After we devise our master plan, and with that I mean the plain old room-by-room search, we begin to put it into action.
Granted that the school's layout doesn't shift as quickly as I would have expected, it probably won’t be long till we find the others…
While I’m still thinking about theories and potential solutions, I come across yet another, misplaced classroom. "Well, at least the traps don’t get triggered by the doors..." I shrug, making an effort to look at the bright side.
"…Agreed. It'd be bad news if we opened a door and something jumped us out of nowhere..." Ayase shudders at the thought.
"At least that -"
I pause momentarily to the sound of muffled, yet familiar voices. Ayase-san stops in her tracks right next to me, and we strain our ears, trying to pinpoint the exact location of the source.
It’s coming from down there…
I realize, and after sharing a brief nod with my upperclassman, we walk towards the source of the commotion.
Did the Home Ec just teleport here?
I rest my hand on the door, and wait for just a second.
That's definitely Mayu's voice...
Having recognized the owner of the voice, every doubt within me disperses as I open the door to our home base.
"How do you-"
The familiar sight that greets me, sends a wave of relief over me. The tension escapes me, as I look at the group in front of me. For some reason though, we’re greeted by Mayu and Ishikawa-senpai standing across from each other, in what looks like a heated argument. From what little clues I’ve got, Mayu was about to say something before I barged in and cut her off. But right now, there’s a heavy silence, as everybody looks at us like we’ve grown a second head.
“Uhm… Morning?” I give a casual wave, earning a disappointed look from Ayase-san beside me.
"Hideki?! Mochizuki-senpai?! Where were you?!” Without wasting a moment, Mayu makes a beeline for the both of us, stomping against the ground all the while.
"See? I told you it was nothing. They just went for a walk or something." Ishikawa-senpai lets out a sigh, and crosses her arms.
"We’ll see what they have to say! Hideki, report!”
What am I, a secret agent?
Despite the lack of seriousness in my thoughts, Mayu glares at me in a way I’ve never seen before. She just looks so… done.
Damn it's too early in the morning to look like that, oh sweet childhood friend of mine…
For some reason, I can’t quite make myself get serious, like the situation calls for.
“Where’s Tanaka-san?” Himura-san looks over the both of us.
That simple statement was enough to make me get my act together. How will we break the news to them?
I momentarily look at Ayase-san who’s wearing the same kind of somber expression as me. I exhale deeply, and turn to everyone present, my tone as formal as it can get. "Look. It's a lot, so why don't we sit down?"
In the next few minutes Ayase and I proceed to explain, the events that occurred yesterday night.
"A monster..?" Ishikawa-senpai voices warily.
Everybody in the room goes silent for a second, while Himura-san looks away in thought. "Now that you mention, it I do sense that the darkness of the school has intensified..."
“And what happened… after? Did you run, did you… hide?” Mayu looks at me expectantly.
“We hid in a classroom. Of course, we knew it was risky, but we didn’t have any other choice…” I gulp, as I sense everyone’s attention focus solely on me, and what I’m about to say next. “….The monster chased after us, and when it was just about to find me and Ayase-san, Tanaka-san…”
I find myself unable to say the rest. The experience was burnt through my brain, so naturally, it was impossible to forget. But, as I was recalling the event, I could actually see the whole thing play out in front of mind again. I could remember every little detail. How Tanaka-san ran, what he said… How he screamed in agony. What noise his--
“…Tanaka-san ran out of cover to protect us. It chased after him. Somehow, it got in front of him, and before he could escape it… killed him.”
Ayase-san finished the explanation in my place, seeing how I was unable to continue.
The others looked at the both of us in horror, and for a moment there was a thick silence in the air.
“Oh my God…” Mayu spelled out, as she gave me a pleading look. It was like she was begging me to say that it wasn’t true. But I couldn’t say something like that. Because after all, Ayase spoke only the truth.
“Tanaka-san…” Himura-san lowered her gaze, clenching her fist just over her skirt.
