Where Talent Goes To Die

Prologue: Like Deja Vu All Over Again

I'm sure you've all heard about Hope's Peak Academy, Japan's most prestigious and exclusive high school-cum-science experiment on talent. Admission is not a matter of money or grades, but talent- you need to be in high school, and be the very best at what you do. Oh, and there's also a "Reserve Course" for people who don't mind paying huge sums of money for a second-rate school, just so they can get a diploma with "Hope's Peak" on it, but that's neither here nor there.

But this story isn't about Hope's Peak. It's about Talent High School, which is to Hope's Peak what the local burger joint is to McDonald's. It isn't quite as famous or well-established, but it has a similar premise, and apparently, apart from the name, the quality is about the same- as are the entrance requirements. As such, while being scouted for Talent High School isn't as good as being scouted for Hope's Peak, anyone in the former group with any common sense would gladly take what they can get.

As for me, my name is Kaori Miura, and I'm not anyone particularly special. I'm a pretty good student who got into a fairly good high school, just like my older sister did two years before me. My parents make enough to put food on the table and pay for my and my sister's education, but not enough to splurge on some expensive private school. As such, you can imagine that they were overjoyed when I got into Talent High School.

My claim to fame isn't being at the top of my class, excelling in a sport or other extracurricular activity, having a promising budding career, or even being lucky. I somehow helped my high school's mahjong club win a local tournament despite only recently having started playing, having joined the club at the request of one of my new friends at my high school. I was completely out of my depth in that game, but somehow knew which tiles were safe to discard, and stumbled into several valuable hands, including a few yakumans. In the first round, I reduced one of my opponents to below 0 points, winning before any of my teammates needed to play, and in the semifinals and finals, I gained enough points to give my team an insurmountable lead.

A scout from Talent High School had been watching the tournament, and took an interest in me. He introduced himself to my team, and after reassuring us that that he wasn't accusing me of cheating, told me that if I'd done so well with so little experience, that I had the potential to be the Ultimate Mahjong Player. As a further test of my ability, he asked me to come to the school and play some professional mahjong players. Unfortunately, my talent no longer helped me- or perhaps my opponents were simply that much more competent- and I was soundly defeated, perhaps as badly as any ordinary high school student would have been.

Ordinarily, that would have been the end of that. The scout would have written my victory off as a fluke and continued his search, but the school authorities had been intrigued by my skill, and arranged for me to test my skill against another incoming student, the Ultimate Shogi Player. My talent saw me through once again, and . After some discussion, the school determined I was a rare case of a multi-talented student, dubbing me the Ultimate Beginner's Luck, and formally inviting me to come to Talent High School.

And so, I found myself standing outside Talent High School, wondering whether I deserved to be there. I wasn't exactly the same as those who were the best at their chosen pursuits, even if I wasn't quite like the countless multitudes who worked their entire lives to be merely halfway decent at one profession or hobby, so most highly exclusive schools wouldn't give me a second look. Still, the administrators had seen something in me, something that they believed justified giving me this chance, and all I could do was make the most of it. My mind made up, I took a step forward, and entered the school.

As I slowly woke up in what looked like a classroom, my mind went back to the last memory I'd had before waking up- coming to Talent High School.

A quick look at my sleeve was enough to remind me that I was wearing my old school's uniform- a charcoal gray blazer and skirt, a white dress shirt, and a red and blue striped necktie- along with black socks and dress shoes. A part of me wondered if I'd fallen asleep in class, meaning that the entire business with the Talent High School was all just some dream I'd had, and I was a new second-year at my old school. Of course, I remembered that I'd been asked to wear my old school's uniform to Talent High School, and the classroom didn't look like any of the ones in my old school.

The first thing that I noticed in a was the plates that were bolted to the windows, preventing me from seeing what was going outside or how light out it was, and the room was oddly dim. My gaze then drifted to the clock, which read 2:00- either afternoon classes were in session, or it was past any self-respecting student's bedtime. I then checked my own watch- an analog watch my parents had bought me to replace the anime character watch I'd had when I was younger- and saw that the time matched. I was comfortable with a long-sleeved shirt and blazer on, so while I guessed that it was the "winter uniform" season, between October and June, I couldn't tell the season or date.

I then noticed a beautiful girl with long raven hair standing in front of the blackboard, one I was fairly sure I'd seen somewhere before. She wore a navy blue blazer-style uniform with a white dress shirt and a blue necktie that fit her slender frame well, and her badge-like school crest made her look a bit like a uniformed police officer. Like me, she wore dark dress shoes, but with white pantyhose. Our uniforms were similar, but even a casual observer could tell we went to different schools, judging from the colors and the school crests. Evidently, she'd been watching over me for some time, but wanted to keep some distance, probably to give me time to wake up and get my bearings.

"Oh, good, you're awake," the girl said as she walked over to me. "How are you feeling?"

"All right, thank you," I said as I sat up. "I don't really know what's going on, though."

"Unfortunately, neither do I," the girl said. "We're not alone in here, so when you're ready, I'll take you to where everyone else is gathered."

I nodded, then stood up. The act came surprisingly easily to me, as if I were waking up from an afternoon nap, rather than an extended coma. As I stood, I checked the pocket of my skirt and blazer, only to find that I only had about 580 yen worth of change on my person- my bookbag, wallet, cell phone and key to my family's apartment were missing. Normally, I'd be quite worried if I lost any one of those things, much less all of them, but I knew that finding out where my possessions were was a lower priority than finding out where I was.

"So, Miura-san, was it?" the girl said as I was rummaging around in my pockets.

"Yes, I'm Miura," I said as I looked her in the eye, "Kaori Miura. I take it you read the name tag on my blazer?"

"Either that, or I'm psychic. I didn't want to make assumptions though- for all we know, you might have borrowed your blazer from another girl who answers to 'Miura-san.'"

I chuckled. At first glance, the girl had struck me as fairly polite, and even a bit reserved, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear her use a joke to break the ice.. Something seemed familiar about her, and it was confirmed when I saw that she had a name tag that read "Edogawa" on her uniform.

"But anyway, I'm forgetting my manners. My name is Sae Edogawa, and I'm the Ultimate Mystery Novelist. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miura-san."

