As he blinked, the world came into view. Not completely, as Link knew he wasn't wearing his glasses, but enough to know the room wasn't at all familiar. He sat up and looked around slowly, mostly aware at this point. The room was pretty small, by the looks of it, like a one-person office. It even seemed like an office, by the way it was furnished. From what he could tell, there was a single door, a desk with a monitor, a chair, some assorted boxes, Rhett... Wait, Rhett?! Moving a little closer, he confirmed that it was indeed Rhett on the floor, slumped against the opposite wall. Link was against said wall in a flash, already shaking his friend lightly in an attempt to wake him. He wasn't even sure what state Rhett might be in, but he assumed the other was simply unconscious. After all, that did seem to be the case with Link himself.
“Rhett.” He whispered sharply. “Rhett!” The almost eerie silence of the room made his voice seem much louder. Rhett’s lack of response worried Link, who quickly moved to check for a pulse. Thankfully, there was one, though it was slower than it should have been. With a relieved sigh, Link stood up, having decided to look around in more detail while Rhett was unconscious. First was the door, which felt sturdy and wooden, but there didn't appear to be any locks. Even before he tried the handle, though, Link figured it wouldn't turn. If someone had put them in here for any reason, they wouldn't be allowed to leave that easily. Next were the boxes in the corner. Most of them were cardboard and filled with what looked like styrofoam bricks. The box tucked away behind the others, however, turned out to be a safe. Or, it looked like one, at least. A metal box with a keypad was always a safe, right? Of course, Link couldn't find out, as he had no clue what the password was.
Moving on, Link began checking the drawers on the desk. Locked, locked, locked, locked... He managed to get one of them open, but it seemed to get stuck just as he saw something inside. He pushed the drawer back in, then tried pulling it out again. It was still stuck. He tried a few more times, wiggling the drawer some. After about the fifth time, he heard a small thud on the floor under the desk as the drawer opened with relative ease. Link quickly grabbed the thing in the drawer, before looking in it again. Nothing else. Shutting the drawer, he looked at the thing he had pulled out: a small electronic box with nine buttons on it. Turning it over revealed an empty spot where it looked like a battery should go. Link thought a moment before placing the thing on the desk and lowering himself to the floor in search of whatever fell from the drawer. After a bit of fishing for it, he finally had a small brass colored key shining in his hand. He then heard shuffling behind him.
“Link?” A very familiar, groggy sounding voice asked. He quickly turned to face Rhett, who was sitting up, rubbing his forehead.
“Hey.” Link responded quietly, as the silence still seemed to amplify every sound.
“What’s...” Rhett shook his head quickly, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t really know. I woke up in this room a little bit ago. Door’s locked, so I tried looking around for a way to open it.” Link explained, then looked down at his hand. “I found a key. The door doesn't have a keyhole, though.” He watched as Rhett seemed to go over things in his head before looking to the door, then the key Link was holding. “...There’s more stuff I haven’t gone through yet. Maybe we can find a way to open the door.” Rhett looked back to Link and nodded. He opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped, looking past Link in the direction of the desk.
“Was that on before?” Rhett asked. Link turned around to look at the monitor that seemed attached to the desk. It hadn't been on before, but now it was, and it was showing what looked like a...small, animated deer, but it was green with what looked like scales, a white mane, and a large, reptilian tail. Its large, red eyes darted around the screen before focusing just off to the right, as if it were looking directly at Rhett and Link.
“Hello there!” It almost squeaked in a high-pitched voice that seemed to fit the creature well. “How is everyone today?” It paused, looking around more slowly. “Good, I hope!”
“...What’s going on? What is that?” Link asked, looking at the screen strangely. The little creature giggled, placing a hoof over its mouth, before pacing to the other side of the screen.
“Such an inquisitive bunch...” It sounded a bit calmer. “And points to those of you with the more colorful vocabulary. I have to apologize, though, as none of us really have any time for a Q&A session right now – especially you!” It giggled again, sounding less cheerful and more creepy this time. Link looked back at Rhett, who just shrugged with an incredulous look. “Oh, that’s right! I almost forgot. You all have a time limit to get out of those rooms you’re in.” It appeared to tap one wrist with another hoof. “If you don’t get out in time, bad things will happen!” It paused, moving closer to the screen. “Have fun!” It practically yelled before the picture cut out.
Both men sat in silence, trying to process what had just occurred. That deer thing, was it right? Were they really on a time limit? There wasn't any way to know for sure. Something Link did know for sure, though, is that he wanted to grab Rhett and get out of there, fast, bad things notwithstanding. To do that, he indeed needed to find a way out of the room they were in. He looked over the key in his hand, but was quickly distracted by an unfamiliar sight. On his right wrist, there seemed to be a watch. It looked like one, at least, but the display didn’t show a time; just a zero and the word ‘pair’, both in bright green.
