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Petal of Life

Chapter Text

In the early afternoon, under a grey sky... Makoto is on her way to an art gallery.

"Do I really have to go?"

"Come on, Mako. Pretty please? Koharu isn't feeling very well today, it's really sad to see a free ticket go to waste."

Makoto enters the newly built grand art exhibition, giving it the impression of an endless white space if there were no art displays to contrast it.

'Well, I'm here. ...This is my first time in an art gallery.' She took a look at the description on the ticket, it expires on the actual day itself. It made sense why Otome didn't want it to go to waste.

'So this exhibition is displaying art by an artist named Guertena... They have paintings, sculptures and other creations. I doubt I'll enjoy it...' Makoto sighed, wondering what made Otome thought that giving her this ticket would be the smartest idea. Thinking back, she should have given it to someone else. Mentally cursing herself for not thinking up the idea earlier.

'I should get to the reception desk, maybe the pamphlets will keep me occupied.'

After passing her ticket to the receptionist and writing her name into the booklist, she grabs a pamphlet from the desk and proceeds towards the gallery. Thinking that maybe sweeping the second floor first would be a better idea, she made her way up the staircase near the reception. Beginning to wandering around the gallery, she didn't understand art but still gives respect to the artist and the art itself. There were not many people here, probably art critics or art enthusiast. Before she made a left turn down a corner, her peripheral vision caught someone familiar to which she immediately halted and took several steps back, but the person had already disappeared at a turn. Makoto continues to stare at the turn for a few seconds, half hoping the person would return. But it didn't happen.

"I thought I saw..." Makoto said to herself, remembering a black coat. She shook the idea away, wonder why she'd even thought that, from what she heard from Otome, she has completely no interest in art or anything that isn't science related. She had seen the person a couple of times, but her memories were vague. She continues down the clear hallway which only has an enormous painting framed that takes up the entire wall. Makoto came to a stop in front of the painting, staring absently at the confusing painting. The painting is a mix of all the artist's creation into one confusing art, it almost looks like a child's attempt. It's only when the sudden flickering of the lights that snapped her senses back into her.

"...? What happened?" She begins walking around the second floor but she quickly notice there was no sign of people anywhere, it felt like they vanish into thin air and the silence in the area makes her ears hurt.

'Maybe everyone's downstairs...' She began to grow uneasy with her situation and waste no time reaching the first floor. But just like the second floor, nobody is in sight. Even the receptionist is gone.

'What's going on?' She grows even more wary of her situation when the whole lights in the gallery shut down, the only good news from this was she's still able to see where she's going. She walks cautiously around the gallery, holding faint hope that she'll find at least a single soul somewhere. The sculptures and paintings were not helping by making the atmosphere worse than it already is on her mentally, they look like they could come alive.

'Is this a demon's doing?' She retrieved her phone from her pocket to call JP's for updates but what she saw on her screen made her grit her teeth.

"Damn it, I swore there was reception when I came here..." With her phone rendering useless, she kept her phone and continues on her search. She heard faint footsteps in the hallway but still no human, even when she circled around the entire hall. She's starting to grow frustrated as time passed. That's when she spotted a shadow figure passing by the glass on the second floor, she immediately ran towards the glass to inspect it.

"Is someone there?" She called. Her eyes couldn't see any more than a couple of centimetres away from her with the glass fogged up, even with her face up close the glass. Instead, a hand startled her when it slammed a couple times on the glass. "W-What was that!? Is this some kind of a joke?"

That's only the beginning. She's startled by a fruit that rolled out from a painting and splattered onto the floor like a tomato, a suddenly sneeze made her flinch and an unknown meow echoed down the hallway. She reached the only enormous painting again and noticed a blue liquid leaking from behind the frame, going over to take a closer look but it's just paint. Loud stamps obvious behind her, Makoto jumped and immediately turn to look. Nothing but the questionable large letters on the floor in red that reads:

C O M E M A K O T O

'This is definitely not the gallery anymore!' Makoto stares in disbelief at the red words calling her, her eye notices the blue liquid has changed, she swallowed but reads it anyway.

come down below Makoto
ill show you someplace secret

'Someplace secret?' Makoto glares at the words, wondering what does it mean and why her? Pondering about the odd message to her, 'down' could only mean the first floor. Only one way to find out and she did as the message told her. What she's trying to find wasn't hard to miss. The railing around a large painting of a deep blue lake with an opened jaw giant piranha was clearly missing and blue footprints indict her entrance. Makoto came closer to the painting, staring warily at it. Her common sense preventing her from approaching any further.

"Come and play..."

As times go, her wariness slowly fades as a voice called from the painting, urging her to step towards the painting. The voice replayed in her head like a broken recorder. Like a parent leading a child, she steps onto the paint, falling into the painting, engulfed by what felt like water. Her conscious slowly slips away as she sinks deeper into the water.

-------------------------

'What...happened?' Makoto pushes herself up from the ground, shaking her head, trying to clear her fuzzy mind. It felt like she had just drowned. 'I was staring at the fish painting until...' Her eyes pop open, realising where she is.

The hallway looks the same but coloured in deep blue, currently, the only two identical painting hanging on the wall disturbs her. It's an open wasteland with a large red sea on the left and an open wasteland with a large blue sea on the right mirroring the landscape, they oddly gave her the impression of 'The pits of hell' for some odd reason. Pushing the thought aside, she walks down the hallway to her left but the door at the end of it was locked. She sighed and had no choice but to walk the other way. The wall was stained with blue words reading COME all the way towards the lone blue door blocked by a blue rose in a vase that's sitting on a desk.

She tried moving the desk away from the door but it refuse to budge, it felt like someone has hammered the desk onto the ground. She wasn't sure how she'll be able to move the desk, it's a small wooden square table about the size of a child, maybe even smaller. It couldn't have been heavy. The longer she stares at it, the more her instinct tells her to take the blue rose. She reaches for the rose and took it out of the vase with ease, she tries to push the desk again and now it finally moves out of her way. Entering the blue door hoping to find an exit, she instead came to a small room with a large portrait of a lady in white smiling from ear to ear with her long black hair out of the frame. The familiar uneasiness returns to her as soon as she spotted the picture, only later to notice a blue key below the painting. She cautiously walks towards the key, picking it up from the cold floor. As soon as she took it, the hair on the back of her neck stands. Whatever's making her felt this way tells her completely not to look at the painting if she values her mental health. But she still raises her eyes high enough to read the note that came along with the key.

"When the rose wilt, so too will you rot away."

Rose? She takes a quick look at the blue rose in her hand and the note, wondering if it meant the rose she's holding. After she's finally out of her thought, she remembers the unease she's feeling and immediately dash out the room without even a single look back. Slamming the door shut behind her. She sighed in relieve, finally getting the unease feeling away. Lifting her eyes from the ground, the writing on the wall writes in bold red made her froze in her spot.

THIEF

"T-Thief?! I-I wasn't stealing anything!" Makoto begins to panic, worried that she may have offended whatever is living here. She immediately tries to put the rose back into the vase back but a note attached next to the vase got her attention first.

"You and the rose are unified
Know the weight of your own life."

She frowned, contemplating which she listens. She turns away from the vase and continues back down the hallway she came from. Her steps are fast, hoping to leave this hallway immediately, only to startle off her feet when the red word THIEF stamps out right in front of her. Panic quickly took over her mind, swiftly getting up on her feet and bolt towards the other blue door at the other end of the hallway. Unlocking the door and slamming the door shut. She breathes heavily, never has she felt such dread. Not even from fighting demons. "I need to find a way out."

Despite the dread hanging over her, she steels herself, enduring the horror and the puzzles she has to solve trying to get through the different halls. Shadow arms popping out of narrow hallway walls, mysterious falling objects, talking and moving inanimate objects that want to end her. The longer she stays here, the more she grows the fear for mannequins or anything similar to that category, or simply any sort of art. But the notes around the different hallways have saved her life with the hints or warning it has provided, they were so subtle that it's hard to tell. The only thing keeping her sane is the puzzles that require a clear mind to solve, probably the only thing that occupies her. This experience will definitely leave mental trauma about art.

She did notice how the corridors change colour, same as the corresponding door and key. The third hall tests her logical thinking, math and riddles comes into play. Obtaining the first two numbers on a scrap of paper she had with her for the door was easy but the last number took her a while. There were six painting of shadow child with yellow writing below the frame, which wearing green, orange, yellow, blue, white and red. Here is the clue:

"Stand in front of the statue, go west 3 steps, then south 1 step. That's the answer" - Green

'What does that mean?' Makoto questioned, she doesn't recall any statute in this third hall. Keeping it in mind, she continues to read the rest of the writings.

"Stand in front of the statue, go east 4 steps, then north 2 steps. That's the answer!" - Orange

"The one in white speaks the truth!" - Yellow

"The only truth-speaker wears green!" - Blue

'Wait, if only the truth speaker wears green, then that means Blue's not telling the truth and Yellow is telling a lie too.'

"Stand in front of the statue, go east 2 steps, then south 2 steps. That's the answer!" - White

"I agree with the one in yellow!" - Red

'Red agrees with Yellow? Does that mean Red doesn't agree with Yellow? If Red is lying and White is lying, Blue is a liar by default because it can't be the right one. Truth speaker can't be Green and Yellow is probably lying, to begin with... So Orange is telling the truth?' Makoto makes her way over to Orange and reads the notes again.

"Stand in front of the statue, go east 4 steps, then north 2 steps. That's the answer!" - Orange

She memories the pattern and enters a yellow door in the middle of the hall. There she finds a white faceless male statue standing in the centre of the room. Makoto makes her way towards the statue, taking a deep breath and counts the steps she memories from Orange's note. That's when she came across a loose tile under her feet, praying in the back of her mind that the last thing she sees isn't red. She pries the tile up and found a number under the tile. A purple "4". She silently cheered in the back of her mind, proud of her own riddle-solving skills. She jumped when she clearly heard stabbing, slashing and glass shattering coming from the previous room.

"What happened?" When she returned to the previous room, it looked like a massacre. Orange was slashed, red paint dripping from it. Red paint covers all the wall, while the rest wields a knife in their hand. With all their text reading "Liar!". And that's the cue for her to immediately leave.

Finally standing in front of the green locked door, she retrieves the note she kept and starts her mental calculation.

"X(green) x X(red) + X(purple) = ?"

'9 is green and 18 is red. 4 is purple from the last room. So 9x18 is... 162 adding the 4 is 166?' She enters the number into the door and it unlocked with a click, never did she thought that math would save her life. She enters the room and it's filled with fake tree sculpture, with a wooden apple hanging off one of it. Recalling back to the note at the back of the hall that reads "BEWARE OF LIPS", that mouth on the wall left a pretty bad mark on her arm. It did murmur something about being hungry.

'Maybe I should give it this apple? It's worth a shot I suppose.' Makoto took the apple and returns to the mouth, feeding it the wooden apple, the apple scrunched loudly in the mouth.

"This tasty..." It said. "I let you pass now... Go through my mouth..." The mouth opens wide, showing its fanged teeth and tongue. Makoto cringe at the thought of going through it but does she really have a choice here? She made sure it's quick and pass through it.

Entering into a new hallway, a line of guillotine paintings. She watches the painting as she walks down the hall, noting that the blade in the paint was moving higher in each painting. Coming to the last picture, there's no blade insight. The dots in her mind has never connected so fast that she jumps out of the way equal fast, avoiding the blade that came crashing down where she last stood. She breathes heavily, watching the crushed floor as the blade gets pulled back up into the ceiling. "That's...as close as death I ever want to be..."

She stumbles trying to get up on her feet, the feeling of dread still lingering. Makoto drags her weak feet towards the stairs, she felt like she's going to faint if this sort of thing happens again. Finally stepping into the new deep red hallway, this hallway is oddly straightforward. The path is given to her and she just has to follow them and reach the only red door. Upon entering, she sees two large statue blue on the left and red on the right. The blue statue is called "Uh" and the red statue is called "Ah"

'...Probably not the most creative name. Still, all the murderous art strangely resembles Guertena's art. It can't be a coincidence, is it?'

