“Heh.” A familiar chuckle carries over to my ears, as Ayase rests her hand on my shoulder reassuringly. “I happen to remember every entry!”
Like she has just won the gold, she flashes me a triumphant smile.
“You do?!” I can’t help but exclaim, before Mayu eagerly follows suit.
“Now, now I’ve always had the ability to remember things without much effort. That text was rather short too, nothing compared to our history book if you ask me!”
I would normally tease her for being so arrogant, but right now she can be as arrogant as she wants, because we may very well be saved!
“Ayase-senpai is so cool…” Hotaru mutters lowly as Noriko nods along.
“Thank God…” Kazuya releases a breath, before hanging his head in exhaustion.
!! Today’s MVP: AYASE !!
“Mayu, get to the padlock!” Ayase points animatedly.
“The incident with the spider happened on the… 21st day, so put… eh?”
There’s only single digits!
We all turn to look at the smug Ayase, who’s now left completely dumbfounded. As much as I enjoy the sight of her looking so shocked, I decide to give her a hand.
“How about we add those up together? Like 21 = 3?”
“Nice idea Hideki!”
“Okay, what about the rest?” Mayu turns back, after fidgeting with the first digit.
“The skull must represent that comment about the biology model… that happened on the 18th day.” Ayase thinks back on the notes with clarity.
I didn’t even remember Misaki mentioning the biology model…
“So that’s 9…” I mutter.
“A lamp… the power outage? That happened on the 13th…”
“4 it is.”
“And the nail was on…” Ayase furrows her brows, as we all look on expectantly “…The 45th!”
“Good job, Ayase!”
“9 again…” Mayu tinkers with the lock, switching from one face to another. When number 9 locks in place, the padlock clicks. “It’s unlocked!”
In a hurried manner we all crowd over the desk, and wait for Mayu to pull out a black box.
“That has to be it!” Kazuya exclaims, while we all inspect the black box. The packaging looks familiar, save for its somewhat smaller size. Despite that, the contents could still be the same…
“Noriko, can I open it?” Mayu asks, her hands almost shaking from the anticipation.
“Yes, I sense no danger coming from it.”
Mayu nods slowly, as we all hold our breath. This could be it, our ticket out of here…
The last key.
Our leader grabs the lid of the box with both hands, and slowly pulls it away from the base. As the lid slides off, the contents are slowly revealed. Within the box, lies an item.
“It’s a key!” Mayu picks up the peculiar object with a beaming smile. Soon though, her face falls as she examines it. “But it’s small…”
Looking at it closely, it certainly is smaller than the ones we’ve found up until now. It’s even smaller than the key to the basement…
“It is small…” I can’t help but point out.
“So it’s not the key to the roof…?” Ayase voices hesitantly, while Mayu shakes her head.
“I don’t think so…”
“No way…” Hotaru hangs her head in resignation, while Kazuya is right about to explode next to her.
“You have to be kidding me! Another key?! Where do we need to go this time?!”
Although his outburst is completely justified, giving in to anger right now is the last thing we should do.
“Hey, Kazuya. I know how you feel but—“
“Don’t tell me to relax, man! This school is… toying with us!”
He just won’t listen.
Hotaru shyly touches his sleeve in an attempt to calm him down. “Kazuya-kun…”
“I… I can’t…” He mutters, before Mayu intervenes.
“It may not be the key we were looking for, but it’s a step forward nonetheless. We need to find WHERE to use it, so we can get to the last key.” Like the leader figure she is, she calmly states in an attempt to put everyone at ease.
She’s right. That’s a sign we’re moving into the right direction. We just need to find where that key goes…
“Mayu, can I see the key?” I hold out my hand, before she gives me a nod.
If the key to the basement is anything to go by, there should be something on it, indicating its use. Something like a symbol, an engraving. As I twist the key around in my fingers, I trace its base and head for anything resembling just that.
There, at the circular top of the key, lies a symbol. An engraving in the shape of a small flame, that glows just barely for it to be recognizable.
“A flame…” Ayase, who’s made her way next to me, mutters, as she looks over my shoulder.
“A flame?” Mayu soon walks over, and in record time, the whole group has gathered around the key.
Noriko nods to herself. “Indeed, I can faintly see it too.”
“What’s that… supposed to mean?” Kazuya asks, probably having come to his senses.
What indeed? The last key had a crescent symbol on it, indicating that it should be used at night… But a flame? What could that—
In this wild train of thoughts of mine, an idea suddenly finds its way at the front of it. A room.. A fire… A trap utilizing fire… Misaki’s diary entry…
“Hey guys. Remember that room we kept tossing stuff inside and watched them get burned?”
