What just happened?
As I look around, I notice I’m standing in the student council room. Yet I feel weird. Confused.
I feel as if I was somewhere else, even if it was brief.
“Ayase-san, you okay?” Suddenly, I notice Hideki speak from beside me.
I sigh in unfound relief.
He’s here. Of course he’s here… But there’s something amiss…
“Hey, didn’t I tell you to drop the honorifics?”
Hideki smiles wryly at me, confusion apparent on his face.
I did, didn’t I?
It was just a moment ago, but why does it feel so distant… Why does it feel so…
Something is wrong. I can feel it.
“We entered the student council room, talked about the past and what changed… right?”
“That’s right. What’s wrong about that?”
“Shut up for a moment…” I shush the weirdly oblivious Hideki, and tap my chin in thought. But even before that… We checked the room for traps, by throwing a paper ball inside. There wasn’t any response, so we stepped inside and…
“There weren’t any traps in this room, right?”
“Of course there aren’t.”
“Huh, but we haven’t searched yet, how can you be so sure?”
“Just a hunch.”
“Liar!” I retort, a grin on my face. “First, we did search the room. Second, I told you to call me Ayase and third… Hideki would never use “a hunch” to convince someone.”
Suddenly, the gentle expression on Hideki’s face vanishes.
“This isn’t real.”
I flinch. For some reason my head is spinning.
I’m standing in the student council room, Ayase looking over at me.
The familiar student council room feels foreign. Weird, and unfocused.
What is up with my head? My mind screams Deja-vu…
I stand up straight and shake my head.
I feel like I wasn’t here. I feel like I’ve seen all this before.
I take a deep breath and assess the situation, opting to scan the room.
Suddenly, a thought creeps up on me.
We don’t have much time…
I look over at the clock hanging on the wall. The big hand is resting on 6, and the small one on 2. The second indicator ticks and ticks, with every new movement.
“Why is the clock moving?”
“Uhm, because it’s a clock?”
“It shouldn’t move. Last time I remember, it was stuck…”
What does last time mean?
Have I gone through this before? Is this why my head is spinning? The clock shouldn’t be moving.
“Ayase.” I turn to the girl in front of me, and look her in the eyes.
“This isn’t real.”
Everything around me turns black, as darkness descends upon me.
My eyelids flutter open, and a familiar face sits before me, her brows furrowed in stress.
“Ayase…?” I mutter, as I sit up and realize I’m on the ground.
The distressed face in front of me turns into one of relief, as Ayase throws her arms around me.
What did I ever do?
Despite the false accusation, I feel a great sense of relief wash over me.
We’re alive. Ayase’s alive…
I find myself hugging her back.
“We’re okay…” I mutter, pressing my face against her shoulder.
“I thought you were dead, but then you weren’t! And then I realized you weren’t even real but then—“
“Hey, hey calm down!”
I can’t help but chuckle at her.
This is definitely how it’s supposed to be…
“We’re both okay. And all those illusions were just that. Illusions.” I speak softly and reassuringly, hoping to calm down my nervous partner before she throws another fit.
“I’ve never wanted to punch and hug a person at the same time, you know.”
“I’ll pass on the first one…”
“What about… the second?”
With a scarlet tinted face, Ayase brings her body closer to mine, causing my heartbeat to elevate significantly.
Thank God it was all a nightmare. A bad dream.
A sound similar to that of a door sliding open ensues, catching the both of us off guard.
It’s Mayu, and the rest of the group.
“Oh.” I exclaim in lowercase. Did we just get busted?
“Hoooo!” Mayu smirks menacingly, a vein bulging out of her forehead. “We’ve been searching all over for you, just to find you embracing each other inside a classroom?!”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mayu get so angry, so fast before. That has to be a new record.
“A record my ass! Are you even listening?!”
And now she can hear my narrations too!
“W-we weren’t embracing…!” Ayase frantically tries to think of an excuse, as our friends’ eyes bore holes through our skin. “Our uniforms are just stuck together!”
And there it is… the excuse.
I don’t really have a choice in the matter though, I need to play along.
“Yes! Mayu help us! You’re our only hope!” I plead, Ayase still glued to me like a sticker.
