"So you see, Nao-chan," the overweight Eda Teruyuki explained, his chunky face pale and sweaty, "when the opposing team told us it would be to our team's benefit if we took the money they were offering, we never dreamed that they were lying to us!"
"That's right!" Tsunoda Kousuke confirmed with his hair sticking out like he had just been struck by lightning. "Everything they said seemed to make sense at the time, and when we saw the money, well, it made even more sense!"
Standing before that panicky pair, the doe-eyed waif Nao Kanzaki stared in dismay. "But… this is the Liar Game. After playing two full Games and one Revival Round, how could you have both not picked up on the fact that other contestants tend to lie?" She glanced uncertainly between them. "I mean, I'm the most trusting person alive, and even I've figured that out by now!"
Both men hung their heads in shame. The forlorn trio stood in a quiet section of the derelict airport terminal where this third Game was being played out. Having revealed to her that they had effectively doomed their team to defeat by their actions, Nao felt at a loss as to what to do next.
"Well," she stated finally, "I think the first thing we should do is tell Mr. Akiyama what happened. He's very clever, and even with this, he might find a way to…"
"NO!" Eda jerked his head back and forth, sending his jowls flying. "Please no, Nao-chan! Don't tell Mr. Akiyama about this! That guy scares me, I don't know what he'll do!"
"But it'll be fine," Nao attempted to explain. "He's really very kind, if it weren't for him I never would have gotten this far. Come on, we can…"
Tsunoda stepped forward and gripped her shoulders anxiously. "Nao-chan, please, you mustn't tell anyone about this! The rest of the Southern Country would kill us if they learned we fell for the Northern Country's trick!"
"I don't know…" She appeared skeptical.
"We'll do everything we can to make up for this, only don't tell on us, please!" Eda clasped his hands together anxiously. "We beg you!"
The gentle maiden bit her lip, looking between their anxious, fear-filled faces. "Well… okay. If you're that worried, I promise not to tell anyone. It's just…"
"Oh, thank you, Nao-chan!" Bug-eyed Tsunoda sagged in relief alongside his fellow dupe. Sweat poured off them in buckets. "I feel so relieved to have a wonderful person like you on our side!"
"Thank you, I suppose. Only the thing is…"
"Yeah, we sure are lucky!" the fat man exclaimed, wiping a meaty forearm across his brow. "I hate to think of what our teammates would do to us if they found out."
Tsunoda clapped him on the back in relief. "Especially Fukunaga! Can you imagine what that violent, short-tempered, money-obsessed cross-dresser would do to us if he only knew?"
"I know! Talk about 'Game Over'. We'd be dead for sure!"
The unlucky duo looked up in surprise, to find Kanzaki regarding them with tear-filled eyes, fists pressed to her mouth.
"Nao-chan?" Eda spoke worriedly. "Is something wrong?"
The girl dropped her hands, trembling like a deer caught before hunters. "I really, really hate to tell you this, but, you see… Mr. Fukunaga's been standing behind you the whole time!"
Both men whipped around, and there stood the shaven-headed transsexual, red lips curved in a calm friendly smile.
"Hi," Fukunaga said.
Eda and Tsunoda let loose blood-curdling screams that ripped from their throats and filled the air with the sound of pure animal terror. Arms crossed beneath his surgically-implanted melons, Yūji Fukunaga only continued to smile. He glanced over to where Nao stood behind the pair of wailing cretins and spoke over their mingled shrieks. "Hey, Nao. How's it going?"
"Um… I'm fine, I guess." Peering timidly at the eerily calm conman, she strove to pick out some sign of the impending fury that one would expect from their volatile comrade. But everything in his voice and bearing lent the impression of absolute tranquility. It was odd, to say the least. "Say, Mr. Fukunaga…"
"Aren't you, well… angry?"
He only raised a plucked eyebrow. "About what?"
This was very peculiar. "About these two admitting to being tricked by the Northern Country into ruining our chances of winning. I thought for sure it would make you mad!"
And Fukunaga chuckled, shaking his bald head.
"Oh, Nao, Nao. What's there to be mad about? I'm not mad."
"Oh." This came as a great relief to the sweet-tempered young woman. The other two had stopped squealing and now crouched behind her tiny frame for protection, watching Fukunaga fearfully with sweat staining the armpits of their shirts. "Wow, that's so wonderful to hear! I thought for sure you'd beat them bloody and then go on to ki…"
"Actually, you know what I am, Nao?" Yūji continued in a cheerful vein. "Thirsty." He then pulled a hundred Yen bill from his pocket and held it out to her. "Would you run along and get me a soda from the vending machine?"
The gracious nymph reached out to accept the money, but just as she did so, Eda Teruyuki gave a frightened yelp. "NO NAO, DON'T LISTEN, HE'S TRYING TO TRICK YOU!"
"Huh?" She looked at him questioningly. "What do you mean?"
"DON'T YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU SAID BEFORE ABOUT PEOPLE LYING?" Kousuke joined in while cowering at her back. "FUKUNAGA'S TRYING TO GET YOU TO LEAVE SO THERE WON'T BE ANY WITNESSES TO WHAT HE DOES TO US!"
"What?" Kanzaki looked between them in confusion. "But he just said that…"
"TRUST ME, NAO-CHAN! IF YOU LEAVE, HE'LL KILL US!"
"Nao," Fukunaga spoke softly, "I'm really thirsty over here. Won't you please help me?"
Her tender heart melted at the earnest distress in his voice. Looking at the scared pair, she attempted to reassure them. "I'll only be gone for a few minutes, just wait right here."