"It's nice to meet you, too, Edogawa-san," I said as we bowed to each other.

After taking a moment to register Edogawa-san's name, I knew it wasn't a coincidence- I didn't know her, but I definitely knew of her. She was well-known as a mystery writer, and not just because she was young. Her best-selling Aiko Aizawa books- a series of light novels about the eponymous high school student who moonlighted as a detective- were highly realistic and contained surprisingly relevant social commentary, while also being highly suspenseful page-turners. I was quite familiar with them, since I had avidly read them since they first started coming out three years ago, and had read all nine books to date. A part of me didn't think it was real, but now, I knew for certain- if I'd been accepted to Talent High School, then I was seeing my favorite young author in the flesh.

"Wait a minute," I said. "I know who you are- I'm a big fan of your books! It's such an honor to meet you in person, Sensei!"

"Sensei? I'm flattered to hear you're a fan of mine, but 'Edogawa-san' or just 'Edogawa' are perfectly fine. If you insist on calling me by my first name, like a certain someone does, I won't complain."

"Sorry, Sensei," I said. "I'm just really excited that I'm actually talking to the person who wrote some of my favorite books."

Sensei nodded, evidently used to dealing with fans like me. I'd gotten a little carried away for a moment, but as far as her admirers went, I was probably one of the saner ones.

"Fair enough, Miura-san," Sensei said. "Come with me, and I'll show you to the others- they're in the gymnasium."

I walked out of the classroom along with Sensei. I didn't know how long I'd been asleep, but moving came somewhat easily to me.

We stepped into the hallway, and I briefly looked around, noticing that no one seemed to be walking around. I did notice a few surveillance cameras, though, and felt a bit nervous- I could never tell whether such devices were more to keep us safe or to keep us in line. There also seemed to be monitors scattered around the halls and in every room. Judging from how many I'd seen, it was likely that if all of them came on and played a video announcement, every student in the school would be close enough to see or hear it.

I followed Sensei's lead, since she, while still unfamiliar with this place, clearly knew the way better than I did. As we walked through the ground floor, we first laid eyes on an ominous-looking set of double doors, before quickly making a right and passing by a rec room and the school store. I glanced to my left and saw what looked like the front entrance.

"Um, isn't that the exit?" I said.

"It's supposed to be," Sensei said. "Everyone who passed by it, myself included, tried to get the door open through various means- force, using the control panel and even yelling for help- but all of our attempts proved futile. I can take a moment to show you if you're not convinced."

I walked over and took a look. Beyond the double doors that led into the hallway, there was a small lobby, with little of note in it apart from a few bulletin boards, and the door Sensei had just mentioned. The door was a large, thick metal one that looked like a bank vault. While such doors made me feel that my family's money- which my parents had earned at their jobs, and which I'd saved from allowance and New Year's money- was safe, I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy. Even if you locked yourself in, you should still be able to open the door from the inside, after all.

"In any case, what's with this place?" I said. "It seems pretty tightly sealed up for a school, with steel plates screwed to the windows and this door that looks like it's guarding a military base or prison. What's all this for? To make sure that perverts don't look inside?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Sensei said. "My old school was somewhat strict, but even they didn't go this far, even at night or on holidays."

"Well, maybe this school full of Ultimate students went the extra mile with security?" I said. "Or maybe they're taking advantage of the in-house talent."

"I don't know," Sensei said. "Still, we shouldn't play around with the door until we get a better idea of how we might open it, lest we risk rendering it inoperable."

I nodded, then followed Sensei out of the room. We turned a left and walked down the hall, past a shutter that looked like the kind you see when a store in a shopping mall is closed.

"The stairs to the second floor are blocked, too," I said. "That's odd..."

"What do you mean?" Sensei said.

"Now that I think about it, I actually visited here when I was scouted, and it didn't look anything like this," I said. "I remember going up those stairs and all the way up to the auditorium and headmistress' office on the top floor. It mostly seemed like a normal school, only it was a lot taller than one."

While I was in good enough shape that I didn't mind climbing several flights of stairs, I couldn't help but be a bit surprised that the third floor wasn't the top one, or that I'd end up having to walk across each floor to find the stairs up to the next one.

"I had the same impression," Sensei said. "When I asked about the design, the people who were showing me around said something about how they didn't have the land for a more traditional three-story layout. But yes, the school has changed a great deal since we visited and I'm not sure why- I don't know much about designing a building, but I don't think they could have installed all these plates without breaking a few laws."

I chuckled at Sensei's remark. Of course, while this entire school seemed quite suspicious, even ominous, I knew that our being invited wasn't some kind of scam. Talent High School didn't have Hope's Peak's reputation, but it was well-known, and many famous people had graduated from it, so it wasn't as though it was designed to imprison talented students.

"By the way, Miura-san, there's something I forgot to ask you," Sensei said. "What exactly is your Ultimate talent?"

I sighed, having hoped Sensei wouldn't ask about it.

"Nothing all that impressive," I said. "I'm the Ultimate Beginner's Luck, and I have the ability to win virtually any game I've barely even played before no matter how tough my opponent is... or so they say."

One of the scouts told me that he suspected my ability could potentially beyond simple games, but he wasn't sure of that. Competing against the very best, and winning when people with my level of skill wouldn't stand a chance was the most obvious way of proving my skill, and it was possible it might manifest elsewhere- or at least they hoped it would. The possibility of someone who could do pretty much anything without practice or training sounded fairly exciting, after all. Of course, as a student who had to study hard for good grades, I was a little more skeptical that I could master anything.

"That seems like an intriguing skill. It took a long time for me to improve my skills to the point at which I could write something worthy of being published, so to quickly master a game you've only just started playing is truly impressive."

"Actually, Sensei, that's the problem. As the name implies, it's more of a mixture of good luck and intuition, rather than skill- something tells me what the right moves are. More importantly, though, is the "beginner" part- it gradually fades as I get experience in the game, and is more or less gone before I'm even halfway competent. Winning one tournament as an amateur is enough for an article in the paper, and maybe the attention of a talent scout, but it doesn't make a career. After all, you're not a one-hit wonder, are you?"

