Ella stood there, taking it all in. Her face was pale, and the IT room suddenly felt very small. She glanced over at Dirk and Mark, who looked equally as troubled as she did. Her gaze directed to the computer the boys were crowding around, displaying the still image of a girl holding Monobear – Junko Enoshima, as the video and Mark had confirmed.
Her insides felt like jelly. This was the person responsible for trapping them inside Sun's Joy. This was the person behind Monobear and the School Life of Mutual Killing. And this person had the power to end the world. The gravity of the situation slapped Ella around the face; it wasn't just the sixteen of them affected. No, by now their homes, their friends, their family... Junko could be destroying them as they stood here, planning a dance.
“And here,” Dirk said, breaking Ella out of her horrified daze. He clicked the mouse down, and the image on the screen changed to another thumbnail of Junko, clutching Monobear like Shauna clutched Cammy. Deep down, a part of Ella acknowledged that she would never look at that puppet in the same way again. “Just let me press play, and – God damn it! What the hell?!” A bluescreen error had replaced the horrific thumbnail, accompanied by a faint electronic bleeping. The error must have stayed for at least two minutes before the screen went black.
Subconsciously. Ella looked up at the camera on the ceiling, feeling more watched than ever. Had Monobear, or more accurately, Junko, seen what they were doing, and broke the computer to hide the evidence? Suddenly this place felt even more like hell. She looked at Dirk and Mark, who seemed more perplexed than anything.
“Whoops! I guess I didn't iron out all these problems before letting you bastards loose! Oh well!” Ella looked behind her to see Monobear standing there, looking curiously at the three of them. A sudden sense of sheer panic filled Ella, to the point where it threatened to burst out of her body in a scream of terror. Every second spent looking at the creature made her want to just run for it more and more.
“G-get away from us!” she shrieked, terror pounding through her veins as she instinctively backed up against the nearest table. Her eyes were wide with fear as she looked at the monstrous bear. “You... you gremlin!”
“What's with all the insults?” Monobear said with a sigh, lowering his head. “I'm nothing but a benevolent headmaster! I'm not even forcing you to kill against your will!”
“Benevolent my ass,” Dirk retorted sharply. “You shut down this computer to stop us seeing the footage, didn't you?”
“Accusations flying everywhere!” Monobear fumed, causing Ella to flinch. She felt like a cornered animal. “Why would I do such a thing?”
“Don't insult our intelligence,” Dirk said coldly, a quiet rage burning behind his eyes. “You didn't want us seeing any more footage of the Despair event. Admit it.”
“Okay, okay!” Monobear snapped. His red eye began to glow, causing Ella to let out an involuntary gasp. He turned to face Mark, moving even closer to the ETL Reporter. “I admit it! And if you show it ever again, you will be executed!”
Mark shrunk in his seat, his face pale and his eyes wide. “S-sorry,” he whimpered, obviously terrified. “But I didn't even play it!” Monobear looked ready to just rip open Mark's throat when Dirk took a step towards the bear, remaining as impassive as possible.
“Don't hurt him,” he said. “I accessed his private files.”
The effect was instantaneous. Monobear moved away from Mark, and approached Dirk, still steaming with fury. “And why would you do that?!” he growled. Dirk remained silent as Monobear continued to approach him. Mark was still stunned, and Ella watched with a growing anxiety. She had to do something or Monobear might actually kill someone.
“Let me explain,” she said, battling to keep her voice as steady as possible. “We're throwing a dance tomorrow, and I'm compiling a playlist of everyone's favourite songs.”
“Eh, how boring,” Monobear said. He faced her, causing her heart to skip a beat. “I was expecting something more fun! Like a firing squad!”
“That's not very fun...” Mark whimpered.
“Your tastes just aren't very refined!” Monobear retorted. Yet again, the bear was growing irate. Ella swallowed her fear, and prepared herself to speak.
“Anyway, that's why we're looting through everyone's files,” she said. “Nothing to worry about.” Inside, her stomach was doing somersaults. The person behind this could be destroying everything she held dear whilst whimsically tormenting them.
“If you say so...” Monobear said, but Ella caught a hint of scepticism in his tone. “And in fact, I can't wait to see you all at the dance! I wonder who'll dance with Monobear...? Just thinking about it gets me all sweaty!”
“That's repulsive,” Dirk said, not even trying to hide his disgust.
“Shut up,” Monobear replied. “Anyway, I'll see you bastards around. Have fun with the School Life of Mutual Killing! Upupu!” And then, as suddenly as he had arrived, Monobear was gone.
The three of them stood in silence for a few moments, occasionally glancing at the shut-down computer.
“Damn it,” Dirk finally said. He looked over at Ella. “Sorry Ella, but I guess I can't show you.”
“It's fine,” she replied, desperately trying to cover her distress. “That thumbnail was more than enough for me to see, anyway.” She didn't mention that she wasn't sure she'd be able to stomach an entire video.
