Redacted Tip #1 – In This World of Closed Time

When their voices and feelings were at last in harmony, when the true power in the squalid village had at long last resolved to take action, to address the world around them for the very first time, in the end not a solitary thing mattered. For time devours all things, but its appetite for the truth has no bounds.

For the sake of the next world, we burn away the one that already had its chance. For the sake of something new, perhaps something better, the old is cast into the fire and the new sprouts from the soil, christened with its ashes. Life was merely a grace period for passing on something, virtually anything, to the next generation – and in a world drowning in meaningless tripe, where relationships were superfluous and knowledge was doomed to be carelessly reinterpreted for all time, all that could be passed on was this concept of death and rebirth.

The point of no return had been reached centuries before. Whatever came next would always be worse than what came before it, learning nothing from past transgressions and only from success. Each generation would bring with it a stronger craving for sweeping results, for ends with simple, inconsequential means. Thus the only way forward, the only way to save the world, was to destroy it all and begin anew. And the only force in the world that had the power to do so in all the world was fire.

Fire was the cornerstone of all the world's evil – at the root of all mankind, that which ensured billions would suffer and die in the endless loop of generations. And what fire once gave, it could just as easily take away. That was the foundation of the Cleansing – the dark secret of the Furude clan, buried under decades of revisionist history and social upheaval, hidden away from the Oyashiro faith as a relic from the days of the Catholic supremacy. It was the duty of the head of the family to ensure that it survive the times, even should the day it be enacted would never come.

However, as it turned out, that duty was founded on a whole bundle of falsehoods of its own.

When Rika was six years old, she stumbled upon the concept for the first time in her obsession with crafting bizarre decorations based off of things she read. One of her many trips into the family crypt beneath the tower, she stumbled upon a box of scrolls hidden under a floor tile, mere moments after finding herself bored enough to start searching for hidden passages. Naturally she didn't understand a word of it at the time, and so as most children with working heads on their shoulders did, she deferred to her parents, which in this case meant sneaking into her mother's chamber late at night when all the monks were asleep.

Hinoka Furude was not the first of her name, and most certainly would not be the last. She was the sort of woman that always listened to her child, but was not much for providing answers. This day was a curious exception, and for reasons that Rika would not understand until much later in life.

"Sweet child," she said, "all that matters is what happens within these walls. The wall was built to keep us safe. The world outside is nothing but swampland – nothing but beasts roam that land as far as the eye can see."

"But that can't be true. Tomitake-san came from another city. He said so himself. And those people on the other side – they're from other places too, I know they are."

"The world was like that once a very long time ago," she said softly. "Cities and towns and villages, all dotting the world, each just as dignified as our own. But all that was lost for the sake of everyone in here the world must always seem that way. But we must always know the truth - it's our duty as the women of the Furude clan to preserve that illusion for as long as possible, however we can. That includes taking advantage of other people."

"But why do we have to lie to everyone?"

"Our village closed itself off from the outside long ago for the sake of hope. Without hope, the people of this land will shrivel up and die. But hope is very much like life in that it won't last forever. And one day, when that hope does die, we'll wipe everything away and start over from the very beginning. Then one day, those cities and towns will sprout up again. And perhaps again many years after that."

"Start over – from what?"

"That's not for us to decide. That's for the world to decide."

"But I don't want to die."

"Everyone dies eventually, but few get to choose for themselves when that time comes. And even fewer die painlessly. Now ask yourself this – is it worth it to live in a world where everything around you is wasting away?"

"I don't know what that world is like."

"It's a world where there's no such thing as family, or friends – it's a world where all is merely food for beasts, where you either become a beast yourself or are eaten without care. It doesn't matter who anyone is, or what anyone thinks. People live on by cowering in packs that can be broken up at any time, set upon by paranoia and eventually tearing themselves apart all on their own. Do you want to live in a world like that?"

"But isn't there any way to change it? Without having to die?"

Her mother shook her head. "I promise you it won't hurt. It'll be quicker than falling asleep." She smiled at her reassuringly.

Rika would ultimately never know, but that smile was merely a reflection of the same one Hinoka's mother had given her, which in turn was her mother's before her. It was a smile that didn't mean anything – the words shared meant nothing either. After all, each generation assumed that the day would never come – that the end of the world would always be another generation away, that the burden wouldn't fall on them or their children, or even their children's children. The Furude clan was by no means hanging on by a thread – the world they lived in was sturdy and unmoving, maintaining the same hypocrisy throughout the years, and all those that questioned it were dealt with accordingly.

