There are three commonly held truths about mahjong:
+ Mahjong is a system that allows the user to bend or alter reality, conferring various supernatural abilities that defy physics as we know it.
+ Mahjong is an unlimited energy.
+ Mahjong is something that is not yet fully understood.
Thus, conventional wisdom says.
Conventional wisdom is frequently wrong.
An excerpt from Higher Mahjong by Sukoya Kokaji
Saki Fantasy Mahjong
Plus Minus Zero
Nodoka stopped moving.
The trees, the mountain and the very ground she walked on vanished, turning into tiny balls of insubstantial light. These countless lights hanged in the air, drifted aimlessly, flickered and disappeared.
Nodoka observed the phenomenon, silently confirming that it was truly underway and not just a glitch in the system. After a few seconds wherein the terrain continued its transformation, she was satisfied; her mind immediately turning to other matters. After all as a mahjong practitioner she has long been inured to such things. She knew from experience that the process will continue until all has been transformed wherein the next round will begin.
What she was more interested was what it entailed.
The round has ended.
So who won?
Intense red eyes glinted at the corner of her mind
She did not have to wait for long. The middle school champion felt the characteristic niggling sensation that tried to worm itself to her brain at the end of every match. Like clockwork, she responded. Her breast heaved as she took a long breath. After a few seconds of holding her breath, she carefully expelled the air out.
Simple meditation exercises.
Completely emptying the mind of unnecessary thought was almost close to impossible. But, it was needed, or else a good percentage of synchronization would not be possible. Thinking unnecessary things blocks the transmission of data. Even worse the disparate mental processes corrupts the process. Thus, meditation exercises. In theory, focusing on basic mechanical tasks will cut down the noise generated by the brain. But, that was easier said than done.
Even doing meditation exercises a player cannot completely cut out the mental noise. This meant for the average player, the synchronization level they have with the computer was only enough for the most basic of assistance like checking the score of one’s opponent.
Not Nodoka though.
She was proud to say that she has mastered the meditation exercises, making her synchronization rate and speed, the fastest in her generation. And true to her credentials, a mental tick later – not even a fraction of a second. Glowing blocks of letter and letters appeared in front of her as if an invisible pen was writing in the air.
Nodoka quietly sighed as she saw the score balance.
Just by looking, it was easy to deduce what happened. Yuuki must have hit Miyanaga-san with a dealer Haneman. It was going to be hard to get the lead now. But, she supposed it can’t be helped. These things happen when one was playing mahjong. Still…
Even with all the facts as clear as day, something nagged on her mind.
With one mighty heave, Nodoka buried the pointy end of her spear to the ground.
“Code: 0126 Activate,” she intoned clearly, releasing a protocol spell embedded in her weapon. The ground she was standing on glowed. Webbed circuits appeared. In her mind, a clear robotic voice answered, “Granted.”
She let go of her impaled spear and said. “Requesting the battle data of the last turn around between Player designated Miyanaga Saki and Player designated Katoaka Yuki.”
The sphere glowed white and at its blunt edge, a hologram was projected. Immediately, she recognized Yuuki, standing rooted in one place. A vortex of power around her. Tell-tale signs that the thief has called riichi. The taco loving girl was standing in a clearing in a forest, her arms folded beneath her chest as if challenging anyone to beat her before she completed her spell.
Nodoka clucked her teeth at Yuuki’s idiosyncrasy.
Normally, standing in open space was a good strategy. The opposing party could see you, but it would allow the person to see if there was any opponent headed your way as well. This strategy though has no such advantage. When one started a spell with a riichi component, one must not move from the place they declared it from. If one does so, the spell will become unstable and implode upon the caster.
Thus, without mobility to dodge or an ability to react, Using riichi in an open space was like putting a giant target on oneself.
Nodoka looked at Yuuki’s self-satisfied grin.
She does know what answer she will get if she asked why though. She asked it a few days ago.
“But, if I was not quick enough I’m going to lose the East Wind!”
As if the East wind round is a tangible thing to lose, the middle school immediately thought in response to her remembrance.
Nodoka waved her hand. Changing the image being shown by the sphere to the next player of interest.