“Anyway,” Mark said, the most upbeat sounding member of the group. “I don't think Monobear wants us talking about that any more.”
“I'm okay with that,” Ella said, far too quickly to be calm. “Now if you don't mind, I'm going to continue to create the playlist.”
Without another word, Ella returned to her computer, easing herself into the seat. But for the next few moments, she couldn't do anything but stare at the screen, and try and control her trembling. And despite her best efforts, one thought resounded in her mind: she had to get out of here.
“Man,” Joel said, a displeased expression on his face. “That bear is a real piece of work, huh?”
“Tell me about it,” Shauna said, rolling her eyes. Cammy was resting comfortably in her arms: despite her outward confidence, Cammy was her emotional crutch in this situation. Without him, she feared she would fall apart. She squeezed the puppet a little tighter. Her thoughts then skipped to the future. “I just hope he doesn't ruin this dance.” Everything was riding on the dance. It was the only thing Shauna could come up with to suffice as a distraction to this killing game. And if it went wrong... she didn't dare think of what could happen.
“I don't think he will,” Andrew brought up, folding his arms. “It provides too perfect a scenario for a murder motive.” That was another thing that worried Shauna. In the distraction of the dance, how easy would it be for someone to sneak off with someone else and kill? That wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen.
“Don't talk like that!” Naomi exclaimed, sounding panicked. “You'll just bring bad luck!”
“I wouldn't worry,” Andrew replied evenly. “None of us are stupid enough to actually commit a murder.” Shauna breathed out a sigh of relief; Monobear had riled her up for nothing. Her friends wouldn't be so awful as to. She just had to have faith.
“Yeah,” she said with confidence. “And as long as I'm here, nobody will die!” It was a bold claim, but one she had faith in.
“That's a little over-confident, isn't it?” Joel said.
“Not really,” she replied with a thin smile. “There are only sixteen of us, and if we're all at this dance, then nobody can commit a murder without being caught.” Her smile grew. “That, and, I'm pretty sure we're all good people who wouldn't dream of killing.” That was the thought she held on to. They were all good people.
“Hopefully,” Andrew said, but Shauna detected hints of doubt in his tone. She was about to reply when another noise caught her attention.
Shauna looked over to the far side of the hall as the doors opened, revealing an impatient-looking Ella. Her face was flushed, and she was clutching a USB drive closely.
“Ella!” Shauna exclaimed, her face lighting up at the prospect of good news. “How's the playlist going?”
“Done,” Ella replied with a faint smile, as composed as ever. “Now it's just a matter of rigging up the speaker system.”
“That's great!” Shauna said, smiling warmly.
“I think I saw some speakers upstairs,” Ella said, glancing at the floor occasionally. “Could you possibly come and help me to look?”
“Of course!” Shauna replied. “Do you need anyone else to help carry them?”
“That will be unnecessary,” Ella said, something about her tone distant. “I wouldn't want to hinder the progress here. Besides, we could easily just pick them up tomorrow.”
“All right,” Shauna said with a light shrug, adjusting her grip on Cammy. “I'll help you look.” She then turned to face the others, and flashed a large smile. “I'll see you all later!”
Shauna then followed Ella across the hall, and to the doors. Ella held them open as Shauna walked through, and then shut them once they were both in the hallway. Immediately the sound of the others in the hall was replaced with silence. It was slightly jarring.
“So,” Shauna began as they walked through the hallway. “Where are these speakers?”
“In this store cupboard,” Ella explained calmly. “It's a little out of the way, but once you know where it is, it's easy to find.”
“Okay then,” Shauna replied. “How good is it all?”
“Professional concert quality,” Ella said, a slight spark to her eyes. “I'm really impressed with my find.”
“That'll be great for the dance!” Shauna exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Ella said as they reached the staircase. “It will.”
They remained relatively quiet as they walked down the hallway, stopping just after the end of the dorm rooms, where Shauna spotted a door painted the same colour as the walls. Ella was right: it was hard to find.
“It's in here?” she said.
“Yeah,” Ella replied. She opened the door. “Now, come on in.”
“Okay!” Shauna chirped, following Ella through. The door closed behind them, revealing a small room full of boxes of wires and speakers, illuminated by a single hanging light bulb. “Wow; that's a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah,” Ella said uneasily. “Listen, Shauna. I have something I need to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Shauna said. “What is it?”
“It's about Monobear,” Ella said. As soon as she said the words, an uneasy feeling began to pool in Shauna's stomach. She suddenly felt very claustrophobic in this room.
“What... do you mean?” Shauna asked.
“In the IT room, I found something out,” Ella said, her voice low. “I found out the truth behind everything.”
“What? You did?” Shauna replied hastily.