For Rika, who ultimately knew nothing, those words were poison. Poison that spread all through her and poured from her eyes as tears. She could not live a lie – she would not live a lie, or so she told herself again and again. But her lie was just a small part of an even bigger one. Already the true meaning had been lost, already the history had been revised. And not for the sake of the world that could be, but for the sake of the world that already was, the next generation would rot all the same. Her parents had chosen to rot, and their parents before them – and so one day she would as well, even if she never realized it until the day she died.

When she was seven she at last ventured into Hinamizawa's public school, where children far more oblivious to the world than she was laughed and played. And she couldn't so much as speak to them – to speak to another child that didn't see the world the way she did was to cut into her own flesh.

But before too long, she was given a circle of friends, all tailored to her down to the last detail – all members of other families, plucked from their own barely formed lives, rewritten and revised to adore her by her father's cursed practice. They did everything together, and through their obsession drew others naturally to her. And though at first she brooded and considered all manners of atrocities, for the first time in her life she could smile on call. And she smiled often, and brilliantly, and before too long her mother's words had faded away, and the world within the walls had become the only world that mattered.

But one day those friends all vanished, taken to the world of beasts beyond the wall and never returned. And suddenly the world within the walls turned against her. Ostracized by those her age, avoided like a plague. Whenever she walked into a room the other children would fall silent. At first she would glance towards her teacher for help, but it became evident early on that there was not a thing she could do. She wasn't bullied or made fun of, she wasn't teased or even beaten – she was feared, and that fear had cut into her deeper than any blade ever could. She wanted someone to acknowledge her – anyone, even if just once, even if it was just to spit in her face.

Takumi Furude, who essentially lived in the Ryuugu clinic, rarely if ever saw his daughter. But he loved her all the same, and she knew he did. And so she ran to him one day and begged him.

"I don't want this. I don't want to feel like this anymore." She cried expectantly, tugging on his pant leg. "Please, put everything back the way it used to be. I don't care how phony it is, I don't want to be alone anymore…!"

Takumi would always smile at her, and reassure her with his dopey, cheery attitude. Before her life had changed he was the only one in the world that had ever made her smile. But on that day, that man did not exist. Instead there was only an adult, an adult with no heart or soul that could be seen.

"There's nothing that can be done." He said.

And she was stunned. "But you changed so many people already! Why can't you do this for me?!"

"I can't. It's too dangerous."

"Too dangerous? Why didn't you think about that in the first place?!" She smacked him several times, each with more force than the last. "Why? Why would you show me something so beautiful and take it away like that?"

"Rika, I didn't -"

"You can't lie to me – I know you took everyone away, I heard them talking, all of them talking about it over and over – they hate you just as much as me!"

He didn't answer. All he could manage was to stare at his desk as though he were working.

"Take this away from me, then. Just me."

He couldn't look away from her when she said that.

"It doesn't matter if anything bad happens to me, right? Then make me forget what this feels like. Let me go back to how I used to -"

Without warning he struck at her, straight across her face with the palm of his hand. Takumi was a weak man so it wasn't painful – but it stung all the same.

"Never say a thing like that ever again." He grumbles, a very dangerous glint in his eyes.

The moment the tears started to fall from her eyes he wanted to take it all back. But it was far too late for that.

But she wouldn't bawl and moan like an infant. She was far past that. She'd been thinking too hard, too long, and without getting anywhere, pushing her capacity to its limits. In that moment, the moment he'd forsaken her and betrayed what little, childlike trust was there, she could have killed him.

"So that's the kind of father you are?"

"No, that isn't -"

"That's exactly what you are! You can't lie to me, no one can lie to me – "

"Rika, I made a mistake, this isn't what I wanted to -"

"You're not a doctor. You'd barely pass as a farm hand. You're just a coward."

Something important shattered that day. Something that in its absence was replaced with a burning hatred. She decided one day that she would make people look at her, even if she had to turn their heads with her own hands.

It started when she was ten years old. She would storm the lunch tables and strong-arm her way into the games the other children were playing. She tried all sorts of mannerisms to bring down the walls of her peers and ultimately settled on the sweet catlike girl that adults wouldn't even think to question. After school was over she'd steal one of the quiet boys and go out on a date with them, during which she dragged them around the village in their terror and played to their insecurities, sending some off with a fresh stain in their pants.

