Unable to comprehend what has just taken place right in front of my very eyes, I’m merely left staring at Yoko-senpai’s lifeless body, in utter disbelief.
Unlike myself, the anatomical model wavers not, as it swings its arm with pure killing intent. I somehow manage to snap out of it and dodge, but only by a hair’s breadth, as I take a shaky step backwards. Soon a scream of agony makes its way to my ears, making me realizing what has happened all over again.
That ear-splitting shriek came from none other than Mayu. Instead of urging me to run away like the rest of the group, who’s huddled in the doorway, she marches onwards, her every step full of pure rage. “How dare you!” Grabbing a book from a nearby shelf, she hurls it at the monster, her swing filled with all of her force. Tears streaming down her face, her expression twisted in fury and disbelief. The model though, as cold and robotic as can be, doesn’t even flinch. The book bounces off its head, which is flung momentarily backwards, before making its way towards us yet again.
“SENPAI!! SENPAI!” Mayu suddenly makes a beeline for Yoko’s body but I grab her hand before she can take off. Charging so close at the model would be suicide. Its iron grip shouldn’t be messed with. If by any chance it gets ahold of you, then…
“Mayu! Snap out of it!” I force myself to act unfazed. We already lost Yoko… we can’t lose Mayu too!
I try to not let the sorrow I’m feeling show, as I look at Mayu’s disheveled and devastated face.
“We need to run! We can’t let it get us too!” I forcefully tug on her arm, as we make our way to the others, seconds before the model reaches us.
Soon, we’re all out the door, and as the last one, I slam it shut.
“What now?!” Kazuya voices on the verge of panicking.
“We need to stop it!” Noriko replies, looking as if she has made up her mind.
“Stop it? How?” Ayase-senpai exclaims in desperation.
Stop… that thing? How is that even possible?
Its grip is iron strong, it probably doesn’t feel any pain, and we don’t even have any weapons on us!
With an impossibly loud thud, the door behind us has just received a powerful blow. It probably won’t hold for long…
“It’s gonna break through it…!” Hotaru’s breath catches on her throat.
Just as we’re about to run out of time, my desperation calls upon every last cell in my brain to overclock.
How do we stop that thing? How do we—
Then just like a flash of brilliance, I’m struck with an insanely risky plan once again.
“We’re gonna lead it in the room with the spikes!” I announce loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“Yes, let’s!” Noriko instantly nods and as if on cue, the anatomical model punches a hole through the door.
“We can’t waste any time! Let’s go!” Ayase cries out and we all make a run for it down the hallway, just as our pursuer breaks through the door and bursts into the hall after us.
“If the rooms keep shifting then how are we even going to find it?!” Kazuya’s rational argument has suddenly caught everybody by surprise. Even so, we do not stop running even for a second.
But thankfully, Noriko has the answer. “I can guide us there, that experience stood out to me. I can sense its location by concentrating on the emotional residue—”
Mayu momentarily interrupts her, clearly on edge “Less explaining, more running, a full analysis is not needed right now!” While Mayu talks, I glance over my shoulder, and as expected, not only is the model still onto us, it has also picked up the pace. Its jerky and unsteady steps, guide it towards our group. It’s not as fast as we are, but it doesn’t waver nonetheless.
“It’s one floor up!” Noriko announces having pinpointed the location of the trapped classroom. We place our complete trust on her, and follow her through the halls of the school with our tireless enemy always marching in pursuit.
I hope she can still detect danger from other sources…
The thought of us running into another trap suddenly makes me feel sick to the stomach. Not to mention we’re heading into a deadly trap already…
We finally reached the staircase, and we waste no time ascending in a frantic manner. As we do, I can clearly hear the automaton clanking its way down the hallway behind us.
We need to keep moving no matter what!
No matter what..!
Suddenly a thud, and a small cry catches my attention, and I quickly turn to the source in a panic. My head turns just in time to see Ayase fall.
“Agh!” She cries out, sliding down a few steps. Her fall has resulted in her landing on the flat mid-section of the stairs, clutching her ankle in pain.
“Ayase-senpai!” I instinctively call out to her in a distressed tone, and stop in my tracks.
“I’m okay! I just tripped…” She tries to put some weight on her injured foot, but she quickly kneels back down, her face twisted in pain. “Damnit!”
At the first flight of stairs, in the floor below, the automaton has just reached the base of the stairs…
Please, tell me it can’t climb…!
Right as I’m silently praying, it halts its movement and stands there for a moment. Before we’re able to rejoice, it slowly bends its knee and lifts its foot onto the first step.
“Oh come on!” I exclaim in utter irritation.
“Just keep going!” Ayase barely crawls to the stairs, although she winces and gasps each time her injured foot touches the ground.
For a moment, I hesitate and remain stock still, my feet firmly rooted in place. Not rooted, more like frozen. Stuck.
What do I do..? That question flashes through my mind multiple times, as I stare at Ayase’s form struggling on the staircase. “I… can handle… it.”
