"Thank you for being foolish enough, to set me free…” A voice carries through the room, chilly like a winter breeze and as sharp as a blade. Then a chuckle, a sinister, mocking laugh. “…humans."
I jerk my head up to see a small, thin figure of a girl standing across from us. Her short, messy brown hair covering her features like deliberately placed curtains. Her distant and hollow jet-black eyes devoid completely of emotion, staring into mine, and freezing me from the inside out. She speaks in that same monotone and chilly manner I recall from my dream, and I can feel my rapidly beating heart hammer against my chest in a frantic manner.
This must be her… Misaki…
Everybody remains still and silent, as we all gaze at the girl standing before us, her skin as white as paper.
“F-free?” Kazuya barely manages to spell out, his voice shaky.
“Are you… Himaratsu Misaki…?” I somehow find the courage to step forward and ask, despite already knowing the answer. Her gaze fixes on me, as she gives me a cold hard stare.
“Hm.” She grins menacingly. “Yes. And YOU are the reason I’m standing here. That book held me prisoner, and you have helped me escape.” Misaki replies, not taking her eyes off of me. I can almost feel my mind turning blank. “Your carelessness will be your demise. You’re just pigs, headed straight to the slaughterhouse now.”
Nobody can utter a word in response, as the hovering figure steps onto the flooring, and heads towards us. Slowly, steadily.
“You, my lovely little livestock, have helped me break away from my shackles. Now nothing can stop me. And remember…” The spirit makes a pause, my heart just about ready to leap out of my mouth. “My word, is absolute.”
“What does that—“
“Silence!” Misaki shrieks, while Mayu, the one trying to protest shrinks back in place. “Now that I’m free, the rules have changed.” With those words, a new sinister smile sprouts across her face. “But… I won’t kill you just yet…”
Despite our predicament, I feel myself somewhat relieved at those words.
Don’t tell me…
She must have felt my relief, because she’s now facing me, like a thirsty bee drawn to a flower.
“You’re the one, eh?” With a small stride, she walks towards me, as I’m left completely immobile. I feel like I’m under a spell. I don’t know if it’s fear paralysis, or if I’m simply a puppet in her hands, but the result is the same nonetheless. I can’t move, nor evade her, as she strides forward.
“Yes, I must thank you.” She mutters, stopping before me.
“Silence.” Misaki turns to Ayase this time, nobody can utter a single word in her presence unprompted. With no forewarning, she reaches out a hand towards my chest. When her fingers are just about to make contact, they somehow pass through my body, like it’s just a veil. I don’t feel any pain, despite her arm descending deeper and deeper in my body. I can only stand there, completely still.
I don’t feel anything.
What is happening? I can’t really make out. I stare at my friends, and watch the horror painted through their eyes. Just when I’m trying to decipher the meaning of this, I feel icy cold fingers wrap around my heart. My breath catches in my throat at once. They don’t squeeze down despite that. It feels like a caress. A warning.
“You and I, are alike…” She whispers lowly, and grips my heart tighter, stronger.
“Gah!” All the air is freed from my lungs momentarily, in the face of her vice-strong grip. I can feel the beating of my heart getting more strained, wearier.
Just when I think I might be in serious trouble after all, my heart is released, and I instinctively fall to my knees, desperately trying to catch my breath, like a discarded puppet that has served its purpose.
“Sunrise. That’s your new time limit. Keep searching till then, otherwise you’ll be all mine.” She speaks briefly, yet pointedly, before turning and walking away. “I will be watching you…” With those being her parting words, her figure fades away, as if it was blown away by a gust of violent wind.
“Hideki!” Ayase is the first to rush to my side, with Mayu following closely behind.
“I’m okay…” I take a handful of inhales, and even out my breathing. My heart has stopped beating awkwardly and frantically.
“What… was that?” Kazuya mutters, utterly baffled.
“That was Hiramatsu Misaki.” Noriko nods to herself.
Wow, you don’t say?
“I knew we shouldn’t have messed with her…” Hotaru mutters, but not low enough to keep it to herself.
What does she mean she knew? She never said anything of the sort…
My heart starts beating unevenly again. I probably need to get used to this.
“So we have until sunrise?” Ayase, who’s still got a hand at my back as a means of comfort turns to Noriko.
“It would seem so.”
“That’s not nearly enough time!” Kazuya is the first to protest. Yet there’s nothing we can do about it. Something about her word being absolute, right?
“True, we were already cutting it close as is.” Ayase admitted herself, earning a sigh from Mayu, the cheerleader.
“Guys, relax! We will regroup, start searching and we’ll find that key before we know it.”
“I agree. Panic is not the answer.” Noriko seems to be of the same mind.
“You’re right…” Hotaru nods momentarily.
A small silence hangs in there, as we all struggle to come to terms with what just happened.
“You have made a grave mistake.” Suddenly, Mei-san pops out of thin air next to us.
“Woah!” Kazuya jumps. It baffles me that it was him and not one of the girls instead. No offense.
“You should stop appearing out of nowhere like that, Mei-san.” Mayu releases a breath, a hand over her chest.
“Apologies. But I have come to warn you all.” Mei-san bows momentarily, yet her tone is grimmer than I’ve ever heard.
“Is it about… Misaki?” Ayase hesitantly steps forward.
“Yes. Her awakening has increased the malevolence around the school immensely. You should already start seeing some changes. Your time is running out.”
“I also felt the increase on the malevolent forces of the school… So it’s true that we only have until sunrise?” Noriko joins in, while Mei-san nods gravely.
“So uhm, I was thinking… Kumagai Mei-san, could you maybe convince Misaki? I mean… you’re both g-ghosts?” Hotaru inquires timidly with Mei-san fixing a clear judging gaze on her.