At one point she managed to work her way into the graces of the heiress to the Sonozaki family, and became the darling of another closely knit group. She'd begun to see the nature of all those around her – uncertain souls, fragile like glass, that enjoyed lies far more than the truth. And they were all the same – and she was the only one that was not.

And when that failed to satisfy her, when the bonds with her friends were never any stronger than the ones that had fallen to pieces long ago, she retreated further into herself. She would not simply live a lie – instead she would transcend the lie and do with it as she pleased. Each night she would break into homes and leave notes staked to the bedroom doors with daggers, her very own calling cards. The Powers That Be are watching you, they'd say. She targeted families that she knew had secrets. And she knew everyone's secrets – the benefits of being ignored. And she would watch those families carefully, and reveled in how they slowly fell apart as their secrets came undone.

That world where time for her was stopped went on and on, as did she, on and on tearing lives apart and marveling at just how little everything managed to change. And not once did anyone try to stop her – instead, the lie became her plaything, and the village danced in the palm of her hand. The Powers That Be – a simple farce that became the 'hidden truth' of Hinamizawa. Whether or not another force had intervened to make that possible mattered little.

Then at last the fire came, as it was promised.

The White Rider, heir to the ashes of the Sonozaki family. In the world of beasts he was a powerful demon disguised as an angel, with powers and principalities that flocked to his side. But in her world, he was the rising action, and he came to her from some far off sky, all for the sake of his revenge.

Even if she enjoyed it, even if she had felt greater purpose in her grand deception than in anything else she'd ever done in her life, she still believed in the one speck of truth she'd managed to find as she walked the earth.

"I'm interested in Goro Majima..." She cleared her throat. "I mean, Satoko and Natsumi's father, Toji Kimiyoshi. I haven't exactly kept track of who else he's fathered, but that should be more than enough for you to go on."

The white rider rolled his eyes and sighed, as he paced about the room. "What about him?"

"He still has the loyalty of this people. The Ryuugu family was stricken from the annals of our history, but not well enough. He's a threat to both you and me."

"Oh ho? I'm surprised there's even one person left over that remembers that name."

"While you live because of him, Doctor Kyosuke lives because of us. What he calls his Hinamizawa Syndrome is merely our Bastard's Curse as observed by an outsider."

"You might want to run that by him once more," the rider chuckled. "He seemed pretty high on his messiah complex the last we spoke." He turned away from her. "But, it's as you say." He continued hesitantly. "Toji Kimiyoshi, or Ryuugu or whatever, needs to be here regardless."

"And why is that?"

He turned back to face her, cocking his head to the side and flashing a toothy smile. "Now why would I tell you a thing like that?"

"Let's try to stay on point. I called you here because I need your help."

"Ah, yes. The outcast daughter of the ruling class. Hopelessly lost in the world of preadolescence and betrayed by her own father – what could such a tragic figure possibly want from some poof from the Sekiguchi family?"

"This village is ugly, isn't it?"

"I've admired my own vomit with greater passion, in fact."

"You see, I've been living here for a very long time. I'm rather sick of looking at it. Luckily, my family happens to house a protocol for just this situation."

"I see. So then, if I help you kill everyone in this village, what shall I get in return?"

"I will give you the pain of ages you're searching for."

But in the end, she was the only one that burned. Hinamizawa's hypocrisy would live on in that forbidden outside world. But perhaps it was better that way. Perhaps the world needed a new pack of lies to keep things interesting. It was a better catalyst than hope, at the very least.

All her life she'd dreamed of what the end would be like, of the pain she'd feel, of just how wrong her mother's estimations would really be. And just as often fantasized about the moment her life would finally end. But when the moment came she'd felt rather underwhelmed. This death was hardly as impressionable as her last. It just hurt a lot and made her scream.

But in a matter of moments it didn't matter how many times she'd died. After all, the fire was the one true thing in the world, and it burned away everything, including all the parts of her that were worth talking about.

The fire that claimed the life of Rika Furude was not some fantastic pyre that shone for all the heavens to see. It was, in fact, only slightly more impressive than a bonfire. And would hardly have been suitable to the young girl that adored it so much that she willingly gave up the lives of everyone around her to see it, provided that, from its deepest depths, the very same fire had not sent something back.