Makoto took a quick look at the arts in this hall but there's no sign of any red key for the red door in the middle of the room. It only later does she notice a picture of a lady in red, which is also the name given to the art. Seeing as there's nothing there, she made a turn to leave, only to be startled by a glass shatter. Taking a quick glance back, she screamed in horror as the lady in red grins menacingly as it drags its frame body across the floor, chasing her down restlessly. She spends most of her time run away from the lady while trying to search for the key. 'Where the hell is it!?'

Finally getting more distance from the lady, her eyes caught a tiny red object on the corner where the lady in red is originally framed. 'Are you kidding me!?'

The key blends so well with the floor, even with her trained vision she was still not able to see it at first glance. She ran towards the key and swiftly swipe it off the ground. Frantically unlock the door as the Lady in Red crawls fast towards her, shutting the door behind her. She leans against the door, the dread hanging over her is starting to get to her physically. The door slams heavily several times, causing the commander to back away from the door. After watching the door attentively, she realises the Lady in Red wouldn't be able enter the room anytime soon. She sighed in relief, finally getting a break. There are only bookshelves around her and all this time they haven't tried to kill her yet, so she took a quick rest by the bookshelves. While resting she took one of the books from the shelves and skim through it.

The Girls in the Canvas
The women here become very ??? once they ??? a desire for humans.
They'll always ??? chase things until they're satisfied, it seems...
Anywhere, everywhere, to the ends of the earth...
But if they have one weakness, it's that they can't open doors on their own.

Some words are smudge, she tried guessing the words but none of them fit. But reading this just made it clear that she's currently safe from any crawling monster. She checks several other books in the room, a book which is filled with Guertena's drawings. And there's a paper stuck between two pages.

HAVINGFUN?

She slammed the book shut and pretend that she did not see that. Replacing it with another book. "Art Galleries of the World", it's just a book filled with pictures of galleries... Nothing here.

"Moving Storybook
Written/Drawn by XXXX
-Carrie Careless and the Galette des Rois-"

It's a storybook drawn in crayon... She turns the pages and beings reading it. It was all fun and cute until she got to the last few pages. It's a group of children celebrating a girl's birthday. They made a Galette des Rois for the birthday girl. It simply means there's a coin in the pie baked and if you eat the slice with the coin in it, then you'll be a happy person. The birthday girl exclaimed happily and they begin splitting the pie up for each friend. While they ate happily, the birthday girl swallowed something hard. Her friend brushes it off saying the coin is small so it will be fine and they begin cleaning up.
The girl who hosts the party was about to return the plate and knife to the kitchen when she saw her mother pacing outside of the study room, worried. Apparently, the key to the study has disappeared and her mother couldn't find it. The girl was about to reply when she notices where it's always placed is not a key, but a small coin. The girl was dumbfounded, staring at the coin and the birthday girl. The girl begins to panic as she grew worried, startled easily by the knife that drops onto the floor.
"Looks like I was just as careless as Carrie..." The last page shows the girl holding a red key with an equally red knife, the girl smiles happily.
"I found the keeey! Let's open the door!"

Makoto reminds speechless, the drawing only made it even more disturbing than it should be. Placing the book back, she notices one of the other books was jutting out. Seeing how oddly placed it is, she pushed the book in, only to hear a click coming from the door across the one she entered. Apparently, she solved a puzzle unknowingly, but she's not complaining. Continuing on her mission, there's a vase filled with water sitting beside a painting of a similar looking vase and under it reads: "Eternal Blessing" Looking between the painting and the vase, Makoto tries placing her rose into the vase and suddenly, she felt she has gotten a days rest. Even the bite wound previously has disappeared, her rose grew more petals. Connecting the dots, the vase truly is an eternal blessing. She retrieves her rose from the vase, later noticing white petals leading a trail to the door on the left.

'Petals?! Someone's here!' She hurried through the door, following the petals which lead to a small room in the centre of the hall. There were strangely many petals on the floor, it looks as if someone had plucked them. That's when she recalled the first two notes she read when she entered this place.

"When the rose wilt, so too will you rot away."
"You and the rose are unified
Know the weight of your own life."

Makoto noticed blood on the red floor at a corner, the colour contrast is just different enough for her to notice. She kneels down to inspect it, still wet. That's means the person was here not too long ago. She turns her attention up to the step to a plate that reads: Lady in blue.

'Lady in blue? There's no Lady in blue... Is there?' The white petals end at the closed red door, she tried the door but it's locked. 'Another key hunt...' She starts to feel numb about the situation of her searching for keys and running for her life, it still startles her nonetheless. Since she couldn't enter the door, the only way left is the door to the right. Upon crossing the right door, her faint hope of finding another human sparked again.

"Hey, are you alright?!" She asked, dashing over to the fallen person. This person is a woman. She has short black hair tied in pigtails, what caught her eyes is the JP's coat covering the woman's back. She recognises the coat anywhere.

"...Urgh..." The woman reminds motionless on the floor, she sounds like she's in pain.

"Are you okay?" Makoto asked again.

"...It... ....hurts...."

'She's in a lot of pain... There has to be a way to help her...'

"Let me help you up." Makoto tried moving the woman but the woman stopped her.

"Arrgh...! Stop..." She begins coughing violently, her voice getting weaker. Right now, she's left with no option. She couldn't move the woman, it'll just worsen it and she does not know what the injury is to help to begin with. Makoto grit her teeth in frustration, she can't let someone die but what can she do? However, Makoto notices she's holding tightly onto a small red key.

'A key? Could it be for...' Makoto pondered, she releases the woman's grip on the key and took it, muttering an apology.

"I'll get your rose back."

Getting back up on her feet, she immediately runs towards the locked room and unlocks it. Her eyes follow the fallen white petals to a turn in the room, to which she immediately went into hiding.

'There's a Lady in Blue!' So that's the painting outside the room, she took another peek at the corner, the Lady in Blue is definitely plucking the petals off a white rose. 'That must the woman's rose! If I don't get it back...' Realising what came into her mind, she immediately dismisses the thought and starts planning how she's going to retrieve the rose. 'I'll have to risk it.'

She came out from hiding and stands within the Lady in Blue vision, seeing Makoto, it begins chasing after her, abandoning the rose. 'Now's my chance!'

Risking being injured by the Lady in Blue, she swiftly grabs the white rose and made a sharp turn and bolts out the door, slamming it shut. She sustained some injuries, losing a petal from her own rose. But she couldn't help but smile that successfully recovered the rose. Without knowing the window to look into the room isn't an obstacle for the Lady in Blue, it crashes through the window and continues to give chase. Thanks to the training in JP's her reflexes were quick enough to outrun it to the next room, stopping its chase.

"That was too close..." Said Makoto as she places the white rose into the vase first before her's. The white rose glows with health as new petals replace old ones. She returns to the woman in the hallway, finding the woman trying to push herself up from the floor.

"The pain's...gone..." The woman uttered, that's when her eyes notice Makoto standing in front of her. "Hm?"

Finally seeing the woman's face, Makoto was completely dumbfounded. "Pro-Professor Kanno?!"

Chapter Text

"I see... You don't have any clue how things got to this point, either." Said Fumi.

Makoto and Fumi took a seat on the floor, resting themselves against the wall, it's nice to finally talk to another human. Fumi stares at the white rose now in her hand. "These roses... Wounds appear on me when my rose loses its petals..."

Makoto crook a brow, never knew about that information. Now she knows.

"I thought I was a goner there... Thank you for getting it back."

"It's no trouble," Makoto replied with a smile. "How about we try to leave this place together? I've been trying to find a way out of here." Having another human with her will probably help keep her sanity in check and prevent her from making foolish decisions.

"Smart move. I won't be surprised if I go mad for staying in this dreadful place for too long." Fumi said all that with no pauses.

"I agree." Makoto nods. "Ah, I still haven't introduced myself. I'm-"

"Makoto Sako. The chief's right-hand woman. Everyone in JP's knows you." Fumi cuts her off, leaning back. Makoto was speechless, she didn't realise everyone in JP's actually knew her. "The name's Fumi Kanno, Fumi is fine." Well, this suddenly turns awkward... Makoto rubbed the back of her neck, wondering if she should continue their conversation. "Let's go, we've rest enough." Fumi gets off the floor, with Makoto following shortly. Their walk together down the hallway was silent, it felt like the other's company wasn't even there.

They come across a headless statue, one that resembles those in clothes stores and it's blocking their only way forward. "Let's move it aside." Fumi suggested, which Makoto nods in agreement. They both stand at the same side of the statue and on the count of 3, with their shared strength, they push the statue aside. The marble drags across the floor, creating a noise that makes your senses itch.

"That should do it." Said Makoto. Upon entering the next room, the atmosphere in the place changes drastically. The room is coloured with a gloomy grey and the first things they see are two grieving pictures of a groom and a bride. In front of the pictures, each has a shadow hand sticking out of the ground. With nothing here for them to solve, they continue their way down the hall. Three branching hallway, a closed grey door on the left separating wall. Fumi didn't really care which way they went first so Makoto decides for them to go to the left.

The left hallway is empty, at least that's what they see. Taking a few more steps forwards, multiple large eyes pop open, startling Makoto who nearly stepped one. "Aaah! What is that?!" She exclaims. "Why are there eyes on the floor...?" She breathes heavily, trying to keep her composure from the horrifying shock.

"Probably one of the most cliched horrors I've seen so far." Fumi commented, not a hint of fear. Makoto stares at the scientist, wondering why isn't she fazed by it. Fumi continues down the hallway, walking around the eyes with Makoto following behind disturbed. While walking, they come across a red eye that seems like it's in pain, even the vein around the iris can be seen.

"D...Does this lone eye have a congestion problem?" Makoto uttered, getting Fumi's attention on the one eye.

"It seems so."

"L-Let's look around for something to help it." They left this hallway and ventures down the middle hallway, making a right turn and into a grey door. There, they come into a puzzle room. Judging by the setup, it a slide puzzle. And at the very end of the dull room, an eye drop sits on a stool. "Fumi, look, there's an eyedrop over there. Maybe we could use it."

"Then let's get this over with." Fumi and Makoto start planning a way to create a path, there's no way for them to pick the stools up or even try to cross over them, that's the first thing they've tried. It's like an invisible barrier preventing them from 'cheating'. It seems the stools blocking their path only responses to push. With their plan all out, Makoto begins moving the stools out of their way, it didn't take up much of their time to obtain the eyedrop.

"We got it, let's-" Makoto froze, she was sure the scientist was following behind her. "Fumi?" She immediately left the room, returning to the hallway. "Fumi, where are you?" She called again, hoping to at least get an answer this time. That's when Makoto heard a faint deranged laughter coming from the other corner. She cautiously walks towards the corner, peeking around the corner, sighing in relief. "So that's where you've been." She walks towards Fumi, who seems to be looking at something.

"Ehehehe, hehehehehe... Flowers... flowers're nice..." Makoto got a closer look at what's drawing the scientist attention. It's a black painting with two large blue eyes, with its right eye leaking blue paint and carries a deranged smile with blue paint drooling from its mouth. "Give me that there flower and I'll let you through... ehehe... Ehehe... your flower, pretty please?"

"Let's go, Makoto." Said Fumi, turning to leave the painting.

"Aw, I'm begging you... I just wanna have a snifffff..." It begged, disappointed that Fumi didn't even give it a second thought. Makoto looks between the two and silently agrees with Fumi and follows. "I just want it for a li'l bit... Ehehe, hehehehe, hehehehehe... Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!" It laughter became disturbing as it laughs even louder. Makoto cringe, wishing that she had something to cover her ears. Returning back to the congested eye, Makoto begins applying eyedrop to it. The congested eye closed, only to open later to be a sparkling happy eye. Makoto and Fumi dodge the eye as it moves across the floor to stare intently at a wall. Makoto and Fumi exchange looks and decided to follow the eye.

