「Everyone, are you ready, Devi?」
「Yeah... I'm good. Probably」
I gave a small nod to Lili's question.
A large, white room.
On the main wall was a large monitor, and on the other three walls were a row of doors.
Only one of the doors behind me was red, and it stood out abnormally.
We were already sitting around a round table in a death game area.
Once again, I look around at the people surrounding the round table.
Clockwise from me are Kurosawa-san, Akira Mizuki, President Kurashima, Kiyoka Yamauchi, Kirihito Hikami, Ryoko, Ponpoko-san, Shima-san, Kyoko, Kaneko-san, and Masaki-chan.
Akira Mizuki, President Kurashima, Kiyoka Yamauchi, Kirihito Hikami, and Ponpoko-san are still asleep. Lili has pinned their souls.
Wallets, phones, watches. Everything they were wearing has been confiscated. The reason is to lie about the time.
It is now nine o'clock in the evening, but in order for them to misunderstand the time, Lili will tell them it is nine in the morning.
Turning to the others, Kurosawa-san has her hand on her chest and is repeatedly taking deep breaths.
Masaki-chan seems to be somewhat excited.
Shima-san was writing the letters “人” on her palm and swallowing it.
Kyoko threw her legs over the round table, folded her hands behind her head, and rocked her chair.
And Kaneko-san is staring at Kirihito Hikami.
「So, what about Ponpoko-san?」
I asked, to which Lili replied without hesitation.
「Don't worry about it for now, Devi. As long as there are enough of us, it won't affect anything, Devi. When there are fewer of us, we can adjust as needed, Devi」
Lili then turned to the others and raised her voice.
「The mascot character will be in charge from now on, Devi, but in case of unexpected events, I want you to act and react as your assigned character, Devi」
「Yes, I'll do my best」
Masaki-chan and Shima-san nod to each other.
「Leave it to me」
Kyoko gives a thumbs-up, and Lili gives her a stern look.
「You're the one I'm worried about, Devi」
「What do you mean? Am I not trustworthy?」
「Nee, nee~. By the way, what kind of mascot is it? I think a cute one would be good. Like a cat or a rabbit」
When Kurosawa-san said that, Lili smiled.
「I've got a really cute mascot, Devi. Something cute and a little freaky」
To be honest, I'm a little worried.
Lili's taste is too unique.
Well, maybe devilish, if I put it that way.
「Okay, let's get started, Devi. Everyone pretend to be asleep for now, Devi. Then, start by waking up, Devi」
◇ ◇ ◇
I dreamed of whales.
A majestic figure surging to the surface from the bottom of the water. I followed it as it rose to the surface.
Gradually, my consciousness awakens. In a corner of my mind, I think, “Is it morning...? I don't want to go work...” as I rub my eyelids.
But when I gently open my heavy eyelids, I find myself in an unfamiliar place.
（Where is it? This place? When did I fall asleep?)
In my foggy mind, I try to recall what happened before I fell asleep, but like a small boat drifting on the ocean, my thoughts can't reach any shore.
「Ponpoko-san, are you okay?」
I looked up and saw Misuzu-chan looking at me with a worried face across the wide table.
I turned my eyes vaguely to the left and right.
Several faces surrounded the round table, some familiar, some unfamiliar.
They all seem to have woken up at the same time as I did, and they all look so vague.
To my right sits a woman with a peculiar short cut, wearing a black suit. I don't recognize her.
On the other side, to my left is a short-cut girl in a dull orange top that looks vaguely familiar.
（I wonder where I've seen her before)
As soon as I thought about it, I had a flashback to the time when I was staring at President Kurashima in the reception room of a First-Beauty Agency.
（That's right! That's the girl who was in the reception room!)
I tried to remember, but my memory was cut off after that reception room.
Looking around the table again, I found that all the people who were in the reception room at that time were there.
President Kurashima, Manager Yamauchi-san, Misuzu-chan, Fumijima-san, and two girls who looked like new models.
The rest of the people I knew were Akira Mizuki-chan and Kirihito Hikami-kun.
And... Chihiro Kaneko-san.
I have no direct acquaintance with her, but I have offered to photograph her a few times.
