I shriek as I freefall into the room, having the floor turned on me. As I do, I look straight into the fiery floor, ready to swallow me whole. Damn it! Damn it!
I close my eyes shut and wait…
I hope the others make it out… I hope they’re safe… Ayase and Mayu too…
It hurts. It hurts like hell! But it’s not my whole body… just my head. It’s not fire. It’s just… pain.
“Ow! What the—“
I sit up, and open my eyes to something unexplainable. I’m standing on the side of the wall. Standing, while the rest of the room is reversed. The desks are fixed to the floor on my right, like a dice that just fell on a different face. And in front of me, is Mayu.
“Mayu!” I rush over to her, as she squints in pain.
She rubs her rear looking displeased. “My butt…”
“No, my butt hurts!”
“Who cares about your butt?!”
“What did you say, you punk?!” Fuming she turns to me, arm raised and hand balled into a fist.
This isn’t the time, damnit!
“Never mind that, look around you!”
“Around me…?” Prompted by me, she halts her attack and scans the room. Noticing that we’re using the side wall as a floor, while the whole room has changed ups and downs so casually leaves her speechless. “What the…”
“The room tilted sideways, resulting in a complete change. Now the trapped floor is on the wall.” I point to it, as I notice something else on the way.
Somehow, the door leading to the hallway is closed. We’re all alone here. The furnishing of the room is fixed in place, seemingly defying gravity.
I just hope the others are okay…
As I look down, I notice we’re standing next to a window. We better avoid that. Falling out of the school isn’t really on my to-do list.
“Hey, look!” Despite the situation, she points down the room, on the wall to our right, just below the blackboard. Sure enough, I can see something dark, like a hole… A keyhole maybe.
“Is that where the key goes?”
“I think so…” Mayu taps her chin. “But how do we get there?”
How, indeed? I’m assuming this wasn’t the end of it… The room may shift sides again, just like a dice. It was a miracle we didn’t touch the trapped floor while we fell the first time… We can’t be too careless again.
“Let’s get over there, before the room— Woah!”
Before I even have a chance to explain, the room, like a shifting Rubik’s cube, tilts and tilts, as me and Mayu slide down the floor and land against the ceiling this time.
“Damnit!” I hiss while Mayu’s unfocused gaze shifts about.
“Why is this is so confusing…?”
It’s fair to say she’s seeing stars.
“Come on, Mayu!” Without giving her any time to complain, I take her by the wrist and walk down towards the end of the room.
“Where are we going?” She asks, as we both step over the fluorescent lighting tube fixed on the ceiling.
“Over there.” I point up at the blackboard at the end of the room, that hangs upside down. The sight is surreal, and almost mind-numbingly confusing but we can’t stop moving.
“But how do we get… up there?” Another hop, another light tube. We’re getting closer.
“We’ll figure it out in a… sec!”
Having made our way through the room, we now stand right below the reversed blackboard. But, from such a close proximity, I can see it clearly. Below, or more like above in our situation, rests a black ornate keyhole. This is our ticket to victory.
“Okay, now what?!”
Just as I imagined, it’s too high to reach… There’s only one way we can get to it.
“Come on Mayu, I’ll prop you up so—“
As I’m about to suggest a plan, the room starts tilting abnormally yet again, and we’re quickly sent sliding down the ceiling, towards the wall originally to the right.
The amount of time before each turn is gradually getting smaller!
And this is the last turn we got, if the room starts tilting again, we’re gonna be sent straight into the trapped flooring…
Before I even explain my plan to her, she’s already on board. Immediately, I crouch down, and soon, Mayu walks up and rests her legs on my shoulders.
“Whoop!” I give it my all and kick off the ground. “You got the key, right?”
“Then try to reach that keyhole over at the wall, just below the blackboard, see?”
Having agreed on our plan, I move over as close to the wall as possible. The tricky part is how the keyhole is facing sideways, making it difficult for Mayu to twist her arm in the right angle.
“Ah! This is difficult!”
“Whatever you do, don’t touch the wall on our left!”
“Hehe, the wall is lava?”
I can almost feel the smirk in her tone, as she stretches over my shoulders to reach the keyhole.
I will never understand how she can mess around at times like these…
“Come oooon! Just a little further!” She stretches and stretches, the key resting at the edge of her fingertips.
The tip of the key edges closer, and with a click…
“Got—“ Mayu suddenly stops “IIIIT!” With a yelp she almost falls over but I somehow manage to support her legs.
“Mayu!” But it’s not her carelessness at fault, the room is tilting again. “Turn the key!”
The key hangs from the wall, half of it sticking out. With a heroic lunge, I leap and Mayu twists her wrist in the air. The key turns, causing a loud click to ensue.
Naturally, we both fall flat on our face, colliding with the ground hard.
Wait… The ground?
Despite the ache in my joints, I shoot up from my position immediately. We’re touching the trapped floor!
I wait for a second, and then two, but nothing happens.
I exhale sharply.
“My noooose…” Mayu sits up on her knees, almost on the verge of tears.
“Mayu! We did it!” I turn to her in utter delight.
“Look!” I motion towards the room. The key disarmed the trap. As if on cue, the door to the classroom slides open and Ayase’s head peeks through the doorway.
“Ayase!” I call out to her, seeing how she’s looking over at me. “Come over here, the room’s safe.”
She nods momentarily, before coming in, the rest of the group in tow. As they walk over to us, I hear a strange sound from behind me. The sound of concrete shifting, stone against stone.
I turn back, puzzled, to see the wall and the blackboard splitting in half, parting like a gate, to reveal a small set of steps descending into the unknown. The path is illuminated by torches, and I’m instantly reminded of our trip to the basement.
