The Tempo Loss Bishop Exchange of Haruhi Suzumiya (Full Text)

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There is no single viewpoint of the world.

I, Itsuki Koizumi, certainly know that having a subjective viewpoint is a vague, unreliable notion.

Let’s say, for instance, that I want to look up at the night sky.

We can only hope that the celestial bodies that seem to be floating amiably next to each other, on the false spherical surface of the sky, remain coldly separated by thousands of light years, in their own infinitely deep universes.

In this real space composed of multiple layers, making inferences based on just one person’s subjective opinion is highly comparable with the Church in medieval times which punished Galileo, and is a horribly irrational thing to do.

Of course, I understand that that irrationality is good news to the world.

It is only because of surrealistic ideas of the supernatural entity known as Haruhi Suzumiya that balance can be maintained, albeit by a thin thread, in this world where aliens, time travelers and espers run rampant.

However.

There is one person other than Suzumiya-san positioned in the center of this star’s mantle.

A human who walks freely and frankly on the ground while living a life that has absurdly deep meaning, and at the same time has absolutely no meaning, estranged from subjectivity and objectivity.

He is an observer who uses a distinct sense of language to coat the canvas of the night sky beautifully with glittering stars spread widely throughout the universe.

He had probably produced that gap intentionally.

He is known as Kyon – but it is not in my taste to call him by that name.

I shall refer to that person simply as “him”. In this brilliantly special, simplified world, there is no more fitting subject to call by a pronoun rather than by a proper noun.

“I don’t have any powers at all.”

That is his usual mode of self-effacement.

Let us leave aside the judgment on whether that is right or wrong. After all, a subjective view has its roots in a person’s outlook on the world, and it is impossible for two person’s perceptions to rub together without exerting a force comparable to that of completely destroying a star.

That being said – is it a good thing to leave the ground once in a while to take a sightseeing flight?

Also, I pray that the states of other universes that can be seen from our star, no matter how few of them there are, can be transmitted to us.

This story that I am about to tell you is, at the end of the day, simply for the sake of that purpose.

***

It was a day in early winter, near the end of our first year. I turned up at the SOS Brigade Clubroom, only to witness a rare occurrence.

“Umm, this, silver general, right? My silver general has been captured, right……”

“Shall we make it such that Asahina-san’s silver generals will never die?”

“Is something like that alright?”

“Of course. If anyone has a complaint, I’ll hop onto a train right now, proceed to the Sendagaya Shogi Association Headquarters in Tokyo and organize a Liberalization Demonstration.”

He and Asahina Mikuru-san were having a game of Shogi.

In the warm room, which was in stark contrast with the cold air outside, the two of them were facing each other harmoniously. That scene was quite incomprehensible, and was accompanied by a severe sense of abnormality.

“Then, I’ll gratefully take the space in this area. If you’ll excuse me……”

“Ah, that’s a good move. Brilliant! Amazing! Even a hymn by the Vienna Boys’ Choir wouldn’t hold a candle to this. I can feel my soul being cleansed.”

“Ufufu, really?”

Tap, tap. Asahina-san gingerly moved a piece on the board in an uncertain fashion. Once again, she was clad in her maid costume today, and seemed like an employee of a special café, serving a customer by playing a board game with them.

He watched over her actions with a self-satisfied expression on his face. There are apparently shogi players who sing a hymn to themselves during a match to collect themselves, but Asahina-san’s cute behavior had probably produced the same effect in his heart.

“Oh, it’s the two of you. What is this turn of events?”

As I approached, his countenance instantly acquired a negative vector. In a curt voice, he then spat out a greeting that had been mass-produced in a machine-run factory.

“It’s good to do this once in a while. If I only play against you, it would be even more unbalanced than a typical high school student and kindergartner sitting on opposite ends of a see-saw. Since I’m trying to kill time anyway, wouldn’t it be natural to want a serious match with an opponent who can make me feel some tension?”

“So you chose Asahina-san as your opponent?”

“Well, she’s a better opponent than you, in every meaning.”

He shrugged exaggeratedly, then took a glance at the end of the clubroom.

Over there, in that usual space, fused in that bit of space-time, was Nagato Yuki-san. She was silently sitting on a pipe chair while disinterestedly flipping through the pages of a bulky tome.

