Just wanted to throw in another Halloween Starlight fic this year! Sort of like my previous ones of a haunted trail and test of courage, but I really wanted to put the girls into costumes this time around and there was an obvious way to do that!
There's sort of a focus on Maya and Claudine... go figure... but all my four main ships are involved!
Disclaimer: I do not own Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.
Challenges Of A Haunted House
Naturally, it's the most opportunistic and entertaining holiday ever for the students of Seishou Academy. What better excuse to design costumes, create decorations and props, and try all different sorts of makeup techniques?
The girls have been decorating the school and the dorms little by little with simple orange and black wall streamers, plastic pumpkins on the windowsills and outside rooms, knick-knacks of cats and bats and ghosts on their dinner tables, spiderweb-patterned table clothes, and fall-leaf napkins.
Those who specialize in sewing and designing clothes have had their hands full with requests of costumes and touch-ups, because while of course the students couldn't dress up for classes, they were free to do as they pleased after the final bell had rung.
This year, the majority of them had wanted to create a haunted house inside Seishou's ballroom. The idea had been proposed to and then approved by the staff to give the girls full-rein.
Only the members of Class B and a select few others have been allowed to help with preparations and setup for the haunted house, and everyone else has been kept in the dark - figuratively, for now - about the going-ons inside the ballroom. The hope is that those not involved in the making of it will take part and enter as 'victims' on the designated night.
Nana and Junna had volunteered to help out with such preparations, and as such have been gone most evenings the week of Halloween in order to assist Class B with various things. And in spite of Karen's constant begging, the two have kept their lips sealed about what the haunted house will entail.
"You'll just have to wait and see!" Nana tells her every time.
And when the holiday finally arrives, everyone enjoys a rather easygoing day of classes for a change, and are even let out a little early from their final lesson.
As soon as they're free, many of the girls exchange their uniforms for costumes, most of which are old set costumes they'd worn in the roles of past plays.
Kaoruko and Futaba don their respective black Laelaps Hound and brown Teumessian fox outfits, collaborating now and again to jump out barking from around a corner to startle some unsuspecting classmates.
Karen has gotten her hands on her Knights of the Sun Nation Army attire, proclaiming herself as the protector of her two princesses; Sleeping Beauty Hikari and Cinderella Mahiru. The two of them had chosen to wear the flowing gowns this evening since it was only on special occasions they could dress so lavishly.
And while their other friends had more or less matched with their roommates, Claudine and Maya are a slightly different story.
Claudine has chosen her Phantom of Twenty Faces costume for its charm and comfortable fit, and she's always liked the extra touch of the black mask bordering her eyes. Maya, on the other hand, has gone with her Amaterasu clothes, which she'd admittedly needed some help with adjusting, so Claudine had spent a lot of time huffing as she'd helped with her kimono and hair accessories.
All in all, the seven of them make for a rather mis-matched and amusing bunch when they're all finally ready.
Junna's and Nana's costumes are a secret, as they'd headed off to the ballroom with Class B as soon as they'd been released from classes to help set up for their big night.
Until the announcement is made that the haunted house is ready and open, the rest of the students hang out at Starlight Hall, going door to door greeting each other in-costume and passing around candies and treats.
For a couple of hours, everyone enjoys their Halloween on a tamer scale, taking pictures all around the dorms and spooking one another in the halls. By evening time, they head back to Seishou for a holiday supper, being careful when they eat as to not get stains on their outfits.
But it's after mealtime is over and the sun has finally gone down outside when the announcement is made.
"Ahem," says a familiar voice on the dormitory intercom. Claudine, Maya, and all the rest look up in surprise.
Everyone quiets down in the cafeteria as the announcement continues.
"Good evening, everyone. We hope you're having an enjoyable Halloween so far! With that said, on behalf of Class B and the others who have worked on it, I'd like to officially announce that our haunted house is now open! We will be running it until midnight, so don't worry about getting on line first! Please stop by at your leisure to enjoy a good scare! Thank you very much!"
And with this, the intercom fades out.
As always, Karen is the first of their group to jump up from her chair.
"Oh boy! Let's go right now, you guys!"
"Karen-chan, hold on!" Mahiru takes her by the hand and prevents her from bolting out the doors. "Didn't you hear what Junna-chan said? She said we can take our time going."
"Uuuu, I knooowww," Karen fidgets. "I'm just so excited! I really wanna go see what they did!"
"They've been really secretive about it," Hikari says. "They haven't let anyone in the ballroom all week unless they were involved in the setup."
"They're good at keepin' things secret," Futaba comments. "This way, no one knows more than anyone else about it, and we'll all be scared out of our wits tonight!"
"Speak for yourself," Kaoruko hums. "I, for one, know I'll be just fine, no matter what they throw at me."
"Oh, really?" Futaba pokes her roommate's cheek. "I doubt it. You'll end up being the first one to scream."
"Is that a challenge I hear?"
The five of them break off into conversations between their groups, as do Claudine and Maya. Claudine knows for a fact by now that Maya is even worse with horror and ghosts than she herself is, so she's been very curious as to whether or not Maya has an interest in attending this haunted house tonight.
Presently, she casts her partner a glance as Maya finishes up her last dumpling and wipes her napkin over her lips. She chews slowly, sitting up straight and giving off an air of calm. But when she swallows, Claudine can hear a rather loud gulp, and can guess it's less for the food and more out of nervousness.
"So…?" she prompts her. "What do you think, Tendo Maya? Will you be gracing the haunted house with your presence tonight?"
Maya holds her napkin over her mouth a second longer, and Claudine wonders if it's to conceal any chattering teeth behind it. But when Maya responds, her tone is as level as ever.
"But of course. Daiba-san, Hoshimi-san, and the members of Class B have worked tirelessly to make this a success for tonight. It would be rude of me not to stop by and observe the fruits of their labor."
"Just observe it?" Claudine asks. "Or are you going to experience it as well?"
Maya flashes her a wavering glance. But before she can answer, Karen is up from her seat again.
"Ahhhh, I really can't wait after all! Are you guys all finished eating? Can we go now?"
"Yeesh," Futaba grunts, scratching her head underneath her faux fox hat. "You're like a little kid, Karen."
"But it's Halloweeeeen!" she cries. "It's one of the best nights of the year! We gotta live it up to the fullest!"