Fair to say Noriko and Hotaru are utterly bamboozled by our reasoning.
While Kazuya just sighs, clearly having reached his bullshit limit. “Can we just get this over with?”
“Oh I’ll help you all right!” Mayu cracks her knuckles and steps forward.
“Mayu…” She rolls her sleeve and bends a knee, preparing to unleash her ultimate technique “Puuuuunch!” Her fists collides with my face, and I’m suddenly sent flying across the room. The words “game over” flash across my vision, and my eyelids give in.
“Ah, so that’s what happened!”
“You could have asked that before punching the life out of me!” I protest, holding an icepack against my face, while I sit cross-legged on the floor.
After being dealt the ultimate punishment for doing something “indecent”, as Mayu said, we decided to discuss our findings. Me and Ayase described what happened to us, as a series of illusions that seemed to go on endlessly before we broke out, by finding an abnormality in actions, or even objects in the room. After we did break out, we found ourselves lying unconscious in the room. Noriko’s guess was that we fell victim to an unseen trap of the school. Despite us spending no more than 10 minutes in the room, the others insisted that more than 2 hours passed, meaning we were late to regroup. Thus, they went looking for us, and found us… in that awkward situation.
“What sort of illusions did you see?” Mayu tilts her head to the side, clearly curious.
Instantly me and Ayase stiffen up completely.
“I’d rather not say…” I look away instinctively. If I could, I would even forget altogether… Despite that, the feelings within me are still fresh. The feeling of Ayase dying, of everyone turning on me… Failing to save the ones I care about. This prickling, stinging pain inside my chest…
“Yeah, me too…” Ayase nods along too, clearly on the same wavelength as me.
She must have gone through something similarly horrifying.
“Oh-kay…” Mayu decides to leave it at that, before Noriko chimes in.
“A viable option for an illusion trap would be to use their greatest fears against them…”
Our greatest fears, huh?
Me losing Ayase… Being accused by everyone for failing to save them…
Somehow, that guess doesn’t feel too much off the mark.
“Guys, don’t you think we should spend our time on something more relevant?” Kazuya suddenly speaks up, as he looks over to us, in this circle we have formed.
Seems to me like he’s been on edge since Misaki showed… Maybe he’s anxious about not making it out on time?
Then again, we do need to be quick. We’ve got less than 8 hours to go…
As that last bit of truth sinks in, my heart starts beating faster. We need to get out.
“Kazuya’s right. Did you guys find anything?” I shift my attention towards Mayu, who nods and brings out her map.
“I’ve figured out the pattern to how the rooms shift.”
“You did?” Ayase looks on in awe.
“So she’ll be able to accurately predict where each room will be every time they move.” Noriko nods along.
With a hand raised, Kazuya cuts in. “That’s great and all, but didn’t we want to avoid searching the entire school again?”
“I don’t think we need to. Take a look at this.” Mayu points at a specific room within the map and we all look over expectantly. The room she’s pointing to does stand out in one notable way: there aren’t any arrows pointing to or away from it.
“I think we’ve checked that one already...” Hotaru points out lowly.
“What’s so special about it?” Ayase inquires pointedly, before Mayu grins.
“It doesn’t move.”
“What? You mean this one classroom is always right there where it’s supposed to be?” I can’t quite comprehend that notion.
“But we already checked that classroom.” Kazuya furrows his brows in confusion.
“I didn’t sense any danger coming from it, either.” Noriko adds.
“Well I guess the fact that it doesn’t move, while all the others do, warrants checking it again, no?” Mayu proposes looking over at everyone in the group.
“There’s not much else we can do… so we might as well check.” Ayase shrugs, giving her consent.
“Agreed.” I nod too.
“I agree too…”
“Me as well.”
Hotaru and Noriko give an affirmative answer to Mayu’s proposal, as Kazuya sighs.
“Okay, since this is our only plan… and we’re running out of time, I’m in too.”
Without wasting any more of our precious time, we all set out together towards the designated classroom. As we walk down the familiar hallways of the school, and as seconds, and then minutes pass us by, I can feel a strange shadow growing within my chest, enveloping my heart. It feels cold, and foreign, yet at the same time, it almost feels like it’s been there for a long, long time. I’m nervous. Anxious, What if we don’t find the key? What if we never get out?
