“The key has… lit up?” I can’t help but betray a hint of confusion in my voice.
The light it emits is blinking, like it’s switching on and off, and with every new light comes the soft chime of a bell.
It’s like it’s signaling us to move, and find a way to put it to use.
“Was that what Mei-san meant?”
After Kazuya’s prompt, I recall Mei’s words from earlier.
“It can’t be used yet…”
But judging from the light it emits, and the clear sound it’s making, I’m guessing NOW it can?
The crescent shape that resembles the moon is what produces the light too… Does it need to be used at night then?
Me and Kazuya share a nod, as we call an emergency meeting with the girls.
After no more than a couple of minutes, the four girls filter out of the showers one by one, somewhat begrudgingly. They were surely having fun, judging from their disappointed expressions.
And the clean, fruity smell wafting from inside, along with their still wet hair screams straight out of the shower. Wow, it kinda smells nice…
Shut up, and get on with it already!
“Sorry to cut your bath time short, but…” Without a moment’s delay, I show them the blinking key.
“Is that a bell?”
“What is it doing?”
Mayu and Ayase waste no time with their questions.
“No clue, it just lit up and started making sounds all of a sudden.”
I explain to the best of my understanding. Having already told them what Mei-san had said to us before, the girls are quick to catch on to our train of thoughts.
“Does it mean that it can be used NOW?”
“Most likely.” Noriko nods after Mayu poses her question.
“But how do we find the lock?” Hotaru asks, cocking her head to the side.
That’s the tricky part. Or at least it is supposed to be. But somehow, I have an idea. A far-fetched one, but it’s still something.
“When we moved closer to your part of the showers, the blinking became less frequent. Maybe, it’s some sort of tracker. The blinking may be able to guide us somewhere…” Although vaguely, I manage to turn my theory into words.
“Let’s test it then.” Mayu proposes.
With everyone nodding along, we make for the men’s showers, and then a little ways further, towards the school.
Surely, the blinking of the blue light, and the sound of the bell picks up the pace. It’s undoubtedly faster compared to earlier.
“…That means we’re heading in the right direction… right?” Kazuya is hesitant to state as we all look at the blinking key.
“I think so.” Noriko nods yet again.
“Then, let’s see where it leads…”
With me as the head of the group, we all follow along the path the mysterious key is guiding us through. Not too long after, we’ve reached the school building.
Then, we move along the ground floor, away from the lockers, and reach a flight of stairs descending down into the darkness.
“You have to be kidding me…” Kazuya gulps as he mutters that for all to hear.
“It just had to be the basement, huh?”
Somehow, I’m not surprised. This really is a horror story through and through.
And of course, the blinking leads us straight down those steps, and into the abyss. As I’m about to descend, Ayase’s voice stops me.
“Wait, are we really going into the basement of a haunted school? Have you never seen any horror movies?”
Ayase is just about ready to bolt out of here any second. Mayu’s helping her stand, so as to not put any pressure on her leg.
“Maybe you should sit this one out, senpai?” Mayu proposes, looking back at Ayase leaning on her shoulder.
“Huh? Why?” Ayase looks over at her in confusion.
“I mean, your leg is still recovering right?”
“But, what if you all don’t come back in time? What if you’re late? What am I to do then?”
Ayase is almost panicking as she says this, and steals a glance at me, like she’s asking for assistance.
But, it’s true that Ayase is somewhat of a liability to us right now. If push comes to shove, I doubt she can run, and if she’s caught by whatever may chase us, then…
I shudder at the thought.
As much as I want to encourage her to come, I can’t make a choice that will put her life in danger.
“Ayase-san, you can’t run right now.” I make sure my tone comes off as serious as it can get.
“He’s right senpai, what if something comes chasing us?” Mayu voices softly, in order to soothe the panicking state Ayase’s in right now. I haven’t seen her act this way in front of other people before. Her calm, collected and reliable student-council president façade is all but gone now.
“I can guide you to the Home Ec room, if you want.” Noriko proposes, as Ayase’s eyes travel around the group.