“Yeah,” Ella said. “Monobear is a puppet of someone called Junko Enoshima, who started the Despair event in Japan.”
“Oh my God...” Shauna whispered, her face paling.
“That's not the end of it,” Ella continued. “Since if Junko managed to hijack the school, it's likely that the Despair event has reached our homes. Our families and friends could be dying as we speak.”
“N-no...” Shauna whimpered. A weight dropped into her stomach, and tears dripped down her cheeks. She clutched onto Cammy with enough force to cause herself to tremble. Every part of her didn't want to believe it, yet Ella had no reason to lie, and it make far too much sense. And then, another realisation came to her. “We have to get out of here.” She felt sick; if this was true, then whilst Monobear was tormenting them, his controller was killing everything she held near and dear. Shauna found herself short of breath; she felt so alone, so powerless.
“But there's no way to do that,” Ella said grimly. But Shauna knew the truth: Monobear had said it on the first day he took over.
“There is,” Shauna said, hating herself for even suggesting it. “We have to participate in the School Life of Mutual Killing.”
“What?” Ella said. “How could you even suggest that?!”
“It's the only way,” Shauna sobbed.
“But... but...” Ella protested. “Even if we did, then only one of us could get out.” Shauna shook her head: she had already thought of a way that they could bypass it. It had been a horrible intrusive thought that had interfered with her dreams, but one that could happen.
“Actually, I know how we could get past it,” Shauna said. “The rules state that only one culprit will be executed for the murder. So if we're both responsible for the murder, then by technicality neither of us can be executed for it. We'll have to be let out.”
“But... our friends...” Ella said, shaken.
“What's more important?” Shauna countered, adrenaline and terror making her raise her voice. “People we've known a few days, or the people we grew up with? The people we love? I know I'd do anything if it meant being able to help my family... what's more important, Ella?”
“How can you...?” Ella said.
“Because...” Shauna said. “If I can't help my family, then it's like the ultimate act of betrayal to them.” She held Cammy closer, her heart aching. If they didn't act, then he would be all she had left of home. “How well do we really know everyone? How can we be sure that they won't try to kill us?”
“Oh my God... you're right...” Ella said softly, crying. “We can't trust anyone...” She wiped her tears, and looked at Shauna. “But how will we do it?”
“I hate to admit it... but I've already thought about it,” Shauna explained. “We'd use Cammy to commit the murder.”
“Like a puppet?” Ella asked, still sounding guilty and deflated.
“Not quite,” Shauna replied. The ache in her chest was slowly subsiding, replaced by a surge of adrenaline at the prospect of their discussion. They were really planning a murder. “Remote control was more what I was thinking of.”
“Can you do that?” Ella asked.
“Yes,” Shauna said. “There's enough supplies in the workshop, and combining that with leftover material from here should be enough for it to work.” She let out a sigh. “I already have the program written. All that's left is modifying Cammy.”
“Then... when would we commit the crime?” Ella asked. “And who... who would...” She didn't finish the sentence, overcome by another wave of tears. But Shauna knew what she meant: who would their target be?
“We'll use the dance,” she said slowly, uncertain herself. “We'll go for whoever ends up the most exhausted by it. Plus...” Shauna trailed off, swallowing the lump in her throat. “At least they'll have a good last evening alive.”
“Okay. I understand,” Ella said, nodding harshly. She took a deep breath to compose herself. “So, when do we start?”
Ella looked over the meeting hall, at the wreck that was the dance. Monobear had spiked half the drinks, resulting in more than one drunk student. The chaos had accumulated until it reached a breaking point, with Naomi and Chelsea getting into a fight over something. And currently, the ETL Skater was laying passed out in a pile of food, drink, and tablecloth. Ella glanced behind her: Shauna was stood, holding Cammy tightly, her arms covering certain parts of the puppet to conceal the modifications they had made over the past two days. Dirk was next to Shauna, a scowl on his face.
“Man, that sucks,” he said heatedly. “Monobear's making it so we can't have anything decent.” Ella remained uncomfortably silent for the moment: she was about to make everything so much worse.
“Tell me about it,” Marian replied dryly, glancing over at Naomi.
“So how are we gonna do this?” Dirk asked. “Are we just gonna get up and go to our dorms, or are we gonna clear up first?”
“What time is it?” Shauna asked. She fleetingly glanced at Ella, then Naomi, followed by a brief nod. Ella knew what this meant: Naomi was the target. The only thing Ella could tell herself was that the girl wouldn't even know it was happening.
“Just after midnight,” Wyatt clarified, stifling a yawn. That helped as well: everyone would be fast asleep for sure when they struck.
“It's far too late to clear up right now,” Shauna said, so sure and confident. From looking at her, you would have no idea she was about to commit a murder. “We'll just get some sleep and do it in the morning.”
