Aizawa Shouta had no taste in art.
This didn't mean that he disliked art, he simply didn't have any investment in it. If he looked at something that was declared 'art' he would either enjoy looking at it or he wouldn't, and there wasn't any particular thing that would sway him towards either option. So, naturally, one might find it odd for him to spend his off day at an art gallery.
It was all Hizashi's fault.
Well, not everything that ended happening was his fault; just the part about the two of them being at an art gallery. Because it was Hizashi's turn to pick where they went on a date and the traveling 'World of Guertena' art exhibit was where Hizashi had wanted to go.
Shouta may not have been interested in it, but he didn't complain when Hizashi begged him to go with. He knew Hizashi hated going to places like that alone, and he didn't particularly care where they went. So long as they got to spend a bit of their precious free time together, that was enough for Shouta.
“So this piece was actually used as a tarot card for a while? I had no idea Guertena had that level of influence at the time.” Hizashi mused softly.
The two of them were looking at a portrait of a brunette man hanging upside down by his feet. The man's hollow expression was very well done, but Shouta much preferred looking at the man next to him.
Hizashi was in his 'civilian' clothes, which today consisted of a maroon shirt, black jacket, jeans, and red rimmed glasses. Add in the fact that his hair was pulled up into a bun at the back of his head, instead of gelled up like a cockatoo, and not many would connect him to pro-hero Present Mic.
Hizashi was jotting down part of what he'd just read onto a note pad. He'd decided that he wanted to talk about his trip to the exhibit during his next radio show, so he wanted to make sure he didn't forget anything interesting by the time they left. When he finished, the pair moved on to look at the next painting on the wall.
Shouta had been surprised by the variety of artwork he'd seen so far. Paintings, sculptures, interactive pieces; it seems that Guertena had tried his hand at just about everything before he died. Shouta had been especially impressed with the underwater picture seemingly painted right onto the floor. It was hard not to appreciate something done with enough depth and detail that it actually made a person feel like they could fall in if they got too close.
There was a surprising variety of visitors too, come to think of it. There were plenty of well dressed, higher class looking people, which he expected. But there were a number of people who looked like your average person off the street, and he was pretty sure he saw a child pass by them earlier. Which was odd because he was pretty sure today was a school day.
Shouta shook his head and reminded himself that he was on a date, and he had better places to put his attention.
As they walked past paintings as mundane as fruit and animals,
“Awww! Look at this close up of a kitty! It's eye is so pretty...can't we get a black cat like this?
“We already have two cats.”
“But it would be like having a mini you! And I know you've always wanted a pure black one.”
“...I could talk to the landlord.”
to ones as bizarre as vine covered sofas and giant blue figures that looked like they were melting,
“How exactly do things like this qualify as 'art'?”
“I'm sure it meant something to Guertena, Shouta. Just because you don't get something out of it doesn't mean other people won't.”
“Fair enough. Do you get something from this one?”
they eventually came to a large room that had a single painting in it.
It was a long mural framed in gold. Bold strokes of paint covered the canvas, most in dark colors, but there was an area of bright colors near the center. The combination of vertical and curved horizontal strokes sort of gave it the feel of interconnected rooms seen through some distortion, maybe wavy glass.
“Okay, I don't know what exactly it is, but it looks really cool.” Hizashi said with a grin.
“It does.” Aizawa admitted. “Doesn't this bit look like a painting we saw earlier?” He said pointing at the far right of the frame.
Hizashi walked closer to that side. “Oh yeah, it almost looks like a simplified version of that portrait from earlier, The Lady in Red. Good catch Shouta, I wonder if that's a clue as to what it's about. When you look at this whole things, it's almost like looking into a dream.”
Shouta hummed in acknowledgment. He walked to the center of the frame to read the plaque, but frowned when he saw it. Most of the plaques had the descriptions and titles written in both English and Japanese, but this one only had English. Shouta could recognize the second word, but not the first. Hizashi might be able to though, his English was better.
“Hey Hizashi, any idea what this says?” Shouta asked. Hizashi came over the leaned down next to him.
“Looks like the title is 'Fabricated World'.”
The moment the words left his lips, the room's atmosphere changed.
The light classical music that had been playing throughout that gallery suddenly cut out. The lights flickered on and off; the air suddenly felt heavier. Years of cultivated battle instincts flared to life, and within moments the two were standing back to back in the middle of the room, eyes scanning for danger.
Shouta was glad his normal clothes weren't that different than his hero outfit, and that his capture weapon was enough like a scarf to have been allowed on the date. Hizashi though, he didn't have any of his support items.
A minute passed, and nothing happened. The lights were back on, but the absence of music remained.
It was dead silent, save for their own breathing.
“Maybe it was just a power outage.” Hizashi said lowly.
“Maybe...but I don't think so.”
“Because of the quiet, right?” Hizashi asked. Shouta hummed in agreement.
Before the music had cut out, they'd been able to hear the other visitors talking. Now they couldn't, which didn't make any sense. Something like that would have made civilians talk more, not less.
The pair couldn't see any sign they were about to be attacked immediately, and decided they needed to go see what had happened to the civilians. Carefully, they moved to the right exit, keeping both their eyes and ears peeled for anything suspicious.
The hallway outside the door was empty. It hadn't been when the pair had left it just a minute before. Of course, the visitors could have just moved on-
Shouta whirled toward the sound, and found himself face to face with the cat painting they'd been admiring earlier.
“Shouta, did that...did that come from the painting?” Hizashi asked doubtfully.
“That's what it sounded like...” If Hizashi had heard it too, that made it less likely that Shouta was hearing things.
“But that's- it didn't do that earlier! Even if it had some motion sensor or something set up we would have heard it go off at some point before this.”
Shouta nodded, but couldn't offer up any explanation. “Let's keep going. We might figure things out if we find someone.”
But they didn't. The gallery only had two floors, and the pair searched both of them. As they did, strange things continued to happen. The painting of 'The Coughing Man' actually coughed as they walked past. A piece of fruit fell out of a painting, and splattered onto the floor. When Shouta investigated it, he found the splatter was made from paint rather than fruit juice. They swore they heard footsteps, only to find no one there. They didn't see a single soul throughout the entire building.
Well, maybe they didn't.
When they passed a window Hizashi had noticed some movement behind the glass. When he went over to try and see through it something suddenly banged against it like it was trying to break in. Hizashi jumped back so fast he almost knocked Shouta over. It was at that point they remembered they were on the second level, and there really shouldn't be anyone passing by to hit the window.
“It could have been someone outside who climbed the wall with their quirk.” Hizashi suggested.
“Not sure why they would, but people of done dumber things.” Shouta replied.
Either way, they took that as their cue to try leaving themselves. Hizashi walked quickly as he approached the door, but slowed as he got closer.
“Shouta, weren't these doors transparent before?”
The entrance had been made almost entirely of glass, so they should have been able to see the street as they got closer, but they couldn't. It was like someone had replaced the clear glass with frosted panes since they had last been there. Hizashi grabbed the handle and pulled.
Hizashi pulled on it with all his strength. Still nothing. Shouta joined him, and the doors still wouldn't budge. And yes, they had made sure they were trying to open them the right way. Shouta even tried grabbing the stool behind the reception desk and throwing it through the glass. The stool had bounced off and left the doors undamaged.
“Dang it!” Hizashi kicked the door, which made him wince. He glared at the door. “Shouta, cover your ears.”
Shouta didn't hesitate to do so. Even with his ears covered, Hizashi's scream was painfully loud. Hizashi liked using his quirk to make glass break, as a sort of party trick, and could even do it while drunk. But now Hizashi screamed until he ran out of breath, and the entrance continued to stand.
Gasping, Hizashi sagged and let his body fall against the doors.
“Are you okay?” Shouta asked, taking his hands away from his ears and kneeling down next to his husband.
“No. I mean, are you? We're in a gallery where everyone has mysteriously vanished and the doors are locked and apparently impervious to damage. There is almost nothing about this situation that is okay!”
“Almost nothing?” Shouta asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, we are stuck in here together. That's the only upside. If we have to be stuck, it's better to be stuck together right?”
Shouta couldn't help smiling at that, just a little. “Right.”
“I just don't understand what could be happening. I've got my head right against the door and I can't even hear anything from outside. It's like the whole gallery dropped out of existence and randomly decided to take only us with it. Or like we fell into a pocket dimension or something.”
Hizashi's voice gradually grew quieter as he went on, until he ended in a near whisper. Shouta did his best to keep his expression neutral, but it was a struggle. In all his years as a pro-hero, nothing like this had ever happened to him before. There was no villain to fight, and no one to save beside himself and his also pro-hero husband, yet he had never been at such a loss for what to do.
He had considered the possibility that this was some sort of attack against him and Hizashi specifically. Perhaps someone with a grudge against pro-heroes was after them, and using a quirk that messed with perception. Or maybe a quirk that transported people somewhere, though he didn't know why this hypothetical person would put them in an exact replica of this art gallery. While they sat there, he shared his theory with Hizashi.
“Sounds like the best explanation we have right now. With all the strange quirks that exist out there I can believe someone has the ability to make pocket dimensions on a whim. But why the two of us? And why right here? We didn't exactly advertise that we would be coming here.”
“Pretty sure we didn't tell anyone actually.” They didn't like to be disturbed on dates. Seemed that was coming back to bite them. “Either way, we should keep trying to find a way out of here. Breaking out of this gallery could release us from whatever is affecting us, and it's not like we have anything else to do.”
“I one-hundred percent agree with plan 'break out'; I'm just not sure what else to do.” Hizashi sighed and put his chin in his hand. “We've made no progress with the door, so I can't imagine the windows will be much better. Plus I'm still not completely over how the window by the reception desk randomly started leaking blood red paint.”
“There is one thing we haven't done yet.” Shouta realized. “We haven't gone back to the room we were in when this whole things started.”
“You think whatever this is might have something to do with that room? Or the mural itself?”
Shouta shrugged. “I honestly have no idea, but it's the one thing we haven't tried.”
“Which means it's worth checking out.” Hizashi pushed himself up, and offered and hand to Shouta. He took it, and didn't let go as they made their way back up to the second floor.
At first glance nothing seemed out of place in the mural room. It was still empty save for the 'Fabricated World' painting, but as they got further in they did notice one small change. There was blue paint leaking from the bottom left of the frame.
“Wonder how that happened...” Hizashi muttered as he leaned in toward the frame.
Suddenly, there was the sound of something splattering onto the floor behind them. They both whirled around, and froze. Across the floor, large blue letters had appeared.
C o M e D o W n
“Where the hell did that come from?!” Hizashi yelped. Shouta narrowed his eyes at the letters.
“Come down? Come down where? And why?"
“For a secret apparently.” Hizashi's voice sounded strained, and Shouta turned to see him crouched down in front of the blue stain on the wall. Or what had been a stain a moment ago. Now the paint had formed into small English letters.
come down below
i'll show you someplace secret
“Well...I guess we should go downstairs then.”
“You actually want to follow what the strange writing on the wall says?” Hizashi asked in disbelief. Shouta snorted and shook his head.
“Hardly. But this is the only real change in scenery we've seen since this whole thing started, so it seems more likely we'll get answers this way than trying and failing to break the door down again.”
So, though neither of them were happy about it, the two made their way down to the first floor display area. They saw a clue about what the words meant right away.
The floor painting of the deep sea with vicious looking eel had intrigued Shouta earlier, the way it made you feel you could actually fall into it and end up in the ocean. The feeling was stronger now, and it put him on edge. There had been a guardrail around the painting earlier, to keep guests from touching it, but now it was gone. There were also a pair of blue shoe prints leading toward the edge of the 'water', the same shade of blue as the words from upstairs, making it very clear that this is what they were being lead to.
“So, apparently, there's something secret about this painting.” Shouta mused. “You suppose it'll give us a clue on how to get a key to open the door?"
“We can hope.” Hizashi said, walking up to the painting's edge. He leaned forward and studied it carefully, with Shouta following suit a moment later. That was how they remained for several minutes.
“I don't get it! This thing looks exactly the same as it did before!” Hizashi stamped his foot in frustration, and the toe of his boot landed on the edge of the painting.
He suddenly felt himself yanked forward. He tried to leap back, but the force pulled him harder. In a blink he was falling forward, his arms cartwheeling. Shouta grabbed the back of his shirt, and suddenly he was being pulled too. They both fell forward.
Everything went black.
I was very happy to see this fic get the response that it did. Good to know others out there share my love of Ib. ;)
Just as an FYI, I will need to tweak things in the story here and there. Fun gameplay doesn't always translate smoothly to a written story after all, and some puzzles may get solved differently because we are working with two trained adults rather than a little girl.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The two pros should have smacked into the floor, but instead they felt a freezing shock. It was like falling into ice water but without the wetness. Everything went black for a moment, and then they were standing on a set of stairs, holding each other and gasping in shock.
“I'm fine! I'm okay. I'm confused as all hell, but I'm okay. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, pretty sure.”
“Holy crap what was that? What is this place?”
Shouta took his first real look around. Everything was blue. The walls were a deep blue, like the water in the painting, while the steps were just a few shades lighter. There was enough light to see, but he couldn't see a source for it. He looked behind him and found only another wall, no sign of how to get out. Hizashi felt the wall with his hand, then rammed his shoulder into it.
“Yep, it's solid.” He said in a tight voice, rubbing his shoulder.
“So the only way out is through.” Shouta said looking down the stairs. Hizashi gave a grim nod, and the two started down.
It didn't take them long to reach the bottom. The first thing they saw were two paintings on the wall, one had brown rocks floating in a red background, the other had the same rocks over a blue background. They both stood a ways away from them, not trusting any painting to be just a painting anymore.
The stairs also ended in a hallway. There was no option to go forward, so they had to choose which way to turn.
“I think I see something on the walls over there.” Hizashi said, pointing to their left. They walked down a little ways and, sure enough, there were the same blue letters on the wall, now barely visible against the dark background.
That one word was repeated over and over again. So, it was a pretty good bet they were supposed to go this way.
They walked down the hall until they came to the end, where there was a door with a small table sitting in front of it. On the table there was a vase with two flowers, and a sign hanging just below it. The sign was entirely in English, so Hizashi bent down to read it.
“You and the rose are unified. Know the weight of your own life.” Hizashi frowned. “We're unified? What's that supposed to mean? Does this...place, person, whatever it is, want us to take the flowers?”
“There is one for each of us.” Shouta pointed out. The flowers were both roses, one black and one orange. Carefully, Shouta picked up the orange rose by the stem.
“Oh no you don't.” Hizashi plucked the flower out of Shouta's hand. “The black rose is clearly meant for you, which means this one is mine.”
Shouta rolled his eyes. “I was just getting a better look at them. Trying to figure out if there was anything weird about them.” He picked up the black rose anyway though. It was a rather small rose, but it was in a state of full bloom. Hizashi examined his own rose, then shrugged.
“Looks like a typical flower to me. But it must have some significance if they are 'unified' with us...oh! Shouta, could you put this into my bun? I could do yours afterward.”
“It would be awkward to carry them everywhere, especially if we have to use our hands for something. But if we put them in our hair we won't have to worry about losing them.”
That was a good point, especially since Shouta worked his capture weapon best with both hands. After a couple minutes of fiddling Shouta had gotten the orange rose to stick in Hizashi's bun and Hizashi had braided the stem of the black rose into Shouta's messy locks. Hizashi looked incredibly pleased with his work.
“Let's get this table out of the way.” Shouta said, turning away so he could hide his slight blush.
They opened the blue door and walked in. There was a portrait of a woman on the wall in front of them; she had tan skin, her eyes were closed, and her gray-blue hair actually fell out of the picture and past the frame. They walked in, looking around for another clue. The first thing they noticed was another sign under the picture.
“When the rose wilts, so too will you wilt away.” Hizashi read. “Okay, so roses are definitely important here...though I'm really not liking the implication of wilt away. Maybe we should put them back in the vase so they don't dry out?”
“There wasn't any water in that vase.”
Shouta was about to reply, but then he felt his foot hit something. He looked down and saw a small blue key sitting in front of his shoe; it nearly blended in with the carpet. He bent down and scooped it up.
“What?” Shouta instinctively grabbed at his capture weapon.
“The painting opened its eyes.” Hizashi said faintly. Shouta looked at the woman, and saw that her eyes were open and looking to the side, and that her smile had gone from pleased to manic.
The painting did not respond. They both hurried out and down the hall.
“Well that was pointlessly creepy.” Hizashi grumbled.
“The creepy part maybe, but the room had a point.” Shouta said, holding up the blue key. Hizashi raised an eyebrow.
“Clues leading to a key that we'll almost certainly need to use. This is like a psycho version of an 'Escape the Room' game. Only now it's 'Escape the Gallery'.”
“Maybe this is all someone's version of a marketing campaign.” Shouta suggested dryly. He smiled when the comment made Hizashi chuckle, but the sound was soon replaced by a sigh.
“And now the stairs are gone, because of course they are.” He touched the wall anyway, to make sure it was solid and there was no chance of going back that way. Once he did that, there was only one thing they could do.
They continued down the blue hallway until they came to another door. It looked just like the other, except it didn't have roses sitting in front of it. Hizashi stepped forward to try the handle.
“Yep, it's locked. Would you like to do the honors Shouta?”
Shouta unlocked the door and they stepped through.
Well, now instead of everything being two shades of blue everything was two shades of green. The dark green went off in two different directions once again. They could either go to the right, or go straight forward. The right had colorful paintings of insects, while in front of them there was a short pillar with a plaque on it.
“Yeesh, I've heard of artists having 'blue periods', but not green ones.” Hizashi chuckled at his own joke as he walked forward to read the plaque. When he got done he frowned. “'Beware the edges'. What's that supposed to mean? Beware of the hallway edges? The painting edges? Door edges?”
“Considering how things have been going, let's go with 'all of the above'.”
The pillar itself was right in the center of the forward hallway, meaning to go that way they'd have to get close to the hallway edges as they passed it, so they decided to try going right first. They made sure to stay in the middle of the hallway, and eventually reached a green door. They went through carefully, and found themselves in a room with a deep, black hole in the middle of it, and a door visible on the other side.
The hole may have been a problem for most other people. However, since both Hizashi and Shouta had been through the intense Plus Ultra training that was UA, they were able to take a running start and jump over the pit without any trouble. The next room was a dead end, it's most notable feature being a statue that stood at the end of it. It was one they recognized from the original gallery; it was like a mannequin that had no head, pitch black skin, and was wearing a red dress.
“Aha!” Hizashi cried out. He pointed to a spot of the floor near the statue's feet. Just visible against the carpet was a light green key. “Just like in the other area.” He strode forward and picked it up. A soft thump made him look up.
“Was that statue always that close?” Hizashi asked.
Shouta had no time to answer before a feral his rang out and the statue was sprinting at them. Hizashi shrieked, and almost tripped over his own feet in his haste to turn around. Shouta grabbed his arm and pulled him along. They quickly ran to the next room, with the statue hot on their heels. The two pro-heroes didn't hesitate to jump across the hole, and the statue followed them. But, either because it didn't have a head or was too heavy to jump, it ran right into the hole. It clattered loudly as it fell, and they heard it shatter after several seconds.
“I hope that thing wasn't really alive. That would be a bad way to go.” Shouta commented. Hizashi nodded mutely, and Shouta looked at him.
“Oh sure, I deal with statues coming to life and chasing me all the time.” Hizashi said with a dry chuckle. “Seriously though, I'm okay, just coming down from the shock. I know we're supposed to be ready for anything as pros, but some things still catch you off guard, you know?”
“Fair enough.” Shouta said with a nod. “At least we know to be on the look out for that now.”
They made their way back down the hall to the intersection with the pillar and plaque. They carefully walked past it, eyeing the nearby wall, but nothing happened. Maybe the warning about edges was for later on.
Just as they were thinking that, they stepped past the pillar and into the hallway proper. A black hand shot out of the wall with a rattling gasp. They both jerked away, but not quickly enough. The skeletal fingers grazed Shouta's arm and he let out a cry of pain.
“Shouta! Are you okay? Let me see it!”
Shouta allowed Hizashi to pull up his sleeve and look at his arm. The sleeve itself hadn't been damaged, but there was a thin, red welt running down the length of his forearm.
“Doesn't look like it broke the skin. Does it still hurt?”
They stood in the middle of the hallway now. Apparently the black appendage could only reach so far. It certainly wasn't a human arm; it's fingers were too long and crooked, and it moved like it didn't have an elbow.
“Right, so, stick to the center for this hallway.” Hizashi said. As they stepped away, Shouta noticed that there was a black rose petal laying on the floor beneath the hand. He patted the side of his head, making sure that his rose was still secure.
Four more hands tried to grab them as they walked to the end of the hallway, and each time they had to resist the urge to dodge. Doing that could have taken them too close to the other wall, and into the line of fire. Finally they reached the end where, surprise, surprise, there was a green door that needed to be unlocked.
Taking a deep breath, they unlocked it and went through.
In case anyone was wondering, I chose the rose colors for Aizawa and Present Mic based off both their hero outfits and the meaning behind the roses.
Orange roses are associated with enthusiasm and energy, and if there's anything that Mic has in abundance it's enthusiasm and energy. I also thought orange kinda matched the glasses he wears in his hero outfit.
For Aizawa I had a hard time deciding between peach and black. Peach symbolizes modesty, genuineness, and sincerity. Aizawa's desire to stay out of the limelight as a hero speaks of modesty, and while he's not above lying to his students he is very genuine in his care for them and sincere in his defense of them. And a light color like that would be a good contrast to his usual look. But in the end I decided on the black rose. First of all because black would so obviously be his color based on his outfit. Second because of the meaning behind it. Black roses are often associated with death or mourning, but they can also stand for 'the beginning of new things and major change. Black roses inspire confidence by signaling the birth of a new era'. This way the rose symbolizes his eventual role in the canon story, him being the home room teacher of a new class of future heroes that will change the world. Plus it can also foreshadow all the trouble that role brings him.
Hizashi and Shouta truly had no idea what to expect when they walked into the next area. Well, aside from a new color scheme, which turned out to be brown and tan. In any case, they certainly hadn't expected to see a pair of huge, black eyes painted onto the wall. The ceiling sloped into two points above and to the side of the eyes, which gave the wall a distinctive shape.
“Is this supposed to be a cat?” Shouta asked, raising an unimpressed eyebrow. He'd certainly seen better representations of a cats, including the one in the original gallery. Plus, cats were wonderful creatures that didn't deserve to be a part of this crazy place.
There seemed to be some sort of indentation in the wall as well, right where the cat's nose should have been. After making sure that black hands weren't about to shoot out of the walls, they went over to look at it.
“This hole is fish shaped, so 'cat' is probably a good guess.” Hizashi agreed.
There was a door on the left side of the room and another on the right. Hizashi suggested that, since they'd chosen left in the first area and right in the second, that now they should keep up the pattern and go left again. Shouta informed Hizashi that he was ridiculous, but went along with the suggestion anyway.
The left room was filled with multiple pillars in two rows. Each one had a small pair of red curtains with a yellow button underneath it, all except the very first one on their right. That one had a stick figure on it with yellow text underneath.
“Play hide and seek.” Hizashi read.
In the blink of an eye the stick figure vanished, and the curtains ruffled simultaneously. It wasn't hard to figure out where they had to look.
The first two they tried were completely benign; pressing the button just revealed a random painting. On the third Hizashi pushed a button, and the curtain parted to reveal a painting of a naked woman. He went beet red, but before he could do anything else there was a shrill scream and a sudden stinging pain across his cheek. The curtain closed again while he was hissing in pain.
“That's what you get for being a peeping tom.” Shouta said with a smirk. Hizashi stuck his tongue out at him and stomped away to try another button. His boots disturbed a single orange rose petal that had fallen to the ground. Shouta stared at it for a moment before moving onto the next button. He pressed it, and received a handful of red paint across his face. Hizashi laughed as Shouta struggled to wipe it off.
Finally, they found the pair of curtains the stick figure was hiding behind. They were rewarded with a congratulatory 'ding!' and heard a clatter near the entrance. Following the sound, they found a wooden fish head on the floor in front of the door. Hizashi picked it up and grinned at Shouta.
“How much you wanna bet we'll find a fish tail in the other room?”
“Given how obvious that conclusion is, nothing.”
“You are no fun.”
They exited the curtains room and walked across the cat face room to reach the remaining door. It was unlike any they had seen here so far, not because it was strange, but because it looked so normal. It was a simple rectangular room filled with random boxes and various statues and stone busts. It looked like it could have been any old storage room in the back of an art gallery.
Though, given what had been happening with the artwork so far, they weren't too eager to wade into a room full of it. Especially since the lights decided to start flickering on and off. Still, the fish tail had to be in here somewhere.
