Plans of peace and survival rise amongst another death.
I can't sleep beneath the trees of wisdom
When your ax has cut the roots that feed them
Forked tongues in bitter mouths
Can drive a man to bleed from inside out
-"What If," Creed
This had to be the worst day of Hiroki's entire life. Being dragged into this sadistic little game and forced to witness his friend, Yoshitoki's, head being blasted open by that disgusting slug of man, Kamon. Why didn't he do anything? If he was really half the friend he claimed to be, he would've burst out of his desk and held Yoshitoki back. Then how the Hell was he suppose to protect Yoshio, Yuko, and Kayoto from similar fates?
Kayoto gave him a supportive smile when she looked at her green team's leader, the title they all had silently dubbed Hiroki with. Leader? Hiroki never thought anyone would look up to him like that. It was kind of flattering, proof that his years of martial arts training had made him strong in the eyes of others. Especially Kayoto, the girl he had loved more than anything and almost made The Program somewhat tolerable.
If only the situation wasn't so grim, he'd hold her in his arms, kiss her, and tell her how much he loved her. And as tempting as it was to forget about everything and act on his desires, he remembered they were not alone. He was pretty sure Yoshio wouldn't mind too much; maybe even find it sweet\romantic or even be a little jealous. Who knew how much of Yuko's faith would play into their little public display of affection. In a weird kind of way, Hiroki chuckled at the thought of Yuko fainting like a southern belle with a loud, yet dainty gasp.
Then another thought came, scolding him for his selfishness: Takako. His best friend, confidant, and source of strength ever since they were children. Was she ok? Was her team treating her well? Would he have the heart to fight her if they ever crossed paths? No, he didn't want to think about it. Takako would never hurt him on purpose.
An allegiance. Sure it was more of a Shuuya idea, but then he wouldn't have to worry about hurting her. Him and Yutaka were friends so he'd join in right away and Yuuichiro was a nice enough guy and his friendship with Yoshio would help convince him. As for Mitsuko...damn it, even if she agreed, she'd be more than willing to tear their team apart from the inside. There went that idea unless she was killed off by the time they got to Takako.
"Any ideas?" Yoshio's voice broke his train of thought. The large student turned to him, all quiet and his attention focused on Hiroki. Hiroki had expected him to be too enthralled with his Game Boy Advance to notice anything (unless The Program decided not to return it to him). Instead he already had his crossbow prepared, ready shoot anything suspicious. Perhaps being on a team without a bully in sight was helping to keep him from snapping and sniping people from the roof of the nearest building.
Hiroki looked at his tracker. "Maybe we don't have to fight at all. As long as we have this, we can avoid the other teams and hope that they finish each other off." The others gave him their silent approval. Even little Yuko who was filled with so much nervous energy that she looked like she was going to explode and take her entire team with her. "There's somebody coming, we got to get going."
"But, what about Takako?" Kayoto thought while she got up from tree stump she was sitting on. "Aren't you in love with her?"
It was quiet, too quiet to be exact. Mizuho's head darted around every half minute to make sure no one was going to pop out. She swore she heard the pitter-patter of another team's feet as soon as they arrived. An obvious sign that her Ivory Crusaders were truly blessed if the others were fleeing from their presence.
But when to let her teammates in on this wonderful blessing. Not like anyone ever believed her; even Kaori and Megumi humored her out of friendship when an idea struck her so hard she had to let it out. For now she would keep her mouth shut and gradually drop hints until they began to accept her visions of their glorious destiny.
Still nothing out there. How much longer could her Ivory Crusaders' luck last? Not all of the teams would be as scared so something just had to jump out sooner or later. From Mizuho's guess it would either be out of the koi pond they just passed or as soon as they ascended the wooden stairs going uphill.
She returned her focus to her fellow crusaders. Sakura had gained a few feet ahead of the others; probably so she could be the first one to greet her boyfriend if they ever came across him. Inada sighed at the girl's head being so far in the clouds until Sakura's right leg instantly sunk into the third step.
"Sakura, oh my God." Yukie gasped. "Tadakatsu, help me get her out." Both of them choose an arm and pulled her up.
