NARRATOR: "The sign language teacher says I'm pretty good. I try not to think about it too much, but the truth is I'm poring over it so much lately that it's hard not to keep coming back to it at least a couple times a day. I guess I am picking it up faster than expected, but it's still not enough. I understand it just fine; understanding it is simple. Well, I have to put my mind to it to read it, but it's easy enough when I do. The signing itself is doable, I just need a little more practice. However, trying to do both at the same time, even at half the speed Misha does it? It's impossible. Where I'm at now is good for my level, but in order to reach a point where I'll be able to really converse with Shizune, I'll need more work. I'm doing my best to get to that point one step at a time by doing as much studying as I can squeeze in during lunch."

NARRATOR: "I look up from “Introduction to Japanese Sign Language” to check if Shizune or Misha are around. Of course, since this is taking up my lunch hour, I've had to avoid them for a few days now. What's more, I'll have to continue doing so if I want to keep Shizune from finding out. My back to the corner, scanning the area every ten minutes, I feel like some kind of criminal trying to evade capture."


NARRATOR: "Every chance she gets, Misha asks me why I want to hide the fact I'm learning sign language from Shizune. Looking back on it, there really wasn't any reason, but now I think I know. If I want Shizune to be able to treat me as a true equal, sign language is an important step towards that goal. If I want to be able to treat Shizune as an equal, then sign language is an important step towards that goal. Another important step is to make sure she doesn't know, so that when we're able to finally speak on equal terms, I'll be fully ready, able to do it right, not like some dilettante. Anything less, I think, would be insulting. She would see it the same way. So to me, this is the only option. Especially now that I've decided to be so resolute with it."

NARRATOR: "Shizune has a huge aura. It's very easy to see her coming, or even to sense her coming. Mostly because Misha's hair lights up any crowd she's in like a beacon, and you can hear her laughing from a mile away. Although, even if Misha weren't with her, it would be the same. Her directness and efficiency are core parts of her, so it's no surprise that they come across in the way she walks as well. Due to all these factors, I'm able to put away all my things and put on my best casual face long before they see me and head my way."

HISAO: "Hi."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Student Councilll."

MISHA: "Student Council~!"

NARRATOR: "“Student Council” was the first thing I asked to learn; it seemed like it would come in handy."

HISAO: "Yeah, I've been dodging it for a while now, huh?"

MISHA: "Yup~!"

NARRATOR: "Shizune sits down in front of me to my right, and Misha to my left. It was a mistake putting myself in the corner; now I'm, well, cornered. In the end, I'm dragged off to the student council room, but I don't mind. I was starting to miss them a bit, anyway. In some ways this makes it easier: satisfied with having caught me, Shizune doesn't ask me where I've been all this time. Once I stand before the door, I wonder what could be so important that they're so eager to pull me back in."

HISAO: "Games."

NARRATOR: "There are more games out than books. This at last explains why every time I come here there are stacks of books piled on every table and occasionally parts of the floor: they need the room to put all these games somewhere."

MISHA: "Hahaha~! It's boring playing against each other so much, Hicchan. So, it's your turn, okay? Okay~! It's settled then~!"

HISAO: "I didn't even say anything!"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Hicchan, this is one of the last days we'll be able to take it easy like this for a while. So~, it's especially important that we make the most of it, don't you think? Wikipedia:Tanabata will be coming up soon, and we'll have to put in a lot of work for that, too. So, for now, play with us~!"

NARRATOR: "Come to think of it, it's true. I hadn't even noticed because I've been so wrapped up in wanting to learn sign language. Right on the heels of one festival, a bigger one appears. I wonder if Shizune will try and rope a couple new members in to help with that one as well."

HISAO: "You're right."

MISHA: "Hahaha~! Yay~! Hicchan agrees~! Let's celebrate!"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I know, we should play a game."

MISHA: "Let's play a game to celebrate, Hicchan~!"

HISAO: "I don't know, that kind of thing usually ends badly for me."

MISHA: "Hicchan is worried about the stakes~."

NARRATOR: "Misha makes a very disappointed face. It's hard to tell if she's mocking me, since her expressions are so exaggerated by default. She's an “all-out” kind of girl. I turn my head to Shizune. Now, this person, she is definitely mocking me."