"You're right," Mahiru agrees with a hopeless smile. She gets up from her seat as well, smoothing out her dress as she helps Hikari next. But before Karen can charge off on her own, Mahiru stops her again. "Karen-chan? You aren't just going to abandon your princesses here, are you?"
"Huh? A-Ah, no! Of course not!"
"I'm sorryyy!" Karen places herself between the two of them and gives them each one of her arms. Mahiru and Hikari gladly hold onto her.
"Kuro-chan? Tendo-san?" Mahiru calls to them. "Are you two coming as well?"
As they stand up, Claudine flashes Maya a glance, but her lips seem to be pursed, so Claudine replies.
"Bien sur! We've got to see what Nana and the others have prepared for us."
"Oh my." Kaoruko feigns surprise with a bemused hand to her lips. "Are you sure you can handle it, Kuro-han? Last I recall, you aren't the best with this sort of thing."
"And Tendo's even worse," Futaba says helpfully.
"Nonsense!" Claudine quips back. "While I can't speak for Tendo Maya, I myself have been improving my tolerance for horror over these last few weeks! I've watched a lot of scary movies to prepare myself!"
"Oh, right," Futaba grimaces. "I remember you made me sit and watch some with you, and then you couldn't sleep alone all night."
"Right?" Claudine lifts her chin proudly. "But now I've overcome that sort of thing! You won't hear a peep from me tonight!"
As she and Futaba playfully stick their tongues out at one another, Kaoruko slithers in next to Maya.
"Tendo-han? Are you really going to go through with this? I think I can already hear the echoing screams of the tortured souls who've gone in before us…" She smirks devilishly, but the fact that it's just a ruse of a comment goes far over Maya's head. She's already rooted to the spot, too petrified to move.
Claudine glances back to witness the minor act of bullying and heaves a sigh.
"Futaba, go rope in your hound, will you?"
"On it." Futaba grabs Kaoruko by her false tale and begins pulling her away, and Kaoruko whimpers and whines as if it's really attached to her.
Claudine goes to Maya, who seems to have forgotten how to breathe, and nudges her side.
"Hello? Earth to Tendo Maya? The almighty Amaterasu?" Claudine takes her hand and gives her a little shake, snapping her out of Kaoruko's trance. Maya blinks, and the cloud of mild terror fades from her eyes.
"Ah, yes… I beg your pardon…" By now the other five have headed for the doors out of earshot. Claudine gives Maya a more honest look.
"You know, if you're really not comfortable with it, you don't have to go in. I was just teasing you. I'm just as bad as Kaoruko in that regard, I guess." She looks down, pouting at her own actions, fearing she'd been insensitive somehow.
Maya smiles in response, giving her hand a squeeze in return.
"Do not fret, Saijou-san. As I said, I want to appreciate the effort everyone put into the attraction. Therefore…" She draws in a breath and holds it for a second, then releases it slowly. "I do intend to go inside. Just, perhaps…" She tightens her grip on Claudine's fingers, giving a small tug to bring her closer. Maya glances elsewhere as she makes her request. "Perhaps… if you wouldn't mind accompanying me…"
Claudine almost laughs in spite of herself, but stops at just the smile.
"You idiot. Of course I'm going in with you."
Maya visibly relaxes a little bit.
"Bien sur. Now, come on then. We'd best get going and secure a place on line. I'm sure they're already very busy over there."
Without really paying attention to their intertwined hands, they follow their friends out of the cafeteria now and into the hallway toward the ballroom. As they approach, the hallway lights become dimmer and dimmer, until they're almost out completely at the ballroom itself.
There is already a sizable crowd lined up down the hall waiting to enter. Two girls from Class B are at the entrance to the ballroom permitting people to go inside in intervals.
Claudine and Maya are in line right behind Kaoruko and Futaba, who are behind Karen, Hikari, and Mahiru. The lights being so low really sets the mood for what's to come, and there are excited, nervous whispers all around.
"I can't wait, I can't wait!" Karen is bouncing up and down in her spot. "I wonder what Jun-Jun and Banana are doing in there."
"Probably getting ready to jump out and scare us..." Mahiru guesses. She turns to the taciturn Hikari, who's been rather quiet all the while. "Hikari-chan, are you okay to go in? Do you want to wait out here?"
"Eh?" Karen turns to her childhood friend and looks her over. "Mahiru-chan's right, Hikari-chan! You don't have to go if you're too scared!"
But Hikari shakes her head with a small smile.
"No. I'm okay. I'll go."
"Are you sure?" Mahiru lets go of Karen's arm now and instead places herself on Hikari's other side. "How about this? You can stand in the middle, okay? Karen-chan and I will be your knights!"
"Yeah! We'll both protect you, Hikari-chan!"
Hikari blushes faintly, though it's difficult to tell in the limited lighting.
From behind them, Kaoruko puts a hand to her cheek.
"Yeah," Futaba says. "Must be nice to have friends who'd protect you instead of just throwing you into the zombies as bait."
"Th-That was only one time…"
"You left me to die."
"W-Well you're still here, aren't you?" Kaoruko crosses her arms and looks away, though the ears of her costume seem to flatten by themselves as if in embarrassment. Futaba just sighs and shrugs.
"Yeah. Well, whatever. I'm gonna win our challenge tonight, hands down. You're definitely gonna lose your cool and end up screaming waaaaay before I ever do."
"We'll see about that!"
And lastly, behind the two of them, Claudine and Maya are waiting, still hand-in-hand. Claudine can feel Maya's grip tightening by the second, until her fingers are starting to lose circulation. Maya stands rigidly, her eyes trained directly ahead of her as if she were a programmed robot. Claudine heaves a sigh.
"You know, you can still back out of this if you want to."
Maya blinks for what seems to be the first time in minutes as they advance a few steps closer to the front of the line.
"No," she says thickly. "I will see it through. You've even agreed to accompany me, Saijou-san."
"Right," she nods. "But if you're going to faint as soon as we get in there, I'd rather you just back out now."
But Maya shakes her head, turning nervous yet determined eyes on her.
"I will advance," she declares. "Little by little, with you and everyone else by my side, I want to overcome these fears. Or at least be able to tolerate them as you do, Saijou-san."
Claudine flinches a tiny bit.
"Well… to be honest, I did watch some horror films with Futaba to try and build up some tolerance… but I'm not sure it worked very well. And besides, sitting still and watching a movie happen on a screen is very different from physically going through a haunted house where real people and things jump out at you and make contact. There's a difference between psychological horror and straight-up jump-scares. Even someone who's perfectly fine with the movies would still get startled if something popped out at them unexpectedly in real life, right?"
