The mood in the control room of the Liar Game Organization was understandably subdued. Having just witnessed Yokoya Norihiko's incomprehensible prediction of the game he and his fellow contestants would all be playing, most of the LG dealers were finding it hard to hide their distress. Considering they were long used to at least some semblance of authority over the contest's workings this new development hardly boded well.
"I wonder if maybe we aren't losing control?" Forli muttered worriedly as they all clustered before the monitors.
Alsab cast his panic-prone colleague a cool glance. "Have a little more faith in us, Forli. The benefit of gathering extremely talented individuals like Yokoya in this game is that they can be pitted against one another should the need arise."
"Indeed." Solaris bent down to inspect the screens showing the other set of contestants in this fifth-round runner-up event. "And I for one will be most interested to see how the brilliant Akiyama deals with the cunning Samue now that the two of them must face each other without Yokoya to consider."
"Shinichi Akiyama," Leronira mused. His cohorts afforded him their attention, a tribute to the high regard they all held for the thoughtful gamesman. "Yes, knowing him it will be something of surpassing cleverness. I daresay none of us can fully predict the complicated currents of that man's penetrating psyche. But whatever the case our position remains secure. Rather than fretting needlessly I think we should look forward to learning whatever marvelous strategy that extraordinary individual will choose to employ."
"You'll never get away with this, Akiyama," Leronira growled with his hands in the air.
"Whatever. Raise 'em up a little higher, now."
Grudgingly the dealer complied, and Shinichi Akiyama proceeded to rob him at gunpoint.
As the cheerful mugger rummaged through Leronira's coat pockets with his free hand, the other sporting a fully loaded MK23 handgun remained trained in the general direction of the remaining dealers. An explanation for how he managed to smuggle it in was not forthcoming. Nor was it even the most prominent concern on their minds. All the Liar Game officials stood together in a line down the length of the control room. Every one desultorily held their hands raised in the air just like Leronira. In addition, each of them had his pants hiked down around his ankles, creating a row of masked men in formal dress showing off their boxers. Or briefs. Alsab's 'Hello Kitty' underwear had drawn a genuine laugh from Akiyama upon first spotting them. No one else thought it was the least bit amusing. At least not in this situation.
Upon locating Leronira's wallet tucked inside his vest Akiyama took a step back to thumb through its contents. He whistled appreciatively at the sizable amount of cash held within. Leronira stiffened as if in preparation of retaliation, but Akiyama cocked his gun a little higher without even looking up. The furious dealer was forced to subside.
After removing the wad of bills he tucked the billfold back into Leronira's coat. Then he proceeded along the line.
"W… wait one gosh darn minute!"
Akiyama glanced over in surprise at this outburst. Further down Nearco had almost stepped out of his position, but apparently reconsidered when the gun rose to train upon him. With his hands up, the mustachio-dealer still resolved to face their captor with as much dignity as he could muster considering he was in his skivvies. "This… this isn't like you, Akiyama!"
Shinichi raised a languid eyebrow. "How so?"
His hostage spluttered, aghast. "You… you're Shinichi friggin' Akiyama, for crying out loud! You're supposed to do something brilliant and… psychological or whatever, to get everyone to do what you want! You can't just… use a gun! This is the Liar Game, not a convenience store holdup!"
Akiyama merely shrugged. "Well, I'm surprised nobody had this idea before me. What did you expect from an ex-con anyway? Being in jail taught me the value of simple brute force in certain situations. You were all so focused on having the Game be a fundamentally civilized undertaking that you completely forgot something like this was even possible."
"But it's so… crude!" Solaris concluded lamely. "And so out of character for you!"
The lanky blond smirked. "Ah, but could acting crude when everyone expected brilliance from you be considered a form of brilliance in and of itself?"
"That doesn't make any SENSE!" Nearco fairly screamed.
"Or doesn't it? But enough about me." He had finished dropping the last of the cash into a sack already stuffed with dollar bills, some gold Rolexes, and more than a few flashy rings and pendants. Akiyama then stood up and surveyed the control room with his deceptively lazy eyes. "Who wants to tell me where the loot you're keeping for the next Game can be found?"
"HA!" Artier the chief dealer laughed with as much scornful contempt as one could muster. The fact that hiking up the head honcho's robe had revealed a set of shapely women's legs in fishnet stockings and a G-string only mildly detracted from this bravado. "Did no one tell you? There is no hard currency used in this revival round! It's all digital, you thug! Nothing for you to steal!"
The heavy gun twirled around the conman's trigger finger with deceptive ease. "True. After all, wouldn't do to give a bunch of potential losers access to something they could easily steal or run off with. But I'm willing to bet you bozos still have something solid squirreled away for the next round. So where is it?" He looked between their identically impassive faceplates and sighed reproachfully. "Look, the sooner you cough it up the sooner this is over, okay?"
The LGO head raised her chin proudly. "Do what you will, Shinichi Akiyama. You'll get nothing out of us!"
Obeying their leader's example, the Liar Game dealers proceeded to zip their collective lips. Shinichi watched this stalwart display with obvious amusement.