She was a model that the editor-in-chief at the time favored. I believe she belonged to First Beauty Agency, but she kept turning down offers, and before I knew it, I no longer saw her in the media.
Everyone looks puzzled, looking left and right.
I guess they don't know what to do.
Of course, I don't either.
Only one person, a woman with dyed red hair and a short leather jacket who looked like an old-fashioned rocker, was smiling with a loose smile on her face.
「What the hell! What is this!? Who's playing a prank!?」
President Kurashima dropped his fist on the table and shouted.
「Why, Kaneko is here! What's she up to?」
Then, with his cheeks twitching, he pointed his finger at Kaneko-san, who stared at him silently with glazed eyes.
Then a red-haired rocker says, “Shut up, old man, you're scaring her”, and puts her crossed legs on the table and starts shaking her chair.
「What's wrong with you? Where's your attitude?」
「Hey, shut up. Just sit down, you don't want to die, right?」
The rest of the people are just watching the exchange between the two. No, only Hikami-kun was looking at Kaneko-san with frightened eyes.
（You don't want to die...)
Everyone looked at each other uneasily at her disturbing words.
Just as the president was about to shout even more, a noise rang out and a large monitor on the wall displayed a flashing image.
A black circle in the middle. Around it was white.
As I watched with gulping breath, wondering what it was, the camera slowly zoomed out.
It was an eye, a round eye.
And when the full body of the owner of the eye was shown, someone muttered in dismay.
It was a salmon.
It was a magnificent salmon.
Not a deformed character or anything. It's a real salmon.
A Tokishirazu salmon of that size could fetch a hundred thousand yen.
『Good morning. I, Aramaki-san, would like to announce the time was 9 o'clock in the morning, Jake』
The salmon's mouth moved in time with the girl's voice.
Immediately, a question mark appeared on everyone's head.
In a word, what is this?
『Aramaki-san is the mascot of this game, Jake! Please take care of me!』
Everyone was just looking around, as if they didn't know what to do.
Fumijima-san, for some reason, looked as if he was trying to hold back a headache, and was holding his head.
「The mascot... It's too plain, ain't it?」
The short-cut girl next to me commented.
I think she couldn't help but complain as she spoke in Kansai dialect.
This is because people in the Kansai region consider it matter to make a joke.
『It's rude, Jake. Aramaki-san is a cute and freaky mascot, Jake!』
As she says this, Aramaki-san's eyes close up on the screen.
「Don't close up all of a sudden! I know, I know, it's freaky, okay...?」
The eyes of fish are indeed freaky and scary, because I can't tell what the fish are thinking.
『Fuuuh, I got sidetracked by a rude little girl, Jake. Anyway, let's get back to the topic at hand, Jake』
So says the self-proclaimed Aramaki-san as the image zooms out.
Then, she (?) said again.
『From now, you're going to kill each other, Jake』
At that moment, I felt as if the temperature of the place had dropped.
I don't think it's possible, but I've seen this kind of development before in manga and novels. Maybe everyone else has seen it too.
「Is it... death game?」
Misuzu-chan's voice trembled, and Aramaki-san nodded dexterously on the screen.
『Yes, Jake... But it doesn't mean that you have to kill each other directly, Jake. I want everyone to decide who they want to kill, Jake. And I'll do the killing, Jake』
「What do you mean, “decide”?」
This time, a girl with a baby face but unusually large breasts ask. The girl was in the reception room at that time...
『Now it's around nine in the morning, Jake. Let's vote on who you're going to kill by nine at night, Jake. The person with the most vote will be killed, Jake』
「So, does that mean one of us is going to die?」
Fumijima-san's voice quivered with fear.
Fumijima-san let out a sigh of relief at Aramaki-san's answer.
『Everyone will die except the last two, Jake』
Misuzu-chan and the baby-faced, big-breasted girl from earlier twitch their cheeks in fear as Aramaki-san zooms in again.
The close-up of the salmon is still very frightening.
『The vote is daily. Voting continues every day until the last two, Jake! The final two are safely released. As a souvenir, I'll include Aramaki-san's homemade salmon roe, Jake』
Instantly, President Kurashima shouted.
