After the five minutes that seemed like an eternity had passed, we returned to the clubroom, where Suzumiya-san was waiting with a broad smile, along with Asahina-san, who was dressed in a fascinatingly elegant kimono. Since her bare feet were exposed, which was unfitting for the current season, it was probably a cosplay costume.
“As I thought, Shogi should be played in a kimono! Hmm, but don’t you think it’ll be better if the length was shortened up to the buttocks, like in Miniskirt Police1?”
“I-It’s fine as it is!”
“Hey Kyon, which do you prefer, a long kimono or a short one?”
“Fine, fine, they’re both fine.”
He nodded slightly.
At first, he showed us his overly dramatic reactions to Asahina-san’s cosplay, but recently, he has often stopped short at reserved approval. He must be worrying about someone else’s reaction. However, I do not know what kind of self-effacement is happening in his heart for all that.
“Um, I’m glad that there is a lot of cloth.”
Asahina-san brushed her shoulder in relief, then quietly sat on a chair like a baby panda newly brought to a zoo. She might have been desensitized by exposing her skin too many times, but that kimono looked to be quite a bit shorter than a normal one.
“Right, let’s continue with the game! The next person to go is, if I’m not wrong……”
“After Kyon-kun, it’s my turn, right?”
Nonetheless, it should be said that Suzumiya-san’s idea to link Shogi with kimono was an excellent one, and Asahina-san’s bearing as she sat with her head gently lowered was like that of a camellia blooming in the ancient capital, with a cultural fragrance exuding from her.
“Once again, I am in your care.”
After taking a deep breath, she extended a finger, which looked like an icefish, to the board.
Then, she moved a lance in the corner by one tile.
At that moment, I had the hallucination that the school building was shaking while producing some ominous sound.
It was as if we had just been assaulted by a military vehicle trampling on civilizations under its wheels.
I looked around and noticed the expression on his face had stiffened. It seemed that it was not just my imagination.
“What’s wrong? Isn’t it your turn, Koizumi-kun?”
“Ahh, right. Sorry.”
Suzumiya-san had apparently not noticed, even as she asked a question in a suspicious tone. By being completely immersed in the game, she displayed her extraordinary disposition of hating to lose more than anything.
I exchanged a silent look with him. For the sake of confirmation, I moved a lance on the other side of the board, and once again, the school building shook.
There was no room for doubt now. An object with an extreme amount of mass was moving nearby.
Pricking my ears, I could hear the heavy rolling sound of a caterpillar tank turning around. When did North High turn into a battleground?
“You seem to have forgotten the power of a bishop.”
Suzumiya-san moved her hand across the board at near lightspeed. She captured the lance that I had just moved with her Reflective Bishop, in the process bringing that piece near our formation.
Undergoing promotion2, it was flipped over to the other side, where the words “Dragon Horse” was written. It was now one of the strongest pieces in the game.
Following that, a dark shadow loomed over the windows.
I looked up to see that muddy streams of dark clouds were swirling in the air, while a long body like that of a snake was extending intently towards the heavens. It was a fantastic beast derived from a horse, with a mane and two giant horns on its head, and the lower body of a centaur. It opened its fanged mouth wide, and a mass of flame was released with a thunderous boom.
Thus, the tiny tank, burnt and wasted by scorching heat along with the land under it, would never again terrorize the school building.
I had just witnessed a something that looked like a monster living in Chinese legends.
“Were we too late……? Isn’t this checkmate?”
I could hear a moan that was unlike his character.
“You can’t say so for sure. Indeed, the colors of defeat seem thick, but there should still be a chance to turn the tables.”
I gave him a light wink.
I had told him in the past that the clubroom had already warped into a different kind of space.
That various elements and fields were conflicting with and contradicting each other, resulting in a neutral state.
Therefore, no matter how much the peculiarities spilling over from Shogi change the world, there is chance for restoration, as long as we remain as observers.
“In any case, in Shogi, you never know what will happen until the moment you surrender. If you continue, it is possible that the enclosure around the king ends up as it was originally.”
As if to support that statement, the dark clouds surrounding us cleared up as soon as Suzumiya-san lifted her finger off the piece. Looking up and out of the window, I observed a contrail extending on the blue canvas, like nothing had happened.
