“So, once again, I am in your care.”
“Let’s go on an all-out offense from the opening to the midgame to the endgame! Leave them no room to wriggle around! We’ll corner them by hook, crook, or jutte1!”
“You’re not planning to use violence off the board, are you?”
“P-Please go easy on me……”
The four of us surrounded a table and got ready for a fair fight.
The team comprised of myself and him was black, while the pair of Suzumiya-san and Asahina-san was white.
Specifically, we would play in the order: Myself → Suzumiya-san → Him → Asahina-san → Myself. Playing Shogi with four players sure is a fresh and interesting idea.
“Hey, so what about the penalty?”
“Penalty? We don’t really need that.”
“That’s no good! Sacrifice is an indispensable part of battle! If you lose, you’ll have to listen to anything the winners tell them to do! There, it’s settled!”
“Fuee, by anything do you really mean anything?”
“It’s alright, Mikuru-chan. We’ll be sure to win, right?”
“If by any miniscule chance that something happens, we have to do anything but surrender. Got that? For a defective game like Shogi, you’ll never lose in all of eternity as long as you never admit that you’ve lost!”
“Ohh, so that’s how it is. That makes me feel a lot better.”
“Don’t be fooled, Asahina-san. And Haruhi, don’t say something that’ll get you pummelled by a country of ten million Shogi fans.”
The first few moves marked a period when everyone was smiling and chatting harmoniously.
There was one big problem with this style of pair Shogi— and that reality was soon thrust at the two of us.
It was now the midgame, where pieces were striking each other here and there.
Suzumiya-san screamed in anguish, with a face like a Bengal Tiger whose child had been bitten to death, then proceeded to violently throw a knight onto the board. Being able to move in an L-shape, the knight could later move to spaces that were occupied by one gold general and one silver general belonging to us. In other words, it was threatening both gold and silver generals.
“I see, this is troubling. One of them will get captured.”
Being dealt that hand, he said those forced words, while getting the gold general to escape. After that, he poked the remaining silver general with his finger, as if to say, “Come, take this piece,” or “Your prey is right here.”
“U-Ummm…… what should I do……”
Asahina-san shut her eyes (I have absolutely no inkling of why she felt a need to close her eyelids during a match), then slightly pushed a completely unrelated pawn that was on the edge of the board.
“W-What is it?”
“……Ah, whatever. Consulting teammates is forbidden, anyway.”
Suzumiya-san’s deep sigh drifted onto the board for the umpteenth time.
He and I exchanged a brief glance. The heavy, sour atmosphere was hanging over the surrounding area.
The elephant in the room here was basically, the one-sidedness of Shogi aptitudes.
If I were to map my subjective perspective of our relative levels of skill onto a screen, he would be at the top, towering over everyone else. Quite a distance below him would be Suzumiya-san and myself. And then wandering around the base would be Asahina-san…… that is what it feels like, anyway.
Asahina-san only barely knew how the pieces moved, and was clearly not suited for a game like Shogi.
Specifically, she would never try to capture our pieces. As if she was aiming to make as little influence on the world as possible, she would only make small moves with pawns and lances at the corners of the board.
She was far from surmising Suzumiya-san’s intentions, but was acting to serve the interests of her opponents, us.
Even so, if Asahina-san were the only opponent, many things could be done to deal with it. Like the entertaining game that he played with her earlier, for example.
The more troublesome problem was this.
“Ahh, why do white and black have to play in order? Kyon, you should pass once in a while! Pass!”
“Don’t suddenly try to change the rules!”
“As I thought, Shogi has way too many flaws. In a normal war, there’s no need to wait for the enemy’s turn to move!”
Even as Suzumiya-san was revealing her excessive discontent for the game, she was in fact playing it properly.
“Sorry, but this is the only move I can make.”
“Well, fine. I would have done that too.”
“I want to avoid losing pieces, after all.”
Out of necessity, I let the silver general that Asahina-san never captured escape the demonic clutches of the knight.
I did not want to enlarge our lead, but Suzumiya-san had the skill to easily realize that her opponent was openly making a bad move on purpose. There is no doubt that she extremely hated playing matches where either side went easy on each other.
If we played normally, we would win a crushing victory.
On the other hand, if we went easy on Suzumiya-san, she would not be happy.