"It's staring at that wall..." Said Makoto, following the eye's stare. Fumi remains silent, staring intently at the wall too.

"...The wall is slightly different coloured."

"Is it?" Makoto crook a brow.

Seeing the two women followed, it closes its eye, allowing them to step on it. With a strong push against the hidden passage, they entered into a small hall, where a small red orb lays. A red glass ball... There must a place to put it, being in this place long enough they instinctively knew what to look out for. Makoto held onto the glass ball, both keeping a lookout. There are several paintings here, it must fit one of them. They observe each painting closely, to only find the exact same size as the glass ball from a white snake painting's eye. Inserting it in, the tongue of the snake redraw and came falling off the wall is the painting next to it. Behind the fallen frame reads: "Behind the big tree".

'Tree? Is it talking about the apple tree?' Makoto pondered, the only tree she has seen so far is the apple tree back in the previous halls. 'I'll keep that in mind for now.'

Entering the last grey door they haven't entered, they find themselves presented with a labyrinth. At least that's what the plate on the wall said. They were indeed shocked to see walking headless mannequin in a red dress along the corridors, they barely avoided coming into their line of 'sight'. They have been wandering around the maze and still couldn't find what they are looking for, the only hint given is: "There's a trick to solving mazes... Hug the right-hand side and you'll reach the end eventually."

"Not a bad trick." Fumi commented. "But that doesn't help the ceiling being far too low for comfort." The two women have been half crouching this hold time, making it even more exhausting than originally should be. "Not to mention those statues loitering around."

And the second clue they've found following the first hint is: "Check directly south from the red paint." It would have been helpful if there weren't 3 spots of red paint on the ground. Checking each spot was dangerous, with every one of it ending with a dead end. Considering themselves lucky that they found a switch closest to the first hint by following the second hint, a sound came from outside after the switch has been pressed, revealing a hidden door down the right fork of the 3 branching paths. Upon entering the door, it's just a line up of art creations down to the right. It just got worse with the lights flickering on them as soon as they enter.

The first creation is called "Wine Sofa", A giant wine glass cut diagonally, with a red cushion inside. 'That doesn't look like very comfortable...' The second creation is a top half of a statue called "Melancholy". 'Melancholy, huh. Who wouldn't be in this place?' The third creation is just a skeleton painted in all kinds of colours called "Puzzle".

"Are these real bones?" Fumi uttered, staring at it with curious eyes. The thought of it gives Makoto goosebumps.

"Please don't say that..." And the last creation is a tree sculpture that vaguely resembles a person called "Feeling". 'You gotta be pretty clever to come up with this stuff...' Recalling the writing behind the frame, Makoto moves around the sculpture and found something gleaming amid the leaves. A silver ring is hanging off one of the branches. "Isn't this...a wedding ring? Why would this be doing here?" With a shared look, they knew exactly what to do with it.

-----------

"Which hand was it again?" Makoto asked, looking at the pair of shadow hands.

"The left hand." Fumi replied.

The left is supposed to be closer to the heart, Makoto approaches the left hand and slips the wedding ring onto the ring finger. They turn to look at the paintings, both groom and bride are smiling now. The bride in the painting threw a beautiful pink bouquet she's holding onto the floor, the named for them has been changed to "Blessed Bride" and "Blessed Groom". They went over to pick up the bouquet, allowing the pair to give it for the deranged painting.

"Ehehehe, thanks... It smells niiice... eheheh." The painting grins wider. "Well, chow time!" It's mouth snatch the bouquet off of Makoto's hand and munches down on it. The painting turns red as it munches down on the flower like a savage animal. Once it's done, it turns back to blue. "Ahhh, that was good... eheheh. Thank you, thanks so much... As promised, you can go through." Its face shifts into an image of a door, the handle being a blue painted handle. "Just take this door in... Well, see ya... eheheheh!"

One positive thing about the things that live here, is that they do what they have promised. Makoto and Fumi cross the door and cross a line up of mannequin heads down a long hallway, with large portraits of pale white bald human smiling, it didn't help that the hallway is too long and they can't walk side by side. Makoto cringes at the sight of it, starting to feel the fear she's developing. She knows that it's the only way for them to go but her legs won't listen to her.

'I-I need to move! I have to! Come on! Move!' She felt the conflict pressure between her body and her emotions, she feels like the stress is going to break her. Her eyes pop open, feeling a warm hand grabbing her's.

"Close your eyes, I'll lead you through this." Said Fumi, looking at the clearly stressed woman. Makoto was speechless but she won't lie she's still scared even with her eyes close. "I'll make sure you get through this, so trust me." Makoto eyes widen in disbelief, Fumi gave her a warm reassuring smile that melts her fear away. Makoto nods, taking a deep breath and close her eyes. With her eyes shut tight, the scientist begins leading them down the hallway. As they go further, Makoto's grips tighten, feeling the pressure of the mannequin's stare. "We're close to the door, just a little longer." Not too long, Makoto hears a door closing behind her. Her cue to open her eyes. She opens her eyes slowly, taking a quick peek to see if there's any more plastic human. But only the sight of Fumi standing in front of her.

"See? We made it through." Said Fumi, her arms crossed. With no sign them anywhere, she finally allowed her eyes to open.

"Thank you..."

Surprised to receive a thanks, Fumi smiles sheepishly. "Come on now, no need for that." Makoto didn't think that the scientist would react like that, she has always looked confident even with the way she speaks but still grateful nonetheless. "Let's keep going."

This room is just as disturbing but not enough to paralyse the commander. All the paintings that are displayed on the wall are duplicates of the Lady in red, blue, green and yellow. There's even some headless statue in plain coloured dress around the corners. Makoto and Fumi were startled when one of the Lady in Red crash onto the floor and begins chasing them, but with a room this big, one is nothing to fear. For now at least. There's one painting, however, is different, called "The Hanged Man".

"That painting... Where have I seen it before?" Makoto asked, staring at the painting.

"This was one of the paintings in the gallery." Fumi replied. They inspect the painting of the man being hung upside down by his feet, on his grey shirt, however, there's a number on it.

5629

Taking note of the number, they continue to look around, coming to a set of two closed door that requires input. The first door requires a password and the second door requires counting. With the password they've gotten, Fumi inputs the password.

6295

Makoto was about to ask why Fumi input the number differently from what they saw, later remembering that she would probably be asking a stupid question. With a click heard from the other side of the door, they entered the door. It's a small grey room, with only a painting of a vase, stool and a wooden desk. Being not too long in this room, they heard a glass shattered outside the room. Which indicate more of them are moving now. Finding it odd that there's not a puzzle to solve in the room, the scientist spotted dents in the floor which strangely make a perfect square. Looking between the desk and the dents, she told Makoto to push the desk onto the dents, fitting it perfectly. And a click was echoed throughout the hall. Upon leaving the room, Makoto jumped at the sight of a lone mannequin head appeared beside her.

"...Was this thing here earlier? I...don't think it was..." She avoids having to stare at the mannequin head for too long and immediately went looking for the unlocked door.

The next unlocked room had nothing in it but a large body mirror. Makoto and Fumi went over to it to have a closer look but apparently, it's just a plain mirror. With nothing here, they were preparing to leave when they're both startled to see it blocking their exit.

"What the... When did this get into the room...?" Makoto glares at the mannequin head, how she hated that sight of it's beaded black eyes staring at her.

"Could it be the mirror?" Fumi walks towards the mirror to inspect again, Makoto took one last glare at it before following Fumi.

"...Hm?" Makoto's eye shift to her shoulder, to a pair of those hated beaded eyes staring back at her. "Aaaahh!" Makoto fall under her feet, backing away from it. "W-Wh-WHAT was THAT?! Y..." With her anger finally hitting the brim, she got to her feet and was ready to send the mannequin to the other end of the room. "Why, you...!"

"Stop it Makoto! It's just a mannequin head." Fumi bolts towards Makoto, holding her back from sending the head flying. Makoto breaths heavily, glaring at the mannequin head. Giving Makoto some time to relax, Fumi holds onto her until she relaxes.

"...R-Right, Fumi. Th-That was immature of me..." She sighed but gives a smile to Fumi as thanks. "Well... Let's go." Now more painting has been hunting them down, making it even more difficult for them to progress. Along the way they found a grey key which dropped from one of the paintings, fitting perfectly into the grey door centred in the room. The room has a white odd sofa, four bookshelves, a window and a large painting of a couple. Recalling the terrifying experience with windows, Makoto called Fumi to help her move the shelf in front of the window. When that’s done, they quickly survey the room, both eyes spotting the obvious painting. It depicts a familiar man and woman... 'These two are...!'

"What is it, Mako?" Fumi asked, noticing Makoto dumbstruck.

"They're...my parents." Makoto uttered, staring in disbelief.

"Huh?! They're your parent?" The scientist took another look at the painting and Makoto. "They do resemble you a bit... But why would such a painting be down here?" Fumi knew that Makoto's trying to hold her own weight and this is making it worse. "Let's look somewhere else." She grabs Makoto's wrist and pulls her away from the painting, hoping that it at least helps with keeping Makoto sane. They walk over to the writings on in a white canvas.

"If you're tired, why not rest?
You'll never be hurt again..."

'Not exactly the best advice right now...' Fumi didn't feel like staying in this room any longer with that painting in their face, deciding to leave the room. But the doorknob won't cooperate. "Are you kidding me? The door was wide open..." Suddenly, something begins slamming against the door. 'T-That sound...' Something continues to slam against the door, trying to break it down.

Soon later, the window and wall begin to produce the same noise but thanks to the bookshelf in the window's way, it couldn't enter the room. The wall next to the painting got smashed down, came crawling in a Lady in Yellow. Their only exit is the hole created in the wall, they immediately pass the through the hole and their situation has worsened outside, all the paintings and statues begins moving with mannequin head blocking the doors. It's like a horror movie with multiple monsters hunting you down every narrow corridor with no idea if your next turn down the corridor will have a monster waiting for you. Lady luck came to their aid when they spotted a previously locked door has a small opening in it, with only a few petals left on their rose, they made a final dash to the door and closed it behind them.

They continued running until the door is visually small to them. With no sign of any of them following, they stopped. Breathing heavily after what felt like a marathon. "Th...That should be...far enough... I think..." Fumi spoke between breaths, staring at the door. "Well then... Let's keep go... ...Mako?" Turning her focus back to Makoto, the commander was kneeling on the floor, with her head down. "Are you okay?" Fumi asked, being at the same eye level. With no response, Makoto begins to sway before collapsing, just barely enough time for the scientist to catch her. "Makoto?! Stay with me, now!" Darkness begins to engulf Makoto's vision has she heard Fumi calling her name fading away.

--------------

"Fumi?!" Makoto called, running down from room to room, every one of them looks similar to the previous ones. Like an endless loop. "Where are you?!" Panting heavily as she tries to outrun the creatures catching her. 'Don't leave me alone!' The door in front of her is locked tight, no matter how much she tries. The creature inches closer, cornering her. 'Fumi! Somebody!'

"Aaaahh!"

Chapter Text

Makoto jumped up from the floor, dumbstruck as she pants heavily. Cold sweat rolling down her face, she notices a black coat over her body, probably acting as a blanket. Taking a quick look around, she's in a grey room with bookshelves and a vase. By the bookshelves she saw Fumi reading one of the many books, she sighed in relief. How she appreciate that it was just a nightmare. Hearing the faint sigh, Fumi lift her eyes from the book she's reading and walks over. Kneeling to her eye level. "Morning, Mako. How are you feeling?"

"I..." Makoto ponders, whether telling Fumi about her nightmare was a good idea. But the scientist has never treated her differently when things are going down, maybe she could tell her, at least get it off her chest. "I had a nightmare..." She murmured, her eyes on the black coat.