Maya hadn't considered things that way before. It makes her feel a bit better about her fears - a bit more confident in accepting them.
"Yes. You're absolutely right," she agrees. "After all, it's said to be human nature that we like to get a little scared for fun. It's similar to the thrill of adrenaline rush that comes with riding a roller coaster."
"So long as no one actually gets hurt or ends up in tears," Claudine clarifies.
There's a beat of silence as they advance another few steps on line. By now, they can hear the beginnings of creepy recordings, things like creaking doors and howling winds and ghoulish moaning. They also start to hear the first few screams of their fellows classmates from inside the ballroom.
Claudine's lost all feeling in her hand now as Maya's grip constricts her. Claudine gently pries her off and lets her cling to her arm instead.
"Think of it this way," she proposes. "You aren't just Tendo Maya right now, are you? You're the all-powerful Amaterasu. Nothing and no one can scare or oppose you. Think of it as mental challenge not to break character. Maybe that will help."
Maya tilts her head as she considers the idea. It actually seems rather plausible.
"I see…" She tries to maintain a calm exterior as a pair of muffled screams sounds from inside the ballroom, and she ends up squeezing Claudine's arm even more tightly. Claudine reaches over with her free hand to pat Maya's shoulder in reassurance.
"Just… do your best."
By now, Karen, Hikari, and Mahiru have arrived at the front of the line. Amemiya and Masai are at their post there, dressed in black with their faces and hands painted white like skeletons.
"Good evening," Amemiya greets them. "Welcome to Seishou's one-night-only haunted house. We have set up three different paths our guests can choose from so everyone will have a unique experience. Each pathway has its own theme of sorts. If you'd like to go through another path after your first, please note you must wait on line again." With that said, she now looks to Karen's trio. "You may enter if you dare."
"And if all three of you survive," Masai adds. "There will be treats waiting for you at the end!"
"Treats?!" Karen blurts out. "Oh boy! C'mon, you guys! Let's do this!"
"K-Karen-chan, hold on!"
"Don't run when there are no lights on, Bakaren."
"Oh, right!" Karen pauses, waiting for Hikari and Mahiru.
The doorway of the ballroom has been draped over with black curtains, and the three girls enter cautiously. The eerie sounds of the tape recordings grow louder on the other side, where three narrow passageways constructed of painted cardboard and old set backdrops are their options to choose from. Small, dim strings of black lights provide them a bit of guidance.
There is a sign above each pathway, with words painted in dripping red. On the left reads "Monster Mayhem," in the center is "Ghouls and Ghosts," and on the righthand side is "The Killer's Kitchen."
Karen, Hikari, and Mahiru look to each of them. The latter two step a bit closer to one another, while Karen seems totally unfazed about anything.
"Okay! So which one should we choose? I wonder if completing each one gives you different treats at the end?"
"Karen-chan, don't just think about the food…"
"Yeah, guess you're right," she chuckles. "But man, these all sound so good and spooky! I don't know which one to choose! Should we split up?"
"Eh?" Hikari turns pale just at the thought of it. Mahiru quickly intervenes.
"I think we should stay together!" she says. "After all, weren't you going to be our knight and protect us, Karen-chan?"
"Oh, you're right! We've gotta stick together!"
Hikari breathes a sigh of relief. Mahiru knows if they'd each gone off separately that Hikari wouldn't have budged a step from their current spot until someone came to get her and lead her out.
Karen returns to Hikari's other side now, looping her elbow around hers.
"Okay! Then which one sounds best?"
"Hmmm…" Mahiru considers the options. "I think the Monsters might not be so bad. We can just think of them as people who got transformed, like in Beauty and the Beast! They don't really wanna hurt us; they're just under a spell! Something like that might make it feel less scary, right? What do you think, Hikari-chan?"
Hikari blinks herself out of whatever petrified trance she'd been lulled into by the sounds of swirling wind.
"I think that sounds good," she decides. "I like that method, Mahiru."
"Yeah!" Karen cheers. "Maybe if we clear that path, they'll all turn back into people! We'll be heroes!"
So the three girls head off down the left passage side-by-side-by-side.
As they go, they can hear the rumble of low growling sounds every now and again over the clicking of their shoes. Claw marks appear on the walls, along with splatters of red. Karen pauses the group to inspect the marks.
"Someone must've transformed here… What do you think they turned into? A panda?"
Mahiru chuckles thinly. "I think it might be something a bit more menacing…"
"Maybe a wolf?" Hikari guesses.
"Oh yeah! Like a wolf-man or a werewolf! Do you guys think they get fleas?"
"W-Wait, Karen-chan!" Mahiru promptly shushes her, pulling Hikari close. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Karen asks loudly.
And suddenly, one of the walls behind Karen tears open as a dark, hairy figure leaps out, snarling. Hikari freezes and starts falling over, while Mahiru shrieks as she tries to catch her and pull Karen away at the same time. Karen whirls around to face the beast.
"Whoa! Hikari-chan, Mahiru-chan, don't worry! Your knight, Aijou Karen, is here to protect you!"
"K-Karen-chan, be careful!" Mahiru cries. "Hikari-chan, are you okay?"
Hikari's only response is a soft wheeze as she clings to her, trembling. Karen does her duty and guards them valiantly.
"You guys go! I'll hold him off!"
The person behind the mask growls menacingly and swipes fake claws at them.
"Little girls are delicious! Especially with some butter!"
"Never!" Karen declares. "I'll never let you eat my… hey, wait a minute!"
In an unprecedented turn of events, Karen suddenly smiles and approaches the werewolf with open arms. Puzzled, the actor freezes as Karen flips their mask up to reveal their identity.
"Ha! I knew it was you, Jun-Jun! I could tell by your voice!"
"K-Karen-!" Junna quickly pulls her mask back down to cover her blush. "What are you doing? You're supposed to be running scared! Plus, it's bad manners to interfere with the actors and take off their masks!"
"Huh? Oh, sorry!" Karen bows her head, but by now the jig is up. Junna sighs helplessly.
"Well, there goes the mood…"
"Sorry! I'm really sorry!"
Behind Karen, Mahiru is in disbelief that her roommate had done something so bold, but she supposes she isn't all that surprised, really.
