As I see Kazuya holding the knife against Ayase’s throat and her face twisted in fear, I feel something cold grip my heart.
“Kazuya! What the hell are you doing?!” I bark, my mind spinning.
Mayu too, steps forward, her tone stained with disbelief. “Kazuya… what is the meaning of this?”
“Give me the keys! Just give them here!” Kazuya hisses, his face a mix of pain and determination.
What the hell is going on here?!
A look of surprise crosses his face momentarily “She didn’t tell you, didn’t she? And I was wondering WHY you were all so calm!”
“What do you mean? Who is… she?” Noriko asks, as Kazuya grips the blade tighter.
“Now I understand… she didn’t tell you! She only told me!” He gradually presses even harder, causing the blade of his knife to draw blood. Ayase winces in his grasp.
I see red, my anger bubbling up. “Kazuya! Explain yourself!”
“Shut up! Give me the keys or… Or I’ll…” Kazuya hesitates, before he swallows down the made-up ball of regret in his throat “I’ll kill her!”
We all fall silent for a moment. Through all this, Hotaru just stands there behind him, looking on in utter shock.
“H-He’s serious, I sense a great danger made up of fear and desperation... It's possible he'll kill her if we don't comply…" Noriko mutters, her own voice wavering.
Mayu on the other hand, tries to reason with him "Why do you need the keys? We can all get out of here, Kazuya."
But her words fall on deaf ears "No! No!” He screams as if in physical pain, the glint in his eye, dangerously bright “She told me! Mei told me only one of us can get out of here! Once someone goes past the threshold of that door, it will immediately close back and the rest are left to die!"
This statement hits everyone hard, like a brick wall. Could that statement be true?
"Why didn't she tell the rest of us, if that was the case?" I ask, my glare unrelenting.
Kazuya instantly barks back, "How should I know? Maybe I'm the one she wanted to escape!"
"You're the only one Mei-san spoke to alone…" Noriko realizes suddenly.
"Exactly! She told me the truth!” Kazuya states, his hand trembling.
“But… why?” Mayu mutters, defeated.
Why would she only tell one of us about it?
Yet I somehow know the answer to that. “She was afraid we wouldn't be able to work together long enough to get all four keys if everyone knew the truth right from the start..."
Mei-san thought we'd turn on each other, so she kept it a secret to make sure at least one person could escape.
”I just don't want to fucking die, okay?! I… I can’t leave my mother all alone!" Kazuya's grip on Ayase-senpai tightens and his hand stops shaking, almost as if he had reminded himself of his purpose, and steeled his resolve. "I just decided who gets to live! That's all!"
"That’s not fair, Kazuya!" Mayu hisses, her eyes burning with anger.
"How else would you decide?! Would you draw straws? Hold a vote?? I can’t die here! Now give me the keys!"
He’ll kill her… He’ll kill her if we don’t give him the keys…
That’s so human-like of him. Finally you show your true colors…
As I draw a sharp breath, I try to release all my regrets in the exhale, and turn to Mayu.
"Give him the keys." I say as sternly as possible. For a moment, she looks at me as if I’m crazy. But, a look between me and Ayase is enough to make her see my reasoning. She eventually takes a deep breath and nods.
Kazuya relaxes slightly at the sound of Mayu's acceptance.
“That’s right.. Now—“ He freezes midway for a moment, and his eyes suddenly go wide. “Aaaah…” He lets out a pitiful cry, as the hand that grips the knife loosens, and the blade falls and clatters to the floor.
“Hota…ru?” With a confused look, he turns around to face the girl standing behind him. Ayase uses that window to escape and rushes over to me.
Despite the situation, I’m not relieved quite yet. And that’s because…
“Die…” Hotaru mutters, holding the base of a box cutter in her hands. The blade of which is buried deep inside Kazuya’s back.
“Hota-chan…?” Mayu voices, her tone trembling.
“AAAAH!” Kazuya cries out in pain, as Hotaru twists the knife around, her eyes hollow and dark. No sign of remorse whatsoever.
“You will die!” She spits once again, her voice doubled and distorted, as if possessed. With another stab, this time in his sides, Kazuya falls to the floor, a puddle of blood pouring forth from his fresh wounds.
I somehow manage to speak, as we all take a step back from the petite, yet dangerous girl. “Hotaru… what did you do?”
“You humans are all the same…” She mutters, her voice dark, alien and twisted.
“Is he… dead?” Ayase whispers, her hand trembling against my arm.
Did Hotaru just kill Kazuya…? Just like that?
The thought alone is enough to make my head turn so rapidly, I almost feel sick.
“All you humans are the same…” Hotaru speaks, removing the utility knife from Kazuya’s dead body and stepping closer. “All of you…”
“Noriko… what is going on?!” Mayu grabs Noriko’s arm, in a state of mid-panic.
“Mayu-san… I think Hotaru…”
Hotaru... Hotaru is,.,
All those things she knew. All those things she said. How her and Kazuya disappeared from the basement. The dead bodies turned into monsters… That one cage, left empty. That one name, that was crossed off. from the article.. The fact none of us had ever seen her in school before…
Hotaru isn’t human. She’s been one of the students that died here, all along…
Having finally deciphered the meaning of all this, I spell it out
“…Hotaru isn’t human.”
It all makes sense now. All the pieces have fallen in place, to reveal the truth. Even so, the double feeling of betrayal weighs heavily in my heart.
“As soon as he learned only one of you could escape, he didn’t hesitate in threatening his friends.” Hotaru speaks lowly, yet in a different fashion than she used to. There’s a hint of a shadow within her, propelling her forward. There's something dark within her… Something foreign. “SHE was right. All of you are the same.”
“Who is SHE?” Ayase asks.
“The center of this curse. And she’s now within me… A shadow… I’m the shadow…” With a flick of her finger, she folds out the rest of the utility knife, with a disturbing creaky sound. “And you all need to die…”
With pain in her eyes, Mayu calls out. “Hota-chan…?” She balls her fists and steps forward, despite her fear. “You wouldn’t do this, right? I know this isn’t you…”
“Shut— AH!” Hotaru winces, her face twisted in pain. “NO!” Suddenly, the voice of the Hotaru we all know comes back for a brief moment, as she clutches her head.
“Everyone! Run! I—“ As she desperately tries to give us a warning, her eyes fall on Kazuya’s bleeding body. “Ka-kazuya-kun…” Her voice trembles and breaks, her eyes grow wide and watery.
“I-I…” She looks back at us, confused.
“Guys, we need to get out of here!” I try to break everyone out of their trance, but Mayu and Noriko step forward yet again.
“Hota-chan! You can fight it!”
With an unearthly growl, the shadow haunting her comes back.
“Step back!” Ayase warns the both of them, as Hotaru clutches the box-cutter tighter, determined to strike.
She aims at Noriko, her pupils spiraling out of control. “YOU… If I hurt YOU… then all of you are doomed…!” She breaks into a frenzied dash, heading straight for her.
A bad feeling rises from within me.
“NO!” Mayu tosses Noriko aside and steps in her place, taking the full brunt of her blow.
“MAYUUU!!” I scream in terror, watching the blade go through her stomach.
This isn’t happening…
Despite the pain, Mayu clutches Hotaru tightly, a strained smile on her face.
“I’m sorry Hota-chan… I should have noticed sooner…”
“Eh?” The girl utters, the darkness dissipating from her eyes at once. A tear spilling over her cheek.
“It must have been hard for you…”
To be continued…