“……And she seems to be more enthusiastic in reading this book, compared to the one she was reading yesterday.”

I can’t tell the difference myself, but if he says so, then it must be true.

The look that he had while watching over Nagato-san was filled with a different nuance of kind, gentle feelings, compared to the one he had concentrated on Asahina-san earlier.

The attitude he has towards the three of us will never change. It’s just like a lamp in a thought experiment that changes its color systematically based on the electrical signal transmitted to it.

It is excessively easy to understand, and therefore, difficult to understand.

If a person displayed icons which indicated when they were fascinated, annoyed, or protective, their deeper thoughts would not be inquired into by others.

By recognizing these emotions and bringing them to the surface, he is probably using them as a breakwater against external forces. Seriously, what a frightening person.

But even so.

If there has been no change to his attitude of extreme self-effacement, then what exactly is the origin of that sense of abnormality?

I peeked at the Shogi board from the side of the two players.

“Indeed, I see.”

Sure enough, the abnormality was being manifested on the Shogi board.

“Don’t say unnecessary things with a face like you know it all, Koizumi. We’re having a great match.”

“Fuee, this is a great match?”

In contrast to the sharp glares from him, Asahina-san’s hands were drifting softly in the air, like two butterflies dancing above a flower bed in Spring.

“I don’t really know which piece I should move and where I should move it, though……”

“To be frank, I think we’re having quite a heated match, Asahina-san. You have more aptitude for this than that effeminate fop gazing at us over there.”

“Really? I’m glad…… but I shouldn’t say that.”

Asahina-san tapped her fist on her forehead with a clunk, then quickly lowered her head. If a judge saw that behavior, they would immediately pass down a non-guilty verdict, no matter how austere they might be, and on top of that, they would doubtlessly root for this innocent angel for her whole life…… which is what he would say. I hardly need to comment that his sense of language is quite hard to follow at times.

Exactly as he had mentioned, the pieces on the board were in an abstruse condition.

It was in the endgame, where both kings were exposed, away from their enclosure of subordinate pieces. It was difficult to come up with a checkmate play for either side at first glance, and even upon further consideration, tough for either side to be threatened by brinkmate1. Both sides were even in terms of captured pieces2, down to each lowly pawn. It was a chessboard which had achieved an immense scale of balance.

So, where was the abnormality?

Everywhere, of course.

“If I only play against you, it would be even more unbalanced than a typical high school student and kindergartner sitting on opposite ends of a see-saw.”

That was what he had said.

The issue of whether it is alright to regard the high school student as a typical one leaves some room for objection, but I do agree that it is unbalanced.

In these months, I’ve competed against him not just in Shogi, but also in all sorts of intellectual games like Othello, Gomoku3, Poker, Diamond Game4, and so on.

I’ve suffered defeat in the entirety of those games. In Go, a chain that should have definitely survived was mercilessly captured from the inside by Hourikomi5. Even in Monopoly, a completely different type of game, all cities were bought over by him, causing me to go bankrupt.

From his perspective, I’m probably being scorned as a person with as much ability as a kindergartner, but unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about that.

However.

Let us look at the subjectively typical high school student on the see-saw, for instance.

If that student is actually a professional soldier clad in an armor of tenacious intellectual muscle, such that their figurative weight is in the hundreds, would the objective truth change?

Let us talk about something that happened a few months ago.

During the time near Tanabata, when the bamboo leaves were dancing, he went out of his way to request for a game of chess.

He didn’t know the rules, and had never played a game before – that was what he pledged, upon which I accepted his challenge.

Humans have been playing second fiddle to computers in the intellectual game of chess since the distant end of the last century. In other words, chess can be classified as a systematic game to that extent.

By properly following the precedent of a human of considerable prowess, one should have an unthinkable advantage over a new player. That was my prospect of the game.

The result is as you would expect.

I suffered an instant, bitter defeat that I had hitherto never experienced before.

He should have known about starting off by moving pawns, but what he came up with was a completely new strategy not documented in any chess strategy book on this world.

I remember Nagato-san peering at the chessboard with passion.

That humanoid interface from the Data Integration Thought Entity showed a distinct interest in a game that has only been analyzed halfway, even considering our level of civilization. That goes to show just how singular the things he perpetrates are, and I truly understand that fact.

