After bidding our sanctuary farewell, we decide to work out our new plan.
“Any… suggestions?” Kazuya is the first to speak up, before we all turn to Mayu, who’s usually the one to propose a plan.
Safe to say her cheery leader attitude has grown on everybody.
“Noriko, do you notice any changes within the school?”
“The darkness has grown massively. The rooms are shifting more rapidly than ever.” She replies, her brows creased in concentration.
“Hm…” Mayu hums in response. Seems to me like she’s onto something.
“I think our best bet is to split up...”
“Really?” Safe to say I wasn’t expecting that. I can almost feel the disagreement among us. Splitting up poses some degree of danger to all of us after all.
“I can’t protect everyone if we split up…” Noriko voices somewhat hesitantly.
Soon, it’s Kazuya’s turn to protest. “Yeah, we won’t know if we’re walking into any traps.”
“I know but if we go slow enough to look out for traps we’ll be able to work faster. With the supposed rate in which rooms shift places our search will keep resetting if we don’t do something.” Mayu passes a look to each one of us, before she continues. “We’re a total of 6. Which means we could split in 3 groups of 2 people in each one. That way we’ll be able to mark all the rooms in every floor at once.”
Truth be told, the plan seems better than I thought. Maybe we could give it a go…
Right as I’m about to agree, Ayase speaks up. “I think it makes sense. As long as we carefully assess the situation from afar and avoid running into traps, it will probably work out.”
“Keyword being, probably…” Kazuya mutters. It kinda seems he’s letting the nerves cloud his judgement.
“We gotta take some risks if we want to get out.” I shrug, and give my consent.
“If you all believe that’s the best way to do this, then okay…” Hotaru finally nods at Mayu.
Soon Noriko follows suit. “I agree too.”
At last, Kazuya sighs and nods as well.
“Good, now as for the pairs….” Mayu looks around and nods to herself… “Kazuya and Hotaru, you two worked well together before you joined up with us so I think you’ll be okay…”
Naturally, the two have no objection.
“As for the rest of us… Ayase-senpai goes with Noriko and I go with Hideki.”
Well that’s an interesting suggestion.
Mayu sneakily looks on between me and Ayase-san, as an evil smirk spreads across her face. “If I paired you two lovebirds, then you’d just flirt all the while! Right?”
Instantly, a red-faced Ayase protests. “HUH?! We w-wouldn’t flirt!” She then turns to me, as if seeking my aid. “R-right, Hideki?”
And so, I decide to play it safe.
“You punk!” Ayase hisses, before the amused Mayu, nods to herself and splits us up.
With the pairs decided, we all venture forth into the unknown, with our partner in tow. Me and Mayu are surveying the 2nd floor, while Ayase and Noriko are searching the ground floor and the 1st, with Kazuya and Hotaru stationed on the 3rd.
The two of us make good time on our designated floor, as we survey rooms, behind the threshold of safety. While being alone with Mayu feels familiar, it also seems like it’s been ages since it happened. Maybe the time really does flow differently within this school…
The ensuing silence is broken by my partner’s excited voice.
“Oh look! That's the music room!” Mayu announces excitedly as she gazes across the classroom.
“You’re right.” Indeed, it is the music room. “It’s weird seeing it up here though.” Like every other time, I throw a crushed piece of paper inside and wait. We both look at it intently for a good number of seconds, but thankfully nothing happens.
“Wanna take a look?” Mayu suggests and I find myself nodding. “Be on the lookout okay?”
When we’re both inside, we halt every one of our movements, while opting to scan the room. To my surprise, the layout looks exactly like it always did. Even chairs are set up in the usual way, like class is about to start at any moment. All the instruments look like they’re in perfect condition and there’s even a melody written up on the whiteboard.
I could almost relax in here if not for what this school has put us through…
Despite the calm aura the room itself emits, I cautiously start walking around the room.
“No sign of the key here…” I hear Mayu’s voice from across the room.
“Yep, nothing here either.”
I turn to her briefly, to see her staring into space, with an almost nostalgic expression. A small smile tugging at her lips.
I decide to call out to her. “Everything okay?”
“Oh! Yeah…” She jumps in place out of surprise, having been forcibly pulled out of her sweet dream. “I just remembered that group project we did in this classroom together...”
“Oh yeah, I remember. It wasn’t about music though, was it?” My memories quickly resurface.
