Sun's Joy: Academy of Despair

Sixteen students carrying the world's hopes on their shoulders suddenly find themselves in the academy of their dreams. But this hope soon turns to despair as they find there is no way out. Well, unless you count what the strange black and white teddy bear said. But really, who would actually go as far as to kill another? Surely there must be another way out.

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9. Turbulent Tribulation

“So, let's get this party started!” Monobear cheered from atop his throne, looking down at the fifteen ETL students. “Which of you bastards wanted to get out so badly that they threw our dearly beloved ETL Racer under the bus for it!” He motioned to Andrew's portrait, and feigned misery. “Will you make the right choice, or will a whole bunch of lives be condemned for their incompetence?”

 

“Oh, I'm confident that we'll come to the right conclusion,” Marian said smoothly, surveying the courtroom. “If only to avenge Andrew and deny you the satisfaction of killing us all.” The others looked at her in awe, impressed by her demeanour. She was just thankful that they didn't know it was a front put on for the sake of the trial.

 

So, uh, how do we start this?” Joel asked, raising an eyebrow. “Do we just like throw evidence to Monobear and try and get it right? Or just pick a culprit?”

That'd be stupid,” Ella said, folding her arms. “If we were to pick right now, then we'd be signing our death warrants.”

John, Marian,” Mark said. “You two have the most courtroom experience; why don't you start?”

All right then,” John said, equally as composed as Marian. “Let's begin with the discussion of the crime scene.”

From what we know of the Monobear File, it is clear that Andrew was killed at just after two in the morning, and received two injuries. And, I think it's safe to deduce that the culprit originally intended for the stab to the chest to kill him.” Marian paused, letting out a sigh, composing herself. “Obviously it didn't work, forcing them to slice his throat in a last-ditch effort to get away with the crime.”

Then... then that means...” Charlie said, pale. “He must have been in an awful amount of pain before he was finally killed.” Tears pooled in her eyes. “Who could have done something like this?”

Actually, he wouldn't have been suffering for too long,” John pointed out. “With the depth of the chest wound, Andrew would have bled out after a few minutes. But for some reason, the culprit was too hasty to just wait it out. They had to kill him quickly.”

But why?” Shauna pondered. “It was late, everyone was asleep, and there was nobody to disturb them. It just doesn't make sense.”

Actually, you're wrong,” Marian countered. “Naomi was in the hall, remember?”

Oh, yeah,” Shauna said sheepishly, holding onto Cammy. “Sorry; my mind blanked for a moment.”

It's fine,” Marian said. “Anyway, back to the main point: with Naomi there, the culprit could have risked having a witness. And with that in mind, she probably stirred, causing them to panic.”

...That would explain why he was so hastily ended,” Ella said grimly.

So from there, wouldn't the culprit have attempted to kill Naomi as well?” Melissa asked. “But she's still alive... so maybe they didn't try it?”

No, they did try,” Marian said. “And there's evidence for it.”

Evidence?” Ben questioned.

Yes,” Marian explained. “The gash on Naomi's arm, and the blood-stained tablecloth both prove that Naomi was attacked by someone as well.”

Hold up,” Ella said. “I don't want to start pointing fingers... but do we know for sure that Naomi didn't attack Andrew, and she received the injury from the struggle?”

 

A cold silence fell briefly over the courtroom as most eyes faced Naomi with suspicion gleaming in them. She turned pale, and let out a gasp. “Wh-what? You think I...?!” she spluttered in disbelief.

Hey,” Chelsea said. “You all saw her this morning; she was so distraught. I don't think anyone like that could actually kill someone.”

It could have been an act,” Ella pointed out. “We've only known her for a few days. How can anyone be sure of her true colours?”

I didn't!” Naomi cried out pathetically in response.

You have no proof that says otherwise,” Ella said. “Plus, it's odd: you were in the same room when a murder happened, yet you walk out alive and well, minus a minor wound. I don't want to suspect you, Naomi, but you just seem too suspicious right now.”

