Search and Rescue

“How did you even find this place?” Adrina asked as she wheeled around the white room, completely bare save for the doorway on the far wall and a cube suspended in the very center of the room.

“I just tried putting this key into various locks,” replied Nero, standing by the cube. “It’ll unlock anything – but it only allows access to this room.” He looked at the doorway, which they had entered from the boys’ hallway.

“So what’s in the cube, then? I remember that in the dream there was a podium with a green crystal. But now there’s a black cube.”

“I’m not entirely sure. However, there’s a keyhole on each side of the cube, so I think we need to find more keys to unlock whatever is inside. I’ve tried this key, though, and it doesn’t work.”

“Like yours is the one to get you to this room, but more must be collected to get you beyond.”

“Precisely.”

“I wonder what’s in the cube…” Adrina leaned in close to the object, touching with her index finger, lost in the possibilities.

* * *

Aurus and Red raced down the hill, weapons at the ready. Below them, Cheng, Giovani, Violet, Albus, and Antonio were trapped in the school, surrounded by a swarm of necroids. Even now they could see the school, and several necroids wandering about outside.

“Do you think they’re still alive?” asked Red. “They must have a window to see if it’s raining or not, and the necroids might try to get in through that.”

“They’re fine,” replied Aurus. “We’ll all come out of this. You’ll see.”

The two approached the building, blasting away any necroids who got close. They entered through a side door, now at last among the hallways lit by the orange morning sun. They were largely empty, with little sign that the necroids had ever been there.

“Why is it so quiet?” Red wondered aloud.

“Maybe they went away, since they couldn’t get Vi and the rest,” Aurus suggested.

“Right, because if there’s one thing we know about necroids, it’s that they’re easily discouraged,” said Red sarcastically.

“I’m just being optimistic!”

As they raced past the science wing, however, they found that Aurus’s hopes were also unrealistic. The wing was torn apart, and saw several necroids searching the science classrooms. Aurus paused, moving toward the doorway of one classroom.

“Come on! We’re losing time!” Red insisted.

“A couple minutes won’t hurt them,” Aurus replied. He leapt into the room, firing his shotgun at the first necroids to turn to face him. The rest charged, but by then Red had also come inside and helped Aurus clean up.

A glint caught Aurus’s eye as the last one fell. He went over to the counter where he had seen it. One of the necroids had been standing right there when he had entered, and it had smashed open a box of dangerous chemicals. But amidst the acids and metals was a single yellow key. Aurus leaned in, enraptured by it, reaching forward and plucking it from its peg. Then he pocketed it and turned around.

“What was that all about?” asked Red.

“Something interesting.”

They continued through the halls, which, the farther they went, showed a slightly larger concentration of necroids patrolling about. But these were not searching necroids, or really even patrolling ones. It was like they were on break and just wandering the halls because they had nothing better to do. Aurus and Red frowned: the necroids’ movements were so divergent from their usual behavior.

Furthermore, when they at last came up to the classroom containing Cheng and the rest, there were only three necroids at the entrance. Where were the dozens and dozens that Violet had spoken of?

As the last guard collapsed to the ground, Aurus knocked on the door, trying to peek in the window, through the barricade at his friends within. A pair of dark eyes – Cheng – briefly returned his gaze, before the barricade started vanishing. A moment later, the door opened.

“You’re late,” Cheng growled.

“Sorry, slight detour,” Aurus replied cheerfully. “Ready to go?”

“Yes!”

After handing off some guns, the party hurried down the hall toward the main entrance, where Antonio’s stuff was still deposited.

“Wow, you guys did really good,” said Red, admiring the necroid bodies littering the hallways.

Meanwhile, the main lobby was very much alive. A large number of necroids wandered around there, upsetting Antonio’s wares and breaking into the school offices. It was in this latter section that the greater number of the creatures wandered. Or, as Aurus was quickly noticing, not wander, but search.

“Alright, Antonio, let’s get your stuff and get out of here,” said Red.

“Actually,” interjected Aurus. “Red, you do that with him. The rest of you, I need you to help me clear out the offices over there.”

“Why? That’d be just a waste of ammo,” replied Violet.

“Besides,” added Cheng. “They’re completely ignoring us.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Aurus said impatiently. “Which is why I want to go into the offices. I think they’re looking for something.”

“Necroids? Searching?”

Aurus didn’t reply, and instead charged toward the offices as Red and Antonio went toward Antonio’s things. Behind him, he vaguely heard the others sigh and chase after him.

He reached the office doorway without any trouble, whereupon he blasted the closest four necroids in the face with his shotgun. Only now did the necroids take any notice of him, screaming and screeching as they turned toward him and attacked. By then, though, the other three entered, and the tight quarters allowed the shotgun to work wonders. In a matter of moments, the four of them had blasted their way through the necroids, all the way to the principal’s office.

There, Aurus at last seemed to get some kind of answer. The principal’s desk had been ripped apart, papers torn, drawers opened and cast across the room. But this destruction revealed some kind of hidden compartment that now lay on the ground, hidden no more, as a necroid lifted its one-time contents into the air: an orange key.

It was precisely the shape of the yellow key, which Aurus now briefly fingered in his pocket, and he immediately wondered what kind of connection, if any, they could possibly have. The others paused at the sight too, save for Violet and Albus, the former of whom stepped forward and killed the necroid where it stood; Albus merely turned, making sure they weren’t flanked.

Cheng stepped into the room, bending over the fallen necroid. The key transfixed her, in seemingly the same way the yellow one had transfixed Aurus. She picked it up and pocketed it, and then she turned around toward Aurus.

“What?”

They hurried out to the main lobby, where Red and Antonio were busy packing the latter’s wares.

“Man, I owe you all big for this one,” Antonio said as he worked. “If you hadn’t been here, I think I might’ve been finished.”

They helped him take his things out to his vehicle and assisted in loading everything up. Then he got in the driver’s seat and waved, before driving off. When he disappeared into the horizon, they turned back up the hill. Aurus’s eyes lingered on the school, wondering about their encounter. It was only then that he realized just what had felt off about the whole thing: there had been an intelligence behind the necroids.

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