“You have one, too?” Rhett asked, holding up his arm. “I guess that explains the ‘pair’.”
“Yeah...” Of course, there was something else that had to be added to this mystery. “Let’s try to get out of here. I don’t want to find out if that thing was telling the truth.” Rhett nodded in agreement before standing up. Link stood, as well, and turned towards the desk. The box with the buttons was still where he had left it. More urgent, though, was the key in his hand. He took a closer look at it and saw what looked like small dashes etched into the bow. There were three of them, lined up in two rows, looking sort of like an L pattern. Of course, that didn’t make anything clearer, but it seemed the only places locked with a key were the desk drawers.
“Hey, Link.” He heard Rhett ask from the other side of the room. “Did you see what’s in these boxes?”
“I looked in them, but I didn’t pull any of the styrofoam out.” Link answered, glancing over his shoulder before kneeling to try the key out. He started with the top left, which gave him no trouble at all. Inside was a small green object, which Link quickly scooped up. It was a memory card – or it looked like one – marked with an L. He turned it over in his hands before placing it on the top of the desk and moving to the drawer below. This one contained a simple, red handled screwdriver. That also went on top of the desk after a quick once-over. The last drawer on that side hadn't opened before, but upon further examination, it didn’t even seem to have a lock. Tugging on it again, it began to feel like it was simply the front of the drawer attached to the desk, as if it were a decorative piece.
Amidst his own shuffling around, he heard Rhett on the other side of the room, presumably going through the boxes he had asked about before. The familiar squeak of styrofoam told Link he was right.
"Hey, Link. You might want to look at this." Rhett called, sounding a bit tense. Link quickly turned and crossed the room, kneeling by his friend. In front of them, still halfway packed in styrofoam, was what looked like a small, silver oxygen cylinder, fitted with what looked like a timer, and it was counting down from nine minutes. Link glanced at Rhett, who seemed to be studying the timer, his expression stoic.
“I don’t think we should mess with it.” Link said quietly, gaze darting between the cylinder and Rhett a few times.
“Me neither.” Rhett agreed. His tone was serious, though noticeably calmer than before. “Let's just try to get out of here." Link nodded in agreement before moving back to the desk, while Rhett began going through the other boxes.
He took a recap of the things he had found in the desk, trying not to think about the timer ticking away in the corner. First was the key, which reminded him there were two drawers he hadn't tried to open yet. Next, the screwdriver and the puzzle box, which Link thought might be connected. Finally, the memory card. Where could it go? There were several things in the room that it could be compatible with. First thing's first, though. Link picked up the key and went to investigate the desk drawers on the left side. The top one, however, didn't seem to have a lock. It did, however, have a red light on it. Assuming that meant the drawer was locked by other means, Link moved to the last drawer, which unlocked without a problem. Inside was an index card, or what felt like one, with a diagram of the canister Rhett had just found, timer and all. It appeared to detail a way to open either the timer or the canister, but it looked like it needed things they didn’t have yet. Link shook his head and placed the card on the desk before looking up at the monitor. It then hit him.
Looking closer, Link noticed that there were three small slots in the base, lined up together. The card read “L”, so Link tried it in the leftmost slot. It fit, and the monitor blinked on. After a few seconds, a three-by-three grid of squares appeared in the middle of the screen, almost like the buttons on the box. The only difference was that most of the squares were bright green, but then the one in the bottom left corner was dark blue. There was a number nine in the top left corner. Link recognized what it was almost immediately. He tapped the blue square, just to make sure it was a touch screen, and the display indeed responded. The blue square turned green, and the squares above and to the left of it became blue. As that happened, the nine in the corner blinked before turning into an eight. Link smiled, satisfied with having recognized the puzzle in front of him.
“Find something?” Rhett asked from over Link’s shoulder. Link looked over, still grinning, and pointed at the screen.
“A puzzle.” He elaborated, his tone matching his expression. Rhett chuckled before presenting a small notebook and a pen.
“These were in one of the boxes, along with more of those tanks. None of them had timers on them though.” Rhett quickly added the last part when Link’s smile started to fade.
“Oh... Okay. Thanks.” He said quietly, taking the items. “There’s a diagram of the timer I found on the desk here.” Link focused his attention on the puzzle, again attempting to block out the fact they were being timed. According to the screen, he had eight moves left to solve the puzzle. Would it reset after that? Would it shut down and not allow him to try again? He felt Rhett’s hand clasp him on the shoulder before disappearing from his periphery. Nodding absently, he looked down at the notepad, clicking the pen and copying the puzzle in the corner of the paper and writing an eight below it. Next to that, he sketched out what it would look like if he were to press the middle square, labeling the sketch ‘7’.
