The door to the unknown is now wide open, and Yoko-san has already taken half a step inside, not fast enough to heed Noriko’s warning. On the other hand, all I can think of for those mere quarters of a second, is that terrible moment Kurosawa-senpai fell to his head. It’s like it’s happening all over again…
I can’t let it happen again. Without thinking it through, and before I even have the time to process my own actions I grab Yoko-senpai’s vest and pull her back to the hallway. Just as she lands on her backside, she lets out a shriek and covers her head.
“Senpai, are you okay? What happened?” I hurriedly bring myself next to her.
“I… don’t… something…Something jumped me! I saw it!” She says in between shaky breaths still holding her head.
Something jumped at her?
I personally didn’t have the luxury to look at what was happening in front of us, but what about the rest of the group?
I turn to look at the others, and search for a reaction. By the time I turn around, Mayu has already kneeled next to Yoko with her arm over her shoulders, in an attempt to calm her down. “Did you guys see anything?” I come out and ask.
“I… don’t think I did…” Ayase replies, her brows furrowed.
“I didn’t see anything in particular, but I momentarily felt something for sure.” Noriko nods in a way, which indicates she’s sure about herself. She’s onto something…
I glance at the classroom behind us, and all I see is an empty space, devoid of any kind of furnishing, save for a typical classroom blackboard. The rest of the room is completely empty, with only a single, small box laying at the center.
“Could that possibly be the key?” I point at the center.
Noriko takes a peek inside the room, and momentarily shifts into thinking mode. “…It is possible, yes.” Noriko replies once again, as she and Ayase-san edge closer to me and the classroom. As Yoko-senpai seems to have regained her composure, she and Mayu also joins us and we’re all now standing clustered together at the doorway.
There’s no sign of what scared Yoko-senpai though…
I think to myself. “Uhm Yoko-san, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly was it that you saw?” I ask as nicely as possible.
For some reason, she kinda scares me okay? Don’t judge!
“I don’t know what it was… it was like a shadow… and it jumped at me…” She’s still looking somewhat uncertain.
“Whatever it was, it’s clearly gone now.” Mayu points out.
“Who says it won’t come back when someone tries to enter the room again?” I decide to be the devil’s advocate, for the safety of the group.
“I highly doubt it.” Noriko voices, looking quite certain. “I didn’t sense anything sinister from that particular event. The room itself though, feels quite sinister.”
“So, do you think it was a warning of some sort?” Ayase-senpai suggests.
“It could have been…” Noriko thinks it over.
“A warning? Why warn us? I didn’t get the feeling that the school wants to play nice. Ryota… didn’t get any warnings either.”
“We could have missed Kurosawa-senpai’s warning. We didn’t know anything about the traps back then. And it’s not necessary that the warning was set up by the school anyway. It could have been something else.” Mayu joins the speculations.
“Something as in… another ghost? Another good ghost perhaps.” I voice, half-jokingly.
“I think I’ve had my fair share of ghosts though… good or not.” Ayase admits, her tone low.
Wow, miss perfect, complaining in front of her classmates?
SUPER RARE EVENT: CHECK!
“Okay but what do we do about that?” Mayu points at the box, before throwing Noriko a glance.
“I feel danger inside the classroom, we shouldn’t enter without checking first.”
“Okay then.” I nod and turn my back to the group, as I walk across the hallway. I stand in front of a notice board, when I quickly unhook a poster and briskly walk back to the others, item at hand.
“Nothing beats the good old fashioned way.” I say, as I throw the poster not too far from where I’m standing. The others look on with great interest, as the poster flies through the doorway and descends towards the floor.
But, centimeters before it can land, large, sharp spikes shoot out from the floor panel beneath, and before we can even blink, the poster is brutally impaled.
If that was one of us… actually, no. Let’s not finish that thought, Hideki.
We all look on in awe, at the poster that was ripped to shreds in two seconds flat.
“So, this is the part where we turn around and never come near this room again, right?” Ayase-san calmly states, her eyebrow slightly twitching.
“Hideki-kun, can you throw something at that panel over there too?” Noriko speaks up. I give her a brief, but confused look, before shrugging.
Might as well enjoy ourselves, right?
“…Sure” I say as I repeat the process from a minute earlier, and send another poster flying towards its impending doom. Ecologists won’t be too happy with the way we’re wasting paper here.
As soon as the poster is about to land, I brace myself for the screeching sound of the spikes coming to rip it to shreds.
A soft thud.
We all stop and look at the poster. A second passes. And then another.
Funnily enough, the poster has safely landed on the floor panel Noriko designated. “So… there are trapped floor panels and safe floor panels…” Mayu deduces.