"Stop it. You're hurting me." Tears of pain poured from Sakura's eyes as she buried her face into Tadakatsu arm. He was no Kazuhiko, but if she closed her eyes and convinced herself that her boyfriend instantly gained some extra muscle mass, she could pretend that he was.
Ceasing their rescue attempt, they looked down on the trap step; damn thing had a horde of barbed wire waiting inside and greed fully holding on to Sakura's leg.
"Shit." Tadakatsu growled. "This is what they must've meant when they said there'd be traps." Before any of them could think of a clever enough idea, Mizuho pointed Sakura's kitana right at their faces.
"Mizuho, you're a genius." Sakura beamed.
Inside her mind, Mizuho smiled proudly as Yukie began cutting away the wire. What would they ever do without her?
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Megumi asked as she peered over Shinji's shoulder as he hacked away at his laptop.
"Of course it will." Shinji gave her a flirtatious wink that made her giggle. Megumi could just imagine half of the girls in their grade squealing how much they hated her for being on the same team as Shinji without another girl on their team to share him with. And if his plan to hack into The Program's security system worked, this horrible game would be over before her family had a chance to worry. "Have I ever let you down? Besides, we got this baby to protect us." Shinji flashed his Desert Eagle at them.
"Damn. All I got were these brass knuckles." Hiroshi said with a little envy as he pulled his assigned weapon from his bag.
"I know," Megami's diver's knife felt so little and pathetic compared to Shinji's gun. "The girls get better weapons my foot."
"Hey Kazushi," Shinji turned to his last teammate. "What did you get?"
"This." It was humiliating enough that he got a wire coat hanger and was dumb enough to show them, but did they have to bust up laughing? "Yeah, yuck it up douche bags."
"Chill out Kazushi. If we come across a giant killer fetus, we'll call you." Shinji put his hand on Kazushi's shoulder between a fit of laughter.
"Attention little warriors." Kamon's voice blared over the loud speakers that littered the island.
"Great," Kazushi groaned. "What does that prick want?"
"I know it's a little early, but I just couldn't help myself." Kamon was acting like he was fighting back the urge to spill out a juicy piece of gossip. "The Program and I would like to give a big congratulations to Boy#12, Yutaka Seto, for being the first one to give his life for our new game."
"Shinji, I'm so sorry." Megumi was about to put her around him, hoping that the hugs her grandma had always given her when she was upset would work.
"I should've been there." The rapidly growing tenseness in Shinji's body was more than enough to send her reeling back.
"Don't say that. There was nothing you could do."
"Given the ungrateful youth of today," Kamon mused while loudly chewing his lunch. "It's nice to know that there still are plenty of young people who respect the law."
"Bastard." Thousands of scenarios of the possible deaths his best friend could've met flashed in Shinji's mind. Why Yutaka? What did he ever do to anyone? He had feelings, hopes, fears, loyalty and all that shrimpy fuck could do was smack his food like a pig while announcing his death.
"Shinji?" Megumi gulped at the tremors of rage erupting from his body. "Please don't kill yourself. Don't kill us."
"Yeah man, you ok?" Hiroshi tried to stay his normal tough, calm self only to find that he was becoming the same ghostly pale that Kazushi was turning. Hiroshi cursed himself for acting like Ryuhei, but he couldn't help to let the collective fear of the others take control over him. At least that's what he told himself.
"Fucking bastard!" Seizing the laptop, he slammed it against the ground with all of his might. Even though Shinji was far from a wimp, the others couldn't believe the amount of strength he possessed to shatter laptop in so many unrepairable pieces. "It's too good for him."
"Too good?" Kazushi glared at Shinji with an equal amount of rage. "I have a life, Shinji, and I plan to keep it, dead midget boyfriend or not."
The temptation of yanking Kazushi by the collar of his uniform and yelling at him to take it back screamed in his mind, but he stopped and realized that couldn't afford it, especially after that little outburst. "Stay frosty. Stay frosty." Now was not the time to snap, his team needed him. Taking a breath, Shinji immediately calmed himself down. "I have a better idea.
"The death calls will continue as usual."
"Ha! Pay up!" Ryuhei stuck his hand in front of Tatsumichi's face as soon Kamon's announcement was over. He growled, pulled out his wallet, and placed twenty dollars worth of yen in Ryuhei's hand.