Now that I thought about it, I never really stuck with much of the games that I played for very long- I did well at first, then gave it up when my skill declined, and I realized I wasn't anything special, after all. This realization wasn't too unusual- my dad played basketball while he was a student, but stopped when he graduated college, since he couldn't go pro. In my case, the wake-up call came especially harshly, a bit like if a hotel staffer dumped a bucket of ice water on my head instead of calling my room.

"I'll admit that's true," Sensei said. "That said, you have been recognized for your talent, and given this rare and valuable opportunity. I know all too well that most aspiring writers work at least as hard as I do, but have much less to show for it. With that in mind, you can only be grateful for your gift, and make the most of it."

"Thank you, Sensei," I said. "I do try to think of things that way, since I actually once wanted to be a writer, just like you."

"You did?" Sensei said. "Or rather, you used to?"

I sadly nodded.

"I used to, until I found out that I didn't have what it takes to get published," I said. "If career aspirations could be compared to romance, it's a bit like if I had a crush on the most popular girl in my school, who probably doesn't even know my name. That's why my parents told me to forget about trying to write books and to focus on my studies."

I tried to sound calm, but disappointment crept into my voice. The last time my parents and I had this discussion was at the start of my last year of middle school. They'd told me that I'd need a few possible ideas for a career, and said, as gently as possible, since they'd have to be realistic ones, writing for a living was off the table. I'd mostly come to terms with the fact that I'd never be a writer, but it's not easy to let go of your dreams, even the ones that won't come true.

"A fair decision, as well as a wise one," Sensei said, "since one's education should come first. That said, I do sympathize with you- if my father had his way, I'd have given up writing a long time ago. Besides, I may have achieved the distinction of becoming a published author at a young age, but I'm not up to the level of Hope's Peak's Ultimate Writing Prodigy."

I wasn't sure what to say to that. Given the extraordinary odds against my becoming a writer and my limited ability to overcome them, my parents weren't wrong to encourage me to find some other line of work, but why would an Ultimate's father discourage her from pursuing her talent? Good parents would encourage their children to play to their strong suits, while less benevolent ones might hope to exploit their talented offspring. So what kind of person was Sensei's father, and why wouldn't he be happy to have such a talented writer as a daughter?

For now, I didn't get an answer to that, since Sensei decided to change the subject.

"But enough about myself," Sensei said. "It isn't fair for me to take up all your time, especially not when there's fourteen other Ultimates for you to meet. They're all waiting to meet you."

I nodded, as we passed through the door into the gym lobby, with a glass case full of the school's past athletic glories.

"Before we go in, I'd like to go to the bathroom," I said, "to make sure my hair's combed, my tie's properly tied and everything else is all right. First impressions are important, after all- I'd have done this already if I'd known I was going to meet my favorite young author."

Sensei giggled, partly flattered and partly amused by my concern over something so quaint.

"I'd say you look mostly presentable," Sensei said, "with the possible exception of one strand of hair that's sticking up."

I looked at my faint reflection in the glass of the trophy case, and saw that Sensei was right. My blazer was clean and surprisingly free of wrinkles, my shirt was tucked into my skirt, and my tie was snugly tied around my collar. My brown hair, which reached my shoulders, was neatly combed, except for the one hair Sensei mentioned- the one that I could never get to lay down.

"Oh, that," I said. "Well, then I'm about as good as I'll ever be. Thank you, Sensei."

"You're welcome," Sensei said. "I can understand being concerned about your appearance- one of the girls is a bit of a stickler for such things."

We then entered the gym. The gym was, as might be expected, a long and wide open space with basketball hoops, painted lines to mark boundaries for various games, and a podium at the back, as if to prove that it doubled as an assembly hall. Near the podium, there was a small table set up, with sixteen small electronic devices on it.

Fourteen other students- six more girls and eight boys- were waiting. They had a broad range of talent, from intellectual pursuits to physical ones, from traditional pursuits to new skills. They wore all sorts of different outfits- some, like Sensei and I, wore blazer-style uniforms, others wore sailor fukus and gyakurans, and still others didn't seem to bother with the uniforms. Those that did, however, seemed to wear the uniforms of their old schools, rather than their new one, judging by the various styles, colors and school crests on display.

"I'm sorry I'm late, everyone," Sensei said, "but I had to fetch our sixteenth member. Her name is Kaori Miura, and her talent is the Ultimate Beginner's Luck."

"Miura?" a familiar-looking boy with spiky black hair, a black blazer and trousers, a white dress shirt and a white and black checkered necktie, said.

"Do you know her, Kurogane-kun?" Sensei said.

Kurogane-kun nodded. His appearance was only vaguely familiar, but I knew his name quite well- apparently, that was mutual.

"I do," Kurogane-kun said. "We only met once, in the recent past, but I'll never forget that time."

As Kurogane-kun fixed me with a cold stare, the memories began flowing back. He, the winner of several youth shogi tournaments, was the one who had faced me in a shogi game to test my skills, and I was ashamed to acknowledge that the match had more personal significance for him than it did for me.

"I'm Shiro Kurogane, and I'm the Ultimate Shogi Player, recent events notwithstanding. But you already knew that, didn't you?"

Kurogane-kun curtly turned around and walked back into the crowd, unwilling to even let me say "Nice to meet you," much less apologize to him.

A moment of awkward silence followed. I don't think any of the students here, all of whom seemed to be from different schools, expected any of us to know each other, much less have a grudge.

"Please do not hold Kurogane-san's rudeness against him," a girl said. "All of us are understandably tense considering the circumstances."

I turned, and saw the speaker, a girl with dark hair in a bun and professional-looking eyeglasses, step forward out of the crowd. She wore a dark sailor fuku that matched her hair, with a neatly tied red neckerchief and a red armband. She seemed neatly groomed, but didn't have a single bit of makeup on her face- if her school was like mine, she probably wasn't allowed to wear makeup.

"I won't," I said. "I make it my policy to put my best foot forward with people irregardless of how rude they may be to me."

"I believe you mean 'regardless,' Miura-san," the girl said. "The word you just used is 'not regardless', and is thus a double negative that means the opposite of what you clearly meant."

"Oh, sorry," I said.

"It is not a problem. I simply cannot help but correct others when they make mistakes- it is in my nature as the Ultimate Proofreader. My name is Reiko Mitamura, and it is a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise, Mitamura-san," I said, as we bowed to each other.