The girl wearing a white cloak was leisurely walking in a forested area.
No running, nor any attempt to use the trees as cover. It’s as if Miyanagas-san was out to take a stroll. Up ahead, the pinkette saw an orange light projecting behind the row of trees.
That was unmistakably Yuuki’s location.
Going head to head with someone who has declared riichi? Didn’t she know that was dangerous? The middle school’s champion brow knotted more when the white clad girl stopped a few paces from Yuuki, but safety under the cover of the trees.
The bookworm looked at the thief for a few seconds and proceeded to discard Yuuki’s needed rune.
The image froze as Nodoka lost her concentration and desynchronized from the computer.
At that distance, Miyanaga-san should surely have seen what runes Yuuki held. It’s the reason why close contact in a mahjong game was not pursued by players. The runes that formed your current spell were proudly displayed in your suit. It can be used to check what spell your opponent was forming but it also allows your opponents to see what spell you were forming as well.
And here, the proper action should be clear. Yuuki has let her guard down and allowed Miyanaga-san close. The bookworm should have spied on Yuuki and quietly left. Using the information, she would have avoided the riichi indefinitely until someone won or she formed her spell. There was no logical reason for her to throw that 2 pin away. It’s even needed for her spell formation.
Nodoka made a gesture causing the hologram to zoom at the bookworm’s face.
Inside the burning inferno, the brunette wore a unmistakable expression. Eyes widened. Mouth slack. The middle school champion may not be a people person but she can recognize the emotion painted here. It’s pure unadulterated shock.
Miyanaga-san was not expecting that.
Nodoka’s confusion deepened.
Could she really have no idea at all?
‘Hey, I’m inviting my middle school friend as our guest today. She’s a newbie though. I don’t know if she can even…”
Nodoka shook her head.
She was over thinking this.
Suga-san said that his friend was a “newbie”. A beginner doesn’t know when to fold and was unusually aggressive even when the battle was already lost. It was possible that Miyanaga-san didn’t even know how to interpret the runes inscribed on a suit. The runes usually have a few stylistic changes depending on the chosen theme by the user. It can cause confusion even in professionals. Though, Yuuki’s runes were closer to the standard, for a beginner it might not make a difference.
In this, she was asking too much of the bookworm. It’s already a miracle that Miyanaga-san was able to make it this far. No other candidates have made it after all. Most can’t even activate their battle suit and on the rare chance that they did, they don’t even know how to draw a rune. Even the free weekend tutoring mahjong session did not produce results.
Still, as she waved her hand to dismiss the hologram. Her eyes strayed to the bookworms face. Nodoka has long stopped listening to her instincts preferring cool logic but she can’t help but ask herself.
Was it truly honest confusion?
In another part of the arena, Saki absentmindedly looked at the transforming landscape.
Dancing lights floated in the air. Like fireflies that were born only to die, they danced in the empty space and flickered in an instant. Such a beautiful sight. Poetic even. It was almost enough to make her forget about the feel of the offending smooth palm of her hand.
Subtly, she ran her fingers through it. No blisters. No cuts. No bruises. Nothing.
“Saki-chan? Are you done yet?” Kataoka-san sat alongside her.
The bookworm blinked and remembered what she was supposed to be doing. They have stopped for a while when the surrounding began to dissolve themselves. The pint sized thief deeming it best to stay put, mentioning they should check something out.
“Was there any problem?” The thief asked cheerfully.
There isn’t any problem. That is the problem. Saki wanted to say.
Has her belief always been this wrong?
But, she didn’t.
“I’m just a bit confused.” she admitted.
To the bookworm’s surprise, the girl agreed, “I know right!”
Saki immediately gave Kataoka-san her full attention.
“Nodo-chan always said that it was easy. But, emptying your mind only sounds simple. How can you stop thinking anyway? ” The thief groused, while munching on a piece of taco. “Synchronizing sucks.”
Saki contained her disappointment. That was not what she wanted to talk about. Though, one word did catch her attention. “Synchronize?”
“Oh yeah, your still new at this. It’s…” Kataoka-san eyes squinted as she groped for words to explain. “Umm… something about the computer reading our mind to -”
The bookworm’s eyes widened.
