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An ordinary scene of modern-day Japan unfolded on the other side of the window.
The conflict, with the highlight being the bloodshed between those modern weapons and evil spirits of mountains and rivers, had disappeared without a trace. After the cold wind had pushed the clouds away, all that was left was an expanse of blue winter sky, far off in the distance. The transparent atmosphere shook the treetops, exquisitely redesigning the sunny spots engraved in the ground.
“It’s your turn, Koizumi. Just because you’re in a losing situation doesn’t mean that you can zone out during a match.”
I turned around upon hearing the piercing voice from behind me.
With his chin resting in his hands, he was sitting in front of me as we had our usual two-player game of Shogi. The bishops, silver generals and other pieces scattered on the board had familiar two-character names engraved on them. Unlike earlier, there were no abnormalities.
“As I thought, a balance breaker that can turn the tables with a single move will not appear.”
“As if something like that will exist in a game filled with tradition.”
“That’s right. It appears that after having her wishes fulfilled, Suzumiya-san has lost interest in Shogi.”
Leaning against the window frame, I studied the club room absent-mindedly.
Suzumiya-san had captured Asahina-san and was having a thorough, one-sided discussion regarding the materials to be used for the upcoming winter hotpot. Nagato-san was in her approximately unchanged position like a flower on the wall. In essence, everything was going as per normal.
After the game of Pair Shogi ended, we did not challenge Suzumiya-san to a rematch. I remember her whispering into his ear with a surprised look in her eyes.
“Was that an irregular version of Shogi? I have a feeling that it’s slightly different from the one you all were playing……”
“It was quite different.”
“But don’t you think that it’s more fun that way? You should play by those rules from now on!”
He shook his head and shrugged in a way that only I (and perhaps also Nagato-san) understood.
After that, in all the matches that I had against him, the phenomena of having our memories inhibited and feeling an unfathomable sense of discomfort did not occur. Nagato-san also gave her seal of approval, or in her words, “The possibility of evolution has disappeared from this game.”
I don’t know what he said to Suzumiya-san. Their relationship is filled with many areas that I cannot hope to enter.
But there is at least one thing that I understand.
“You have saved this world once again.”
In response to my wry smile filled with admiration, he snorted sullenly.
Come to think of it, in the Mahjong tournament we had in the past, Suzumiya-san thought up numerous hands that were the apex of creativity, like ‘Two-suit Zetsuichimon’, ‘Chantamodoki’ and ‘Iishanten Paralysis’1.
Her skills were unobjectionably displayed even when it came to Shogi. Under our agreement, we played a game with differently arranged rules. That is how she would view it as, I believe.
“Lion King, Eight-direction Knight, Reflective Bishop, Invincible Silver. As I expected, those were some interesting conceptions. It would probably be interesting to investigate with our devices. It was as if those rules existed from long ago, and there is a possibility that the world could have been overwritten.”
“Your jokes aren’t funny.”
He curtly looked to the side.
Of course, I was unfortunately not the subject of his gaze.
As usual, he was absent-mindedly chasing that girl’s figure. The girl who was suggesting that Asahina-san be one of the ingredients of the hotpot, and causing a flood of tearful screams.
She was about to give him a taste of defeat, but suddenly changed her strategy just before that happened. Surmising her intentions, he led the game to a conclusion that both could be satisfied with.
If I were just a bit more proficient in board games, could I have forced my way back then? For example, with games that require reflexes like Karuta, I could perhaps give him the first black spot on his record.
Even as I knew it to be a transient desire, I vacantly gazed outside again.
In the middle of the rough winds, two birds were spiralling, dancing and playing in the winter sky, oblivious to the approach of the end of the year.
My breath fogged up the glass window.
If their story progressed from this point, would I have fewer chances to play board games? I do want to support them, but at the same time, it does make me a little reluctant.
With my heart in quite a few orders of disarray, I unconsciously brought my gaze to a daytime moon. As it looked up at the Earth from the other side of the sky, it somehow made me feel like making a haiku about the winter scenery, even as I was aware that the season did not come to visit me alone.
“Hey, so what are you going to do? If you want to surrender, properly say so.”
“No, I shall play on for a little while. Even while I’m in a situation where any move I make has little impact on the game, and I’m just waiting to meet a crushing defeat, this is still quite a fun time, in its own way.”
“There you go again, saying things that you don’t mean.”
“That is troubling. Those are indeed my true feelings.”
I hope from the bottom of my heart that this tranquil period of time will continue on forever.
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