"I see..." Fumi replied. "I can't say I'm surprised... You're probably exposed to more frightful sights then I have..." The more Fumi talks, the more Makoto notice how guilty the woman looks. "I guess it's good you woke up. I'm sorry I didn't notice earlier..." Makoto, too, felt guilty for letting her worry. The dream still haunts her mind, even in the silent atmosphere. Fumi suddenly smiles, lifting her eyes to look at Makoto. "Makoto, would you take a look in the pocket of that coat?" The commander crook a brow but did has told, rustling through the pockets, she felt plastic touching her skin and it made crunching noise. Retrieving out the object, it reveals a yellow candy. "You can have it, Mako. Feel free to eat it. Let's rest here a while longer before we set out again." Fumi stands up from the floor and returns to the shelves, continuing with her book.

Makoto couldn't help but smile, they're as close as strangers before but now she considers them as friends. Makoto keeps the candy in her pocket, pushing herself off the floor with the coat in hand. "Thank you for looking after me." She hands the coat to its owner, who gladly accept it.

"You're welcome." Placing the coat over her shoulder. They made sure both their roses are in the best condition it could be using the vase. Once they've rested up, they left the room. The next area is coloured purple, it's nice to see some colours after being in such a dull area for too long. This place didn't seem to provide as much threat as the previous one, there are only headless statues and it no longer scares them. They, however, found a dairy on a lone shelf in a railing maze.

"Dairy"
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.

"Is that really all it says...?" Fumi glares at the book. "You could have said something about the exit." The next thing they come across is a completed puzzle with no pictures on it, it's as white as milk. It's called "Milk Puzzle".

"Milk puzzle?" Makoto crook a brow, her first time coming across a puzzle like it.

"It's a puzzle where all the pieces are white like milk." Fumi answered, stating the obvious. "Simply put: no picture, much harder. Intelligent people can finish them in no time at all, but... To be honest, they're not exciting. Since they don't even make a picture in the end... Feels much more worth it to do a puzzle of a picture you like."

Makoto was amazed, this is the first time Fumi has said so much. The satisfaction of seeing the end results... "What's the story with this panel here? Can we put something in?" Fumi questioned, looking at the locked door. At the end of the hallway, the locked door requires the answer to its question.

"What is the title of the large floor painting in Guertena's exhibition?"

"Floor painting? The big fish painting, right?" Makoto asked, but since the only time she actually saw the fish was before she entered this world. "What was it... It was something of the deep... It was just one word..." They both mull over the word, both have seen the painting but with what has happened, who could remember. "Abyss of the deep?" Makoto muttered, unintentionally jotting Fumi's memory.

"That's it!" Fumi called. "'Abyss of the Deep'!" With that, the door unlocks itself. Entering the room, there is only a large painting and 3 small bookshelves at the end of two corners. They went over to take a look at the red and black painting titled "Separation".

'What an off-putting painting...' Fumi turn her gaze away from the painting, growing uncomfortable with the sight of the painting. Suddenly, it's like someone spilt ink all over a board and they are the pieces, startling both of them.

"The lights?! I-It's too dark to see...!" Said Makoto, the haunting nightmare slowly creeping back to her. "F-Fumi! Are you there?!"

"I'm here." Fumi replied.

"Thank goodness..."

"This is a problem... Ah, that's right. I forgot I had a lighter." Reaching for her pocket, Fumi starts lighting the lighter. The flicking of the wheel echoes through the room, creating small sparks before lighting up. "There, now we can see. ...Huh?" Lifting their eyes off the lighter, they're astonished. The whole room is written with crayons, taking up the floor and the walls. "HELP", "NO", "DONT KILL ME", "STOP" and "DONT".

"Wh... What is THIS?!" Fumi took a few steps forwards, checking for anything suspicious was about to happen, but nothing happened. "I don't think this is...good for my mental health..." Makoto approaches Fumi, resting a hand on her shoulder. "Let's just go." Fumi leaves the room with Makoto following closely behind, watching from the back. Upon leaving the room, a large notice is printed on the wall in red.

A notice to all visitors.
There is a strict ban on fire-starting
implements in the gallery.
We request that you please report the use of any matches, lighters, or the like.
Should the use of such implements
be reported to the staff.

Fumi remains silent, making no comments about the words on the wall. Makoto grows worried for the scientist, her silence is different from the usual ones she gives. She doesn't know why but she could tell the difference. "Fumi, are you okay?" Makoto asked, concerned.

"I'm fine..." That answer wasn't convincing enough. Makoto remains silent but stops Fumi from walking any further, sending her a glare. Turning her gaze away, reluctant to answer but this is not the time for them to have any conflict between them. "Do you have someone waiting for you?" Makoto removes her hand, dumbfounded by that question.

"...I don't know, Otome is sort of waiting for my review on the gallery for her daughter. And I suppose chief probably..." Makoto scratches her neck, unable to provide a better answer.

"...I see." Fumi didn't even turn to face her.

Makoto's uneasiness didn't fade with such a question being thrown at her and the response didn't help. "Is there someone waiting for you?"

Fumi stiffens, turning her eyes to the floor. Makoto waits for what felt like an eternity for an answer. "...Let's just go, please." Fumi brushing the question away just answered her question in its own way. It didn't show on the woman's face, but she'd learned that what wasn't said was often the loudest, when it came to Fumi's actions and words. With her eyes on the floor, Fumi notice red shoe prints leading towards a door which she didn't remember was there. They pass through the door and was greeted with what like a ball is being thrown at you.

"Ahh?!" A girl ran into Makoto has wavy blonde hair, big, deep blue eyes, and pale skin. She wears a green frock and a blue neckerchief. She has a white collar and white cuffs at the end of her sleeves. She also wears black knee-high socks and brown shoes that are similar to school shoes.

"Whoa, are you okay?" Fumi asked, surprised to see that a child manage to knock Makoto back a few steps back. Makoto didn't reply, mentally questioning if the woman was talking to her or the child.

"...!" The girl immediately stood up.

"Are you one of the visitors at the gallery?" Fumi asked again. "We were in the art gallery, but somehow found ourselves lost in this place. So now we're both trying to find a way out. Presumably, you're doing the same?"

"I... I was looking to see if there was anyone else too..." The girl murmured. "I wanted to get out... So I..."

"Well, we can't just let you be alone. Come with us." Said Makoto, finally recovered. "It's dangerous to be alone here. There's are lots of strange creatures around. I think it would be best if we all stay together."

"Really?! Thanks!" The girl exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear. "By the way, I'm Mary."

"I'm Fumi."

"And I'm Makoto."

"Nice to meet you!" Mary greeted, smiling. But strangely, Fumi felt that the smile was directed to Makoto and to her only.

"Say, Mary, Makoto and I have roses. Do you have one?"

"Yeah, I do!" Mary replied. "A yellow rose!"

"Good, make sure you don't lose it." But her words fall on deaf ears.

"Wow! Makoto's rose is blue!" Mary exclaimed, staring admirably at Makoto's rose. "I like yellow, but I also like pink! Oh, and white!"

Fumi's eye squint, staring at the girl. "...Learn to listen, would you." They came to a door up a flight of stairs which was locked but there's another door to the left lead by a small corridor. They expected something disturbing to come from the room but didn't expect to see such sight. There are two coffee table with three stools, two bookshelves, each side has white and pink rabbit ornaments and a giant painting of a pink rabbit called "Red Eyes". Makoto was internally smiling, finally a refreshing sight.

"...The love of..." Fumi muttered, glaring at the painting. "This painting, this room... Why must it be so unsettling?"

Mary crooks a brow, hugging one of the ornaments. "Huh? Really? I think it's cute."

"What about this is CUTE?!" Fumi eyes widen in disbelief.

"I just think it is. What about you, Makoto?" Mary went over to Makoto, presenting her the ornament. Makoto looks between Fumi and Mary, wondering how should she answer this question. The ornament looks like marshmallow peeps and she didn't see anything wrong with them.

"It's cute."

"...Do you really like this kind of thing...?" Fumi eyes squint, staring at the older woman questionably. She sighed heavily, a frown on her.

"Fumi... You're just a weirdo!" Mary exclaimed.

"...Ugh, never mind that! At any rate, let's get out of this nightmarish place quick." Fumi turning her eyes away from everything, focusing on the door. "I feel like I'm being watched in this room. Talk about unsettling." Fumi waits beside the door, while Makoto search through the room. The bookshelves first.

"Ruin of the Heart"
If your spirit suffers too much, you will soon start to hallucinate...
And in the end, you will be destroyed.
And more worrying yet...
Is that you will not even be conscious of that fact.

'Ruin of the heart...' Makoto turn to look at Fumi, the scientist was tapping her fingers on her arm, her eyes only on the door even though this place has no threat. The scientist's behaviour is what's worrying her, Fumi didn't even notice her looking. A crash cuts the silence in the room like a knife, startling everyone in the room. Apparently, one green rabbit ornament fell onto the floor, something gleams amid the shards. Carefully pushing the shards away, Makoto got a violet key. On their way back to the locked door, they heard what sounds like a plant rustling coming from the only painting in the corridor.

"Huh? That sound's...getting closer." Said Mary, with everyone's attention on the painting. Like a flower ready to bloom, a red flower grew from the paint and the floor begins to tremble.

"?!" The floor beings to crack, gleams of green can be seen through the gaps. "Get away from the painting!" Fumi shouted, thick vines with spikes shooting up from the floor.

"Makoto! Watch out!!" Mary pulls Makoto away from the vines, now a separation was created.

"Are you two alright?" Fumi asked, on the other side of the vines.

"That scared me!" Mary exclaimed, holding onto Makoto's sleeve.

"I'm fine, Fumi. What about you?"

"I'm alright." Replied Fumi. "But with these in the way, I can't get over there." Fumi inspects the vines closely.

"Is there a way to cut it down?" Makoto asked.

Fumi made a disgruntled sigh, shook her head. "No. These vines are made of stone..."

Before Makoto could speak again, she felt a tug on her sleeve. "...Hey, Makoto. You got a key in that room, right?" Mary suddenly asked.

"Huh? Um...yeah."

"Maybe that key opens that door there?" Said Mary pointing towards the locked door. "We might find something to get rid of these in another room. Should we go look?"

Mary's idea made sense but being separated in this situation would probably not be a good thing. "Well... It made some sense..." Fumi's mind carries suspicion in it but her choice doesn't matter right now.

"We'll be fine! Right, Makoto?" Mary sends a smile to Makoto, who now gets caught with another decision. Splitting up is the last thing on Makoto's mind but with this situation, she doesn't have a choice now.

"I suppose you're right. ...There isn't much else that seems viable..." Makoto thought that she would suggest this after they found the exit but fate likes to toy with people. "But if we don't find anything, we'll come back straight. We'll rethink about we can do then."

"Yeah! Got it! Okay! Let's go!" Said Mary, pulling Makoto's sleeve to the locked door.

Behind their back, Fumi was sending glares at Mary, finding the girl odd from the get-go. The locked room is filled with unopened boxes, like someone has just moved in and there are 4 headless statues with one standing by the room they came in from. They begin searching through the boxes, hoping a miracle to happen. One of the boxes is packed with various painting tools to which Mary took the initiative to look inside.

"Hmm... Is there anything useful in here?" Searching through the box, her brows raise. "...Ah!" Inside she retrieves a palette knife deep in the box. "Maybe this can cut those vines?"

"I doubt it, Mary. They are made of stones."

Mary's smile drops. "You're right... Nah, it wouldn't work... But I think I'll hold onto this... You know, just in case..." They continue looking through the boxes but there's no such luck. "I don't really see anything useful. Should we just go back to Fumi for now?" The lighting in this place must be bad because it’s been flickers for who knows how many times. "Wahh!" Mary grabs onto to the commander for safety until the lights return to working condition.

"It's alright, Mary. The lights are back to normal now."

"That scared me..."

Their eyes widen in disbelief as they saw happened to the exit. 'Really!? The statue moved?!'

"Wh-When did that move? Wasn't it just against the wall?"

"Let's try moving it." Makoto and Mary on the count of 3 they push if all their might but it didn't budge. Makoto gritted her teeth, remembering that previously it took her and Fumi to manage to move the statue and it wasn't easy. It just a lost cause at this time.