“What…?” Mayu, who’s the closest one to the gate, looks on in awe.
“What the hell happened?”
“Is everyone okay?”
“Why is Mayu-san’s nose red?”
Ayase, Noriko and Hotaru immediately let their questions fly at us, as they walk over. Kazuya offers me a hand, and I readily accept in order to get back on my feet.
“What is… this?” He asks, pointing to the parted wall.
“Hideki, care to explain?” Ayase soon rushes over, as Noriko and Hotaru opt to check on Mayu.
I decide to keep it brief. “Me and Mayu disarmed the trap, and the wall opened up like a gate right before you walked in….” I point at the mysterious doorway behind me. “As for what’s down there, I have no clue at all.”
“At least you didn’t get burned into a crisp, cowboy.” Ayase taps my arm teasingly before walking over to Mayu and the others.
“You don’t think we’re going to the basement again… right?” Kazuya gives me a hesitant, anxious look.
“At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me.” I shrug, as the two of us join the rest of the group. We all huddle together in front of the opened gate, gazing down at the steps descending into the ominous, yellow light of the torches. The stone on the stairs are dusty, and the room smells of a musty yet familiar odor. Humidity.
“What do you say, Mayu?” I turn to our leader, who’s regained her composure.
And she in turn “Noriko?”
“I sense no imminent danger. Let’s proceed.”
We all give a firm nod in response.
“Let’s go. The key is waiting for us.” With a steely resolve and determination, she announces for all to hear.
At last, the final stretch is upon us.
Determined, we all march on down the narrow, moldy path. The steps feel slippery and wet, and the stone beneath our feet weathered and old. With cautious steps, we finally make it down to an even surface.
“What the heck…?” Mayu exclaims, her tone puzzled.
“Woah…” With a similar exclamation, I gaze at the wonder before us. Just across from the stairs, lies a pit. A rectangular pool of clear, blue water.
“Is the school telling us to take a bath?” Ayase can’t help but comment. Although the peculiarity of our situation doesn’t even allow me to crack a smile.
Kazuya sighs for the umpteenth time today. “What are we to do with that?!”
“Noriko-san?” Hotaru turns to the girl beside her, who’s looking down the pit of water intently.
“There.” She points.
Mayu quickly walks over. “There what?”
“I believe the key is at the bottom.” Those words instantly cause the group to gather round the water. From up close, the pool seems smaller. I don’t think it could fit more than 3 people at the same time…
“The… key?” Ayase narrows her eyes at the surface.
Hotaru asks, seemingly hesitant. “Do we need to dive in the water?”
“Not all of us…” I reply, having already removed my blazer. No one is getting a head start on me this time!
Mayu eyes me disapprovingly “Hideki?”
And of course, Ayase too. Although in a more threatening manner. But I press on anyway.
“Noriko, you sure there’s a key in there?”
“I’m positive, yes.” Noriko nods, determined. “Be careful, Hideki-kun.”
With a smile, I unbutton my shirt as well “Of course.”
“Why am I attracted to idiots?”
Meanwhile, Ayase and Mayu ponder the meaning of life.
“Be back in a bit.” Removing my socks and shoes, I step over the edge. The room’s too cold to be lounging in nothing but your pants though…
“You better…” Ayase sighs, as the rest look on in silent concern.
Are you really gonna risk your life for them?
Again, the mysterious voice in my head calls out. Chilly and emotionless, I shake it off, and look onwards.
Be right back…
I lower my legs into the water, and descend.
The water is TOO COLD!
“Remember to come up to breath!” Mayu cups her mouth to enhance her voice, before I dive in the pit altogether.
I open my eyes and naturally, everything is a blurry mess. But thanks to the ample lighting outside, I can make out the basic stuff. The bottom is not too deep, so I start from there. I touch the mold and sticky stones at the surface, feeling the ground for a key. To my delight, I quickly find a hook, and a key entangled in it.
My breath is running out…
I quickly swim up to the surface and exhale
The others greet me with anticipation as I come up.
“Yep, I think I found the key… Just gotta get to it.” I explain as I catch my breath. My body feels cold, and my pants are significantly heavier than I imagined, but I’m so close to the key that everything else is just an afterthought.
“I’ll go get it!” With a wave, I dive right back before I can hear what Ayase was about to say.
Sorry, but it’s freezing cold in here!
As I dive further down through the water, I trace my steps back from before. It’s not long before I find the hook. With swift movements, I slide the key around and out of the hook.
I can’t help but celebrate, with the last of the four keys resting in my palm. Elated, I turn back to the surface.
I think I hear a voice, while swimming up. Why is there less light in here? And why is the exit smaller? There’s a peculiar sound of stone grinding against stone.
That’s when I realize… the exit is closing in from both sides…!
The gap between the concrete is small as it is, but now it’s even smaller! I can barely fit!
I swim up with all my might, kicking my legs and swinging my arms. I see faces on the surface. Mayu… Ayase… Noriko…
Wait for me.
I’m almost there. I stretch my hand, the flame of hope within me burning brighter than the light outside the pit.
The light is getting dimmer, but my lungs are holding on. I can do this! I can—
My outstretched hand collides with stone. The light dies out. All I can see is black, darkness surrounding me.
Did I fail?
My skin grows cold, and the air in my lungs is running out. NO! I summon my strength and bang against the concrete blocking my exit.
I can’t die here!
You’re gonna die here.
Once more, the voice in my head calls out. Monotonous and deadly, I feel hands crawling up my body.
It’s not real…
It is. And you’re going to die.
It’s not real!
I desperately scream inside my head. It can’t end this way…
My lungs start to hurt, my mind grows weary. I pound and pound, but to no avail.
I’m stuck here.
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