While my headache was completely out of the picture now, me and Ayase-san continued our small talk, before…
“You know, I was thinking, maybe we should search the library for any information on the school. There’s a chance, we’ll find something related to all this. There must be some reason behind it all, right?” Ayase suggests, as I take a minute to think it over for a second.
“…You know, that’s actually a pretty solid idea.” I momentarily nod to myself. "Where did you get that, anyway?"
"I mean, things like THAT don't happen just cause. Maybe finding out WHY all this is happening, will turn out to be useful."
She does have a point...
It's just a hunch, but I think she's right on the money with that idea.
“Indeed.” We suddenly hear Noriko’s voice from behind us, as we both turn to face her.
“See? Noriko thinks so too.” I note, trying to strike a conversation between the two. Incidentally, I’ve never seen those two chat before.
Maybe if Ayase-san becomes friends with someone from the group, her whole façade might seem unnecessary to her…
I let my train of thoughts consume me.
“May I?” Noriko politely asks, pointing at the seat in front of her.
“Sure.” Ayase replies with her all-time favorite smile.
“Any thoughts on the matter, Noriko? What's your take on the library thing?” I ask, hoping to hear her thoughts on the matter.
"The library could be a good place to start… I assume this "phenomenon" must have been caused by some sort of tragic event…” She speculates.
“A tragedy?” Ayase raises a brow, eager to hear more.
“Negativity clings to a place. When too much is concentrated in the same spot, it can start to influence the physical world. Any sort of negative emotions can linger, especially grief and hatred. They’re the strongest and often prevent spirits from moving on, as well.”
“Oh, so was the tragedy you speak about, the incident with Mei-san and her classmates?” I furrow my brows. That seemed like the most plausible connection after all…
“I don’t think so…”
Oh… Never mind.
“…If the tragedy that befell Mei-san and her classmates was engineered by the living, its lingering horror could have made it reoccur now. But if the incident ten years ago was supernatural in origin, then the tragedy we’re talking about would have to precede that.” Noriko answers my question and I throw my head back, overwhelmed.
“You sure know a whole lot about it, Noriko.” Ayase smiles at her in response.
“I’m sorry… I must have tired out both of you.” Noriko sheepishly lowers her head.
“Hey, that’s not true!” I quickly reply and Ayase-senpai joins me just as swiftly.
“No, not at all!”
“To be honest, I’m glad you’re here with us Noriko. At least someone is knowledgeable of it all.” She tries to reassure her, while I sense a hint of sincerity in her voice. Maybe her kind exterior, isn’t only a fabrication…
“Yeah, and not only that, but we’d be completely lost without your powers too!” I add, trying to further enhance Ayase’s point.
“Thank you…” Noriko hesitates slightly, before she speaks up again. “…I’ve always been ostracized because of my ‘powers’ by my peers. No one had ever complimented me about them before…” Her voice trails off, and her tone betrays a certain bitterness. Me and Ayase-san are unable to reply, and decide to not intervene, but instead to let her speak her mind. “Honestly, I’m happy that my powers can help you all. Yet… I’ve always been different. I know I am. Sometimes I wonder why… and wish I was like everyone else…”
I didn’t know Noriko felt like that… She must have been carrying a big burden on her shoulders all this time.
“Now, suddenly being who I am… is a good thing. Or at least a necessary one. I…” Her gaze falls to her hands, neatly placed on her knees “…I am afraid that once we are safe, my powers will go back to being a curse… No one will want to deal with me once I’m no longer necessary.”