Mayu tilts her head to the side. “Get burned…?”
While Mayu’s thinking, Ayase suddenly perks up. “Oh, I remember!”
Despite that, Kazuya still looks perplexed “I don’t think I remember that…”
Makes sense, since he and Hotaru weren’t here when we discovered it.
“We hadn’t met up with you two yet, that’s why.” Mayu takes the words right out of my mouth.
“Is it worth checking out..?” Hotaru looks up at us in question, before Mayu gives her a big nod.
“It sure is, Hota-chan! Let’s go!” Mayu, being her usual peppy self, leads the way out of the classroom, our hopes revitalized once again.
“Way to go, Mr. Detective!”
Before Ayase walks off ahead of me, she thinks it wise to punch me in the arm as she passes by.
With a sigh, and rubbing my sore arm, I follow suit and trail at the back of the group. As we make our way down the hallway, my heart suddenly starts beating faster, a cold sensation creeping up on me.
You won’t make it out. Resistance is futile.
A voice echoes inside my head, a cold sinister tone.
I stop in my tracks instinctively. What is going on?
You will soon know what I felt like.
And with those being its last words, the chilly tingling in my spine dissipates.
“Hideki?” Ayase turns to me curiously, seeing me having halted my advances. “Something the matter?”
“Eh?” I look at her, my vision still unfocused. Soon, I find the sense in me to brush it off. “Nah, it’s nothing. Just lost in thought.”
Whatever or whoever that was, I can’t afford to give them the time of day. We’ve got more pressing matters to attend to, and I’m missing the luxury to even think about it.
Since Noriko hadn’t placed an emotional beacon on the room in question, we had to search for a good while before we were able to find it. Thankfully though, we managed to get there without any incident.
After confirming with our psychic, Mayu opted to open the door, before we all took a look inside.
Yet another normal classroom, someone would think. Although it isn’t. The ashes on the floor, probably the remnants of my math’s textbook, speak for themselves. This really is the room we had discovered on our first day.
“Okay, now that we’re here, what’s the plan?” Ayase voices lowly, before Mayu steps up with a proud stomp.
“It’s testing time!” With a loud exclamation, she throws yet another book inside the classroom. As soon as the item collides with the floor, and like an instant game over, it erupts into flames. Now, we’re staring at yet another pile of ashes.
“Figures…” I sigh.
“What book was that?” I find myself asking.
Mayu turns to me with a casual reply. “Your physics textbook.”
“What?! Why?! When did you even take it out of my bag?!”
Why’s she so casual about it?!
I can almost feel the smoke billow out of my head. “Why the hell did you do that?!”
In the face of my anger, Mayu just shrugs. “Well, I didn’t want to ruin one of mine.”
“We could have thrown something smaller and less significant!”
“Ah, well who cares?”
Even if we get out of here alive, I’m definitely failing at least 2 subjects this year.
“Okay, okay. Any ideas?” Ayase, wipes the smirk of her face, before asking once again.
I in turn, decide to lay my grudge to rest before shifting into thinking gear.
“We can’t step inside at this rate…” Kazuya points out, while Noriko and Hotaru silently nod.
The tiles are trapped, meaning if we step onto the floor, we’ll get burnt to a crisp…
This reminds me of the trap with the spikes… Yet there’s one significant difference.
“Hm.” I tap my chin.
The classroom is normal. Desks, chairs and closets are laid out normally, as in every other class in this school. That must mean they don’t get affected by the trapped floor. That’s the only dangerous thing… So if we avoid it, the answer is fairly simple.
“I think I got something…” I mutter, as everyone turns to me.
“Hideki, the mastermind.” Ayase snickers, while Noriko’s eyes light up in admiration.
“Hideki-kun is so bright…”
Mayu crosses her arms expectantly “What you got?”
“If we assume that only the floor is dangerous, we may be able to cross the room if we jump from one desk to another.”
“IF we assume that, then it could be possible.” Ayase nods along with me. Somehow, I can always count on her to support my wild ideas.
“Are the desks safe, though?” Mayu inquires.
Noriko chimes in, “I think they are. I feel no aura emanating from them.”
The first row of desks aren’t that far off from the entrance, and they’re laid out in a way someone agile can make the leap between them fairly easily. This could work.
“But we don’t know what we’re searching for, all we have is a key with a flame symbol, and a hunch that this could be the room.” Kazuya points out.
“But someone can at least check it out…” Hotaru looks on between the group. “Right…?”