"Karen-chan…" She sighs, then starts to chuckle. Giving Hikari a pat, she slowly walks her forward. "See, Hikari-chan? It's just Junna-chan, who got temporarily transformed into a wolf."
"Hoshimi…san…?" Hikari blinks, and suddenly the light comes back to her eyes. She smiles.
Junna heaves another sigh.
"Yeah, yeah. Thanks to Karen here I guess it really isn't that scary anymore, huh?"
"But you were scary!" Karen says. "You scared us at the beginning! For real!"
"Either way, you can't just go disrobing the actors!" Junna pokes at Karen's nose with her claw.
Karen whines. "I'm sorryyyyy!"
But in the end, everyone shares a good laugh. They apologize for the trouble, and Junna returns to her hiding spot behind the false wall to claim her next victims.
But as Karen, Hikari, and Mahiru continue through and various other people dressed as monsters pop out at them, they only squeal in laughter. Karen calls things out at them like, "I'm more scared of your fleas than I am of you!" which always makes her two roommates chuckle as they scurry off to safety.
In this way, the three of them eventually make it to the end, past another pair of black curtains and back into the well-lit exit of the ballroom.
"Congratulations!" someone from Class B says to them. "You've survived! As a reward, please take some candy!"
There's an orange bowl of wrapped candy on a nearby table with a skeletal hand raised on the far rim. Karen claps and hurries right over.
"Yeah! We did it, you guys!"
"Ah, Karen-chan-?" Mahiru tries to warn her, but she's too late. As Karen reaches into the bowl, the motion-censored hand drops down onto her fingers with a cackling laughter.
"Waaaah!" Karen shrieks and stumbles back, where her roommates hastily catch her.
"Bakaren," Hikari chuckles. "Nothing in the haunted house scared you, but the bowl does?"
"No faaaair, I just wanted my reward!"
"Don't worry, you can have it!" Mahiru giggles. "I'll get it for you. Which one do you want?"
"Hmm let's see…"
As the trio is just finishing up their route, two of their other friends are just beginning.
Futaba and Kaoruko look like they should be a part of the cast jumping out to scare people in their wolf and fox outfits, but they enter as guests and look upon their routes of choice. Kaoruko is still keen on making Futaba scream, so she decides to go with the most terrifying-sounding path.
"Let's go right," she decides. "The Killer's Kitchen~"
Futaba grins back at her.
"That's exactly what I was gonna choose. Can't wait to hear you scream like a banshee."
"Hey! First of all, you'll be the one screaming, and second of all, even when I do scream, I don't sound like a banshee! I sound elegant and proper."
"Pfff! How the hell can anyone sound 'elegant and proper' when they're screaming?"
"Fine, then go ahead."
"Clever. But you're not going to make me scream first, Futaba-han."
As they bicker, they begin down the righthand path, which eventually opens up into a somewhat wider space. There are red-stained prop knives hanging high up on the walls and streaks of dribbling liquid all the way down to the floor.
"So I guess we're entering the 'kitchen' now, huh…?"
"It would appear so…" Kaoruko nearly shrieks as she steps in something squishy. When the two of them look down, they see a pile of pink mush made to resemble flesh. Kaoruko puts a hand to her mouth. "M-Maybe coming here right after supper wasn't the best idea…"
"H-Hey, no barfin'! They'd have to shut down the whole haunted house…"
"Not if I only do it on you…"
"Gross, don't!" Futaba hauls her along by the arm, away from the slimy things on the floor.
As they advance, they start hearing sounds other than the groaning noises of the CD playing overhead. Now, there's something new. It's a sharp, chopping sound, rhythmic and slow.
"Oy, Kaoruko. Do you hear that...?"
"I'd say it's my heart, but it's not going nearly fast enough to be that…"
They have no choice but to continue forward, and little by little a pale red light begins clouding the corners of their eyes. The chopping sound gets louder, and they can only go straight towards it.
"Futaba-han-" Kaoruko wheezes. "I think I get the picture. It's a serial killer cutting up bodies, yes? We can go now."
"What, you gonna chicken out on me now?" Futaba says as much, but she's just as pale as Kaoruko is. "C'mon. We're already halfway done. Might as well finish it."
"Fine. But if I lose my supper, you can't blame me at this point."
Clutching onto each other for dear life, they slowly advance on the kitchen-like room, forced to follow the ominous sounds of chopping. As they round one of the cardboard corners, an eerie, dull red light becomes visible.
Futaba halts in her tracks so sharply it causes Kaoruko to bump into her and they both shriek, then scramble to shut each other up.
Ahead of them is a table where the misty red light is burning at the center. Above it all stands a dark, masked figure, the only discernible features being a white apron stained with red, and some kind of covering over the face. They're holding an instrument that is clearly a knife or blade of some sort, and slowly cutting away at what appears to be something long and solid.
Futaba digs her heels into the floor and doesn't budge, while Kaoruko desperately tries to yank her back the other way.
"Okay, enough's enough," Kaoruko wheezes. "We can go back-"
But just as she says as much, the open path behind them is suddenly blocked off as someone unseen moves another piece of cardboard wall to seal it. Both girls shriek at the loud bang as they realized they're trapped.
The noise draws the attention of the masked butcher, who turns to them slowly, lifting the knife. Futaba presses Kaoruko back behind her.
"Crap- This is too real-"
Shaking, the two of them scramble to try and push back through the blocked-off exit as the maniac approaches with heavy, meticulous steps.
Kaoruko is gripping Futaba so hard she'll probably leave marks. Futaba curses repeatedly under her breath.
"Shit, whadda we do-?"
The masked person comes closer by the second, and soon they can hear a deep sort of chuckling. Kaoruko really feels she might lose her supper.
"Futaba-han, I feel faint-"
"You're tellin' me! Hey, if you're gonna heave, do it on that guy!"
Kaoruko does her best to keep her stomach in place, but as her eyes flash frantically around the area, she spots an exit on the other side of the table past the red light.
Futaba follows the direction of her trembling finger and gasps.
"You're right! Good eye, Kaoruko! Let's make a break for it!" She grabs her roommate's hand and Kaoruko grabs back.
"W-We're going to run there-?"
"What else? On the count of three. One… two-"
"Three!" Kaoruko shrieks the number and takes off as quickly as her wobbling legs can carry her, hauling Futaba behind her like a dog pulling a sled.