Now, he was playing a perfectly even game with Asahina-san, a beginner at Shogi.

What do you call that, if not an abnormality?

“Fuee, Koizumi-kun, please tell me what I should do next……”

“Let’s see, the board is in such an unintelligible state that I also find it difficult to figure out the best course of action…… Well, I can affirm that it is quite the interesting situation.”

“I told you not to say unnecessary things, Koizumi.”

I could sense a sharp gaze, like a shrill alarm with a multiplex of determination, piercing through my chest.

Good grief.

Taking a leaf out of his book, I nonchalantly shrugged. At that point, a voice rang out.

“Great! Everyone’s gathered here again today…… Hey, what are you all doing?”

The final piece of this room, our brigade chief appeared, an overflowing smile and an abrupt, coldly suspicious look displaying on her face in succession.

“Hi-Hyah?!”

It goes without saying that Asahina-san jumped up in surprise, with her shoulders quivering.

***

Starting from the conclusion, Suzumiya-san held quite some interest in Shogi itself, rather than the fact that the two of them were playing a game.

“Whose turn is it? Is it Mikuru-chan’s turn? Hmm…… Ah, so that’s why you were so troubled. You could use a captured piece and go for a check on the next turn, or get your dragon6 to retreat near your own pieces and go on the defence, and the option you choose is directly linked to victory or defeat. This move will have a score7 of -200, I think.”

With just one glance at the board, she presented an analysis of the situation with frighteningly pinpoint accuracy.

His mouth was wide agape.

“Haruhi, you know how to play Shogi?”

He was so shocked that he forgot to warn her from providing advice.

Now, this is only my personal viewpoint.

Out of the games similar to Chaturanga8, which was propagated in ancient India, the opening phase of Shogi tends to quite a simple. This is naturally true compared to international chess, which has a strongest piece, the queen, and also true compared to China’s Xiangqi and Thailand’s Makruk. This could be because of multiple pieces like the pawn, knight and lance which cannot move backwards, so players cannot lightly advance them.

I have an unbearable preference to that kind of tension, but unfortunately, “simple” is an entry that would be eradicated with black paint, if Suzumiya-san had her way with the dictionary.

“……I see. I’ve also had a considerably different impression.”

She had never spoken a word while we were playing in the clubroom. Thus, I arbitrarily assumed that Suzumiya-san did not possess any experience regarding the game of Shogi.

“I’ve played a little. Isn’t it natural for a civilized person?”

“I’m not sure how that is natural, but if you say so, that it might be true.”

“But I don’t like it.”

“What do you not like about it?”

“Lots of things. Look, there’s this strategy called the ‘Tempo Loss Bishop Exchange’9, right? By purposely starting the bishop exchange, you’re losing pieces and tampering with your own position, just to have it in hand. It’s like both players are saying, ‘Come attack me!’ and ‘No, you attack me!’ When I learned that such strategies were rampant in Shogi, I stopped treating it seriously.”

“That’s a novel way of saying farewell to Shogi.”

“In any case, the nature of the starting formation is messed up. The king is supposed to be the strongest, but he’s hiding in the innermost part of the formation. If I were the king, I would be standing on the frontlines so that I can deal the finishing blow to the enemy king.”

Suzumiya-san stared at the king in indignation.

I see, it’s just like her to come up with that line of thought. When she plays Shogi, she would undoubtedly make such spectacular moves. It is quite a shame that I never got the chance to witness her performance in a game of Shogi.

“Umm, then, if, Suzumiya-san could take my place……”

Shrugging, Asahina-san erased her presence and expressed her interest in becoming an objet d’art on the wall. However, Suzumiya-san tightly grabbed her by the nape of her neck.

“Hieeee…… W-What are you doing?”

“Sure. It’s a good thing to have a game of Shogi once in a while. But Mikuru-chan, you’ll have to take off your clothes if you lose. That’s the rule!”

“I-I-I-I-I’ll be playing against Suzumiya-sannnn……”

To save Asahina-san, who was already on the verge of tears, he nimbly waved his hands.

“Wait, what will you achieve by bullying a beginner? This kind of game is only fun when playing against an opponent with similar skill level.”