Actually... we do have proof,” John said.

Do you?” Ella asked, genuinely curious.

Yes,” John explained. “When Naomi entered the cafeteria, she had left a trail of blood from the body. And if she had killed Andrew, there would be another trail leading to where she had been sleeping.”

Then maybe she just slept near the body?” Ella offered.

No. She was in that tablecloth,” Marian said. “Since going by your theory, she received the injury as part of the struggle. If she had stayed near the body, then there wouldn't be a stain.”

It was a stab in the dark anyway,” Ella said breezily with a shrug. “So this establishes that Naomi couldn't have been the culprit?”

Unless more evidence proves otherwise, I think it's safe to say so,” Marian said. “You're in the clear for now, Naomi.”

Thank goodness...” Naomi sighed. “I would never kill anyone anyway!”

Most people wouldn't, under normal circumstances...” Mark added. “This is hardly a normal situation.”

But Marian, did your group discover anything at the scene of the crime that could help us get closer to solving the mystery?” Carlos asked.

Not really,” Marian said. “Except for one thing... John's assessment of the crime.”

Assessment?” Carlos questioned.

Oh yeah!” Joel cried out. “John can do the thing where he can step into the shoes of a killer at the crime scene!”

Empathy is the word you're looking for,” John said, sardonic yet uneasy. “But it'll hardly be of any use.”

Why not?” Naomi asked. “You used it to catch Sunshine freaking Sally of all people! This can't be any harder than that!”

You see,” John said. “I can't infer the feelings, because... there's nothing to infer.”

 

John's words caused the courtroom to descend into a wave of worried whispers. Of course everyone was concerned: John could infer the actions of a serial killer, but not someone in this room. It was unbelievable.

You... really can't infer anything?” Shauna asked, wide-eyed. “How come?”

Because there were zero traces of anything that indicated a human presence beside Andrew at the scene,” John explained. “The killer was cold, emotionless... almost robotic. I don't know what we're dealing with here.” Genuine fear was etched onto John's face as he spoke.

Then... maybe someone here has a personality disorder?” Nina suggested. “You know, like an alternate identity as an emotionless serial killer?”
“Seriously?!” Monobear jeered. “That old shtick? As if!” He huffed, folding his arms. “I've seen that comedy routine enough for one lifetime! You can be certain that is not something I allowed within the walls of this academy!”

 

Well, we're getting nowhere fast with this train of discussion,” Marian said, taking over. “Let's move on: Ben, what did your group discover?”

I think we can say for sure that we did find signs of the culprit's presence,” Ben began. “The entire art studio was a wreck.”

Oh?” Marian replied.

Yeah,” Nina confirmed. “Everything had been thrown around everywhere. Paint... brushes... tools... everything.”

That's interesting,” John said.

Do you think the culprit did it to hide the murder weapon?” Joel asked.

We think so,” Ben said with a weary sigh. “Unfortunately, we found nothing in there that could have been used as a murder weapon.”

Actually... you're wrong,” Shauna said.

What do you mean?” Marian asked.

I didn't want to say anything, in case someone in my group was the culprit, but...” she began, reaching into her pocket. Shauna set Cammy down, and revealed a large sculpting knife. The blade was stained a deep crimson. “I found this taped to the underside of the sink.”

That's...” Joel began. “Is that the murder weapon?”

I didn't check it against the body, but I think so,” Shauna said solemnly. “Just knowing that I'm holding the instrument that ended Andrew's life... it feels so...” She stopped talking, choking back a sob. “I'm sorry...”

Well, I guess that solves the mystery of the missing murder weapon,” Ella said.

Actually, it doesn't,” Wyatt countered. “Because my group also found a bloody knife!”

What?!” Joel exclaimed as Wyatt produced his weapon. “Then... two of them?!”
“Why two of them?” Nina cried.