Hizashi started looking near the door while Shouta went further in. He stepped over a crack in the floor as he explored the room, keeping a wary eye on the row of stone busts he was passing. It was then that something familiar caught his eye. A flower vase set on top of a small wooden table, the same size and type as the ones that had originally held their roses. This table was missing a sign, but the vase did have water in it. Thinking this might be more than a coincidence, he called Hizashi over.
“Oh, nice find.” Hizashi said when he saw the vase. “If these flowers really are important then we should let them soak up some water while we're here.” While he talked he pulled the orange rose from his hair and placed it in the water. He moved to help Shouta get his out, but stopped when the vase started to glow blue. As the two watched, the glow intensified into a bright flash. The water vanished, and a single orange petal formed at the edge of the blossom.
“It...it gave me a petal?”
“It gave you back a petal.” Shouta corrected. “You lost one when that painting lady slapped you. I lost one too, when that black had grabbed at me.”
“Unified...the weight of your life...so you too will wilt...” Hizashi muttered, frowning and rubbing his chin. “When we got hurt our roses lost a petal, and then the water restored mine. I wonder if it works the other way around.”
“Other way around?”
“I mean, if the flower lost a petal when we got hurt, then would taking petals off the flower hurt us? And if it does, then what happens if we lose all of the petals?”
A cold feeling of dread twisted in Shouta's stomach. Before he could reply, there was a crash behind him. They both jumped and turned toward the noise. A stone bust lay smashed on the ground a few feet behind Shouta. It was fairly far away from the other busts, but Shouta got over the implications of that when he saw what was laying among the shards of stone: a wooden fish tail.
“Well that's certainly convenient.” He muttered.
Hizashi was the one to pick it up from among the shards. “Looks like it's the right color and size. Here's hoping the cat room likes treats as much as real ones do.”
They moved back into the cat room. Shouta took both pieces of the fish, figured out how to snap them together, then pressed the 'key' into the wall's indentation.
The room shuddered, and for a moment they feared they have done something wrong. But then the black pupils on the wall turned into red slits and a discordant cacophony of 'meows' sounded off. Then the center of the wall vanished to reveal a hallway.
“Don't think I'll find our cats' meows very calming for a while.” Hizashi said, not bothering to hide his shudder. Aizawa rolled his eyes.
And, once again, they pressed forward.
“At least we get to keep our color scheme for a little longer.” Hizashi said, gesturing to the brown walls.
“Hooray.” Shouta deadpanned. Hizashi laughed.
Once again they had two options to choose from, forward or right. Well, there was a bit of space just to the left of them, but it was only a few feet long and only held a couple pictures.
Hizashi, after a moment of thought, decided to take a look at the two painting on the left. The first picture was a childish drawing of a smiling face with the tongue sticking out, a tongue that was waggling back and forth non-stop. When Hizashi stopped in front of it the painting immediately 'spit' a glob of turquoise liquid at him. It hit him in the cheek.
“UGH! Gross- ah, OW!”
“Hizashi?” Shouta stepped forward in worry, but Hizashi waved him off as he stepped away from the painting.
“It's fine, just stings.” he said, wiping the liquid away with his sleeve. “Oh great, there goes that petal I just got back.”
Shouta looked down in time to see the orange petal hit the ground. Dread rippled through him at the sight, so when Hizashi stepped over to look at the other painting he snapped.
"You're seriously going to go up to another one right after that?"
Hizashi raised an eyebrow at him. "This place has art everywhere, we can hardly avoid all of it. And I get the feeling they, or this place, whatever, wouldn't make a space for them without reason. Too much of a coincidence for the kind of game we're playing."
“Hurting us could count as a reason.”
Hizashi grimaced. "That's true. But I don't think this piece is dangerous, it's completely blank." He narrowed his eyes. "No, wait, looks like there's something in the very center. It's...a number."
"Yeah, the number 9, and its pink...or maybe red."
"...I will never understand what qualifies something as 'art'."
After that brief diversion, they were back to deciding which way to go. In the end Shouta got a coin out of his pocket, assigned a hall to each side, and flipped it. The forward hallway won. Walking down it, they soon came to another intersection, and froze.
"Maybe we should have tried left first..." Hizashi's voice was higher than normal, and Shouta couldn't blame him. Seeing a bunch of dolls hanging by their feet from the ceiling, well, even he was a little creeped out. Nevertheless, he started walking to the right, and Hizashi followed him.
"Better they're up there instead of down here to chase after us or something." Shouta pointed out.
"Oh my god, why would you say that?!"
"Well it's true."
A doll fell off its string in front of them. Hizashi screamed. Shouta's hands flew up to his ears, as his husband's quirk activated.
"Ok, so maybe it doesn't matter." Shouta said once it was quiet again.
Hizashi glared at him. Shouta rubbed his neck sheepishly.
"Sorry about freaking you out with that comment."
Hizashi sighed. "It's okay, just try not to- wait, what are you doing?"
Shouta looked up from where he was kneeling next to the doll. "You had a theory about this place and coincidences. This doll fell right in front of us, so I'm gonna test it by seeing if the doll has anything useful on it."
"Okay, okay, just, uh, be careful about it, please."
"Of course." A part of Shouta was amused by how their positions had switched from a few minutes ago.
The doll seemed to be made entirely of cloth. Black yarn made up its wild hair and black thread was used to stitch circular eyes and a crooked mouth. The body was light tan and wore a simple, solid colored shirt and pants. And attached to that outfit was a tag that lent evidence to Hizashi's theory.
"Looks like you're on to something. The tag on here has a number on it too. 18, written in green."
Hizashi nodded. "Yeah, definitely too much of a coincidence, there's gotta be something we're supposed to use these numbers for."
Sure enough, a little further down the hall there was a yellow door. In the very middle of it was a panel with the equation:
GX x RX + PX = ?
And a place to type a number just below that.
"And I thought algebra class made solving for X hard. This one doesn't even give you numbers to work with. Well, not within the equation anyway." Hizashi said.
"Makes you go hunting for them instead." Shouta sighed "Can't make anything easy can they?"
"They, or it. We still don't know what exactly we're dealing with."
And that was a big part of the problem. They had theories about what was happening and why it was happening to them, about the rules of whatever this place was, but nothing concrete. The constant unknowns, the paranoia of what might or might not become a threat, the possibility that their lives were now as delicate as a flower...even with their training and experience the stress was really starting to weigh on them. But they also knew that dwelling on all that wouldn't help them figure out what was going on, not until they got more information. So they did their best to deal with things as they came and support each other as they forged on.
When they turned around and tried the other direction they found another door, with two words written in yellow paint next to it.
"Liar's Room" Hizashi read. He raised an eyebrow at Shouta, who shrugged, and then they went in.
The room was long and rectangular. They could see another door directly across from them, and on the same wall as the door were six portrait paintings. The portraits were odd, because they were clearly of people but the people looked like they were made of shadows. Similar to the statues they had encountered, the painting people had black skin and could only be told apart by the color of their clothes.
Each painting had yellow writing under it as well. Hizashi started reading, looking over each one quickly. While he did, Shouta peaked through the door. The next room had a tiled floor, and was empty save for a white marble statue standing in the middle of the room.
"Oh! I think I get it!"
At Hizashi's shout, he closed the door. "Is it another puzzle?"
"Yeah, and I've seen ones like this before. Each one of these 'people' is making a statement, and they are all lying except for one. We solve the puzzle by figuring out which person is telling the truth based on what each person is saying."
"By the way, is there a statue in the next room?"
"Good, some of the statement make more sense that way. Now, help me figure this out."
Hizashi read aloud what was written beneath each portrait.
Green said: stand in front of the statue, go west 3 steps and south 1 step. That's the answer!
Brown said: stand in front of the statue, go east 4 steps and north 2 steps. That's the answer!
Yellow said: the one in white speaks the truth!
Blue said: the only truth speaker wears green!
White said: stand in front of the statue. Go east 2 steps and south 2 steps. That's the answer!
Red said: I agree with the one in yellow!
"Seems simple enough." Shouta said, thinking aloud. "If we assume only one is telling the truth, then it has to be one of the ones giving directions, because if all of them are lying then we don't get a clue on where to look."
"Right, which means all the ones telling us to listen to specific portraits must be lying. And there's only one portrait that both gives directions and none of the others comment on."
"The one with the brown shirt."
They went into the next room and followed Brown's directions. When they were done they were left with a single tile directly in front of them. Hizashi crouched down to get a close look, and noticed it was a little off center. He pushed at it, and discovered it wasn't attached to the floor at all. When he lifted it up, it revealed a purple number 4 printed on the floor.
"Yes! We got the last number!"
The moment the words left his lips, sound exploded from the Liar's Room. Shouta immediately took hold of his capture weapon and faced the door, ready for anything that might come through. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hizashi shift his grip on the tile, ready to use it as an improvised weapon.
The sounds of crashing and tearing lasted for several seconds, then stopped as abruptly as they had started. Shouta glanced back at Hizashi, who nodded, and they cautiously approached the door.
Hizashi opened it while Shouta stood at the ready. Nothing jumped out at them, and the parts of the room they could see were empty. Shouta entered the room fully, but still he couldn't see anything amiss.
'Maybe the gallery was just making noise to try and scare us? That's a possibility. The noises were loud enough they had to have come from this room yet-'
Shouta was brought out of his thoughts by a familiar hand tapping his shoulder. Shouta turned and saw Hizashi pointing at the wall behind them. For the first time since re-entering the room, Shouta took a good look at the portrait paintings.
Every one of them was splattered with bright red...paint. It had to be paint. The one exception to this was the brown portrait, or what was left of it. The brown portrait was now nothing but a mass of ripped canvas and splintered frame, and it was leaking the same bright red paint. And there was one other change to the portraits. Beneath each of them, there was now only a single word.
They took each others hands and hurried out of the room.
This story now has fan art! It was done by ao3 user MusicallyActive, and here are their instructions for viewing it.
"Here's the link to the first part of the fan art I've created! If you go through my Instagram page you'll find the other 3 parts since Insta's cropping feature wouldn't let me post the whole thing in one go."
MusicallyActive's artwork here is really adorable, so go check it out!
Shouta and Hizashi were silent as they re-entered the hallway, the sight of the destroyed 'truthful' painting still on their minds.
"How do you think that happened?" Hizashi finally asked. "Could they actually come out of the paintings or..."
"No clue, maybe paintings can travel between other paintings or they have their own pocket dimension to live in. Or maybe the gallery itself just changed how it looked to freak us out. Does it really matter at this point?"
Hizashi fiddled with the tile he still held in his hands. "I guess not. We're gonna be keeping an eye on all the artwork anyway, but I'm really hoping it's one of your options. Moving statues are one thing, I don't want to add paintings crawling out of their frames on top of that."
“So...what do we do now?”
“We have three numbers now. That should be enough to fill in the equation for the door at the end of the hall, right?”
Hizashi rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, that depends on whether or not the 'X' in the equation has it's own value. It wasn't really a properly written equation, so it's hard to say. But if it doesn't then we should have enough to fill it out.”
“Might as well give it a shot then. If it doesn't work we can go hunting for more information down the other hall.”
They made their way back to the equation door. Shouta did the math in his head, then entered the equation's answer.
9 x 18 + 4 = 166
There was a click, and when Shouta turned the knob the door swung open. They went in, and Hizashi looked around in approval.
"Compared to what we just saw, this is very pleasant."
It was a small square room, same color scheme of browns on the floor and walls. Most of the room's space was filled up with small trees, the highest branches reaching just a little above their own heads. As they explored the small room, they soon discovered that the trees were actually statues carved entirely of wood. Despite the knowledge that anything here was potentially dangerous, both Hizashi and Shouta couldn't help but be impressed by the delicately carved leaves. If someone had really carved these then it must have taken a lot of talent and a very long time.
"I suppose there's a reason Guertena is famous." Shouta muttered.
"I remembered seeing a lot of buzz about him online when he died. Apparently it was very sudden and unexpected, and his fans were really upset. Brought a heck of a lot of attention to his art though, which I suppose proves that art gets more valuable after the creator dies...ooo, there's something we haven't thought of before! What if this is all happening because the exhibition was being haunted by Guartena's ghost?"
"It makes about as much sense as any other possibility."
"It really doesn't."
"Weren't we talking about how the gallery could be sentient earlier?"
"YOU were talking about that, I only conceded to the pocket dimension theory, which at least has some scientific basis."
They continued to bicker until they reached the back of the room, where a tree with a single red apple stood.
"Think we should take it?" Hizashi asked "I mean, it's the only unique thing we've found in here."
"Worth a shot."
Shouta ended up using his capture weapon to grab the wooden apple. That way the two of them could stand further away while it snapped off, just in case taking it caused the trees to come to life and try to skewer them or something. Thankfully that didn't happen, and when Shouta yanked his capture weapon back the apple sailed into his hand without any problems.
After that, there was only one place left to search: the right turn they saw when first entering this area. The hallway they went down seemed unnecessarily long for what they found at the end: a pair of bright red lips that jutted out from a small alcove. They both startled when the lips moved and they heard a deep voice.
“Hungry...give me food...”
Shouta looked down at the apple in his hands, then at the lips, and shrugged before pressing the apple to them. He had to quickly pull his hand back when the lips opened and devoured the apple within seconds.
“this is tasty...I let you pass...go through my mouth...”
The lips opened, then opened some more, then widened, until there was an opening in the wall just big enough for them to duck through one at a time. The pair stared at the opening. Hizashi pursed his lips.
“Okay, I'm gonna say this right now, we're leaving this bit out of the official report. Whenever we get out of here, I don't want to have to deal with the internet reacting to the image of us walking into a mouth together. I don't know for sure how the public would get wind of it, but the only way to make sure they don't is to never talk about it ever again.”
“You're the one that's popular, hardly anyone has heard about me. So it would probably just be you that would be all over the forums.”
“Oh trust me, if your name ended up in there they would find out who you are and DRAG you into the limelight, so don't you even think about it!”
“Then I'll redact my name before I leak it.”
“Just shut up and go through the mouth Shouta.”
“I'll be sure and quote that.”
Shouta grinned, but he did walk toward the opening. After crouching down and confirming that there was a hallway visible on the other side, he went through. Hizashi followed a moment later. The hallway they were now in continued to the right, and was empty save for the paintings on the wall. Each one was of a guillotine, the first one had the heavy, head chopping blade resting on the ground, but it raised higher in each picture they saw. When they reached the end of the hallway, they could see a picture with the blade entirely absent, and a door on their left just past it.
“I've got a bad feeling about this.” Hizashi muttered.
“We could make a run for the door, to be on the safe side.”
“Sounds good to me.”
They readied themselves, then dashed to the door. Shouta had just touched the door when a CRUNCH sounded behind them. They could feel the vibrations from it in their feet, and turned to see a thick, heavy blade embedded between themselves and the last painting. The blade was as tall as they were, and when it retracted back into nothingness it left large cracks in the floor.
“Good call on running.” Hizashi said, shuddering as he imagined that falling on either of them.
“You probably would have suggested it if I hadn't. Or we'd have dodged it.” Shouta said as he opened the door.
“Oh hey, I was just thinking we could use a new color scheme.” Hizashi said dryly.
The room they walked into was done all in shades of red, with the walls once again a darker shade that the carpet. The room was in a kind of 'U' shape, having a spacious main area with two alcoves for paintings on the upper left and right sides. The things that caught their eyes the most were the two huge figures in the main area. They both looked like wax statues of a kneeling giant that had been left in the sun too long and started to melt; the one on the left was blue and the other was red.
“Out of all the things that could come to life in this room, I really hope it's not those things.” Shouta said.
“Don't jinx it.” Hizashi warned.
“I could have said I hope NOTHING comes to life in this room.”
Hizashi sent him a mock glare as they started to explore the room. The next door wasn't hard to find, it was between the two alcoves, basically the center of the room. It appeared to be the only exit, so hopefully that meant the 'solution' to this room would be simple.
“So, we have a new color and a lack of an obvious puzzle. I'm thinking we've reverted back to our game of 'find the key'.” Hizashi theorized.
“We'll have to look carefully then, they tend to blend in with the carpet.”
They searched the floor carefully, making sure to look up now and then to make sure nothing had moved. Eventually they moved into the upper right alcove, and something caught Hizashi's eye. There was something on the floor further in, just below a familiar portrait of a brunet woman in a red dress.
“Aha! Found it!” Hizashi cried. He took a few steps forward and crouched down to pick up the key.
Suddenly there was a weight on top of him. Something sharp was tearing at his hair and scalp. His hand closed around the key and he rolled to the side to get out from under it. His gaze met a pair of dark red eyes and blood stained hands. Hizashi smashed the tile he held into the face. The creature hissed and reeled back. A light gray cloth suddenly appeared, and the thing was being yanked away.
It took only a moment for Hizashi to regain his bearings, and when he did he saw a beautiful sight. His husband was wresting the attacker into a position of submission. The attacker was the portrait of the woman he'd seen, her red eyes crazed and hands still reaching for him. Only her torso was visible, as if she'd tried to climb out of the painting and had gotten stuck half way. Her fingertips were bloody, but he could worry about that later.
“I've got the key! I'll get the door open, then we can make a run for it.”
Shouta pressed his boot against the woman's back, teeth clenched with the effort of keeping her in one place, but he nodded. Hizashi got up and ran for the door, quickly taking note that nothing but bookshelves were in the next room. He called for Shouta. The man released the monster and sprinted for the door behind him. He made it inside with just enough time to slam the door in the snarling woman's face.
She banged furiously against the door, and they kept their backs against it. The door held, and the knob never turned, so they felt secure enough to take a moment and catch their breath.
“You've lost another couple of petals.” Shouta said.
Most people would not have caught the undercurrent of concern in Shouta's low voice, but Hizashi wasn't most people. He took a hold of Shouta's hand, giving physical reassurance, and used the other to inspect the damage. He winced as his fingers met a number of tender spots along the top of his head. Not to mention the scrapes his hand had acquired from that tile breaking in his grip.
“How do I look?”
Shouta shook his head. “Of all the things to worry about at a time like this.”
Hizashi nudged Shouta's shoulder with his own. “You know what I mean. Am I bleeding much? How does the rose look?”
Shouta used his free hand to tip Hizashi's head this way and that, and gently moved parts of his hair to the side. “Could have been worse, looks like she gave you plenty of scratches and a few cuts, but they are shallow, so more blood than real damage. Still, you lost at least two petals during that scuffle, and the flower is starting to fall out. We'll need to be more careful in the future.”
Hizashi nodded. “At least we learned that your capture weapon works well against painting monsters.”
“That's something.” Shouta acknowledged as he fixed Hizashi's hair and made sure the rose was secure. When he was done they got up and took a look around. The room was rather small, and rectangular. The only things in it were four rows of bookshelves, two on the left and two on the right, and another door directly across from them. A door which, of course, was locked.
“There might be another key hidden among the books.” Hizashi said after they'd checked the floor. “Or we might have to arrange the books in a certain pattern. That seems like the kind of puzzle this place would have.”
Once they took a closer look though, the discovered that only certain books could be removed from the shelves. The others all stayed in place no matter how hard they were pulled. Guessing they had to do something with the books, they pulled out any loose ones they could find and looked through them. It seemed like they were all books cataloging different works by Guertena. It was fitting considering where they were, but Hizashi didn't see how that helped them...
“Well, that would have been helpful to know earlier.” Shouta muttered.
“Huh?” Hizashi looked up from his own book to where Shouta was hunched on the floor. He held up the book he was looking at.
“Seems this one has information more specific to this gallery.” He said as Hizashi knelt down to take a look. The article title was “The Lady in Red”.
"The girls in the canvas...the women here become very troublesome when they acquire a desire for humans. They'll always stubbornly chase things until they're satisfied, it seems...anywhere...everywhere...to the ends of the earth...but if they have a weakness, it is that they can't open doors on their own. The women here love playing 'loves me, loves me not'"
“Oh...that explains a lot. No wonder she was going for my head.” Hizashi muttered.
“What do you mean?”
“It says the women here love playing 'loves me, loves me not'. You ever hear of that game?”
“A lot of girls used to play it when I was in elementary school. They'd pick a flower, say someone's name, and then pull the petals off and say 'Loves me' and 'Loves me not' in order with each petal they pulled of. Which one you ended on was supposed to tell you if the person you named liked you.”
“So you're thinking that thing earlier was trying to get at your rose, so it could pull it apart.” Shouta concluded, his mouth set in grim line.
“Yeah, so, with that on top of the whole 'acquire a desire for humans' and 'stubbornly chase' thing, we should probably rank paintings of women high on the list of things to avoid.”
With that thought in mind, they continued their search. They read up on works they'd seen so far, hoping for more useful information, but nothing really stuck out to them. Hizashi opened one book and found a slip of paper in it though, and eagerly unfolded it to see if it had anything written on it.
Hizashi snorted, and showed the paper to Shouta, who raised an eyebrow.
“I get the feeling someone is mocking us.” he said dryly.
They finally made progress when they pulled on one book, and it only came out half way before they heard a clicking sound come from the door. Hizashi got up and tried the knob, and grinned when it turned.
“Ready to face the next challenge?” he asked.
“As I'll ever be.”
“That's the spirit!”
The next room was square, with one door on the left and another on the right. They would have to decide which way to go, but there was something more important to do first.
“Another vase!” Hizashi cried, running to the small table in upper left corner of the room. “And it has water in it!”
“Nice placement.” Shouta admitted.
“Alright, put your rose in.”
“...what are you on about?”
“If this works like the other one then putting your rose in should get you back the petal you lost a while ago and-”
“I know WHY putting the rose in is a good idea, but did you forget what else happened last time? The water disappeared right after you put yours in. If that happens again then you won't be able to use this vase, and you've lost more petals than me. So logically you should be the one to use this one.”
“But, your rose is damaged too, and I used the last vase. So it should be your turn.”
“You don't do triage based off of whose turn it is you do it based on who has the greatest need.”
“Well, yeah, but-”
With a sigh and an eye roll, Shouta strode up to the vase. Hizashi thought he was going to put his rose in, but then he snatched the rose out of Hizashi's hair and put it in the vase.
“Deal with it Hizashi. Aren't you always telling me to take better care of myself after injuries? That goes both ways you know.”
Hizashi pouted. “I hate it when you use my own life lessons against me.”
As it turned out though, the argument was entirely moot, because after the orange rose grew back four petals there was still plenty of water in the vase. Much to Hizashi's relief.
Once they had both taken care of their flora based voodoo dolls, they still had to decide which way to go. They flipped a coin on it, and ended up going to the left. What they found was startlingly familiar.
Up a short set of stairs to their right, was an empty vase accompanied by two signs. One stating that you would wilt away with the rose, and another warning the reader to know the weight of their own life.
“These are word for word the same signs we saw when we fist ended up here.” Hizashi said. “Does this mean that there's another real person somewhere in here?”
“Let's look for clues, see if there's any more signs of someone being here.”
They didn't have to look far for confirmation. A little further into the room was a single red door, a large tinted window next to it, and next to that was an empty space where a painting should have been. The abandoned title card read “Lady in Blue”. Most telling though, was what was strewn across the floor.
Rose petals. Bright, green, rose petals.
Someone else was here. There was a real person here and they were likely very hurt. The realization jolted them both go into pro-hero mode.
“Let's try the red door, someone could have run in there to hide.” Shouta turned to the door, and tried to turn the knob, but it was locked. Because of course it was. They tried to see through the window, but it was too darkly tinted to make anything out.
Hizashi banged his hand against the wood. “Hey! Anyone alive in there? We're human, and pro-heroes, we can help!” When there was no reply, Hizashi pressed his ear against the door.
“You hear someone?” Shouta asked when he saw Hizashi frown.
“I can tell that something is making noise in there, just not sure what.” He pulled away with a grimace. “That could mean a lot of things, and none of them good.”
Shouta nodded in agreement. “Breaking down doors and windows doesn't seem to work in this place. Let's go see if we can find a key instead.”
There had been no key among the green petals, so the two ran back into the square room with the vase. The room was small, and it didn't take long for them to determine that no key was on the floor and the singular painting in the room held no secrets. They went through the door on the right and entered a long hallway.
Hizashi gasped and Shouta's heart skipped a beat. Only a short ways down the hall there was a body laying face down on the floor, a small body.
They raced forward. Hizashi slid down onto his knees next to the body, but Shouta stood, ready to defend them against any threat. Hizashi pressed his fingers to the small person's neck, and was relieved to find a heartbeat. It was slow and faint, but it was there. He couldn't see sign of broken bones, so he took the risk of carefully moving the person onto their back.
The moment he saw the person's face Hizashi's suspicions were confirmed. This was a kid, a middle school student at the oldest, probably younger. His face was pale, which highlighted the freckles scattered across his cheeks and contrasted greatly with his curly green hair. Red welts covered his exposed skin, just like the one Shouta had gained earlier, and there was a cut on his face that slowly oozed blood.
“Kid? Kid, can you hear me?” Hizashi asked. When he got no response, he tried shaking the kid's shoulder, which earned him a groan of pain.
“Kid! Come on, wake up! Can you tell me if your hurt?”