“Yeah, it was about history actually! We always did our group or pair stuff together. Even in elementary school!” Mayu is suddenly beaming, before her face falls yet again, albeit momentarily. “Those days were so fun… I miss them.” With a sigh, she starts walking slowly around the room, her arms clasped behind her back. “Do you ever think back to those days, Hideki?”
“Yeah… sometimes.” I reply in a sincere, warm tone.
Mayu chuckles slightly. “I think about them all the time. Especially now.”
“Really? Why now of all times?”
“Focusing on good memories helps drive back the horror of our situation. And we have so many good memories… Our lives are in danger, but when I remember things like that group project, it makes me think we’ll be okay after all.” She speaks softly, still holding that entranced smile.
Good memories, huh…
You never realize you’re making memories, until it’s all in the past. Until everything changes, and you start missing what you thought was a given.
Suddenly. I’m in the mood to reminisce.
“I still can’t believe we did a musical presentation for a history project… that was so embarrassing…”
“I know! The other group members didn’t know what to do with us!” Mayu chuckles yet again. It’s a clear, innocent sound.
“Yeah, because you were insistent that a musical was a fun way to do our presentation or something.”
“Me?! Oh no, you were the one saying that we had to sing our information to the class!” She hops around in place, holding an imaginary mic.
“Nope! I was just the one that presented the idea to the rest of our group, but only because you asked me to do it!”
“I did…?” She cocks her head to the side.
So much for remembering…
I can’t help but smile at her antics.
“Yeah you were afraid that they wouldn’t like it if you took charge of the group. So you made me suggest your idea.”
“Wow. I can hardly even imagine feeling like that...”
That was a rough time for Mayu. Not everyone in our class appreciated her, as she always wanted to be involved in everything, and she took it personally more often than not. Although she wanted to do good, I guess not everyone saw it that way.
“But eventually they agreed. Nobody could sing though and the instruments weren’t enough to carry the melody…”
“Yeah but it worked out in the end! We got full points and I think we impressed the teacher too! Although the other group members were kinda annoyed they had to go through all that…”
“I can’t believe I actually sung information about history…” Just the thought gives me serious second-hand embarrassment. Although that group project was definitely a step in the right direction for Mayu. “…But you know, I think that was the turning point…”
“What do you mean?” Mayu turns to me, her brows furrowed.
“That’s when you stopped caring so much about what other people would think if you took charge. And now… well, you’re a leader through and through.” I explain briefly, as I hold a reminiscent smile. I always admired her go-hard attitude and leadership.
With a red-tinted face, Mayu turns back away from me. “Well that’s only thanks to you, you know…”
“It’s true! My best friend was back after SOOO many years after all!”
While Mayu’s cute, I don’t understand the connection.
“And how’s that related?”
“I just thought… you would always have my back. So I could just be me…” Mayu mutters in a lower tone, catching me completely off guard.
Instantly, I feel a pang of guilt within me.
“Even when… I was acting weird?”
“Heh…” Mayu turns to me with a grin. “Even then, I knew you were still Hideki. My best friend.”
Mayu’s serious tone always had the same effect on me. Her words always hit home. And those were no different. I suddenly feel thankful to her. Blessed to have her by my side. She had always been there… Right from the start.
I decide to call out to her. “Hey, Mayu?”
“Thanks for sticking with me, even when I wasn’t myself.”
“Huh…?” In the face of those honest words, her face turned red in an instant. “Idiot, what are you saying all of a sudden?”
“But it’s the truth. So thank you, Mayu. Really.” With the best smile I could muster, I thanked her again.
“Idiot…” She turns around in a huff, her cheeks still rosy. “It’s because I…”
With a weird mumble I couldn’t hear, she finally turns back to me.
“What?” I utter in confusion. What did she just say?
“You know…” She shakes her head a little, before giving me a beaming smile. “You’ve gotten better at smiling.”
Suddenly, I remember that one time she called me creepy when I had tried to force a smile at her…
That little rascal… She had only said that a few days ago, yet all that feels like a distant dream instead.
Unable to think of something to say, we just chuckle lightly at each other. A soft silence fills the room, but instead of being awkward, it feels… peaceful. We look around at this nostalgic scene that could have been pulled straight out from our happy memories, and silently reminisce about days joyfully gone by.
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