"Whoa! K-Kaoruko, wait-!" Futaba yelps as she slips and crashes to her knees. Their grip breaks, and Kaoruko keeps running for a second before she realizes what's happened. She skids to a halt and whirls around.
By now the butcher has almost reached her. Kaoruko had managed to get well out of the way, but now Futaba is more or less trapped. Futaba lifts her head wearily and meets her eyes.
"Kaoruko… go! Save yourself!"
"Eh-?!" Kaoruko looks between Futaba and the exit and back again. The butcher's laughter grows louder now as they get closer and closer to Futaba, who closes her eyes and shrinks down, pleading.
"Just get it over with!"
The masked figure reaches her, raising the knife above their head. Futaba closes her eyes, hoping Kaoruko made it out safely-
"H-Hold on a second-!"
There's a shrill shriek, and then a flurry of footsteps. Kaoruko barrels past the butcher and throws her arms out, putting herself in front of Futaba.
"Kaoruko?!" Futaba cries. "I thought you-"
"I'm not leaving you behind, Futaba-han!"
The killer shakes themselves off, then raises the knife again. Kaoruko holds her ground and closes her eyes as the knife swings down on her-
A familiar, cheerful voice giggles as the plastic prop knife is tapped lightly on Kaoruko's forehead. The panicked insanity of the moment slowly begins to fade away as Kaoruko and Futaba open their eyes.
Now, in the red lighting, they can make out the mask as that of a cute frog's face. With their free hand, the killer lifts it up and reveals a grinning girl underneath.
"Hee hee!" Nana sheaths her plastic knife in her apron's pocket and reaches out both hands, helping Futaba up with one and wrapping the other around Kaoruko's waist. "I'm not really supposed to break character like this, but we never expected anyone would fall and actually let me get to them."
"Can ya blame me?" Futaba cries. "You scared the hell outta me!"
"I didn't know you were so good at this kind of acting too, Banana-han!"
"Aw, thanks, Kaoruko-chan!"
"I'm not sure I meant it as a compliment…"
Nana gives them both a soft hug and a pat on the back.
"All right. Sorry to ruin the mood for the haunted house, you two. But safety is our top priority, so I'll guide you out now!"
Both of them breathe a sigh of relief. As Nana leads them toward the exit, Kaoruko peers curiously over at the table.
"What exactly were you chopping up, Banana-han?"
"Oh, that? Daikon radishes! But from afar and in the dark they kind of look like limbs, right?"
"O-Oy, Kaoruko, don't barf! We're almost out!"
Kaoruko makes a deflating sound, then sighs.
"Well either way, I won our challenge, so it's fine."
"Haaah?" Futaba scoffs. "Hell no. I won. You screamed first."
"I absolutely did not! You did!"
"That wasn't a scream. That was a yell."
"It still counts!"
Nana smiles as she ushers them outside through the curtains and puts her mask back on, getting ready for the next guests.
Futaba and Kaoruko argue until they get to the bowl of candy at the end, but Kaoruko declines on account of feeling like she still might throw up. Futaba thinks she's just being dramatic at first, but even as she chews on her chocolate, she realizes her roommate really isn't choosing a treat for herself. Futaba saunters over to her and nudges her side lightly.
"Oy, you okay?"
"Yes. I'm just fine."
"Y'know," Futaba decides. "You won that challenge."
"No, you did," Kaoruko argues. "You're right, I screamed first. You don't even know how to scream."
"Nah, you can have this," Futaba says. "After all, you coulda ran and saved yourself… but you actually came back for me." She smiles, and in turn Kaoruko blushes.
"O-Of course I did," she huffs, crossing her arms. "If you got caught by some psycho, who would give me a stomach massage later tonight?"
Futaba rolls her eyes good-naturedly.
"Yeah, yeah. You got it."
They share a smile, then head out of the ballroom to join Karen, Hikari, and Mahiru, who have also just finished their route through the haunted house.
But all the way on the other side at the doors, the final two of their group have yet to enter.
"Now then," Claudine is saying to Maya as they reach the front of the line. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? Speak now, or forever hold your peace."
Maya is more rigid than ever, and she's already started to tremble. Claudine can feel her palms sweating where they're still holding hands. But Maya draws in a deep breath and exhales slowly.
"Yes. After all, it may provide a bit of fun, isn't that so?"
"Right. But that's typically for people who aren't so petrified they're about to fall over."
Maya flashes her a glance that tries to be confident, but it's so ridden with nervousness it just ends up being terribly awkward.
"I'm certain I will be fine with you by my side, Saijou-san."
Claudine bites the inside of her lip and looks away, thankful for the darkness concealing her blush.
Amemiya and Masai greet them before permitting them entry. Still holding hands tightly, Claudine and Maya enter through the black curtains.
Maya walks on legs so stiff they start to wobble anyway, and Claudine has to admit she herself has started to get a bit frightened as well by this point. Typically, if the person or people she was with were more nervous about something than she was, she'd put on a brave face for their sake. But with haunted houses and horror, it's a different story.
They enter the darkness, lit only by a few pale purple lights until the three signs for the paths they can choose from are visible. They pause, reading over each one as the creepy sounds of the CD continue playing in the background.
Maya is gripping Claudine's hand and her entire arm so tightly now Claudine has started to lose circulation for sure, but she's clinging back to Maya just as tightly, so she hopes they're even. She draws in a deep breath and attempts to steady her voice.
"So?" she grunts. "Which path are we choosing?"
Maya makes a small whimpering sound and takes a step back, indicating she wants to exit, but Claudine shakes her head, giving her a small glare.
"You're not backing down now, Tendo Maya. Are you seriously going to run from your fears? I think you should at least try to conquer them." She looks away for a second to hide her expression. "And besides… you've got me with you."
Maya stops trembling for half a second to let Claudine's comforting words warm her heart and put it at ease just a little bit. In spite of how spooked she already is, a tiny smile twitches onto Maya's lips.
"You're absolutely right..." She steps back up again, toward the foreboding pathways. Perhaps she feels a tiny bit more confident now, but her whole body is still trembling.
Claudine's heart is pounding too, but she acts as unfazed as possible.
"Then let's choose."
They look over the options again, and Claudine has to admit none of them sound particularly appealing. Beside her, Maya looks pale as bone.
"Well…" Maya says weakly. "Then perhaps… the monsters would be best…?"