“Sounds good,” Marian said evenly. “But before we head out, it'd be best if we all go in groups.” Ella remained impassive, glancing at Shauna. This could be a problem: in groups, they couldn't set up everything right away. They would need to break away from the group somehow.
“Why?” Nina asked.
“In case someone tries to pull a fast one and commit a murder,” Marian said. “We don't know who's entirely sober here, so it'd just be dangerous to head out alone.” So that was it: what had singled out their victim had also made it harder to be alone.
“I'm in agreement,” John said. “Discovering a body would just make it all worse.”
“All right then,” Shauna said, taking charge, and advantage of everyone's trust in her. A trust she would soon betray in the worst way possible. “How big should we go?” Smart. Once they established group sizes, it'd be easier to see the best way to break off from them.
“I'm thinking groups of four, to deter any potential double murders,” Marian replied clearly. “Melissa, Mark, Chelsea, and Ben can be one group.” Ella's heart skipped a beat. Marian was assigning groups, which meant there was a chance she and Shauna would be separated. That would just complicate everything further.
“That's fine,” Ben said.
“Wyatt, Nina, Carlos, and Charlie can be another,” Marian continued.
“Got it,” Nina said with a nod. “I'll let those two know.” That was half the students sorted. Ella mentally crossed her fingers; she just had to be with Shauna. She just had to be.
“I'll be in a group with Ella, Shauna, and Joel,” Marian said. Ella breathed a sigh of relief, and looked at Shauna. They were together. “So Dirk, Andrew, Naomi, and John will be the last group.”
“That's fine,” Andrew said. “But I have a question: what do we do about Naomi?” He motioned to her, an uneasy look on his face. “She's out cold.”
“That could be a problem,” Marian said hesitantly.
“Couldn't we just move her?” Dirk offered.
“That'd be dangerous,” John said, concerned.
“Hey, I've got an idea,” Andrew suggested. “I'll stay here until Naomi wakes up and then we'll head back together.”
Ella couldn't help but cast a suspicious glance of disbelief towards Andrew. Surely he couldn't be...? No, he was too genuinely caring to do such a thing.
“I don't know about that,” Marian said, folding her arms. “You'll be alone in here and something could happen.”
“It's better than slowly moving through the hallways in the dark being a potential target,” Andrew reasoned. “Plus, it's not as if anyone could sneak up on us in here.”
“That's true,” John said. “This place is pretty safe.”
“The only downside I see is that Monobear could spring up in here and cause you bother,” Shauna said. “But other than that, it's not that bad an idea.” Ella blinked slowly, looking at Shauna. She saw what her friend was doing: the murder was going to take place in here. But before Ella looked away, Shauna ever so slightly raised two fingers. Ella's blood turned to ice: they were going to kill both Naomi and Andrew. That was the only thing Shauna could mean.
“All right then,” Marian said. “Andrew, you can stay with Naomi until she wakes up. Dirk and John, feel free to join another group whilst you head back to the dorms for the night.”
“Can do,” Dirk said. “I'll be walking with your group if that's okay.”
“Same here,” John said. “Our dorms are all closely grouped together so it won't be as if we're taking any more time.”
“That's fine with me,” Marian said. Ella let out a breath: they were in the largest group. That would make it even harder for them to cut off from them. But still, she couldn't rouse any suspicion.
“I don't have a problem with them joining us,” she said, putting on a composed face.
“The more the merrier, huh?” Joel added with a wide grin. Ella looked away, feeling guilt churning in her stomach again.
“In that case, it's settled,” Marian said. “Let's head back to our dorms for the evening; Andrew, are you sure you'll be all right here alone?”
“I'll be fine,” Andrew said. “Besides, who's actually going to try and kill someone?”
“That's true,” Shauna said, smiling warmly. She was good.
“So, I'll see you guys in the morning,” Andrew said, grinning confidently.
“All right,” Marian said. “See you.”
“I still cannot believe that we are seriously doing this,” Dirk moaned as Ella led him into the IT room. “It's late as hell; what's so important about this USB drive, Ella?”
“It contains my personal files,” Ella explained. “I'd rather not leave it out for someone to discover.” The truth was that the drive contained the program to operate Cammy; it had been unloading during the dance, and had provided a perfect excuse to divert away from the group. Unfortunately, Marian had been too smart, and had merely suggested the entire group come. Hopefully Shauna's diversion would be better.
“Still,” Dirk said. “Like only you, me, and Mark even use this room so it's not as if anyone's going to loot through them.”
“It's not them I'm worried about,” Ella said. “It's the two foot tall bastardisation of Winnie the Pooh that I'm concerned about.”
“Oh yeah, him,” Dirk said. “I guess that makes sense.” The more Ella spoke with Dirk, the more she realised that he would be the type of person that would never be taken by this game. He was too smart.
Ella stopped, surveying the room until her eyes rested on one computer that had a blinking light: it was on standby. A USB drive was sticking out of it; the lights on the drive were off. The program was ready.