Facing a future of closed space occurring on a large scale regardless of whether we win or lose, I secretly shrugged.
“Dear me, what should we do now?”
“I’m working on it. You should seriously think about it too.”
Fortunately, Suzumiya-san did not show the slightest hint of noticing our conversation about problems off the board, which was disguised as a discussion of the match.
She glared at the knight which tragically failed to capture a piece, as if she had a grudge against its family.
“Seriously, why can this thing do nothing but skip and jump around? Knights should occasionally have the power to fly to the far edges of the board like a rook or bishop, shouldn’t they!”
“Well, that’s because a knight is a knight. Everyone is their own person, and has their own specialties. This world would long be over if everyone was like you.”
“Shut up, shut up, I’m not listening.”
Pouting, Suzumiya-san moved the knight backwards.
“I’ll retreat for now. Mikuru-chan, you’d better do well next turn.”
“Eh, eh, what should I do?”
“I can’t tell you directly, since that’s the rule. But you’ll be shot to death on the spot if you mess up again, got it?”
The heart-warming conversation between Suzumiya-san and Asahina-san passed through my ears.
The knight had moved to the back and to the side.
It was an exceedingly normal move, but my mind had strong complaints against it.
He muttered while making his move and staring at the board.
“Could knights move backwards?”
“……Could they not move backwards?”
“I feel like they could, but—”2
We tilted our heads in wonder even as we said something so obvious.
The piece that Suzumiya-san moved had the words “Eight-direction Knight” written on it. Just like a knight in international chess, it could jump in eight directions. As a piece that was more powerful, or at least not losing in strength compared to the rook and bishop, it was especially treasured in Shogi.
“Umm, ummm, this piece is called the silver general-san, right? It is invulnerable, right?”
As Asahina-san groaned, she gingerly moved a piece on the side with the words “Invincible Silver” written on it. Indeed, that is a move that barely helps her avoid the penalty of being shot to death.
After all, the silver general is a piece that cannot be captured, no matter the circumstances.
“The chessboard has gotten quite chaotic…… or rather, would you call this a turnaround?”
“I don’t know, but it’s gotten interesting hasn’t it? Koizumi-kun, that was a bad move.”
Suzumiya-san’s king hopped two squares over and captured the bishop that I had moved a little.
“……That was indeed quite a blunder.”
That’s right. The “Lion King” could move twice in a turn, so half-hearted checks won’t work. It was such an obvious thing, but I somehow suffered from a lapse in memory.
“Hey, I just realized, but the bishop’s line of movement can get reflected, right? Everything’s in a state of chaos, huh……”
With a bitter face, he rebuilt the defensive wall meant to protect our pieces. The “Reflective Bishop” can bounce off the edges of the first and ninth files, so they are considered one of the most difficult pieces to defend against.
Our formation, which had been building up an advantage over the last few turns, turned into a crumbling mess in the blink of an eye. How did this happen, when we were playing so cautiously?
I knew that Shogi was supposed to be a game where such balance breakers are forced to exchange blows and crush each other. Out of the games similar to Chaturanga, which was propagated in ancient India, Shogi is considered as quite a tasteless party game.
—That was how I remembered it in my head.
He and I exchanged glances a few times. Something was strange— but we could not pinpoint where exactly the weirdness lay.
“Oh, why are you suddenly here?”
Before I had noticed, Nagato-san was standing next to the board.
With one hand holding the book she had been reading, she gazed at the board which was jumbled with pieces that had two or three kanji characters on them.
“What’s the matter, you want to play too?”
In response to his joking words, Nagato-san’s chin moved up and down slightly.
“It is very interesting. Extremely.”
“That’s rare. You can join Koizumi for practice later, then. If you get good at Shogi, I can at least get some consistency in killing time.”
After a few seconds elapsed, Nagato-san’s chin shook to the left and right this time. It seemed that I had just been rejected. What a shame.
“What I want to know is about this game.”
“……As I said, it’s Shogi, right?”
It was impossible for me to comprehend the meaning of her words from reading her pale white profile, but I at least knew that her gaze, which made me think of the vast space of the universe, was directed sharply at the board.
As the person most able to pass comprehension problems of Nagato-san’s feelings, he opened his mouth.
“Let’s take a little break!”
He announced in a loud voice.
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