Claudine had figured that would be Maya's answer. After all, it isn't monsters or murderers she's most afraid of.
Which is exactly why they can't go down either of those paths.
Claudine stands firmly and shakes her head.
"No. I think you and I both know we have to choose the middle path, Tendo Maya."
"Eh…?" Maya shudders as she simply looks at the word "Ghosts" painted in red. "But, Saijou-san-"
"Listen," Claudine says reasonably. "You're here to conquer your fears, right? And ghosts are your biggest fears, so we've got to go with this path. And besides, it isn't like they can hurt you. Ghosts aren't even of the same dimension. They don't even have feet. Where monsters and killers can physically touch you, ghosts can do nothing of the sort. So logically, that is the safest path for us to travel, isn't it?"
Once she's given this justification, she gives Maya a stern look. "And besides, you aren't Tendo Maya tonight, are you? You're the all-powerful goddess Amaterasu. No ghost can frighten you, isn't that right?"
With every word Claudine speaks, Maya can truthfully feel her confidence building, little by little. Everything she's saying makes perfect sense. Ghosts can't touch or hurt her. Perhaps they can frighten her, but nothing more.
After a moment, Maya slowly eases her death-grip on Claudine's arm, letting out a steadying breath.
"Very well," she says at last. "Then let us choose the middle path, Saijou-san."
Claudine gives a small nod.
"Right. Then it's decided."
They share a determined look, then a deep breath before beginning to walk down the center trail.
For once, Maya doesn't pointedly try to pull ahead and walk one stride in front of her, and for once Claudine doesn't try to either. This time, they're both more than fine with walking side-by-side, with neither of them being first.
The path is narrow, just enough for them to be able to walk beside one another. The walls are painted black and gray with a few splatters of red here or there. The tops of the walls are lined with strings of tiny red lights, which adds to the overall creepiness, because the light is so weak and so high up it barely does anything to illuminate their path, but when they try to look up it's difficult to see anything beyond the red glow.
Essentially, they come to realize all too quickly that they are surrounded by a deep and unknown darkness.
They walk slowly, clinging to one another, neither much better off than the other. Rather than Maya's fear making Claudine feel more confident in herself, it's only serving to add to her own nervousness and remind her that she's no good with this sort of thing either. In an effort to distract herself, Claudine starts to talk.
"Wow. They really did well with this setup, don't you think?"
Maya doesn't appear to have heard her. She's jolting at every little sound the echoing CD makes, cowering as a deep, shuddering laughter interrupts a shrill scream. Claudine's heart is pounding, and with how tightly Maya is pressed up against her side, she can feels hers is going just as quickly.
"Hey." She gives Maya a bit of a nudge. "Are you-"
"S-Saijou-san-!" Maya suddenly blurts out a whimper, her eyes going wide in fright as she looks at something beyond her shoulder. Claudine's heart stops as she whirls around.
It's barely noticeable, but she glimpses a faint, white wisp of something flowing across their path up ahead.
Maya surely would've dropped to her knees right this instant if not for Claudine hoisting her up.
"I-It's fine," Claudine says. "Remember what I said. They can't-" She cuts off with a small shriek as she sees another similar ghostly figure scuttle across the path behind Maya. Claudine swallows, her voice a pitch higher now. "They can't hurt you…"
She can't lose her composure. If she does she'll never get it back, and Maya will likely also break, and then the haunted house will have to be called off because Seishou's top two students will have to be rescued.
Claudine feels a tingle up her spine as the white figure vanishes as quickly as it'd appeared. She pulls Maya closer to herself, half to protect her and half to use her as a shield. Maya yelps again at something unseen, then throws her arms around Claudine in a tight embrace.
"We can't go back now," Claudine swallows. "We have to- kyaaa!"
They both shriek as another figure rushes right past them, and a crazed cackling fills their ears. The two of them stagger back, knocking into the wall of the path, scrambling to keep hold of one another.
"I-It's not real," Claudine wheezes. "Remember, this is just something Class B made-"
"But what if it's more than that-?" Maya whispers. "What if… real ones have come to mingle…"
"Th-That's ridiculous. That could never happen-"
Suddenly, the wall behind them starts to shake, as if rammed into by something enormous. Both girls yelp and jump back, only to find themselves facing two more fast-moving spirits.
Maya can hardly catch her breath, not knowing if she should look or close her eyes. But she tries to remember Claudine's words of encouragement from earlier.
"I am… the mighty Amaterasu… nothing can frighten me-"
Meanwhile, Claudine has more or less lost all of her composure by now, and can't help but shriek at every single spooky thing she sees.
"Wait- wait-! What was that? Kyaaa! H-Hold on a second-! What's happening? What was that-?! What- what-?!"
More and more white figures scurry across their limited vision in the red darkness, and the evil laughter continues with the sounds of howling wind and creaking doors. Maya and Claudine clutch one another for dear life, both frozen to the spot in the height of their panic.
"We have to run-" Claudine squeaks. "J-Just wait for my signal-"
"I don't think I can…"
"You'd better! Because I can't carry you like this! Not that I would-"
"Please… leave me behind-"
"Like hell! Kyaaaa-!" Claudine screams again as another ghost whizzes past them, whereas Maya just stiffens as though her soul is leaving her body. The wall behind them shakes again, and the two of them are forced to step away, huddled together in the middle of the narrow path. Maya's heart is pounding through her chest.
"S-Saijou-san… I don't think I-"
"Y-You're doing fine!" Claudine yelps. "You're standing your ground and facing your fears, aren't you?"
"Only because I physically cannot move…"
For a moment, nothing else happens. There are no more white figures or rattling of the walls. The only sounds other than the CD now are the girls' rapid breathing. Maya has her face buried in Claudine's shoulder now, and likewise, Claudine is huddled against her.
But then, everything stops.
Without warning, the CD cuts off, the red lights go out, and everything within the ballroom comes to a silent, pitch-black halt.
Claudine yelps again, and Maya makes a whimpering sound as they find themselves in absolute silence and darkness. The two of them are shaking so much they can't tell which of them is shaking more, their hearts thumping so loudly it feels like they can hear them now in the haunting quiet.
Slowly, stiffly, Claudine lifts her face, panting as she looks up to where the lights should be.
"What… what's going on…?"
By this point, Maya is terrified beyond words. She only makes a withering sound as she huddles close. Claudine keeps a tight hold on her, putting Maya between herself and the wall to shield her somewhat as she glances around. She can hear shuffling now, and the puzzled voices of girls in the distance. Claudine swallows.