“Yeah, but how do we know which is which?” I inquire.
“That one over there looked different than the one with the spikes.” Noriko explains, pointing at each panel respectively. Prompted by her, I edge closer to the classroom and examine the panels more thoroughly.
“It’s like… a different shade of gray?”
“Yes. And with my… ability I can feel that its aura is different.”
“Great! If Noriko can sense the differences and we can look at the panels and see which is which, then we can get to that box without breaking a sweat.” Mayu claims optimistically.
“Is it really worth getting though? We have no clue what might be inside…” Yoko-senpai hesitates slightly.
“True. But what else could be in a middle of a room full of traps, inside THIS school we’re in?” Mayu retaliates, her optimistic nature coming to light.
“Agreed. There’s a 90% chance this box holds the key. I’d take the chance.” I step up, and stretch my body. “Noriko can you guide me? I’m going in.”
I could be heading straight to my death, but here I am, acting like the cool main character. Let’s just hope my plot armor kicks in…
“Are you certain, Hideki-kun? I can guide you, sure… but I was thinking of going myself.” Noriko warns me, hesitation in her voice.
“Yeah, I’m 100% sure. As long as you can guide me, that is. Besides, in the off-chance something happened to you, the rest of us would have been royally screwed.”
“You know you don’t have to volunteer just because you’re the only guy here, right?” Mayu tugs on my sleeve, looking somewhat restless.
“Hah, I’m pretty sure I’d volunteer if I was a girl too.” I reply smirking at my best friend, and she quickly smiles back.
Just as I’m about to step up, I feel another hand on my arm. It’s Ayase-san. Right as I turn to address her, a stinging pain shoots through the spot where she’s touching me.
She just pinched me...
What the heck?
Instead of just saying something outright she just mumbles to herself, and retreats both her stare and her hand, before taking a step back.
What was that all about?
“Okay Hideki-kun, whenever you’re ready.” Noriko nods, as I shake off that weird exchange, and walk up to the entrance, and look around.
I’m about to do something extremely stupid aren’t I?
As realization hits me, anxiousness washes over my body and my newfound confidence is all but gone.
“Take each step slowly and don’t forget to check the floor panels yourself.” Noriko explains, as she is about to guide me through what feels like a suicidal plan.
“Got it.” I gulp, trying to sound as confident as before.
Get it together! Get it together!
After giving myself a mental pep talk, I exhale sharply and nod at Noriko.
At first, Noriko guides me to the panel I threw the second poster at. It’s not too far from the door, and with one long leap I’m able to land exactly where I need to.
Okay, it actually feels way more narrow than it looks…
I tightly lock my feet together.
“Now, you need to go to the one that’s two panels to your left.” She keeps guiding me safely. “Yes, that one.”
“Now, two in front of you and one to your right…”
…Two in front, and one to my right…
I raise my foot and just as I’m about to leap…
“No, not there!” Noriko raises her voice, having noticed I was aiming on the wrong direction. I immediately stop my advances midair, as my foot hovers over a trapped floor panel. Instinctively, I pull it back, just seconds before the spikes could activate. Right as the screeching sound catches me off guard, I find myself losing balance, and take half a step backwards.
Before I can take another step towards my doom though, I dig both feet in the ground with all I have, and by making an arc with my upper body, I regain my lost balance. As I release a breath I didn’t know I was even holding, I clutch the fabric of my shirt, that covers my feverishly beating heart.
That was so close, it’s not even funny…
I think to myself as I look back at the panel I almost stepped on and quickly realize something: There are three different styles of floor panels in this room, not two. But, apparently only one of them is safe.
Now how should I go about this…?
That’s what my mother calls me…
“Hide… over here.”
Suddenly, I can hear my mother’s soft voice. She’s calling out to me.
“I’m here, Hide, come on….” Her tone is so smooth, like it’s wrapped in a blanket… It feels almost… mesmerizing. Like I’m suddenly in a dream.
The voices of my friends become distant. Like whispers in the howling wind.
“Come home, Hide.” My mother calls out to me one final time, and I feel the need to follow that sound. Right as I’m about to step forward yet again…
“Ouch.” I rub the sore part of my head, where something had hit me. I snap out of it, and turn back to the doorway, where everyone’s looking at me like they had seen a ghost.
Incidentally the one who had dragged me out of that weird hallucination was none other than Ayase-san, who had thrown a ball of paper straight at my head.
“What was that all about?!” Mayu called out, her breathing heavy. Have they been calling my name all this time?