"No good... It won't even budge..." Mary pants heavily, using all her child might to help. "What do we do, Makoto...? We can't get out..."

Makoto wanted to curse out loud but she can't do that, they had no choice but to continue on to the next door. "There's not much else we can do, we have to go forward." The lights in the next room must be faulty because it wouldn't stop flickers, making everything hard to see. Makoto wasn't all that startled by the things here since she had experienced them before entering the fish painting. What made her stiffen was the suddenly print of words stamped onto the wall next to her, she took a quick glimpse at them, hoping that Mary didn't notice it.

"I want you to have fun, Makoto"
"Come to a fun world without any bothers"
"We'll be together"
"You, me, and our friends"

Makoto swallowed, the messages got the hair on the back of her neck standing. Pushing the thoughts back, she speed walk to the next room. 'I wonder what Fumi's doing? We kind of left her behind...'

The room is rather odd, the puzzle didn't seem to have a solution but it somehow solved itself? A painting which was high up on the wall under one of the 5 cords suddenly slides down onto the large gap to the other end of the room, acting as their bridge. Makoto couldn't figure out what to do with the blue triangle which sits at a corner of the room so she decided to move it down into the hole. Continuing on down a narrow hallway.

"Hey, Makoto... Can I ask you something?" Mary suddenly spoke. "If only two of us could get out of here... Then what?"

Makoto eyes widen, none of it crossed her mind about it. She didn't and never liked making such choices. She can't possibly choose, she going to be a murderer either way if she did. "I... I'd surrender myself."

"What?! Don't say that!" Mary approaches Makoto, giving her a hug. "We'll leave together! Promise!" With such a bright smile, there's no way Makoto can keep a downcast face. Continuing on, they came to a large brown hall. As always, there will be puzzles around the area for them to solve.

One of the rooms has only bookshelves, which Makoto had to look through.

"A Girl's Demise"
Once upon a time, there was a little girl.
The girl went with her parents to an art gallery.
But all of a sudden, the girl realised that she was lost...
She searched through the dim gallery, but found neither her parents nor the exit...
Scared, helpless, lonely, hungry, and thirsty, she fell and hurt herself, putting her body past the limit...

The last page has an illustration of a collapsed girl... The rest of the books are collections of Guertena's work, containing paintings in alphabetical order. Following the order, the first book is:

"The Lady in Red" (6210)
It was said that he based this on a lover he had at the time, but he has denied this claim.
In truth, Guertena based it around the ??? women who attempted to court him for his inheritance.

Next, is G.

"The ??? Fish" (6235)
Despite being grayscale, this curious piece makes clever use of shading and angles to give the impression of colour.
The ??? detail put into even the scales evokes a wide variety of emotions in people.

"Juggling" (6223)
A work based on a juggler he saw at the circus with his grandchild.
As it is extremely rare for Guertena to use real people as models, this piece is highly valuable.

With nothing here, they try to the solve other puzzles in the hall. Most of the things happening strangely happened by itself even when they didn't do anything related to the individual object but it helps them to solve each room's puzzle nonetheless. There's, however, a tiny keyhole in a painting, which she used a Tree Key to unlock something because she heard a click somewhere.

While walking around the room, a painting called "Tattletale" whispers something in a singing voice, just enough for Mary to hear. "I heard Mary's secret~" She suddenly stops, her head cast down, mouthing.

"Bye, Fumi..."

---------

After waiting for what felt an eternity, Fumi grew impatient. '...They're taking their time... I wonder if something happened?'

"Makoto! Mary! Can you hear me?!" Fumi yelled, hoping to hear at least a reply but all she got was her echoes. "No good... Argh, I knew I shouldn't have let them go alone...! What to do..." With nowhere else to go, it only leaves her with one option. "...I suppose I'll investigate that room again." She stares at the door, cold sweat rolling down her face. "...As much as I hate to go back in there..." Reluctantly, she enters the room again. Each side of the room is a lined by blue doll which wears various coloured dress, large round red with white beaded pupils, sharp wide grins and black loose threads for hairs. The large painting is just a clear larger image of the dolls with more disturbing details staring down into the room.

"...No matter how I look at it, this is NOT 'cute'." After taking a quick look around, the last thing is the bookshelf. "Nothing of note here..." She sighed, discouraged. That's when she spots an odd crack behind the shelf. "...Hm?" She tried pushing it aside and it worked! "Why didn't I notice that earlier?" Kneeling down to examine the hole in the wall. 'Probably distracted by all these diabolical dolls.' She shrugged, pushing the thought aside. "Oh, well. I can go out this way." Passing through the hole, she's greeted by a message on the wall.

"There is no exit.
There is no reason."

There's nothing for her to do here but a locked door and 5 cords. One of the cord must be the right one, but with each having the same chance, she pulled the fourth cord. To which a blue triangle fell from the ceiling. Seeing as how it fits the shape on the floor, she solved the 3-year-old puzzle and enters the newly unlocked door. Upon entering, she's been walking down a hallway. It's completely empty and the only object there is the disturbing doll, there's a message next to it.

"Hello there, Fumi...
I don't like being alone...
Take me with you...!"

Turning a blind eye, she continues walking, little did she know she's being followed.

"Hey, why aren't you taking me?"

"Why are you ignoring me?
Do you hate me?"

"Hey, play with me!
I know lots of fun things we can do..."

The hallway became narrower the further she goes.

"I've got lots of friends, too...
I'll introduce you!"

"Be here forever..."

Finally arriving at the door, the doll sits in front of the door. Fumi glares that the doll, growing tired of it. "...How long are you going to follow me? I'm busy here, and I'm not going to be your buddy!" She's about to commit the same mistake as Makoto but remembered why she stopped her. She moves the doll out of the way to a corner. "It would be best not to get involved here..."

"TAKEME"

'No thank you.' Entering the next room, it's a surprisingly large room. With a room right in the centre of the room. It didn't take long for her to come across the doll again.

"I'll always be with you...
My home is just nearby..."

The first room has 7 pedestals with a note at the far end of the room.
"Collect the seven balls of paint...
Then the room will be coloured,
and your bridge will be made."

"Balls of paint? I wonder where those are..."

The whole room is filled with puzzles, it didn't help that one of the room has strange gas. Most of the things happening strangely happened by itself even when she didn't do anything related to the individual object but it helps her to solve each room's puzzle nonetheless. Throughout those times, she also found a few ball of paint, each in one room or maybe even two in a single room.

Next, to one room which was locked previously, the disturbing doll sits next to it with a message.

"Hey, what're you doing?
I wanna play too..."

Inside is like a small library, something like a kid's section. There are only two painting in this room, "Enlightenment" and "Strained Ear".

"Theory on This World"
Via a trading of existences, the imaginary can be made reality.

"I suppose that made sense..." Fumi places the book back, looking through each book closely for something useful.

"Terror"
Being alone is fearful.
A group of two can have relief.
A group of three...

The rest of the pages is torn off. '...I hope they are okay...' Thinking about it, Makoto will definitely be fine if she keeps her cool.
"Let's see if any of these have a map, maybe I can find a way to them."

"Serpent's Spirit" (6248)
Beginning with this piece, Guertena began his focus on abstract art.
But at the time, cubism was more popular, leaving Guertena's various abstract works largely ignored.

"The Hanged Man" (6219)
Guertena painted this as a page filler while working for a magazine.
Once this illustration became renowned, it was sold for a limited time as an actual tarot card using the picture.
Presently, it is nearly impossible for one to find the tarot card.

"Mary" (????)
The last work of Guertena's life.
While the girl appears almost lifelike, naturally, she is not based on a real person.

Fumi eyes widen staring at the all too familiar picture on the other side of the page. "M-Mary?! Makoto's with her!" Outside the room, she heard knocking coming from outside. Exiting the room, she found the disturbing doll sitting beside the centre door.

"I picked up something good...
I'm making it my treasure!"

'What did it pick up?' Fumi kneels down to look at it, noticing its size seemed different. "Oh? Its stomach looks bigger somehow... I suppose I'll check it." The sound of fabric ripping echoes the room and out came a red Ball of Paint. As soon as she obtains the ball, the doll made squeaky noises which replica laughter and dash into the centre door, slamming it. Fumi stares at the door, with her hand reaching for the knob. It felt like she touched ice as she hesitantly turns the knob. "The door's... Unlocked..."

It's like a hall of madness, both ends of the small room have adult sized blue doll sitting on long table creating stairs with their giant red eyes staring. On the floor is scattered with the blue doll, a large blank portrait picture frame and at the back of the room, she sees a White ball of paint.

"That's seven of them." Speed walking back to the door, the knob won't turn no matter how hard she tries. "Huh...? No way... Why?!" A splat of paint hits the door, revealing a message.

"Let's have another treasure hunt...
Who? Who? Who has the key?"

"What is..." The sound of tower bell tolls, the room shifts into a shade of blue. Fumi backs away from the door, she could hear her heart pounding. "This is bad! Where's the key?!" Frantically and forcefully tearing the dolls with strangely large stomach open, everything from pebbles, blue paint, bug and a bundle of hair appears in her hands but the key. Dread looms over her as she frantically searches the doll. "No! I just had it! Where's the key?!"

The dolls taunt echoes in her head as they repeat like a broken recorder. "Which one? Which one?" With each toll signalling the time passes, the room slowly turns to a shade of blood red, a large blue doll entire body finally crawls out from the blank paint, looming over the scientist with its large hands reaching for her.

"WHAT IS THAT?!"

Chapter Text

Using the brown key, Makoto unlocks the door which leads to a flight of stairs down. Following the stairs, they reached a locked door which can be opened from their side. The room is probably just as large as the previous room, with a room right in the centre of the room. Makoto stiffens when heard faint noises coming from the centre door, cautiously approaching the door, Makoto was dumbfounded to hear the voice.

"...that...so? ...heehee...."

'Fumi?!' All her knowledge of self-defence drops, her pace became faster.

"...Ahahaha..... Oh sure. Sometimes... yeah, yeah...."

'What's going on? Who is she talking to?'

"...Don't see that every day, right? I just ran out, you see..."

Fumi's laughter was senseless, Makoto could hear the madness in her voice.

"Oh, I really love it. But it takes a while for sure... Oh, you too? Why, we certainly do get along, don't we? Ahaha..."

"Is she...talking to someone?" Mary asked, standing behind Makoto.

'I hope so...' Makoto swallowed, she could feel her hand shaking as she turns the knob. Fumi sits in the middle of the room, hugging her legs as she chuckles to herself. Rabbit ornaments are scattered around the room, with one green rabbit in front of Fumi.

"...Fumi...?" Makoto called.

"You're really quite entertaining, you know that?" Said Fumi, smiling at the green rabbit. "I feel like I could talk to you about my every worry... Ahahahaha..."

"Fumi, wake up! It's me! Makoto!" Makoto ran over to her, trying to get Fumi to focus on her.

"Huh? Never heard that before... Can you give me the details?" Despite the commander in front of her, Makoto apparently is invisible in her eyes. "No, no, I won't tell anyone! Your secret's safe with me!"

Makoto was speechless, her head hanging low. Her grip on Fumi’s shoulder tightens, her lips trembled as she felt her eyes starting sting. "Fumi..."

"Troubled? I know the feeling. You just feel helpless sometimes. You know you can't run away, but nothing goes well either... ...Wonder why?"

"Please... Snap out of it!" With a hard slap from her hand, Fumi blank eye soon fades.

"...O...Ow?! What was that for, Mako?!" Fumi yelled, soothing the pain. But instead of an answer, she got a crushing hug from the woman. She could feel the sorrow gathering on her shoulder, Makoto refusing to let go. Fumi was never good with these situations, feeling helpless about it but she smiles anyway. "...It's okay, I'm alright."

---------

"Well... I'd like to say we need to press ahead, but... My memory is a bit of a blur, so I can't remember what I was doing." It irritates the scientist that she remembers everything else but what she wants to recall.

