Aizawa Shouta had no taste in art.
This didn't mean that he disliked art, he simply didn't have any investment in it. If he looked at something that was declared 'art' he would either enjoy looking at it or he wouldn't, and there wasn't any particular thing that would sway him towards either option. So, naturally, one might find it odd for him to spend his off day at an art gallery.
It was all Hizashi's fault.
Well, not everything that ended happening was his fault; just the part about the two of them being at an art gallery. Because it was Hizashi's turn to pick where they went on a date and the traveling 'World of Guertena' art exhibit was where Hizashi had wanted to go.
Shouta may not have been interested in it, but he didn't complain when Hizashi begged him to go with. He knew Hizashi hated going to places like that alone, and he didn't particularly care where they went. So long as they got to spend a bit of their precious free time together, that was enough for Shouta.
“So this piece was actually used as a tarot card for a while? I had no idea Guertena had that level of influence at the time.” Hizashi mused softly.
The two of them were looking at a portrait of a brunette man hanging upside down by his feet. The man's hollow expression was very well done, but Shouta much preferred looking at the man next to him.
Hizashi was in his 'civilian' clothes, which today consisted of a maroon shirt, black jacket, jeans, and red rimmed glasses. Add in the fact that his hair was pulled up into a bun at the back of his head, instead of gelled up like a cockatoo, and not many would connect him to pro-hero Present Mic.
Hizashi was jotting down part of what he'd just read onto a note pad. He'd decided that he wanted to talk about his trip to the exhibit during his next radio show, so he wanted to make sure he didn't forget anything interesting by the time they left. When he finished, the pair moved on to look at the next painting on the wall.
Shouta had been surprised by the variety of artwork he'd seen so far. Paintings, sculptures, interactive pieces; it seems that Guertena had tried his hand at just about everything before he died. Shouta had been especially impressed with the underwater picture seemingly painted right onto the floor. It was hard not to appreciate something done with enough depth and detail that it actually made a person feel like they could fall in if they got too close.
There was a surprising variety of visitors too, come to think of it. There were plenty of well dressed, higher class looking people, which he expected. But there were a number of people who looked like your average person off the street, and he was pretty sure he saw a child pass by them earlier. Which was odd because he was pretty sure today was a school day.
Shouta shook his head and reminded himself that he was on a date, and he had better places to put his attention.
As they walked past paintings as mundane as fruit and animals,
“Awww! Look at this close up of a kitty! It's eye is so pretty...can't we get a black cat like this?
“We already have two cats.”
“But it would be like having a mini you! And I know you've always wanted a pure black one.”
“...I could talk to the landlord.”
to ones as bizarre as vine covered sofas and giant blue figures that looked like they were melting,
“How exactly do things like this qualify as 'art'?”
“I'm sure it meant something to Guertena, Shouta. Just because you don't get something out of it doesn't mean other people won't.”
“Fair enough. Do you get something from this one?”
they eventually came to a large room that had a single painting in it.
It was a long mural framed in gold. Bold strokes of paint covered the canvas, most in dark colors, but there was an area of bright colors near the center. The combination of vertical and curved horizontal strokes sort of gave it the feel of interconnected rooms seen through some distortion, maybe wavy glass.
“Okay, I don't know what exactly it is, but it looks really cool.” Hizashi said with a grin.
“It does.” Aizawa admitted. “Doesn't this bit look like a painting we saw earlier?” He said pointing at the far right of the frame.
Hizashi walked closer to that side. “Oh yeah, it almost looks like a simplified version of that portrait from earlier, The Lady in Red. Good catch Shouta, I wonder if that's a clue as to what it's about. When you look at this whole things, it's almost like looking into a dream.”
Shouta hummed in acknowledgment. He walked to the center of the frame to read the plaque, but frowned when he saw it. Most of the plaques had the descriptions and titles written in both English and Japanese, but this one only had English. Shouta could recognize the second word, but not the first. Hizashi might be able to though, his English was better.
“Hey Hizashi, any idea what this says?” Shouta asked. Hizashi came over the leaned down next to him.
“Looks like the title is 'Fabricated World'.”
The moment the words left his lips, the room's atmosphere changed.