“But…” Ayase gulps. “…what do I do if you… never come back?”
That statement catches me by surprise. If we’re not back till morning… what is Ayase to do? We have the key to the basement, and the door probably won’t open without it. IF we don’t make it, then she has no way of finding the other key herself. She’ll be stuck here, until the time runs out.
But, what if there’s no key down there? Will Ayase find the other two keys if she searches the school?
This is getting complicated and fast.
The optimal solution is for her to wait in the Home Ec room, but that will just keep her away from temporary danger. If we don’t make it, she’s as good as dead anyway. But is it worth it for her to risk her life, and potentially someone else’s just to come along?
“I can run… If I need to run, I will. It will hurt a little, but I can manage.” Ayase nods, in an attempt to reassure us.
“I don’t know, Ayase-senpai…” Mayu looks hesitant, before Ayase herself looks over at me, her eyes pleading desperately for assistance once again.
I sigh. Now, of all times, she’s giving me puppy dog eyes?
“So you CAN run?”
“Yes! Shall I demonstrate?”
“No, don’t waste the energy.”
“Does that mean…?” Ayase lowers her tone, awaiting for my reply.
“If you CAN run, then I guess…” I heave another sigh, in exasperation as I rub my temples. I really don’t want her to put herself in danger. I should probably just say no.
HUH? Why did I just agree like that?
I look over at Ayase immediately, and notice how she’s smirking at me. She must have somehow put a spell on me for real…
Exasperated, I turn back to the rest of the group.
“What do you guys think?”
Kazuya shrugs, while Hotaru taps her chin in thought.
“If you think it’s okay, then I guess it is?”
“If senpai says she can run, then…”
They reluctantly voice their opinions, much to Ayase’s delight.
Ayase, you forgot to switch back to angel mode.
“I mean, thank you everyone!”
She somehow taps into her cute façade.
Yeah, you didn’t fool anyone with that.
Taking the words, or maybe actions, right out of my mouth, Mayu sighs as well.
“Well, that settles it.”
Then, having put that matter to rest, another one arises, as I’m preparing to descend.
Shoot, my phone’s dead, and the light from the key won’t cut it. I doubt anyone has a working phone right now either…
With a spin, I turn back to my childhood friend and number one garbage collector on the planet.
“Mayu, do you have any sort of lighting?”
“True, it’s too dark down there.” Kazuya nods along with my idea, as Mayu rummages through her bag, AKA that endless pit of items.
“Like a flashlight, or you know…”
A flashlight would be the optimal thing in this scenario, but even Mayu wouldn’t have anything of the sort stuffed in her bag.
Mayu draws her hand out of her bag, which was buried elbow-deep into its contents, and pulls out something with a smile…
“…A candle?” Kazuya mutters lowly.
Wow, just… wow.
“So… Why-oh-why do you carry candles around like that, my sweet childhood friend?”
“Yeah… why?” And now Ayase’s asking the real questions.
“Hey, you asked for a source of light didn’t you?” Mayu glares at us, not taking our comments lightly. It seems the garbage collector within her is easily offended.
“Do you carry candles around, Mayu-san?”
“Mayu-san would probably do something like that.”
Noriko and Hotaru voice their own thoughts while Mayu’s glare intensifies yet again.
“Look, I just found it in the Home Ec, while I was rummaging through some stuff! There were no flashlights so I thought, why not, and took it!”
“Why are you yelling at me?!”
I throw my hands up in mock surrender, ready to be pummeled by my furious childhood friend.
Despite our protests, we gratefully accept the illumination, that came with a set of matches. After I lit the candle up, and put it firmly on the golden, round shaped holder, I advanced down the dusty concrete staircase.
Wow, it really can’t get any more horror than this…
With those stupid thoughts of mine serving as a means to distract myself from the stress of the situation, we all step further into the darkness.
With only the chime of the key, that grows stronger and more frequent with each new step, and our footsteps in the background, we’re slowly enveloped into the darkness.
