After our trip down memory lane was over, we continued our search, before heading back to meet with the rest of the group. Mayu had had a hunch about how the rooms were shifting, but at the end of our search it was nothing solid.
As soon as we reach the entrance of the school building we’re relieved to find Noriko and Ayase-senpai waiting near the lockers. As we walk up to them, we turn to the sound of footsteps to see Kazuya and Hotaru descend the staircase.
Relief is visible on everyone's expressions as we all look around at one another with a nod.
I heave a sigh of relief as we regroup.
"Anyone found anything?" I immediately come out and ask.
"Unfortunately, no." Kazuya’s the first to reply, dejected.
Ayase too, shakes her head briefly. "We didn't find anything either..."
"Neither did we."
"Well no point brooding over it now. Let's have a quick 15 minute break for lunch and rest, so we can keep searching right away." Mayu chimes in joyfully despite the situation.
"Uhm, guys? We barely have any time to find the key… you sure we can rest?" Kazuya clearly disapproves. His tone somewhat edgy and concerned.
"I think it’s better to eat and rest now than mess up later because we're hungry and tired." Ayase speaks up, and Mayu gives her a little nod as thanks.
"Okay, I guess..." Kazuya shrugs briefly before we all find a place and plop on the carpet placed neatly in front of the shoe lockers.
I sit down, cross-legged, and pull out an XXL size sandwich I made back in the Home Ec Room in the morning. Mayu, with her map in hand, calls Noriko and Hotaru over, probably to mark the rooms they checked. As I unwrap my sandwich, I notice someone walk up to me, and soon, Ayase’s sitting next to me.
“Woah, that thing is huge.” She instantly does a double-take at my gigantic sandwich.
I chuckle lightly “I know, right?”
“Where did you even find the bread to make that?”
“There was a whole loaf left, so I didn’t want it to go to waste. Want some?”
“No, I think I’m good.” She smiles wryly, before she points at her toast. How can girls eat so little and NOT be hungry all the time? I guess some things will forever be a mystery to me.
Suddenly, Ayase starts “So…”
“How did it go with Mayu?”
“With Mayu?” Well, that’s a weird question. “It was pretty ordinary. We didn’t find anything noteworthy… But Mayu did say there might be a pattern to how the rooms shift though…”
“No I didn’t mean it in that way, idiot…” Ayase sighs briefly.
Then what DID she mean?
Was she perhaps… “You jealous?” I raise a teasing brow. We’ve probably hit the jackpot here!
“Me?! Jealous?! Pfft!” Ayase turns away in a huff.
“Mgmmm!” In the face of my teasing, Ayase’s face turns red as she shuts her eyes closed.
“Oh shut up!” Soon, she reaches her breaking point, and dives in head first for my sandwich. “Nom!” And without remorse or warning takes a big bite out of it.
Hey! She literally just ate one third of it!
“My sandwich…” I sniffle. This turn of events really brings a tear to my eye.
“That’s what you get… for teasing me…” Ayase mumbles in between chewing.
“Chew before you speak, jeez…”
“I can do whatever I waaant!” She retorts in a singsong tone.
Thus, I decide to bring the subject back on track.
“So you weren’t jealous…?”
“Hey, don't fool yourself into thinking there is any viable route other than mine!”
What’s with this talk about routes? This isn’t an eroge…
“You heard me!” Ayase crosses her arms and smirks proudly.
“Yes, ma’am…” I can only chuckle, as I get back to my sandwich.
Soon, our break time is over and we all start meeting number 3 of the day.
“Nakajima Mayu, reporting!”
Mayu salutes at my prompt, while Kazuya sighs, and Hotaru giggles awkwardly.
“We may not have found anything, but I believe there is a pattern in how the rooms shift. I’ve been paying attention to it since morning, and I think I may be able to find something if we make another round.”
“Okay… so we gonna split up again?” Kazuya voices, and Mayu nods.
“That’s the plan. I’m taking Noriko with me, Kazuya you can go with Hotaru. Let’s leave the two lovebirds to it.”
Me and Ayase voice, offended.
“What? You were flirting during the break too!”
“What?!” Ayase retorts, her face flushed.