“I cannot do such a thing. She is a far more superior being than I, and frankly I have no means of even talking to her. You should know that.” The spirit replies matter-of-factly. Yet, that last bit… what did she mean exactly?
“Oh…” Hotaru looks down, fixing her puppy-like eyes to the flooring.
“We may both be roaming spirits, but we are not equal. She is the one responsible for the deaths of countless students. She is the one that trapped you here, and I in turn I’m trapped alongside you. I hold no power. I’m just a spirit that is unable to pass on.”
Just what are we up against…?
“Mei-san, may I ask you something?” I come out and say as she turns her gaze towards me. “Are you the only spirit that was unable to pass on, amongst all the other students?”
Maybe there are more spirits that can help...?
The spirit briefly shakes her head in return. “I feel the presence of other students that passed, their regrets lingering in each and every corner of this school… But it appears I am the only one whose regrets have manifested into something more stable, thus I’m able to interact with all of you. Despite that, I can still feel the emotions, and sometimes I see my classmates’ faces, even if it is for just a moment. I am sure that there are more spirits that are unable to rest in peace inside this distorted copy of the school… although they’re not like me, they are still here.” I hang my head in defeat, and nod. “…That is why WE placed our trust in you. By surviving, you will not only save yourselves, but you’ll be able to put our souls to rest as well. YOU can save us.”
Seeing me dejected, I guess that’s her way of reassuring me?
Knowing that the fate of a bunch of angry ghosts rests on your shoulders is rather stressing though…
“So we’ll bet everything on finding that last key, right?” Mayu turns to the group, as we all nod in unison.
“Yes, that is your one and only chance of escaping. By finding all the keys, not even She can stop you.” Mei-san confirms and I feel a little more optimistic than before.
It’s just a key… just one last key…
Despite that, something is bothering me.
“Why do you keep referring to… Misaki as “She”?”
The reply comes quick, almost like a warning. “Do not forget that this is HER domain. If I utter her name, there’s a possibility it will alert her…”
Ayase gulps, before adding a question of her own. “And IF she is alerted? What then?”
Instead of answering, Mei-san just shakes her head. Ultimately, we decide to not pry any further.
“But if she is as ruthless as that, why give us the chance to escape in the first place?” Now it’s Kazuya’s turn to ask.
Yet, I think I already know the answer, as I recall the contents of her diary.
“Just like she always clung to the hope of being saved someday… She wants to give us the same hope, the way out, even if it’s only fabricated.” The answer comes to me naturally, which I presume is an after-effect of my resonance with her. The weight of the last word that came out of my mouth, still lingers in the atmosphere, making it all the more heavy.
“But we’re gonna take hold of that hope… that way out she has given us…”
“…And we’re going to turn it into reality.”
Ayase completes our leader’s sentence, resulting in a boost of moral amongst the group members.
With that hopeful sentiment, we all agree to head to our Home Base for one last time, grab our belongings and start searching for the last key… for our last glimpse of hope, until the time runs out. It’s now 12 in the afternoon and we have exactly 18 hours at our disposal, to turn this curse on its head.
Everyone is battling with their own demons, their own thoughts as we silently gather everything from the Home Ec classroom. When we’re ready to depart, we all filter out of the room, one by one, with me, walking out at the back of the group. When everybody’s standing in the hallway, I turn to close the door behind me, for one last time.
As I’m about to do so, I take one last long look on what used to be just a classroom and most importantly, the only safe place this school had provided. I feel my chest tighten slightly.
Somehow, all of what we’ve been through, felt significantly longer than just 2 days. And soon, it will all be over.
As I look around the room that shall no longer be our sanctuary, the memories from this place come flooding in, like a strong current that overwhelms my senses.
I turn to the kitchen, and remember the talk I had with Mayu on the first day. Our silly back-and-forth, and our astounding teamwork.
I look at our table, where we had all those meals together. With Tanaka-san, wolfing down his soup, and Yoko-senpai gossiping about everything and nothing, when silence ensued. We could have been a group of 9, yet we lost 3 along the way. Heck, that table would have barely been able to fit us all, but we would have found a way, that I’m sure of.
Looking straight across from the entrance, I remember Yoko-senpai and Mayu bickering amongst themselves, like they always did.
I turn to those chairs at the back, still arranged the same way, and remember Noriko telling me and Ayase-san about her past, as we promised to be her friends even after all this is over. Was that when I’d started to change?
Lastly, but surely not least, I take one last long look at the far corner of the room, underneath that window overlooking the sky, where I and Ayase-senpai shared life-changing, intimate moments. That was when I realized I was in love, and that was when I realized, I wanted to change.
Before I shut the door closed, and leave this safe place once and for all, the memories of those we lost come to mind. Kurosawa, Yoko, Tanaka. We need to get out, for their sake as much as for ours. We need to honor their memory, and not give up, ’till the bitter end. At last, with my heart heavy, and mind equally full, I close the door and turn to the others. My friends.
Mayu walks over to me and notices the strange feeling of nostalgia on my expression. “We don’t look back… only forward…” Her lips form a soft, gentle smile. “…Partner.”
I can’t help but chuckle at my childhood friend. She really knows me through and through.
“You’re right, partner.”
I look at Noriko, the girl I promised to be friends with.
I look at Hotaru, a timid, yet kind girl.
I look at Kazuya, a reserved, yet fun boy, that values life most of all.
I look at Mayu, my best friend, the person who supported me even when I wasn’t myself.
And lastly, I look at Ayase-senpai, the girl I’m in love with and the person who gave me the push I needed, in order to be myself. To shed my insecurities, and keep challenging this game called life, head on.
We need to get out of this alive, no matter what.
We don’t look back, only forward.
- END OF PART 2 -