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"Nako. Am I next?"

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 Night fell. Sashihara Rino was taking the bullet train home after a long day of work, with back-to-back photoshoots and television show recordings. As usual, she stared out of the window to watch the passing night view flash by as the lull of the train caused her eyelids to feel heavy.

 Just as she was about to fall asleep, her phone buzzed. Aramaki Misaki was calling. Strange, Sasshi thought. Misaki seldom messaged her privately, let alone call her.

 “Hello?” Sasshi answered the phone in a hushed voice, lest she disturbed the commuters around her.

 “S…Sasshi…M-Miku has been…” Misaki was barely coherent as her voice was shaking so badly.

 “What happened to Miku?” Sasshi immediately sensed something wrong with her.

 “N…Nako-chan…”

 “Nako?”

 “…”

 Misaki suddenly hung up, leaving Sasshi stunned. She recollected her thoughts for a moment. Team H just had a theatre performance that evening, with Nako, Miku and Misaki performing.Perhaps the 3 of them were just fooling around backstage after the performance, she reassured herself and went back to sleep.

~~~

 The next day, Sasshi had a music show recording with the HKT48 members. Everyone was in the dressing room getting ready. Just as Sasshi was about to touch up her make-up, she was assaulted by a bear hug from behind.

 “Sashiko-chan!” A child-like voice shrieked into her right ear.

 “Nako-chan! Are you trying to kill me or something?” Sasshi tried to prise away Nako’s small arms wrapped tightly around her waist.

 Nako chuckled cheekily. “I’m going to your house tonight, right?”

 “Yes, yes, I haven’t forgotten, you have been reminding me for the past 3 days,” Sasshi tried to sound ticked off at the young girl, but her expression proved otherwise.

 “I’ve prepared a surprise for you, but I won’t tell you what it is since it’s a surprise.”

 “Didn’t you just spoil the surprise for me by telling me about the surprise?” Sasshi combed her fingers through Nako’s hair dotingly. “Oh, by the way, what happened to Miku-chan? She’s supposed to come for the recording today but she isn’t here yet.”

 “Ah, Miku just messaged me earlier today. She isn’t feeling well and can’t come.”

 “That girl…she should have alerted the staff first. Now we have no substitute for her.”

 “I’m sorry, Sasshi, I should’ve told our manager immediately,” Nako’s face fell slightly.

 “Well, since it has happened already, it can’t be helped.” Sasshi lightly patted Nako on the head. “Now hurry and get changed! We don’t have a lot of time left.”

~~~

 Sasshi and Nako were walking to Sasshi’s apartment. It was dark and quiet outside, and Nako subconsciously drew close to Sasshi.

 “No one will be at home right?” Nako looked up at her.

 “Didn’t I tell you already? I stay alone in this apartment.”

 “Well…I’m shy around strangers so I’m just a little worried.”

 When they reached, Sasshi unlocked the door and flicked on the lights. “It’s a bit messy here. What do you want to drink? There isn’t much other than tea and plain water though.”

 “Tea will do!” Nako piped as she kicked off her shoes and sat herself down.

 The moment Sasshi came out of the kitchen carrying drinks, Nako reached into her bag and pulled out a scarf.

 “What is this, Nako? What are you doing?” Sasshi was bewildered as Nako covered her eyes with the scarf and tied it firmly.

 “The surprise,” Nako whispered.

 Sasshi sat down, in anticipation of Nako’s ‘surprise’. For a moment, she heard nothing but the rustling of the contents in a bag and the pitter-patter of feet.

 “Nako, is the surprise ready?”

 “Are you done yet, Nako?”

 “Nako don’t touch the things in my room if you’re doing so.”

 “The toilet is behind the kitchen if you’re looking for it.”

 “Nako seriously you’re scaring me a little.”

 “What are you doing Nako?”

 “Nako?”

 “….”

~~~

 Misaki called Sasshi’s mobile for the third time, and for the third time, Sasshi did not pick up.Maybe she’s taking a shower, Misaki postulated.

Misaki opened the LINE application on her phone. With trembling fingers, she hastily typed a message and sent it to Sasshi.

 “Hi Sasshi, Misaki here. Sorry for hanging up on you last night. I saw something happen at the theatre last night and something in me told me that I needed to tell you this. I saw Nako dragging Miku’s body across the corridor and Miku looked really pale and there was blood on her and Nako was smiling in a way I’ve never seen her before I think she saw me see her doing it ohmygod”

 For a horribly long time, Misaki didn’t get a reply. She nervously checked her phone every now and then, just in case she did not hear her phone ring.

 About an hour later, her phone buzzed. Sasshi was calling.

 “H…Hello?”

 “Mirun…or rather, Aramaki Misaki.” Nako answered, not Sasshi, but her voice was like nothing Misaki had heard before.

 “Nako-chan? W…why are you answering Sasshi’s mobile?”

 “She’s not available. By the way, I read your message to her.”

 Mirun felt her whole body turn cold. “So…what happened to Miku-chan?”

 “Tanaka Miku…I killed her.”

 “You- but why?”

 “She was a hindrance to my success. It’s always ‘NakoMiku, NakoMiku’ - I was always associated with her. She was annoying. I had to share all my popularity with her. It was stifling. So I killed her.”

 Misaki was horrified. But she was strangely emboldened to continue the conversation. “Then Sasshi…you killed her too as well, right?”
 Diabolical laughter erupted from the other end of the phone. “You’re smart, aren’t you, Misaki-chan? Yes, I did kill her as well. Sashihara Rino is too smart for her own good and she knew me too well, so she’s bound to find out. So I got rid of her.”

 There was a deadly silence between the two 13-year-olds for a while, and then a sudden realisation hit Misaki. Her character was the most similar to Nako’s, and she knew too much. Way too much. Her guts wrenched and she desperately needed to throw up.

 “Nako.” Her throat was so dry, she could barely speak audibly. “Am I next?”

 “Well, Misaki-chan. You’ve got two choices now. You can either quit HKT, not breathe a word about this, and I may decide against getting rid of you. But if you remain in the group or tell anyone else, you know what will happen.” 

~~~

 The next day, the talk of the town was about the 2 HKT48 members found dead and 1 who had suddenly left the group.