NARRATOR: "Just around the corner of the hallway something hits me in the chest with the force of a runaway train."

HISAO: "Ouch..."

Emi knockeddown

NARRATOR: "Opening my eyes, I see a pair of saucer-like green eyes looking up at me. They belong to the perpetrator, a short girl who bumped into me and has now fallen down onto the hallway floor. She wears a PE uniform and a very worried frown. The former strikes me as a rather strange thing to have on during a lunch break. ...More striking than that, though, is that she doesn't have legs. Or she does, but they are not flesh and bone. Her pale and very much flesh-and-bone thighs end in shins and feet made of some black metallic or plastic-like material. They look disturbingly artificial and unnatural. It almost makes me forget that my chest is hurting. The girl winces a little, rubs her nose and jumps up."

EMI: "Aw man... Hey, are you all right? I'm sorry about that, really! I wasn't looking where I was going, and you just came out of nowhere. Sorry... Sorry!"

NARRATOR: "She's looking really apologetic, in the hurt puppy way of looking apologetic. I quickly forget about being angry or anything, since hurt puppies are my weak spot."

HISAO: "It's okay. Don't worry about it... ouch..."

NARRATOR: "I say that, but there's a stinging pain growing in my chest, and I know that this is about the biggest possible danger for my condition. Don't overexert yourself, don't forget your medication and most of all, don't get hit in the chest. I try to rub my solar plexus to chase the pain away, holding my breath in an attempt to hear my heartbeat. It seems normal..."

EMI: "Hey, should I get a nurse?"

NARRATOR: "The worried, high-pitched voice of the girl snaps me out of it. I stare at her for a few seconds dumbfounded, until I realize that I probably looked worse off than I really was, doubled over myself and looking all tense. Damn, I'm overly worried about my heart."

HISAO: "Err... no need, I'm fine."

NARRATOR: "Managing to say something in response, I pull myself upright, feeling my sore ribs one last time, and take a deep breath. She just knocked the wind out of me. Big time. But it's nothing more than that."

EMI: "You sure you're okay? I hit you pretty hard."

HISAO: "It's okay. I said I was fine, and nothing's broken. No harm done."

EMI: "That's good! I was—"

NARRATOR: "I feel a hand on my shoulder at the same time the girl's eyes widen in horror and whatever she was saying gets interrupted by a very horrified--"

EMI: "Eep!"

NARRATOR: "I don't have time to look behind me because Shizune is already shoving me aside and stomping over to the girl, signing furiously at her."

MISHA: "Miss Ibarazaki, I saw that. Running in the halls is strictly forbidden."

NARRATOR: "Misha translates, right on Shizune's tail, but her voice is girlishly playful, not full of the divine fury Shizune's arm movements would seem to call for."

EMI: "Er, sorry, I was just going to get some stuff, and I was in a kind of a hurry."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "You've been told this a thousand times before. Your reckless behavior endangers other students, and even worse, it's explicitly against the school regulations."

NARRATOR: "The girl blushes and starts to fidget nervously like a little child caught misbehaving. It's so cute I find myself smiling."

EMI: "I know that! I— I, um, I was just..."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Make sure that this will not happen again... although I'm sure telling you this is futile, and only causes me further headache when you choose to ignore the regulations."

MISHA: "Got that, Emi?"

NARRATOR: "The small girl sticks her tongue out in response."

EMI: "Aaah! I gotta go! Teacher'll have my head! I promised to help with printouts, but I went running instead! Sorry, but I've gotta change and everything!"

"Before Misha or Shizune or I can say anything, she's already bolted from where she was a second ago, almost halfway towards the stairwell. Shizune looks like she's about to go nuclear on the spot, so I smile at her in a vain attempt to calm her down."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Are you okay, Hicchan? That Ibarazaki girl is always like that, causing trouble to others."

HISAO: "You know, I'm pretty certain Shizune wouldn't call me 'Hicchan.'"

MISHA: "Never mind, never mind!"


HISAO: "Yeah, anyway, I'm okay. Just got the wind knocked out of me."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "That's great, Hicchan!"

NARRATOR: "I wouldn't call that great, but I let it slide this one time."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "So, let's hurry, Hicchan~! To have lunch! We promise it'll be great!"

HISAO: "I'll take your word for it. What kind of a place is it? A restaurant, or something?"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "It's a teahouse, Hicchan~!"

NARRATOR: "A teahouse... that sounds kind of fancy."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Why are you looking at your wallet, Hicchan? It's okay, if you don't have any money we'll cover for you~!"

HISAO: "That's really nice of you. Thanks."

MISHA: "It's okay, Hicchan! After all, we're friends, right, Hicchan?"

NARRATOR: "It's only been three days. Are we really friends that quickly? Heh. But, hearing that makes me happy."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Ah, it's only for today, though, and only if you accept right now! Do you want to go, Hicchan?"

NARRATOR: "I start wondering if this is some kind of trap. Is this Misha's suggestion or Shizune's? This is important. I'm still a little apprehensive about the possible motives of a girl whose favorite pastime is the game of world domination. No, I'm just being paranoid. Actually, they have grown on me already, and I do have to go to town sometime. So why not now, with them? I've never actually been to a teahouse before. All my expectations are from what I've seen about them on TV. But those are period dramas, and these are modern times. It might just be a regular café, and they're just calling it a teahouse. Either way, I'm curious about that, too, so there's another reason for me to join them."

HISAO: "Sure."

MISHA: "That's great, Hicchan~! That's great, that's great! Yay~!"

NARRATOR: "Misha hops up and down briefly to show how happy she is, which causes a few heads to turn towards us. Shizune opts for a polite, tiny clap that lasts for all of two seconds before she goes back to looking stoic as usual."

HISAO: "Would it kill you to be a little happier, Shizune?"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Oh? I wasn't aware that Hicchan was a king. Hahahaha~!"

NARRATOR: "Shizune pushes her glasses up as Misha delivers her message totally without sarcasm. I guess it would sting more if she could say it with the intent Shizune meant behind it, so for once I'm happy to have Misha as a barrier between us."

HISAO: "I'm not telling you to jump for joy just because I'm having lunch with you. I'm not that arrogant."

NARRATOR: "She seems to accept this, and we head for town with Shizune leading the way."

Next Scene: Detour Ahead

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "We have to run now, there is an important student council meeting regarding the festival. And we finally decided where to eat~!"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Too bad you can't join, but this lunch meeting is only for council members. We can take you there some other time! Oh, but that'd be like a date, wouldn't it? Wahaha~!"

NARRATOR: "The girls leave for downstairs. I didn't manage to get far from the third floor hallway before all this commotion struck, literally. I should get going as well. The lunch and the afternoon class pass uneventfully. I read most of the book I had started yesterday, and eat some of the mostly inedible offerings of the cafeteria. The class is tiresome."

Next Scene: It Builds Character