"...Well, you don't really need to remember, do you?" Mary questioned, looking rather determined. "At least we're back together!"

Fumi stares at Mary, something about her doesn't feel right but was drawing a blank. "I suppose that's true... But I feel like I'm forgetting something important...", 'I wonder what it was...'

"Anyway, let's go!" Mary urged them. "We found some stairs."

"Alright then." Returning back to the brown room, Fumi spot Mary's yellow rose drops onto the floor. "Hm? Mary, you dropped something."

"Huh?" Mary crook a brow, before she could pick it up herself, Fumi was already one step ahead.

"Huh... This rose..." Fumi examines the rose closely, failing to sense a threat coming.

"Don't touch that!" Mary yelled, drawing out her palette knife.

"Mary?!" Makoto exclaimed. Fumi went on the alert, turning back instantly. Face to face with the blade.

"Give it BACK!"

Fumi manages to grab the charging girl, forcing her hand with the knife away. "What's gotten into you?!"

"Don't touch it! MY rose!" Mary continues to yell, trying to regain control.

"...!" With a forceful push, Mary hits her head onto the floor, falling unconscious. Fumi eyes widen, the important information finally returning back to her. "...It's as I thought..." Fumi stares at the girl, walking around towards the still dumbstruck commander. "Mako, listen... I saw a portrait of Mary in a collection of Guertena's works."

"What?" Makoto stares with eyes widen.

"You might not believe it, but... Mary isn't human. She's just like those painting women who came after us... She's another one of Guertena's works." Fumi sends a quick unnoticed glare at the fallen Mary, before continuing. "It's dangerous to stay with her. We'll have to leave her."

Part of her believes Fumi's words but another part of her didn't want to leave Mary behind, the girl didn't act strangely until recently she even tried to hurt someone. The logical side of her reasoned that trouble will come earlier if Mary stays, so with a simple nod, they left. Leading Fumi to a narrow descending stair, the only way to move forward now.

"Geez... Just how many statues have we pushed... Let's go." They pushed the headless statue aside, finally able to continue.

The brown narrow staircase suddenly changed to pink, the walls look like the infinite space drawn by a child. They even saw crayon shooting star flying pass them, crayon moon and stars too. On the wall, there's an arrow pointing in their approaching direction "sketchbook". It made sense with everything is drawn poorly in crayons.

"This is a significant change in the atmosphere..." Makoto looks around the place.

"But nothing we can't handle." Fumi added, continuing on. The place is really easy determined where one is considering every 9 areas connects into a square, with a pink house in the middle.

"The Pink Key is always kept in the toy box."

"Toy box? I guess there's a key there."

They enter every crayon house they could find, searching thoroughly. When they were about to make a turn around the corner to the exit, the door suddenly slammed open.

"Mako~ Fumi~ ...Where are you~?" A voice at the door sang, wandering around the house. The duo immediately crams to the corner, as stiff as a statue. With the door slammed again, they let out a breath.

"...Don't tell me...that was..." Said Makoto, cold sweat rolling drop her face.

"She's after us..." Fumi replied, copying Makoto's face.

"We'll need to careful from here on..." Leaving the room quietly, they continue with the puzzle to find the toy box with the threat lingering behind their mind. Finally obtaining the Plastic Key for the house to the furthest north, they found a large open blue box and on it writes "Toy Box".

"This is the toy box...? It's rather big." The box stands about their waist, and as wide as two of them standing together. "But at any rate..." Fumi leans towards the box, searching the key. Followed by Makoto. "It said there was a key in there... ...I can't say I see the bottom."

'Is there really a key in there?' Makoto questioned herself, failing to see anything but black.

"Wanna see?" Makoto and Fumi froze, a familiar haunting voice coming from behind.

"Huh?!"

Before they could look, a strong force pushes them, with the gravity's help, they plummet into the toy box.

-------------

Frowning in pain, Makoto recovered from the long fall. She pushes herself off the floor, clearing the dizziness in her head. With her vision finally clearing up, she was dumbfounded. The room is filled with mannequin heads, headless statues and blue dolls with the place covered in large crayon drawings. She checked her pockets but there's no sign of it.

'...?! Where is it?! My Blue Rose!' She's about to open her mouth to ask when she found no one. 'Fumi?!' Losing the two most important thing, she beings to frantic, whichever she finds first didn't matter now. She made sure to keep her eyes open for skin tone colour because this place has every colour you can guess and skin colour is not one of them.

"Oww..." Seeing something moving in the far distance, Makoto could immediately tell who it was and bolts towards them. Pushing herself off the floor, Fumi winced in pain. "I see you're alright..." Said Fumi, soothing the pain on her head.

"What about you?" Makoto questions back, concern written on her face.

"I'm fine." She replied, crossing her arms. "At any rate..." Fumi took a quick glimpse around. "This place is full of scribbles... Is this the toy box?"

"We did fell in from the upper floor..." Makoto frowned, recalling back. "...after she pushed us... ...Well, let's look for the key and get out." Makoto felt Fumi staring for a while now and it made cold sweat roll down her face. "I-Is something wrong?"

"...You look kind of pale. Are you really okay?" Fumi squints her eyes, tapping her fingers.

Makoto swallowed, rubbing her arm. "I... I lost my rose..."

"What?! Why didn't you say anything?!" Fumi exclaimed. "You had it before, so it must be in the toy box somewhere! Let's find it!" They begin looking around the place, checking every spot which has blue in it. They search every nook and cranny but no luck, however, they did find the Pink Key they were initially looking for.

"Ooh? What's this? A present for me?"

They turn to their backs and saw the one thing they didn't want to see. Mary stood in front of a blue doll, with it presenting a rose to her.

"Yaaay, it's so preeetty! Can I have it? Oh, thank you!" She gladly accepts the rose, smiling from ear to ear. The doll jumping in joy too.

"That... It can't be..." Fumi gritted her teeth, clearly seeing the unmissable blue rose. "Mary!" They ran towards her, both with glares on their face.

"Oh! Makoto and Fumi!" Mary smiled. "Did you find what you were looking for?" They remain silent with their guards up. "But anyway, lookit! I just got this! Pretty, isn't it!"

"Mary... That rose..." Fumi took a step forward, watching her actions closely.

"Huh?" Mary took a quick glimpse at the rose in her hand, eyes widen in realisation. "Ahh! You mean this is Makoto's? I thought I'd seen it before!"

"Mary, please..." Fumi was unwilling to talk nicely to the girl but from what she could glimpse on, there's already not much left on the blue rose. "Give that back to Makoto."

"Huh...? I wonder..." The girl pout, turning her eyes to Makoto. "Makoto... You want this back?"

"Yes, Mary. Please give it back." Makoto tried too, hoping to get on the girl's good side.

"Well... Hmm..." Mary's pout slowly turns into a menacing grin, hiding it behind the blue rose. "I like blue and all, but... I like white even more. Say, Fumi. Give me your rose."

"What...?" Fumi freezes up to a point where you can hardly see her breathing.

"And I'll give you Makoto's." Mary said all that with a smile, with her empty hand reaching out. "...So? Wanna trade?"

Fumi frowned deeply and was just baffled at the situation - what was she to do?

"Fumi, don't do it!"

One of them would end up dead in this situation and there's definitely no win-win solution. It's either her or Makoto... But unlike her, Makoto has someone waiting for her...

"Come on! White IS my favourite! Hand it over."

After a long and hard decision, Fumi made her choice. "Understood."

"Fumi?!" Makoto turned pale, wide-eyed.

Fumi approach Mary with a grave face, with her rose in her hand. "Please, give me Makoto's rose in exchange for mine."

"Really?!" Mary exclaimed. With a quick switch, Mary now possessing the white rose. "Heehee... Yaaay! Pretty pretty flower!" Her cheerful behaviour soon turns maniacal, laughing mad as a hatter. Running off with the rose.

Fumi stares in the direction Mary ran to, later walking back to Makoto. With a smile on her face, she said. "Be careful with it..." Handing her the rose.

Makoto's throat closing up in tears, as she receives her rose back. Fumi remains silent, her eyes finding the floor very interesting right now. "Fumi, I'm sorry..." She muttered, nausea filling her guts.

"Ahaha... Why are you apologising?" Fumi smiled. "You didn't do anything wrong. Come on now, don't look so down." Makoto was about to open her mouth until Fumi quickly adds. "And my rose... We'll just catch Mary and get it back! Let's do our best! I know we're almost there- Urgh!" A stabbing pain hits Fumi, causing her to lose balance.

"Fumi!"

"I'm... I'm fine..." Fumi presented a smile, cold sweat rolling down her face, clenching onto her coat tightly. "L-Let's go..."

With determine written on Makoto's face, she nods. Using herself as a support, they followed in the direction Mary went. Coming to a flight of stairs, Makoto eyes widen. 'Those are...!'

"Loves me... Loves me not..."

Mary's voice echoes down the corridor, with a white petal trail on the floor. Fumi remains silent, dragging her feet along.

"Loves me..."

"...Mako... Um... Sorry, but... Could you go on ahead?" Fumi asked between breaths, now using the wall as a support. Despite everything, she still smiled. "I'm... uh... I'm sorry... I don't really know what to say..."

"No, I am not leaving you behind." Makoto's voice was wobbly, trying her best to conceal it.

Fumi's smile drops, feeling herself growing weaker by the second. "...I don't want to lie to you..." Her voice was soft, and a bit strained, like someone had hit her in the gut and she was still recovering. "But I...don't want to tell the truth either... ...If you need help... ...I'll come running... Go on...ahead..." With whatever strength she had left, she gave Makoto her best smile before collapsing.

"Fumi!" Makoto caught the woman, setting her on the floor and lean her body against the wall. Feeling a terrible weight on her shoulders, it was as if a giant boulder was laid on her and she couldn't straighten up.

"Loves me not..."

Hearing Mary's voice again, it made her previous emotion vanish with another emotion coming in. She gritted her teeth, clenched white-knuckled fist. She followed the noise, the intention of killing came into her mind.

"Loves me... Loves me not... Loves me... Loves me not..." Nonchalantly dumping the white petals onto the floor around her. Makoto clenched her teeth, running as fast as she could up the stairs. "Loves me... Loves me not...! LOVES me...!" Smiling over cloud nine, she tosses the stalk away. "Ahah! Yay...! Now I can...!" Skipping out the room.

Finally reaching the top, a chill ran down Makoto's spine when she saw what remain of the rose. Every single one of the petals was plucked clean from the stalk, nothing was left. She falls to her knees, staring at the pile of petals under her feet. "No... No!" Clenching onto the stalk, an overwhelming guilt eating her soul. "If only I was quicker...!" Slamming her fist onto the floor, different emotions flooding in. Her knuckles beginning to turn red, threatening to scrape her skin if she continues but it couldn’t be compared to the emotional pain she’s feeling now.

With no vase, there's nothing she could do but to stare at the petals. Staring at the petals reminded her of the owner of the rose. Swallowing the choking feeling she has in her throat, she weakly pushes herself off the floor, dragging her legs back downstairs with her head hanging low. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she saw her friend's head hanging low as her body remains motionless since she left. It looked almost as if she's sleeping.

"Fumi..." She called, meekly hoping for a response back. "Fumi... Let's go..." she force her emotions back, clenching her teeth. "...This isn't funny..."

With only silence greeting her, she fell to her knees, feeling the whole world collapsing upon her. Tears welled up in her eyes and began rolling down her cheeks like a rivulet, she clings tightly onto Fumi in a hug.

"Why?! Why did give her your rose?! You should have kept it! Please wake up!" She had been strong for Fumi this entire time, but it always ends with them switching roles. With her only pillar of support gone, she finally broke down. She didn't care how long has she been crying, the memories of their interaction came flooding like her tears.

From Fumi's coat pocket, something hits the floor with a clink, drawing Makoto's attention. Wiping the tears from her puffy red eyes, she weakly picks up the object.

"Fumi's...lighter..." Her memories of the light came flooding back, even the question posed to her. 'Why...? Why didn't I do something?'