HISAO: "Hey, stop that. But, yes, I'll play with you if you tell me what's at stake first."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "How very Japanese, putting the consequences above everything else. Hicchan, have you ever heard of the expression “missing the forest for the trees?”"

HISAO: "No."

NARRATOR: "That's a lie. But I have my pride, which is currently feeling wounded."

HISAO: "Okay, I'll play, but I want to pick the game."

NARRATOR: "Misha nods."

HISAO: "Additionally, I pick the punishment if you lose."

NARRATOR: "Shizune makes an X with her arms. That either means “denied” or that she's about to use her special attack."

HISAO: "Aha, now who's afraid of consequences?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "How vengeful, still thinking so spitefully about a playful little joke. If a ... bit you, you would probably bite back."

NARRATOR: "Shizune signs a word that I don't quite catch."

MISHA: "Hicchan is so vengeful~, even though it was just a playful little joke. If an armadillo bit you, you would probably bite back!"

HISAO: "Armadillo?"

MISHA: "It's foolish to bite an armadillo back, Hicchan!"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "But Hicchan would do it anyway, you see~! Hahaha!"

HISAO: "I see."

NARRATOR: "Shizune adjusts her glasses with a small flourish of her hand."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Hicchan, we didn't have anything planned at all if you were to win or lose, you just assumed there would be something like that~."

HISAO: "I wonder why."

MISHA: "Hm~, me too~! But, oh well~! There isn't. Does that change your mind, Hicchan?"

HISAO: "Well... yes."

NARRATOR: "Misha windmills her arm at high speed to show her joy. Weird habit. This is the kind of thing you could only see in the student council room, occupied only by three people. Anywhere else she would end up socking someone in the face."

MISHA: "Yay yay~! Let's start right now~!"

HISAO: "Not just yet."

MISHA: "..."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "..."

SHIZUNE: "..."

HISAO: "Okay, okay. However, we have to all be able to play. That's my condition. I don't like games where one person is clearly the ace player right off the bat, or games where only two people can play so one of us has to sit back. It has to be something the three of us can play equally."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Checkers?"

NARRATOR: "The instant she says it, Misha takes out a bag of checkers and places them on the table."

HISAO: "Only two people can play that. I told you—"

MISHA: "Okay okay~! Hicchan, how about... Monopoly?"

NARRATOR: "A Monopoly box slowly edges towards me, and I take it out of Misha's hands and put it under my chair."

HISAO: "I don't like games that revolve around luck of the draw; they're too much about chance and not about skill. Also, stop jumping the gun with these games!"

MISHA: "Luck is kind of a skill, you know."

HISAO: "No, no it's not!"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "It can be if you're consistently lucky~! Right~?"

HISAO: "Once at that point it's something else entirely."

MISHA: "Hm~, hm~ hm~ hm~~. Baccarat? Marbles? Life? Snakes and Ladders? Roulette? Blackjack? Paper football? Trivial Pursuit?"

NARRATOR: "Misha begins to excitedly name a bunch of games as if she were reading from a list. With each suggestion, a new box, board, and pieces appear around her, a bizarre catalogue of games ranging from children's fare to serious, polished-looking gambling instruments that look very out of place in this humble room."

MISHA: "Three way chess?"

HISAO: "Is that even possible?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Let's try."

MISHA: "Yes yes~, let's try it, definitely~! Ahahahaha~!"

NARRATOR: "They pull a chessboard from behind them with a flourish like two junior magicians. Well, magic does require some deft sleight of hand, and they've got that in spades. I'm not surprised. Nevertheless, it is still somehow unsettling."

HISAO: "Stop doing that!"

HANAKO: "E-excuse me...?"

NARRATOR: "A very timid voice manages to make me look up."

HANAKO: "I l-lost my ID card, and someone told me... I could find out where to get a new one here. If I'm interrupting s-something, I can come back later."

NARRATOR: "Hanako's eyes drift across the room, taking in the landscape of piled-up record books, haphazardly scattered chairs, and overturned board games. I guess this isn't exactly the image an organized, tightly run Student Council like ours should be giving off."

HISAO: "Hello."

NARRATOR: "It's the only thing I can think of to break the ice. Unfortunately, it just seems to startle her further."

HANAKO: "..."

HANAKO: "Ah... my ID card... I..."