“Then I won’t be able to play with anyone, right?”

Suzumiya-san naturally thought of herself to be the one with highest aptitude, and that was probably the case in reality. Asahina-san and I couldn’t even compete, while he and Nagato-san definitely wouldn’t be able to win.

“So, Kyon and Mikuru-chan were happily playing a game that I cannot play? Hmm? Hmmm?”

Suzumiya-san’s mouth was pointed, like that of a wild duck whose reservoir had been snatched away. It was a completely honest display of her emotions.

“No, that’s not it, that’s not it, but……”

He looked at me for a brief moment as he answered, with a gaze that was filled with an awfully complicated feeling and message. While I was pondering on the significance of that look, he finished his sentence.

“……We could play ‘Pair Shogi’.”

He gave that suggestion in an apparently reluctant tone.

What is Pair Shogi?

It is a way of playing Shogi where two people form a team, and face off against another two-person team.

If Team A is black10 and Team B is white, then the order goes like this: First player of Team A → First player of Team B → Second player of Team A → Second player of Team B → First player of Team A, and so on, such that the four players take turns to play the game.

Furthermore, consultation is not allowed during the match. No matter how one manages to discern their teammate’s intentions from the board, or sow discord within the enemy team, beautiful teamwork is the key point to victory. This is a truly a contest befitting of our country which cherishes the harmony among people.

That was a summarized version of his explanation of Pair Shogi.

“Even if the four people have vastly different levels of skill, if we form the teams well, we can have a pretty good match of Pair Shogi. The interesting thing about this game is that you might be at the mercy of your supposed ally, rather than your opponents.”

“……I’ll be at the mercy of someone else?”

I instantly perceived her dissatisfaction from the undesirable distortions on her face.

“Basically, if you can overcome the weak point and win, it would make a stronger appeal about your strength, don’t you think?”

“Hmm…… I don’t really get it, but I’ll be having a handicap like in a three-legged race, right? That’s a pretty interesting idea coming from you, Kyon. Great job!”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome.”

After having expertly manipulated the direction of Suzumiya-san’s thoughts, he shrugged.

The previous Shogi match was put on hold, and four of us surrounded the board, which had been reverted to the starting position.

“……Nagato, you’re not playing, right?”

He asked for confirmation, upon which the reading doll at the edge of the wall responded by moving her head by a slight angle. It seemed that the diagnosis that she was busy reading was correct.

“Then let’s get on with forming teams! I’m the strongest here, so—”

After Suzumiya-san announced as if it were obvious, the rest of her words were abruptly cut off. She briefly scowled at all of us, then wrinkled her eyebrows.

It seemed that she had just noticed.

Noticed the biggest flaw of the game of Pair Shogi.

“Umm? Suzumiya-san is the strongest, while Kyon and I are about the same, right?”

Asahina-san counted on her fingers in a carefree voice.

From a subjective perspective, that was exactly the case. From that previous game of Shogi, he and Asahina-san would be regarded as being on par with each other in terms of skill. Also, it was known that I am unable to compete with him.

In other words, since Suzumiya-san claimed that she was the strongest, and Pair Shogi had the special characteristic of the strongest forming a pair with the weakest, she could only pair up with me.

In essence, she had no choice but to watch Asahina-san and he form a pair, before her very eyes.

To Suzumiya-san, it had become a completely inexcusable fight. Like a wild duck who found out that the reservoir returned to it was filled with poison, her already sharply pursed lips were quivering.

“……Ah, er……”

Also at a loss for words, he looked at me again.

I see. The message contained in his look earlier must have been like this.

I want to form a pair with Suzumiya-san, but I can’t find a reason or motive for me to say it. Please help me think of a plan— Good grief, that’s the technique he always uses.

But before I could open my mouth,

“……Hey, before strength, there’s something more important, right?”

Suzumiya-san said with a smile on her face.

“In the end, Pair Shogi is a game to determine just how well you can understand each other, right? If so, it’s natural to have a boys team and a girls team. Yes. That’s how it’ll be!”

After announcing the point of compromise, she nodded a few times while saying “Yup, yup” as if to convince herself. Her smile seemed stiffer than usual, but that was probably not just because of me being in the way.

“Mikuru-chan, get over here!”

“Ah, yes, I’ll do my best……?”