One for each wound...?” Mark pondered.

Maybe it was extra insurance,” Melissa said. “In case one was lost.”

Or perhaps one was for Andrew, and the other Naomi,” Chelsea said.

Then which one is which?” Ella exclaimed. “Surely there has to be some way we can deduce—”

 

The debate was suddenly interrupted by the sound of slow clapping. Every face turned to Dirk, who was looking smugly at the group of flustered ETLs. “Look at yourselves,” he said, chuckling mirthlessly. “You're running around in circles, yet missing the point entirely.”

Well, how about you stop being such a wise guy and tell us what we're doing wrong!” Chelsea barked. “You've just been standing there quietly throughout this entire trial, Dirk. What right do you have to act so high and mighty? People's lives are on the line here!”

Honestly, I'm not participating just yet,” Dirk said. “It's still too early for me to present my evidence; not when there's still so much uncertainty in the air regarding the culprit's identity.” He let out a sigh. “Still, to get this thing moving, I'll tell you all this: you've walked right into a trap concerning the knives. One is a forgery. If you have another piece of evidence, you'll realise which is the right one.” And with that, Dirk stopped talking.

 

Well, it's something to go on,” Marian said meekly.

But another piece of evidence?” Nina enquired. “Wyatt, Shauna: did either of you find anything else suspicious alongside the knives?”

I didn't think to look, so I only saw the taped knife,” Shauna admitted. “I mean, maybe there was something, but I don't know...”

Don't worry, I found something,” Wyatt said. He revealed the screwdriver. “This.”

A screwdriver?” Shauna questioned. “How odd.”

I don't know what it means either,” Wyatt said. “But it should prove that my knife is the real one, and yours is a forgery.”

What?” Shauna exclaimed. “So the culprit planted a fake knife?! How and why?!”
“They probably used the paints to do it,” Ben explained. “And for the why, I guess to distract us with the prospect of two weapons instead of one.”

Even then, after all this, we've only just figured out the murder weapon,” Melissa said grimly. “We still have no idea who did this, or how it happened precisely...”

Upupu~” Monobear giggled. “She's right! You bastards have been standing here, debating back and forth, and what's your reward? You find out the murder weapon, which is probably the most obvious thing about this case!” He sighed. “Honestly, I had such high hopes for you bastards as well...”

Wait,” John said. “So you do in fact know all the details of the case?”

Yup!” Monobear chirped. “Saw the whole thing happen for myself!”

Then maybe Monobear did it?” Shauna offered, looking down in shame for even suggesting something so outrageous.

Or more realistically, perhaps the person controlling him,” Ella said. She faced Monobear with a steely look in her eyes. “Since there's no way you can function on your own.”

Hey!” Monobear growled. “We went through this! I don't need a controller! I'm Monobear!”

So that's another dead end,” Chelsea said dryly.

Of course!” Monobear snapped, his red eye glowing ominously. “I'm not gonna solve the mystery for you bastards! Do it on your own!”

 

So where do we go from here?” Joel asked, looking nervous.

I'm not sure,” Marian said. “We've reached our limits with what evidence we've seen so far, and we've made minimal progress.”

What about the videos?” Chelsea offered.

The videos?” Shauna asked.

Yeah,” Chelsea said. “Mark's interviews with us concerning last night after the dance. Perhaps a clue's in there?”

It's worth a shot at least,” Marian said. “So how about it: Mark, could you show us the videos?”

All right,” Mark said, pulling out his camera. “But the screen's small; without something to project it onto, I don't think everyone can see it.”

Don't worry about that!” Monobear exclaimed, producing an extension cord. “Just plug this in and it'll play on a big screen!”

Mark cautiously took the cable, plugging it into the camera. “Uh, okay then...” he said. The moment the camera was plugged in, a large flat screen appeared on the far wall of the courtroom. Everyone glanced over as the camera's menu was blown up on a seventy-five inch screen. Mark selected a file titled 'Alibi Interviews'. “It'll play in a few moments.”