I'd heard of Mitamura-san's work before, even if I hadn't heard of her by name. She was said to be "perfect" at her job- admittedly, an adjective that was fairly common with the Ultimates- as proofreader for some of her school's newsletters and other publications, since apparently, she'd never let any mistakes pass without being caught and fixed. She was also a member of her school's disciplinary committee, hence the red armband.

I'd heard that a degree from Talent High School, while not as prestigious as one from Hope's Peak, opened a lot of doors when it came to colleges and careers, but I had to wonder whether Mitamura-san needed it. Not only was she an Ultimate, but she was also an excellent student and a productive member of her school community, so she'd practically be a shoo-in, even for Tokyo University. Of course, seeing my sister, who was two years older than me, struggle to get into a good school, I knew that students our age needed every edge we could get.

"Don't feel too bad, Kaori-chan," a blonde in a blue and white cheerleading outfit said. "I've only just met Reiko-chan, and she gets on my case al-ll the time."

"Yuuki-san, I do believe I asked you to call me 'Mitamura-san.' As for Miura-san, it would be most prudent if you were to obtain her permission before calling her by her given name."

I shook my head. Maybe Yuuki-san could use a few lessons on manners, but even if she was overly familiar with others, I didn't sense anything malicious about it. Most people I knew, including myself, only used first names on family and close friends, but maybe Yuuki-san already thought of me as a friend. While I chose to be a bit more formal with her, at least for now, I at least could appreciate her sentiments.

"No, it's fine with me," I said. "Yuuki-san, right?"

"Yep! I'm Ami Yuuki, the Ultimate Cheerleader! Nice to meetcha!"

Again, I'd heard about Yuuki-san's exploits. She'd helped galvanize her middle school's students into getting out to support their sports teams, and had become a regular on her high school's team in her first year. During that year, the otherwise mediocre football team enjoyed an unusually good run, causing people to wonder why. None of the football players seemed especially impressive, so the scout's eye fell on Yuuki-san. After seeing her talents, he extended an invitation to her.

"Likewise," I said.

"Thanks! I think we're going to get along just fine, but there's some more people who want to meet you, so I'll scoot off now. Catch you later!"

As Yuuki-san ran off, a boy walked up to me. He wore a plaid button-down shirt with rolled up sleeves, along with a fishing vest, wading pants and a backpack with a camo pattern. He wore a baseball cap on his head, and curly light brown hair peeked out from under it.

"That girl's a real handful," the boy said. "Still, she seems like a nice person, and it's pretty impressive how she can talk so easily with someone she's just met. Don't you agree, Miura-san?"

I nodded. At times, I had to remind myself that the other fifteen students in the gym hadn't known each other for much longer than I'd known them.

"I do," I said. "It's nice to meet you..."

"Minato Mizuhara. People call me the Ultimate Fisherman. Not much good in a school where the largest body of water is the school pool- assuming we have one- but such is life."

His tone was surprisingly laid-back for our situation, not to mention humble for someone who had a knack for catching record-setting fish. It wasn't all that long before talent scouts noticed that his name kept coming up when people talked about the winners of the competition, or that he was one of the few successful contenders in high school.

"I'm kinda surprised, Mizuhara," a boy in a dark red tracksuit said. "I thought you'd at least be a bit antsy about not getting to use your Ultimate Talent, too."

"Personally, I can wait, Sakuragi-kun," Mizuhara-kun said. "Getting out of here takes precedence."

"I agree," I said, "not that I have much to be proud of."

"Yeah, I gotcha. Oh, sorry, Miura, I forgot you were here. I'm Akito Sakuragi, the Ultimate Sprinter. I hold Japan's record time for the 100 meter sprint in my age group... for now, at least."

I had to wonder if the bar was set lower for these Ultimate students, simply because they were still in high school. Perhaps Sensei or the Ultimate Writing Prodigy of Hope's Peak had achieved greater success than most of their peers could dream of, but there were countless older and more accomplished authors in Japan, to say nothing of the rest of the world. Of course, perhaps the hope was that they'd achieve even greater success when they were older, and all of them were quite impressive as they were now.

Two more boys stepped up. One was a decently tall boy with brown hair in blackk gyakuran that had shiny buttons, as well as a white school crest that looked like a crescent moon. Another was ginger-haired and wore an apron over a yellow dress shirt and gray trousers, the former of which had its sleeves rolled up.

"I'm Yusuke Tezuka, and I'm the Ultimate Abstract Artist," the ginger-haired boy said. "Paintings, sculptures, metal works- you name it, I make it."

I didn't have much interest in art, but I'd seen Tezuka-kun's work on display at a local exhibit during a social studies field trip. His magnum opus was a kaleidoscopic display of colors that had many different interpretations. I didn't know enough about art to take a stab at interpreting it, but to be respected in so competitive a field at such a young age was nothing short of impressive.

"And I'm Sora Hoshino, the Ultimate Astronomer," the first boy said, "not the Ultimate Astrologer. You know, the kind who looks at stars, not the kind that uses them to try to predict the future... right, Tezuka?"

I nodded, albeit briefly wondering if he'd already forgotten my name. I'd heard about Hoshino-kun's findings showing up in several astronomy journals.

Tezuka-kun nodded, a bit sheepishly, likely having learned the lesson the hard way. It was obvious to me that getting on Hoshino-kun's bad side would not be very wise... or difficult.

"Yeah, yeah, I fucked up," Tezuka-kun said. "Course, I can't blame you- the horoscope's only good for catching paint while I'm working or wiping my ass after I take a shit."

I wasn't exactly a prude, but I was a bit shocked to hear that sort of profanity flow so easily from Tezuka-kuns mouth, possibly because it conflicted with my image of him as a sophisticated and gentlemanly artist. If nothing else, I'd have to remember not to fall back on stereotypes.

A blond boy with glasses, who wore a blazer-style uniform that looked like Sensei's, walked over. The convenient thing about blazer-style uniforms was that they were quite simple to design- the boys essentially had to wear what was looked like a man's business suit, and you only needed to swap the pants for a skirt to make a girls' uniform.