The light classical music that had been playing throughout that gallery suddenly cut out. The lights flickered on and off; the air suddenly felt heavier. Years of cultivated battle instincts flared to life, and within moments the two were standing back to back in the middle of the room, eyes scanning for danger.
Shouta was glad his normal clothes weren't that different than his hero outfit, and that his capture weapon was enough like a scarf to have been allowed on the date. Hizashi though, he didn't have any of his support items.
A minute passed, and nothing happened. The lights were back on, but the absence of music remained.
It was dead silent, save for their own breathing.
“Maybe it was just a power outage.” Hizashi said lowly.
“Maybe...but I don't think so.”
“Because of the quiet, right?” Hizashi asked. Shouta hummed in agreement.
Before the music had cut out, they'd been able to hear the other visitors talking. Now they couldn't, which didn't make any sense. Something like that would have made civilians talk more, not less.
The pair couldn't see any sign they were about to be attacked immediately, and decided they needed to go see what had happened to the civilians. Carefully, they moved to the right exit, keeping both their eyes and ears peeled for anything suspicious.
The hallway outside the door was empty. It hadn't been when the pair had left it just a minute before. Of course, the visitors could have just moved on-
Shouta whirled toward the sound, and found himself face to face with the cat painting they'd been admiring earlier.
“Shouta, did that...did that come from the painting?” Hizashi asked doubtfully.
“That's what it sounded like...” If Hizashi had heard it too, that made it less likely that Shouta was hearing things.
“But that's- it didn't do that earlier! Even if it had some motion sensor or something set up we would have heard it go off at some point before this.”
Shouta nodded, but couldn't offer up any explanation. “Let's keep going. We might figure things out if we find someone.”
But they didn't. The gallery only had two floors, and the pair searched both of them. As they did, strange things continued to happen. The painting of 'The Coughing Man' actually coughed as they walked past. A piece of fruit fell out of a painting, and splattered onto the floor. When Shouta investigated it, he found the splatter was made from paint rather than fruit juice. They swore they heard footsteps, only to find no one there. They didn't see a single soul throughout the entire building.
Well, maybe they didn't.
When they passed a window Hizashi had noticed some movement behind the glass. When he went over to try and see through it something suddenly banged against it like it was trying to break in. Hizashi jumped back so fast he almost knocked Shouta over. It was at that point they remembered they were on the second level, and there really shouldn't be anyone passing by to hit the window.
“It could have been someone outside who climbed the wall with their quirk.” Hizashi suggested.
“Not sure why they would, but people of done dumber things.” Shouta replied.
Either way, they took that as their cue to try leaving themselves. Hizashi walked quickly as he approached the door, but slowed as he got closer.
“Shouta, weren't these doors transparent before?”
The entrance had been made almost entirely of glass, so they should have been able to see the street as they got closer, but they couldn't. It was like someone had replaced the clear glass with frosted panes since they had last been there. Hizashi grabbed the handle and pulled.
Hizashi pulled on it with all his strength. Still nothing. Shouta joined him, and the doors still wouldn't budge. And yes, they had made sure they were trying to open them the right way. Shouta even tried grabbing the stool behind the reception desk and throwing it through the glass. The stool had bounced off and left the doors undamaged.
“Dang it!” Hizashi kicked the door, which made him wince. He glared at the door. “Shouta, cover your ears.”
Shouta didn't hesitate to do so. Even with his ears covered, Hizashi's scream was painfully loud. Hizashi liked using his quirk to make glass break, as a sort of party trick, and could even do it while drunk. But now Hizashi screamed until he ran out of breath, and the entrance continued to stand.
Gasping, Hizashi sagged and let his body fall against the doors.
“Are you okay?” Shouta asked, taking his hands away from his ears and kneeling down next to his husband.
“No. I mean, are you? We're in a gallery where everyone has mysteriously vanished and the doors are locked and apparently impervious to damage. There is almost nothing about this situation that is okay!”
“Almost nothing?” Shouta asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, we are stuck in here together. That's the only upside. If we have to be stuck, it's better to be stuck together right?”
Shouta couldn't help smiling at that, just a little. “Right.”
“I just don't understand what could be happening. I've got my head right against the door and I can't even hear anything from outside. It's like the whole gallery dropped out of existence and randomly decided to take only us with it. Or like we fell into a pocket dimension or something.”