The kid's eyes opened slowly, as though even doing that caused him a great amount of strain.
“Talk to me kid, where does it hurt?”
“...ev...everywhere...” The kid's voice was barely audible, and Hizashi had to lean in close to hear it.
“You're gonna be okay. We're going to help you. But I need information first. What's your name?”
“Okay Izuku, you found a rose earlier right? Where is it now?”
“Blue Lady...took it...”
Hizashi's heart clenched.
“Izuku, did you find a key anywhere?”
“Do you still have it?”
Hizashi quickly looked over the kid's outfit, just a t-shirt and shorts. He dipped his hands into the kid's pockets and one came out with a small key.
“Think I found it Shouta.” He held the key up to his husband, who grabbed it. That left Hizashi free to pick up Izuku. The boy let out a cry of pain as he was moved, which tapered off into whimpers as Hizashi cradled him. “I know, I know Izuku, I'm sorry, but we're gonna move you to a safer room and then we're gonna get you feeling better. Just hang on a bit longer.”
They hurried back into the square room. Hizashi set Izuku down with his back to the wall and his head resting against the leg of the vase's table. When Hizashi started to straighten up, the kid tried to keep a hold of him.
“We're gonna be right back, okay Izuku?” He said, gently removing the kid's hands from his shirt. “We're gonna go get something to make you feel better and then we'll be back.”
Izuku didn't offer anymore protest. Hizashi wasn't sure if that was because the kid understood, or because he didn't have the energy to do anything else. Either way, he couldn't dwell on it.
Shouta lead the way back into the room with the locked door. He slid the newfound key into the lock. It turned easily, and Hizashi felt relief wash over him. There was a display area in front of them showing off a sculpture, but that barely registered compared to what occupied the spacious area to the left. A creature, similar to the one that had attacked Hizashi, was huddled in the corner, eagerly digging into flower in her hands.
A part of Hizashi's mind noted how fortunate it was that the 'Blue Lady' wasn't that intelligent. She'd been pawing at the flower instead of picking at it, which was probably the only reason it still has any petals still attached. Plus there was the fact that the creature has yet to notice them.
“You up for acting as a distraction?” Shouta asked in a low voice. Hizashi nodded. Shouta took up position in front of the display across from them, and stood at the ready with his scarf. He signaled to Hizashi, who took a deep breath and stepped further into the room.
In hindsight, the ugly comment may have been too much. The Lady's head shot up so fast it was a wonder her neck didn't snap. Her clawed hands ripped into the carpet as she scrambled across the floor, far faster than she should have been able to. Hizashi ran for the door, having no intention of getting cornered by this thing.
The plus side of the comment was that the Lady had eyes only for Hizashi. She didn't even notice Shouta until his capture weapon was lashed around her neck. He wrestled her back into the room far enough for Hizashi to get past and run to the green rose.
He gripped the stem gently, and brought up his other hand to cradle the head of the rose. Only two petals came with it, and only one of those was firmly attached. Hizashi held the rose close to his chest as he ran back out the room. He stood ready at the door, and when Shouta came barreling out a moment later he used his back to slam the door shut.
“You okay? You got it?” Shouta asked. Hizashi nodded, but also held the rose up for Shouta to see. The man's eyes went wide when he saw the state of it.
“That was too close, way too close.”
The sound of shattering glass had Hizashi pulling the rose back and Shouta whirling around. The Blue Lady lay on the floor, surrounded by the broken glass of the window.
“Are you kidding me?!” Hizashi shrieked as they turned and ran. “She can't open a door but smashing through a window is no problem?!”
“Less yelling, more running!”
They made it to the door with time to spare, and made sure it latched properly behind them, but they couldn't rest yet.
Izuku was where they left him, his body far too still for their comfort. Hizashi sent up a quiet prayer of gratitude to whomever may be listening that this vase's water hadn't vanished, and carefully lowered Izuku's rose into it. It was fascinating, watching the stem straighten out and the petals grow back into place, but that was nothing compared to seeing Izuku come back to life. The welts on his skin faded back to the boy's normal skin tone, and the cut on his face closed up.
As the last petal grew into place, the boy suddenly took in a deep breath of air and sat straight up. He opened his eyes, and relief washed over Hizashi once again. Izuku's eyes had been so dull before that Hizashi had thought they were gray. Now they were shining and green.
“I-what-who-” Izuku stuttered. Hizashi sat down next to him and put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
“It's okay Izuku, just take a minute to breath. Your safe here.”
Izuku did as he was told. The boy looked around as his breath evened out, and he soon wore a frown.
“So it wasn't a dream?”
“If the dream your talking about was being stuck in a messed up version of an art gallery you were visiting, then no, it wasn't.” Shouta said. “Any idea how you got here?”
The boy looked back and forth between the two of them uncertainly. “Mom says not to talk to strangers...but you did just help me...”
“Well of course we did, we are pro-heroes after all.” Hizashi said with his trademark grin. The boy narrowed his eyes and leaned toward Hizashi, then his mouth dropped open in amazement.
“Are, are you Present Mic?!”
“The one and only!” Hizashi 'shot' him with a finger gun. “Never thought I'd meet a little listener in a place like this.”
“Oh my gosh oh my gosh, it's you! You look different out of costume but it's still you! I called into your show one time! You were super nice! Can you use your quirk still without your speaker? Well, of course you can use it, but how much does the speaker help? Can you take villains down without it? I'm pretty sure it helps you magnify you quirk but I always wondered by how much and if it helps with direction and-”
“Hey, remember to breath kid.” Shouta interrupted. That only served to shift Izuku's attention.
“Present Mic said you were pros, are you a hero too?”
“Yeah, I doubt you've heard of me though.”
“He goes by Eraserhead.” Hizashi supplied. Izuku's brow knit together and his lips pursed into a kind of thoughtful pout. Shouta would never admit that it was kind of adorable.
“Eraser...Eraserhead...oh yeah! I heard about you once! You took down a villain, but the reporter didn't get a chance to talk to you because you left right after handing off the villain and they said that was common for underground heroes. Is being and underground hero different than being a regular pro? Do you have an agency or just work with the police or-”
“Tell you what kid.” Shouta interrupted again, now kneeling down to be on Izuku's level. “You wanna know about us right? Well, we need to figure out some stuff too. So how about this: We'll ask you a question, and when you answer it you'll get to ask us a question. We'll take turns and get to know each other. But you gotta answer honestly, and only one question at a time. Sound like a deal?”
Izuku nodded rapidly, and waited to be questioned.
“First off, what's your full name?”
“Midoriya Izuku. Um, I guess I should ask what you guy's names are, cuz I only know your hero names. Should I call you your hero names?”
“I prefer Aizawa.”
“You can call me Present Mic, or Mic, or Yamada, or Hizashi. Whatever floats your boat little listener.”
“Okay, Mr. Aizawa and Mr. Mic.”
“Oooo, Mr. Mic, I like that!” Hizashi grinned as he tested out his new nickname. Izuku ducked his head and smiled, but if Shouta let himself get caught up in how cute that was they would never get through this.
“Now that introductions are out of the way, how did you get here Midoriya?”
Bit by bit, and interspersed with factoids about themselves, Hizashi and Shouta get a story very similar to their own.
Midoriya Izuku had been visiting the art gallery with his mother. He ended up going into one room a little bit ahead of her, the one that held the mural of the Fabricated World. Izuku hadn't known that's what it was called, he didn't know many words in English and didn't get a chance to ask for a translation before the lights flickered and he was suddenly alone in the gallery. Like them, he had run through the building trying to find someone and had come up empty. The doors wouldn't open for him either, and when he got back to the Fabricated World there was paint on the wall that hadn't been there before. Izuku had only understood the word 'COME', but then painting footprints had appeared. He followed them, not knowing what else to do, but instead of being brought to the underwater painting he'd been lead to a painting that stood in the same room as it.
“It looked like a squiggly version of a lady teaching a kid piano.” Izuku explained. “When I got too close to it, it sorta sucked me in. And suddenly I was in that red room and found the green rose. I couldn't read the signs well, but I just, felt like I should take it? I don't know how to describe it, but after I took it the Blue Lady came to life and chased after me. When she got the rose she went into the room and I shut it behind her so she couldn't chase after me more, but then when I started running away suddenly everything started to hurt so much I couldn't run anymore. And, that's when you guys found me, right?”
“Sounds about right.” Shouta murmured, his mind going over the new information.
“You both saved me, didn't you?” Tears welled up at the corner of Izuku's eyes. “Thank you! Thank you both so much!”
“Hey, hey, it was no problem little listener. We're heroes, it's what we do.” Hizashi dug into his pocket and produced a handkerchief for Izuku to use.
“I'm kinda confused though.” Izuku admitted once his face was dry. “Why did I start hurting so much? And how did you know how to help?”
They explained to Izuku what the signs had said about the roses, and what they had discovered about how the flowers worked in relation to their own health and well-being. They also shared what they had read about the women in the gallery.
“So the Blue Lady really was trying to kill me?” Izuku asked with wide eyes. His lip trembled, and Hizashi gave him a one-armed side hug.
“Basically, yeah. Not sure if they have the smarts to know what they are doing when they grab the flowers, but that would be the end result if they had their way. But we're here now, and we won't let them get to you.”
“But you'll have to be vigilant too. You'll get hurt again if you aren't careful with your rose.” Shouta plucked Izuku's rose out of the vase, and handed it too him. “So, you got an idea of how to keep it safe?”
Izuku held the rose carefully, staring at it with a mixture of fear and awe. “W-well, if I just carry it, I could accidentally drop it or leave it somewhere if I ever need to use both my hands. But I don't think my hair is long enough to put it up like yours...Oh!” Izuku reached into a small pocket on the front of his t-shirt. A finger poked out the bottom, revealing the pocket had a small hole. “I can put the rose in here! If I stick the stem through the little hole, then it should stay in there even if I'm running. Right?”
He looked up at them for approval. Shouta nodded and Hizashi gave him a double thumbs up.
“Sounds like a great plan, little listener!”
Izuku beamed from the praise, and quickly stashed his rose into his safe spot.
“So, do you know how to get out?” Izuku asked hopefully.
“Well, we haven't found the exit yet, but we've been through a lot of different rooms already. If we keep looking then we're bound to find the right one eventually. We just gotta press on.” Hizashi said with absolute confidence. He stood up and offered a hand to Izuku, who happily took it. The group of them walked into the right hallway, where Izuku had collapsed. Izuku walked in the middle with Hizashi on his left and Shouta on his right.
“How old are you, kid?” Shouta asked.
“Wow, eleven? You'll be in middle school before you know it. You nervous about going to a new school?” Hizashi asked.
“Nah, I'll see most of the same people, so it will be about the same as elementary. Just new things to learn.”
“That's a good attitude to have.” Shouta gave an approving nod, while keeping an eye and the hallway paintings.
“Well, I wanna be a hero someday, so I can't be scared of stuff like school right? Because heroes aren't scared of anything!”
At that moment, a painting of a silly face spat a glob of paint at them. It landed in front of Hizashi, and the man shrieked and leaped back so fast he nearly fell over. Shouta burst out laughing and Izuku gaped at him.
“Um, I think it was just paint Mr. Mic. It's okay.”
“I realize that.” Hizashi said, straightening up and trying to regain his dignity. It was hard to do with Shouta still laughing. “It just startled me is all. Well, that and it sort of looked like a bug at first...”
“You're afraid of bugs?” Izuku asked.
“Not all bugs! Just the ones that actually get on me. And for goodness sake Shouta, stop laughing!”
The two pros managed to regain their composure and started walking again. Izuku looked sort of like a little kid who had just been told that his Mom's name wasn't actually 'Mom'.
The end of the hallway lead into another rectangular room. Once again it had a singular red door for an exit, but this one was being blocked by a black mannequin statue. The two pros gave each other a look, and then Hizashi turned to Izuku.
“Midoriya, we have an important job for you.”
“What is it?”
“We never know what will come to life in here, so while Aizawa and I push the statue, we need you to keep a close eye on it and warn us if it starts to move. Got it?”
Izuku gave him a determined nod, then marched over and planted himself across from the mannequin. He stood with his hands on his hips and stared at it so hard it looked like he was trying to move it with his mind.
“Good placement.” Shouta said, dragging a cooing Hizashi along.
The mannequin was heavier than expected. They didn't want to break it, who knew how the gallery would respond to that, so they each took an arm and slid it out of the way. Izuku continued to stare at the mannequin as he walked over to join them. Shouta turned the knob, and thankfully, for once, it wasn't locked.
“Well, let's go see what new horrors await us.”
“Challenges, Shouta. Let's see what new challenges await us.”
Izuku giggled, and the uplifting sound carried them into the next area.
Izuku's rose color was chosen both because of how highly associated he is with that color and because green roses signify “life, abundant growth, and constant renewal of life and energy...Green is also a very pleasing color and is often said it can impart a sense of balance, stability and peace to the human mind.” (from same flower site mentioned in chapter 2)
Also, there is actual artwork of Izuku holding green roses!
There is more fan art for this fic! It was made by ao3 user PrincessICYMI, and I think it's really cool! Here is the link:
“Well, this place is certainly gloomy.” Was the first thing Aizawa said once he was through the door. Hizashi and Izuku followed close behind, and they couldn't help but agree. The walls and floor were two different shades of gray, and the first thing they saw was two large black hands sticking up out of the floor in front of pictures of a woman and a man, both of whom looked crestfallen.
“A bit ironic coming from you. Given how you always dress I figured you'd like the new color scheme.” Hizashi gave Aizawa a teasing nudge. “But yeah, I see what you mean. The color makes everything seem darker, and the artwork is really bringing me down. Gotta say, my least favorite color scheme so far.”
“You mean not all of the halls were red on the way here?” Izuku asked. Hizashi nodded.
“Oh yeah, we started out in a blue area and went through green and brown before we got to the area you were in. We could almost make a rainbow at this point. And each area has had some puzzle or secret we had to solve before we could get through it.”
“Can I help you look? I'm good at puzzles!” Izuku bounced excitedly.
Aizawa frowned. “This isn't a day trip kid, there's a lot of dangerous stuff here. You're gonna have to stay focused.”
Izuku stopped bouncing, but the eagerness remained. “So, I can help as long as I'm careful, right?”
“You can help, but you have to listen to us too, okay?” Hizashi said, kneeling so he could look Izuku in the eyes. “Don't go running off on your own, and be careful about approaching paintings or sculptures, because the painting ladies aren't the only things that come to life.”
“Don't touch anything either, and above all, keep your rose safe.” Aizawa added.
Izuku nodded along with each rule, accepting them easily. These two were pro-heroes after all, so he was confident they knew what they were doing.
Hizashi smiled, and patted Izuku on the head. “Thanks kiddo, now let's take a look around.”
The first order of business was to examine the room they were in more closely. Keeping in mind the heroes' warning, Izuku steered clear of the skeletal black hands. He felt safe enough approaching the portraits when the heroes did the same though.
“These pictures are weird.” Izuku said. “The man the the lady are dressed up like they're gonna get married, but they look really sad. Aren't people supposed to be happy to get married?”
“Most people are.” Aizawa agreed.
“Well, the title cards say 'Grieving Bride' and 'Grieving Groom', so obviously there's trouble in paradise.” Hizashi said.
“Do you think we can make them happy again? Maybe if we do they'll show us where to go.”
“Not a bad theory, kid.” Aizawa told him. “Let's check out the rest of this area, and we'll see if it holds up.”
“Yeah! Let's look for more clues!”
Hizashi couldn't help but smile as they headed up into the narrow hallway between the bride and groom portraits. The kid's excitement seemed to make the place just a little bit brighter.
It wasn't long until the hallway came to an intersection that allowed them three choices: going right, going forward, or going left. Each of the hallways was much wider than the one they just exited, and the left hallway had a gray door that could be seen from where they stood.
“Which way do we go?” Izuku asked.
“We'll probably have to try each way before we can get through, so which one we choose first probably doesn't matter too much.” Hizashi explained. “We've flipped a coin when we only had too options in the past, but three is too many for a coin flip. Why don't you pick which way we go first?”
Izuku's eyes widened in surprise, but then he nodded. He looked down each hallways, seriously considering his options.
“Well, the path to the right is really short. So we could investigate that one really quick, and then when we are done we could try one of the others. We could use the coin then, right?”
“Sounds like a plan, little listener.”
They went right, which was indeed a very short bit of hallway. The only thing of note there was a close up painting of a mug of coffee and a piece of cake.
“Is something like that a clue?” Izuku asked, looking at the painting.
“Maybe, maybe not. We won't know until we see more of this place, get some context.” Aizawa said.
“Well, in either case, we got that bit out of the way and can decide where to go next.” Hizashi said, bringing out his coin. “You wanna call it, Midoriya?”
“Ummm, tails for left, heads for forward.” Izuku said.
Hizashi flipped the coin, caught it midair, and slapped it on the back of his hand. When he brought his other hand away the coin was showing tails. So, left it was.
Even from the intersection they could see that the hallway leading left turned right after a little while, and that there was a gray door at the midway point between the intersection and the turn. Shouta and Hizashi steered Izuku away from the door for now, wanting to get the lay of the land first.
“Seems kinda bare in here.” Hizashi commented as they took the turn. “The other areas had art all over the place. Aside from that first room we've only seen one painting in here and- and I spoke too soon.”
There were eyeballs on the floor. Without any warning or indication they were there, eyeballs the size of Izuku's head had appeared all over the floor. They couldn't see the whole of the eyeballs, because they were stuck in the floor, like the floor itself had grown them.
“We're going to go past them, but slowly and carefully. We don't know if they'll do anything if we get too close.” Aizawa announced.
“Hopefully they'll be nice as long as we don't step on them.” Izuku said. Instead of looking scared, as Hizashi and Shouta both feared he might be, he looked fascinated. The boy's own eyes kept darting around, like he was trying to take in every little detail at once.
“We should, heh, keep an eye on them as we go. Both for safety, and in case the number or color is a clue later. You just never know in a place like this.”
They started forward. Izuku held his hand out to Hizashi, and the man didn't hesitate to take it. He hoped he wouldn't have to pull the kid out of the way of anything, but it was better to be prepared. Thankfully the eyes were spaced out far enough that they could weave a path through them without having to step over any of them. As he said he would, Hizashi counted the eyes as they went past, and couldn't help noticing that one of the eyes looked different.
“Hey Shouta, looks like we've got one eye here that can relate to you.” Hizashi said with a laugh. The eye in question was red and dry, much unlike the clear ones all around them. Aizawa only graced him with a roll of his own eyes, but Hizashi counted that as a win.
Once they had gotten past the eyes and to the end of the hallway, the eyes disappeared into the floor once more.
“Stupid built in jump scares.” Aizawa muttered to himself. More loudly he said “Looks like our 'left' path has officially rejoined with the 'forward' path.”
The hallway had indeed turned once again, and going a short ways down it lead to another turn that allowed them to see the intersection they'd been originally standing in. The two pros started going down the hall, but paused when Izuku didn't start to follow them right away. He was busy staring up at a painting of a white snack that they had passed a few moments ago.
“Come on kid, told you not to get distracted.” Aizawa reminded.
“Something's different about this painting though.” Izuku said, tilting his head.
“What about it, little listener?”
“I'm not sure...but I remember seeing it before. I don't think it was in the gallery, but it was on the website my Mom showed me, the one that explained the exhibit and talked about the artist. I know it's the same picture, but it looks just a little different.”
“Well, keep it in mind as we look around, and if it comes to you, let us know.”
Izuku agreed to Aizawa's compromise, and continued following them. They soon discovered that the 'forward' hallway had another path branching off of it. It went off to their left, and another gray door stood just inside it. The hallway itself continued on before sharply turning left again. Once again ignoring the door for now, they continued down the path. The hallway narrowed a bit here, and at the very end of it was another painting with a goofy, moving face.
The background was black, and the face was drawn in light blue. The two eyes looked in different directions, and the lines coming off of the mouth gave the impression that it was drooling.
“ehehehe, hehehehe...” a low pitched giggle caused each of them to jump. Izuku took a step closer to Present Mic and both he and Eraserhead instinctively moved shield Izuku.
“Flowers...flowers're nice...gimme a flower and I'll let you through.” The painting promised giddily.
The pros glanced at each other. Considering that the only flowers they had were their roses...
“No deal.” Eraserhead said firmly.
“Come on, pretty please? hehehe...”
“Nope.” Present Mic shook his head.
One of the painting's eyes shifted to the half hidden Izuku. “How about you, kid? I just wanna have a snifffff...” Izuku put his hand over his rose and hid further behind Present Mic.
“Come on, I just want 'em for a lil bit....eheheheh, hehehehe, hahahahaha, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
Izuku covered his ears to block out the hysterical laugh. Present Mic pulled Izuku back down the hall, with Aizawa close behind them, throwing looks over his shoulder to make sure laughing was the only thing the painting was doing.
The sound of the laughter stopped when they found themselves back by the gray door they had seen when first taking this offshoot.
“That was one of the creepier things we've seen in here.” Aizawa noted blandly. Izuku nodded vigorously.
“Well, let's look at the positive side of that...encounter.” Hizashi said. “We didn't have a goal in mind for this area before, but we do now. We should be on the look out for spare flowers.”
“He could have been lying about giving us a way out.” Shouta pointed out.
“Maybe, but its the only clear clue we've gotten for this area so far. Might as well take it.”
“Um,” Izuku's voice drew the pair's attention. He fidgeted when both of them looked down at him “I remember that the bride from before had flowers. Does that help?”
Aizawa mulled that over, and then gave a small nod. “Maybe, we can't afford to dismiss anything as coincidence.”
“Thanks for the reminder, little listener, we'll keep it in mind.”
Hizashi smiled at the boy, who visibly relaxed and smiled back. “So what do we do now?”
“Time to explore the rooms, I suppose.” Hizashi gestured to the gray door next to them. “Shall we?”
He marched up to the door. He took a cautious peak inside, then snorted and opened it wide. “Looks like the world's worst organized painting class.”
It was a decent sized square room filled with stools and paint easels. Each easel had a canvas on it, and each canvas had detailed painting of a single drop of water at the center. It wasn't exactly messy, nothing was knocked over and everything looked very clean, it's just that there was so much stuffed into the room. Stools and easels had been placed haphazardly, and they were so close together that they wouldn't be able to walk around the room without moving them.
They started in on searching right away, the pros only stopping long enough to remind Izuku to stay near one of them. It didn't take long to search the room, despite the clutter there wasn't a lot of spaces to hide anything, and the thing they needed to find ended up sitting right out in the open. Aizawa was the one to spot it first.
“Well, this certainly looks familiar.” Aizawa said, crouching down to examine the little bottle sitting on the stool.
“Why?” Izuku asked.
“Because I carry the same thing on me.” he reached into his pants pocket and handed another little bottle over to Izuku.
“Eye drops.” Izuku read off the label. “Oh! You said you're quirk is canceling out other people's quirks, right? Do you do that by looking at them? Is that why you carry around eye drops?”
Aizawa raised an eyebrow at him. “I carry eye drops because I have dry eye. Not everything has to do with quirks, kid.”
“Okay...but does the dry eye interfere with your quirk?”
“The point still stands.” Aizawa grumbled.
“Speaking of points, it looks like the point of this room is for us to find the eye drops.” Hizashi pointed out. “So we must need to use them on something, and I seem to recall seeing a very large, very dry eye not too long ago.”
“Sounds like a good next step to take then.”
Hizashi reached for the bottle, but was intercepted by Shouta. “If anyone is putting eye drops into a giant eye then it's gonna be the person that applies them everyday already.”
“Well, yeah, but you've only ever used them on yourself, not someone else, so we should have the same amount of experience.” Hizashi pointed out, following behind Aizawa as he and Izuku headed for the door.
“I assure you the same principle applies.”
They went back to the hallway with all the eyes, which opened again as soon as they got close enough. Aizawa around the eyes until he was next to the dry one, and carefully applied a couple of drops. The eye vanished suddenly, only to appear again, as though it had blinked. When it reappeared the redness was gone. Then it started to move across the floor.
Aizawa quickly sidestepped, nearly hitting one of the other eyes in his haste to get out of the way. The eye continued to move until it was at the edge of the 'eye area', then moved over by the wall near where Izuku and Hizashi were waiting.
“It's staring at that part of the wall.” Izuku noticed. Hizashi moved closer to examine it as Aizawa made his way back over to them.
“I didn't notice it before, but there's a section of wall right here a few feet wide that's just a little darker that the rest of the wall.” Hizashi leaned forward further and pushed on it. The bit of wall swung inwards easily.
“Now if only the walls had done that when we tried to find the disappearing stairs earlier.” Aizawa said. He carefully stepped over the eye and into the tiny room. The other two quickly followed. The little room was empty except for a small red gem sitting on the floor.
Izuku gasped when he saw it. “I remember now!” He tried to run forward, but was stopped by Aizawa grabbing his shoulders.