A Meeting of the Powers That Be

Today's rather disturbing experience takes place in an unusually ordinary classroom, on an unusually ordinary day after classes where and all but ordinary group of friends is gathered at a group of desks pushed together, huddled around a deck of cards. The five of them together are some of the closest friends there are, even if only because of their similarity in age, and for them, ever so blissfully ignorant of the chaos and fallout just beyond the classroom door, their ongoing game was perhaps the only thing in the world that mattered.

First was the teacher's pet, Yuri, a bipolar boy with bowl cut hair dressed like a boy that had just walked out of an English boarding school, suspenders and all, with an appropriate love for Shelley and Christie to go with it. More comfortable with friends of the opposite gender, he has a colossal inferiority complex which will do wonders for him once he's older.

To his left was Miho, a tanned girl with bright blonde hair kept in a ponytail that always wore a loose t-shirt and shorts. Mischievous, bright, and already developing a tendency for chasing after boys older than she was, Miho was the focus point of the group, and at one point confessed her love to one of the four, though the other would never admit it or bring it up in public.

Across from her was Rimi, the jealous one, who always kept her hair the same way as Miho's, went after the same boys, and when possible wore the same clothes. She did not, however, want to go through the trouble of dying her hair, so she simply kept it her natural red color. Every aspect of her personality was fixed for the sole purpose of contesting Miho, and none of the four others had any clue what she was really like. On this particular day, as she conveyed herself most days, she was quiet and stern, but didn't hesitate to make her opinion known, no matter how juvenile it might've been.

Touching shoulders with her was Homu, who by now needs no introduction. She always took after the eldest of the group, and though she was often the sweetest girl one could encounter, her mood would sour often around her friends. It was merely a sign of her loyalty and trust.

And distanced quite a bit from the others was in fact the eldest, with long flowing hair, wearing a green sundress that had seen years of wear and tear. Unlike the others she often loses interest with the game, instead taking to staring out of a nearby window. Perhaps she could catch the next missile as it fell out of the sky, or maybe another flaming person would start running across the landscape just in front. Lazy and arrogant until the last moment possible, Rika was the sort of person that would be satisfied with burning a kingdom to the ground if she could be queen of the ashes.

Their game is rather simple. There was a maximum of seven players possible. The eldest, who was branded an Oracle, would deal the cards, spreading the deck evenly amongst the five. And on each turn, they were allowed to play as many cards as they wanted with no restrictions. Each card had a different meaning. Each card was an event, a person, or a symbol, with given properties that could not be changed. And whoever played a given card was that card's master – allowed to interpret the card however they wished – and from that moment onward, that card would be treated as such. A 'dead card' was scribbled on with a black sharpie by the eldest, an obscured card was similarly marked with a highlighter and placed facing down, to be revealed on a given turn. And at the end of each turn, the Oracle would read the cards and reveal the consequences of their moves.

In essence, their game was more like a story. A role-playing game, where the five of them played god, and either worked together or went at each other's throats. It was a game of control, of manipulation. A game of burning ants, and though the cards were always the same, it could always play out differently. Such was the boundlessness of one's imagination.

However, it was impossible to obtain more cards after the initial dealing. It was impossible to retract a card, or so much as touch it after it had been played unless the Oracle was involved. It was impossible to question another player's interpretation of a card, at least until the game was over. And, above all else, it was impossible to leave the game midway through. Though the act of playing was nearly mindless, these rules were immutable.

And now, at the end of yet another game, the five sit there largely unsatisfied with the outcome. Miho gathers all the cards spread out on the table and shuffles them. "That's that, I guess." She says with a disappointed sigh.

"What kind of ending was that?" Homu barks right away, after spending a good deal of the game in total silence.

"I didn't think it was that bad. It was pretty symbolic, actually." Yuri says matter-of-fact-ly.

"We nearly ran out of everyone right at the start this time! And all the codes were so easy! What gives?" Homu whines, squeezing Yuri's cheeks as hard as she could.

"Hey, you should be pinching Rika, not me!"

"Don't try to dump your suspicions on me. None of those ciphers were mine." Rika sighs.

"This again? This is happening constantly now, something's definitely going on here." Rimi grumbles.

"So someone else tried to crash our game? Like, someone not here right now? Who would do a thing like that?" Miho's eyes widen curiously.

"I can think of a few. But let's hear the conclusion to this one first."