"You two are so sick." Kaori gave a disgusted look at them as Ryuhei happily counted his newly acquired wealth; easiest twenty-dollars he ever made.
"Shove it, zit-magnet." He shoved the yen in his pocket. "I almost betted on you."
"Hey, I got a gun and can blast a hole in anyone." She waved her gun at him. "Especially you."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever dog girl."
"Both of you, shut-up." Satomi sharply turned, pointing her Uzi at the both of them. "Do you want everyone to hear us?"
The two immediately shut their mouths and backed off. "Aren't we a little dominatrix today?" It was a popular term among Tatsumichi friends at his old school to describe some of the bitchy, aggressive, yet rather pretty girls in their class. Lucky them, they didn't have to be put through this Hell where a new kid like him was devoid of emotional attachments to the other students and could easily be done away with.
He did feel like a heel for making that wager even if his bet, Yuuichiro, was the first one to take a dirt nap. It just helped to ease the tension of the game and get some support points with Ryuhei. Not that he'd want to hang around with the little thug if he had the choice, but it would at least take a bit of the expendable factor off of him. Besides, a simple machete could never stand up to horde of bullets.
Out of all of the millions of colors in the world, Shougo wondered why he had got stuck with pink. And not just any pink, it had to be the most disgustingly cute version the officials could come up with.
"You know, we don't have to fight." Yumiko's voice broke his train of thought.
"What?" Yoji asked, fingering his collar with the secret hope that it would fall off.
"That's what they want; for us to play their sick little game and look what it did to Yutaka."
"And what do you suggest?" Shougo sighed. God, there had to be at least one of her in every game.
"To get everyone together." At least she got Chisato to give her an interested glance; so far so good. "If we can get to that tower over there and call for peace, we can get enough people to over throw the program. And nobody else will have to suffer." Yumiko felt herself get more excited with each word. "I'm sure someone left a megaphone around there somewhere. And..."
"Yes?" Good, another person interested in her plan. This was turning out better than she thought.
"That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my entire life. You'd get shot full of holes the second you opened your mouth." Just when she was about make an argument, she stopped dead in her tracks. Damn, why did he have to be right?
Ignoring Yumiko, Shougo turned his map over. "Anyone got a pen?"
"Got one." Chisato pulled out her Hamtaro pen which shared the same cutesy-poo pink as their collars. Kawada sighed and began writing the names of the other teams and their members so they would know what they were up against.
Hirono leaned back against a tree, clicking the safety on her gun, as Shougo began drilling Yoji and Yumiko with questions. As long as there were no surprise attacks Hirono could pretend that she was sitting in a park by herself.
"You don't mind if I sit here, do you?" Chisato asked, pointing to the tuft grass next to her.
"Knock yourself out." In hopes of alleviating her boredom, Hirono attempted to spin her gun on her finger like the cowboys in those old western movies.
"Hirono, why do you do it?"
"The stealing, the drugs, the bullying. Why do it?"
"What are you, the Morality Squad?"
"I'm serious. You and your gang always taking money from Kaori? She's never done anything to hurt you."
"It hurts to look at her." Chisato frowned. "Listen girlie, if you're to get all self-righteous, go bother Mayumi. At least I admit it."
"What does she got to do with this?" That certainly took Chisato back. While the always prim girl kept to herself, Chisato secretly admired her grace and excellent manners.
"With the all the creepy old men she whores herself out to, she's only five blow jobs away from competing with Mitsuko."
"How do you know that?" Hirono just had to be lying. Bad girls like her were always saying stuff like that to cover their tracks. But for some reason she had a hard time believing that.
"I have my sources." She said with a laugh.
"That little bitch." The words simmered inside of Mayumi's head as her grey team made their way through abandoned lot. "Buddha knows who she already blabbed it out to. Wouldn't be surprised if that whore, Mitsuko, is already making plans to blackmail me."
Maybe if she was lucky, she could silence Hirono before she revealed her little secret. Slut, liar, hypocrite would be branded on her within seconds after her reputation of shy, elegant purity came crashing down. All she was doing was being dropped off at the park by her date. Ok, so he was balding, had beer gut, and old enough be her father, but it wasn't her fault that she was pretty enough to catch his attention from the other girls in her employer's catalog. It was never any worse than third base and he always gave her a little extra. And lo and behold, that hawk-haired bitch had to ruin everything just as he gave her a good-bye peck on the cheek.