"Could it be… this is part of it…? No, they wouldn't cut the power through the whole room and go through all of this just to spook us. Plus, they all sound confused too… So it's a real power outage? A fluke…?" She goes over the logical options in her head all while keeping the trembling Tendo Maya close to her chest. Little by little, Maya starts to raise her head.
"S-Saijou-san…?" she whispers. "Is this…?"
"I don't think this is part of the haunted house," she decides, somewhat more calmly. "It must be a malfunction. We should just stay here and-"
But before she can finish, the lights and music come back on in a flash. And just as the track had been on the recording of a malicious, booming laughter, the red lights shine down to illuminate a white, faceless figure looming right in front of them, unmoving.
The screams that echo throughout Seishou's ballroom in that instant likely resonate loudly and deeply enough to become part of the building's foundation.
Claudine is the most vocal of the two of them, of course. As her flight instinct takes hold of her, she grabs Maya and bolts.
"Nooo! Get away, get away!"
Maya half-stumbles behind her, her legs so weak and wobbly they'd definitely give out if not for Claudine quite literally hauling her along. Their shoes and their hearts are pounding, and their blood and their breath are racing as they propel themselves through the rest of the trail.
By this point, Claudine wants to get out so badly she doesn't even spare a second to scream at the other ghosts that pop out at them. She just makes sure not to let go of Maya as they flee.
But at one point Maya finally drops, yanking Claudine back and forcing her to stop. She whirls around to find Maya as good as a puddle on her knees.
"Oh no you don't!" Claudine snaps. "Get up! We're getting out of here, you insufferable- kyaaaaa!"
Another spirit drifts by just a few feet away from them, and Claudine gives a mighty tug to Maya's arm to hoist her up. She ducks into her side and all but carries her the rest of the way, until the curtains are in sight.
With one final sprint, the two of them burst through to the lighted space on the other side where a dozen of their classmates are waiting. Claudine collapses onto the floor, and Maya stumbles and crashes on top of her, both of them shaking and panting. Their sudden entrance startles the other girls there.
"Tendo-san! Kuro-chan! You made it!"
"That scared me…"
"A-Are you two all right-?!"
Chests heaving, Maya and Claudine are still unable to move for a good minute or so, their costumes ruffled and skewed. The powerful Amaterasu and the confident Phantom are now reduced to a quivering heap on the ballroom floor.
Claudine hardly even cares that she's being crushed at the moment; she's just relieved they're out of the haunted house in one piece.
Gradually, Maya finds the strength in her arms to push herself up off of her a tiny bit, but just as Claudine is trying to sit up, Maya's arms buckle and she flops back down on top of her.
"I… I'm sorry…" she murmurs.
"It's… fine…" Claudine wheezes back.
At that point, Kaoruko and Futaba come over to help them up. Kaoruko grabs Maya under her arms and pulls her off while Futaba helps Claudine sit up.
"My goodness!" Kaoruko grunts. "What in the world happened in there? You two are pathetic!"
"You okay, Kuroko?" Futaba asks, sitting her up.
Claudine adjusts the black mask around her eyes so she can see properly now.
"I think so…"
"Geez…" Futaba pulls Claudine's arm across her shoulders and helps her to her feet. Mahiru has joined Kaoruko to help keep Maya steady. Now, they bring the two of them over to sit on a small couch. Futaba sighs.
"I can't believe you guys really went through with this. Especially when you both suck with horror stuff. You can't even sleep when you watch a scary movie, and now you went into a haunted house?"
"We could hear you shrieking a mile away," Kaoruko teases. "It was very amusing."
"Well, what did you expect?" Claudine huffs. "Class B put this together with Nana and Junna's help. Of course it was going to scare the wits out of us. We only went in so we could experience it and give them some feedback."
"There's no need for that now," Kaoruko smirks. "You screams were all they needed, I'm sure."
Claudine glowers back at her, but can't really refute that. Beside her, Maya is still trembling, but has managed to find her voice again.
"It was… rather impressive… and believable…"
"I'll say," Claudine sighs.
By now, Karen has brought over the bowl of candy for them to choose from, while Mahiru and Hikari have brought them each a bottle of water. Maya and Claudine thank them as they finally begin to calm down.
"So," Futaba grins. "Which path did you scaredy cats choose?"
"As if you and Kaoruko didn't scream on yours…"
"Oy, we already established I didn't scream. I yelled."
As Claudine and Futaba sneer playfully at one another, Maya manages to find her voice and answer the question.
"Saijou-san and I took the middle path."
"Oh!" Karen says. "Wasn't that the ghost one? You guys are so brave!"
"Did you overcome your fears?" Mahiru wonders.
Maya takes a gracious sip of her water and thinks it over.
"I'm not certain I've overcome it entirely…" She steals a quick glance at Claudine. "However, Saijou-san did assist me with several ways I could at least face my fears."
"She did?" Mahiru beams. "That's wonderful!"
"Even if Kuro-han was shrieking like there's no tomorrow~"
"Why you little…"
But before Claudine can lunge at Kaoruko, the curtains flutter and everyone looks up. Junna and Nana emerge, dressed still in their werewolf and butcher outfits with their masks removed.
"Oh!" Nana claps. "Everyone's finished already!"
"Jun-Jun! Banana!" Karen runs over to hug them both. "That was such a fun haunted house! You guys did amazing!"
"I'll say!" Mahiru agrees.
"I was scared for sure," Hikari says.
"Nana!" Futaba grimaces. "You really scared the crap outta us."
"Speak for yourself," Kaoruko huffs.
"Please. You were about to start cryin' any second."
"I was not!"
The others laugh, and the usual carefree mood of the nine friends returns now that they're all here.
"Did everyone have a good time?" Junna wonders.
"It was very spooky!"
"I see!" Nana smiles. "Kuro-chan, Maya-chan, what did you two think? You weren't on mine or Junna-chan's path, so we didn't get to see your reactions."
The two of them share a glance. Maya clears her throat and speaks first.
"Daiba-san, Hoshimi-san, please give my regards to Class B. It was quite thrilling."
"Agreed," Claudine says. "Especially when they cut the power. It ended up just being a part of the hoax, but we thought it was real."
Nana tilts her head.