"What were you expecting?" Rika shrugs. "The following morning, the majority of Hinamizawa's residents have survived the burning. Homeless and distraught, the long and arduous relocation process begins – the Japanese government attempts to take part and breaks down the residents into groups to be spread out across the country. However, the plan is devised on outdated records, with Hinamizawa's own census records being destroyed in the fire, and almost twice the number accounted for actually need to be relocated. And, due to the presence of Mahamatsuri beggars amongst the group that were once villagers and as such were included in the government's records, the exact number is obscured even further."

"So the villagers resist, and the government representative assigned to the relocation effort is murdered. Following that, the government washes its hands of the entire mess, and through negotiations with multiple parties including the Sonozaki family, Okinomiya is handed the entire population to resolve on their own in exchange for two-hundred million yen. That money is then poorly managed and soaked into three different projects, all of which end in failure, deliberate or otherwise. In the end, they have no choice but to ration a small chunk of land to provide housing for the villagers, on limited funds provided by the police department." Miho nods her head along with the story.

Rika doesn't correct a word. "And because of the amount of funding and the insufficient development time, the conditions of these homes border on uninhabitable. The villagers flood the city, scouring for jobs that don't exist, surviving on welfare from their Japanese citizenship. Okinomiya city government naturally advocates towards hiring Hinamizawa villagers, and in many cases the Sonozaki family strong-arms small businesses into firing existing employees to make room for them. In the end, culture and values are twisted and lost, forcing Hinamizawa's remnants cling to the symbols of the years lost in search of hope."

"And so the future doesn't change." Rimi concludes.

"Booring." Homu whines.

"If someone really wanted to screw with us, the least they could've done was change the outcome." Rika sighs once more.

"What about that boy with the flowers?" Homu inquires with her chin in her hands.

"Ooh, you mean Rika's boyfriend?" Miho's eyes glitter with mischief.

"That sounds like the most likely case. Come to think of it he was pretty vocal about getting revenge on us or whatever last time, right?" Yuri nods his head.

"Whatever the case, it is true that these latest interventions aren't healthy. Maybe if you burned your stupid book we wouldn't have to deal with this sort of thing." Rimi glares at Rika.

"I have a strict policy on all my artifacts. The rest of you meanwhile probably don't know what the word strict even means." Naturally, she doesn't give her an edge over her whatsoever.

"Right, the siderite. But if we got rid of it all, wouldn't everything be too one-sided?" Miho cuts in while still eying the two, as amused by the friction between the two as always.

"Toji Ryuugu's axe makes things far too easy. The man himself didn't have to act in any particular matter, when the movement towards Kanbei's death is carried out entirely by Keiichi."

"Wasn't the point of taking his memories away so he couldn't have such a huge influence? If we just let him do whatever the chances of getting a different outcome would slip even further away."

"Aside from being suboptimal, allowing Keiichi that much control when we're just going to kill him anyway is just poor storytelling."

"Hey, didn't I just get finished saying that it was symbolic?"

"Who cares about symbolism? Go read a book if you're so into that kind of thing."

"Hey, I could, you know! I could get up and leave right now!"

"Forget about the ending – what the hell was that nonsense that happened in the poker game? Rika, you played those two, didn't you?" Miho complains.

"Of course she did. She always gets those four, every time -"

"Say, Keiichi-san's death was pretty cool, wasn't it?" But Rimi's comment went entirely ignored as Yuri suddenly came forth with another random thought.

"Ahh, he was so dreamy, wasn't he?" Homu's glazed eyes wander off.

"He's had better ones before. It's not really easy to feel sorry for him in this one."

"At least Tomita-kun got what he deserved."

"Hey, wouldn't you have ended up doing the same thing?"

"Yeah, it's just too sad! I wanted to give him a hug. Then he got squashed by a tree." Homu furrowed her eyebrows.

"Let's all just shut up for a minute, alright?" Rika raises her voice for the first time that day, bringing the whole room into a stunned silence. "Before we completely forget what we were talking about, let's focus on this legitimate issue here. Fact of the matter is, someone's figured out how to subvert the technicalities of this game. If we let them go about on their own entirely unaddressed, there won't be a point to playing for much longer."

"Maybe we should just make some new cards. I found some construction paper in the hall closet the other day." Homu's first thought flies off her tongue at record speeds.

"N-No way, we can't do a thing like that! The boss man would get so angry -" Yuri shoots down the idea immediately.

"Who cares? This is our game, isn't it? Why can't we play it the way we want to?" Homu pouts. She's already aware of the answer to her own question, but in her mind the answer is no good unless someone recites it for her out loud.