"Mayumi." Hirono chirped, ran over and hugged her like they were the best of friends. "How're you doing girl?"
"Oh. Hirono. I didn't expect you to be here." It took all Mayumi's inner strength to keep from strangling her.
"Say, who's this handsome guy with you?"
"This is...my Uncle, Tenchi."
"Hi Uncle Tenchi." Her squirming egged Hirono to jack-up the cuteness to a syrupy sweet level. "I'm Mayumi's best friend, Hirono." She gave his hand a hard, friendly shake; ignoring how his eyes were fixated on her tits. "You know, you got a really great girl there. So prim and proper. I swear she doesn't even belch, fuck, or anything."
"Hirono." Mayumi almost growled.
"It was nice talking and all, but Uncle Tenchi and I have to go." Grabbing the back of "Uncle Tenchi's" t-shirt, she dragged away. "Now."
"Say, is she available?" He whispered as soon as Hirono was a block away.
Oh when Mayumi finally got her finely manicured hands on her. Hirono would pay for embarrassing her even if Mayumi had to shove her nunchucks down her throat sideways. It would be no use stealing from Noriko and Yukiko; both of them got even more screwed-over in the weapons department than she did. Let alone acting all sweet and helpless to convince Shou to let her use his derringer. Unless Hirono got stuck with a set boxing gloves or something equally useless, she'd have to pray for a better weapon.
"Yumiko, where are you?" Even though she felt like a baby for mentally calling out to her friend, Yukiko couldn't help it. Yumiko was always the strong one who kept stray dogs and mean girls away from her and helped her when she got flustered. And now she was thrown into a hellish war zone with a dart set, a grey exploding collar, and three other people she hardly knew. It would've been four if Yoshitoki had survived, but it was no use thinking about him now.
She had to be strong and keep from crying as if Yumiko was there. It would break her best friend's heart to see her face all wet and puffy. "Just got to be strong. Can't cry. Just got to be strong." The words ran over and over in her head. The two of them had plans: to be the first girls in their families to go to college, go to Tokyo for a major shopping spree in June, even name their first-born daughters after each other. She just couldn't give up, not until this horrid game was over and she got to see Yumiko one last time.
Just the thought alone, lifted her spirits. She could do this. They'd be reunited and maybe their teams could form an allegiance to put those monsters behind the game in their place. So far, so good. There was no way Yukiko Kitano was going to be a burden to her team. Just as long as she ignored the high-pitched, rapid beeping that arose from the crates around her when she activated that trip wire...
"Yukiko! Get out, now." Shou's warning flew right over her head. Why did she have to take the back? Everyone else was a good ten feet from the crates and now she was going to die.
"Yukiko, please." Noriko begged with an equal amount of fear as if she was trapped in there with her. Bah, what did she know? Noriko wasn't the one who was letting Yumiko down by being completely paralyzed with fear as a mass flood of tears were running down her face.
"I...I...ca...n't..." It was so simple, just muster-up whatever courage she could still scrape together and run like hell before she was blown to kingdom come. But why couldn't she do it?
"Listen sweetie," Shou extended his right hand toward Yukiko as if she had been pushed into a muddle puddle and got her favorite dress dirty. "just take my hand and I'll pull you out."
It didn't seem that hard. It wasn't like she was thrown in with one of the other thugs in Shou's little group where they'd probably try to feel her up the second she pulled out her hand. She just had to trust...
"No. Stop it." The chattering of her knees and teeth were overriding her hearing to the point that she couldn't even think, let alone hear anything her teammates were shouting at her. Plugging her ears with her fingers wouldn't make it go away. All she wanted to do was live and nothing was letting her.
Shou gave an "aw, screw it" sigh, rolled up his sleeves, and was ready to grab her.
"I'm sorry." Yumiko muttered just before one of the crates exploded, consuming her and sending her teammates flying back six feet. They'd get over any injuries, but at least she'd never have to feel hers.
End of Chapter 2. 39 Students Remain.