Does she really think we’re that cruel? Then again, most of our classmates just saw her as the creepy new girl, so she might have a point…
I immediately think back to yesterday, when everything was so simple. It was all about rumors… Who was going out with you… Who was the most popular, or had the biggest circle of friends. But now that we’re faced with hardships such as these, all those matters seemed so trivial, almost to a comedic extent. And all those hardships had made us stronger…
After a small pause, I knew how to answer. “I don’t know about the others, but I certainly won’t turn away from you when we get out of here.” I nod firmly, before continuing on “You acting differently or suppressing who you are and what you feel, just so people will accept you is wrong. You are, who you are. You’re Noriko, you’re YOU, and that is fine.” At this moment, all of my insecurities and trust issues have suddenly gone out the window. It’s been a while since I made a new friend. Or I have called a person that. But I don’t think I need to think much of it around these people… “You know, I don’t have any friends apart Mayu, but if that’s okay with you, then…” My lips instinctively form a smile.
“…Yes!!!” She interrupts me before I can even finish. Soon, she throws her hands up and stutters before she explains “Oh… Uhm, s-sorry I didn’t mean to cut you off! What I mean is that I’d love to be your friend! I don’t have any either so…” She sheepishly fidgets with her hair, an innocent smile plastered on her face.
“Hideki-kun’s right. You don’t need to pretend to be different. You’re great the way you are.” Ayase’s eyes narrow softly, her tone gentle. Something she said felt like it was aimed not just at Noriko, but to someone else too. Maybe she was talking to herself…
The mystery of Mochizuki Ayase. I really wanted to learn what laid behind that too.
“…I’d love to be your friend too, Noriko.” Ayase-senpai smiles warmly at her. But this time, I can’t make out if it’s the same face angelic smile as always. But something deep inside, tells me it’s real.
“Ayase-san! Hideki-kun!” Noriko’s face lights up once again, her eyes sparkling.
It’s nice to see her make faces like these…
But a hint of doubt suddenly clouds my judgement. I thought for sure I didn’t need any friends after what happened… Should I place my trust on other people once again? Have I learned nothing at all..?
As my train of thoughts leads my gaze away, I notice Ayase-senpai wearing a similar, skeptical expression too. I bet she has her own demons to face, after this conversation…
“I heard someone talk about friends! You don’t plan on leaving me out of it do you?” Mayu states, looking at the three of us, especially at the star struck Noriko.
“Mayu-san?” Noriko looks up at her.
“You can count me in on that too, Noriko-chan!” Mayu gives her usual beaming smile, as Noriko blushes momentarily.
Can’t say I didn’t expect that from Mayu… the ever-social butterfly.
Maybe, just maybe… These bonds will save us in the end.
“Hey, don’t plan on leaving me out of this kiddos.” Yoko steps up as well, her cocky smirk wide on her face.
“Oh, you senpai? You’re just a side character.” Mayu snickers, as Yoko lunges at her, attempting a headlock.
“What did you just say?!”
“Uhm…” A low, awkward voice interrupts the wrestling match, It’s none other than the newcomer girl, Akiyama-san.
“I’m aware I don’t know you well enough, Noriko-san, but I’d love to be your friend too.” She bows deeply, probably impressed by Noriko’s abilities earlier. “…If that’s okay with you…”
“Yeah well, me too.” Abe joins in behind her, scratching his cheek awkwardly.
“Everyone…” Noriko smiles like never before, tears dancing at the edge of her round crimson eyes.
“Senpai, time out, time out…” Amidst the heartwarming moment, Mayu taps out of Yoko’s hold, completely out of breath, causing a burst of laughter to ring throughout the room.
This isn’t too bad, I guess…
After we have all taken a breather together, making small talk, we eventually settle on using everyone’s first names as a way to address each other. It would be awkward if only the earlier members of the group did that after all.
Just as we’re about to get ready, and head out once again, Akiyama-san… more like Hotaru-san from now turns to the door. With a loud gasp she suddenly draws everyone’s attention.
We all hurriedly turn to the doorway, to see Mei-san hovering just in front of the entrance.
It’s just Mei…
"Sorry I didn't mean to scare you." Mei-san calmly apologizes.
"Oh no... it's just that... I haven't seen you before and I just..." Hotaru tries to catch her breath and calm down.