Holding the lighter close to her, hating her past self for not doing anything. She obviously knew Fumi was beginning to fall apart then, but other then showings concern, she did nothing. Clenching onto the lighter, like her life depends on it.

"...I'll be borrowing this, okay Fumi?" She asked, with a small smile.

When she's about to keep the lighter, she realises her pocket was full, with the rose taking up the most space. The only thing she could replace was... the candy Fumi gave her. Staring at the candy in her hand, she felt the wave of emotions returning. Disposing of the candy was definitely out of the question, so it left her with the only other way. She ate it.

Walking back to the top floor, she noticed that there is large crayon drawn yellow roses with vine thorns blocking a stair to the upper level. Telling her not to go upstairs... 'I suppose inspecting it wouldn't hurt...' Taking a closer look, the thorns are odd, they don't feel as lively as plants should...very much fake. 'Just like everything around here...' She can't say she's not curious to go upstairs but wondered if would be worth it. 'What should I do... If she's here, she'd want to find out too...'

"It's settled then." Retrieving the lighter, she lights the thorns on fire, burning a pathway open. 'Let's see what's hiding upstairs.'

Climbing up the steps, the room is odd. The walls are covered black with pink crayon outlining them, at the far end of the room, she sees a cluster of art supplies. And a painting. 'Let's take a look.' Walking no further from the stairs, she heard running coming from the stairs. Their feet stomping on the steps like they're using all their might.

"Makoto! What are you doing?!" Mary exclaimed, entering the room. A frown appeared on Makoto's face, creating distance between them. Her previous intentions haven't wavered yet. "Why...and how did you get into this room...?" She muttered, her hands clutching on the palette knife. "You can't...can't be here...! Please, leave now... Now...! Now! NOW! NOOOW!" Her face was contorted in fury, her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled with ferocity. Even the floor cracks, spreading like a tree with Mary as its source. "LEAVE!!"

Turning on her feet, Makoto dashed down the room with Mary in hot pursuit. In a split second, she caught the name of the painting, pushing the cover of the lighter open.

"Makoto...! Please! STOP!" Mary shouted, spotting the small steel casing.

'I won't forgive you...' Flicking the lighter on, she lit the painting. Engulfing it in fire. "Goodbye, Mary."

"Ah...!" Mary backed away, horror written on her face. "NO...!!" Mary yelled, turning into a burn crisped along with the painting. The palette knife hits to the floor, sitting among the pile of burnt paper ashes.

Makoto breathes heavily, composing herself for what she witnessed. She suddenly smiles, holding the lighter close to her. "You...saved me again..." Among the pile of mess around her, she spots a note written crayon.

"I like the visitors coming in to live with me, but..."
"I want to leave this place myself and live outside!"
"But unless I take the place of someone else from outside, it seems I can't do that..."
"Won't somebody come soon? Won't somebody come soon..."

Makoto remains silent, she gets where Mary is coming from but what she did was unforgivable and she doesn't regret her choice. Leaving the crayon house, she enters the locked house using the pink key. Finally getting to see an actual building structure was so relieving, knowing that she's finally out of the sketchbook world. Descending down the long stairs, her eyes widen in disbelief.

'This is...!'

She's standing at the entrance of the gallery, the very same one before she came into this world. With a glimpse of hope, she made a dash to the second floor, standing in front of the large painting.

"This is it! This must the way out!" Joy filled Makoto, staring at the large painting. With a flick of bright light, the frame around the painting disappeared. "The painting changed...!"

"Fabricated World"
Once you go in, there's no going back.
All your time here will be lost.
Will you still jump in?

"'All your time here will be lost'..." Makoto stares at the words, causing a conflict. "Does that mean... I'll forget everything... Even..." No matter how she hates to admit it, she cherishes the times she spends in here, despite how horrifyingly traumatising it is. She soon became conflicted, which she chooses; Freedom or Memories. Remembering the time she saved her from death, if she stays here, her sacrifice would have been in vain. There's no need to think about the options anymore. Taking a few steps back, she gave herself a running start, leaping into the painting. A bright white light swallowing her.

-------------

"...? What was I doing before...?" Makoto snapped out of her thoughts, wondering why she stopped in front of this painting. Walking away from the large painting, she went to view other displays as well. But only one caught her eyes.

It's a portrait of a sleeping woman. She has short black hair tied in pigtails. She wears a white cheongsam with painted cherry blossoms texture and a black coat over on her shoulder. In her hands, she held a white rose with a yellow candy sitting on the petals.

"Forgotten Portrait..." Makoto continues to observe the painting, she's enchanted by the painting until she tasted something sweet yet sour in her mouth snap her focus back. "Oh, how long have I had this candy?" She removes it from her mouth, staring at the round yellow candy. Her eyes widen, flashes of memories returning to her. "Wait..." Lifting the candy next to the painting, her hands tremble as wet hot tears filled up her eyes, her throat closed tight and each word pitched higher than the last. "No..."

"You can have it, Mako." A face with bright smile flashed in her mind and a familiar voice echoes in her head.

'No...! No,no,no,no, NO!' Her fist clench against the wall, fighting back the tears that spill over and flowed down her face like a river escaping a dam. 'Fumi! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!' She didn't care if passerby stared or judged her, they will never understand. 'Please! Don't leave me alone...! Let me go back! I can still change it! Let me go back!'

Chapter Text

Makoto blinked, wondering what she was doing before. Noticing Mary's sudden odd silence, Makoto kneel to her eye level. "What's wrong?"

"...No... thing's... wrong." Makoto crook a brow, couldn't make out what Mary's mumbling about. "...Aha. What's wrong? Whaaat's wrrrooonnnggg? I don't like her... not one bit..." Her behaviour became alarming with Mary laughing turning manic before running off.

"Mary!" Following her back to the narrow hallway, Makoto froze in her spot, dumbstruck at what she's seeing.

"In my way... In my way... In my way... In my WAY..." Mary stabbed the mannequin head with the palette knife, red paint flowing down the mannequin's eye. It soon became a pile of styrofoam pieces, retaining minimum resembles of what it originally is. Makoto backs away from the girl, a sudden hint of fear grew inside her. Not questioning it a single second, she left, running.

'I need to find Fumi! Something's not right!' She unlocks the door with the brown key and enters the next area, hurrying to the stairs, she jumped when the door she just closed open.

"...Where are you going, Makoto?" Mary asked, taking several steps closer. "Don't leave me. Why are you going by yourself?"

"Um... I was just..."

"We promised we'd be together... ...Right?" She smiled widely, moving closer to the cornered woman. "Why are you running away?" She moves closer with her palette knife, shadow looming over her eyes.

"M-Mary, calm down." With her back against the wall and Mary clenching onto the knife, Makoto didn't understand why she felt dread over her despite Mary's size.

"MAKOTO!!"

Makoto and Mary's eyes widen when a familiar face came between them from the stairs.

"What are you doing, Mary?!" Fumi shouted, pushing Mary's hand with the knife to the side.

"Shut up!" The girl yelled back. "If you had only just been good and waited there!"

"I knew it, you're...!" Fumi eye squinted, glaring at the girl.

"Stay away...!" Mary swung her knife with a sudden strength, startling Fumi who manage to push her back, knocking her unconscious.

She stares at the fallen girl, making sure she isn't going to stand up anytime soon. Sighing relief, she turns to face Makoto. "Are you okay? ...Sorry I'm late-" Makoto's sudden hug cuts her off, startling her. "...Makoto?"

"Yeah... I'm okay... I'm just really happy to see you..." Makoto smiled, never been so glad to see the woman again that she could start shedding tears. She grips onto Fumi tightly, fearing that if she let go, she'll disappear forever.

"...I'm happy to see you too." Fumi smile, returning the hug. Releasing their hug, they gave each other space. "You might not believe me, but Mary... she isn't human." Fumi turns to look at Mary, staring at the girl. "She's one of Guertena's works... Just like those painting women who came after us... I didn't spend enough time with her to really notice... It's dangerous to stay with her. Even if I had just been a little later there..." Turning to face Makoto, with a determined look. "You might feel a bit sorry for her... But we need to get away now."

Makoto took another glance at Mary, like Fumi said, she does feel sorry for her, but just a little. She didn't know why but she doesn’t second-guess Fumi's word, not a hint of doubt. But there's something odd... It all feels like deja vu. Pushing a statue away, a sketchbook environment... Even Mary hunting them down. They all feel too familiar. While trying to solve another puzzle, Makoto recalled something.

"...Hey, Fumi."

"Hm?"

"About that question I asked..."

Fumi teased up, stopping everything she was doing. She remains silent, hoping that Makoto would just give up. But with the latter giving the same treatment, there will be no end to this.

"...Why?" She blandly replied, refusing to face her.

Makoto didn't know why either, words came out of her mouth even before she realised it. It felt like something was nagging at her if she didn't say it. "...I'm waiting for you. So promise me we'll leave here together… OK?" Makoto smiled.

"...!" Fumi was dumbfounded, staring back at the woman in disbelief. Makoto’s word struck her core, how long has it been since she gave up longing to hear those words. She smiled. "...Yeah, we'll definitely leave together. Oh yeah, there's this cafe that has this great Uji matcha parfait. It's your favourite, right?"

"Yeah... Wait! How did you know?"

"I might have overheard certain physician conversation..." Fumi smirked, turning her eyes to the side.

"...Yanagiya..." Makoto grumbled, making a mental note about it.

--------------

"This is the toy box...? It's rather big." The box stands about their waist, and as wide as two of them standing together. "But at any rate..." Fumi leans towards the box, searching the key. Followed by Makoto. "It said there was a key in there... ...I can't say I see the bottom."

'Is there really a key in there?' Makoto questioned herself, failing to see anything but black.

"Wanna see?" Makoto and Fumi froze, a familiar haunting voice coming from behind.

"Huh?!"

Before they could look, a strong force pushes them, with the gravity's help, they plummet into the toy box.

------------

Frowning in pain, Makoto recovered from the long fall. She pushes herself off the floor, clearing the dizziness in her head. With her vision finally clearing up, she was dumbfounded. The room is filled with mannequin heads, headless statues and blue dolls with the place covered in large crayon drawings. She checked her pockets but there's no sign of it.

'...?! Where is it?! My Blue Rose!' She's about to open her mouth to ask when she found no one. 'Fumi?!' Losing the two most important thing, she beings to frantic, whichever she finds first didn't matter now. She made sure to keep her eyes open for skin tone colour because this place has every colour you can guess and skin colour is not one of them.

"Oww..." Seeing something moving in the far distance, Makoto could immediately tell who it was and bolts towards them. Pushing herself off the floor, wincing in pain. "I see you're alright..." Said Fumi, soothing the pain on her head.

"What about you?" Makoto questions back, concern written on her face.

"I'm fine." She replied, crossing her arms. "At any rate..." Fumi took a quick glimpse around. "This place is full of scribbles... Is this the toy box?"

"We did fell in from the upper floor..." Makoto frowned, recalling back. "...after she pushed us... ...Well, let's look for the key and get out." Makoto felt Fumi staring for a while now and it made cold sweat roll down her face. "I-Is something wrong?"

"...You look kind of pale. Are you really okay?" Fumi squints her eyes, tapping her fingers.

Makoto swallowed, rubbing her arm. "I... I lost my rose..."

"What?! Why didn't you say anything?!" Fumi exclaimed. "You had it before, so it must be in the toy box somewhere! Let's find it!" They begin looking around the place, checking every spot which has blue in it. Makoto spot a trail of blue petals on the floor, leading not too far from where she awoke. Taking the hint, they immediately follow it to a blue rose with only a few petals. "That was close... I wouldn't want to imagine what would happen if we couldn't find your rose."

"I...I agree..." Makoto muttered.

They search every nook and cranny, they found the Pink Key they were initially looking for. The familiar spine-chilling bell tolled, sounding the room. "Oh, no... Not this again..." Turning everything into a shade of blue. "Makoto... Be careful!"