"So we've got, what, 16 people now?" the boy said. "That's a relief. Until Kurogane-kun and Yuuki-san got here, I thought I was going to be the thirteenth and last member of our group. Thanks for bringing our number up, Miura-san."

I let his superstitions pass without comment. There were more important things at the moment, particularly his name.

"Why, you're welcome..." I said.

"I'm Shinichi Inoue, the Ultimate Linguist," the boy said in Japanese, before switching to English. "How is your English, Miss Miura?"

Inoue-kun's English was practically flawless, perfectly pronounced and with no trace of an accent. Granted, it was a fairly simple sentence, in a language that most of us had taken in school, so I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it came to his talent. Of course, his talent was probably easier to demonstrate than most of the rest of ours, since he could do so in a standard conversation.

"Pretty good, thank you," I said in English, before switching to Japanese. "But I am more comfortable in Japanese, Inoue-kun, so if it's fine with you, I'd rather speak in our native tongue."

"All right. I do enjoy speaking foreign languages, so I'd rather be abroad traveling and using one of my 20 other languages. C'est la vie."

I nodded in agreement, since while I didn't know French, I knew that expression. Given how many words in various languages had their roots in other languages, even those who only knew one language probably knew at least a few words in several others.

"By the way, Inoue-kun," I said, "you seem to have the same uniform as Sensei...I mean, Edogawa-san. Do you know each other?"

Inoue-kun looked around, then shook his head. Apparently, he was trying to see if Sensei could hear us, but I'd lost sight of her at some point while I was meeting the other Ultimates.

"I know about Edogawa-san, but I don't know her," Inoue-kun said, "since while we were in the same class at the same school, we've never really talked. Between us, she always seemed a bit shy and didn't really have many friends."

I was a bit surprised. Sensei seemed to be somewhat confident and calm, even in circumstances like these, so I was a bit surprised that she wasn't comfortable socializing with others her age.

"Anyway, just take it with a grain of salt," Inoue-kun said. "It's not like I know her all that well, either."

"True," I said. "I suppose I'll need to keep an open mind, then."

"That's good," Inoue-kun said. "The two of you seem to be getting along well so far, so I'm glad for that."

I scanned the room for the remaining people I had yet to meet, and my eyes fell on a ruby-haired girl. She wore a blazer-style uniform with a red blazer and neck ribbon, a red and black plaid skirt, and a black dress shirt. Beside her stood a brunette with what looked like a waitress uniform- a white button-down shirt with a dark bow tie, vest and skirt. I noticed a clear difference in height between the two girls- the redhead was a little shorter than I was, while the brunette barely came up to my shoulder.

"Oh, hello, Miura-san," the first girl said. "My name is Kuro Akasaka, and I'm the Ultimate Checkers Player."

"It's nice to meet you, Akasaka-san," I said, as we exchanged bows. "I heard about your winning several checkers tournaments when I was scouted."

"That's right," Akasaka-san said. "They actually said that I might face you as a test of your talent, but it didn't end up happening. That's a shame, since it might have been a fun match."

For a moment, I wondered why Akasaka-san said this. Maybe didn't mind losing, or maybe she was confident enough in her skills that she didn't seriously consider the possibility. Of course, the fact that she said "fun" seemed to indicate a third possibility- winning and losing weren't what mattered most to her.

"I think so, too," I said. "Maybe we can play some time."

"And I am Anzu Sugiura, the Ultimate Waitress," the second girl said. "As a bit of friendly advice, while Akasaka-san thinks of her talent as being tied to a game, Kurogane-san does not think of his own the same way."

I nodded. Akasaka-san and Kurogane-kun's talents seemed very similar, but apart from that, the two were as different as black and white. The polite and friendly Akasaka-san would likely politely correct my mistake, then laugh it off, while Kurogane-kun would likely hold it against me for some time, on top of his previous grudge.

"It's nice to meet you, too, Sugiura-san," I said. "I must confess, though, that unlike everyone else, I don't think I've heard about you."

"This is hardly surprising," Sugiura-san said, "since waiting tables is often a thankless job. That said, doing a good job can have its perks- one of my family's restaurant's patrons was a scout, who apparently liked my service so much that he named me he Ultimate Waitress."

"That's nice," I said. "A lot of people have to try their hardest just to do a halfway decent job in their profession, so it's impressive that you were honored for your work."

"Thank you," Sugiura-san said. "You should come by our restaurant some time- you seem like you'd be a good customer."

Another student, a girl who I nearly mistook for a boy, walked out of the crowd to greet me. The girl was quite tall, towering over Sugiura-san, and I estimated that she was probably 180 centimeters tall. Her hair was quite short and in a somewhat boyish style, her physique was somewhat muscular, and her skin had a light tan. The girl wore a sky-blue button-down shirt with blue bib overalls, an outfit that might be casual attire, but was more likely intended to be workwear. She probably stood out the most out of all of us, so I was a bit surprised I didn't notice her sooner.

"It's nice to meet you, Miss Miura," the girl said in a feminine tone with a slight country accent. "My name's Momo Iwasawa, and I'm the Ultimate Farm Hand."

Iwasawa-san offered me her hand, apparently more used to handshakes than bows, just like she apparently preferred English courtesy titles to Japanese honorifics. I didn't mind the difference, though, since she seemed like she was trying to be polite, so I took her hand and shook it, noticing that she had a surprisingly strong grip.

"Nice to meet you, too, Iwasawa-san," I said. "To be honest, I... think I guessed you were a farmer."

As I blushed faintly out of embarrassment over judging a book by its cover, Iwasawa-san was magnanimous enough to laugh it off.

"I get that a lot," Iwasawa-san said pleasantly. "I'm from an isolated farming community, which means I'm new to the big city. A lot of the folks back home were worried about me, but Mama insisted I'd do just fine over here."

"I see. If you're having trouble with anything, feel free to ask any of us for help."

"Thank you kindly, I will."

Iwasawa-san was probably the most obscure of the Ultimates, which made me feel even worse for not having heard of Sugiura-san. That said, I'd heard that she was particularly accomplished in relatively traditional methods of farming. Like some Ultimates, her claim to fame wasn't any particularly noteworthy accomplishment, but being able to work alongside experienced adults as an equal.