“Remember what we said about touching things?”
“Oh...right. I'm not supposed to touch things because they might be dangerous.” He looked down, his face heating up in embarrassment. “I'm sorry.”
Aizawa sighed, and Hizashi glanced at him before turning back to Izuku.
“It's okay, just remember to talk to us instead of rushing in.” Hizashi gave Izuku a pat on the shoulder. “Now tell us what you remembered, you sure seemed excited about it.”
“Oh yeah! I remember what was wrong with the snake picture. On the website it had a red eye, but in here the eyes was black. So maybe we're supposed to put the red rock into the snake eye.”
Aizawa nodded. “Sounds like you've got a good memory for what you see, now you just have to extend it to what you're told.”
Izuku looked up in surprise. Had Aizawa given him a compliment so soon after scolding him? It was a small one, but that still counted right?
Hizashi was the one to grab the red gem off the floor, and the one to place it into the eye of the snake painting. He half expected the snake to come to life when he put it in, and was ready to jump back if it did. And he did end up jumping back, just not for the reason he expected. When he placed the gem into the painting, it came loose from the wall and fell forward. He yelped and leaped back, but nothing else happened.
“You alright?” Shouta asked, coming forward to look things over.
“Oh sure, it's only my twentieth heart attack today, I'm sure I'll be fine.”
Izuku giggled, and Shouta smirked as he crouched down to look at the back of the painting. “There's something written here, in English again. Looks like it says...'behind the big tree'.”
“I don't remember seeing any trees in here.” Izuku said.
“We saw some in an earlier part of the gallery, but that was a ways back, and no puzzle has ever asked us to leave the area we're already in to solve it.” Hizashi rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“There's a door we haven't searched here yet. Maybe the it's referring to something in there.”
Taking Aizawa's suggestion, they trooped back to the first door they had seen by the intersection.
Hizashi opened the door, and he and Aizawa stiffened. There was nothing immediately alarming about what they saw, it was just a long horizontal bit of hallway that had four openings along the opposite wall. But beyond those openings the pros could hear the familiar hissing of rogue artwork.
“What's wrong?” Izuku whispered, having caught onto how tense the adults had gotten.
“It sounds like there's something dangerous further in.” Hizashi said.
“More painting ladies?” his voice trembled.
“Maybe, won't know for sure until we take a look.” Aizawa said. He glanced at Hizashi. “You up for some stealth recon?”
“Not exactly my strength, which I'm sure you know,” that made Aizawa snort “but I'll manage.” Then he knelt down in front of Izuku. “We're gonna scout ahead and see what's roaming around, but you have an important job too.”
“Yep, you've gotta stay here and keep an eye on the exit. We don't want anything sneaking up on us while we're in there, or anything getting out to attack us later. So if you see anything that isn't one of us, you yell so we can get back here and take care of it. You up for that?”
Izuku stared up at Present Mic with wide eyes while he spoke, hardly believing that a hero was trusting him with something like that. His eyes shone with determination when he nodded. “I'll do my best! You can count on me!”
“That's what I like to hear!” Hizashi held out his hand for a high five, and Izuku slapped it. With that they left Izuku on guard duty, and went through the opening furthest to the right.
“That was a good idea, keeping the kid out of the way with a job.” Shouta said softly.
“No biggie, figured it'd be best for everyone. Sense of control helps everyone in weird or scary situations, and even if he's gaga over heroes he's just old enough that he's not gonna want us to wrap him in bubble wrap. This way he can participate and we don't have to worry about getting separated from him in here.”
“Isn't he more separated from us this way?”
“Technically, but there was a word on the center of the first wall we saw in here. It said 'labyrinth', so I figure they'll be plenty of twists and turns in here, and I don't want to lose the kid around any of them. Especially if there's something lurking around.”
“Speaking of lurking...” Shouta said lowly. He nodded his head toward an opening on their left. The hissing had grown louder, and they saw a black statue in a red dress lumber past.
“I'm never gonna be able to look at store mannequins the same way after this.” Hizashi muttered.
They slowly made their way through the maze. Thankfully it didn't seem to be a very big maze, and there were only a few of the creepy statues moving around. Still, that was a few more statues than they would have liked to deal with. They found their first clue in a corner, which they didn't care for at all. Aizawa had to use his scarf to topple a statue for them to get out of the corner without losing any petals, which of course made sound that attracted the others. Soon they had to dodge a statue every time they turned a corner.
The clue had been an art easel that had 'look south of the red paint' written on it. They had noticed slashes of red paint on the floor as they were sneaking around, and had to back track to find them again. The first couple were a bust, but looking south of the third one revealed a hidden button. Which, of course, they pressed.
There was a distant rumbling noise. It agitated the roaming mannequins even more, and Aizawa had to rope another while Hizashi kicked one out of the way to get out of the maze. Their hearts nearly stopped when they didn't see anyone by the door.
They rushed forward, and almost smacked into Izuku when he opened the door. The sight of him stumbling through allowed their hearts to restart.
“I'm sorry! I heard a loud noise outside so I went out to make sure nothing was sneaking up like you said.”
“It's okay, let's just get out of here before the statues decide the maze isn't good enough for them anymore.” Mic urged.
They hurried out of the door and back into the hallway.
“I did find out what made the noise though.” Izuku said. He pointed to the path that went to the right, the one that was empty save for one painting when they explored it. There was now a gray door there that matched the one they had just exited.
Hizashi narrowed his eyes at the new door. “There's a lot of things I don't care for in this place. Doors appearing in places they weren't before is now on that list. It's pretty low on the list, but it's still on the list.”
Aizawa shook his head. “Let's get this over with.”
They pushed open the door, and nothing seemed immediately threatening. It was a rectangular room with four different statues in it, thankfully none of them looked like mannequins. Though the multi-colored, kneeling skeleton statue was more than a little unsettling.
“Are you supposed to sit on this one?” Izuku asked, pointing at a work that looked like a giant wineglass with a cushion inside it, the top cut so that one might actually be able to climb in unassisted.
“Well, the title of it is 'Wine Sofa', so I suppose you could, but I wouldn't. Not even because of how dangerous the art can be here, it just doesn't look comfortable.” Hizashi said, eyeing the bean bag cushion.
“I think it would be comfy.”
“Yeah, but you're a kid. You can handle no lumbar support, but I'm old and need a decent backrest.” Aizawa said. Hizashi looked scandalized.
“Shouta! How dare you call yourself old?! If you're old then I'm old and I refuse to be labeled as such!”
Izuku giggled. Hizashi's mouth fell open further.
“Midoriya! You don't think I'm old do you?”
“Uh...you're older than I am. Does that make you old?”
“Shut up, Shouta.”
Aizawa smirked. Hizashi scowled at him, and cast his eyes around for a subject change. His eyes landed on the statue furthest into the room.
“Hey, you suppose that tree statue counts as 'the big tree'?”
Aizawa still looked amused, but he followed Hizashi's lead over to the tree. As they got closer they saw there was something glittering near the base of the tree, and Aizawa knelt down to get a look at it.
“It's a ring.” He said, picking it up the silver band to show it off to Hizashi. The man put his hands over his heart and struck a surprised pose.
“Why Shouta! It's beautiful, but you already gave me a ring.”
Aizawa rolled his eyes, but Hizashi could see the slight curve of his lips. Izuku looked confused.
“Did Mr. Aizawa give you a different ring?”
“He most certainly did, and it's very pretty!” Hizashi said, showing off his hand to Izuku. The boy looked closely at his hand, and saw a thin, black ring with little sparkly stones set into the middle of the band.
“I like it! Does it mean you guys are married?”
“Yep. We're trying to keep it quiet so the media stays away though, so mums the word, okay?” Hizashi held up a finger to his lips, and Izuku nodded and did the same.
“On that note,” Aizawa interrupted “if the ring from the tree means the same as our rings, then I have an idea of what to do with it.”
They trooped out of the room and went back to the first gray room, the one with the sad bride and groom and grasping hands. Aizawa leaned down and read the plaques by the hands.
“This says these are supposed to be the bride's hands. So if I'm remembering the rules for this type of wedding right...” Aizawa took the silver ring and slipped it onto the left hand's ring finger. There was a gasp behind him, and Aizawa turned to see Izuku pointing at the paintings.
“We did it! The bride is happy now, and so is the groom!”
Indeed, the bride and groom now wore happy smiles, and as they watched, the painting of the bride threw her bouquet up and out of the frame. A moment later, an identical bouquet fell from the ceiling and next to the left hand.
Aizawa looked up in confusion. “Where did that come from?”
“I don't know, but I do know exactly what to do with these.” Hizashi said, scooping up the bouquet. “Who wants to visit that flower crazy painting again?”
Based on the flat look he received from both of his companions, the answer was 'no one'. Still, it was the only thing they could think to do with the bouquet, so back to the flower fiend they went.
“Ehehehe, you got flowers for me? Do ya?”
“Yep.” Hizashi said, holding out the bundle. Aizawa stood at the ready behind him, and Izuku hid behind Aizawa. Hizashi took small steps forward, until the bouquet was pressed against the face's surface.
“Ehehehe, thanks...it smells nice......eheheh.”
Izuku tilted his head. Had the painting been telling the truth when it said it just wanted to smell the flowers?
“Well, chow time!”
The painting turned violent shade of red. A tearing sound filled the air and the flowers were ripped to shreds. Izuku squeaked in fright and took a step back.
“Ahhh, the was good....eheheh. Thank you, thanks so much...”
“...you're welcome...” Hizashi said faintly.
“As promised, you can go through. Just take the door in...see ya...ehehehe!”
With that, the face disappeared, and the frame instead became a dark opening in the wall.
“Well, that happened.” Aizawa said, sounding even more tired than normal. Hizashi and Izuku didn't reply. “You two okay?”
“Y-yeah, just needed a moment.” Hizashi said, dropping what little was left of the bouquet.
“He was creepy.” Izuku said in a small voice.
“That he was little listener. Let's get out of here so we can get back home and forget all about him.”
Keeping Izuku in the middle, the little group climbed through the opening and into the next area.
“Okay, forget about crazy flower guy, this place is a lot creepier.” Hizashi declared.
“But it's just a bunch of mannequins heads...right?” Izuku asked tentatively.
They had entered a long hallway, lined with identical white mannequin heads on each side. They all faced the center of the hallway, meaning that every mannequin head would stare at whoever walked down the hallway. There were also three paintings of a white, round face on the walls, each of them with their eyes in a different position.
“Mannequins are, and always have been creepy. Putting them in a setting like this just makes it worse. Plus, I'm pretty sure those paintings' eyes are following me...”
“Didn't you once tell me that it was the mark of a great portrait was if it looked like the eyes were always looking back at you?” Aizawa asked, trying and failing to sound innocent.
“Ha! I knew you were actually listening during that lecture. You were only pretending to be asleep!”
Despite the atmosphere, the exchange between the two pros made Izuku smile. They still walked quickly through the hallway though, not wanting to stay here longer than needed, and kept a wary eye on their surroundings. Thankfully, the door at the end was unlocked, and they soon found themselves in a new area.
Aizawa's first thoughts upon entering the new area was that he did not like it. Not that he'd liked ANY part of the alternate gallery, but he liked this part even less than some of the others.
They were still in 'the gray area', as he'd come to think of it. When they exited the door they were faced with a wall in front of them and hallways going up to their left and down to their right. The thing he did not like was that, at the ends of the hallways, he could see the edges of a black statue to the right and the frame of a painting lady on their left.
"Caught between a rock and a hard place, it seems." Hizashi murmured, having seen the same thing. "No coin toss this time, we'll have to think it through."
Izuku was looking back and forth, and seemed to understand what the adults were talking about. He may not have seen the statues in action, but being told that they were dangerous by a couple of pros was enough to have him on edge at the sight of them.
"I vote we go right." Aizawa said. "I'd like to avoid the painting women as much as possible."
"Is that because the painting ladies are ob...uh...obsessive? You said they get really focused on people right? You never said the statues get like that."
Aizawa nodded in approval of Izuku's reasoning. "Right. We've had a few run ins with both, but the painting ladies are always more aggressive because of their obsession. So we'll probably have an easier time with the statue."
"Plus, the statues just seem to attack whatever is closest, while the painting women go after the roses specifically. The roses are a lot more delicate than we are, so a type of monster here trying to get the rose is a lot more dangerous than ones just going after us." Hizashi added. Izuku nodded in understanding, and subconsciously put a hand over the rose in his pocket.
Since they seemed to agree on a direction, Aizawa took things to the next step. "I'll go first, since I've got a weapon that can take care of the statues at a distance. Hizashi can bring up the rear and keep an eye out to make sure nothing sneaks up on us. Midoriya, you stay between us so you'll be well protected."
"Can't I help too? I mean, if you guys get overwhelmed?" Izuku asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Midoriya, we're heroes and you're a civilian. It's our job to save you, not the other way around.”
“Well, yeah, I know, but I could still help if it was an emergency! I'm not useless...”
Izuku's shoulders hunched and he crossed his arms while ducking his head. Hizashi gave him a pat on the back. "Nobody said you were little listener, but we've known each other for a long time and know how to respond to each other. So it'll be easier for us to focus if we're just working off of each other.” Hizashi tilted his head thoughtfully. “Though, if something is about to get my rose, I certainly wouldn't mind you grabbing it before you run for cover."
This seemed to mollify Izuku, as he straightened up and gave him a nod. “Okay, that sounds like a good plan.”
They made their way toward the statue in their chosen arrangement. Aizawa's grip on his capture weapon tightened as they got close to the statue, but he was soon right beside it an it hadn't moved. Though, even if he hadn't done that, he would have tensed at the sight of three more statues that were standing in a line with the one they had first seen.
There was an opening between each statue, which they soon discovered were additional hallways. The hallways spanned the whole length of the room, and there were painting ladies at the end of each. There was four of them, just like the statues, and they even had the same variety of clothing color: red, green, yellow, and blue. They got a little too close to the red lady when they went down the first hall, and she launched from the wall with a shattering sound. Aizawa kicked her in the face before the other two had time to react, and the force of it flipped the painting lady onto her back. Since she was basically attached to the bottom of the frame, this caused her to get stuck at a painful looking angle where she wiggled around like an overturned turtle.
“Oh, I have to remember that trick.” Hizashi said with a wide grin. Izuku stood beside him giggling, though if that was from amusement, relief, or some combination, was unclear.
“So you'll actually help next time?” Shouta asked, making a show of being put upon. Hizashi grinned wider.
“Hey, I conceded that I would never match your catlike reflexes before we even graduated, which gives me free license to sit back and enjoy watching them in action now.”
Despite the banter, the group did make a point of not getting too close to the other painting ladies. They discovered that there was a door at the very middle of the center hallway, but it was locked. They also found that there was a second half to the room, connected to the first half by two short, wide hallways. The lower hallway had a single door, which was locked, but the upper hallway gave them something more to work with.
There were two doors in the upper hallway. The one on the left had writing that asked for a password, and four tumblers beneath it that allowed one to cycle through numbers. The writing on the right door asked for the number of painting ladies in the room, and had two tumblers beneath it. Aizawa immediately tried putting in '04' on the right door, but nothing happened. Hizashi tried putting in '03', in case it didn't count the one that 'woke up'. Still nothing.
“Does that mean there are more painting ladies in the other half of the room?” Izuku asked, his hands balled up in the ends of his shirt.
“Probably.” Hizashi admitted. “But at least we know how to take them out now.” he grinned at Aizawa, who shook his head.
“We don't know how long she'll stay stuck like that, or if its easily duplicated. We should be careful as count the rest of the room.”
“Sour puss.” Hizashi muttered fondly. Shouta ignored him, instead staring at the floor thoughtfully. After a few moments he turned to Izuku.
“You wanna be the one to count the painting women? It'll be easier for us to keep a look out if we're not distracted trying to remember that.”
Hizashi smirked at Shouta as Izuku's nodded eagerly. His smirk grew wider when Shouta caught sight of it, and narrowed his own eyes in response. He really was such a softy when it came to kids, and Hizashi would take every opportunity available to tease him about that.
While the hallways in the first half of the room had been long and vertical, the halls of the second half were long and horizontal. Plus, they were lined with painting women rather than just having them at the end of the hallways. That meant they could only keep a single hallways' width away from the painting ladies that they passed. Hizashi didn't want to think about all of them coming to life, it seemed like this half of the room was nothing but painting women!
Well, there were two exceptions to that. One was another gray door, once again locked. Hizashi hated how directed that made him feel, like whatever ran this place was leading them down a very specific path. The other was a tall paining nestled among a line of painting woman, and it was one that Hizashi recognized.
'The Hanged Man', the painting that had once been a tarot card. He called the group to a halt in front of it, and stared at it thoughtfully.
“This painting being here seems too deliberate to be coincidence.” He said aloud.
“Yeah, I've counted seven more painting ladies and this is the first painting that isn't of a lady.” Izuku agreed.
Aizawa took one more look at the surrounding painting women, then took a few steps closer to 'The Hanged Man'. The atmosphere of this place made the man's despairing expression even more unsettling.
“Well, looks like we might have the code needed for the other door.” He announced, looking the painting up and down before settling his gaze on the man's shirt. “We needed a four digit number, and there's one printed on this guy's shirt.
Izuku leaned to the side so he could see around Aizawa, and squinted at the Hanged Man. “So we need to put in the number '2659'?”
“Not quite, you gotta take into account that he's upside down.” Aizawa leaned far over and pressed his head to his shoulder, making his hair fan out. “The number is 6295.”
Izuku frowned, but then he did the same pose as Aizawa. “Oh! Now I see it. I'll remember that one too.”
There was only one more hall to look at after that, once again filled with nothing but painting ladies. With that, all the currently available space in the second half had been officially explored.
“So what's the final count, little listener?” Hizashi asked once they were back in the upper hallway. Shouta was busy keeping an eye on the first half of the room, just in case the one alive painting lady had righted herself by now.
“Including the first four we saw, I counted 14.” Izuku reported. “Should I try putting that into the tumblers?”
“Go for it!” Hizashi encouraged.
Izuku had to reach a little bit to turn the numbers, since they were fixed to the upper part of the door. He put in the '1' first, and the moment the '4' clicked into place there came the sound of a metallic clack, like the sound of a deadbolt being unlocked.
“Nice job.” Shouta said. He had moved much closer to them now, but his focus was still on looking around. Hizashi placed a hand on Izuku's shoulder, ready to push the boy out of the way should something terrible come barreling out of the room, and carefully opened the door.
Thankfully, Hizashi's worry was unfounded. The small, square room before them was empty, save for a short bookshelf, a sign in the back corner, and a familiar table and water-filled vase that stood in the middle of the room.
“Nobody needs the vase, right?” Hizashi asked as they all moved into the room.
“Nope, we're all still good from the vase back in the last section.” Shouta confirmed as he closed the door behind them.
“I really wish they'd put some of this stuff in Japanese. I can only read a couple of words on here.” Izuku complained. He'd gone over to look at the sign while the pros were talking. It wasn't actually art, so he figured that meant he should be okay to approach it. Hizashi stepped over to join him.
“Well, part of the problem may be that some of the letters are missing at the end.” Hizashi pointed out. For the benefit of his companions he read aloud as much of it as he could.
'Please do not touch the displays.
If by any chance you damage any
exhibits you wil b comp sat n'
“The last word could be 'compensated', but it doesn't make much sense to say someone will be compensated just after warning them not to touch anything.”
“Well, it's kind of a moot point anyway, since we've already touched the art plenty.” Aizawa pointed out.
“Have you touched any of the painting things with your hands? Mom said that not touching with hands was the most important part because of oils on people's skin.”
While Hizashi gave Midoriya a brief lecture on why skin oils were so damaging to normal paintings, Aizawa knelt down in front of the bookshelf. He tried pulling out various books, seeing if any of them did anything or were hiding a key, and was only able to pull out one labeled 'Wonderful Days'. It appeared to be one of those books where visitors could enter thoughts about museum exhibits. Just like before, he couldn't fan through the book and look at everything, so he let it fall open naturally. It ended up on a page with a single entry.
“The gallery is such an amazing place, with so many strange things. I had so much fun playing here that the day was over before I knew it! Isn't it a fantastic place? Why don't you join me here? You'll be fine with all this company...”
A shiver ran up Aizawa's spine as the read the last line. 'I wouldn't exactly call the 'residents' here good company.'
“Anything interesting Shouta?” He just barely kept himself from startling when Hizashi spoke up from behind him. Instead he shrugged his shoulders and put the book back.
“Nothing useful.” Maybe he'd talk to Hizashi about the possible implications of the gallery 'talking' to them later, without Midoriya around. The kid had been pretty level headed so far, but Aizawa didn't want to freak him out unnecessarily.
They conducted a brief search of the room, and couldn't find anything else useful. So they moved on to the left door with the four digit password. Turns out they had been right about the number of 'The Hanged Man' being the password, and they were soon walking into a room of the same size and shape as the one right next to it. The key difference here was the furniture.
In the upper right corner there was another table with a vase on it, though this one didn't appear to have any water in it. But what most caught the pro's attention was the stool and easel that was propped up just in front of them. Nothing appeared to be outwardly unusual about them, yet looking at the spot caused the hair on Aizawa's neck to stand up. It wasn't quite the feeling of being watched, Aizawa knew that feeling intimately well, but it was similar. Based on the way that Hizashi was leaning away from it, he must be feeling it too.
Izuku, however, was a different story. While he too seemed hesitant to approach the stool, he did crane his neck to get a better look at what was painted onto the easel. Then he started looking back and forth between the easel and the vase in the corner.
“What's up kid?” Aizawa asked.
“The furniture is weird.”
“Yeah, it feels creepy to me too.” Hizashi said, but that made Izuku shake it head and wring his hands.
“That's not it. Well, I mean, it does feel weird, but it's more than that. It feels...it feels like someone is meant to be here painting the vase, but usually when someone draws or paints something they have it in front of them but instead the vase is all the way in the corner...”
Aizawa shook himself and forced himself to stop looking at the stool. His eyes landed on the easel instead, and he saw that it was indeed a partially done painting of the vase on the corner table.
“You know what little listener, you may be onto something.” Hizashi said, rubbing his chin. He looked at the easel from different angles, then walked over to the small table and started to push it to the other side of the room. Izuku tilted his head.
“What are you doing?”
“Making it so the 'artist' can see the subject of his work of course.” Hizashi replied. When the table was far enough over he angled the table so it was facing the easel. As he pushed, the table abruptly stopped and locked into place. They heard the same metallic clack of a door unlocking, but it was much more distant than before. Hizashi was allowed one brief moment to flash a triumphant smile, before another, closer sound made them all jump. Aizawa immediately recognized the cracking, splintering sound.
“Damn, sounds like another painting is on the loose.”
“It's okay. I have a friend at school whose said that word before, and plenty of other bad words too.” Izuku informed them. Hizashi shook his head.
“That...that's not the point...”
“Save it for later.” Shouta interrupted. “Moving the table did something out there. We should go figure out what it is.”
Shouta insisted that the others stay behind him while he cracked the door open, and he was glad that he did. The newly awakened painting lady was visible just at the end of the hallway, which placed her between them and the second half of the room. A real shame that, since Shouta was pretty sure that was the direction the 'unlocking' sound had come from. He informed the others of the problem in a low voice.
“Think we can sneak around to the lower hallway and get in that way?” Hizashi asked, matching his tone.
“We'd have to time it right, and be quiet about it.” Thankfully these things didn't seem to be overly intelligent. He could have held that one down while Hizashi and the kid went by, but he didn't want to assume that this painting was the only one free or that others wouldn't break free while he was occupied with the one. Best to try and avoid detection first and leave fighting as plan B.
After a brief argument that consisted mostly of gestures, Izuku conceded to being carried for the sake of stealth. After that was decided, the group crept out of the room and down to the lower hallway. Hizashi's chin rested on Izuku's shoulder as he held the boy close to him, which let Izuku act as a set of second eyes for Hizashi. Just before they turned the corner to go into the lower hallway, Izuku frantically tugged on the back of Hizashi's shirt. The man took the hint and turned around. He saw that there was a painting lady at the very end of the hall, same color as the one Shouta had kicked before. Which means that one had probably righted itself. Thankfully it wasn't looking their way; Hizashi tapped on Shouta's shoulder and pointed at it. When Shouta saw it he scowled and picked up the pace.
They sneaked out of the lower hall and toward the gray door in the second half of the room. Amazingly, they made it all the way there without drawing either painting's attention, seeing any additional ladies, or having any burst out the wall while they were passing by. Hizashi felt a bit worried that a part of him thought of this as good fortune.
Shouta tested the doorknob. When it turned and the door opened, Hizashi finally set Izuku back on the ground. The new room was bigger than the previous two they'd entered, but almost completely empty. There was no furniture of any kind, and the only thing adorning the walls was a body length mirror standing at the very back of the room. Hizashi had never thought of mirrors as sinister, but the fact that it was the only thing in here made him suspicious.