"Well. A wall of silence, is it?" His eyes narrowed and he began to stroll down the line of men whilst tapping the pistol meaningfully against his shoulder. "Or perhaps a chain of defiance. But remember, gentlemen, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link."
None of the dealers moved. He drew to a halt before one figure in particular.
"Isn't that right… Forli?"
The harlequin-mask gave no response. And yet, were one to inspect him closely, you would not have to look very hard to detect a significant trembling in the limbs of that spiky-haired dealer.
Akiyama now turned so that they were facing each other. His black eyes bore mercilessly into the man's empty eyeholes. Shinichi spoke not a word. He simply stared.
As the other captives watched in morbid fascination, their fumbling counterpart started shuddering all over like a puppet whose strings were being jerked. Drops of sweat could be seen sliding beneath the mask down his throat.
Forli's shoulders began to twitch slightly.
A small whimpering sound came from those painted lips. And Akiyama…
"AAAAAHHH!" Forli suddenly screamed. "OKAY, I GIVE! IT'S RIGHT OVER THERE!" He indicated frantically at a nondescript panel out of many on the console.
"FORLI, YOU SPINELESS COWARD!" Alsab roared.
"I couldn't help it, man!" the cowering clown sobbed as Akiyama strode off where indicated. "He just kept… STARING at me with those cold dead lifeless eyes! It's like he was reading my mind or something! And all I could think was how many ways he might think of to hurt me! I mean, it's Shinichi Akiyama we're talking about! What couldn't he think of?! There's no telling what devious tortures he might devise!"
Whilst the dealers continued to argue among themselves, their forgotten nemesis was busily prying off the plate. He kept his gun trained on them even while removing the metal slab to reveal several hundred billion Yen worth of rare gold, diamond, and platinum collection Pokemon cards.
"Flippin' game junkies," he sighed as he stuffed the haul into his gunnysack. Satisfied that there was nothing left of value to be had, he turned to the video screens. Fukunaga had already beaten the crap out of everybody at the other location, with special attention paid to Yokoya, so no problems there. Hopefully that would keep the greedy cross-dresser in a good mood until they came to pick him up.
Satisfied, the master trickster flipped an intercom switch and spoke into it. "How we doing there, Nao?"
With a start, Nao Kanzaki looked up at the ceiling and smiled. "A-okay, Mr. Akiyama!"
Pleased, she then went back to holding her fellow players hostage with an Uzi sub-machine gun.
The crowd of contestants, including Silien the dealer, stood nervously before her. While insisting on their keeping both hands up, she had not required the removal of pants. For this at least they were very grateful.
"All right, then!" Nao sang, her chipper demeanor completely at odds with the menacing firearm she was sporting. "Thank you for cooperating. I'm very glad you didn't make me shoot anyone! See what I meant about working together? We all come out ahead. Just a little bit longer and this will finally be over!"
While she continued prattling on like this, the elderly Harimoto 'Samue' Takashi stood with arms upraised like all the others. But unlike these dull-witted fools, he was pondering. From under the brim of his hat sharp eyes never left off studying Nao. Based on what he had learned about her in the previous Game and now having been given further evidence of her character, Samue felt that he had a good grasp of this woman's fundamental nature. Not to mention how he could turn it to his advantage.
Having come to this conclusion he glanced over towards where his two most trusted disciples stood. As if waiting for this moment, Kei 'Shortbob' Kimura and Mika 'Office Lady' Mikamoto gave identical slight nods. Samue smiled in satisfaction at their almost telepathic communion. Having become enslaved to his pseudo-religion of their own volition, the two of them were singularly attentive in their devotion to the cult leader. They would know what to expect from him, and conversely what he expected from them, without even having to ask.
So assured, Samue took a deep breath and made his move.
The other players gave startled yelps as he suddenly began to prance about in a weird dance. Nao Kanzaki also seemed taken aback by his abrupt performance. Her attention focused entirely on him just like everybody else. The same was true of her aim. With the gun on him this allowed Shortbob and Office Lady freedom to surreptitiously start edging towards Nao while she was concentrating on his foolish performance. Excellent.
"Yoh, Harimoto, what the hell are you doing, man?!" Tatsuya the Jock hissed between clenched teeth. "Stay still or she'll kill us!"
Like she'd really shoot a frail old man, moron, he thought scornfully, moving his arms and engaging in what looked like a series of ballet moves. "Oh, do forgive me," Samue responded out loud as if the gun being pointed at him posed no threat at all. "My powerful spirit is becoming agitated and I must repress it with these gestures. Otherwise my spirit might…"
Without hesitation Nao fired.
A single shot from the semi-automatic weapon blew the straw hat clean off Samue's head. It flew through the air and fluttered listlessly to the ground like a picked-off grouse. He stood awkwardly frozen in that ridiculous pose for a few seconds longer. His two devotees were so shocked they could only stare at him.
Harimoto blinked a few times. Then he quickly sat down on the ground and crossed his legs together to hold very still.