We'll be watching for any contradictions,” Marian said. “Mark, you're okay with pausing it if one of us sees anything, aren't you?”
“I'm fine with it,” Mark said.

So let's begin,” Shauna stated.

 

Silence fell over the courtroom as the film began to play, fading from black to a shot of an uneasy-looking Melissa.

So, Melissa,” Mark's voice said. “Could you please tell us in detail exactly what happened between you leaving the dance and discovering Andrew's body?”

All right,” Melissa said. “I joined the group consisting of you, Ben, and Chelsea at around one; I reached my dorm room maybe fifteen minutes later. After that, I locked up and fell asleep until the morning announcement. Following from there, I showered and dressed myself, before making my way to the cafeteria. I arrived at seven fifteen, and joined you and Dirk in the cafeteria. Ella and Shauna joined us, and we talked until Naomi announced Andrew's death.”

Okay then,” Mark said. “Thank you, Melissa.” Marian looked over at Melissa, and lightly shook her head. The ETL Novelist didn't seem suspicious at all. Plus, she had a solid alibi until a half hour before the murder took place.

 

The camera cut to a shot of Mark this time. The footage was less steady; the person holding the camera clearly lacked the experience Mark did.

Uh, how did the question go?” Melissa's voice was heard, betraying her as the person behind the camera. “Mark, could you tell us in detail your actions between leaving the dance and the body discovery?”

Close enough,” Mark said with a wan smile. “Anyway, I grouped up with you, Chelsea, and Ben at roughly one in the morning. From there, it took us maybe fifteen minutes to reach the dorms. I stayed up for a further twenty minutes or so to upload the footage of the dance onto my computer for editing the next day, and eventually fell asleep at around two. I woke just before the announcement, got ready, and headed to the cafeteria for around seven oh five. I sat with Dirk, and then you arrived, followed by Ella and Shauna. We spoke for a while, and then Naomi broke the news to us.” Yet again, Mark seemed good. Marian glanced at John; hopefully he could read them. But his face was stoic as he studied the film.

 

The film cut to Carlos; the camera quality picked up once more. The ETL Blogger seemed composed, but weary.

Carlos,” Mark said. “Do you mind telling us what you did after leaving the dance?”
“All right,” Carlos said. “I left at one with Charlie, Nina, and Wyatt. We reached our dorms twenty or so minutes later; I walked Charlie to her door to make her feel safe. She wanted me to stay for a while to calm her down, so I did. I got into my room at around two thirty, and woke with the announcement. I dressed and showered, and headed to the cafeteria for maybe seven twenty. I sat with Charlie, and then Naomi came in... you know the rest.” Carlos checked out as well; he had an alibi for the entire time frame the murder happened in.

 

The next interview began to roll, showing Charlie looking pale and terrified. But before the footage could continue, the sound cut out, and the picture jumped to a shot of Joel, then Ben, then Andrew's body, then Ella, then Shauna, then Chelsea, before the screen blacked out.

H-huh?” Mark exclaimed. “What was that?!” He glared at the throne. “Monobear, what did you do?! That was valuable evidence!”

Hey!” Monobear snapped. “Don't blame me! If you have a beef with the lack of theatre, take it up with Mr ETL Hacker!”

Hacker... then...” Mark said, turning around slowly, his face pale. “Dirk? You cut the film?”

 

Dirk remained silent, looking at his PDA idly. He seemed to be oblivious to the situation.

Dirk, Mark asked a question,” Chelsea said with fury. “So answer it! Don't be an asshole!”

Why did you cut the film?” Shauna asked, holding Cammy again. “There was no reason to do it! It could have helped us reveal Andrew's killer and get out of here!”

That was a stupid thing to do,” Wyatt said. “All you did was destroy evidence with no reason behind it, hindering the trial's progress further.”