Everything in the room suddenly jumps to life, hunting them down as they avoid their reach and made for the lone stairs leading up. They breathe heavily, running all the way up two flight stair, a long hallway and finally safe at a small black room.

"That...should be enough..." Said Fumi between breaths. After finally getting a breather, they noticed that there are large crayon drawn yellow roses with thorn vines blocking a stair to the upper level. ."Thoroughly blocked… Telling us not to go up." Fumi walks over to the thorn vines and inspects it closely. "They don’t feel as lively as plants should...very much fake. ...Of course, there’s a lots here doesn’t feel real. That sunlight is one thing."

The commander didn’t know why but she got an itching feeling to go upstairs but didn’t know if Fumi would want to explore further. "Should we take a look upstairs?" Makoto asked.

"I suppose it’s worth a shot. Whatever is up there, they don’t want us disturbing it."

They both observe the vine, wondering how they should remove it. Something echoed in the back of Makoto’s head, whispering ‘burn it’. "Maybe we could burn them down?" She suggested.

"Burn them..." Fumi murmured. "Yes… I suppose that’ll work." She retrieves the lighter from her coat, pushing the lighter cover off. "It completely slipped my mind, even though I have a lighter..." Once the lighter is finally lighted up, Fumi starts to burn the vine. Waiting patiently, the tiny flickering fire burst into a large flame, engulfing the vines, burning it into ashes. "Interesting, despite being fake, it sure burns like a real plant would."

Climbing up the steps, the room looks similar to the toy box. "Hm? This room… This isn’t the toy box… is it?" Makoto questioned. The walls are covered black with pink crayon outlining them, at the far end of the room, they see a cluster of art supplies. And a painting.

"More importantly… See that, Mako? The painting on the far wall..." Fumi squint her eye, feeling that colours on it familiar to her. "I think I’ve seen it before… Let’s take a look." Walking no further from the stairs, they heard running coming from the stairs. Their feet stomping on the steps like they're using all their might.

"Who’s there?!" Mary exclaimed, appearing from the stairs.

"...!" Makoto and Fumi froze, turning to see the blond girl. Shifting her eyes behind them realising they’ve cornered themselves into a dead-end.

"...Makoto, Fumi… You’re both okay…?" Mary sounded surprised, staring at why widen eyes. Her shock was quickly replaced with a strong glare. "...How did you get into this room? Leave..."

"......" They watch the girl closely, with their guard up. Taking a shift backwards, Mary immediately yelled with her palette knife in her hand.

"Don’t take another step!"

"...!"

"Leave right now!" Mary’s piercing voice echoed the room, making her voice even irritating than it originally is. "Now! NOW! NOOOW!!!" Her face was contorted in fury, her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled with ferocity. Even the floor cracks, spreading like a tree with Mary as its source. "LEAVE!!"

Turning on their feet, they dashed down the room with Mary on hot pursuit. In a split second, Fumi caught the name of the painting, she retrieves her lighter from her pocket. "Makoto, burn the painting!" She called, handing the lighter to the commander.

"What?"

"Go!" Tossing the lighter to the commander, she halts herself and turns to confront the girl. She dodges the first few couples of swings, finally caught the girl’s wrist, pushing her back from approaching further. “Mako, hurry!”

Makoto barely caught the lighter between her hands and flick the cover off. “Alright!”

“Please! STOP!” Mary cried, struggling to escape Fumi’s grip.

Flicking the lighter on, she lit the painting. Engulfing it in flame. The glass covering the painting burst, scattering the glass fragments everywhere.

"Ah...!" Mary backed away, horror written on her face. "NOOO...!!" Mary yelled, turning into a burn crisped along with the painting. The palette knife hits to the floor, sitting among the pile of burnt paper ashes.

“......” Makoto and Fumi silently stare at the pile of ashes, expecting it to jump to life. After moments have passed, they let out a heavy sigh of relief.

“Well… It burned up a lot more violently than I expected.” Fumi breathes heavily, still recovering from the struggle with Mary. “Are you okay, Mako? The glass shattered after all.”

Makoto was about to reply but her eyes widen when something else caught her attention first. “Fumi, your hand!”

“...Hm? My hand?” Fumi turns her attention to her hand. She did feel a strange sudden itch on her palm after the struggle with Mary, but she didn’t connect it to the blood now escaping her palm. “Oh, you’re right. I cut it....” Replying nonchalantly. “I didn’t even notice. It must have just happened. ...Well, it’s minor anyway.”

Makoto’s eye dart from her wounded hand to Fumi, and to the blood dripping on the floor. No matter how she looks that it, it didn’t seem minor to her. She reached into her pocket, searching for a small roll of bandage she carries for precaution. Mostly for work, it finally came in handy. “Fumi, give me your hand.”

“A bandage? Why do you have that?” Fumi asked, showing her wounded hand to Makoto.

“It’s just a precaution for mission.” Makoto gently pulls her friend’s wounded hand closer, begin to unwrap the bandage. “It's finally put to good use.”

“Heh, I’m not complaining.”

Tearing a small piece of bandage from the roll, she cleans the wound as best as she could before beginning the first few rounds of the bandage. In between bandaging, Fumi flinched a little, feeling the sting from the cloth tightening around her hand. With a few more rounds, Makoto finishes the bandage with a knot.

Fumi clenched and open her hand repeatedly, testing the bandage. “Thanks, Mako.”

“It’s no trouble.” Makoto smiled.

“Well, let’s get going.”

-------------

Leaving the crayon house, they enter the locked house using the pink key. Finally getting to see an actual building structure was so relieving, knowing that they’re finally out of the sketchbook world. Descending down the long stairs in darkness, they reached a very familiar room.

“Isn’t this…!” Makoto exclaimed, a smile slowly creeping up.

“Yeah, it should be here as well.”

They’re standing at the entrance of the gallery, the very same one before they came into this world. With a glimpse of hope, they made a hurried to the second floor, standing in front of the large painting.

"Fabricated World"
Once you go in, there's no going back.
All your time here will be lost.
Will you still jump in?

"This is it! This must the way out!" Joy filled Makoto, staring at the large painting.

“But how are we meant to jump into a painting?” Fumi questioned.

“Wh-What…? ”Shielding their eyes from a bright light shining from the painting, the frame around the painting disappeared. "Fumi, look! The frame...!"

“Now’s our chance.” Taking a few steps back, Fumi gave herself a running start, successfully leaping into the painting. “Alright, I’m in! Hurry up, Mako!” She grinned, turning around to face Makoto.

Makoto took a few steps back as well, preparing herself for a running start. Just when she’s about to run, she halted as a familiar voice.

“Makoto...”

Makoto turn her head to the side, her dumbstruck expression made Fumi crook a brow, noticing her sudden halt. “Mako, what’s wrong? Come on!” She called, hoping to grab Makoto’s attention.

A woman walks up to Makoto, just out of the painting’s frame. “Makoto! I finally found you!” The woman smiled.

‘M-Mom…?’ Makoto continues to stare at the woman in front of her.

“Sheesh… I was looking everywhere!” The woman scolded. “Don’t just go running off places on your own!”

‘W-What’s going on?’

“Your father’s waiting for you too, see?” The woman smiled warmly. “Let’s go, Makoto!”

Fumi grit her teeth, unable to see what Makoto’s looking at. “Makoto! Hey, what are you doing?!” She called again. “Hurry up and come over!”

Seeing Makoto turn her attention to Fumi, the woman scolded again. “Makoto! How many times have I told you? Don’t go following strangers!”

“Makoto, you’ll be fine! Come on!” Fumi’s voice begins to sound panic, worried about the possible time limit on their hands.

“Makoto! Listen to your mother! Are you ignoring your mother’s words? Do you want to never see your mother and father again?!” The woman scolded again, with her hand outstretched.

“Makoto! I’ll put you over!” Fumi stretched her hand forward, eagerly waiting for Makoto to grab it.

“MAKOTO!!” With both sides calling her name, Makoto’s heart begins to waver, darting between her mother and Fumi. Both of their voice suddenly felt like echoes, shaking her head frantically hoping to clear her mind. But she made her decision and followed her instinct, grabbing her hand.

“Fumi!”

“Alright!” Gripping tightly to each other’s hand, Fumi pulled Makoto into the painting, swallowing both in a bright white light.

-------------

"...? What was I doing before...?" Makoto snapped out of her thoughts, wondering why she stopped in front of this painting.

Walking away from the large painting, she went to view other displays as well. As she’s viewing the displays, she spotted a woman wearing the JP’s coat, viewing a large red rose display. She felt her heart flutter, telling her to approach the woman. She questioned herself why she felt like this and how she should begin the conversation, shaking her head, she steels herself and walks up.

“E-Excuse me...” Makoto stuttered.

“...Hm?” The woman tilts her head slightly, turning around to face Makoto. She stared at Makoto for a few seconds before replying “Sako? What is it?”

Hearing the scientist call her ‘Sako’ felt odd, something didn’t feel right. Makoto’s mind immediately went blank, unable to think up of a conversation. Glancing at the rose display, she asked. “Wh-What’s that statue?”

“Hm? Well… It’s a rose sculpture, obviously...” Professor Kanno turns her head slightly to look at the rose before replying. “...When I look at this sculpture… ” She turns to face the sculpture, with a bittersweet smile. “I feel somehow sorrowful… ...I wonder why?”

Makoto strangely understood what she meant, silently agreeing.

“...Ah, sorry if I said anything to trouble you, Mako...” Both women eyes widen at that. “Wait, what did I just...”

“It’s okay, I don’t mind.” Makoto smiled slightly, that nickname felt more natural to her.

“That’s strange…” Professor Kanno pondered. “We’re not even friends…” That statement struck Makoto, she didn’t understand why she felt hurt hearing professor Kanno said that. “It just kind of came out… ...How odd.” She continues to ponder but eventually sighed, brushing it off. “Never mind what I said. ...Well, bye.”

Seeing Professor Kanno walking away, Makoto felt an urge to call her back begins to nag at her. “Fumi, wait-” Makoto eyes widen, stopped by her own words. ‘Wait, did I just...?’

“Hm?” Fumi stopped, not because Makoto called her, but a sudden sting came from her hand’s nerves. “What’s this… a bandage?” She examines the bandage on her hand, blood visible on the bandage. “When did I hurt myself…?”

Makoto notices her wounded hand as well, hurried over to examine as well. “Are you okay?”

”......” Fumi stared at Makoto, images of Makoto bandaging her hand flashed in her head. “I was… wounded. On the hand… and...” Fumi uttered. “A woman...” The image came back to her again, both of them smiling. “A woman bandaged my wound...” Makoto raises her eyes from the wound to Fumi, catching her attention from the statement she made.

“Yes… This wound was fixed by her…” Fumi’s eyes widen in realisation. “...By Mako!”. Makoto was dumbfounded, seeing the scientist smiling with such happiness.

“Makoto…! I remember now… We were together back there…” Fumi smiled. “How could I have forgotten? It was so important…! We stuck together through that bizarre gallery...” Her smile turned bittersweet. “Chased by strange statues… And Mary too, right?”

Seeing that there’s no reaction from Makoto, she asked. “Mako… Do you remember?”

Trying to absorb what Fumi has said so far, small fragments of images appeared in her head. Some were not has clear but she does remember the experience she shared with Fumi. “I remember.” Returning her a smile of her own.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Fumi grinned. “It’s hard to believe even now… But it must have happened, right?”

“Yeah… We got back safely.” Makoto smile grew. “We did it!” They both shared a moment of laughter between them. Laughter slowly died down, Fumi sighed with a smile.

“...There’s so much more I want to talk about,” Fumi said. “but I need to get going.”

“So soon?” Makoto asked, hoping to spend some more time with her friend.

“Hey, come on now. Don’t say that.” Fumi smile sheepishly. “I did promise you that Uji matcha parfait, didn’t I?”

“You did.” Makoto chuckled. “So… I’ll see you later?”

“Yup.” Fumi nodded. “We will see each other again, Sakocchi!”

With an exchange of goodbye wave, they parted ways.