“Found it,” she announced, walking towards the computer. The lights had been turned off as per Night Time regulations, but Dirk had quickly fixed that. Everything was clearly visible in the light.
“Then hurry up and get it,” Dirk said, yawning. “I'm gonna pass out if I don't get to bed soon.”
“Okay,” Ella said. She reached the computer, and pulled the drive out. It was still warm. She let out a sigh, and checked her watch. It was nearly one thirty. They only had a few hours before the early risers would be up and about. “I've got it.”
“Then let's get out of here,” Dirk said.
“All right,” Ella replied, following him out into the hallway, where the rest of the group was. She stood next to Shauna, who kept looking at Cammy. The ETL Toy Maker was almost trembling: she, too, was aware the time was approaching.
“Got it,” Ella said, showing the drive to the rest of the group; everyone just seemed too tired to care at this point. Which was partially what she was aiming for: to exhaust everyone so that they wouldn't object when they left.
“Now we can finally head back to our dorms to sleep,” Dirk said. “You know, so we can see who wakes tomorrow with a hangover.” Even now, Dirk had his usual unique sense of humour. Ella was too distracted to pay full attention: her mind was swimming in scenarios for how tonight would go down. She tried to push the doubts away, but they persisted.
“Dirk,” Shauna said with wide eyes. “That's hardly something to joke about.” She was playing her part well; the concerned group leader that she appeared to be would never be someone anyone would think capable of murder.
“Hey,” Dirk said with a shrug. “If you can't poke fun at a crappy situation, then what's the point?”
“He has a point,” Marian said. “If we don't try and make light of it, it'll just bring us down which is what Monobear wants.” Ella's thoughts redirected to him: he had vanished after announcing his sabotage of the dance, which was odd. But it worked perfectly with the plan to use a voice recording of him in the hall after the murder; everyone would suspect him.
“Hey, speaking of which,” she said. “I haven't seen him since the dance.” Just a little more: she had to play along for just a little more.
“That is somewhat odd,” John said. “Half-drunk students wandering the halls? You'd think it would be a perfect opportunity for him to harass us.”
“Well, maybe we should just be grateful that he isn't here,” Shauna said. “We might even make it to our dorms in peace.”
“Maybe,” Marian said with a yawn. “In any case, let's go.”
Ella and Shauna walked with the others to the end of the hallway, where the staircase to the dorms was situated. Both girls stopped at the top, and looked at each other. Shauna gave a small nod: she was ready.
Shauna took a couple of steps down the staircase, and then lost her footing. She gave out a wail of surprise, and clung to the banister, letting go of Cammy. The puppet crashed down to the bottom of the stairs, laying in a heap. And, just as planned, his arm had come off.
“Cammy!” Shauna cried out, running down the stairs.
“Wait up!” Joel called out as everyone else, Ella included, rushed to Shauna's side.
“No...” Shauna said softly, cradling Cammy in her arms in such a way that hid the wiring.
“I'm so sorry,” Marian said, seeing Shauna's distress.
“This is bad,” Shauna said with urgency. “I need to go fix him immediately.” It was time. Ella took a deep breath, ready to act on her feet the moment they left the group.
“What?” Joel exclaimed. “Shauna, it's one thirty and dark: can't you wait until morning?”
“No!” Shauna shouted, desperation emanating from her tone. “What if Monobear decides to shut off the wood workshop tomorrow? Then I won't be able to fix him!” She then gave everyone an urgent look of panic. “This can't wait!”
“Shauna!” Marian yelled. But as she did so, Shauna turned and ran from the group, down the hallway. Ella tensed up. She had to act.
“This isn't good,” John said. “We need to bring her back before she hurts herself.”
“I'll do it,” Ella said without hesitation, looking down the hallway. Shauna would be at the workshop, waiting for her. She couldn't take too long.
“Really?” Dirk asked.
“Yeah,” she replied. “I know that area probably better than anyone else; I'll get her back before she puts herself in any more danger.” All this lying was tearing at her insides, but it was necessary if they wanted to succeed.
“Would you do that for us?” Marian asked.
“She's my friend too,” she said, trying to sound as even as possible. “I couldn't live with myself if she got hurt.”
“Thank you,” Marian said, a relieved smile on her face. She trusted her completely. “Be careful.”
“I will,” Ella replied with confidence. “I'll meet up with you all again in the morning.” Only by morning, the population would only be fourteen large.
“All right,” Dirk said airily. “Just don't die.”
“Trust me,” Ella replied wryly, a faint smile on her face. “I won't.” She gave everyone one last nod, and took off down the hallway towards the workshop. Her heart pounded in her chest, but she forced herself to swallow her fear. There could be no hesitation.