MISHA: "You're in our class, aren't you, right? Right~! So~! Don't be so timid, okay? Come on!"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Yup, even though we're your seniors, it's not like we'll bite!"

HISAO: "We're not her seniors, we're in the same class."

NARRATOR: "Still, I am grateful to them for stepping in."

MISHA: "What is it you said you want? An ID card, right~? Right~!"

HANAKO: "Yes."

NARRATOR: "Her eyes slide away from Misha. Being shy, it's no wonder she's not the best at keeping eye contact. I follow where she's looking, and notice her gaze stop on the chessboard on the table. Hanako's eyes widen, just for a moment. Shizune notices as well."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Do you like chess?"

HANAKO: "Eh!?"

SHIZUNE: "...!"

MISHA: "You like chess, don't you~? Yeah, you do, definitely~! Do~ you~ want~ to~ play~?"

NARRATOR: "Hesitation. She might make a break for it. I refuse to get involved in this; it won't end well. To my amazement, Hanako seems to be considering the idea very seriously. She touches the tips of her fingers together pensively, mulling the thought over. That level of consideration is more or less a confirmation."

MISHA: "We're having our lunch break, so you'll have to wait anyway. Why not play with us in the meantime~? Come on, it'll be fun, really fun~! You like chess, don't you? I can tell, really really, it's obvious, so~! Please~, will you?"

HANAKO: "Okay..."

MISHA: "Wahaha~! Yay~! Success, success, okay okay okay~! That's great~!"

Shizu chess large

NARRATOR: "The chessboard is set up. The opening move is important. However, Shizune doesn't seem to care. Hanako ponders her moves carefully, sliding pieces forward just a little bit, then pulling them back in uncertainty, second-guessing herself over and over again. She's really into this game; you can't call her a casual player. Definitely an enthusiast. Shizune can't take her lightly; no matter what she does, Hanako has an appropriate response. Yet there's something wrong about the pacing of this game."

Shizu chess base

NARRATOR: "Shizune moves too quickly. No, not even too quickly, but with illogical speed. It's like she isn't even thinking about what she'll do next. Either Shizune is in the realm of supercomputers, or she isn't taking this game very seriously. Or maybe Hanako just isn't very good. Shizune forces an exchange of pawns."

Shizu chess base3

NARRATOR: "Hanako's turns take increasing amounts of time as the game goes on, and it hasn't even been going on that long. Suddenly it all becomes clear: Shizune has a lot more time to think about her next move because Hanako takes forever to move a piece. Despite that, it's an interesting game."

NARRATOR: "Black knight to f6. Bishop to d3. Since they're both playing seriously, no one is toying with the other. There is no clearly dominant player, at least for now. Maybe this is helped by the fact that they aren't very close to each other, from what I can see. Shizune is a mysterious opponent to Hanako, and Hanako is an enigma to Shizune. Hanako's furrowed brow shows that she is into the game. She wants to really win, and Shizune always wants to win. Their lack of familiarity is a little depressing, but it is giving life to the game, and allowing them to see each other as good competition. Maybe they might even end up being friends over it, or at the very least, rivals in chess. It's an optimistic thought. Although remembering playing Risk against Shizune, she doesn't want to just crush people for the fun of it."

NARRATOR: "The game continues. Shizune plays twelve moves in four minutes. What a scary opponent. But Hanako holds her own, even though her king is being chased around the board a bit. Pawn to h6. White knight to e6. The end is near."


NARRATOR: "The game ends."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "That was a really good game~!"

HANAKO: "T-thanks..."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "It was really close~, I thought I would lose. You're very skilled."

NARRATOR: "Magnanimous in victory, and extending a hand to the defeated. Maybe it's because Hanako is taking her defeat so well."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "This is a fun game, but it took so long. Almost the whole period! Chess is too formulaic, especially at this level. How about some advanced rules~?"

HISAO: "What?"

HANAKO: "Ad... vanced...?"

SHIZUNE: "... ... ..."

MISHA: "Yeah, yeah~! Like speed chess, or chess with additional pieces, or maybe we can pair up and play tag team chess, with one or two boards, your choice! C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon it'll be fun, really, really~! Regular chess is so slow, too methodical, it's boring."