...Actually, I can think of a reason why he did it...” Nina said. “Dirk might have done it... because, well... because he wanted to hide something. And there's only one reason why anyone would do that...” A look of pure horror crossed Nina's face. “And that's because Dirk is the killer.”

 

A heavy atmosphere of distrust and despair hit the courtroom like a wrecking ball. Everyone looked at the silent Dirk, disbelief on their faces. Could he really have done it?

No...” Naomi breathed. “No way...”

So how about it, Dirk?” Marian said, dread pooling in her stomach as she looked at Dirk. She had to remain unbiased; it was the only way to get to the bottom of this. Then why was this so hard? “Do you have a reason as to why you just did that?” Dirk finally looked up from his PDA, and gave Marian a thin, wry smile.

No,” Dirk said. “I don't have a reason for doing that.”

You... what?” Marian said in disbelief. She was speechless. “This doesn't make sense... I don't know what to think.”

I'm pretty sure you do,” Dirk said evenly. “It's the same as everyone: I'm the killer, and I hacked the footage as a last-ditch effort to protect myself out of panic. Correct?”

Well...” Marian said.

I knew it,” Dirk said. He shrugged. “I don't blame you for it; I'd have come to a similar conclusion.”

How can you just be so calm?!” Chelsea exclaimed. “You're the most suspicious one here right now, yet you're aloof as hell! What's going on?!”
“Simple,” Dirk said. “The killer has to be exposed, right? And that's what I did.”

Wait... so...” Shauna said, trembling. “You're admitting to the crime?”

So we vote, right?” Joel said. “We have to, don't we?”

There's no more evidence...” Ella said. “It seems that we have no choice.” She let out a deflated sigh. “I can't believe it...”

 

Upupu~” Monobear giggled. “So that's the conclusion you're coming to? That Dirk here killed Andrew, planted two knives to throw you off the scent, and then messed with the footage to hide his interview to avoid further incrimination, which also doubled as an admission of guilt?”

That sounds about right...” Nina said glumly.

All righty then!” Monobear chirped. “If that's what you believe, then use the 'Vote' section of your ElectroIDs to vote for the culprit! Will you be right, or wrong? Upupu~”

Hold it!” Marian suddenly exclaimed. “I have an objection!”

Huwah?” Monobear said, tilting his head curiously. “An objection?”

Yes,” Marian said. “I don't believe we have all the facts yet to confidently claim that Dirk is the culprit. Something isn't adding up here.”

What?!” Chelsea exclaimed. “He admitted to it! What more proof do you need?!”

He did admit to it,” Marian said, “but can we really vote for him with just that?”

Of course!” Chelsea retorted. “He even said that messing with the footage was to expose the culprit! Which he clearly did by hiding his own interview! Can you really say I'm wrong?!”

Well, uh,” Marian said, faltering. She had no concrete evidence to say for sure that didn't happen.

Exactly!” Chelsea said. “Without further proof, everything points to Dirk! So that's where my vote is going!”

 

Wait!” Mark suddenly cried out. “I just realised what's not adding up here!”

Mark?” Marian said. “You realised something?”

Yes!” Mark exclaimed. “It would make zero sense for Dirk to hack the footage to cover his tracks!”

And why is that?” Marian asked.

Because,” Mark began. “I never interviewed him!”

You didn't?” Shauna questioned.

Plus, he said his goal of messing with the film was to expose the culprit,” Mark continued, blazing with determination. “At no point did Dirk directly admit that he was exposing himself!”

But how can you be sure about that?” Joel asked. “We still don't know if Dirk was feeling guilty and wanted to end the trial! That could have still been the reason!”

No,” Mark said. “It's not just that. Other things don't add up either.”

Don't they?” Melissa asked.

They don't,” Mark said. “For one thing, we still don't have an explanation for the screwdriver Wyatt found with the knife. If Dirk really attacked Andrew with the knife, then why was there a screwdriver with the murder weapon? I don't know why, but I feel we're missing something huge. And until we uncover that, we won't know for sure that Dirk is the killer!”

