then just how much time did it pass before Hibari also went there? Hibari wasn't supposed to be that fast. But wait, did the culprit actually know about all of this? Suddenly it would make a lot of sense if the culprit was one of the club members that left earlier. No, no, I am missing something. There was no need for Gotsuji to insist to leave earlier if she needed to meet a club member. They both would be free at the same time anyway.
Oosugi: "Go on. What do you do next?"
Kagami: "I open my locker to get my shoes, and whoa! There's a suspicious message inside!"
Oosugi snaps his fingers.
Oosugi: "Did you ever see that message before?"
Kagami: "No, never."
Oosugi: "Was it the first time you've seen it inside your locker?"
Oosugi: "Go on."
Kagami: "Well, of course, after I read it, even if I was in a hurry, I couldn't simply ignore it! I rushed to the shed to see what the hell was Hitomi thinking!"
Erika: "Are you the one that crumpled up that message? Or was it already that way?"
Kagami: "I didn't do that. It was folded when I took it... but... yes, I think I remember it was all creased."
Oosugi: "Tell me what you've seen when you arrived to the scene."
Kagami: "The door was open! It was a big shock! I couldn't believe my eyes!"
Erika: "You were the one that closed the door just the day before, right?"
Kagami: "Yeah... Wait! Why do you know?!"
Erika: "You told me that yourself. Did you forget already?"
Kagami: "Huh? Me?! When?!"
Oosugi: "Forget about it, for now. You must have entered inside the shed at that point."
Kagami: "I did... I did... it was dark, but I... I still saw her! It was... it was Hitomi!"
Oosugi: "Give me the particulars, whatever you remember."
Kagami: "I don't remember much! I literally went crazy! I don't remember almost anything! But I know she was inside the circle... and I've seen the cursed sword... the blood..."
It seems that she saw exactly the same thing that Oda saw. It was already done by that time...
Oosugi: "Anything else? Anything could be important, try to remember."
Kagami: "I don't... I don't... I was so scared! And then... then I took the message and..."
This is where everything becomes messed up.
Kagami: "That message never mentioned any names. I told you, right? It couldn't be meant for me, Hitomi would've never invited me there! Then everything became so obvious! The culprit did it! There was no other explanation! The culprit wanted me to find Hitomi inside that shed! A place that only I and a few others could access! Don't you understand?! I've seen way too many mystery movies to not know where that would lead. I fell on my knees, I cried, I was shocked, but in the end I could only think about myself! One of my best friends just died, the ace of my basket club just died, and all I could think was that I didn't want to be accused of being her murderer! I couldn't help it... I was so scared... And in the end I somehow managed to drag myself away. And I ran back to the main building... and there I wondered so many times: 'what should I do?', 'what should I do?', 'what should I do?!' There was no one around, no one! I wanted to get rid of that message, why it had to me? Why couldn't it be someone else? And then... then I remembered..."
Of course, that very morning something major had happened, and almost everyone inside the school knew about that.
Kagami: "Oda was just punished that day! He should've been still inside the school! It was easy to check if he hadn't gone already. I opened his locker, and... his shoes were still there! Of course, that was also true for Yuu, but I didn't want to involve her. I decided that Oda had to do it! Hitomi was his childhood friend after all! And so by that point it was already decided. I folded the message again and I placed it inside Oda's locker."
Oosugi shakes his head.
Oosugi: "Go on. The story doesn't end here, right?"
Kagami: "Yeah... I was going home... I wanted to get away from there as fast as I could but... in the end I couldn't..."
Erika: "Second thoughts?"
Kagami: "I realized that I was doing a bad thing after all! What if they'd blame Oda then? I don't like that guy, but I don't hate him either! Not as much as to want him to be accused of a murder he never committed! I couldn't do it! I really couldn't! So I thought... what if nobody did it? What if that was nobody's fault...? It was... it was demon! If it was the demon, then nobody would get in trouble! The more I thought about that, the more I convinced myself that it was the only way to solve everything!"
Oosugi: "What a stupid..."
Erika: "Sooo... in the end... You waited!"
Kagami: "Yeah... I waited... hidden. It felt like an eternity! I kept asking myself why Oda wasn't coming! I even thought he could be dead as well! I almost went insane with all those crazy thoughts haunting my mind! That's when I remembered about fingerprints..."
Erika: "Back then you realized that you left fingerprints?"