“Let's spread out and look over the floor and walls. There are still two more doors out there that are locked, and there's got to be some way to open them.” Shouta said.
Hizashi went over to the right wall. Shouta took the left and Izuku started looking around the center of the room. Without walls to look at, Izuku reached the end of the room quickly and started looking at the mirror.
“Anything interesting over there?” Hizashi asked when he noticed Izuku standing in front of the mirror, moving his arms up and down and side to side.
“Not really. I'm pretty sure it's just a normal mirror; my reflection moves the same as always.”
“Anyone ever taught you how to spot a two way mirror?”
“You can tell that from the side that isn't see through?” Izuku asked. Hizashi nodded and walked over.
“Yeah, there are a couple things you can do to figure it out. A lot of people try this thing where they hold their finger up to the mirror and see whether or not there's a gap between the finger and the reflection, but that's kind of hit or miss because it can depend on what angle your looking at it and stuff. There are better ways you can tell for sure. One of the ways is looking at how the mirror is set up with the wall. You see-” Hizashi was cut off by a frantic tugging on his clothes. He looked down at Izuku, and saw that the boy was pointing at the door with wide eyes. Hizashi's eyes trailed up, and he blanched.
“Shouta? Did you hear the door open at any point?”
Shouta looked away from his inspection of the left wall, saw where they were looking, and turned toward the door himself. He almost swore. There was a mannequin head sitting right in front of the door.
“No, I didn't.” He pushed himself away from the wall and started the walk over to the head, keeping his capture weapon at the ready. Hizashi and Midoriya nervously joined him, though they stood further away than he did. Shouta looked it over carefully from a few steps away; it looked like the same kind of head they'd seen in the hallway on the way here. Shouta braced himself and used his foot to gently nudge the head.
“What do we do about it?” Izuku asked.
“We might not have to do anything. It's not reacting violently so far, so we might be able to just move it when we want to leave.” 'Hopefully' Shouta mentally added.
“The fact that we saw them in the hallway might actually be a good sign.” Hizashi said slowly. “With the statues and painting ladies, the very first ones we met here tried to hurt us, but none of the heads in the hallway did. So that might be a sign that they just want to, heh, watch us.” Hizashi rubbed his arms, despite his words it was hard to get past the head's creepy vibe.
“So...we just keep an eye on it?” Izuku asked.
“About as good of an option as we have right now.” Shouta admitted. They drifted away from the head and went back to what they were doing.
“So, what were you saying about the mirror Mr. Mic?” Izuku asked.
“Huh? Oh, right. Well, if a mirror is hanging on the wall, then it's just a regular mirror, but if it's built to be a part of the wall it makes it more likely that there are people observing on the other side.”
Izuku nodded and pressed his head to the wall to get better look at the mirror's side. “The side is thin, but I'm pretty sure it's just hanging there.”
“Good, that's good. Another test you can do is to try knocking on it. If it makes a dull sound then there's just a wall on the other side, but if it sounds more hollow then it probably has on observation room on the other side.”
Izuku rapped his knuckles on the mirror surface. “It doesn't sound hollow to me.”
“Not to me either, so I'd be pretty confident in saying this is just a mirror. There is one more test you can do though. Observation rooms have to be pretty bright if you want to see through the mirror, because it ends up being like tinted glass. So you can also try getting really close like this,” Hizashi put his face right up to the glass and cupped his hands around his eyes “and if it is two-way you could see just a little bit of the room behind it.” He pulled away. “You wanna try-EEEEEEE!”
In the reflection of the mirror, Hizashi and Izuku saw the mannequin head floating just behind Hizashi's head. Hizashi whirled around and the head dropped down to the floor, like it was trying to fool them into thinking it hadn't been floating at all.
“Why you- get lost!” Hizashi yelled, and reared back to kick the head. Before he could follow through, Izuku threw himself at the main, and the pair stumbled back.
“You both okay?” Aizawa asked, appearing at Hizashi's side.
“That stupid things scared the daylights out of me, but we're fine.” Hizashi admitted with a huff. He looked down at Izuku, who still had his arms wrapped around Hizashi's torso.
“What was up with that, little listener?”
Realizing that things had calmed down. Izuku peeled himself off Hizashi and looked away in embarrassment.
“Well, you said there was a good chance those things wouldn't hurt us, and it really hasn't, not yet at least. And that one sign, it said not to damage the artwork, so I thought that hurting it before it hurt us might be a bad idea.” Izuku's words got quieter and more mumbled as he went on. Hizashi arched his brow.
“You thought of all that in that one moment?”
“Well, I'd been thinking about the sign earlier, and you just said the stuff about the heads, so it all kinda came together when you moved...”
“That was some quick thinking kid.”
Izuku looked up, his eyes wide with surprise at the approving tone in Aizawa's voice.
“Don't give me that look. You got a bunch of observations together in a very short amount of time and acted on them when you thought someone was going to do something dumb.”
“Hey!” Hizashi cried. Aizawa ignored him.
“So I'm just stating the facts. That was good, quick thinking.”
“Yeah, this place is murderous enough with the statues and the paintings and other random things that come to life. It's probably best if we don't make a whole new subset of them angry with us.” Hizashi admitted. He ruffled Izuku's hair and gave him a thumbs up. “Sorry for scaring ya, little listener, and thanks for stepping in. Now let's get back to getting out of here.”
Izuku's expression of awe didn't fade, even as they declared there was nothing else of interest in this room. Though it did get replaced by a smile and a giggle when Hizashi muttered an awkward apology to the mannequin head as they made their way back out.
It wasn't until writing this chapter that I finally understood the logic behind having to move the table and vase to that specific spot of the floor. No wonder the developer had to add those little black spots to give the player a hint, it took me years to make that connection!
“So, what to try next?” Hizashi pondered as they left the mirror room and headed downward. “That room didn't give us much of a clue.”
“No, it didn't. Which is odd, since pretty much all the room have had some kind of point.” Shouta pointed out.
“That's true. So maybe there's a chance that just going in there unlocked something. We'll have to take a look around and-”
Loud crashing sounded behind them. All three tensed and turned around. Two painting woman had come off the walls behind them, cutting off their access to the mirror room. Both were looking at the group, eyes gleaming with hunger.
“Run!” Shouta ordered. “Upper hallway!”
They fled down the corridor. Another painting lady, this one in green, burst out of the wall as they ran past.
“WAIT!” Izuku cried, stopping in his tracks. Hizashi nearly knocked him over.
“We gotta move, Midoriya!” He started pushing the kid along.
“But look! A key!”
He whipped around and looked where Izuku was pointing. There was a gray key sitting just below where the Green Lady had been hanging.
Aizawa wrapped the Green Lady up with his scarf, but the other two weren't far behind. Shouta managed to get the other end of his scarf out and around one, but he was already holding one painting down, so the entanglement only slowed her down.
“Listener, grab the key!” Hizashi barked. He ran forward and kicked the one lady who was still free. She skidded back, but didn't flip like it had when Shouta did it earlier. Should he use his quirk? Would the sound have any affect on these things? They were already stronger than the average human, based on how hard Shouta had to work to keep them down, and he didn't want to get swamped. Would a loud noise wake up more of them?
“I got it!” Izuku cried.
“Go for the lower hallway.” Shouta called out. When he heard Izuku's feet patter away, he released the paintings and ran, with Hizashi right behind him. They caught up to Izuku within seconds, and Izuku handed the key off to Hizashi.
'Please let this be the right one.' Shouta thought to himself. Hizashi went for the door while Shouta pushed the closest painting ladies back.
“It worked!” Hizashi yelled. They all rushed inside and slammed the door shut behind them.
The pros each had a hand on the door, while Izuku stood a little ways in, panting.
“Guess it's a good thing Guertena never painted their legs.” Hizashi said, listening the the pounding of fists against the wood. The knob never moved though. “You think they'll forget we're in here after a while?”
The Painting Ladies stated 'obsession' with humans didn't make that likely, but Aizawa didn't think stating that would help the atmosphere. “We can hope, and at the very least we've got a new place to explore. We might find something in here that's useful.”
“Good point.” Hizashi said, while his eyes swept the room. There was a strange red and white sofa at the center of the room, which he recognized from the gallery, with a small sign near it. It was the only seating available, aside from a couple of knocked over stools. There were bookshelves in one corner, partially covering up a window. The only other artwork in the room was of a woman on the back wall. It was different from the other painting ladies though, a full body portrait of a woman in modern casual clothes. Hopefully a portrait was all it was.
“Great job with the key earlier, little listener. As your reward, you get to pick where we search first.” Hizashi joked.
Izuku did not respond.
Hizashi looked down at him. Izuku was staring at the portrait on the back wall with wide, terrified eyes. He started walking towards it, his steps slow and mechanical.
“Hey, kid.” Shouta called out.
Izuku kept walking, stepping around the couch on instinct, his eyes never leaving the painting.
“Midoriya!” Shouta snapped. Izuku still showed no sign he had heard. The two pros gave each other a worried look before going after him.
Izuku was standing right in front of the painting now. His little fists were balled up in the end of his shirt, and he was breathing faster than normal. Hizashi knelt down next to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. The kid jumped like he'd gotten an electric shock.
“Easy Izuku.” Hizashi said, tightening his grip on the kid's shoulder. “Can you tell me what's wrong?”
“She, she shouldn't be here! She didn't get stuck with me, she shouldn't be here!”
“Who shouldn't be here?” Shouta pressed.
“My mom! That's her in the painting!” Izuku cried, tears spilling down his face.
Hizashi drew back in surprise, and looked up at the large portrait on the wall. Now that he was looking at it more closely, he could definitely see the resemblance between her and Izuku. They had the same shade of dark green hair, the same eyes, even the same face shape. Plus the painting was incredibly life like, so detailed that one could have mistaken it for a photograph instead of a painting. No wonder Izuku was freaked out.
“What does it mean?! Did the paintings get her and turn her into one too?! We, we can't leave her here! She's all I-”
Izuku's words cut off when Shouta put his hands on both sides of Izuku's head and looked him in the eyes.
“Izuku. Stop thinking for a moment, and focus on me.” Tears still streamed down the boy's face, but he remained silent, and Shouta continued. “I need you to breathe with me, okay? We're gonna be taking deep breathes.”
Then Shouta started taking deep even breathes, emphasizing the movement of his chest so Izuku could follow along. His attempts were strained and choked at first, but as the seconds passed he began to breathe easier. Once he was able to do long, even breaths without trouble, Shouta stopped and removed his hands.
“Feeling any better?” he asked.
Izuku looked away. “I...a bit. But what about Mom?”
“I don't think you need to worry about her.” Hizashi cut in before Izuku could start freaking out again. “I know that plenty of things in here have been scary or dangerous, but there's been a lot more things that have just been regular paintings or parts of harmless puzzles. This is probably one of those.”
“But, the other art stuff was all Guertena's other works right? He shouldn't have a painting of my mom.”
“That's a good point, but there has also been stuff in here that wasn't in the original gallery. And some of the scary things we've come across have just been that, scary, but not dangerous. You remember the mannequin head from a little earlier?”
Izuku nodded slowly.
“Well, that was a good example. You stopped me from kicking it because you were able to guess that it wasn't really going to hurt us, it just did it's best to freak us out. So there's a good chance that's all that this is.” Hizashi said, gesturing to the painting. “It's probably just the gallery trying to scare you.”
“...so, it might have just gotten a look at her when she was in the gallery, and used that to make the painting?” Izuku asked.
“That's definitely a possibility.” Shouta confirmed.
“But what if it's not? All the other people in the gallery disappeared! What if they all ended up in paintings in here?”
“Midoriya, we have no evidence of that aside from the painting's accuracy, which could mean a lot of things. Hizashi's theory is just as likely to be right at this point, and we won't get anywhere thinking up hypotheticals.” Shouta's words were firm, but became gentler as he continued. “We have to focus on what we can do right now. Right now, we can find our way out. If we find out that other people are missing after we escape, then we'll get back up, find our way back, and go looking for them. But we can't help anyone if we get stuck here too. Understand?”
Izuku looked between the two of them. Apparently he trusted what he saw, because after a few moments he nodded.
“Okay...okay, let's hurry and figure out how to get out then.”
Hizashi smiled at him. “Atta boy!”
Shouta went to look around while Hizashi offered Izuku a tissue to help clean his face up. He decided to check out the sign near the couch first. He may not be as good with English as Hizashi, but it looked all of these words were ones he knew.
“Tired? Why not sit for a while? You'll never be hurt again”
Okay...maybe it was just a translation thing, but that sounded awfully ominous to Shouta. He looked at the couch, taking in it's pristine white fabric with veins of red crawling across it. It almost looked like it was trying to emulate something alive.
“Hey, this couch is artwork. So don't sit on it.” Shouta warned the others.
“Got it.” Hizashi said. He was done helping Izuku finish calming down, and Izuku followed the man around as he went to explore the room.
It ended up being quick work. None of the bookshelves seemed to hold anything useful, and the floor wasn't hiding any keys. They looked behind the bookshelves to be sure, and under the couch. The stools appeared to be just regular furniture as well.
“What is up with this section and sending us into pointless rooms?” Hizashi muttered, crossing his arms in irritation.
“Well, maybe it isn't pointless?” Izuku ventured. “The mirror room didn't have anything useful in it, but we couldn't get into here until we went in there. So maybe we just had to stay in here a while?”
“Maybe.” Shouta conceded. It seemed a little out of character, given the types of obstacles and puzzles they had to deal with until now. But that could have been the point, to break the pattern and throw them off. Or maybe the puzzle was just figuring out how to navigate to each new place with all the painting ladies coming to life. “Either way, we aren't making any progress in here.”
“Let's go see if anything has changed outside then.” Hizashi said.
The sounds of fists banging on the door had quieted while they were searching. The group members were various degrees of hopeful that this meant the painting ladies had moved on. Shouta, being the least optimistic about that, was the one to go forward to open the door. He listened carefully, and couldn't hear anything happening on the other side. Still, he readied his capture weapon before grabbing the knob.
It didn't turn.
Shouta frowned. “Did one of you lock this after we got in here?” He asked over his shoulder.
Hizashi tilted his head. “No. Can we even do that?”
“The last time I had the key was when I gave it to Mr. Mic.” Izuku said. “And I haven't been near the door since.”
Suspicion began to percolate in the back of Shouta's mind. It seemed unlikely the painting ladies could have done it, since they couldn't even turn the handle. There had been statues around; none of them had ever tried to interact with the doors before but that didn't necessarily mean they couldn't. What if Izuku had been right? If this room wasn't pointless then it could be-
Everyone jumped. The sound that had come from the door was a far cry from the pounding of the painting women, it was more like someone was trying to take the door down with a battering ram. The sound repeated, and then suddenly it was all around them, sounding from each wall.
“What happening?!” Izuku cried, clinging to Hizashi's arm. He looked around wildly, as if the cause of the noise would suddenly materialize in the room.
“It sounds like something is trying to break in!” Hizashi shouted over the noise.
Shouta's blood pounded in his ears. There were so many paintings and statues out there, if they managed to break in then he and Hizashi would be severely outnumbered. They would need to slow them down. Shouta's eyes scanned the room, and landed on the window in the back.
“Hizashi! Help me!” Shouta yelled, running for it. One of the book cases was tall enough and wide enough that if they moved it in front of window it might stop anything from getting through it. Hizashi caught on right away, and ran over to help him push the heavy book case.
Seeing what they were doing, Izuku ran over to one of the shorter book cases. He started to drag it toward the door, hoping to reinforce the other obvious weak point of the room. Shouta ran over to help him once their task was done, and they soon had it tipped over in front of the door as a low barricade. Hizashi had picked up one of the stools by seat; he looked like a animal tamer ready to fend off some angry beast.
Without much warning, part of the back wall gave way, wood splintering and cracking. Painting ladies spilled in through the new hole.
What followed was like some horrible game of tag. The couch stood in the very center of the room, and the trio were by the door. They had to make their way around the couch if they had any hope of making it to the opening.
“I'll make a path, you guard our back!” Shouta shouted. His capture weapon lashed out, wrapping around a painting lady and throwing her over the couch. He advanced forward as much as he could, and Izuku followed him. Hizashi brought up the rear, fending off the growing number of painting ladies with the legs of the stool.
Desperate for some way to help, Izuku whipped his head back and forth. Aizawa seemed to be doing okay with his capture weapon, but Mr. Mic was starting to look overwhelmed. Seeing a book on the floor, fallen from the tipped book case, Izuku grabbed it and hurled it with all his might at the ladies behind him. It smacked one right in the face, slowing her down.
“Nice shot!” Hizashi yelled.
“Just one more I can see, get ready to run!”
As soon as they heard the 'thump' of a thrown lady, Hizashi and Izuku surged forward after Shouta. The adults had to duck down to get through the hole, but Izuku could run through just fine. They entered the upper hallway, but they weren't out of the woods yet.
While they were in the room, every painting lady and statue in the area had come to life, and were now roaming the halls. There was no hope of sneaking around now.
“The gray door in the first half of the room is our best bet, head there.” Hizashi urged. There was no argument.
They once again took up their position of Shouta leading, Hizashi guarding, and Izuku staying between them. It was hard going. The hallways here were narrow, making it hard to maneuver if more than one artwork was attacking. Hizashi's stool worked well for fending off their pursuers, and Shouta's capture weapon and fighting style cleared them a path, but they still had statues that managed to get a swipe in or painting ladies that clawed at an ankle, and Izuku had to dodge several that briefly made it past their defenses.
But finally, they found the remaining gray door. To their relief, even from a distance, they could see that it was partway open. They pushed themselves forward. Izuku almost stumbled when a painting lady grabbed at him, and almost fell, but Hizashi grabbed his hand and pulled him onward.
They burst through the gray door. Shouta slammed the door shut behind them, and Hizashi let go of Izuku's hand to wedge the stool under the door knob. Not trusting the door to be enough protection after the wall had given way, they continued to run down the hall, hardly noticing the continued gray coloring or the mannequin head paintings on the wall. When they reached the end of the hallway, there was another gray door, and a hallway leading downward.
“It doesn't sound like...anything is following us.” Hizashi panted.
“Yeah. Let's take a break here.” Shouta said, wearily sinking down into a crouch.
“Whew, that was intense, huh?” Hizashi said, leaning against a clear bit of wall. “But we made it! We sure showed them, didn't we little listener?”
Izuku didn't answer. He stood in the center of the hallway, his eyes unfocused and his limbs shaking slightly.
“Little listener? Are you alright? Did one of them hurt you?” Hizashi asked. He glanced down at Izuku's chest and was relieved to see that the green rose was still there. Probably missing a petal or two, but otherwise undamaged.
“Hey, kid, can you look at me?” Shouta asked, a bit of worry seeping into his voice.
Izuku began to turn toward him. But as he did, one of his feet caught on the other, and he fell down to his knees. Shouta sprang forward and caught him by the shoulders.
“Hey, what's wrong?”
Izuku's eyes slipped shut, and he sagged forward. He fell limply into Shouta's arms, the sound of his own name echoing in his mind as everything went black.
“Midoriya!” Hizashi cried in alarm as the boy slumped forward. Shouta gently lowered him to the ground, and started taking his vitals with practiced ease.
“How is he?” Hizashi asked, kneeling down next to them. “I mean, his rose is mostly okay, so he can't be hurt too badly, right?”
“I think he just passed out from the stress.” Shouta said. Hizashi let out a relieved sigh.
“Can't say I blame him. First getting attacked by the Lady in Blue right off the bat, then going through that whole chase scene, that's a lot to deal with in a short amount of time.”
“Especially for a young, untrained civilian.” Shouta agreed. “We should wait until he wakes up before we get moving again.”
“Yeah, good idea, and not just for him. He's not the only one that's stressed here.” Hizashi said with a wry smile. Shouta couldn't argue with that.
“It'd be nice if we didn't have to rest in the middle of the hallway; its too open here.”
“We could try that door.” Hizashi nodded toward the gray door at the end of the hall. “If it leads to a room that isn't dangerous, then at least we'd be out of sight if our stalkers back there manage to break through.”
Shouta nodded, and picked Izuku up. He placed him just outside the door, and then went in to investigate with Hizashi. The room was square, and fairly small. There weren't any immediate dangers visible, no statues or painting ladies. There was some sort of abstract painting in the back of the room, which Hizashi thought looked vaguely like a bird on a branch. The only other things in the room were a couple of book cases, with a flower vase between them, sitting in the very center of the room.
“Well, that's a good sign, I think. So far places with flower vases have been safe, well, safer than other places anyway.” Hizashi noted.
The room passed inspection, so Shouta brought Izuku inside and laid him down beside the book cases. Hizashi took off his jacket and draped it over Izuku, hoping that the extra warmth would help, and Shouta placed a soft cover book beneath his head. It wasn't the best of pillows, but it would hopefully save him from getting a crick in his neck. Once that was done, Shouta started to go over to the book cases, but Hizashi grabbed a hold of his wrist.
“We can look at those later. Let's take a break for a bit, huh?”
A part of Shouta wanted to protest. He wanted to get out of here as soon as possible, and sitting around wouldn't accomplish that. But they had been running around this madhouse nonstop for a while now, and hadn't really taken the time to deal with everything that had happened since they entered. Some time to think might not be a bad idea. So he let Hizashi pull him over to the corner and sat down next to him, both of them facing so they could see Midoriya.
“This place just gets more confusing the further in we go.” Shouta muttered. Hizashi nodded emphatically.
“I know! I mean, I think we're getting better at figuring out what might or might not try to kill us, but that's just us paying attention to things that did it before. It doesn't give us any clues about what might decide to spring to life in the future. Not to mention that our motivation theory makes no sense anymore.”
“Right. I can see someone going after the two of us, but what's the kid got to do with anything? I can't think of any connection I have to him, you?”
Hizashi shook his head. “Neither of his names ring any bells for me. And if someone is doing this and has something else against the kid and just happens to have something against us too, then it's next to impossible that they would know we'd all be here at the gallery today. I mean, someone with a foresight quirk might know, but it's rare to have one that accurate, plus it wouldn't explain how we got trapped here.”
“Could have hired someone who had a quirk able to trap us all. Still, seems kinda far fetched for one person's motivation.”
“More far fetched than this entire situation?” Hizashi asked with raised eyebrows. Shouta snorted.
“Fair point. Should still consider other options though. You read about the exhibit before coming, right? Anything jump out at you?”
“Hmmmm...now that you mention it, there were a couple forum threads that got kinda weird. The title of one implied the place was haunted, but I didn't bother to read any of it. Figured it was just the typical stuff inspired by an artist being dead and having done some weird works in the past.”
“...is that why you brought up the place being 'haunted' by Guertena earlier?”
“Kind of, but I was thinking more about an article that talked about his death. Apparently he was found in his studio. It looked like he died of overwork or exhaustion, right after completing the painting he had been working on. Which, I suppose, makes it his last painting. And...I don't know, just the idea that he'd managed to work himself to death over his art...”
“It was like his art was his life, so he gave his last bit of life to it?”
“Something like that. I mean, he was getting on in years, so dying of natural causes isn't that hard to believe. But, that in combination with seeing that thread topic, it makes you wonder...”
Shouta hummed, not yet willing to commit to any theory like that. “What about Guertena's quirk? Could he have done anything like this?”
Hizashi frowned, his brow wrinkling in thought. “You know...now that you mention it...I don't think any of the sites mentioned what his quirk was.”
“Really?” Given how quirk obsessed their society was, Shouta found that hard to believe. “Not a single one?”
“Not that I can think of. Most of the ones I looked at focused on his work and the circumstances of his death though, so maybe they just didn't think it was relevant?” Hizashi gave a helpless shrug and crossed his arms.
Shouta supposed that was possible; not everyone based their career around their quirk after all. Still, it did seem strange that it wouldn't even get a passing mention. He filed the curiosity away for later analysis.
“When we were exploring the last room, I found a book that was like a visitors sign in log.” Shouta said, deciding to switch angles. “The only entry I found it started out normal, with the writer saying how fun the gallery was, but it ended with the writer asking the reader to 'join' them here and that 'you'll be fine with all this company'.”
Hizashi shivered. “Well, that's not creepy at all. You're just coming out with this now?”
“Wasn't sure if it meant anything. It could have just been another scare tactic, and I didn't want to freak out the kid.” Shouta said with a shrug. They both looked over at the sleeping Izuku. Considering his current state, keeping that under wraps may have been the best for now.
“Well, I suppose this gives us more evidence to argue about just how sentient the gallery is.” Hizashi murmured.
As they began to discuss that, their attention shifted back to each other, so they missed how Izuku began to twitch in his sleep.
He was stuck. He had to get out. Why wouldn't the door open? The knob wouldn't turn, but it had to he needed to get out. He had to get back to Mom!
BAM! BAM! BAM!
No. no no no no no they were trying to get in. He had to keep them out. He had to get out. He had to run but he was stuck! Where was Mom? Where was Mr. Mic and Mr. Aizawa?