“I don’t know… I feel like I heard a voice… and then everything went silent. Like I was under a spell…” I explained it as thoroughly as I could. Despite it happening just a minute earlier, the memory was fuzzy in my mind. Like it was actually a dream. But I mean, come on, there’s no way I could have fallen asleep like that…
“Hideki-kun, are you good to continue or do you need a break perhaps?” Noriko, asks me, relief apparent in her expression.
“Nah… I’m good. let’s do this!” I look back at the girls, and see they’re all visibly agitated, especially Ayase, who for some reason is staring daggers at me.
“Ready when you are, Noriko!” I shout out my readiness for her to hear and the challenge is back underway. In the same fashion as before, Noriko guides me through the room along a complicated, winding path that finally ends at the center of the classroom.
I made it!
I pump my fist triumphantly, and immediately reach out for the box resting just in front of my feet.
“Wait…” I hesitate. “…Is it safe for me to touch it? It won’t explode on my face, right?”
“Don’t worry. I don’t sense any immediate danger for you.”
“Okay then.” I quickly pick up the box.
It’s the size of a normal jewelry box, the kind you see necklaces in. As it’s resting on my hand, I realize how light it feels, and out of curiosity, I start moving the box around. As I do, I notice something clearly sliding inside. “Guys, I’m pretty sure there’s a key in here!” I announce excitedly, which is something I rarely do. Considering my character archetype and all.
“Great! Now come back here!” Mayu makes a pause and gives me a reprimanding look “But, don’t you dare rush!”
Just like how I reached the box, I make my way to the entrance of the classroom with Noriko guiding me every step of the way. I try to focus in every little point the girls make, cautiously trying to avoid being put under that spell again. With everyone’s combined effort and support, I’m finally back safe before I know.
It’s safe to say I’m mentally exhausted.
“To the leader, go the spoils.” I hand the box to Mayu, and soon heave a sigh of relief.
“Great job Hideki!” She beams, as she quickly takes off the top part, covering its contents. We all hold our breath, as we peer inside.
There, at the center of the small box, lies a mid-sized key. Its black metallic hue, and ornate design perfectly matches that of the lock, on the door to the roof.
“That’s it! That has to be it!” Mayu exclaims in utter delight, holding it up for all to see.
“We actually did it!”
Our two upperclassmen cheer at the fruits of our labor, while Noriko stands to the side, a big, genuine smile on her face.
“Yes!” I clench my fist amidst the celebrations, and soon everyone’s spirits are visibly elevated, as we all realize, we’ve finally made some progress, since we were first brought in this realm.
“One down, three to go! Let’s continue with our search! Who knows, maybe we’ll find another one by the end of the day!” Mayu announces in her usual optimistic fashion, and we all agree, matching her cheerful vibes for the first time in forever. Soon, we all march onwards.
As usual, I leave it up to Mayu and Noriko to lead, and I hang back, analyzing my surroundings all the while. Now that our focus has shifted towards the search once again, I can’t help but think back to the voice I heard in that room.
It was definitely my mother’s voice… but how?
It didn’t make any sense. Yet, nothing made sense in this school anymore. It most likely was part of the trap, to lure me into making a mistake…
I shudder at the thought.
Right as I’m thinking, Yoko-senpai seems to lag behind in the same fashion as me, matching my walking pace.
“Just wanted to say… thanks for earlier. For pulling me back I mean.” Yoko-senpai spells out quite hesitantly, but I can feel the sincerity in her voice, just like back in the Home Ec with Noriko.
“Hey no worries, we’re a team… after all.” I reply, matching her sincere tone. Right as Yoko is about to reply, I notice a gaze coming from the three girls up front. I can clearly see Ayase looking at me, apparent confusion in her gaze. Is me talking to Yoko-senpai such a big surprise?
But there’s also a hint of anger in her eyes. I wouldn’t call it jealousy per say… Maybe it’s about that thing earlier…
“You’re right, we’re a hell of a team.” Yoko-senpai finally nods, a hint of smile on her lips. Then, there’s a sound. An unfamiliar one.
“What was that?” Mayu’s voice is rendered into a whisper, as we all stop in our tracks and look onwards.
“Was that…” Ayase-san freezes on the spot.
Amidst the silence, the faint sound of brisk footsteps begins to echo through the hallway. It’s not the same kind of footsteps from yesterday. These feel like they come from humans. But with each passing second the footsteps grow louder and louder. We’re all rooted in place.
Should we wait and see who, or what is behind them? Or should we hide?
Hide… All I can think of is the creature that we encountered last night. I hold my breath, as the footsteps grow louder. Closer.
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