"Does that mean you've only appeared to us so far, Mei-san?" I inquire, raising a brow.
"No, I've also informed the boy with the glasses." She slowly points at Abe. I mean Kazuya. Man this is getting confusing.
"It's true. She told me everything and I passed it onto… Hotaru-san." Abe explains, trying to calm down the girl beside him.
"Is something wrong, Mei-san?" Mayu inquires, stepping forward.
"I've got the location for one of the keys. I can lead you there." The spirit calmly explains, but the excitement on everyone's face is visible.
"Wow! Were you searching this whole time?" Yoko-senpai asks, her face lighting up.
"I have. I want you to escape, as much as you do." Mei-san replies without hesitation.
"Sweet! You ready to go everyone?" Mayu asks, referring to the entirety of the group.
After some brief preparations, everybody is ready for departure, as we set out of the Home Ec classroom once again.
"Third floor, left hallway. This never ceases to confuse me..." I mutter as we find ourselves in a different floor yet again.
"Follow me." Mei-san announces as she glides down the hallway, and we follow behind her, taking on the classic formation that has already become second nature to us.
"I sense danger approaching... Grave danger for us all..." Noriko, who is only just a few steps behind Mei-san spells out to us, her expression grim.
Well that's ominous...
"What sort of danger?" Kazuya asks, while Noriko just shakes her head in response.
"I can't say for sure. I just feel it growing..." She answers vaguely, as per usual.
Though, I can't really blame her. Who knows HOW it feels to sense all that after all?
"We're almost there." The spirit in front of us announces as she takes a turn to the right and leads us through a set of double doors. We trail behind her, and after getting Noriko’s seal of approval, we open the doors…
"The library?" I mutter as the whole group steps inside.
"The door on the other end of this library leads into the hall closest to the key." Mei explains plainly, while gliding past the tall bookshelves.
"Hey, wait!” Ayase suddenly calls out, and we all turn to see what all the fuss is about. “…Could we make a little stop here, if possible?" Ayase-senpai suggests, with a pleading look. Everyone throws confused glances at her, except for me. We talked about this earlier after all.
"What for?" Mayu inquires.
"We might find something that will explain what is happening to this school here, at least to an extent. There are all of history books in here that might have what we need." Ayase-san preaches her case, but Mayu’s disapproval is as plain as day.
"And you want to do that now?"
"I think it's a waste of time." Yoko-senpai joins in too.
"Well now is as good a time as any. We might never come across the library again." Despite being outnumbered the student council president stands by her idea. Truth be told, I’d actually like to see what the library has in store for us too.
"There could be something useful here..." Noriko timidly states, supporting her upperclassman.
"I don't think it's worth it. We could use that time in order to escape." Kazuya on the other hand, decides to join the anti-library team.
Hotaru, our last hope, decides to speak up as well. "I-I believe we should take a look, too. " Despite her stuttering, she has now tied the score at 3-all.
"I can wait. I will be able to guide you there, even if some time has passed." The spirit hovering about states calmly, giving us the leeway to search, if we want to.
Uff… so it falls on me, huh?
Ayase-san nudges me with her elbow, before Mayu poses the all too important question.
"So what's it gonna be Hideki?”
Well, here goes nothing…
"Sorry Mayu, I’m with Ayase-san on this. Knowing what we're dealing with could be key later down the line. You can think of it as an investment of our time, if you want." I explain my reasoning for all to hear, before Ayase gives me a confident little smirk.
"Haah… You’ve already locked onto her route, huh?” Mayu sighs, and starts talking nonsense.
“I’m… what now?”
“Never mind, just do your thing." Mayu, who was never a sore loser, finally compromises with the situation, a smile on her face. Naturally, Kazuya and Yoko-senpai don’t object either.
"I'll inform Mei-san." Noriko announces as she chases after the spirit that has glided further away from us.
Now let’s see what the library has in store for us…
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