There was another door. When was there another door? He had to go through it. Had to get away.
He went through. NO NO NO too close too close cornered they were everywhere and the door was locked someone help me Help Me HELP ME
Izuku jolted awake, and for a moment he could do nothing but suck in lung fulls of air. When his vision focused again, he was met with the sight of concerned eyes and long blonde hair.
“Take it easy kiddo, just breathe, you were having a nightmare.” Mr. Mic soothed.
Izuku's mind flashed back to Mr. Aizawa helping with his breathing, and he did his best to replicate it. Slowly, his breath evened out, and he moved to sit up. Something fell down into his lap, and he looked down in surprise. His face started to heat up when he realized it was Mr. Mic's jacket.
“You passed out, kid.” A gruff voice answered. Izuku looked up to see Mr. Aizawa standing by a bookshelf near Izuku's feet.
When the words sunk in, Izuku's eyes went wide with alarm. He looked down at himself, but couldn't find any bad injuries. There were a couple red welts on his arms, but otherwise he looked and felt fine.
“You didn't get majorly injured, just lost a few petals.” Hizashi said, surmising what the kid was looking for. “We think you just got exhausted.”
Izuku felt his face heat up again. “I- I'm sorry. I slowed you down because I couldn't keep up.” He said, hanging his head in shame. Kaachan was right, he really was useless. He passed out after just a bit of running.
“Ah, don't be like that Izuku. We're trained pros, we got better stamina than most people. Plus, you haven't had a chance to rest since you met your first painting lady, it's impressive you made it this far. It's no wonder a mad dash like that tuckered you out.”
“I guess...” 'Mr. Mic is probably just trying to make me feel better. He really is a great hero.' With his eyes down, Izuku didn't notice the look Mr. Mic shared with Aizawa.
“So, Izuku, you said you wanted to be a hero right?” Hizashi asked.
Izuku's head shot up, the topic causing him to brighten instantly. “Yeah! Definitely!”
“That's the kind of spirit I like to see! You know where you wanna go to school for it?” Hizashi smiled brightly and Izuku smiled to match it.
“UA! It's where all the best pros come from!”
“Well, that's certainly accurate if I do say so myself. They produced me after all. And Shouta too, I guess.” Shouta snorted, and Izuku giggled.
“So, are you practicing for the entrance exam already? What kind of stuff are you doing with your quirk?”
Just like that, Izuku instantly deflated. He was really hoping he wouldn't have to tell them...
“Um....I haven't really practiced....anything like that...”
“Oh, are you worried about quirk restrictions? I know my elementary school teachers made them sound like really scary punishments. Most actual officers are pretty forgiving when it's kids though, and you can always practice in your home. Unless you need more space to practice, but I could recommend a few places that are out of the way for stuff like that.”
Each understanding, encouraging word only made more knots twist in Izuku stomach. He fiddled nervously with the collar of Mr. Mic's jacket.
“It's not that I'm scared, or don't have a place, I just....I can't.” Izuku deep breath. “Because I'm quirkless.”
Izuku had gotten used to a number of different reactions when he told people this. Pity was the most common, awkwardness and dismissal were close seconds. Revulsion was a rarer case, but it still happened, especially with kids around his own age.
Izuku grimaced. That definitely sounded like a pity reaction.
“I, I know it's not gonna be easy, but I'm gonna do it! I can be a hero without a quirk if I try!” Izuku's voice was low and fierce, but he kept his eyes down. He didn't want to see the looks the heroes must be giving him.
“Wha- no! I mean, I didn't mean it like that! Of course you can be a hero!”
The words sent a jolt through Izuku's whole body; his head flew up so fast he almost wrenched his neck.
“You think...do you really mean that?”
Izuku's voice trembled. No one, not even his mother, had ever said that to him, and he hardly dared to hope he'd heard right. But Present Mic's smile was genuine, not mocking, and his gaze was soft.
“Of course I do, little listener. I was just surprised is all, not many kids would have the determination to keep chasing that dream despite the, uh, a setback like that. But you don't have to have a super powerful quirk to be a good hero. Take Shouta for instance, he can erase people's quirks, but when it comes to the actual fighting he's essentially quirkless.”
Izuku's shifted his gaze to the man standing by his feet. “You are?”
Aizawa nodded. “Basically, yeah.”
“So...do you think I could be a hero too?”
Aizawa hummed, and knelt down on one knee. “Well, that depends.”
“...on what?” Izuku asked nervously.
“On what you've been doing to prepare.”
Izuku frowned. “But, how can I prepare if I don't have a quirk?”
Aizawa muttered something that might have been 'this is what's wrong with society today', but Izuku wasn't quite sure.
“Tell me kid, what is being a hero all about? What does a hero do?”
“They help people and protect everyone they can with a smile on their face!” Izuku answered instantly. Aizawa muttered something again. This time Izuku only caught the words 'All Might' before the man continued.
“Helping people is a big part of it, yeah. So do you practice that?”
Izuku tilted his head thoughtfully. “Well, I always try to help Mom with stuff around the house, and we have some older neighbors and I try to help them with stuff too. Oh! I helped Mrs. Nakamura get her cat out of a tree once. Does that count?”
Aizawa's lips twitched, and Mic held up a hand to hide his mouth.
“It sure does, little listener!”
“It's a good start. Now, you said protecting people from villains was part of the job too. How are you preparing for that?”
“Oh...well...I don't really know much about fighting or anything.” Izuku admitted. “I guess I thought that the school would teach that, since kids aren't really supposed to practice fighting with their quirks before they get into a hero school.”
“Public quirk usage is strictly prohibited, especially for fighting other people.” Aizawa confirmed. “But there are places, dojos and gyms, where people can practice those things. Some are designed and reinforced to withstand quirk usage, but there are plenty that focus on giving people regular defense and marital arts skills.”
“So, if I go to one of those, and learn about fighting and stuff before trying for UA, I can be a hero?” Izuku asked, eyes shining with a newfound hope. Aizawa hummed.
“You've got a good head on your shoulders, kid. You think quickly under pressure, and you've got a good sense of how to use your environment to help you get out of a bad situation. Plus you already know how to listen to others.”
“You're questions earlier were really detailed too.” Present Mic cut in. “I don't normally get questions that in-depth about my quirk.”
“So we can add observant and detail oriented to the list. Those are all important qualities for a hero to have, but you're going to need more physical strength and skills if you hope to get into any hero school, much less UA. You'll need to keep practicing all those other skills I mentioned on top of it too. Think you can handle that, Midoriya?”
Izuku's hands balled into fists. “Yeah! I can! I'm gonna find one of those gyms or a dojo as soon as I get out of here! And, and I'll keep studying quirks and working hard at school!”
“YEAH! That's what I'm talking about! Go beyond, Plus ultra!” Present Mic held up his hand for a high five, and Izuku smacked it. Aizawa simply nodded.
“You keep your word on that, and I think you'll have a chance.”
Izuku's eyes began to shimmer, and soon tears were streaming down his cheeks.
“Thank you! Thank you both so much!”
'Maybe I should talk to Nedzu about adding a note to UA's website.' Aizawa thought to himself. Hizashi was handing Izuku tissues again, an action which was making the boy blubber even more, and thought about what the boy had said. It wasn't uncommon for people to think that all they had to do was show off a sufficiently flashy quirk and that the hero school would handle the rest. Few thought to train their bodies as hard as their quirk, despite the fact that the body, and sometimes support items, were the only things a hero had to fall back on if their quirk failed them. It would be helpful if more incoming hero students understood that, or at least had some basic defense training under the belts. So adding a suggestion of such training to the UA application website might not be a bad idea.
Aizawa had been surprised when Izuku said he was quirkless, though it made sense in hindsight. Pretty much every young kid he met was eager to either show off or explain their quirk to the adults around them, and Izuku hadn't said a word about his own. Aizawa had originally brushed it off as not wanting to risk getting in trouble for using it 'publicly' in front of a couple of pro heroes, and had been too thankful for the kid's restraint to really question it. The last thing they needed was the kid running into a fight to try and impress them or something. Still, considering how many questions Izuku had asked about their own quirks when he first met them, he probably should have suspected something more was going on.
A kid determined to be a hero without a quirk. He had to admit that just the notion of that was pretty bold. What really caught Aizawa's attention though, was how Izuku reacted to Hizashi's presumed rejection of the idea. The kid hadn't immediately become hopeless or started fishing for reassurance; he'd quietly but firmly defended himself. Resiliance, a willingness to stand back up and keep going despite the world doing everything it could to hold you down, was one of the most important traits for being a successful hero. That, as much as any of the others things he listed, showed Izuku's potential to become a hero.
Izuku had calmed down while Aizawa mused, and had moved on to talking to Hizashi about their narrow escape. Now that the immediate danger had passed, it seemed Izuku felt free to gush about the different tactics and abilities the two pros had shown off during the escape.
“You were so cool fending those statues off with the stool Mr. Mic, like the lion tamer at the circus! You never used your quirk on them though. Does it not work on them because they don't have heads? Or is it because you can't aim as well without your support times?”
“Not having my support items was part of it. It's also because of how narrow those hallways were. Even if I had my speakers, using my quirk in such a small space would have risked hurting you and Shouta. Plus, it would have been bad if I made so much noise that the other paintings could follow it and surround us even faster.”
“Oh yeah, I didn't think about that...”
“You make a good point about the statues though. We've been doing our best to avoid confrontation and stealth our way through, so I haven't tried to use my quirk on any of the artwork. But the statues not having ears means there's a good chance it wouldn't do anything against them.”
As the two continued to talk, the earlier conversation between Hizashi and himself came back to the fore front of Aizawa's mind. They hadn't really made any headway on figuring out why they were all here, and whether or not there was any intelligent design behind it. He still didn't want to scare the kid, but if he had any information that might be helpful to them...
“Hey kid, you up for a couple serious questions?”
Izuku startled slightly at the interruption, and a small amount of guilt flashed through him for ruining the chipper mood. Still, these were questions that need to be asked sooner rather than later.
“I guess so...what is it?”
“Hizashi and I have been trying to figure out how we all got here, and the more information we have the easier that will be to figure out.”
“I thought we already found out we all got here through the paintings in the first gallery.” Izuku said, frowning in confusion.
“Yeah, that was the method, but it doesn't tell us the why.” Hizashi explained. “Like, did someone's quirk do this? If it did, then was the creation of this place on purpose or accidental? We can't be the only people who saw the 'Fabricated World', so were we targeted or did it happen randomly? That sort of thing.”
“Oh, I thought about that a little. I figured it was a quirk, because I don't know what else could do this, but I didn't think of all that other stuff.”
“Did anyone besides you and your mother know you would be going to the gallery today?” Aizawa asked. Izuku shook his head.
“I don't think so. You remember when you did the question answer thing earlier and I told you about what happened to my school?”
“You would normally have school today, but it was canceled because a pipe burst at your school and they needed to take some time to repair it.” Aizawa confirmed.
“Yeah, that. Mom said she had been planning to take me to the gallery as a surprise outing over the weekend, but we decided to go today since it would be less crowded that way.”
“So even if someone else had known you were planning to come here they wouldn't have known you'd do it today.”
Well, that certainly lent more evidence to this place choosing at random rather than targeting them specifically...
“Are you interested in art?” Hizashi asked.
“Sorta? I draw heroes in my notebooks sometimes, and I'd like to get better at that, but otherwise I don't think about it too much.” Izuku said with a shrug.
“If you aren't into art, then why did your mother decide to bring you to the gallery as a surprise?”
Izuku blushed lightly. “Oh, that was more to do with, um, what we were talking about earlier, about me being quirkless.”
“What does the art gallery have to do with you being quirkless?”
“Well, Guertena was quirkless, wasn't he?”
Hizashi's eyebrows shot up in surprise. “He was?”
“Well, that's what my Mom said.” Izuku fiddled with the collar of Hizashi's jacket. “She told me that he made a lot of really cool things and became famous even though he didn't have a quirk to help him make all his stuff.”
“I believe you little listener, I'm just surprised she knew that. I looked into the gallery a bit before coming, and I don't remember Guertena's quirk, or his lack of a quirk, being mentioned anywhere.”
Apparently Izuku's mother had a friend who was really into Guertena's work and had gotten her into it too, but Aizawa was only partially listening to that. It didn't surprise him much that Guertena being quirkless wasn't mentioned in the articles Hizashi had read. It wasn't uncommon for history to conveniently 'forget' that a famous person was a part of a minority group, especially after their passing. What irked him was that they still had no leads. No one should have known any of them were going to the gallery today, and Guertena being quirkless made it unlikely that he had somehow caused all of this. It didn't make sense for it to be some serial kidnapping because those kinds of criminals almost always had a type, and the three of them all differed in age and appearance.
Was it possible that Hizashi was right and this was all some kind of supernatural event? Or had someone's quirk gone haywire and all of them being here was some monumental coincidence?
Either of those answers seemed just as likely to be true at this point. Honestly, that frustrated him more than anything else he had come across here. Why them? What the hell did any this mean? Did it mean anything at all?
Izuku's laugh broke through his mounting frustration.
He could tell from Hizashi's grin and Izuku's giggles that his fiance must have told some corny joke. The sight of the two of them, Izuku's tears long forgotten and Hizashi preening from his success, made Aizawa's frustration fade into the background.
Did it really matter how they came to be here? Knowing might help them, or it might not. The only thing that truly mattered was getting home, and that's what they were going to do. Aizawa would make sure of it.
Hope you guys like the new chapter! Sorry this one was a tad late (and that it's taking me so long to respond to comments), but I'm gonna let you know ahead of time that the next chapter might take more than a week as well. I'm trying to finish a chapter for another story I've mine that I've left unattended for longer than intended, so I'm gonna try to focus on getting that done first.
Thank you for your patience!
"I don't want to."
"Izuku, please, you need this."
"So do you! You need it more!"
"It's not that simple."
Hizashi sighed. Getting the kid to put his rose in the vase shouldn't have been this hard. He glanced at Shouta, and the man huffed before kneeling down in front of Izuku. He pulled the rose out of his own hair and held it in front of him.
"Kid, take a look at your rose, then take a look at mine. What differences do you see?"
Izuku took the rose out of his pocket and held it next to Aizawa's.
"Well, their different colors."
"Obviously. What else?"
Izuku's face scrunched up a bit as he looked between the two blossoms. "Yours looks bigger than mine."
"Exactly. My flower, and Hizashi's, have more petals than yours does."
"Which means that you losing petals is more dangerous than either of us losing petals. You can't afford to take as much damage as we can, which is why you need to use the vase before we leave." Hizashi concluded.
"I guess that makes sense..." Izuku admitted. "It's just...it feels wrong for me to take it when I only lost two and you lost four."
"Now don't your worry your fluffy little head about me." Hizashi said, ruffling Izuku's hair. The boy looked affronted, though if it was due to the action or the wording, Hizashi didn't know. In either case, the expression made Hizashi smile wider. "I'm sure we'll run into another vase, and I'll do my best to be careful until then."
With that, Izuku finally conceded to putting his green rose into the vase. His eyes went wide when the vase glowed and the water vanished.
"Do all the vases change colors? And where does the water go?"
"They do. Heck if I know." Shouta replied. Hizashi nodded. It was a valid question, but one that was rather low on the list compared to all the other questions they had. They didn't even know why the vase near where they found Izuku was different than the others, so they had to treat all vases like they were one use only.
Once that was done they all exited their temporary safe haven. The pros cast quick looks back the way they came, and were relieved to see no sign that the door had been opened or damaged. The three trooped down the next hall, one that was blessedly free of artwork, until they came to another door. They opened it, and Hizashi's eyebrows rose.
"We're gonna get through every color in the rainbow at this point."
The new area had violet walls and floors. There was a short flight of stairs in front of them, with a hallway going off to their left at the bottom. They went down, and peaked around the corner. The hallway was long and straight. The right wall was blank, while the left had a small opening followed by a large opening with rope line dividers separating it from the rest of the hall. At the very end the hallways turned left again.
"Let's go look at those ropes first, I wanna see what's up with those." Hizashi said. Shouta nodded, and they went forward, Izuku following behind. They didn't quite make it that far though.
When they came to the small opening, Shouta stopped and looked down it. There was a short narrow hallway that ended in a door, purple this time of course. Before he could take another step, something on the other side of the door knocked.
Izuku jumped and grabbed Hizashi's hand. The man gripped it back, and shared a look with Shouta. He nodded, and carefully approached the door.
"There's a peep hole to look through." Shouta reported.
"Don't look through it!" Izuku himself seemed startled by how loudly he said that. "I just mean, what if the knock was a trap and looking through it hurts your eye or something?"
"That could be." Hizashi admitted. "On the other hand, it could have been a clue that you need to look through it to figure something else out later."
Both of those possibilities had crossed Shouta's mind. He decided to compromise between the two.
"We'll leave it for now. If we run into a dead end later we can come back and look into it."
Hizashi nodded his agreement, and Izuku visibly relaxed. He kept holding on to Hizashi's hand as they went further down the hall, so he felt the boy tense again when they got to the roped off area. There was a maze of rope line dividers within the wide space, but Hizashi was willing to bet Izuku was more concerned about the three mannequins that were standing within the maze.
"They're not moving. That's a good first sign." Shouta noted.
"Do we have to go in? Or should we leave it alone like the door?" Izuku asked. Hizashi squeezed his hand.
"Well, first of all, I don't think we'd all have to go in to figure out whatever this things is. Secondly, it's not much of a maze since we can see where all the paths go and where all the statues are, so it probably won't be a big deal even if we do have to go in."
"Especially since we can easily go over the ropes. The statues haven't been big on jumping in the past, and trying to follow us anyway would get them tangled up."
"Also a good point, Shouta. On that note, there is one thing I want to check out here." Hizashi's eyes went to the small, out of place book shelf that was a little further down. It's wasn't too far from them, but he would have to jump two ropes to get to it.
"The placement on that is pretty suspicious." Shouta agreed. Hizashi clapped his hands together.
"Alright then, I'll go take a look at that and you guys keep an eye on those statues for me."
Despite his cheerfulness, he couldn't help flinching when he jumped over the first rope and a hiss immediately rang out. Izuku squeaked in fright, and slapped his hands over his mouth. Shouta's hand went to his scarf, but he didn't move more than that. Hizashi looked around, and relaxed slightly when he saw that only one statues was moving, and that it was at the other end of the area. Still, no point in dawdling.
He jumped the second rope. Thankfully nothing happened this time, and he quickly searched the shelf in front of him. Once again, there was only one book he could pull out; it looked like someone's journal.
It's said that spirits dwell in objects into which people put their feelings. I've always thought that, if that's true, then the same must be true of artwork. So today, I shall immerse myself in work, so as to impart my own spirit into my creations.”
A chill ran up Hizashi's spine. Spirits dwelling in objects? Immersing oneself in work? It sounded uncomfortably close to what he and Shouta had talked about earlier; the idea that this was all happening because the gallery was haunted. Even Guertena's official cause of death sounded like it could have been him 'imparting his own spirit into his creations', leaving his own body...
“Hizashi.” “M-mr. Mic.”
Hizashi looked up, and cursed himself for getting too engrossed. The one statue that had woken up had wondered much closer. Not so much that he was in immediate danger, but close enough that he didn't want to stick around. He put the diary back and exited the area as quickly and silently as he could. They moved to the nearby corner before talking.
“Anything useful?” Shouta asked.
Hizashi thought quickly. There hadn't been anything on the journal to indicate it was supposed to belong to Guertena. And the haunting thing was still just a theory at this point. “Not really, at least, not immediately useful. The only thing I could pull out was some diary. It sounded like an artist writing about getting immersed in their work. The wording was kinda creepy, but that's pretty par for the course at this point.”
Shouta grunted. “Well keep it mind, just in case.”
The three continued down the hall, taking the left turn. There was almost no artwork in this part, which was kind of odd given how prevalent it was everywhere else. They ended up turning left again before they spotted another painting.
“It's all white.” Izuku said, squinting at the small painting in confusion. “No, wait, it has some lines on it. They look kinda like puzzle pieces.” Hizashi nodded.
“That makes sense given the title, it's called 'Milk Puzzle'. You ever heard of one of those?”
Izuku shook his head.
“Well, it's basically like a regular puzzle, except it's all one color.”
“What's the point of a puzzle if you don't get a picture at the end of it?”
“Doing a puzzle all in one color is a lot harder than doing one of a picture. Some people like them just because their harder.” Hizashi said with a shrug.
“They're less about the picture and more about the challenge.” Aizawa agreed.
“I guess that makes sense.” 'Kaachan would probably like milk puzzles then. He likes doing things to prove that he can.' Izuku mused.
The end of the hallway gave them more to work with. There was a mirror immediately on their right, a door partway down on their left, and another door at the very end on the right.
“It would be too easy if both of those doors were already open wouldn't it?” Shouta said with a sigh.
“Probably.” Hizashi conceded. “Let's try them both, just to be sure.”
Shouta tried the door on the right, which was locked. Hizashi tried the door on the left, and the knob turned easily. When he turned to tell Shouta this, he saw Izuku and smiled. The boy was looking at the mirror, testing out the two way mirror tricks Hizashi had just shown him.
“What's the verdict, Midoriya?”
Izuku stepped back and put his hand on his chin. “I'm pretty sure it's just a normal mirror.”
“Assuming anything in here counts as normal.” Shouta grumbled. He looked over to the door Hizashi was standing in front of. “The open door is just about the right place to connect to the first door we saw, right?”
Hizashi turned to look at the door in surprise. “Huh, I think your right. But with that turn we took a little ways back there's too much space between the hallways for it to be the same door we saw. There must be a room between this door and that first one.”
“A room with something capable of knocking.”
Given that reminder, they decided to err on the side of caution. Izuku stood out of sight while Aizawa stood at the ready. Hizashi quickly opened the door, and Aizawa's scarf lashed out. When all was quiet, Izuku came out of hiding. Peering around the backs of the adults, he could see a small square room, and a black statue with Aizawa's capture tape around it. The strange part was that the statue seemed to remain just that, a statue.
“That must be what knocked before, right? So why isn't it moving now?” Izuku wondered aloud.
“Not sure, but I'll keep it under wraps, to be on the safe side.” Aizawa declared.
“Guess that leaves me to do the searching.” Hizashi said, striding into the room. Izuku moved to follow him, but Aizawa held out an arm to stop him.
“The rooms small, Hizashi won't need any help searching it, and I don't want you in there if that things comes to life.”
Izuku thought that was a little excessive, since the statue was already tied up, but didn't get to argue that point.
“Not much to see in here.” Hizashi called back. “The only thing I can find is some kind of pull cord, like some light fixtures have for turning them on and off. I'm gonna pull it and see what happens.”
A moment later Izuku heard a click, but it didn't sound like it came from the room. It almost sounded like it came from behind him. He turned and looked around, and his eyes landed on the door at the end of the hall. There was something different about it now...
“Nothing changed in here.” Hizashi called out again.
“There's something by the other door now.” Izuku said, pointing at it. Aizawa glanced that way, then called for Hizashi. When the man exited the room, Aizawa quickly retracted his capture weapon and shut the door. Then he joined them at the end of the hallway.
The thing by the left door turned out to be writing on the wall, and another place where a password could be entered.
“What is the title of the large floor painting in Guertena's exhibit?”
Aizawa frowned in thought after Hizashi read the question. “Does it mean that water painting with the eel? The one we fell into to get here?”
“I think so.” Hizashi said, scratching the side of his head. “That could be a problem though. I remember reading the name, but I only remember the full name in Japanese and it wants the English version. I mean, I read the name in English, can remember part of it, but I know that the titles didn't directly translate to one another. I'm sure we can figure it out though. It was...'of the deep' the title was 'something of the deep'. I don't suppose you remember it?” He lowered his hand and looked to Shouta, who shrugged.
“I didn't even look at the English name.”
“Da-, uh, darn. What was it...”
Hizashi turned to look down at Izuku.
“What's up little listener?”
“Well, I don't know if it will help, but I think I know the painting you mean, and it made me wonder if the paintings were in alphabetical order.”
“Yeah, because it was the first painting I saw in the gallery, and I saw that the first word of the English name started with an 'A'.”
“The letter 'A', huh? Let me think...” Hizashi folded his arms and looked up at the ceiling. After a few moments, Izuku noticed that the hero's lips were moving slightly, like he was muttering but doing it without making any noise. He wondered if the hero would be able to teach him how to do that. Izuku was snapped out of this thought by Hizashi snapping his fingers.
“Abyss! That was it, 'Abyss of the Deep'.” He gave Izuku a grateful smile. “Thanks for the tip, little listener.”
Izuku returned the smile, and kept smiling while Hizashi entered in the painting's title. The door clicked when he finished, signaling that he had remembered correctly.
The room they entered was spacious and rectangular. Two bookshelves lined the back walls, and were separated by a large red and black painting.