She immediately dived inside her mind.
And sure enough, there are traces in the wall of someone trying to get in.
Saki wasted no time and watched for the next telepathic attack. If she set the timing right, she can rebound the attack and use it to trace the originator.
A few seconds later, a clear thin silvery strand approached.
The bookworm blinked.
It’s too weak.
Saki watched as the attack bounced off. And another. And another. Whoever was doing it wasn’t really trying or not that good at the mental arts. Like a woodpecker that was desperately trying to peck metal it could find no purchase on the smooth walls. Worse, it wasn’t trying to vary its attack.
Adrenaline gone. Saki sighed in relief. Her memories were safe. Still, you can’t be too careful. Saki added a few more layers until she can’t even hear the sound. Even if, the attack has no chance of going through, Saki doesn’t want to take any risk of anyone snooping around her mind.
Except perhaps Onee-chan, but that’s different and its not like her sister can actually help doing it. Not like Onee-chan will be doing it anytime soon.
All too aware of the darkness that covered her mindscape. It was so complete that she can no longer see a thing within her own mind. The sun no longer shined here. And in truth, she preferred it that way. At least, she couldn’t see what has become of this place.
Feeling a tad depressed, she focused outward.
“nifty … score… playback…. So it has its uses.” The thief was now standing, her arms crossed and doing a lecture. It seemed that Kataoka-san had just finished answering her question. “So what do you think of synchronization, Saki?”
“I don’t think I like it very much.” The bookworm answered honestly. She may not have heard most of what Kataoka-san said but the fact that the computer needs to read her mind to do so was a deal breaker.
This answer pleased the thief, “I knew that you’ll see it my way.”
Saki gave a weak grin. But, the thief was not done.
“I know! You’ll be my first student!” Kataoka-san grinned like a canary. Then, she proceeded to crane her neck furtively in all directions giving the impression of a character from an early cartoon.
“Coast is clear.” The thief whispered, while motioning Saki to come nearer to her.
The bookworm did so.
“This Saki-chan is the secret of my success. Behold!” Kataoka-san pulled a scrap of paper from her back pocked and shoved it in the bookworm’s hand. “That contains all the list of yaku and their corresponding value. You can use that as a pattern to form your spells.”
“I can’t possibly take this,” Saki tried to give it back. “What will you use?”
The thief laughed. “Don’t worry, I already memorized most of the yaku there. All I have problem with is the fu thingy. But, I’m awesome enough to score limit hands that I don’t need it. Besides, official tournaments don’t allow cheat sheets such as this so I might as well practice.”
“If you’re sure?”
“Of course! The Great and Awesome Yuuki is always sure!”
Saki grinned along. The pint sized girl’s energy was infectious. She didn’t have even have the heart to tell her that she already memorized the table. The scoring was based on the amount of mana particles that a spell use and she already knew that by heart. Once she realized that all she has to do was glance at what was spell component was allowed in this game and what’s not.
“So do your best ok! No student of mine should suck at mahjong!” Kataoka-san asserted.
The bookworm’s energy dampened.
Ah… how could she forget, she was using mahjong.
“I’ll try…” She quietly muttered even as the thief bounced ahead of her. That was all she promised after all. Kyou-chan and now Kataoka-san. To try to play mahjong again. Even just for this one day.
Saki was once again reminded of her unhurt state. A flare of warm hope rose to her chest. If she was somehow wrong about everything.
Then, everything would be better.
But, if she’s right.
Saki took a deep resolute breath.
She has long decided her path, years ago.
Meanwhile, the last remaining player was also checking the result of the last match. “That Saki, she really is a beginner,” Kyoutaro smirked.
This was good though. It meant that his plan was working. If he managed to directly hit Saki, the match would end and for once he won’t be in last place. Nodoka will surely be able to see his improvement.
He could see it now.
Nodoka will shift cutely as if debating whether she wanted to praise him or not. Her chest bouncing perkily with every jerky movement. Then, suddenly, she will hug him press his head on those soft, bouncy…
Kyoutaro wiped a drool off his face.
A small pang of conscience nagged him for using his friend this way.
It did not last for long.