"Nao-chan!" Tsunoda dropped to his knees, followed closely by Eda. "Please believe me when I tell you our lives are hanging by a thread! If you leave us, we're dead for sure! And I'm not talking about the 'dead' that everybody in this Game uses to describe the state of losing, I mean actual, literal, rotting-meat DEAD!"
"It feels like my throat is sandpaper." And Fukunaga gave a small cough without ever losing his smile. "Seriously, I'm dying over here, Nao."
Seeing their savior start to be swayed by the sex-worker's sweet words, Eda lifted his pudgy hands in prayer. "I beg you, Nao-chan, in all your honest tenderhearted compassion and inhuman kindness, have mercy and don't leave us! DON'T LEAVE US!"
This passionate protest seemed to seal the deal for her. "Mr. Fukunaga, I'm sorry, but…"
The crouching cowards felt their hearts soar at the prospect of their salvation.
Then Fukunaga pointed a finger and said, "Look, Nao. Bunny rabbit!"
All three turned around. Sure enough, there sat a small fluffy brown bunny right in the middle of the terminal.
"Huh?" Tsunoda gaped, his fear momentarily forgotten.
"How the…?" Eda began.
With a delighted shout, Kanzaki tore away from them and streaked towards the cute little critter, arms outstretched to hold it. The rabbit twitched its nose and hopped swiftly away. Nao raced off in pursuit. "Here, bunny!" she laughed giddily. "Here, bunny!"
The girl and her quarry disappeared into the distance. Meanwhile, the two she left behind remained slumped on their knees, mouths open in shock.
"Wh…" Tsunoda finally managed, swallowing his fear. "Where did the rabbit come from?"
Behind him, he heard a low, disturbing chuckle.
"Oh, there'll be plenty of time to answer that."
Turning, they saw Fukunaga sliding on a pair of thick leather fighting gloves, those wide eyes blazing in triumph.
"Oh, wait…" He cracked his knuckles, the smile now converted into a wicked grin. "I guess there won't be!"
He advanced on them then, and both men screamed.
Humming merrily, Nao came skipping along clutching the rabbit to her chest. She was quite proud and happy to have captured the elusive forest creature and couldn't wait to show him off.
Upon returning to the spot where she remembered leaving her allies, however, she found no one there. Confused, the girl stood thinking for a minute while the rabbit twitched restlessly in her grip.
A noise came to her ears then, apparently emanating from a door at the side of the room. Nao resolved to investigate and moved to stand before the portal. She gave a knock on its frame.
"Hello? Mr. Fukunaga? Anyone?"
The sounds within ceased. A few moments later, the door opened a crack and Fukunaga peered out. "Yes?"
"Look!" Kanzaki beamed ecstatically and held up her prize. "I caught him!"
The transvestite considered this, then grinned. "Good for you, Nao."
It felt good to be praised like this. She recalled something then. "Say, what happened to Mr. Kousuke and Mr. Terayuki?"
It didn't look as though he knew who she was talking about. "Ummm… Fatty and Veg-Head?"
They stared at each other for a while. Then Fukunaga blinked. "Oh, them." And he gave her a fond smile. "They had to go."
"Go?" Nao didn't see what that meant. "Go where? The Game is still on, they can't just leave."
At that moment, Kitamura Hiroto the Office-Worker came rushing up to Nao.
"Kanzaki-chan, thank goodness I found you! I just fell into a cunning trap laid by our opponents and I don't know what to do! You see, they told me if I took money from them it would benefit my team, so naturally I believed them. Now I see it was a mistake, and I could really use your help to explain this to the others and keep me safe, especially from Fu…"
Fukunaga stuck his head out the door fully and looked right at him. Upon seeing this, Hiroto promptly freaked out.
Nao stared at the bespectacled man in perplexity while he stood there with his teeth chattering, then looked back to Fukunaga. "What's wrong with him? Mr. Fukunaga, did you do something to make him...?"
"Say, Nao," the cross-dresser spoke up then in a slightly chiding manner, "Where's my soda?"
"Eh?" She looked down at the bill in her hands along with the vainly struggling bunny, and gave a gasp. "Oh my goodness, I completely forgot! I'm sorry, I was so focused on catching Mr. Bun-bun here I never…"
In response, Fukunaga laughed easily. "It's okay, Nao." And he produced another 100 Yen note. "Here, get one for yourself while you're at it. My treat. Run along, now!"
Kanzaki took the money and turned to move past the still-paralyzed Hiroto when Fukunaga called out to her, "Oh, and Nao?"
She glanced back at him, and he flashed a sunny grin.
"Make mine… extra cold," he whispered.
"Uhhh…" Nao pondered this odd request. "Okay." Not wanting to look unintelligent, she decided to go on her way without asking what that meant.
As soon as she was gone, Fukunaga took the unresisting Kitamura by the collar, guiding him back into the room. That cold bit would keep dear little Nao occupied for at least half an hour. Plenty of time to do what needed to be done.
The door closed softly behind them, and the game continued.
The Liar Game officials, Leronira and Nearco, stood in the control room watching the ensuing beat-down on the monitors. After a while, Nearco looked over to his compatriot. "It's against the rules to use violence in the Liar Game. So why do we always let Fukunaga get away with it?"
Leronira turned to regard him. "Do you want to be the one to tell him no?"
"Hmmm. Good point." He then held out a bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds. "Care for some?"
"Why, thank you."
Both masked dealers then went back to observing the show.