MISHA: "I want to play chess that rewards quick thinking, and daring! Any one of these, comparing chess to it is like comparing checkers to go, or tic-tac-toe to shogi, right? Right~! Wahahaha~! Even laser chess might be more exciting, pick something, pick~!"

HANAKO: "Aaaah..."

NARRATOR: "Like a deer in the headlights. Many emotions spring up in me, watching Hanako's mind reel in front of the chessboard as if she's about to faint. The dominant one is amusement, but I move a little closer in case she might really topple over."

Shizu chess base2

NARRATOR: "The board is set up again, but this time, it's not even close. Hanako can't even make a move out of fear of her hand colliding with Shizune's. She's all over the board. It's an onslaught. Anywhere Hanako wants to put a piece, Shizune is already there. It's the fastest game I've seen in my life."

MISHA: "Let's change the rules and play again~! Best out of six, like Kasparov and Deep Blue~!"

NARRATOR: "Hanako excuses herself and flees from the room."

MISHA: "Huh? Wait! Ah, didn't she want to know where she could get a new ID? Excuse me! Hello~? Come back, please! Wait, wait~! Wait~!"

NARRATOR: "Strangely, the farther Misha goes away, the louder the sound of her voice seems to grow."

MISHA: "I couldn't catch her~..."

SHIZUNE: "..."

NARRATOR: "Shizune pats her on the shoulder reassuringly."

HISAO: "There, there."

MISHA: "There, there~!"

HISAO: "You're pretty cheerful for someone who needed a pat on the shoulder."

MISHA: "Ahahaha~!"


SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Hicchan, do you hate games where luck is involved?"

NARRATOR: "A question out of nowhere, but it feels like an important one. If it wasn't, why would Shizune be looking at me, watching for my reaction? Even as I glance in her direction, she tries to pretend she isn't doing so, putting on a casual air by spinning a chess piece in her fingers."

MISHA: "“I don't like games that revolve around luck of the draw,” right? That was you, Hicchan~."

HISAO: "Yeah. Revolving around luck isn't the same as just having luck involved, though. I don't hate games just for having an element of luck. Most games have an element of luck to them anyway. It's what keeps them interesting. I think a game where you know from the beginning how far you can go is boring. Then it's not a game, isn't it? Just going through motions. For a game where you have little to no control, I don't think I could get into something like that."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I see. ..."

MISHA: "That girl isn't very good at chess."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Chess is a formulaic game. So~! It's a game that isn't suited for her... There was nothing formulaic about her. Someone who plays chess like that, looking only at the next piece, playing so shallowly, can't be called a serious chess player. Anyone who loves chess to the point where their eyes sparkle like that when they see a chessboard would be the kind of person who would study the game. If you study it just casually, you can learn to see at least two moves ahead, even against pros. Why would someone who loves the game so much... with that enthusiasm... know so little about it? Even less than someone with just a passing interest in it?"

NARRATOR: "Shizune puts down the piece in her hand. It's a rook."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Her feelings are real, but her feelings for the game aren't real. Do you understand, Hicchan~? There is no luck in chess~! It's very important to realize that. Luck in games is good because it gives everyone a chance. Just enough to matter, but not so much that skill is penalized. Chess is boring because it's not a game; to me, it seems like formulas. Hanako isn't the kind of person who would love something like that either~."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "If you value something, you fight. Struggle is proof of precs— preciousness? I think so, at least. Or~! You concede immediately~! Since it's so precious that it stops your thinking. The first is a passionate love. The second is a gentle love."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "I tried to fight her, chasing around her king, and trying to bait her. I didn't succeed though, because she stuck to only what would work. The trickiest moments were when she moved the fastest. That means she knew exactly how to deal with those situations. That means someone taught her. Do you understand, Hicchan~?"

HISAO: "Not really."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "If you love chess that much, but you can't give it your all, it's because you love the memories attached to it and not the game; it's too precious to her to see as a tool for true competition."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Due to that, you can't become friends over it. Not without words."

NARRATOR: "Well, your way of making friends isn't the kind of way that works on everyone, Shizune. The look on her face isn't one of sadness, at least as far as I can tell, but her words are very sad."

HISAO: "Hey, let's play a game. While the board is still here."

NARRATOR: "But the bell rings and cuts me off."

Next Scene: Bread, Scissors, Paper