"You say that now but don't you remember what happened last time?" Yuri panics.

"Actually, he has a point. I'm not going another month without any internet. Lord knows I'm gonna need it when Rika graduates and there isn't anyone left to shut these two up." Miho agrees.

"You guys are just scared of everything. Hey, Rika, you get what I'm saying, right?" Homu turns to her role model expectantly.

"I have another idea in mind altogether."

"Ooh, this should be good."

"We play ourselves. This way if someone tries to get in the way, we can intervene directly. Doesn't break any rules, and we can get to the bottom of this before the week is out. And I somehow doubt, if the culprit is who we think it is, that they'll think much of the lack of deviation."

"That sounds really childish. And dangerous." Homu's reply comes almost right away.

"Yeah, come on, we're a bit older than that, don't you think?" Yuri agrees, glancing over at the long since ignored pile of cards on the far side of their makeshift table. "Putting ourselves in like we're superheroes – what nonsense. We shouldn't have asked for those cards in the first place."

"That's not how it was back when we had daycare." Miho snickers. "What did you call yourself back then?"

"Hey, hey, I have no idea what you're talking about!" Yuri shot back.

"If you don't want to play this game, I'll find newer friends that will." Rika does what she can to break up the endless banter.

"Oh yeah, that's real mature." Miho moans, though she isn't the least bit serious about it.

"D-Do we really mean so little to you?" Yuri's emotions flail about once more. "I mean, I know Rimi isn't very nice but you can't group the rest of us with her!"

"Hey, it's okay, Rika's just being grouchy," Homu tries to console him.

"Oh, enough of this." Rimi grumbles, while nodding affirmatively. "I'll play. Leave this flower boy to me. I can smoke out this one on my own."

"It won't be that simple. At the very least we have to assume he'll know that we're coming." Rika shakes her head.

"He won't see me. I'll bet anything on it." At that moment, Rimi's eyes meet Rika's, burning with resolution.

Rika grins. "Before you say another word, remember I'll hold you to that, and one way or another I'll take what I'm due."

Her reply comes crisp and fierce. "As long as you're willing to bet the same."

"Oh? So is this your plan to finally kill me? To stake everything on a flaming amaranth in the hopes that it won't scorch you instead?"

"Are you going to accept, or are we finished here?"

For a moment Rika's small grin nearly explodes into a toothy smile, but she holds herself back. "I'll accept your terms. Sorry a fool as you may be, the idea of doing with you as I please is too appealing to pass up." She leans across the desks, their faces nearly touching. "Take care not to bore me. I could easily just turn you into a mouse and be done with it." In that moment, Rimi's hands swing up towards her throat, but she stops herself halfway. "Good, that's good, don't forget for even a second that a fight on my terms is one you'll never win."

"Hey, you guys are scaring me." Homu speaks, barely above a whisper. She and Yuri are stunned, while Miho continues to look on knowingly.

Her voice pulls Rimi back to reality. She backs away and shakes her head, then slapping her face a few times. "Alright, Yuri, you cut this time. We need an idiot's hands on the deck for this one." Rimi straightens out the deck of cards with the five outliers included and pushes it in Yuri's direction.

"M-Me? But we already established I'm terrible at -"

"That's not the least bit important, you fool. Can't you understand anything?"

"But I'm not -" Yuri simmers down immediately, eyes darting to the tiny flame that dances about Miho's fingers as she snaps them, like a cat drawn to some string. "Hey, can you make it bigger?" He asks very quietly.

"Are you gonna do what Rimi wants?" Miho grins.

"Yeah, yeah, sure, just… Could you please?"

She snaps her fingers again and the flame glows even brighter. Yuri nearly jumps.

Miho laughs. "This might be the best idea you've had. I've actually got a condition of my own, though, before I'll sign off on this."

"Let's hear it." Rika offers no opposition.

"One way or another this is going to be it – this is going to be the last time we're going to play this game as a group. I already know it in my heart how this'll all turn out." As she says this Homu and Yuri exchange concerned looks. "So, with that in mind, my one and only condition is this – all of us are going to be involved. Where one fails, the next will try to succeed. And that includes you too, Rika."

"No matter how much free reign you have, you never fail to act within parameters. It's that kind of thinking that got us into this mess," Rika replies. "But I'll see to it, even should the rest of you end up dead and buried that this game will be seen through to the end."

And so the game began again.