I don’t know how much time has passed, when we finally stop descending and reach an even surface. That probably has to be the basement itself. Truth be told, I’ve never been down here before. I heard it’s some sort of storage room, that contains old equipment, electrical powerlines and so on.
Yet probably, in this haunted version of the school, the basement wouldn’t be anything quite like that.
With the chimes of the key growing stronger, and the light from the candle guiding our path, I follow the blinking across the darkness. To my surprise, nobody makes a sound. I can hear their footsteps loud and clear, as well as their labored breathing.
It’s quiet down here. Almost too quiet. I can hear my shaking breaths as if they’re being broadcasted through a loudspeaker, as we march onwards.
“Here…” I hold out the key in front of me, as the constant blinking becomes one long, clear sound, like that of a flatline. Wow, now that’s an optimistic thought.
Right in front of me, there’s a metallic door. Its shape and size looks exactly like what a door of a basement would, but the lock is different. Casting the lit candle atop it, I can make out an ornate design dressed with gold, and a crescent shape just like the key’s.
I momentarily turn back at the others, their faces illuminated only by the candle and the key, as we’re all huddled closely together.
They all give a nod each, before I place the small key in the lock. Immediately, as if a layer of fine marble had slid into place, there’s a soft thud. As the key rests in the lock, the crescent shape on it lights up in unison with the key, and the lock shifts into place, unlocking itself. I didn’t even have to move my hand. As if the lock and key had a mind of their own, they deemed each other worthy, and unlocked the passage for us. It momentarily felt like I was just the deliverer of the key, while the lock itself did the rest. Like it was urging us on… Telling us, that finding the lock was only the beginning.
The beginning of what?
Slowly pushing the door open, the piece of metal gives way to reveal yet another set of steps, bathed in full-blown darkness. My heart starts pounding furiously. After we cross this threshold, anything can happen.
I turn to look at Noriko, who’s furrowing her brows in thought.
“I feel something deep within this hallway, and even further beyond. It’s not looking good, but it’s not certain. We can escape it.”
Our human radar warns us of what we’re about to face, as I give a nod and look at Mayu.
“Let’s go. Carefully now. And don’t get separated.”
I give another, final nod, and cross the threshold, clutching the candle holder tightly. I shift to the side, and make way for the other to pass through first.
In comes Mayu and Ayase, then Noriko, and finally Kazuya and Hotaru as a pair huddled together.
“Let’s go.” Finally, as the head of the group for this excursion I walk down the steps ahead of everyone.
My head starts throbbing as I try to keep calm. Darkness has overwhelmed us completely now, and the inside of this narrow hallway seems so eerily quiet, you could probably hear a pin drop in here.
Right as that thought crosses the back of my mind, the door behind us slams shut with a bang.
Everybody jumps up in unison, like a group of wet cats.
“You have to be kidding me…” I mutter, as I look on horrified.
The door behind us just closed…
After prompting the others to wait, I hurriedly walk up the steps, and check the door. No doorknob, no sign of it budging. It feels more like it’s fixed to the wall than anything remotely related to a real door.
“No luck…” I shake my head, as Ayase and Mayu look on expectantly as I walk back.
“No way…” Hotaru voices lowly and weakly, almost like a whimper.
“The only way is forward.” Despite my sweating palms, and my elevated heartbeat, I press onwards. No amount of panicking will solve our predicament.
A few steps further, the hall spreads out onto a big room, the ceiling is no longer reachable, and there’s now a sort of echo to our footsteps. How big was this room exactly?
“Noriko?” Mayu looks over to our psychic for details, as we stop yet again.
“I don’t sense something yet. It’s far away for now. Yet it’s moving… we better be quick. I sense…” She pauses for a moment, probably to compose herself.
She senses… death?
Talk about ominous…
“Then we better haul ass…”
I’m not too keen on staying in here.
“What if the key is here?” Kazuya asks, and I click my tongue.
“True, let’s check first.”
“Are we for real?”
Ayase disapproves, her voice reduced to a whisper. With Ayase in the state she’s in, we can’t risk running into whatever danger Noriko is talking about. Not to mention Mayu and Ayase won’t even see it coming.