Shauna's fingers were millimetres away from the keyboard as her eyes locked on the computer screen. The display showed the door to the meeting hall, where Andrew and Naomi were. Ella was sat right next to her, tense. Her fingers were also close to the keyboard, ready to follow Shauna's instructions.
So far, they had successfully piloted Cammy to the hallway with no trouble. Their earlier gambit had paid off; the smarter ones were all fast asleep. Now they could only hope the same for Andrew and Naomi.
“Ready?” Shauna asked, turning to Ella.
“Yes,” Ella replied, nodding firmly. “Let's do it.”
“All right then,” Shauna said. “Touch the same keys that I do. Got it?”
“Got it,” Ella said.
“Then let's start,” Shauna said. She reached for the keyboard, and both girls touched down at the same time. It only took a few moments to get the door open, but the second Cammy began to wedge inside, a voice sounded out.
Andrew. Murmuring to himself.
Shauna looked at Ella, panic in her eyes. This was bad. He was still awake. “What now?” Shauna asked, breathing rapidly.
“The lights,” Ella said. She quickly leaned over, and guided Cammy to the wall, slamming the light switch. The hall was plunged into darkness as the night-vision camera booted. They could see Andrew's silhouette perfectly.
“We don't have much time,” Shauna said, panicked. “Let's go.”
Quickly, they guided Cammy across the hall to where Andrew was. “Who is it?” he cried out, panic in his tone. Cammy was mere inches from him.
“Which button is it?” Ella asked, her voice a trembling whisper.
“Those ones,” Shauna said, pointing to two keys. “At the same time. You take one, I take the other. He'll be dead in an instant.”
“Just give me a moment,” Ella said, a tear gliding down her cheek. She took a deep breath, and moved her hand towards the key. Shauna did the same. But at the last moment, Ella stopped. Her hand trembled in the air above the key.
“What is it?” Shauna asked. She raised an eyebrow.
“I...” Ella said. “I can't do it... I can't kill...” Her eyes were wide, and her face was pale.
“What?!” Shauna exclaimed hastily. “You have to! It's the only way we can get out! Don't you want that?!”
“Not at the expense of someone's life!” Ella shrieked.
“...Fine,” Shauna said simply. There was a brief moment of calm before she reached out and grabbed Ella's wrist.
“Get off me!” she wailed as Shauna slammed her hand down on the keyboard. Shauna's free hand touched it at the same time, causing Cammy to register the command. The puppet leaped up, and stabbed Andrew in the chest. A blood-curling cry of pain sounded out. “No... oh my God, no...”
At that moment, Ella broke down into a panic attack. She was breathing heavily, and heaving with sobs. “I'm not a killer...” she whimpered. “Not a killer...”
“It's too late,” Shauna said grimly.
“I'm not a killer!” Ella wailed, before suddenly leaping out of her seat, and running out of the IT room, her sobs fading away. Shauna was left alone, her face burning.
The only thing that broke the silence was the sound of Andrew's cries of sheer agony as he slowly bled out.
“...Ella,” John finally said after a pregnant pause. “She was the one that... didn't kill Andrew.”
“Are you sure?” Marian asked, her face downcast. John nodded.
“What?” Chelsea said. “What makes you think that?! Ella was the most suspicious one out of all of us! She didn't open up or anything! How can you know enough about her to say that?!”
“It's her moral principles,” John said. “And, inferring from her ElectroID, she has issues with betrayal. Which would obviously mean she would be conflicted about killing one of her friends. ”
“You... remember that?” Ella said, stunned.
“And inferring from Shauna's dominant nature, it was likely that Ella was pressured into the murder,” John continued. “Only the pressure got too much, and she bailed out at the final moment.”
“I see,” Dirk said. “So then Shauna finished the job.”
“Yes,” John said. “At least, that's what it seems to be.”
“I can't believe it...” Melissa said, her voice hollow. “Shauna... you were so cheerful and upbeat. You were the first person to approach me; you went out of your way to ensure everyone felt included and important. Even faced with the School Life of Mutual Killing, you never gave in. You designed the dance to stop this from happening... why did you do it?”
“It's hardly my fault,” Shauna said with surprising hostility. “Honestly, if you want to get down to it, Ella's the one that manipulated me into doing this.”
“Then by that logic, we should be executing Mark for bringing in the footage that Dirk played to Ella,” Chelsea rebutted.
“So then you're admitting you did it,” Dirk said. “The technicalities of the chain of events aren't important.”
“I suppose there's no point in trying to act desperately,” Shauna said, composing herself. “You win.”
“Win?” Nina said tearfully, taken aback. “Shauna, Andrew had a life! He had friends and family! You took him from them!”
“At least Ella had enough decency to pull out at the last minute,” Chelsea said venomously.
“But it's all over with now... that's what matters, right?” Charlie offered.