“And that someone…” I raise my hand, before…
Mayu, steps up and raises her own “Is me!”
“What?” I’m left dumbfounded.
“You’re always doing those kind of things, I think it’s my turn now.”
Mayu? Jumping from desk to desk, with the floor literally being a pit of fire?
I don’t have to think long and hard about this, since the answer is obvious. “Absolutely not.”
“What?! Why?!” She turns to glare at me.
Ayase butts in, probably hesitant too. “Mayu, are you sure?”
“Of course! I’m lighter than everyone here and I have athletic experience!”
“Volleyball doesn’t count…” I sigh, she’s really set on it, huh?
Noriko though, decides to pick another side. “I think Mayu can do it.”
“I believe so too…” Hotaru states, despite fidgeting.
“Noriko! Hota-chan!” Mayu is almost moved by their words.
“I don’t think it matters either way.” Kazuya states with a shrug, something that may or may not have gotten on my nerves.
“The die is cast! I’m going in!” Despite me and Ayase’s hesitance, Mayu doesn’t waver. She’s determined to do this. Determined to shoulder the responsibility. Set on pushing through the danger, and helping the group. I know the feeling. I know it all too well.
“Okay, but be careful.” I ultimately nod. With my resignation, I feel an immense weight on my chest. My heart is being squeezed, and I don’t know why.
“Of course! I’ll be back in a bit!” Mayu salutes animatedly, before turning to the door.
Finally it hits me.
Is this what Mayu felt like when I went off to danger alone too?
It all makes sense now. She didn’t want to feel like this again, so she took it upon herself. Now it’s my turn to wait for her return.
After Noriko says she’ll be on the lookout for anything, and deciding she would take a look for a potential use of the key, Mayu stands in the doorway, ready to step into the flames. Or above them, for that matter.
“Ready, set…” With a jump-ready stance, she prepares to leap onto the chair closest to her. “Go!”
She kicks off the ground, and with a long and steady jump, she lands softly on top of her target. The leap is fairly easy, yet I feel a certain amount of relief as she touches down. Nothing happens.
I release a breath.
With a step, she climbs the desk in front of her, and looks on around the classroom.
“See anything?” Ayase scoots next to me, as I stand in the doorway.
“Hmm… it looks fairly normal in here.” Mayu taps her chin. “I’ll head over to the teacher’s desk.”
“You’ll be okay as long as you stay on top of the desks.” Noriko informs her, as Mayu gives her a thumbs up.
With another leap she makes it to the desk in front of her. The desks are made for single students, and they’re barely big enough for a person to fit both feet. But for a person of Mayu’s size, they’re just about right. Even so, every time she kicks off from one desk to another, my heart leaps to my throat and back.
As she reaches the 3rd row out of the 7, Ayase suddenly covers my eyes.
I protest. “Hey!”
“No looking at what?!”
“Ma-mayu’s skirt is too short!” Ayase mutters lowly.
“Huh?” I didn’t even notice how her skirt fluttered when she jumped from one desk to another.
Was this really the time to be thinking about that though?
Turning to the rest of the group, I notice how Hotaru is also attempting to cover Kazuya’s eyes. And I say attempting because she’s too short to reach him properly. For some reason, Noriko is covering her eyes too.
“Why are you covering them too, Noriko?!”
“Ho, you’re right!” With a shake of her head, she brushes the blush off her face and fixes her gaze on Mayu, who was reached the 4th layer, and is looking back at us.
“Can you stop being entranced by my legs and pay attention?” She smirks.
Somehow, I feel a sense of relief, despite her being in the middle of a dangerous situation.
“Pfft! We’ve already seen them, with the way you hug your extra pillow when you sleep, anyways…”
As I blurt that out, I suddenly sense an ominous aura from behind me. That’s definitely Ayase. “What was that…?”
A stinging pain shoots down my arm.
She pinched me!
“Be thankful I didn’t punch you!”
Stop meddling with my narrations already!
“Ah...” Suddenly, Noriko clutches her head.
Hotaru turns to her, concerned “Noriko-san, what’s wrong?”
“Woah!” Mayu exclaims, before Noriko can finish. I whip my head around to the noise, and notice and feel something peculiar. The floor… the building is… tilting.
“Guys!” Mayu exclaims, while my heartbeat skyrockets.
“Mayu, come back here quickly!”
Sure enough, with every passing second, the whole building tilts in a wider angle, making it hard to even stand. “Hold onto something everyone!” I shout out trying desperately to hang to anything I can find.
Before I can even do that though, my foot slips, and I feel my body falling. Falling and falling, straight into the trapped room.
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