Another guy walked up, his dark hair in a buzz cut. He wore a white tank top and blue jeans, the former of which showed off his strong, muscular arms. He wasn't that tall- in fact, he was about the same height I was- but he seemed like he was in really good shape.

"I'm Daichi Fukuda, the Ultimate Rock Climber. Nice to meet you."

"Likewise, Fukuda-kun," I said.

"Thanks," Fukuda-kun said. "I just hope you're not expecting me to show off my talent- like Iwasawa, my talent's more of an outdoors thing."

Fukuda-kun's accomplishments spoke for themselves. He'd made a name for himself by completing many difficult climbs as soon as he was old enough to do so. On one of those occasions, he saved a stranded hiker... who happened to be a talent scout for Talent High School.

"That's fine. Of course, maybe there's a climbing wall in here."

"Yeah, I hope so, but really, there's no substitute for a natural rock wall."

A girl with light brown hair in a ponytail walked up to me. She wore a cranberry-colored suit jacket and trousers along with a white blouse. While most of the others were dressed for school, she was dressed for an office job.

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miura-san. My name is Komaki Katsura, and I am the Ultimate Saleswoman."

"It's nice to meet you, Katsura-san," I said as we bowed.

Katsura-san then reached into the pocket of her trousers and offered me a business card.

"Here is my business card," Katsura-san said. "While I am still a high school student, I am proficient in marketing, public relations, advertising and forming relationships with clients. I believe my skills can fill your organization's needs, and look forward to working with you."

From what I'd heard, Katsura-san had simultaneously been PR rep and treasurer of her middle school's student council, which was somewhat understaffed. In high school, she took part in the business club, and won a competition to make business pitches to respected business leaders, a competition that the talent scouts had been closely watching. In order to get into Talent High School, she didn't just have to win, but also had to impress the talent scout, both of which were easy tasks for an Ultimate-caliber student.

"Thank you, Katsura-san," I said. "Unfortunately, I don't really belong to any organizations, except for one time when I participated in a high school mahjong tournament on the request of a friend of mine, who was in our school's club."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Katsura-san said. "I sometimes have trouble telling others about myself, so I fall back on my 'elevator speech'- a means of self-introduction that you can do in a short elevator ride, as the name implies. I'm good at making arguments, and can even do a little small talk to break the ice, but I'm not good at casual socializing."

The way Katsura-san put it made it sound like chatting with others was some sort of difficult and elaborate process that had strict rules and high stakes. I didn't have many people I considered close friends, but I could fairly easily get to a good level of comfort around the friends we did have. We never talked about anything particularly deep or meaningful, but among what we could talk about, I felt comfortable with saying what was on my mind without worrying what my friends would think. By comparison, Katsura-san seemed like a serious individual who always felt as though she had to be mindful of what she said and how she presented herself.

Of course, while Katsura-san wasn't good at just talking with people, but she seemed to be good enough at what she did that it wasn't a problem. Not only were the Ultimates the best at what they did, but they were also quite skilled in several other related fields- for example, Sensei wasn't just an amazing writer, but she also was quite knowledgeable about detective work, courtroom procedures and criminal law, among other things. Even my "talent" seemed to have related advantages- I had a knack for learning the rules of various games, and people often told me that they never had to explain things to me more than once. Some talents were better than others, but I could think of at least a few different applications for each of them, and thus a few possible careers for those who had them.

"Well, accurately summing up your strong points in a short amount of time is a talent in and of itself," a nearby silver-haired boy in a grey gyakuran, who wore eyeglasses and had a pair of headphones around his neck, said. "I'm honestly a bit jealous."

"I know what you mean," I said. "My Ultimate talent isn't good for much, since it allows me initial success, but doesn't make for much of a career."

"At least you have one. My name's Sousuke Kagami, and, unfortunately, I don't remember my talent."

I was surprised for a moment. Most of the Ultimates had freely provided their titles, clearly proud of being the best in their chosen fields, and even relatively ordinary people had at least a few things they could say they were good at- while I wasn't author material, I got very good grades in Composition. If Kagami-kun couldn't even guess his title, and I hadn't heard of him, was it possible that he didn't remember?

"You mean you have amnesia?" I said.

"Probably," Kagami-kun said. "After all, none of us remember how we ended up trapped in here, do we?"

"Well, we all did get invited to come here," I said. "Of course, I did actually visit the school, so I know it wasn't always locked and sealed up like this. The only question is how the school changed from the one I visited to the one we're trapped inside."

"It's possible we don't remember the process," Sensei said. "I must admit that I'm not completely familiar with how amnesia works, but if we woke up in this school with no memory of how we got here, it's safe to say someone tampered with our memories- and perhaps Kagami-kun's."

"That's possible," Inoue-kun said. "But the thing about memories is... you don't actually know whether they're things you want to remember. I'm sure a lot of people have gone through something they wished they could forget. Maybe we chose to forget what happened."

"Maybe we did, Shinichi-kun," Yuuki-san said. "Or maybe if we remember how we got in, we'll know how to get out!"

"Rather than think in terms of what we might have forgotten, let us instead consider our present situation," Mitamura-san said. "I only count sixteen students- barely enough for a small class, let alone an entire school- and no teachers or staff. We are locked in here, but appear to be given free reign of this place. It is clear that either the school authorities are nowhere to be found, or worse, they are actively involved in this."

"Yes, this does seem odd," Sensei said. "In a prison, we would be locked in our cells except for exercise, work and other purposes. Our daily routine would be strictly regulated, and we would be under the constant supervision of prison guards. Our possessions would be confiscated, even our civilian clothes- I could potentially hang myself with my necktie, after all. That said, considering that whoever is responsible for our ending up here has not killed us, I suspect that they'd prefer that we stay alive, and thus take exception to any suicide attempts."

"Puhuhuhuhu! Yes, you're right about that, young lady! As headmaster of this school, I couldn't bear it if my students took their own lives."

Upon hearing the voice, all of us stopped in our tracks, wondering which of us said it. I'd only met the headmistress of Talent High School, a stern yet polite middle-aged woman, on one occasion, but I could tell that whoever just said that didn't sound like her, or any of the other teenagers I'd just met. It sounded almost like a cartoon character.