“In short, you should use your usual approach. If you choose a proper way to end the game and not lose sight of it, we can grasp the future that we desire.”
“Stop joking around. That’s too facile. Really, that’s enough from you.”
He clicked his tongue and made a move without hesitation.
That’s right. While the lance that can only charge forward is usually represented as a mere spearman, Suzumiya-san probably had the image of a gigantic military vehicle. Compared with that leap in imagination, the vilification that the appearance of the dragon horse was just a facile metaphor cannot be avoided.
“Don’t just sit back while fluently saying useless rubbish. You should occasionally draw back your smirk and come up with a surprise move to break us out of this difficult situation.”
That’s easier said that done. After all, getting Suzumiya-san to do this or that is someone’s patented specialty, isn’t it? I still haven’t forgotten the look on your face when I offered to take up the role of whispering “I love you” to her.
“……Koizumi, you’re thinking of something useless again, aren’t you?”
Not at all. I can at least separate my train of thought from the contents of my spoken words, just like you.
“Hey, isn’t it prohibited to discuss with each other? I don’t know what you two are talking about in the middle of your turn, but don’t break the rules, alright?”
Suzumiya-san’s voice was sharp, and at the same time, somewhat detached.
Hurry up and make your move, so we can continue our game of Shogi.
Her finger, which seemed to urge us on with this message, was notching a rhythm of thought on the board. That rhythm was not interrupted even while Asahina-san was gracefully making her move.
With this, we can conclude that Suzumiya-san will not allow us to escape. The missing paths on either end of the hallway also support that deduction.
“I apologize. I shall make my move, then.”
I said, then faced the board.
We won’t be able to survive if we don’t fight. However, no one could find the best move in this match overflowing with abnormal pieces.
First, I should probably aim to choose a move that doesn’t result in a disadvantage for us. Shogi is a game where you lose if your king is captured. The Lion King, which can move twice in a turn, can capture a piece without moving from its original spot. Thus, it is undoubtedly the best in close-ranged combat, but it would be quite troublesome if it were to be targeted from far by pieces like the Reflective Bishop and Eight-direction Knight.
“Let us escape in advance.”
After a great deal of anguish, I moved our Lion King to a corner of the board in order to escape (which was probably a lot like a timid move Asahina-san usually makes). But at that moment, a sigh reached my ears.
My teammate had a bitter smile on his face.
The hairs on my body stood on end, all too late.
The Lion King is the best at close-ranged combat? What foolish thought was I thinking?
Lying in wait near that area was a piece that Asahina-san had moved earlier.
The Invincible Silver. I had completely forgotten about its existence. While the Lion King could capture pieces without moving, the Invincible Silver, as its name suggested, was invincible, so it could not be simply passed by.
What a fumble. Our king was now like a candle flame in front of a gust of wind.
We would have no choice but to surrender without making our next move–
My voice was ready to call for a pause and recite those unforgivable words from my throat.
However, the necessity to speak out was eliminated at once.
“Even if you’re running over there, I have a plan for that. This is the strategy of the wave of promoted pawns3!”
Suzumiya-san had chosen to send her pawns to the other end of the board and mass-produce promoted pawns.
The sight of a large amount of koban4 falling from the sky displayed on the edge of my vision. It was a surreal, yet in some way realistic scene. The classrooms in North High could probably all get heated flooring tomorrow – but I didn’t have room to chuckle at my own joke.
“You’ve got us there……”
I frowned and hastily wracked my brains.
Why did Suzumiya-san not play the best move?
Promoting pawns was certainly not a bad move. It is a strategy that would steadily wail away at our endurance, like a silk floss being tightened around a neck.
But it was not the best in this particular situation.
To be precise, or simply put, the way to kill off our king was presented to Suzumiya-san. She should have simply advanced with her silver general. With her prowess at Shogi, she could not have missed it. Above all, this style of direct frontal assault should be within her tastes.
“What’s going on?”
I threw my gaze at him and received a short reply.
He blatantly looked away and made his move.
By the way, when he said “Dunno”, it had the opposite meaning. There is no doubt that he had already understood the situation.
And thanks to me understanding that he understood the situation, I managed to perceive the truth instantly.