Ishikawa-senpai didn’t say a thing, but her eyes spoke volumes.
After Kurosawa-senpai’s… fall. We all knew death was waiting for us, around every corner, but we couldn’t help but be shocked by the death of yet another member.
And this time, it was not a student. Not someone we knew, or shared experiences with, but it still hurt nonetheless. Especially after the talk he had with me, and the things I said to him…
“You’ll be there, Tanaka-san…”
What did he die for, really? If only he hadn’t come to work that day. If only he had called in sick. He would still be alive. He would be able to be present for his daughter’s birthday. He would see her grow up.
But now he was gone. And what for? To protect us.
And the group. He left it in my care. I can’t let his trust, and his sacrifice go to waste. Even if it was misplaced, I’ll do my best to leave up to his expectations.
Because that’s the only thing he left behind for us.
“…Guys.” Mayu speaks up, after a long pause. “…I know it’s hard. But we need to keep moving.” Despite her words, I could hear the pain in her tone. I knew her too well, for it to escape my attention.
“I agree.” Ayase-san was the first to nod, and I followed suit.
“We need a plan.” I chimed in after her.
“A plan?” Ishikawa-senpai looked over at me, somewhat doubtfully.
With a nod at Ayase-san, we continue to explain everything else we learned last night, of course including the room shifting.
"So, the layout of the school is still shifting?" Mayu furrows her brows at us. “…You positive about that, senpai?" Mayu gives Ayase a questioning look.
"100%. We saw it with our own eyes." I chime in, making sure to show Mayu how serious we are. But since it’s her we’re talking about, one look at my face is all she needs, in order to understand.
“I have a question…” Ishikawa-senpai gives us a funny look before she proceeds. “How come we slept through all that commotion?”
Now that was a valid point.
But not one I haven’t questioned myself.
“…Maybe the rooms are extremely soundproof?” Mayu gives a smile, and I can’t help but roll me eyes.
That’s our leader everybody…
“I think the rooms are… in a different realm.” Himura-san voices flatly. Now that’s vague. But incidentally, I had the same thought.
”Maybe the rooms are not connected to the school, while the shifting happens?”
“Uhm?” Ayase-san smiles stoically, several question marks bopping over her head.
“You lost me there.” Mayu admits.
“I noticed that while we’re in this room, I can’t sense the energy coming from the other rooms. It’s like we’ve moved somewhere far away… So I thought that this theory of theirs adds up to that.” Himura-san tries to explain.
That was what I thought, but how did the room appear next to us like that? Was it by chance or…
“Aghh…” I rub my temples in frustration. My head’s seriously spinning.
“Okay, lore aside, we need a plan.” Mayu announces as she produces a map out of thin air. Or it was just her bag. My bad.
As she spreads it out onto the big desk we're all gathered around, I find myself questioning that action.
"A map... of the school?"
"Indeed." Mayu smirks proudly.
Why do you just carry that around?
"So how's a map gonna help us?" Ishikawa-senpai narrows her eyes.
"Uhm, sorry if this sounds kinda intrusive but... Nakajima-san, why do you have a map of the school?" Okay, Ayase-san seems seriously cringed out. On the silent corner, Himura-san just stares at the map quizzically.
"I have it on my bag at all times so that I don't get lost inside the school!"
And there’s the punchline.
I refrain from making a comment, and just smile wryly.
Silence spreads throughout the group as everyone exchanges a couple glances.
"What’s wrong guys?"
Truth be told, Mayu never fails to impress me. In more ways than one.
“In case you didn't hear me, HOW is a MAP gonna help US?" Ishikawa-senpai has reached peak irritation at this point.
"Now, now, senpai, don't worry. I'll explain right away!" Mayu keeps acting like she provided us a saving grace.
"Supposedly we go with a room-by-room search, having the map of the school will help us keep track of all the rooms we've checked and cross off the ones that didn't have any keys in them. That way we'll skip over the rooms we did check, find the keys and we'll be out of here in a jiffy!" Our self-proclaimed leader explains.