The next move seemed obvious: the bottom-right corner, which was the same square that he had pressed starting out. He quickly noted the move, updating the count. He then looked at the next drawing, thinking. The next move wasn't so obvious this time. In fact, it seemed that there were at least three squares that would have the greatest effect on the puzzle. With the timer ticking away in the corner, though, there wasn't a lot of time to sit and decide; He knew he had to pick one and go. He could always go back and try another option if it didn’t pan out. The upper-left looked like a good place to start, so it went down on the paper. It was after a bit more studying that it clicked in Link’s mind. Not just the next move, but the next two moves. The solution was right there, with moves to spare. Both results were hurriedly scribbled onto the paper with a grin before the pen hit the desk.
“Got it!” Link exclaimed before punching in the solution as easily as a bank pin. The screen then blinked before displaying the word COMPLETED in glowing letters. There was a sound from inside the desk, which Link assumed was the drawer without a keyhole unlocking. A quick test of the drawer confirmed his assumption, as it slid open as freely as if there were no mechanism attached to it. There were several more things in this drawer than there had been in the others. For one, there was another card like the one that had the puzzle on it. Link quickly scooped it up, turning it in his fingers to look at both sides. It was indeed just like the other card, but the label had an R on it, rather than an L. After placing it on top of the desk, he emptied the drawer of the other items, including what looked like a cell phone battery, a plastic cover, and four small screws, onto the desk. It was pretty obvious what they were for and what Link needed to do with them, but something was bothering him. If the card activated another puzzle, would he have the time to solve it and deal with the puzzle box? Shaking his head, Link turned towards the boxes to find Rhett examining the canister with the timer, the card with the diagram in his other hand.
"Do you need the screwdriver?" Link asked, moving closer to get a look at the timer. [04:38] It read, ticking down at the proper rate. Rhett seemed to come out of a trance as the other approached.
"Nah." He answered quickly, not looking away. "According to the diagram, there's a pin we can put into the timer to pop it off the canister. You find anything like that?"
"Not yet. I did find another card and the missing parts to that box, though." Rhett perked up a bit.
"I'll mess with the box, then." He set the canister down and stood up, turning to face Link. "I need to do something besides stare at this timer."
"It's all yours, brother." Link replied, stepping back and motioning towards the desk. He then watched as Rhett moved to the far corner of the desk, taking the long forgotten chair with him, before moving in to take the R card. It went into the right slot as easily as the other had went in the left, but the screen displayed something slightly different. There were still nine squares, but then they were outlined in silver, with some green and some black. The screen didn't respond to being touched, and the colors weren't in any specific pattern, but the squares themselves did remind him of something. He wrote down the pattern, as he wasn't sure how long it would stay up, and dashed over to the corner where the safe was.
"Thought so." He said quietly, pressing the keys that he had marked green in the notebook. That earned him a click from inside the safe.
"Hm?" Rhett sounded mildly interested, like he was still preoccupied with the puzzle box. Link felt around the front of the safe for what could be the door. Instead, he found a divide in the middle, from which two doors easily swung open.
"Safe's open." He replied casually, not waiting for another word before examine the contents. There was a small, gold-and-black colored piece of something, almost like a hairpin, and a long black case that seemed like it would just fit in Link's hand. The first item, Link could only guess at, but there wasn't anything else the second could have been. He grabbed it eagerly, opening it as soon as humanly possible.
"So, what's in there?" Rhett asked, kneeling on the floor beside Link.
"These, for one." Link responded, sliding his glasses on. "Finally..." Rhett almost laughed before reaching into the safe himself, taking the other item.
"This looks like the pin for the timer." He explained, already digging out the timed canister from the box in front of him. The timer read [02:43] - still some time, but Link felt that Rhett wasn't going to wait around. His thoughts were confirmed, as the pin was in the timer before the thought had even finished.
A loud, shrill tone echoed in the small room maybe a second before the entire timer just shut down, falling from the canister. The sound had spooked Link, but not even that put a dent in the relief he felt seeing the timer gone. Beside them, it sounded like large pieces of metal were moving inside the wall. The door then slid open, clanging loudly as it disappeared into the wall. The two men looked at each other.
"I think that's our cue." Link said with a small grin.
"We don't know what's out there, though."
"It's better than staying in here, isn't it?"
"You've got a point. Let's go, then!" Rhett returned Link's expression. He then stood up and was at the doorway in a flash. Link thought of something, though.
"Wait." He rushed to the desk, grabbing the puzzle box before joining Rhett. Luckily, the taller man had finished putting it together.
"You're taking that with you?" Rhett asked, disbelief in his tone. Link shrugged.
"Why not?" He then hurried out the door, Rhett following.