“YOSH! I’ll buy you a sandwich later as an apology. But, love will prevail first!” He waved his sword around as the tiles lifted once more and began to shuffle overhead him. Besides, Saki needs to talk to new people anyway. She’ll thank him later. He’ll even make her, his best woman for the wedding….
The moment when he thought of wedding, an image formed in his mind. Nodoka as a bride. Her face covered by a veil which barely hid the bright red blush that stain her cheeks. Slowly, she walked down the aisle.
So pure, so good, so graceful…
A long siren echoed toward the arena.
The swordsman blinked. Time had passed while he was daydreaming. In front of him, the sparkling lake has been replaced by a sandy arid desert. He gazed at the sky and once again the pond was wiped completely clean.
The next round was officially on.
He took his sword and put it horizontally in front of him.
Concentrate on the energy. Draw them.
The sword glowed.
Thirteen balls of light flew from somewhere unseen and gathered around him.
“Let’s see what Lady luck has for me.” Kyoutaro smirked.
He slowly drew the lights into his sword. For every light that was drawn to him a personal rune was etched on his clothes.
One of character. Two of character. Three of character. Two of circles. Three of circles. Another Three of circles. Four of circles. Five of circles. One of bamboo. Two of bamboo. Three of bamboo. Four of bamboo. Six of bamboo.
And since he was the east dealer, he drew first.
The desert glowed as the swordsman drew its energy. It coalesced into the shape of a rune in front of him.
Four of circles.
Kyoutaro grinned, noting the same consecutive melds in all the suits. A sanshoku doujun was within his reach. This was now his chance for a comeback.
He pointed his sword in the sky. One more it glowed as a green beam shoot out. The beam solidified in the pond, revealing a six of bamboo.
“True love will win!” The swordsman vowed.
A few turns later.
Kyoutaro was gobsmacked as a huge ball of energy crashed into him.
A loud explosion. The swordsman was promptly flung backward crashing into several trees.
Kyoutaro groaned as he laid to the ground. There were sounds of clinking metal as soft footfall came closer.
“Sorry about that Kyou-chan, are you okay?” It was Saki. Her lithe form blocked the overhead lights as she peered on the swordsman at the ground, her face lined with worry.
“I’m fine, Saki.” Kyoutaro waved his friend’s worry. Getting up quickly from his prone position.
“Are you sure?” The white mage doesn’t seem to be convinced.
“Yes. Yes. Quit being a worry rat.” The swordsman groused. “You’re damaging my masculinity.” Sometimes Saki was too nice for her own good. “What did you hit me anyway?”
“Just Tanyao.” Saki’s friend’s soft voice answered. “About 1,300 points.”
“That’s cheap, Saki.” He teased. With the way the bookworm was worrying, he thought he was hit with a yakuman or something.
“It was one of the lowest score possible,” his friend concurred. Not even a tiny bit offended about his insinuations. Ugh. This is why teasing Saki was not fun. It would be nice if the bookworm gets mad once in a while.
“Don’t sound so proud, you’re not going to win using cheap hands.” Kyoutaro warned. “Besides,” his voice perked. “True love will prevail in the end.”
Saki just looked at him blankly.
Unfortunately for the swordsman, true love did not prevail in the end. The following two rounds were also won by Saki.
“You switched tactics. Were you trying to win as much hand as you could?” The pink haired goddess deducted.
Kyoutaro noted that unlike any other time when a prospective candidate was brought forth, Nodoka wasn’t just going through the motions. There was a genuine interest this time and was that a blush?
What did you do? Share some tips with your buddy! Kyoutaro silently thought as he glared at his bookworm friend who at the moment smiling sheepishly.
“It’s all thanks to my teachings!” The thief crowed.
“Hai, Kataoka-san was a big help. I wouldn’t have figured out half of these things without her.”
Of course, Saki agreed. Kyoutaro groaned, here it comes…
“Ha! Ha! Hear that! I’m a genius, Nodo-chan! You better watch out I’m ending the tyranny of your boobs today!”
“What does that have to do with anything?!”
Yeah. The swordsman privately agreed. Those lushes pillow can never do anything wrong!
“Besides, many things can happen in mahjong. Your lead can still be overtaken.” Nodoka continued.