Suddenly, near the back of the gymnasium, a bear leaped onto the podium. He was half black, half white, with the exception of a white stomach and belly button, and while the white half looked like an innocent teddy bear with a round, black, eye, the black half had a sinister smile and an ominous and jagged red eye. It was hard to tell from how far away he was, but he seemed to be quite small, probably not even half as tall as Sugiura-san, who was barely 140 cm tall herself. I glanced around, and saw that none of my classmates were expecting this, save Kagami-kun, who probably was good at hiding his surprise.

"Good afternoon, everyone!" the bear said. "I am Monokuma, and from this moment forward, I am your headmaster!"

"What's that?" Kurogane-kun said, "A robot?"

"I didn't know technology had advanced to the point where people could make robots like that," Iwasawa-san said. "Modern civilization must be further ahead of my village than I thought."

I disagreed. Robots of various sorts did exist and serve various roles in our society, but making one that could think, talk and act on its own accord like a human being was still firmly in the realm of science fiction- emphasis on fiction.

"No, it's probably a remote-control toy," Hoshino-kun said, "or maybe some animatronic like the kind that are at amusement parks."

"How rude!" Monokuma said. "My programming is so sophisticated, I no longer qualify as a toy! Show some respect to the head of your school!"

I still found it a bit hard to accept Monokuma's claims, but I couldn't really deny them. He'd understood Hoshino-kun's remark about him being a "toy" and responded accordingly, so it seemed as though he had intelligence and a personality. At the very least, if this was some elaborate setup or masterful hoax, I had no idea what was involved in it.

"I beg your pardon, sir," Mitamura-san said, "but you are not acting in a way that is becoming of a school's headmaster. All authority figures must project a dignified image, especially those whose duty is to teach children."

"Sheesh, tough crowd," Monokuma said. "I tell you, high school students get one look at me, and they totally write me off. Not that it matters, 'cuz you're stuck with me for the foreseeable future, unless one of you manages to graduate."

"Shouldn't be too hard," Fukuda-kun said. "I'm not the best student, but even I still pass all my classes."

"Me too," Sakuragi-kun said. "After all, my coach says that if I don't get at least OK grades, I can't' run for the team."

"You guys make it sound so easy," Yuuki-san said. "But hey, at least I haven't been held back yet, so I can probably get through high school, no problem!"

Monokuma let off a laugh of "Puhuhuhuhu!" that silenced the entire crowd. Given his questionable sense of humor, we had to wonder what was so funny.

"Oh, my sweet summer children, it's nothing so difficult or tedious," Monokuma said. "It's as simple as killing one of your classmates and getting away with it!"

Everyone froze in place upon hearing this. Considering the impression we got from Monokuma, we'd be tempted to assume it was a joke, but it was long past the point at which we could believe that. We'd woken up in a locked school with no adults or authority figures in sight. At best, we'd been kidnapped, and at worst, Monokuma was absolutely right- we were being forced to participate in a deadly game.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Tezuka-kun said. "You want us to kill each other?"

"What do you think he meant, genius?" Hoshino-kun said. "You were listening, weren't you?"

"We all were, Hoshino-kun," Akasaka-san said. "It's simply hard for us to accept that we're involved in something so awful."

"I agree, Akasaka-san," Sensei said. "As the daughter of a police detective, I know the authorities would never stand for this."

"But apparently, this is happening anyway," Mizuhara-kun said. "There must be something seriously wrong with the outside world."

"Still, how are we possibly supposed to get away with it?" Kagami-kun said. "That seems difficult given the number of surveillance cameras around, not to mention that we're all on our guard here."

"That's where the class trial comes into play," Monokuma said. "You don't just have to commit a murder without being seen. You have to do it without everyone else finding out you did it, or else..."

Monokuma let his words hang in the air ominously, raising the tension to the point at which you could cut it with a knife. At the last second, though, he shook his head.

"Forget it," Monokuma said. "I'm tired of explaining this Class Trial system to you bastards, so I'm gonna do what some teachers do and show you all an educational film strip instead."

Monokuma then started up a projector system, which projected an image against the back wall and began to play. He struck me as whimsical and immature, a bit like a little kid in a robotic bear body, but that unpredictability clearly made him more dangerous, not less.

The video began to play, which was little more than a series of images with an audio track by Monokuma. The average video blogger could probably have done a better job, but while others probably held that opinion, no one wanted to share it- we were all trying to figure out whether Monokuma was serious.

Hello, and welcome to Talent High School. Here are the rules of the Killing Game.

First, the video showed a boy in a gyakuran lying on the floor, bleeding from a knife stabbed into his heart. Another boy and two girls, the latter of whom wore jumpers over white blouses with red neck ribbons, stood nearby, each student looking exactly the same as the other of the same gender.

Once a murder is committed and three students apart from the culprit have discovered the body, there will be a short period of investigation, followed by a class trial.

To illustrate a class trial, the video showed three boys and girls, the same as the previous ones, standing in a circle in a makeshift courtroom.

After discussing the crime and determining who might be the killer, the students must correctly vote to decide "whodunnit," which will be decided by majority vote. If the culprit, or "blackened" is found guilty, they alone will be executed, while the innocent ,or "spotless" students will be spared.

The video then showed one of the girls hanging from a wooden ceiling beam, while the others watched. It was disturbing enough to imagine minors like us being executed, even for murder, but I suspected we had yet to hear the truly horrific part.

If, however, the wrong person is chosen, everyone besides the blackened will be executed, and they alone will go free.

The video then showed the one girl outside the school building,while the other two girls and three boys hung from a gallows in front of a school. The idea of us being executed en masse, our demises for everyone to see, was gruesome, but that wasn't the worst of it. The most frightening aspect of it all was that more than likely, almost all of us were going to die in the very near future.

It wasn't hard to see the sort of problems this rule would pose. If only one person could escape, then we would essentially be each other's enemies, with the blackened trying to hide their crime in order to survive at the expense of everyone else's lives, knowing that the spotless would just as ruthlessly sacrifice them for their own survival. The spotless students would only be united by self-interest, since any of them could be a time bomb waiting to go off, unsure of who to trust.

That's all. Good luck, and have fun!