"Hm, that COULD prove useful, actually." I find myself positively surprised.
"Yeah except there's one problem." Ishikawa-senpai the party pooper strikes again. "…How do we know that monster isn’t roaming around? And, how will we know which classroom is which if they keep moving around?"
"For what it’s worth, I'm positive the creature we encountered isn't in the school right now.” Ayase-san reassures her in her usual tone.
"Well if we opened a door and found a closet or a lounge we could just cross one of these off right?" I suggest, pointing at the map.
"No that won't work. The school has multiple lounges and multiple closets, we wouldn't know which ones to cross off..." Mayu sighs in defeat, realizing she got ahead of herself.
"Well if we find all the lounges and closets then we can cross everything off.... right?"
My sweet childhood friend gives me a disapproving look.
"Hey I'm just trying to lighten the mood here, 'kay?"
"…Anyway, the room-by-room search that Mayu suggested would work well. I mean that's how me and Ayase-san found you guys in the first place. Also, we'll be able to identify some classrooms while searching, so the map isn't all that useless." I look over the others, while Ishikawa gives a slight shrug.
Mayu nods briefly before speaking up. "I believe we should proceed as Hideki suggested. What does everybody say to that? Does anyone want to suggest something else instead?" She turns to each of us in turn.
"I agree too." Ayase-san raises her hand with an aloof smile.
"Yes, that might be the most efficient way of searching the school."
"No objections here.”
Himura and senpai give their seal of approval.
"Now that that's out of the way…” Mayu turns to Himura-san, folding up her map.
"I'm guessing you can't tell which room will be which right?”
"No I believe this is beyond my abilities... But I could find the location of one specific room if I were to set up a psychic beacon inside of it."
"A... what?" Ayase-san tilts her head to the side in confusion. And of course, who can blame her?
"…It's something like a tracker of sorts. If I concentrate inside a room or place, and think of memories and incidents concerning that specific location, I could detect its whereabouts even after leaving." Himura-san tries to explain to the best of her ability.
"I don't really get it but that's extremely convenient." I seat back and fold my arms across my chest.
"How so?" Mayu enquires.
"Himura-san could set up that whatchamacallit tracker right here, so we'd be able to find our way back without having to search for it right?"
"Nice thinking Hideki! I'm impressed!" She smacks me in the back… a little too hard. "Oye... what’s that supposed to mean?" I raise a brow, almost ready to throw hands. Is she calling me stupid?
"That is quite possible." Himura-san nods, after briefly thinking it over, and we all share a brief look of agreement.
As soon as the required preparations are made, Himura-san has set up her psychic beacon, and I managed to wrap a clean cloth around my hand, we step out of the Home Ec classroom and find ourselves on the first floor of the school. "Damn this is confusing..." I mumble.
"We're on the… first floor, right?" Ishikawa-senpai voices, looking around. Despite the floors being near identical, some details like posters, and even the scenery outside the windows give off which one is which.
"It seems so. Let's get moving!" Mayu states confidently, holding out the map in her hands.
The first floor, huh?
Suddenly, I’m reminded of something. I look around to my right, and then to my left, recalling the events of yesterday.
Tanaka-san ran down that corridor…
There was a pool of blood… and a body here, the night before. I’m almost thankful it’s still not here, but its disappearance feels even more disturbing.
As my eyes scan the hallway before me, something grabs my attention. As I walk a little ways, opposite from the others I can now make out what that something was. A lump forms in my throat, as I bend down to pick up…
A picture of a happy family. Tanaka-san’s family.
I find myself apologizing.
Tanaka-san, if you’re out there… I hope you can forgive me. I promise, I won’t disappoint you.
“Hideki?” Mayu turns to me, as the group is about to take off. “…Something wrong?”
Stuffing the picture soundly in my blazer’s chest pocket, I shake my head and take a deep breath to psych myself up.
“No… Let’s get going.”
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