「This is ridiculous! What are you planning, money? Or a grudge!」
「I can't do this, this is nonsense!」
Akira-chan shouted after the president, and then a woman in a suit who was sitting next to me kicked her chair and stood up.
「It's a stupid farce. I don't know what you think you're doing, but surrender yourself! It's still not much of a crime, now」
『So? Detective Terashima won't join the game, Jake?』
Once again, Aramaki-san’s image zooms out.
Apparently, this woman is a detective. To be honest, I was relieved. I felt as if I had found my salvation.
「Of course. You're just a piece of sushi! The way out is through that red door anyway, right?」
As she started to walk towards the red door, Aramaki-san let out a sigh on the screen. No, it looked like that.
The female detective disappeared.
To my eyes, she seemed to have suddenly disappeared.
I turned my head and saw that the floor was wide open where she'd been.
She fell!? Almost as soon as I noticed it,
A female detective's scream echoed from inside the hole in the floor, making everyone want to cover their ears.
Everyone rushed to the side of the hole, peered down, and choked on their voices.
Inside the hole, there was a steel stake about ten centimeters in diameter sticking out of the bottom.
The female detective was pierced through the guts by the stake like a cripple of a shrike and was trembling.
Everyone turned away their heads and fell back on their asses as if they had lost their backs.
Immediately, the floorboards slammed shut, and a heavy silence descended.
『She is stupid, Jake. ....Well sometimes, there are these stupid, misguided women, Jake. It's a shame fewer people are joining the game, Jake, it's inevitable, Jake』
Aramaki-san spat, and Hikami-kun was dumbfounded, “Seriously... “.
Looking at the others, all of them have a stunned look on their faces.
Probably, so am I.
Especially, President Kurashima, Akira-chan and Hikami-kun were pale.
But no one could move. In the midst of such a heavy atmosphere...
There was only one person who let out a laugh like that.
When I turned my eyes in the direction of the sound of laughter, I saw a rocker in a leather jacket with her legs thrown up on the table, smiling and clacking her chair.
「Don't be so scared. You're going to see people die every day anyway」
「Y-you're part of this!?」
When the president raises his voice, she spits it out in a dull tone.
「No, old man. I'm just an experienced player. I'm just a survivor of the last death game. I didn't expect to get caught up in this again. That's bad luck...」
As the president continued to raise his voice, Aramaki-san interrupted him.
『Hello, can I continue my explanation, Jake? If you don't listen to me, you could die, Jake』
With that, the president had no choice but to be quiet. Everyone looks at each other in confusion and sinks back into their chairs.
Of course, so did I.
I no longer have the energy to disobey.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is indeed a serious death game.
Then, Aramaki-san cleared her throat and resumed her explanation.
『Cough, uh... I said I'd get rid of the person with the most votes, Jake, but it's by no means a chance, Jake. If you complete the mission I've set for you, you can make the voting results disappear, Jake』
『Yes, the mission will be announced at each vote count, Jake, and if you complete it, in addition to avoiding death on the spot, you will not be voted in next time, Jake』
「...But there are only two of us left, right?」
Kaneko-san murmured, and Aramaki-san nodded, “Yes, Jake”.
『The doors on the walls around you are your rooms, Jake, except for the red one. On the door is your name, Jake, and you are free to use that room, Jake』
Then - the screen almost goes dark for a moment, and Aramaki-san appears again, as if remembering.
『Oh, yes. For other detailed rules, there are Death Game Handbook available in each room. You'd better read them carefully, Jake. It'd be boring if someone died by accident, Jake』
Then President Kurashima let out a groan.
「You... Who the hell are you?」
『Fufu, Aramaki-san is just a part-time worker, Jake. For every person who dies, my wage increases by 10 yen, Jake. So I want you all to die in high spirits, Jake』
「Is it money! I'll give you money! How much do you want?」
『Nnn... I can't do that, Jake. If you released, they'll kill me, Aramaki-san, Jake. After all, one of you is Aramaki-san's employer, Jake』
With that, Aramaki-san disappeared with a rather elaborate effect.
- So, Ryoko is out.
- The basic point of view will be Ponpoko-san's.