Asahina-san tilted her head and stared on in puzzlement as the sleeves of her maid uniform were pulled by Suzumiya-san. She was probably unaware of how much of a fierce duel had transpired during that short period of time.

Suzumiya-san might have folded first this time, but they were always playing a weird game of tug-of-war.

She wanted to pair up with him, but could not express that feeling honestly.

On the other hand, he believes that only he can look after Suzumiya-san, but will never admit it.

Both of them want to be each other’s partners, yet they do not voice out their desires, and instead wait for each other to break the ice first.

In the end, it often turns out in a half-hearted compromise, like today.

“Whatever. Koizumi, as unwilling as I am, it seems that I have no choice but to form a group with you.”

“I see. I look forward to the day when you can willingly state your true desires.”

“What are you smirking at? Did I say something strange?”

“Nope, not at all.”

“……Is that so.”

He looked to the side sullenly.

A smirk. That is how he always appraises my face. But can you blame me if I can’t help but smile upon seeing a high school student of my age act unconsciously or defencelessly, and end up with a mess of such emotions?

Come to think of it, during that occasion when we dined at the mansion on that solitary island, I wanted to take a video to record his drunken11, disgraceful behavior, as well as Suzumiya-san’s frank consternation.

Regarding their flirting at that time, dogs would not eat it, horses would kick it, and cats would sooner regurgitate salt12.

Since then, their relationship seems to have progressed, but in fact has not progressed at all. They are a tantalizingly charming couple who are unable to be honest with each other.

Of course, that is nothing but my subjective view, so they would have other words to describe their relationship.

The scene of stars that can be seen from this universe is quite a breath-taking one.

***

“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 jutte13!”

“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?”

“B-But……”

“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.

“Take this!”

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.

“Sighhhhh…… Mikuru-chan……”

“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?”

“Fueeeee?!”

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.

“Hey, Koizumi—”

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—”14

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.”

“Eh?”

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?

Eight-direction Knight.

Invincible Silver.

Lion King.

Reflective Bishop.

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?”

“No.”

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.

***

I’d forgotten to mention this, but in Pair Shogi, there is a five-minute break time. While partners are prohibited from discussing with each other during play, some time is separately allocated to analyze the current situation, decide on the future direction of play and plan out strategies with one’s partner. As such, Pair Shogi holds quite a strong position as an intellectual game.

Suzumiya-san did not agree with his words at first, but in the end, she relented.

“……Well, fine. We’re sure to win anyway. By the way, Mikuru-chan.”

“Yes?! W-What is it……”

“Don’t you think that there’s a style befitting of victory?”

“No no no I do not think so I wouldn’t think so I don’t think so, so please don’t do something horrible to me~!”

Suzumiya-san pounced onto the teary-eyed Asahina-san and began to rapidly strip off her clothes. It seemed that she had thought of a more efficient way of using the five-minute period, rather than waste it on planning.

Seizing the opportunity, we dashed out of the club room as fast as humanly possible and successfully started the strategy meeting, in the corridor that had gusts of cold air blowing through it.

“……What’s going on?”

He frowned as he asked Nagato, who had followed us out without a sound.

He should have already figured it out from her short responses earlier.

“The Shogi that I understand is different from the game that you are playing. I think that what you are playing is something that has been altered, and has thus become completely new.”

In return, Nagato-san spoke slower than usual and used more words than normal in her response. I occasionally feel some envy upon witnessing the relationship between him and Nagato-san.

“That game is mixed with concepts that have not existed on Earth up till now.”

“Wait a minute. I don’t remember coming into contact with such rare concepts. In any case, Koizumi and I have always been playing by those rules.”

“Your memories have been modified as such. Suzumiya Haruhi does not like to change the rules arbitrarily. Therefore, she has caused the minimum influence in the range that she can accept.”

As Nagato-san spoke indifferently, he kept shaking his head. Of course, not because he couldn’t understand, but because his sense of reason did not want to accept the idea that he instinctively understood.

“I see, so that is what happened.”

If that is the case, then I shall act as his sense of reason.

“You keep quiet, Koizumi.”

“I would like to do that, but it has gotten to the point where we can’t just sit and watch.”

“It’s just a game, isn’t it? I don’t understand. Wait, I don’t want to.”