Shauna scoffed. “Over?” she said. “You think that this will end the killing game?” Shauna shook her head, holding Cammy tightly. “So long as Monobear is here, the bodies will continue to pile up.” Her voice was barely steady, and she had a deflated look in her eyes. “There is no end...”
The mood was broken by Monobear, who suddenly did a pirouette. “Upupu... time's up!” he cheered. “The debate is officially over. And with that comes voting!” He giggled again. “I know I've said this before, but simply use the 'Vote' section of your ElectroIDs to vote for the culprit! Will you be right, or oh so dreadfully despair-inducingly wrong? Upupu~”
Without another word, everyone booted up their ElectroIDs, and headed to the 'Vote' section. It displayed the personal files of each student again, with the exception of Andrew's. With a heavy heart, everyone pressed the same file.
“I'm so sorry...” Melissa whispered as she pressed down. Tears dripped down her face, but she didn't hesitate. The survival of all her friends was key.
Once everyone had finished voting, the lights suddenly died. A spotlight shone down on Andrew's portrait, and began to spin around the podiums, highlighting each student in turn. Eventually, the light slowed and stopped, illuminating Shauna for all to see. This was accompanied by a loud fanfare, and confetti raining from the sky.
“You were right! You bastards were oh so correct!” Monobear cheered, holding pom-poms and performing somersaults. “The one who murdered Andrew Cyrus was in fact Miss ETL Toy Maker... Shauna Kerzenna!”
Everyone stared at Shauna with the exception of Ella, who looked down in shame.
“So you really did do it, huh,” Dirk said.
“I can't believe it,” Mark said. “You were essentially the glue keeping us all together throughout this mess.”
“I told you bastards!” Monobear cried out. “Beware the nice ones!”
“Monobear, could you stop jeering for a moment?” Shauna asked. “I have to ask you something.”
“What could you possibly ask me, you filthy criminal?” Monobear snarled.
“One minute more,” Shauna said. “I just want one more minute before you begin the execution.”
“Don't think you can somehow weasel out of it,” Monobear warned.
“I won't,” Shauna said. She left her podium, and walked across the courtroom. “I just want to minimize the collateral damage.”
Before Monobear could ask what she meant, Shauna approached her partner in crime. “Ella,” she said, strangely calm. “I want you to safeguard Cammy.” She took a deep breath, and set the puppet on the floor, before looking Ella in the eyes. “If you guys ever do get out of here somehow... please, return him to my family, and explain what happened to me. Tell the truth; they deserve it. Can you promise that?”
“Shauna...” Ella said, crying again. She found herself unable to speak, so instead, she picked up Cammy, and held him tightly. Shauna nodded in understanding.
“Thank you,” she said, and returned to her podium, looking over the courtroom. “To everyone... I'm sorry. Hopefully my punishment will serve as a small justice for what I have done... but I ask you to forgive Ella. John was right; I forced her into it under the misguided illusion we could somehow beat this game. She's innocent.”
“Are you quite done?” Monobear asked with a yawn.
“Yes, I'm done,” Shauna said in a small voice, a single tear dripping from her face to the floor.
“Oh goodie!” Monobear cheered. “In that case... it's time for the punishment!”
A small podium rose from the ground in front of Monobear with a large red button on top of it. He pulled out a gavel from seemingly nowhere, and slammed down on the button. The screen which had previously displayed evidence flickered to life, now only displaying a few words in a bright red font.
SHAUNA KERZENNA HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY
COMMENCING EXECUTION: SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN
The screen switched to a close-up of Shauna who was growing increasingly uneasy. She surveyed the courtroom one last time before a metal clasp attached to a chain clamped around her throat. Shauna let out a gasp of confusion and surprise before the chain yanked her backwards, ripping her forcefully from her podium. She was dragged across the room, and through a pair of double doors. Everyone stared in horror and disbelief as she vanished from sight. The screen, however, continued to provide a means of watching Shauna's demise.
Shauna found herself suddenly chained down to a large conveyor belt. Huge gift-wrapped boxes were in front of and behind her. She looked to the sides of the belt to see hundreds of Monobears dressed in elf costumes. It then hit her.
This was an assembly line in a toy factory.
Before she could do anything else, Shauna was lifted up by the Monobears, and thrown into an open empty box. The lid was placed on, and her world was thrown into darkness.
The box reached the end of the assembly line, and was loaded onto a large red sleigh, piloted by a larger Monobear in a Santa costume, complete with a white bushy beard and hat. Once the box was secured on the sleigh, it took off through another set of double doors. At this point, Shauna's hopeless wails could be heard from inside the box.
The sleigh entered a large room full of houses with wide smoking chimneys. It flew over several of them, eventually stopping on a particularly big rooftop. Santa Monobear lifted up the box and carried it over to the chimney. It rocked back and forth as Shauna desperately tried to struggle free. But before that could come to fruition, Santa Monobear threw the box down the chimney, blocking off the smoke.