"Oh no, that was real, all right," she says. "Something happened and no one is really sure what. But it got fixed quickly, so we didn't have to cancel the haunted house, thankfully."
Claudine and Maya both stiffen.
"Hold on," Claudine says. "That… wasn't a part of the haunted house? It wasn't planned?"
Nana and Junna both shake their heads.
"That was uncalled for. Probably just a brief power surge or something."
There's a beat of puzzled silence. Maya tries to talk, but her voice fails her the first time, so she tries again.
"Well… either way, your actors were prepared. As soon as the lights came back, someone was standing right in front of us to give Saijou-san and I the fright of our lives."
"Huh?" Nana shakes her head. "No, that can't be right. If something happened like the power going out, everyone is supposed to stay where they are and not move. It's safer that way. So no one should've appeared in front of you."
"Well someone did," Claudine says quickly. "Unless that was a real-" She stops, shakes herself off, then sighs. "Of course it wasn't. That's ridiculous…"
Nana and Junna share a look, as do the other girls. Claudine feels Maya find her hand and grab it tightly.
"Of course," Maya says steadily in contrast to her shaking fingers. "It must have been someone in-costume. Surely they couldn't pass up the opportunity to frighten us so effectively, so they positioned themselves accordingly."
"Right. Exactly," Claudine agrees. "That must have been it."
Junna and Nana share a doubtful look, but Claudine catches their eyes with a plea. They seem to understand, so they nod.
"Right!" Nana says. "That has to have been it!"
Claudine feels Maya's grip on her hand soften a little, and she breathes a sigh. Claudine herself tries not to think about what any of that means, and for now just enjoys the fact that it's over and done with.
The nine of them stand around together for a while after that, eating candy and laughing and discussing the haunted house. Nana and Junna return to their posts to scare a few more classmates until everyone has gone, and the haunted house comes to a close. Cleanup will begin tomorrow, and Claudine and all the others agree to come help with that after breakfast.
But for now, everyone makes the journey back to the dorms, laughing and talking loudly along the lamp-light sidewalk as they add to the Halloween atmosphere for the night. Once they arrive at the dorms, they change out of the costumes they'd borrowed for the evening and get into their nightgowns instead.
Back at their usual lounge room, Futaba and Mahiru have their hands full trying to prevent Karen, Hikari, and Kaoruko from eating too much sugar before bed, while Nana and Junna remind everyone to brush their teeth. Claudine and Maya basically hold hands all evening, just for some solidarity.
The nine girls chuckle about their reactions in the haunted house and poke light fun at one another as well. When Junna finally announces curfew, they all say their goodnights and part ways.
By the time they retreat to Maya's room for bed, both she and Claudine are smiling tiredly, though neither makes a move to turn off the lights tonight.
They climb into bed together and settle down, both a bit more bashful than usual that they can see each other so clearly with the lights on. Claudine lets out a sigh as she cups Maya's face and kisses her softly.
"So…?" she murmurs. "How do you feel? You said you'd faced your fears, but do you feel any more confident now?"
Maya bumps their noses together lightly, circling her arms around Claudine's waist.
"Truthfully, I do," she confesses. "Your methods gave me something to consider. As you said, ghosts cannot actually do anything beyond scare us, as they are not of this world. They cannot touch or harm us. Thinking of it that way helped me, I'm certain."
"And besides," Claudine says. "These weren't real ghosts. They were just our classmates. No one was going to hurt you anyway."
"Indeed," Maya nods, smiling. "Saijou-san, I cannot thank you enough for encouraging me. And even when I felt I couldn't go on any farther, you kept me going. Even though you were just as frightened as I was."
"I don't think anyone could be as frightened as you were," Claudine corrects her. "And besides, I couldn't just leave you behind. If one of us goes down, we both go down."
"I suppose that's true." Maya kisses her this time, and Claudine slowly wraps her arms around her shoulders, pulling her close.
Their hearts have calmed down by now, and presently are beating slowly and happily together. But one thing is still weighing on Claudine's mind.
What was that ghost that appeared when the lights came back on…? It had to have been someone who moved from their position when they weren't supposed to. That's the only explanation… There's no way it was a real one. It's impossible… But if it was - which it wasn't - was it malicious? No, if it was, it would've followed us. So then... was it just playing a prank on us…? Just having fun like all of us were-?
Claudine blinks out of her wandering thoughts and realizes Maya is gazing at her with a hint of concern.
"Saijou-san? Are you all right?"
Claudine shakes herself off.
"Yes, of course. I was just thinking, that's all."
"About how I'm glad you didn't overcome your fear entirely. Because you being scared of ghosts is your last weakness. Once you've overcome that, you'll really be invincible…"
"Oh, but you're mistaken there, Ma Claudine," she purrs, switching over to the pet name. "I have a second weakness."
"Oh?" Claudine hums. "Do tell. I'd love to-"
"…Mechante va…" Claudine can't hide her blush now especially with the lights on, so she just buries her face into the pillow. Maya chuckles and pulls her in, kissing her forehead.
"Without a doubt, you shall always be my greatest weakness, but also my greatest strength, Ma Claudine."
"And you'll always be my greatest annoyance," Claudine grumbles.
Maya hums happily and gives her a squeeze. Claudine heaves a sigh, but settles in against her.
They hug each other tightly and begin closing their eyes, planting small kisses on each other's cheeks and noses when possible.
"Thank you for such an entertaining Halloween night," Maya says to her. "Perhaps by this time next year I won't be afraid of ghosts anymore."
"I'll overcome my fear first," Claudine challenges. "But some other time… I'm tired now."
"As am I." Maya kisses her lips one last night. "Bonne nuit, Ma Claudine."
"Bonne nuit, Tendo Maya."
Claudine thinks nothing ill of the possible ghost that might've entered Seishou's ballroom tonight. If anything, she's grateful to it for pushing herself and Maya a little bit closer together.
But even so, she and Maya sleep with the lights on for the rest of the week.
A/N: So perhaps they encountered a friendly ghost, who knows! I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to write more ghost-themed things for Maya and Claudine, who are horrible with them haha.
I had to put Nana in a frog mask... I had to. Futaba referencing how Kaoruko left her to 'die' in a previous situation is a nod to one of my other previously-mentioned spooky fics. As for Karen literally taking the masks off the actors... I just feel that's something she'd do in this situation lol
And while having Claudine freak out and scream it was honestly just Aiai in my head haha
Happy Halloween and thanks for reading!