They all knew the drill pretty well by this point. A search of the room revealed no keys or anything else of interest, so they moved on to the bookshelves. Aizawa found a book that allowed itself to be pulled off the shelf, and opened it.
“The women here love playing Loves Me, Loves Me Not.”
“As if I needed reminding.” Aizawa grumbled to himself.
“Hey little listener, what did you find?”
Aizawa looked up when he heard Hizashi's voice. Midoriya was sitting on the floor on the other side of the room, giving the book in his hands a perplexed look. Hizashi was leaning down next to him, his hands on his knees.
“I don't know. It sounds like it's talking about a man and a lady doing something, but I don't know what. I don't know a lot of these words.”
“Let me take a look.” Hizashi held out a hand and Izuku passed him the book. Hizashi straightened as he adjusted his grip and started reading. Almost immediately, the man's face turned bright red. He quickly slammed the book shut and put it back on the shelf.
“What was it?” Izuku asked.
“It, uh, it was, well, nothing. It was nothing important, and it was definitely NOT something you should read at your age.” With that, Hizashi quickly walked away, leaving a very confused child in his wake. His face was still red when he caught sight of Shouta smirking at him. “Not a word.”
“Hm, so loud yet still so bashful.” Shouta mused.
“I said not a word!”
While Hizashi hissed and Shouta snickered, Izuku pushed himself off the floor and went to get a closer look at the room's painting. Not too close of course, he remembered what the pros said, but just close enough to get a better idea of what it was. Squinting at it, Izuku came to the conclusion that it looked like dead tree branches against a blood red background. He didn't think it was a nice painting.
“Mr. Mic, can you tell me what this one says instead?”
Present Mic looked back at him warily, but relaxed a bit when he saw Izuku wasn't holding another book.
“Looks like it's called 'Separation'.”
“But it's not separating anything.”
“Sometimes art titles are more symbolic than literal.” Aizawa said. “Or they describe something about what the artist was thinking or feeling at the time rather than what the painting actually looks like.”
“Aw, babe, I knew you were paying attention when I gave you that spiel!” Hizashi teased. Aizawa huffed in amusement, and looked back at the painting, which made Hizashi look at it too.
There was a brief moment in which every person in the room had their eyes on the painting. The next moment, everything went black.
Izuku's breath caught in his throat. 'What happened? Where did the light go? Did I get transported again?!' “M-mr. Mic? Mr. Aiz-zawa?” Izuku called out shakily, trying not to sound as panicked as he felt.
“We're right here!” “You okay, kid?”
At the sound of their voices, Izuku let out the breath he'd been holding. The release of tension made his voice steadier. “I'm okay, just really confused. What just happened?”
“That's what we're trying to figure out.” Aizawa's voice audible above the sound of rustling fabric.
“We'll think of something. Just stay where you are for now.” Present Mic ordered.
Izuku stood still, waiting as patiently as he could while the pros talked. He didn't have to wait long.
There was a small grunt. Izuku couldn't tell who made it but Mr. Aizawa was the one to say “found it” just after. Next there was a small metallic 'clink' and a small flame sparked to life, making Izuku jump. He relaxed when he saw that the flame came from a silver lighter, which was being held by Mr. Aizawa, illuminating his face and outlining Mr. Mic.
That was all Izuku had time to see before a high pitched screech made him jump again. The pros jumped too, the movement just barely visible in the low light. The regular lights suddenly came back on, and that should have been a comfort. In fact, Izuku did start to relax before he saw the looks on the pro heroes' faces. Mr. Mic was staring at the walls, and Mr. Aizawa was looking at the floor. Izuku followed Mr. Mic's gaze, and felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
The wall was covered in writing. Izuku had no idea how anyone or anything could have managed it so fast, but it was like someone had come in with a bunch of spray paint and put graffiti everywhere. He looked down, and jumped back when he realized he was standing on top of bright green lettering.
That's what the letters spelled out. Izuku looked around slowly, reading the pink and blue and red letters.
DoN't kiLL mE
“Well...apparently something in here really doesn't like fire.” Mr. Mic said, breaking the silence.
“We'll have to keep that in mind then.” Mr. Aizawa's fingers pressed along the edge of the, now closed, silver lighter. “Let's get out of here, see if anything else has changed.”
Izuku nodded. He certainly didn't want to spend any more time in here than he had to. They exited the room, but stopped just outside the door when they came face to face with more letters. These ones weren't quite as frightening, at least not in appearance. They were a bright red, but they were also neat and orderly. They didn't give off the same hasty, desperate feeling that the last ones did.
“Notice to all visitors.” Mr. Mic translated aloud. “There is a strict ban on fire-starting implements in the gallery. We request that you please report the use of matches, lighters or the like. Should the use of such implements be reported the the staff...” Mr. Mic frowned.
“What?” Aizawa asked.
“It doesn't say, it just stops there. Gotta admit, I don't like the implications of that. Maybe we should consider the lighter a last resort, just in case using it again causes something to happen.”
“Right. Plus it's not exactly an easy to use 'weapon'.”
“Um, Mr. Aizawa? Why do you have a lighter anyway? I thought only people who smoked carried those around, and most pro heroes don't smoke and stuff because they say they want to set a good example.” Izuku questioned as they made their way down the hall.
“As they should, and I don't use cigarettes either. Though I sometimes keep a pack on me, as part of my cover.”
“Shouta's hero costume is about as far from flashy as you can get.” Hizashi explained. “It helps him get around unnoticed. Which is important for an underground hero.”
“But how does a lighter help with that?”
“My costume makes it so villains don't immediately see me, and they don't recognize me as a hero if they do. If they are trying to be stealthy about their villainy, like most of my targets, then looking like a disheveled civilian-”
“A random hobo, in other words.”
“Shut it Hizashi. Looking like that makes it so I can get closer to the villains without them panicking and trying to fight me. Asking for a cigarette, or a light for a cigarette, gives me an excuse to get really close without them getting suspicions.”
“And then when you get close you can surprise them and take them down really fast?” Izuku asked eagerly. Aizawa nodded, and Izuku's eyes sparkled. “That's really clever! That way you don't risk people getting hurt or property getting damaged from a big fight.”
“That's the idea.”
Izuku would have gone on to ask questions about what other methods he had for surprising villains, but the whole group was brought up short when they spotted another change. They had gotten about three quarters of the way down the hall, and out of nowhere there were shoe prints. They looked like someone had stepped in bright red paint, and then gone walking down the center of the hall. Following the prints brought them around the corner and to a purple door that hadn't been there before.
“Well, this doesn't scream trap or anything.” Mr. Mic said sarcastically.
“Can't tell much from the prints themselves.” Aizawa noted. There was no visible tread, just two solid stamps of paint that made shapes for the heel and toe of a shoe. They weren't very small or very large either. “Though getting clues from them would assume someone actually made them rather than the gallery just making them appear in order to direct us.”
They checked the rest of the area quickly, but nothing else had changed. Despite the obvious leading making them suspicious, there didn't seem to be any other way forward. So, expecting the worst, they went back to the new door.
Once again, Izuku stood back while Mr. Mic put his hand on the knob and Aizawa stood at the ready. The door was yanked open, and Aizawa's capture weapon shot through the opening.
Izuku perked up when he heard the cry. That didn't sound like angry artwork. It sounded a lot more...human.
“Hey hey, what's this?”
Izuku peaked around Aizawa's back when he heard Mr. Mic speak. He could see the hallway that the new door lead into, and the figure that sat in the center of it. It was a girl. She looked to be about Izuku's age, with pale skin and long hair that was as yellow as Mr. Mic's. Her upper body was wrapped in capture tape, but Izuku could see a green skirt covering her legs. Mr. Mic stepped closer to her.
“Be careful.” Aizawa said.
“You've got a good grip, it'll be fine.” Mr. Mic said over his shoulder, then he turned to the girl and knelt down. She cringed away from him.
“What is-who-?” She stammered in English. Hearing this, Mr. Mic switched over to speaking English too.
“It's okay, we don't mean to hurt you. I know you're all tied up and this is probably scary, but we've been running from a lot of stuff for a while now, so we just had to be sure...” Mr. Mic leaned in closer, looking into the girl's eyes. “Are, are you one of the visitors from the gallery?”
The girl's eyes widened. “You...you're from the gallery?”
“Yep, we sure are. This place is pretty crazy huh? Me and Shouta have been together from the start, fell into that big floor painting on the lower level. We found Midoriya here a while back, and now we're all trying to make our way out.” Mr. Mic smiled at her softly. “I'll bet that's what you've been doing too huh?”
“I...I wanted to get out...so I was looking around for people.” The girl said, bowing her head a bit.
“Well, it's a good thing you ran into us then.” Mr. Mic said, now grinning. He gestured between himself and Aizawa. “We're pro-heroes, so we're gonna make sure you get out of here safe and sound.”
The girl barely blinked at the mention of them being pros, which Izuku found very odd. Pretty much every kid he knew would have been super exited to hear that a pro was rescuing them, but this girl just nodded a bit. She was looking down at the capture weapon still curled around her though, so maybe she was just too distracted by that.
Mr. Mic gave Aizawa a look. He looked back for a couple of seconds, then released his hold and brought the capture weapon back around his neck. That allowed Mr. Mic to offer her a hand up, and she took it.
“You can call me Present Mic, or just Mic, and this is Aizawa and Midoriya.”
Aizawa nodded at her, and Izuku finally stepped all the way into the hallway. He hadn't understood every word that Mr. Mic and the girl had said, since it was in English and all, but he understood enough to get the gist of what was going on. They'd found another person who got lost from the gallery and were introducing themselves. Good thing that was one of the first things his English class taught.
“My name is Izuku Midoriya. It's nice to meet you.” he held out his hand.
Mary's barely looked at Aizawa before zeroing in on Izuku. When she heard him talk she giggled, and Izuku worried he'd said it wrong, but then she took his hand and shook it.
“It's nice to meet you too, Izuku. My name is Mary.”
Izuku's face felt warm. He'd never really talked to a girl before, and this one jumped right into using his first name. It was probably because she didn't know how familiar she was being, but still...
“You a tourist, kid?” Aizawa asked, looking her up and down. His voice sounded kinda different when he spoke English.
“Tourist?” Mary parroted.
“Are you visiting Japan sight seeing? Where are you from?” He pressed.
“Oh, well, my father is German.” Mary supplied. “I came here because of my dad's work. I don't know how long we'll be here.”
Izuku nodded slowly. He did recognize the country name, and thought it made sense. Mary certainly looked like she could have come from somewhere in Europe, now that he got a closer look at her. He also saw that she wasn't just wearing a green skirt, it was a long sleeved green dress.
“Well, maybe in the quieter moments on the way out I can give you a few language lessons.” Mr. Mic offered. “But first we- aha!”
Mr. Mic suddenly ran down the hall. In the corner between their passage and one turning left, sat a flower vase filled with water.
“See Midoriya, I told you it would be alright.” Mr. Mic said once all three of them had caught up with him. He reached up to take the rose out of his hair, but stopped and looked down at Mary.
“Hey Mary, we each got a rose when we got lost in here. Do you have one too?”
“Oh yeah, I have a yellow rose.” Mary said. She pulled a blooming rose out of her pocket; it matched her hair almost exactly.
“Is it missing any petals? Wait, do you know what happens when the rose loses petals?”
“Yeah, I've known for a while, and mine is fine.”
She didn't sound very distressed about the situation. Maybe she hadn't had any close brushes like they'd had yet, that might explain it. Plus her rose did seem to be a bit bigger than Izuku's own. Why was that? He thought his was smaller because he was a kid but Mary was a kid too so why would she have more? She was a bit taller than him, did that have something to do with it? Maybe-
Mary was suddenly right in his face and he jumped back.
“Ah! Um, I, sorry about that. I know it's weird.” Izuku rushed to explain. He didn't need this girl treating him like his classmates did. She only stared at him though, and it took him a minute to realize he'd spoken in Japanese. He repeated himself, to the best of his ability, in English. He saw understanding light up her clear, blue eyes.
“I'm not mad. I just wanted to know.” Her eyes flicked over to Mr. Mic, and her face suddenly split into a grin. “You're orange rose is so pretty!”
“Just remember kid, these things are more than just pretty, your life and ours depends on them. You should really find a better place to keep yours and-”
“I like pink flowers too, and blue of course! You all have pretty colors too though! Izuku, your green is so bright, and it compliments your hair. Aizawa's isn't exactly pretty, but I've never seen a black rose before so that's cool.”
Huh, maybe she didn't mind his rambling because she did it too.
“Well, I suppose we got lucky with Midoriya listening so well.” Hizashi said, now back to speaking Japanese. They had started walking again, Hizashi had insisted on it after Shouta's eye started twitching after Mary ignored him talking to her. Hizashi made sure she stored her rose safely before urging them on. (she'd been delighted at the suggestion of braiding it into her hair, but had insisted on doing the braiding herself)
The two kids were walking just a little ways behind them. Mary was still talking, and Midoriya was doing more nodding then speaking. Hizashi figured he should keep an ear on their conversation, just to make sure there were no misunderstandings with the language barrier.
“Guess we'll have to keep an even closer eye on this one, huh Shouta?”
Shouta only nodded. However, Hizashi could tell from his pressed lips and furrowed brow, that his husband was thinking the exact same thing.
There was something strange about Mary.
Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he had a strange feeling about Mary. Aizawa's gut instincts were fairly well honed at this point, and they were telling him that there was something strange going on here. He couldn't pin point what it was though. As far as he could see, Mary was just a kid. A foreign one sure, and one that had a hard time listening, but the latter was pretty common.
Yet, when they met her, something had niggled at the back of his mind. He'd looked her up and down, half expecting to see red paint coating the bottom of her shoes, but they were clean. Her choice of clothes was a bit odd, but for all he knew it could be common to dress that way in her country. She had seemed to dodge around Hizashi's question about whether or not she was from the gallery, but it's possible that was just a misunderstanding. They already had a bit of a language barrier with Japanese and English, and with the way she talked about her father being from Germany it was possible that English wasn't her first language either. So everything could be explained away by her not being from Japan.
Still, that nagging sensation hadn't stopped. Even as they walked down the hall, he found himself glancing back at her, trying to figure out what was setting it off. Maybe he was just being paranoid; it wouldn't surprise him after all the stuff they'd seen here.
He had to put those thoughts on hold when they came to an intersection.
“Another choice to make.” Mr. Mic said aloud, looking back and forth between their two options. There was a door in plain sight a little ways down the hall directly in front of them, and there was a side hall leading off to the left. He looked at Izuku. “You wanna make the choice again, little listener? Or should we just flip for it?”
“You know which way to go?” Mary asked, frowning a little in confusion. Izuku shook his head.
“We've just been alternating how we choose where to explore first. It helps cut down on decision making time.” Mr. Mic explained.
“Do you want to take a turn, Mary?” Izuku asked, wanting to be fair to their new companion. Mary smiled brightly at him.
“Okay!” She quickly looked back and forth between the two options, then nodded to herself. “I wanna go to the left.”
“Left it is then.” Present Mic agreed.
The left hallway turned right after a short distance, so they were essentially going 'forward' again. There was a purple door at the end, just like in the other hallway. Mary immediately went for the door, but stopped when Izuku put a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him in confusion, until she saw Mr. Aizawa and Mr. Mic take up their usual stances for opening new doors. Then she just nodded to herself again.
Mr. Mic threw open the door. The two pros peered inside, and Mr. Mic shuddered.
“Okay, definitely creepy, but no immediate signs of danger.”
Aizawa nodded in agreement, then turned to Mary. “Don't know how much of this place you've been through, but we'll be looking for either a key or something that's just different enough to be a clue about how to go forward. If nothing turns up then we'll try the other way. Remember not to touch or get to close to any of the artwork.”
For a moment, Izuku could have sworn Mary's eyes narrowed, but it vanished so fast he couldn't be sure.
“Okay, I'll try to remember.” She said with a smile.
Aizawa nodded and the group trooped inside.
Izuku looked around at the room. It honestly wasn't as bad as some of the places they'd been. Ceramic bunnies in pastel colors lined the left and right walls, and there was a giant painting of one of them in the back of the room. The fact that each of the bunnies had red eyes was kind of odd, but other than that they seemed normal. There was a small bookshelf on each side of the large painting, and a couple of wooden tables at the center of the room.
The group fanned out to search. Izuku tried not to touch the bunnies as he looked, because he was pretty sure they counted as artwork. He bet even rabbits could be scary if a bunch of them with red eyes were chasing you, especially if the really big one came to life. As Izuku walked in front of said painting, he got close enough to read the title of it. Thankfully, they were both words he knew.
“Red Eyes.” He read aloud.
“Ugh, hope we find what we need soon and don't have to come back.” Mr. Mic muttered, then shook his head. “Sorry, I guess that doesn't help right now. Stuff like this just gets under my skin, you know?”
Mary tilted her head and looked around the room. “Not really, I think they're pretty cute.”
“Cute?” Mr. Mic spluttered. “I get that everyone has different tastes, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone could think these things are 'cute'.”
Izuku frowned at him. “I don't think it's that weird. I bet a lot of kids would like them.”
Mr. Mic looked back and forth between them, then walked away, shaking his head in disbelief. Izuku heard him mutter something about feeling watched in Japanese. As Mr. Mic crouched in front of the left bookshelf, Izuku wandered over to where Aizawa was searching.
“Has Mr. Mic always been weird about bunnies?” Izuku asked once they were close enough. He took the opportunity to switch back to Japanese briefly; it was hard thinking up so many English words all at once.
“I would assert that Hizashi has always been weird.” Aizawa declared, looking over the ceramic at the end of the row. “Though I'm not sure where the bunnies thing came from.”
“He just said how creepy he finds all the bunnies in here. Well, I guess he said creepy earlier, but what he said just now was close. I just never expected a hero like him to have such a problem with them. They don't look that much different than albino bunnies, and I always thought those were as cute as any other bunny.”
It was at this point that Izuku became aware of the strange look that Aizawa was giving him. His eyebrows were down like he was confused, and the firm line of his mouth made him look wary. Or maybe concerned.
“Izuku,” Aizawa began slowly “where in this room are you seeing bunnies?”
Izuku's confusion tripled. There were bunnies everywhere in here. What kind of question was that? But before Izuku could voice any of that, there was a loud crash right behind him, followed by a thump.
Izuku jumped and turned around. His eyes first landed on one of the bunnies. It was one from the middle of the row, and it now lay on the ground in pieces. He looked around the room, and saw that Mary and Mr. Mic were both on the other side of the room. Mr. Mic was picking a book up off of the floor.
“Did anyone touch that one?” Aizawa asked in English.
“Nope.” Mary replied. Mr. Mic shook his head, as did Izuku.
Aizawa walked past Izuku to get a look at the bunny, and was soon joined by the rest of the group. He carefully nudged the larger shards to the side, and metal glinted off the rooms dim light.
“Found it!” Mary cried, eagerly grabbing the object out of the pile. She held it up, showing off a purple key.
“Heh, I guess even the room thought we'd been in here too long.” Mr. Mic joked. He held out his hand for the key, and Mary's face fell.
“But I found it. Can't I keep it?”
“We'll probably need it to open the next door.” Mr. Mic explained, but as he started longer at Mary's sad face, his arm fell back down. “But I guess you can hold onto it until we get there.”
Mary immediately brightened right back up. “Thanks!”
They all left the room, Mary and Izuku walking in front of the pros this time around. Mary started chatting at him again, wondering what might be in the next room. Izuku replied with an absentminded “Hopefully nothing bad.” His mind was still stuck on what Mr. Aizawa had said. Had he been joking about not seeing the bunnies? It hadn't sounded like a joke, and Izuku didn't think he'd make a joke like that either.
Once again, a sound interrupted Izuku's thoughts. His mind came back into focus, and he realized that he and the rest of the group had stopped right at the intersection from earlier.
“Everyone else hear that too?” Mr. Aizawa asked. They all nodded, Izuku and Mary nervously and Mr. Mic as he warily looked around for the source.
The sound made Izuku think of a hero doll he once had, one that stretched far like the hero herself did. Bakugo had stolen it from him and stretched it so far that it broke. The sound he was hearing now was like that, the sound of stretching rubber on the verge of breaking.
“I think it's getting closer.” Mary said, clutching her fists to her chest.
The noise was getting louder, but at least that meant he could finally pin point a direction. He whipped his head to the side, and saw a painting. It looked like it was blank, but when he looked harder he saw bits of color in the very center, and they were getting bigger. And bigger, and...was that the ground trembling or just his legs?
“Get away from the painting!” Mr. Mic yelled.
Things happened very quickly after that. The ground shook violently. Izuku stumbled back and something latched onto his arm. Something else erupted from the ground, and Izuku stumbled back further. He would have fallen over if it not for the thing on his arm. That thing turned out to be Mary, who was holding onto his arm like her life depended on it. Her eyes were wide and her mouth hung open, and when Izuku looked the direction that she was he understood why.
Where they had been standing was now filled with thick green vines. The vines filled the hallway, going all the way from the floor to the ceiling and stretching from one wall to the other. Izuku felt his own jaw go slack at the sight.
“Midoriya, Mary, are you okay?” Mr. Mic yelled.
Izuku looked around, and his heart began to sink. He couldn't see the pro heroes anywhere, yet he had heard Mr. Mic close by.
“Kids, say something!”
That was Mr. Aizawa, and his voice was coming from the same place as Mr. Mic. It was coming from the other side of he vine wall.
“I'm okay.” Mary called back. “What about you Izuku?”
“Y-yeah, I'm not hurt. What about you guys?” Izuku walked up closer to the vines. Mary followed him, only now letting go of his arm. There were a few gaps between the vines, but nothing big enough to fit through, just enough for him to see the two pro heroes on the other side.
“We're both fine over here. You two hang tight, we'll find a way to get to you.” Mr. Mic called.
“Getting through this might be harder than it looks Hizashi.” Aizawa's muttered. “Feel the vines.”
“Huh?” Izuku saw Mr. Mic's form shift a bit. “What the...these things are made of stone?!”
Mary and Izuku cried out in unison. Izuku grabbed the nearest vine and pulled on it. Aizawa was right; it felt like cool stone to the touch and it didn't budge. He kicked it, but all that accomplished was stubbing his toe.
“Be careful Izuku.” Mary warned, hands fluttering anxiously around him while he nursed his hurting foot. She offered him a hand back up, and he thanked her as he took it.
“Mr. Mic, Mr. Aizawa, what are you gonna do?” Izuku called through the wall. There was a few moments of silence before Aizawa replied.
“There has to be some way past this. This place has yet to give us an obstacle we can't find a way around.”
“We've just got to figure out what that way is.” Mr. Mic agreed. “There could be a weak point somewhere in this wall.”
“Maybe we missed something in that last room.” Izuku suggested.
“That could be.” Aizawa admitted. “We could go back and check that.”
“What about the room on our side?” Mary asked.
“You mean the one that the key probably opens?” Izuku asked. Mary nodded quickly.
“Yeah, if this happened after we got the key, it would make sense that the solution is somewhere in the next place we can go, right?”
“I guess it would...”
“So we should go look there.” Mary moved like she was going to grab his hand, but Izuku stepped away from her.
“You want to go alone?” He asked incredulously. Mary tilted her head in confusion.
“We wouldn't be alone, we'd be together.”
“Well, yeah, but what if there's something bad in the next room? And, and I don't want to leave Mr. Mic and Mr. Aizawa stuck here.”
“I don't exactly like the idea of the two of you going off on your own either, kid.” Mr. Aizawa spoke up from beyond the barrier.
“We could do it really quick, and come right back if there's anything scary. That wouldn't be so bad would it?” Mary pressed. Izuku put his hand to his chin and looked down thoughtfully.
Mary did have a point. The two of them couldn't do anything to help right now, and they might find something they need further ahead. The thought of going on without the heroes was scary, but they were trapped right now. They were trapped and might be forever if he and Mary didn't find whatever the gallery wanted them to find. The two of them could watch each others backs, and help each other escape from anything bad. So it might work...
“Izuku? Izuku I don't understand what you're saying.” Mary whined. Izuku stopped, suddenly realizing that he'd started muttering without meaning to, and that he'd been doing it in Japanese.
“Sorry Mary, it just helps me think. I think that we could give it a try.”
Izuku was worried that Mary might make fun of his habit like the kids at school. They called his muttering creepy, but Mary just nodded in acceptance. Maybe being in this place had given her a different idea of what counted as 'creepy'.
“I agree with Shouta, I don't like the thought of you two going ahead alone.” Mr. Mic said. “But there is a good chance that looking around more might be the only way to get this barrier to go away. Just...just be careful alright? Remember what we said about the artwork.” Izuku looked through the gaps and saw Aizawa nod.
“And don't close the door after you go through it. Keep it open so you can get out quickly if you need to run.”
Izuku nodded. “Okay, we will.”
“Let's go Izuku!”