I tried to act all leader-like, but… I couldn’t save Yoko-senpai and now I’m just staring at Ayase-senpai as she suffers… Maybe I’m just useless… Maybe Tanaka-san was wrong—
“Hideki! Help her!!” Mayu who’s already ahead, shouts at the top of her lungs.
Her voice, wakes up the fighter within me once more. Although, I was sure this time he was down for the count... What the hell was I thinking?! My will to fight back urges me on. She shouts and I immediately move, snapping out of my trance. ”GOOO!”
The anatomical model has just reached the mid-section, and is hovering just over Ayase, as I finally decide to take actions. These mere seconds felt like whole hours. As if an electric current had ran through me, I hurry down the steps, and just as the automaton is about to grab my upperclassman, I…
Tackle it with my shoulder, giving it all the force I have. The previously unbudgeable pursuer, finally flinches and staggers backwards. Somehow, I manage to catch myself, before falling forward, and stand firmly next to Ayase.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She looks at me in shock, her face stricken in disbelief.
“We’re getting out of here!” Is all I say, before I bend my knees and scoop her up in my arms. One arm rests below her knees, and the other grabs a firm hold of her back.
“WHAAAA?!” Clearly taken by surprise, Ayase-san exclaims.
Paying no mind to her brief flailing about, I make my way up the stairs, not slowing down for a second, over the added weight.
This damn thing just doesn’t give up, does it?!
I think to myself as I notice how it clanks its way up the stairs after us. I’ve never carried another person before, let alone while going up stairs, but I make my way to the others in record time nonetheless.
“Why..?” Suddenly, the girl in my arms, mutters, her tone low and timid.
“Why, huh…?” I mutter back absentmindedly, as we continue up the stairs.
Why indeed? I was never one to risk my life. I thought I didn’t care about others… My past had taught me not to after all. Turns out that sometimes, one’s nature doesn’t change as easily as they’d think.
I had done the same for Yoko-senpai. And if Ayase hadn’t stopped me, I would probably have charged in for Tanaka-san too.
But this time…
This time was different. I just didn’t want anything to happen to Ayase-san, no matter what.
And that’s how I got my answer.
The time that my train of thoughts had brought to a halt, finally began flowing again.
“If I could relive the past few seconds 100 times over, I’d still come back in each and every one of them.”
A brief pause, accompanied only by the sound of the group’s rushing footsteps.
“You’re such an idiot…” She voices, burying her face in my shoulder.
“Am I heavy?”
I can’t help but smile momentarily at that question.
You probably weigh as much as three apples.”
I reply, before she tightens her grip around my neck and shifts her weight so she can rest more evenly in my arms.
Mayu and Noriko turn back to us, and I give them a firm nod.
“We’re good, keep going!”
“Don’t worry, once we take care of this thing we’ll head back to base and patch that leg up.” I come out and say, as she has suddenly gone all silent on me.
“Will you carry me there?” She asks, her tone as soft and smooth, like velvet itself.
“Only if you want me to.” I find myself tightening my grip around her, the same way my chest is tightening up at her words.
“Mhmm…” She hums, before going silent once again. “…Walking is a pain after all.”
“Quite literally too.”
Despite the situation, we somehow find it in us to share a brief smile.
Having reached our stopping point, Noriko plants her feet on the ground, as we all heave shaky, exhausted breaths. Noriko looks over at us, before turning to the classroom door, and sliding it open.
“Do we all have to navigate this trap now…?” Hotaru flinches at the thought. She has never seen the so-called trap with the spikes before, after all.
One wrong step and it’s over…
I remember our earlier encounter with said trap.
“No, we just have to get a row or two of spiked tiles between us and the entrance.” Noriko explains as she hops inside the classroom and motions for us to follow her. She slowly walks forward, choosing her steps with care, and the rest of us follow her across the safe floor panels. We all stand at a safe floor panel, having jumped across another two or three to make it there. Jumping with a person in my arms surely feels nerve-wracking, but I kept my composure nonetheless. Huddling together in one panel for all of us would be quite difficult so me, Ayase, and Kazuya share one, while the three girls share another, to the back end of the room. Soon, and just as we anticipate, our pursuer, makes its entrance. Splintering wood and a skeletal hand bursting through the door signals the automaton punching its way into the classroom. Once inside, the automaton wastes no time, making its way towards us.
Please work, please work, please work…!
I pray inside my head, with every ounce of my being, as the automaton steps forward, and lands…
On a safe floor panel. Having chosen the correct way to follow us, our idea of immobilizing our enemy has just failed.
“No way…” Mayu’s voice comes off as a whimper, unable to accept the fact that we’re all doomed. After all, we’ve just been caught like flies on a spider’s web. Unable to go anywhere, we’re just waiting for the model to take us all.
“What do we do…?” Hotaru mutters, her body shaking in fear.
The automaton chooses its steps carefully, and soon, it’s only a mere tile away from us.
Our time is nearly up…
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