Hizashi's voice gradually grew quieter as he went on, until he ended in a near whisper. Shouta did his best to keep his expression neutral, but it was a struggle. In all his years as a pro-hero, nothing like this had ever happened to him before. There was no villain to fight, and no one to save beside himself and his also pro-hero husband, yet he had never been at such a loss for what to do.
He had considered the possibility that this was some sort of attack against him and Hizashi specifically. Perhaps someone with a grudge against pro-heroes was after them, and using a quirk that messed with perception. Or maybe a quirk that transported people somewhere, though he didn't know why this hypothetical person would put them in an exact replica of this art gallery. While they sat there, he shared his theory with Hizashi.
“Sounds like the best explanation we have right now. With all the strange quirks that exist out there I can believe someone has the ability to make pocket dimensions on a whim. But why the two of us? And why right here? We didn't exactly advertise that we would be coming here.”
“Pretty sure we didn't tell anyone actually.” They didn't like to be disturbed on dates. Seemed that was coming back to bite them. “Either way, we should keep trying to find a way out of here. Breaking out of this gallery could release us from whatever is affecting us, and it's not like we have anything else to do.”
“I one-hundred percent agree with plan 'break out'; I'm just not sure what else to do.” Hizashi sighed and put his chin in his hand. “We've made no progress with the door, so I can't imagine the windows will be much better. Plus I'm still not completely over how the window by the reception desk randomly started leaking blood red paint.”
“There is one thing we haven't done yet.” Shouta realized. “We haven't gone back to the room we were in when this whole things started.”
“You think whatever this is might have something to do with that room? Or the mural itself?”
Shouta shrugged. “I honestly have no idea, but it's the one thing we haven't tried.”
“Which means it's worth checking out.” Hizashi pushed himself up, and offered and hand to Shouta. He took it, and didn't let go as they made their way back up to the second floor.
At first glance nothing seemed out of place in the mural room. It was still empty save for the 'Fabricated World' painting, but as they got further in they did notice one small change. There was blue paint leaking from the bottom left of the frame.
“Wonder how that happened...” Hizashi muttered as he leaned in toward the frame.
Suddenly, there was the sound of something splattering onto the floor behind them. They both whirled around, and froze. Across the floor, large blue letters had appeared.
C o M e D o W n
“Where the hell did that come from?!” Hizashi yelped. Shouta narrowed his eyes at the letters.
“Come down? Come down where? And why?"
“For a secret apparently.” Hizashi's voice sounded strained, and Shouta turned to see him crouched down in front of the blue stain on the wall. Or what had been a stain a moment ago. Now the paint had formed into small English letters.
come down below
i'll show you someplace secret
“Well...I guess we should go downstairs then.”
“You actually want to follow what the strange writing on the wall says?” Hizashi asked in disbelief. Shouta snorted and shook his head.
“Hardly. But this is the only real change in scenery we've seen since this whole thing started, so it seems more likely we'll get answers this way than trying and failing to break the door down again.”
So, though neither of them were happy about it, the two made their way down to the first floor display area. They saw a clue about what the words meant right away.
The floor painting of the deep sea with vicious looking eel had intrigued Shouta earlier, the way it made you feel you could actually fall into it and end up in the ocean. The feeling was stronger now, and it put him on edge. There had been a guardrail around the painting earlier, to keep guests from touching it, but now it was gone. There were also a pair of blue shoe prints leading toward the edge of the 'water', the same shade of blue as the words from upstairs, making it very clear that this is what they were being lead to.
“So, apparently, there's something secret about this painting.” Shouta mused. “You suppose it'll give us a clue on how to get a key to open the door?"
“We can hope.” Hizashi said, walking up to the painting's edge. He leaned forward and studied it carefully, with Shouta following suit a moment later. That was how they remained for several minutes.
“I don't get it! This thing looks exactly the same as it did before!” Hizashi stamped his foot in frustration, and the toe of his boot landed on the edge of the painting.
He suddenly felt himself yanked forward. He tried to leap back, but the force pulled him harder. In a blink he was falling forward, his arms cartwheeling. Shouta grabbed the back of his shirt, and suddenly he was being pulled too. They both fell forward.
Everything went black.