“Haha, yeah you were…”
Hotaru giggles awkwardly yet again, agreeing with Mayu’s teasing shenanigans. Being egged on by someone as timid as Hotaru though is ten times more embarrassing than I thought it might be.
“Noriko… is that okay with you?”
“I have no objections. Me and Mayu can work well together.” Noriko nods at my question.
Then, we’re all agreed…
After we agree to meet up at a designated time, Ayase and I take the first and ground floor, while the rest split the other two floors between them.
Our search begins as usual, as me and Ayase cautiously check each room before we step inside. Some of the rooms are the same from the 2nd floor, while there are others originally stationed in the 3rd. One thing is for certain though. None of the rooms is exactly where it should be.
We open door after door, and make search after search, before we reach one that is all too familiar.
“The student council room…” Ayase mutters, as we both gaze inside. There weren’t any traps here last I remember. It’s actually been quite a while since I saw it last… Like it was completely cut off from this school altogether.
“Should we check?” Ayase nudges me, before giving me a look.
It wouldn’t hurt to be sure. We didn’t really know about the keys when we last came here anyway. Maybe we missed something?
I shrug, and throw a ball of paper inside, just to be sure.
Thankfully, nothing happens, so the both of us step inside, albeit cautiously.
“It’s the same…” Ayase mutters lowly, probably reminiscing about the hours she has spent in here before all this.
True enough though, everything is set up exactly like the last time we were here. Like not even an hour had passed, from when I had seen Ayase sprawled onto the floor unconscious.
She slowly yet mindlessly walks up to the big round table in the center, and lightly runs her fingers through the surface. We check through the closets, bookshelves, even behind the small whiteboard, yet there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Yet the place feels peaceful, almost cut out of time itself.
"It feels like an eternity ago, although just 2 days have passed." As I let my mind wander, my mouth moves on its own.
Ayase turns back to me surprised, but soon her expression softens into a reminiscent smile. "I know... So much has changed." With light feet, she walks closer to me. "I didn't even know who you were 3 days ago..."
"It feels surreal... How much our lives have changed in the course of just 3 days." I nod with a wistful grin.
"Even though death is a real possibility at any given time, I still wouldn't trade the time we spent together and with everyone, for anything." Ayase mutters, and I can’t resist the smile blooming on my face.
"I feel the same way, Ayase-san.”
“Just call me Ayase you idiot. I’ve already dropped the honorifics.”
“Yeah, I guess you did…” Ayase nods in understanding. “Ouch!” Before she pinches me.
“That was for not paying attention to me!”
“Come oon!” I rub my arm with a frown. While the pain does fade, the warm feeling within me doesn’t. This atmosphere between us… I hope it never changes.
“We should get going. I think we stayed here long enough.” Ayase proposes, and I find myself agreeing.
We better continue the search… There’s already not too long left.
I stare at the clock in the wall, almost instinctively.
It’s frozen. The hands stuck in place. We really are cut out from reality…
Yet our time hasn’t stopped. It’s moving. And to our expense at that…
“You better ask me out on a date when we get out of here.”
As we walk to the door, the girl in front of me suddenly blurts out something random.
Where did that come from?
“What do you mean sure?”
“I mean definitely!”
Was this really the time for that?
As Ayase opens the door and steps out, we both notice the pitter patter of rain against the windows.
“Talk about sudden…” I mutter, considering it was as sunny as could be earlier, this does strike me as odd.
Ayase agrees, as we start walking along the hallway, ignoring the rumbling of an angry sky.
I wonder, what was the weather like outside this realm? Now that I think about it, why was there a change in the weather anyway? What purpose did it serve?
While I was occupied with such thoughts, a blinding flash of light had caught me off guard. A thunderous roar reverberated through the building, as a strike of lighting came down.
It was mere seconds, yet when the light had cleared, me and Ayase weren’t standing alone in the hallway anymore.
Mere inches away from us, the most hideous of monsters had appeared. A familiar, disgusting visage of a person long gone. A mutated, gigantic body, and an abnormal humpback.
The beast roared, as we shrunk back. Instinctively, out of terror.
The words of warning catch on my throat, as the monster lunges forward and grabs Ayase, lifting her in the air.
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