Kagami: "Yeah! And I knew you could remove them... and that's what I did... on Oda's locker..."
I see, that makes sense... wait!
Erika: "What about the message?!"
Kagami: "Like I said, I didn't realize you could leave fingerprints on paper!"
I just cannot believe this girl...
Oosugi: "Did you see Oda in the end?"
Kagami: "Of course I did! I saw him! And he saw the message! He went where Hitomi was, and I followed. I felt really bad for him... I knew what he was going through, I had just experienced it myself. But he didn't react the same way. He screamed so aloud! I didn't do that... I was too scared to scream, I practically couldn't even talk even if I wanted. For a moment I was really worried. I thought someone would come, and that would've been really bad. But no one did. Oda then rushed back inside the main building. I had to act quickly. As soon as he left, I closed the door with my Slim Jim. With that everyone would certainly believe... it must've been the demon! It wasn't me, it wasn't Oda either, it wasn't anyone's fault!"
Erika: "I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but no one among us ever thought that for a single second."
Even if I said that I am sorry, I am actually pretty happy to be the one to tell her.
Erika: "I suppose that you removed your fingerprints from the door as well, then."
Kagami: "Yeah, as fast as I could! Then I ran outside as if the demon was behind me!"
Oosugi takes a deep breath and shakes his head again.
Kimura: "Pretty funny story. But that doesn't mean it's the truth, it's hardly credible anyway."
Kagami: "It's the truth! I told you all that I know!"
Erika: "Kimura-san, do you remember what that man said when I asked him at which point the interrogation was? He said that Hibari was lying, 'no doubt about that'. Those were his exact words. Do you know what that means? It means that this girl is really bad at lying! She wouldn't fool a kid, even if she tried her best!"
Kagami: "Uggaaah! That's not true! Not true at all!!!"
Erika: "Of course now, I'm not asking you to trust me, I know you won't. But I believe you said that you trust Oosugi-san's judgment. Then this is where you should ask him: did Hibari lie? Do you have the feeling that she's still hiding something? How much do you think it's probable that she made it all up?"
Kimura suddenly becomes pretty serious. He stares intently at Oosugi without saying a word, waiting patiently for an answer. But the latter doesn't seem to be in the mood for that, he just grunts and smiles wryly after a few seconds.
Oosugi: "I'm tired of this, and this room has become way too crowded for my tastes. I'm going outside to cool my head. This interrogation has gone all wrong anyway, you completely messed it up! You can get this brat back to her home, for all I care. I'm out!"
What a sore, prehistoric loser! He couldn't admit it, the poor bastard, but the message was clear anyway. If he really still thought that Hibari knew something about the murder, he wouldn't simply let her go like that, no matter how much we messed up his plans. In the end he also had to recognize it: this girl is completely unrelated to the crime. She doesn't know anything more than what Oda does!
Without adding any other words, Oosugi stands up and slowly walks away. Nobody stops him, nobody comments. The interrogation room becomes strangely silent for a while.
Erika: "Well then... Oosugi-san might be already done with you, Hibari, but I'm not, not yet."
Kagami: "More questions?! I told you everything!"
Erika: "Just a few more. I imagine you don't have anything against that. Right, Kimura-san?"
Kimura: "The hell... do whatever you want."
Erika: "Good! Before anything else, Hibari, I want you to tell me what did you do after you left school. Specifically, I want you to tell me what did you say to Teramoto and to Azuma."
Erika: "Let's start with Teramoto."
Kagami: "Uggaaah... why do you know? Why?!"
Erika: "Because I'm a great detective! Did you even need to ask?! Now, your answer please!"
Kagami: "Gh... every... thing... I told her... everything..."
Erika: "Just like I thought. She knows you enough to believe that what you told her was the whole truth. And she also understood what an incredibly stupid thing you've done!"
Hibari, having received the finishing strike, collapses on the table, slamming her head in the process.
I can only imagine Teramoto's reactions as her friend narrated the whole story. Then again, I guess one could theorize two possible reasons to explain her anger. Teramoto could have simply been seriously concerned about her friend, or maybe she was the very person that wanted to frame her, in which case she couldn't really be happy that her plan didn't work.
Well, even if it wasn't Teramoto, there is no doubt that that Hibari acted against any predictions. It was stupid, but on the other hand... because of her something went wrong. What would have happened if Hibari just did what any other normal person would have done, in other words, what Oda did? If I find the answer to this question, I should be able to figure out which was the culprit's true plan.