The video ended there, leaving us to silently stare at the projected blue screen. Teenagers like us had our lives ahead of us, and the Ultimates would likely have promising careers, even without Talent High School's blessing, so we had a hard time accepting that our lives could end so suddenly and so violently. Perhaps many young people our age lived with that fear every day, but we couldn't accept it- and didn't want to.

"That's about it for the important part," Monokuma said, popping up before us once again. "For the rest of the rules, please be certain to check out your handbooks on the table nearby. Make sure you pick up the one with your name on it."

"What purpose does the handbook serve?" Sugiura-san said.

"It has all the information you need to know for your killing school life," Monokuma said, "such as a map of the school, the school rules and so forth. Keep in mind that if you break one of those rules, you'll get the same punishment as any blackened who gets voted as the culprit- death. Any further questions?"

No one said anything. At this point, it was clear that Monokuma was serious about the "killing game," and asking whether he'd let us go or whether any help was coming wouldn't do any good. That fact wasn't easy to accept, but no one saw any point in speaking out.

"Good," Monokuma said. "You seem like obedient boys and girls, since I haven't seen any of you try to break the rules yet this time. Of course, I'd expect that that person knows what's what, since they're behind all this."

Gasps went up from some of the more excitable members of our group, and even the seemingly placid students were probably at least a bit shocked to hear this, as I was. Since most of us, with some notable exceptions, seemed to be getting along, it was difficult to accept that one of us was the malefactor responsible for our being trapped in this deadly "game."

"This time?" Yuuki-san said.

"All this?" Inoue-kun said.

"Maybe that's an exaggeration,'" Monokuma said, "but they helped set up this killing game. I've said too much, though- finding out their identity is up to you."

"And what would you have us do with that information?" Mitamura-san said.

"Why, kill them, of course," Monokuma said. "If the mastermind gets killed, you all are free to go. Pretty good deal, isn't it?"

"Not at all, Monokuma-san," Mitamura-san said, "since it serves to entice people to murder. I appreciate your answer, but we will find our own way out."

I was a bit surprised that Mitamura-san actually used "-san" on Monokuma. I respected authority figures and tried to be polite with most people, but there was nothing respectable about Monokuma, so I didn't think he was worth the effort.

"Good luck with that," Monokuma said. "On the table, you'll find the keys to your rooms and your student handbooks- the latter has everything you need to know for your killing school life. Bearwell for now, and may the odds be ever in your favor!"

Monokuma disappeared without another word. He'd done his job as ringleader behind this twisted game, and was confident that we'd start killing each other before long. I didn't want to believe any of us would fall for it- after all, who walks down the street, sizing up passers-by as potential murderers?

At the same time, though, it wasn't something I could easily deny. While most sane people wouldn't even consider plotting murdering a stranger, each of us had a reason to kill. Successfully committing murder and getting away with it would earn our freedom, while the longer we stayed here, the more likely we would be to die at someone else's hands, or at Monokuma's for failing to find the true culprit. With that in mind, even the nobler members of our group could potentially snap and kill someone given the right reason and a good opportunity, such as killing the mastermind, and Sensei was no exception.

The situation I'd found myself in seemed unreal, like it was out of a movie or video game, so a part of me had trouble accepting that it was happening. I knew that it was happening, though, and if Monokuma could be believed, it might just have happened before. Of course, everything else was of little importance compared to one truth- I could not afford any unnecessary doubts or distractions. We were now in a killing game, and even if we didn't want to "win" by Monokuma's rules, losing would mean death for everyone except one successful murderer.

As much as I didn't want to dwell on how this killing game would end, there was no denying it had begun, so I steeled my resolve as much as I could, and prepared to face my killing school life...

End of Prologue

Students Remaining: 16

Author's Notes

This fic is my first foray into Danganronpa fan fiction, telling the story of another killing game at a different school. It takes place between the first and second games, at a similar school that is caught up in a similar killing game. There's a reason for this, one that will be revealed much later on. It's cross-posted at Archive of Our Own, but generally, most revisions will be made to this version.

You may notice that the school looks fairly similar to Hope's Peak, and that's largely intentional. While this fic is largely serious, it also pokes fun at certain elements of the Danganronpa franchise, and the layout of the school is one of them.

Getting a Danganronpa protagonist sequel/fanfic protagonist right without being too similar to previous games' protagonists is a tricky process. That said, I did strive to make Kaori somewhat different from previous main characters. Kaori is a kind person and tries to do right by most people, but is a bit slower to trust others or think of them as friends. Despite having a somewhat disappointing Ultimate talent(incidentally, it's based off of Kaori Senoo's mahjong skill in Saki, and the two characters have the same name and a similar uniform), and being a bit starstruck by the Ultimates in general and Sae in particular, she doesn't have that many self-esteem issues. She has a dream that won't come true, but she would have been content to live an ordinary life. Her backstory is also a bit less of a blank slate than some of the other main characters, as she has defined interests and certain events in her past that influenced her.

I also will eventually publish other characters' Free Time Events, and potentially, bonus modes and other side stories. Those side stories will contain spoilers for the main fic, so I recommend that you read it after getting caught up in this fic. Each fic will have various warnings for spoiler content- for example, "Chapter I Victim," "Chapter I Killer," "Mastermind's Identity", etc.- so you can tell what will spoil something you haven't read yet.

This chapter(lowercase and numbers refers to an installment of this fanfic, while uppercase and Roman numerals refers to a part of the story that encompasses Daily Life, a murder and a class trial), and much of the next two encompasses the somewhat boring but entirely necessary part in which the setting and characters are established. As such, while updates for this fic will be less frequent than my other works, given that each chapter is fairly long and will often involve a lot of important details, the first ones will come out relatively quickly, at least until the story gets to the first murder/class trial.

This fic's rating is T now, but it will go up to M once I get to the first execution.

Occasionally, there will be short omakes at the end of chapter, showing short stand-alone scenes.

Here's Kaori's profile. The other students' profiles will be included with their Free Time Event chapters, in the side stories. Each will feature their name, talent, birthday, likes and dislikes, and one non-talent related hobby.

Kaori Miura

Talent: Ultimate Beginner's Luck

Birthday: February 14 (Aquarius)

Height: 169 cm (5'6")

Likes: Mystery novels.

Dislikes: Monokuma

Hobby: Reading, video games.