If Suzumiya-san had made the best play, it would be the next player’s responsibility to call for a surrender. Going by the order of the turns, that player would be him.
Basically, Suzumiya-san did not want to see him admit defeat.
Just for that reason, she was unable to find such a simple best move.
“This is a situation that crushes one’s feelings, is it not?”
“Shut up, Koizumi.”
He curtly replied. This time, his “shut up” had that exact meaning. He was clearly embarrassed.
But it can be said that we were still in a difficult situation, albeit a different one.
Suzumiya-san’s recent action was a subconscious one. However, she had absolutely no intention of being defeated.
She did not want to make him lose, but at the same time, losing herself was out of the question.
This restrictive self-contradiction was, in a sense, just like Suzumiya-san.
It was also possible that this never-ending loop of contradictions was what was bringing about those excessive changes to the real world.
“Well now, what should we do? It’s hard to please everyone, after all. Even the logic puzzles in the civil service examination wouldn’t be this difficult.”
“Whatever, just shut up.”
This “shut up” was of the third kind. What it meant was…… You’re being unrefined, so please stop.
Our prospects were grim. Even if we were playing normally and Asahina-san was our only opponent, making a comeback would be problematic. We were unfamiliar with the movement of the special pieces, so any hope of a brilliant move flashing in our minds was extremely slim. In the first place, meaninglessly sticking on to survival would only mean that the negative influences would carry on affecting the world.
Even so, I relaxed my body, with peace of mind.
That was because he would, by some way or other, definitely grasp the essence of any board game, even if it was his first time playing it.
After a few turns like that, Suzumiya-san’s exceptionally contradictory equation had become solvable, all too soon.
“Umm, ummm…… What should I do……”
Asahina-san’s hand, which had been wavering on the board with a slight quiver, moved an Eight-direction Knight in front of our king, as if it had been guided by something.
“Dear me, there’s nothing we can do now.”
“S-Sorry, did I make a bad move?”
“On the contrary. Now our king has nowhere to move.”
I happily lowered my head.
“It seems that this is our loss. We surrender.”
At that moment, the atmosphere in the room relaxed. “Ehhh?” Asahina-san cried out as she looked around in confusion, while Suzumiya-san had a sunny smile on her face as she proclaimed, “That was a simple game!” Meanwhile, he had his usual frown as he said, “Good grief.”
“So you ended the game in this way. I see now.”
I grinned as I released the tension from my shoulders.
Suzumiya-san had to win. He couldn’t lose. A draw was out of the question. To fulfill those conditions, I had to happen to be the one to call for a surrender.
Of course, it is very difficult to achieve that in Pair Shogi. That is because we would naturally have to defend against Suzumiya-san, who knew how to play the game well, as well as lead the thought process of Asahina-san, who was the epitome of a novice.
Nevertheless, he did possess such a technique that could make all that possible.
It reminded me of the game of Old Maid we played to kill time on the rocking ferry during the trip to the remote island.
Old Maid is a game where one observes other players’ emotions, rather than their own hand. Asahina-san would look tearful immediately when she got the old maid, while Suzumiya-san would also conspicuously swing from joy to sorrow. Under normal circumstances, those two girls would certainly lose.
lBut there was an expert who could circulate the old maid through the entire group, using only his mouth to skilfully control the two girls.
Thanks to that, I was beset with a complete, bitter loss.
Just like that time, my heart was filled with a refreshing sensation. I had yet again got to witness the brilliant art of persuasion.
Even while he self-effacingly claims that he has no powers, this is truly something that only he can do.
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Editors (Tier 2) : Smash the Oni, Yingchao Han, Sam D., Steven Baltakatei Sandoval
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- A variety show that stars girls dressed as policewomen in miniskirts.
- Pieces can be promoted when they reach the first three rows of the opponent’s space.
- Promoted pawns move exactly the same way as a gold general, assuming that hasn’t changed in this universe.
- A Japanese oval coin (the kind that Meowth has on its head) in Edo period feudal Japan.
- Repetition draw is a rule in Shogi stating that the game will end in a draw if the same position is repeated four times during a game.
- The game reaches an impasse if both kings have entered their respective promotion zones. Some score is given to the pieces each player owns, and a player scoring less than 24 points loses. If neither player has less than 24 points, the game is a draw.