We’re the same, you and I…
I recall those words. A foreign disembodied voice plays in my mind. What could that possibly mean?
“We’re here.” Mayu calmly states, causing the fog around my mind to lift and fly away.
Noriko steadily opens the door, and we all peek inside expectantly. It is, indeed, the same classroom we thought it would be.
“See?” Mayu smirks triumphantly.
“I detect no danger.” Noriko informs us, as our group steadily makes its way inside.
“Then let’s search the room. Stay alert, just in case there’s a trap waiting for a specific trigger.” Mayu announces, and I find myself nodding at her. We all remember what happened with Yoko-senpai after all….
The memory makes me shudder, but I push through, and quickly get on with my task. Everything is set up exactly how a normal classroom would, from the desks, to the the chairs, and the closets, even the—
“Guys, there’s something here.”
Before even a couple of minutes could pass, Mayu has already discovered something. We all gather around the teacher’s desk, which stands right in front of the blackboard, where Mayu is tinkering about.
“What did you find?” Kazuya walks over first, with Hotaru in tow.
“I tried opening the drawer here, but I noticed this…” Mayu points at a metallic padlock, that blocks a certain drawer from opening.
Ayase crouches over and furrows her brows. “A lock?”
“There might be something inside.” Noriko nods, and I could swear this is the first time she’s been somewhat excited.
It appears to be an ordinary numerical padlock, with 4 switchable slots, that have the numbers 1 from 9 in each face.
“It appears we need to find a combination…” I mutter, while Kazuya locks over my shoulder anxiously.
“There’s 4 numbers, dude!”
Incidentally, Ayase said that.
“What could it be…?” Mayu steps back tapping her chin.
“Why don’t we try random combinations…?” Hotaru suggests, before Mayu nods.
“Yeah let’s start by doing that…” She replies and gets right to it.
What could it be? A date, perhaps?
The only dates I can remember are…
“Try either 2001 or 1701.” I propose, looking over at the lock.
She clicks her tongue “Nope.”
The first and last day of every student’s disappearance didn’t work, huh?
“Hey guys, over here.” I turn to Ayase’s voice, to see her having cleared the blackboard of a map scroll, to reveal 4 peculiar symbols written with red chalk.
“What are these…?” Hotaru, who’s the closest, tilts her head quizzically.
But Ayase just shakes her head “No clue…”
As I walk closer, I look at the symbols in greater detail. The first one is a spider, or at least it looks like one. Albeit poorly drawn. The second resembles a skull, the third looks like a lamp, and the fourth and last one looks like a T.
“More riddles…” Kazuya sighs next to me.
There are 4 symbols. 4. The exact same number there are digits on the padlock. Surely this can’t be a coincidence…
“They must be connected to the code.” I blurt out.
“To the code?” Mayu sounds hesitant.
“Hmm…” Ayase taps her chin, her eyes boring holes through the blackboard.
The T aside… A spider, a skull, and a lamp, huh?
Why do they all seem so fami—?
“Oh!” Ayase suddenly perks up. “Misaki’s diary!”
“That’s right!” I nod excitedly at our discovery.
“We just need to match the symbols with the day every event depicted happened!” Mayu catches on as well, as she chimes in.
“But what does the T mean?” Kazuya inquires.
“That must be the day Misaki hurt her foot with a nail.” Noriko deduces.
“Mayu!” I turn to her expectantly “The book!”
She nods in determination, as she pulls out the all-too familiar book from her stuffed schoolbag.
I’m honestly amazed at how she could find it through all that scrap…
“Here.” She eagerly flips through the pages, a grin on her face. “Eh?”
Soon though, that grin fades just as quickly.
“What’s wrong?” Noriko walks over.
“I can’t find it…”
“Can’t find what?” Kazuya furrows his brows.
“The diary entries?” I inquire.
“Not just her diary entries… Even the weird characters from before! The book is empty again!”
Do we need to go back to the library? Yet despite my incline to do so, I vaguely remember the words flying out of the pages, when Misaki manifested…
“There’s a chance we might not be able to see those entries again…” I mutter lowly while Mayu hangs her head.
And we were so close…
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