Inside the box, Shauna suddenly became aware of an intense heat and the stench of smoke. She choked and spluttered as the box became hotter and hotter. And then, the bottom of the box began to curl and burn and glow orange. She was helpless as the box landed in a massive fireplace and was eaten up by the flames. The roar of the fire swallowed up her screams of terror as the flames lapped at her flesh. Shauna kicked and screamed and wailed in agony as her skin blistered, blackened, and burned off.
The bottom of the box then gave out, and Shauna was directly exposed to the fire. The pain only lasted a few seconds as her nerves were burned away into oblivion. Her face fell into the flames: she was blind in seconds. Her screaming finally stopped when her hair and scalp and skull were burned away, and her brain was but a puddle of bubbling tar.
The screen only turned off when a pile of ash was all that remained of Shauna.
Ella had buried her face into Cammy, shaking with sobs. Charlie was curled up by the elevator door; Carlos was desperately trying to calm her, but he was trembling and crying as well. Dirk covered his mouth with one hand, staring blankly at the screen. Melissa and Mark were crying into each other. Marian and John numbly stared into space.
The only one who wasn't overcome by despair was Monobear, who was gleefully jumping up and down.
“Woohoo!” he cheered. “Wasn't that the most extreme, exhilarating thing?”
“How can you...” Nina wept. “How can you call that...”
“Oh, come on!” Monobear retorted. “When I said the culprit would be executed, what were you bastards thinking? Something simple like a hanging or a firing squad? That would just be ETL Booring!”
“She didn't deserve that...” Marian said, her face flushed and clammy. “Even for what she did, she didn't deserve that. Not even the most heinous of criminals deserve something like that.”
“Well, she should have thought about it before she went and killed someone!” Monobear replied. “Besides, don't you have more important things to do?”
“Like what?” Marian asked.
“Deciding what to do with little miss traitor!” Monobear replied, pointing a paw in Ella's direction. “Surely you bastards won't let her get away with assisting with the murder?”
Everyone looked at Ella uneasily. Ella just continued to cry into Cammy.
“What do we do about her?” Nina asked.
“She still set up the murder, and allowed for Shauna to kill Andrew,” Chelsea said, her voice raw with emotion and anger. “She deserves an execution.”
“Hey,” Dirk shot back. “That makes you just as bad as him. She's a victim to this game as much as Andrew was.”
“She killed Andy!” Naomi sobbed. “How can you be so supportive of her? We need to deal with her right now!”
“Please...” Melissa begged. “No more violence... no more death...” Tears stained her blouse.
“We'll deal with that later,” Marian said. “We've had enough trauma today as it is. Tomorrow morning we'll decide something.”
“Upupu~” Monobear giggled. “So can we all expect a trial for the murder of Ella tomorrow...? How despair-inducing!”
“No,” Marian said boldly. She eyed Monobear up. “There will be no more despair. We will deal with Ella, but we won't let you win. I can guarantee that.”
“Upupu... upupu...” Monobear giggled. “We'll see about that... anyway, the School Trial is officially over! And Night Time's starting soon, so you bastards should probably get into that elevator and get a good night's sleep, since tomorrow will be a big, big day!”
“What do you mean by that?” John asked.
“I'm not spoiling the surprise!” Monobear chirped.
“Let's just get out of here,” Dirk said. “I've had enough of dealing with this bear's crap for one day.”
Oddly enough, Dirk's words spurred everyone to move towards the elevator, albeit with legs made of lead. He stood by the doors until everyone was inside. He took a step towards the elevator, but before he entered, he turned to Monobear, and lifted his middle finger up, glaring coldly before finally entering. The doors closed, and everyone was carried out of the courtroom, and back to the hallway.
The second the elevator doors opened, Ella hurried out, and rushed down the hallways, vanishing from sight. Nobody objected as they filed out into the hallway, standing in a shocked silence.
“I want to go home,” Carlos said in a defeated voice, echoing everyone's thoughts. “I've had enough; this is hell.”
“I really don't wanna see what Monobear has planned for tomorrow,” Joel said wearily.
“Maybe it won't be so bad...?” Mark tried to offer, barely believing his own words.
“With two of our friends dead, and one a back-stabbing traitor?” Naomi replied. “It's hopeless to even pretend there's anything good in here.”
“Don't say that,” Marian said, catching everyone's attention. “I know that what happened today was beyond horrible, but we mustn't lose hope. We cannot give Monobear the satisfaction. So no matter what, we must face everything he throws at us with a positive outlook. The only way we can get out is if we don't let Monobear beat us.”
With these final words, the group dispersed, solemnly returning to their dorms. Half wouldn't sleep, and the half that would sleep would be faced with nightmares of their dead friends. Yet despite this, a select few still vowed to not lose hope. They would keep going, and resist despair at every turn.
Monobear hadn't won yet.