"My spirit is done for today," he stated calmly, a cold sweat causing his face to gleam.
"That's good to hear, Mr. Harimoto," Nao beamed with her Bambi-like eyes bright and sparkling. She then turned away from him to continue holding the others at bay.
"Er… Ancient One?" 'Ponytail' Abe asked cautiously from her place in the crowd.
He raised his chin a little higher. "I said I'm done."
She exchanged a look with Shortbob and Office Lady. "Um, pardon me, 10,000-Year-Old One, but are you certain…?"
Samue's head snapped around. "WHAT THE HELL, WOMAN, I SAID I'M DONE! YOU DEAF AS WELL AS STUPID?! SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH OR I'LL-!"
When Nao put him in her crosshairs again, Harimoto clapped his jaws closed fast. He resolutely refused to make eye contact with anyone and kept his gaze firmly on the floor. Lucky thing he was already wearing an adult diaper or it would have required some fast explaining that might strain even his worshippers' credulity. Well, thank heaven for small favors.
Satisfied that all was well, Nao went back to patiently waiting. No one moved or spoke. Her cheerful smile proved far more intimidating than any potential bullet wound. When Shinichi Akiyama's voice came over the intercom again, it was almost a relief to them.
"Okay, Nao, that's it. I'm all loaded up, so meet me outside."
"Right!" The mike switched off. Nao twirled in one place and giggled merrily. While they watched her in anxious trepidation she began backing slowly away. "Thank you for your help, everyone! I hope we can meet again! Now let me see, how do I flip the safety on this thing?" She puzzled over the gun's components intently. Several people almost cried out at the clumsy way she was handling that deadly implement. "Mr. Akiyama showed me, but I can't remember if this is the right position or the switch between full and semi-automatic mo-"
Nao flipped the switch, and the gun went off.
A hail of bullets sprayed out with bursts of flame from the barrel. Everyone screamed and dove for cover. The force of the recoil caused the astonished girl's arm to jerk wildly around for a few seconds before lifting to fire straight into the ceiling. After some frantic jerking she finally managed to flip the lever.
The sound of gunfire mercifully ceased. Several voices called out as the echoes died away.
"IS ANYBODY HIT?"
"HEY, WHO WAS STANDING IN FRONT OF HER?"
"I THINK IT WAS MR. BIG! I MEAN, TANINAKA! TANINAKA, ARE YOU ALL RIGHT? SAY SOMETHING!"
"I'M FINE!" the hulking man responded giddily from somewhere behind a counter. "DON'T WORRY, I'M FINE! I DIDN'T GET HIT! AT THE LAST SECOND I GRABBED BALDY AND USED HIM AS A SHIELD! RIGHT, BALDY?"
No answer came.
"Hooooo-boy," they all heard Mr. Big declare.
In the ensuing quiet, no one noticed that Nao Kanzaki had already made good her escape.
Akiyama withdrew from the mike to regard his captive audience once more. "Well, now that everything's been settled satisfactorily, who wants to be my hostage on the way out of here?"
There were no volunteers.
The con man smiled wolfishly. "Hmmm. Who to pick? Who, who, who?" He made a show of examining them all. Then, to no one's surprise, he pointed at Forli. "You."
"Aw, c'mon!" the goofy dealer grumbled. "Why don't you take Kurifuji? She's more important than me anyway."
"My hero," Yokoya's handler snarled from beside him. She alone had been allowed to keep her dignity, not to mention her pants.
"Nope," Akiyama declared. "It's you for me, Foreskin. Now get a move on." Without another word he threw the bag to Forli, then grabbed him by the collar and proceeded to drag him stumbling from the room. As the door closed he called out, "Oh, and there's a bomb attached to this side if anyone tries to follow us. Cheers, gents and ladies!"
The door clicked shut behind them. None of the dealers made a move to verify if that last had been a lie.
When the two men got outside the building, they met Nao Kanzaki waiting by a flashy red sports car. She waved at them, and both waved back. As they strolled leisurely towards the getaway vehicle, Shinichi holstered his gun and regarded Forli with a smile.
"Well, I guess we know who the best liar in Japan is, don't we, boss?"
Behind his mask, Forli smirked in turn. "Yeah. But whether or not those stuck-up pricks will figure it out remains to be seen."
When they reached the car Nao jumped all over Akiyama with a squeal. They fell into the backseat together and immediately commenced making out. Forli chuckled before hopping into the front passenger side. He then turned to inspect the beautiful raven-haired woman sitting at the wheel. "Hi. We haven't met. Name's Forli."
She looked at him askance through her glasses and revved the engine before responding. "Kaori Masumura."
The man in the clown mask regarded her up and down appreciatively. "Nice to meet you, Miss Masumura. Do you believe in fate, by any chance?"
"Not unless you're a lot better-looking than you sound." Kaori promptly threw the clutch. "Now buckle up, kids. We're hitting the road!"
As the victorious gang left a patch of smoking pavement behind them, a clown mask was flung into the air and landed in their wake, where it almost seemed to smile at the world.