Erika: "There's another person you talked to: Yuu Azuma."
Kagami: "I... didn't tell her the whole story... I just told her I was in a lot of trouble."
Erika: "That sounds suspicious to me."
Kagami: "You don't understand Yuu at all! She never thought I was the culprit, not even for a single second! She knows I would've never done that to Hitomi! The mere thought is ridiculous! She was my ace! I had great ambitions! Uggah... it's all gone now... and this is the last year for me..."
Erika: "So you asked her to provide you an alibi."
Kagami: "Yeah! And of course I also provided an alibi for her! It was a squid pro quote!"
Erika: "A 'quid pro quo'! But... Hibari... did it ever cross your mind that she might be the culprit?"
Kagami: "Uh? How? Why? When? Are we even talking about the same Yuu Azuma?! And anyway it doesn't work at all! When do you think she placed the message inside my locker? She couldn't possibly have the time for that!"
Erika: "What about before you even started club activities?"
Kagami: "Uh? What?!"
Erika: "Is that so strange? I think it's pretty clear why that method was used. You wouldn't open the locker until you were about to leave school, and you would definitely open it at that time. You need to retrieve your shoes before going outside, right? So it doesn't really matter when the culprit placed that message. It could have been any time since you arrived at school until after the club session ended."
Kagami: "But... but... that still doesn't make sense! When did she kill Hitomi?! When?!"
Erika: "Let's put that aside. I want to know more about the day before the crime. You were there, right? At that 'gathering'."
Kagami: "Ug... yeah... I was there..."
Erika: "I've talked to all the first year students that were invited that day. They said they didn't see you."
Kagami: "Of course not, I never reveal my presence when they do the gatherings, I stay hidden."
Erika: "Outside the shed?"
Erika: "Why you? Why not another member of the occultism club?"
Kagami: "It's something that we decided many months ago. Maaya said it'd be too suspicious if it was a member of her club, and there mustn't be any suspicions that someone is playing behind the scene. She also wanted to involve me somehow, and I accepted... it was funny after all... So I thought: why not?"
Erika: "In the end you're the one that opens the door every time, and you're the one that closes it after everyone leaves. Teramoto just pretends to use some kind of arcane command, and everyone believes she must be the one who does it, because they don't know there's a hidden accomplice."
But of course this is not all.
Erika: "You were Teramoto's friend even before high school, right?"
Kagami: "Did she... tell you?"
Erika: "No... nobody did."
Kagami: "Then how do you know?!"
Erika: "I told you, right? I'm a great detective! Beside, it was something pretty easy to imagine. You two don't really seem to have anything in common, and yet it seems that she trusts you more than anyone else. There had to be some reason for that. Since she became extremely popular by the time she started high school, I thought it was very unlikely that she grew that fond of you when she had so many other people to choose from."
Kagami: "Maaya... does she really like me more than anyone else?"
Erika: "So it seems. Do you think I'm wrong?"
Kagami: "No! Not at all! I mean... sometimes I wonder... why someone like her hangs with someone like me? I often have the feeling that she's going where I cannot reach her. We also took different paths. I have my club, she has hers... but she's such an amazing person! And she knows so many amazing people! We've almost nothing in common, just like you said! Then why? Rationally she shouldn't care about me, and yet she does..."
Erika: "Did it ever cross your mind that what Teramoto is doing is wrong?"
Kagami: "Why? She only wants people to believe in something, in a world when no one believes in anything anymore! Isn't a world where magic exists a lot more interesting? Isn't it a fantastic thing to witness something that defies common sense? Sometimes I envy those who are on the other side, sometimes I wish I was the spectator and not the performer! It would be such a wonderful experience! Like living inside an anime! Maaya sometimes explains her theories to me, all of her thoughts about what the supernatural is, and why it's so important. I don't quite understand all of that, but I think she's right. There are people that need to believe, and we make them believe. What's wrong with that?"
I smile. I smile like I didn't for a long time. A full smile, from ear to ear. And I feel the emotion that is causing it to the fullest. This is simply fantastic. She really asked me what is wrong with all that. She really asked me what is wrong with the very concept of magic that I know so well! The very concept of magic that I despise so much!
And now, whatever can I answer? What else if not...