I gave a light smile to the unpleasant look directed at me. His “keep quiet” had three different meanings, and this time, he meant “Hurry up and say it”.

“This is about Suzumiya-san being the key to auto-evolution, I believe. She possesses the power to manipulate information in the environment around her.”

In the organization I belong to, there is a group that places a huge expectation onto Suzumiya-san, that she will guide us humans to the new stage of evolution.

There is probably no need to explain Darwin’s theory of evolution. At the end of extensive gene selection and overwhelming natural elimination, the current human race, which was created twenty thousand years ago, is on the verge of yet another evolution.

Originating in ancient India, it spread to the East and West of Earth’s largest landmass, then continued evolving through a period of less than two thousand years, until it reached its final form – Shogi.

And in this land of the Far East, it can be said that another door has been inevitably opened.

“There is still hope if the evolutions of the game remain on the board. The thing that I am most afraid of is that those altercations exert some influence outside the board.”

“Don’t explain it with a know-it-all look.”

He looked away with a scowl.

And was lost for words.

“You’ve just noticed it, haven’t you?”

I followed his gaze to get a view of the other side of the hallway.

There was nothing there. No doors, windows, or stairs.

Nothing but a hallway which extended endlessly and reflected infinitely.

“We already have no choice but to play this strange game that is similar to Shogi. What Suzumiya-san desires is unclear, but the inane plan of folding our arms idly will not work against the abrupt evolution before our eyes. In essence, we need to end this game as soon as possible, while the pieces haven’t gained any absurd methods of motion.”

“The room is diverging from the world.”

Nagato-san muttered, as if to substantiate my conjecture.

“A fatal error will occur if you do not conclude the game.”

Her forelocks slightly fluttered in the agitated wind.

We had no idea where this Winter wind came from and where it would go, but it stole the warmth from our skins and went on its way.

***

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 Police15?”

“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.

“……Oh my–”

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 promotion16, 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.

“Koizumi……”

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 pawns17!”

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 koban18 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?”

“Dunno.”

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.

The optimal solution would be limited to getting a draw via repetition19 or impasse20, but such ambiguous ways of concluding the game were unsuitable to her ideals.

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.

***

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!”

“I see.”

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.”

“How stupid.”

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’21.

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.”

Really.

I hope from the bottom of my heart that this tranquil period of time will continue on forever.

END


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  1. In which a checkmate is unavoidably caused by the defending player’s move (Similar to a Zugzwang in International Chess).
  2. In Shogi, captured pieces are retained in hand and can be brought back to play under the capturing player’s control.
  3. Five in a Row played with Go pieces on a Go board.
  4. Another name for Chinese Checkers. Wikipedia says that it’s a variant, but I don’t think there’s actually any difference between the two.
  5. Hourikomi is a move where intentionally giving a stone can lead to capturing a large group of stones. I couldn’t find an English equivalent for this.
  6. A promoted rook.
  7. A score an artificial intelligence would give to determine how good a particular move is.
  8. An ancient Indian strategy game commonly theorized to be the ancestor of chess, Shogi, Xiangqi and other such games.
  9. This means the White player trading bishops very early in the game, before Black’s bishop gets to move up, so that both players have one bishop in hand.
  10. In Shogi, black moves first and white moves second.
  11. In the original novel, the SOS Brigade drank wine, but that did not happen in the anime. Kyon became unconscious and had to be carried back to his room by Koizumi.
  12. Here I translated literally, since they mean the same thing, that it’s avoided and disliked by everybody. However, even after some research, I have no idea why cats regurgitating salt is a thing.
  13. A specialized weapon used by police in Edo Japan.
  14. Knights in Shogi can only move two squares forward, and one square either to the left or to the right.
  15. A variety show that stars girls dressed as policewomen in miniskirts.
  16. Pieces can be promoted when they reach the first three rows of the opponent’s space.
  17. Promoted pawns move exactly the same way as a gold general, assuming that hasn’t changed in this universe.
  18. A Japanese oval coin (the kind that Meowth has on its head) in Edo period feudal Japan.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. These were names that came up in Remote Island Syndrome from Volume 3. Being only an amateur in regular Hong Kong-style Mahjong, I cannot comment on how good these hands are.

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