Mary grabbed his hand again, and this time he let her. He walked with her toward the door, internally cursing their bad luck. He wished he'd been paying more attention when the vines went up, so he would have known to jump in the same direction as the pro-heroes did. But maybe it was a good thing, in a round about way. If he'd gone to the same side as the heroes, then Mary might have been left on the other side all alone. Of course she had grabbed onto him, so maybe she would have been pulled along, but that might have meant all of them being trapped with no way out. Though, in the end it might not have mattered, since it all happened so fast that he didn't recall making a decision on where to go. He just know that he'd moved.
“Izuku, you're doing the thing again.” Mary said.
Izuku shook himself and found that they were standing outside the door. Mary had the key in hand, and was looking at him as though asking if he was ready. He apologized again, and nodded at her to open the door.
In the back of his mind, he readied himself. He'd protect Mary from anything bad, and he would get back and save the others. He would show he could be a hero.
Mary opened the door. Izuku was relieved when nothing jumped out at them, and he felt even more relief when he got his first glimpse of the room. The color scheme had changed again, now going to an unassuming light brown. Most of what he saw was just boxes, giving the look of a large storage room. His guard went back up when he saw that there were a couple of those black statues in the room, but none of them were moving. He tapped Mary on the shoulder and pointed at the closest one.
“You know about those, right?”
“I know that some of them move, yeah. We'll have to keep an eye them, huh?”
Izuku nodded. A part of him said they should go back and report to the heroes, but another part of him didn't want to seem like a scaredy cat, jumping at things that weren't even dangerous. When Mary started to move further in, the latter part won out. He reminded himself that the heroes were counting on them and followed Mary in.
“I'll keep an eye on the statues while you search the boxes, okay?” He suggested. Mary smiled at him.
“That a good idea, let's do it!”
For a while the only sounds were the moving of cardboard and Mary's voice. His eyes darted between the three statues in the room while she opened boxes and listed out what was inside, which didn't take as long as he thought it might. There were a lot of boxes, but most of them only had one thing in them. One held paper, another canvases, others had paints or modeling clay. It was probably a good thing there wasn't as much variety. Staring at the statues and just waiting for them to move was making Izuku anxious.
“Oh, here's something.”
Mary was suddenly standing in front of him.
“I think it's called a palette knife. You think we could use it?” She asked, holding it out to him. He took it from her.
“Can you watch the statues for a minute?”
Izuku looked down at the tool in his hands. His first thought was that it was like a smaller, narrower version of the triangle spatula his mom used to serve cake. It had a smooth, wooden handle, and the metal part was a bit thicker at the base than at the rounded point. He carefully put his thumb to the edge of the metal, and found that it wasn't sharp.
“We can't really cut the vines, since they are made of stone and all, but we might be able to chip away at it with something like this. Or maybe Mr. Mic and Mr. Aizawa could use it in the bunny room. Are you sure there wasn't anything else we could use?”
“Nope, the rest was just the art stuff I told you about.”
“Okay then, let's go back and see what they think.”
“Okay.” Mary turned and held her hand out for the tool. Remembering her insistence about the key earlier, Izuku didn't hesitate to hand it over. Mary's hand closed around the handle, and the lights flickered out.
Izuku gasped, and he felt Mary jump. There was a moment of complete silence, and then a WHAM echoed through the darkness. Izuku's heart raced; he recognized that sound.
It was the sound of a door slamming shut.
In which the group inadvertently breaks one of the tropes of tabletop gaming: Never split the party.
“You ready, Mary?”
“Okay, on the count of three. One, two, three!”
The kids groaned in exertion. After several seconds, they both dropped to the floor, panting.
“It still won't move.” Mary whined.
Once the lights had come back on, Mary and Izuku had both looked around. Izuku had been almost certain that it had been the door that had made that noise, and he found he was right, but the door now being closed wasn't the only change to their environment. In front of the door now stood a black statue with a red dress.
Izuku had approached the statue warily, never walking to close to it. Mary flitted after him, suddenly unwilling to leave his side at all. When the statue showed no signs of moving, Izuku had gotten one of the longer pieces of art supplies and prodded at it a bit. The statue continued to stand there, a silent, immovable barrier. It took much internal, and a smaller amount of external, debate before the kids decided to try moving the statue out of the way so they could get back.
They would need to move it to get back, at least a little, if they wanted to use the door. The statue was large enough that, with it sitting flush against the door, there was no way they'd be able to squeeze past it. Izuku knew he wasn't strong enough to move such a thing on his own, but he'd hoped that with Mary's help they would be able to manage it. They'd had no such luck though, no matter how hard they tried.
“It's almost like it's bolted to the floor or something.” Izuku grumbled, looking the thing up and down. “You suppose...maybe we could tip it over instead? If we climbed it and then...threw ourselves?” Finding the right English words for some of these things was getting hard.
“That sounds like it would hurt, whether it worked or not.” Mary said, frowning. “But, I guess we could give it a try.”
Shouta and Hizashi had stayed close to the vine barrier. They were nervous about the kids going off on their own, and hoped they'd at least be able to hear them if they stuck close. They could distantly hear their voices for a while, but they were cut off by the sound of a slamming door.
Fearing the worst, the heroes had immediately tried to call out to the pair. When they got no response their fear only increased.
Shouta's fist slammed against the stone vines. “Dammit! I knew this was a bad idea!”
“Yeah, I got that feeling too.” Hizashi admitted. “But we didn't hear them scream or anything, so we have to believe that they're okay. As okay as you can be in this place anyway.” Hizashi tried to sound optimistic, but the worry crept into his voice by the end. Shouta sighed, but nodded.
“You're right. We should see if there's anything we can do on this end, instead.” He looked Hizashi in the eye. “You up for exploring that room again?” Hizashi let out a resigned sigh.
“I'd really rather not, but I'll do it for those kids.”
Several minutes and a few bruises later, and it was becoming clear that the statue could not be toppled. Mary had insisted they stop trying when a particularly bad bruise resulted in Izuku losing a rose petal. The boy hadn't argued, but that still left them with a question.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Izuku asked the air. Mary bit the nail of her thumb, and turned to look at the opposite wall.
“There's really only one thing left to try, I think.”
Izuku followed her gaze. She was looking at the door opposite the one they had entered through.
“Should we really be moving further away from Mr. Aizawa and Mr. Mic?” He asked nervously.
“Well, we can't get back to them from here, and nothing in this room had been very helpful, but something through there might be.”
Izuku knew she was right. As anxious as it made him to go even further ahead without the heroes, the gallery wasn't giving them any other option. Besides, there was a chance that this route would eventually loop around right? And maybe if they left and came back then the statue would move again and they could finally get back.
“You're right. Let's go take a look.”
The two got up, and walked out of the room.
Hizashi looked around the room, his face scrunched up in distaste. “I don't care what anyone says, I'll never be able to view these things as cute.”
Shouta couldn't help but agree. He felt that dolls already had a low level of 'creepiness' to them, but normal dolls had nothing on the ones lined the shelves of this room. Every one of these dolls had scraggly black hair, and a twisted grin. The blue fabric of their skin made him think of someone dying of exposure, and the wide, round eyes were the color of blood. The effect was made even worse by the 'Red Eyes' portrait, a huge close up of a doll's face, showing off each unnerving detail. To top it all off, numerous dolls hung from the ceiling by their necks.
“I was going to ask about that, actually.” Shouta replied. “Hizashi, are you seeing dolls in this room? Ones with blue skin and red eyes?”
Hizashi raised an eyebrow at him. “Um, yeah? What else is there to see?”
“That's what I was wondering about. Because when I talked to Midoriya earlier, he kept saying something about rabbits. But I certainly don't see any of those in here.”
Hizashi frowned for a few moments; then his eyes went wide. “Oh no.”
“There was a book I was reading, just before that doll fell and tore open to give us the key. At first I thought it was just stuff to scare us again, but now...hang on.”
Hizashi went over to the bookcase he'd been looking through before and pulled a book off the shelf.
“The title is 'Ruin of the Heart' and it only opens up to one passage.” Hizashi announced. He let the book fall open, and read what was on the page. “If your spirit suffers too much, you will soon start to hallucinate, and in the end you will be destroyed. More worrying yet, is that you will not even be conscious of that fact.”
Worry started to churn in Shouta's gut as he took in the words. “I don't like the implications of 'you will be destroyed'.”
“Me neither.” Hizashi said, with a shake of his head. “But it does give a possible explanation to Izuku and Mary's behavior though. If the gallery is causing them to hallucinate, then it would make sense they could call what was in here 'cute'.”
“Are we sure they were the ones hallucinating?” Shouta asked.
“Well, it's certainly possible that we're all hallucinating whatever we see in this room, but if it's just them or just us I think it makes more sense for it to be them. The book mentions the 'spirit' suffering, and the gallery talked about spirits when we each got our roses. We've both gotten damage done to ours here and there, but Izuku is the only one we know for sure that has come close to losing all of his petals. Not to mention the way he passed out earlier.”
Shouta nodded along as Hizashi explained. “It's possible Mary had a close run in too. She didn't seem surprised by what the flower vase did when you put your rose in, so it's possible she's had to use one before.”
“Exactly. Plus, think about the difference in what we are seeing. The two of us are seeing something that puts us on edge, and is in line with other things we've seen in the gallery. But Izuku and Mary, assuming she saw rabbits too, saw something that was more comforting. The gallery could be taking advantage of whatever vulnerability they've gained and is giving them images of stuff that might make them to lower their guard.”
Shouta scowled. “If that's the case, we should try and figure a way out of here as fast as we can. If they are seeing things, they might not recognize danger if they do see it.”
Hizashi nodded gravely. He knelt down and put the book back, but when he stood back up he overbalanced and almost tripped. He had to steady himself on the top bookcase, but when he did he suddenly froze. Shouta looked over his shoulder.
“You alright? What's the hold up?”
“There's something back here.”
“'Something'?” Shouta asked with a raised eyebrow. He stepped closer so he could get a better look, and saw that Hizashi's fumbling had pulled the bookcase away from the wall slightly. Though 'away from the wall' might not have been entirely accurate, since this revealed that there was no wall behind the book case. There was an opening in the wall, one that was the exact same shape and size as the book case.
“How did I not notice this before?” Hizashi asked in disbelief. Shouta put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“It might not have been there before. The gallery does seem to have a way of producing doors out of nowhere.”
Hizashi let out a frustrated sigh, but nodded in acceptance. The two of them looked at the newly found exit. They'd have to get on their hands and knees, but it looked to be big enough for them both to get through.
When Izuku and Mary went through the door, they found that the color scheme had changed again. It was shades of brown this time, but the neutral color did nothing to comfort Izuku. From what he could tell, changing colors meant leaving previous areas behind, and he certainly didn't want to leave Mr. Mic and Mr. Aizawa behind. There was also the fact that the lights kept getting dimmer, then brighter, then dimmer again.
“I don't like it when the lights do that.” Izuku said.
“Me neither.” Mary said. “It keeps making me think the lights will go off, and it's scary when the lights go off!” Izuku nodded vigorously in agreement.
The hallway curved to their right, and they peered around the corner. But there was nothing there. They turned another corner, and there was a short set of stairs. The lights still flickered, but there was nothing scary around. There wasn't much of anything really, not even a painting yet.
Izuku looked at Mary, wondering if she felt as wary as he did. She looked back at him, but then just shrugged and kept going.
A part of him wished he had Mary's confidence. Another part of him wished he had the guts to tell her to be more careful. They had no idea what they might be up there, and they didn't have the heroes with them to help. They had to be extra careful now, and he had to make sure she knew that!
“M-mary, maybe we should, uh-” but Mary didn't hear his quiet voice and was already climbing the stairs. He scrambled to catch up to her, not wanting to get separated even more.
Thankfully, nothing at the top of the stairs looked to be immediately dangerous. There was a painting, which was of a clown's face. Izuku didn't mind clowns so he didn't find it scary, but steered clear of it just in case. The hallway now lead to the left, and they started going that way out of a lack of any other clues.
There was the sudden sound of paint splattering to his right. Izuku jumped and looked at the wall next to him. Words written in yellow paint had appeared, four phrases in all. Once Izuku recovered from his initial start, he actually felt kind of relieved. The lack of anything happening, the suspense, had almost been as bad as when something was chasing him, because he'd constantly been waiting for something to happen. Now that something had happened though, he could focus his mind on figuring out what to do about it.
However, this was when Izuku realized there might be another problem with him and Mary being on their own. He was a lot better at speaking English that reading it, and they didn't have Mr. Mic with them to help.
'I should ask Mary if she can...' Izuku's thought fizzled out when he caught sight of one word he recognized on the wall. He couldn't read English very well yet, but his teacher had made sure each student could at least recognize the English version of their own name.
Izuku turned his wide eyes to Mary. She was staring right back at him, her eyes more intense than she had ever seen them. His surprise made him draw back and blink, and just like that the expression was gone. She now looked at him with a worried frown and a tilted head.
“Are you okay?” She asked. Izuku shook himself and locked eyes with her again. She still looked worried.
'What just happened?' he wondered.
“Izuku?” Mary spoke again, the worry now coloring her voice. He shook his head again. He should figure out why his name was here first, and then he could think about what just happened.
“Mary, can you read English?”
“Huh?” She said, her frown deepening. “Sure, I can. Can't you?”
“No, I'm still learning English. I'm not very good with writing it yet.” He admitted, a little sheepishly. At least Mary's tone hadn't sounded annoyed or anything. Just curious.
“Oh, you want me to read it for you?”
“Yes please.” Izuku said with a slight bow. That made Mary giggle, then she started reading.
“I want you to have fun Izuku”
“Come to a fun world without any adults”
“We'll be together”
“You, me, and our friends”
The words made Izuku swallow anxiously. He may not have any friends back home, but he'd take no friends over the kind of friends the gallery would probably provide. It seemed like there was something missing here though.
“What's weird?” Mary asked curiously. “There have been messages like this before, right?”
“Well, yeah, there were, but they never included names before. And how come it has my name but not yours?”
Mary thought for a moment, then placed her hands on her hips and grinned.
“I bet it can tell that I'm not nearly as big a scaredy cat as you are, so it didn't even bother trying to scare me!”
“Huh?! I'm not a scaredy cat!” Izuku squawked.
“You jumped pretty high for a not scaredy cat just now.”
“You jumped when the lights went out back there!”
“So did you, but I didn't jump for this which means I'm officially less of a scaredy cat than you.” Mary declared with a confident nod. It was silent for a moment while Izuku stared at her, then she burst out laughing.
“What's so funny?” Izuku asked, now thoroughly confused.
“The look on your face!” Mary giggled. “Come on Izuku, I was just teasing. I know you wouldn't have gotten this far if you were a big scaredy cat.”
Oh...ohhhhh, this wasn't mean teasing. It was like the teasing Kaachan did before he got his quirk, where it meant he actually liked you. With this revelation, Izuku laughed a little himself.
“There you go!” Mary said happily.
“Thanks Mary, that helped.”
They started walking again soon after. They couldn't glean any clue from the words right here, and figured it was just a scare tactic or wouldn't come in handy until later. The second phrase apparently caught Mary's attention though, as she started going on about the pros and cons of getting to live without adults.
“Adults just have so many rules, you know? And they never get imagination games or want to play as long as I do, but it can be nice to talk to them sometimes and...”
As she went on, Izuku couldn't help but wonder how the adults of their own group were doing.
When Hizashi and Shouta got to the next room they had a very brief argument about whether or not the color scheme had changed. Shouta thought it looked about the same, while Hizashi insisted it had become more blue-violet compared to the straight violet of before. When they saw some bright purple words on the wall, Shouta admitted they probably wouldn't have been legible in the previous room.
'There is no exit. There is no reason.' Those were the painted words. After reading them, Hizashi glared up at the ceiling.
“Don't you lie to me.”
Shouta rolled his eyes at Hizashi's dramatics and turned to get a better look at the room. There was a wall just opposite the hole they had come through that had a single purple door, which was locked, and off to the right was a an open space. The only notable features were a triangle shaped indentation in the floor and five pull cords hanging on one of the walls. Oh yeah, and there was no ceiling above the pull cords.
“Where do you suppose they go?” Hizashi asked. He'd gone over to investigate further, and was now squinting up into the darkness. The pull cords went straight up into it, the tops of them too far away to be seen.
“Dunno. I'm willing to bet one of them gives us something to put in the hole in the floor, but I have no clue which it might be.”
Hizashi nodded. “Pulling on them just to see what they do sounds like a horrible idea, but there really isn't anything else in here to give us a clue. The triangle doesn't point to anything, and there's nothing else in here aside from those words we saw earlier.”
“Unless 'there is no reason' means we really do have to pick one and just hope it's right...” Shouta trailed off, frowning. “Hizashi, do you hear something?”
The room Izuku and Mary entered was long and rectangular. It was a decent sized room, but felt smaller due to the gaping hole in the middle of the floor. It stretched from one wall to the other, making an effective barrier between them and the other side of the room.
“Whoa!” Mary cried. She went over to edge and peered down. “How deep do think this goes?”
Izuku came up next to her, carefully edging closer so he could look down too. “I can't see the bottom at all...so it's probably pretty deep.” Not for the first time, Izuku wished he had a flashlight, or even a lighter like Mr. Aizawa. It would help with so many things in here.
Izuku jumped when Mary suddenly bellowed that word down into the hole. It was a good thing he hadn't gotten any closer to the edge.
“What are you doing?!”
“I was trying to make an echo.” Mary said, as though this were the most obvious thing in the world.
“An echo.” She repeated. “I figured if it was so deep then it might echo, like big rooms do. I didn't hear anything that time though...” Mary trailed off, frowning slightly. Then her face brightened suddenly. “Maybe I just gotta do it louder! You wanna try with me?”
“Really?” Izuku asked in surprise, it had been a long time since he'd been invited to do anything with someone who wasn't his mom. Mary smiled and nodded eagerly, and a slight warmth filled Izuku's chest.
'I guess it couldn't hurt.' he reasoned. “Sure, should we do it on the count of three?”
“On three then, one, two, three!”
They both quickly turned their heads to listen closely. After a few seconds, Mary sighed.
“I still don't hear anything.”
“Maybe the materials in here just aren't made for it. Or maybe it's because of the gallery itself, since a lot of stuff works kinda funny in here.” Izuku suggested.
“Maybe.” Mary's tone made it clear she was still disappointed. She turned away from the hole and started looking around, and Izuku did the same. The first thing he noticed were the pull cords up on the far wall. There were five of them, but they were all too high up for either him or Mary to reach. They might have been able to reach one of the edge ones if Mary stood on his shoulders or something, but doing that next to a deep chasm seemed like a bad idea.
There was a single painting on the wall under the pull chords. It was a pair of simple, cartoon eyes against a light green background. The eyes moved every now and then, like they were looking around, which should have been creepy but honestly wasn't. With the way they were drawn, the eyes seemed more bored then anything else.
'I guess I'd be pretty bored too if I only had this room to look at.' Izuku thought, glancing around the rest of the room. 'It's pretty empty.'
That last thought struck him suddenly. The room was empty; it was too empty in fact. All he could see on the other side of the room was a door, a cardboard box, and some unidentifiable object lying on the floor, and there was nothing on this side of the room. He looked at Mary, and saw she was biting her bottom lip.
“Um, Izuku? Do you have any idea how we're going to get across?”
“I-I don't know.” Izuku felt his chest tighten with his rising anxiety. They had nothing to use on this side, and trying to reach the chords or just jump across would risk them falling down into the hole and who knew what would happen to them then? Falling in there could lead to almost anything in a place like this! And even if that statue from earlier had moved they still hadn't found anything to help Mr. Aizawa and Mr. Mic! What were they going to do?
Strangely enough, Izuku's anxious thoughts were interrupted by the very thing they were trying to achieve a few minutes ago.
The word drifted up from the darkness of the chasm. Mary's mouth fell open, and Izuku's eyes went wide. They both looked at each other, and hurried to the edge. They lay down on their stomachs so they could poke their head over the edge.
“Hello? Is someone there?” Izuku called down. After a brief pause he received an answer.
“Midoriya, is that you?”
“Mr. Mic?!” Izuku gasped. “Mr. Mic is that really you? Are you and Mr. Aizawa okay?”
“Hey, hey, we should be the ones asking you that! Are you and Mary both okay? What happened with the door earlier?”
After everyone was reassured that everyone else was completely fine, they exchanged stories. Izuku left out the part about the words asking him to come and play though. He figured they didn't need to know about the gallery's scare tactics (or about Mary teasing him for being a scaredy cat).
“I'm sorry we went so far and didn't come back to help you.” Izuku said sadly.
“We didn't do it on purpose.” Mary added.
“All that matters is that you're safe, and that you stay that way.” Mr. Aizawa's voice told them. “We may be separated now, but we'll have to bank on the idea of the paths meeting up eventually. Since that room seems safe, you should both try to stay there until we come and find you.”
“Shouldn't we try to go forward until we find where the paths meet up again?” Mary asked. “How will you know which way to go to find us if the path splits?”
“Yeah, shouldn't we at least try to find it so you guys don't have to guess or split up?” Izuku didn't like the thought of either of them getting hurt because they chose the wrong way to search for them.
“You guys let us worry about that.” Mr. Mic said. “We're the pros after all. We'll figure it out, it's what we're trained for.”
Izuku's anxiety was making itself known again. He had heard that UA went above and beyond, but he didn't think they had haunted gallery training.
“Can you promise you'll try to stay put?” Aizawa prompted.
“We don't have much of a choice right now.” Mary complained. “We can't get across the hole.”
“We're stuck on how to move forward too, unless...” Mr. Mic's voice faded for a moment before coming back stronger. “You said you have nothing for crossing the hole, but what else is in your room?”
Izuku gave a report on all they could see.
“We've got a bunch of pull chords down here too, but nothing to tell us which one to pull. Are there any clues up there?”
“Um...I don't know. All the chords are the same length I think, and they all look the same. The only other thing by them is that painting I mentioned.”
“Does it look at any one chord in particular?”
“Kid, you said it was under the chords, right?” Mr. Aizawa asked. “Is under any chord specifically?”
Izuku looked up at the painting, which was glancing off to the side with its bored eyes. “Uh, yeah, I guess it is. It's right under the chord that's second from the right.”
There was a brief bout of silence, then Mr. Mic spoke again. “We're gonna try something down here. You let us know if anything changes up there, okay?”
“Okay.” Both Mary and Izuku agreed.
They both looked around, looking to see if anything was happening. They didn't have to wait long. After just a couple seconds, the painting on the wall started moving. It drifted down the wall until it was right above the where wall would meet floor, were it not for the hole. Then it continued, sliding from a vertical position to a horizontal one. As it turned out, the painting was just long enough for it to span the gap, creating a sort of bridge. The painting continued sliding until it was right in front of Izuku and Mary.
It was almost like an invitation. So much so, that Izuku found himself asking “Are you giving us a way to cross?”
He hadn't been expecting an answer, but he got one anyway. The painting's eyes looked at him, then shifted up and down slightly, giving the impression of a nod. Then the eyes closed, like it had decided to take a nap.
“Well, thank you.”
The painting did not respond this time, but Izuku hoped it had heard anyway. After a quick explanation to the waiting pros, which was followed by a warning to be careful, Izuku and Mary tentatively stepped onto the painting's edge. It didn't waver like it would fall, and the eyes stayed shut. Still, Izuku did his best not to step onto the eyes themselves. They both breathed a sigh of relief once they got across.
“Well, that takes care of us at least.” Mary said.
“Yeah, but it didn't do anything for Mr. Mic or Mr. Aizawa.”
“Well, since they just did something for us, maybe we need to do something for them.” Mary mused, looking around. She eyed the cardboard box, but decided to go for the other object instead. Izuku hadn't been able to see what it was before, but as Mary picked it up now, he could see that is was a triangular prism made of wood.
“Do you think they might need a triangle thingy?” Mary asked.
As it turned out, the pros could make use of a triangle thingy. Upon hearing this, Mary yelled “Look out below!” and threw the prism down into the abyss, much to Izuku's dismay. His worry eased when he didn't hear any cries of pain, and a minute later the pros confirmed that they had used the prism to get their door open.
“Remember, you both stay where it's safe until we find you.” Mr. Aizawa reminded. That was the last the kids heard from them.
The kids did try to listen, for a bit. It didn't take long for them both to get bored though, and Mary decided to look into the cardboard box. She immediately jerked back when she lifted part of the lid though.
“Mary? What's wrong?”
“Something in there moved!” she whispered nervously.
“Oh...um...maybe we should just...leave it alone then.” Nerves crept into Izuku's own voice.
“I don't want to stay here and just stare at it like this.” she whined.
The box shifted slightly, and both kids jerked around to face it.
“I don't wanna go against what Mr. Aizawa said...but maybe we could just take a peak in the next room?” Izuku suggested. “It might be safe too...maybe even safer...”
The box suddenly moved again, this time several inches toward them. The kids took one look at each other, and ran through the next door.