“Ayase-san.” I call out to her, and shift closer. “Stick closer to me, let Mayu move more freely.”
“O-Okay…” She sheepishly replies, and immediately her nails dig into my arm, as she clutches it tightly.
She must be scared out of her wits…
Yet again, I’m no better either.
“Okay guys, stick close.” I announce, before I move further into the room. The floor is somewhat dusty, and the concrete seems worn and dirty, like an old castle. With every movement, it feels like a new layer of dust kicks up from every corner. Inside the room, hangs a weird and unfamiliar stench I can’t quite put my finger on.
Out of the corner of my eye, and through only the dim light of the candle, I spot the edge of what seems like a stone altar.
“There’s something here…”
I slowly shift closer, and cast the light on top of whatever is lying up there… Then, my breath catches in my throat and my eyes grow wide in disbelief.
On top of the stone bed, lies a body. A familiar body, of a middle aged man. A body, with blood stains all over. A body, missing a head.
I mutter lowly, as I instantly feel sick to my stomach. The stench from earlier, was probably that of blood. I want to throw up immediately, yet I somehow hold it in.
Yet Kazuya can’t. He spills his guts a bit further from where we’re standing, while Hotaru taps his back, her face contorted in slight disgust.
I instinctively look away from that stomach-churning sight.
The rest of the group is completely petrified, still left staring at the body of the man we once knew. A bit further into the room, we see yet another altar, this time with another body atop.
This time, it’s less recognizable. The state is in is absolutely horrendous, to the point we can’t even make out who that person used to be. Yet that’s all we need to see, in order to connect the dots.
“Kurosawa…” Ayase mutters, as she clasps my arm with all her strength.
Then, the altar next to that…
“Yoko-senpai…” Mayu’s voice breaks at the face of her upperclassman’s body. Her skin is white like a sheet, and her neck is twisted to the side. Her eyes are still open, just like they were when she had left this world.
“Yoko-senpai…” With a silent sob, a tear escapes from her eyes, as she slowly closes her eyes with her palm.
Inspecting the body further, there’s a big blood stain around her chest, where a hole has been forcibly dug into. Her… heart is missing. Missing like it was stolen.
Was that why it took the automaton so long to break through the door?
At the sight, Noriko voices with a whimper. “I’m sorry…”
“I don’t see any key in here, guys…” I mutter, yet with how quiet we’ve been, that’s enough for everyone to hear.
“Kazuya… Hotaru, come over here…” I beckon them over, turning to the point I had last seen Kazuya throw up.
Yet, they’re nowhere to be found…
Ayase looks on too, realizing what that meant.
Did we just get separated?
“Guys, it’s coming! Something is coming!”
Noriko’s voice rings out and our bodies stiffen up at the sound of danger. We’re bathed in complete darkness, two of our friends have up and disappeared… and now something is coming. And it’s coming to get us.
We’re sitting ducks over here! We need a plan!
But how do we form a plan while we don’t even know what the damn danger is?!
Think Hideki, think!
We can’t see what’s coming… Yet Noriko can feel it.
I move over to her, and pass her the candle in a flash.
“Here! Use this to point to the danger if it gets close!”
If Noriko can sense it, and point the light at it, then we can avoid it…
But what if they are spikes?! Or fire?! Aghhhh!
“Hotaru! Kazuya! Damn it!” Mayu clicks her tongue as we’re all in a state of panic.
“Ayase-san, go over to Noriko!” I prompt my upperclassman towards the light, as we all huddle together, before Noriko points down the room.
“There! Let’s get out!”
Before we can make our move though, the sound of something walking… or crawling across the ceiling resonates throughout the room.
With a cry that resembles a silent, clicking roar, the creature that has appeared crawls up all around the room, as we’re left petrified.
Then, as Noriko turns to point the sole source of light we have at the creature, the peculiar sounds echo closer and closer, as if it’s heading… straight at me.
Then with a sudden gust of wind, and a thud, something lands right behind me, and Noriko turns back with a cry.
“Hideki! Behind you!”
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