Oh my,” Monobear said. “So you're changing your minds? Are you holding off on the voting for a little while longer?”

Yes, I believe that's the best thing to do,” Mark said.

I have to agree with him,” John said. “There are clearly some mysteries left to uncover.”

I agree as well,” Marian said. “I don't think this case is as clear-cut as we're being led to believe.”

Upupu~” Monobear giggled. “Now the real question is this! Do you still believe that Dirk is the killer?”

No,” Marian said confidently. “I know Dirk: if he was the killer, he wouldn't do something so obvious as expose himself so blatantly. He's smarter than that.”

Plus, his demeanour is all off,” John said. “Now that I look at it, everything Dirk's done has been a gambit to throw the culprit off; no doubt his 'admission' had the goal of confusing them.”

So Dirk,” Marian said. “Is this true?”

Obviously,” Dirk said nonchalantly. “You'd have to have a week-old lettuce for a brain to think I'd be as stupid as to buy into Monobear's jacked-up game. So to clarify, I didn't kill Andrew. But my act did achieve its goal; a few of you began to act real suspiciously when I started acting guilty. It wasn't much, but I've narrowed the suspect pool down.”

And I take it you're keeping quiet about it?” Carlos asked.

Yeah,” Dirk said. “It's all well and good pointing out suspicious individuals, but we can't say for sure until we have every detail of this case worked out. Since last I remember, all we accomplished was finding a knife and a screwdriver.”

Okay then, Dirk,” Ella said. “So what do you suggest we do from here? Do you have any evidence to bring forward?”

As a matter of fact, I do,” Dirk said. “I can't make much of it myself, so I feel it's best if we all see it.” He looked at Mark. “Mark, mind if you disconnect your camera?”

All right,” Mark said. “Now can I ask why?”

I've got some footage of my own to share with the class,” Dirk said sardonically. He tapped something onto his PDA, and the large screen flickered to life.

 

Every eye was once again turned to the screen as it displayed the meeting hall. There was a time stamp in the corner, reading 'WEDS 02:02'. On the far left side of the screen, Naomi's sleeping form could be seen, and on the right was Andrew, eating at something, glancing occasionally at Naomi. Everyone's hearts dropped as they realised they were watching Andrew's last moments.

How did you get this?” Nina asked breathlessly, her hand flying to cover her mouth in horror.

Hacked the surveillance footage,” Dirk said. “Took around a half hour.”

Hey! I'm pretty sure that's breaking a rule!” Monobear growled. “I should punish you for this!”

On what grounds?” Dirk asked. “The rules state the destruction of surveillance equipment is prohibited, not interfering with them. Therefore, I've done nothing wrong.”

You know,” Monobear said. “When I see you bastards exploit loopholes in my rules, it makes me wanna bulldoze a penguin sanctuary out of sheer rage!”

Whatever,” Dirk said. He looked back at the screen as the lights turned out, plunging the footage into darkness.

H-huh?” Andrew's voice suddenly reached everyone, the screen still not betraying his final moments alive. “Someone there? Naomi, is that you?”

I can't watch this...” Naomi sobbed, burying her face in her hands. On-screen, the sound of the doors to the hall opening sounded out.

This is awful...” Charlie said, tears in her eyes.

Hello?” Andrew once again spoke. In the background, there was the sound of light footsteps. “Who is it?” More sounds: the footsteps, and Andrew moving. The footsteps grew faster, and then there was a brief grunt of pain, followed by the sound of something crashing to the floor. After another minute or so, the footsteps moved away. The time read 02:08. Andrew was dead. But before the footage truly cut out, a truly chilling sound reached the ears of every last surviving ETL student.

Pupupu~”

 

Monobear's trademark giggle.

 

This mystery had just gotten even more complex. 

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