“Even if it’s in the South Round, I’m eating my super special taco specially prepared by the lunch lady so you better watch out.” Yuuki sing-songed.
“That’s just superstition.”
“No uh!” Yuuki blew a raspberry.
“If you don’t lose concentration…”
And there they go again. Kyoutaro watched as the two of them go back and forth about that age old argument. He turned to his fried already losing interest in the conversation. He knew how it will end. The two of them will try to out stubborn each other. “It looked like they forgot about us, huh?” He turned to look at Saki who looking remarkably distressed.
Oh yeah. Saki hated it when she sees anyone fighting. She had a remarkable ability to just disappear once she caught a whiff of any aggressiveness. Not this time. “Saki, you’re not planning to do a disappearing act like always, are you?” Kyoutaro pre-empted.
“I won’t Kyou-chan.” The bookworm assured him.
“Uh huh…” The swordsman hummed, not convinced in the slightest.
“I won’t, really. I did promise,” This time there was a hint of peevishness there. It wasn’t fully developed but it’s there. “Until, you guys have enough players to play a full game, I won’t leave.”
Kyoutaro pounced. “Now that you mention it, there is this tournament coming up and we don’t have-”
“Just for today, Kyou-chan.”
The swordsman blinked. “I thought you were having fun?”
“Yes…” Saki said reluctantly, her face troubled.
“Then, there should be no reason not to join the club isn’t there?” Operation: Get Saki more friends was on the go. Not to mention, it would make it easier to get closer to Nodoka if Saki was around to be his wingmate.
The bookworm’s eyes quickly darted to the arguing duo. Kyoutaro was sure that if he wasn’t focusing on Saki, he wouldn’t have noticed. Is that why she won’t join, the swordsman wondered. After a moment or two, Saki answered. “I’ll think about it.” There was a note of finality and Kyoutaro knew that he won’t be getting anything more than that.
“Ok, the next game is about to start anyway. This time I won’t lose!” He psyched himself as he noticed the corner tile moving, a clear signal that the next game was about to begin.
This also has the effect of disturbing the argument between his goddess and the thief.
“Oh ho! Trying to play in the big league!” Yuuki pounced on him. He almost buckled under the weight. “I’m not handing the crown to you infidels!” The pint sized girl announced.
“This game is still everyone’s game.” Nodoka quietly asserted.
That’s right.” Kyoutaro stood up straight while Yuuki somersaulted in the center.
“Just try it, I’ll crush all of you down!” The thief said gamely.
It was now the last round and Yuuki was in a pinch. Despite her assertions, Nodoka still managed to steadily erode her lead with quick hands. Worse, her new pupil has managed to surpass her. She bottled her frustration and bit into a taco. She really really hated the south round. Why does it have to exist? It would be better if all the rounds were of the East wind.
As she ran into another forest and drew another unneeded bamboo, she despondently looked at the sky. Her chance was about gone now. In her haste to get a quick hand, she called a lot. Everyone with eyes should know that she was collecting pin tiles. No one would discard them…
A 3 pin appeared.
Not unless, they were a newbie.
“Sorry, Saki-chan. But, I’m winning this,”
With one giant throw, the thief threw a dagger toward to the sky.
“RON! Honitsu 2,000 points!” At these words, the dagger glowed and accelerated, right straight into the 3 pin rune in the makeshift ceiling. Then, like a contagion the dagger transferred its glow into the tile. A bright meteor fated to hit the ground by the laws of gravity.
Yuuki noticed its direction.
Why was the 3 pin falling this way? It should fall where Saki was!
But, Yuuki’s eye did not deceive her. The glowing chunk of rock was falling toward her. Her survival mechanism kicked in.
She ran like the wind she was fond of.
A few seconds later.
A loud bang rang toward the area. Even with her distance, the thief could feel the aftershock. She turned around. There was a nice dust cloud where the forest was a few seconds ago. Courtesy of impact.
She heaved a relieved sigh.
She didn’t even notice.
“Saki-chan are you there?” She called out to the dust cloud where the grove of trees used to be.
“Hai,” a soft spoken voice replied, silencing her nagging doubts. When the fine layer of dust cleared out, the bookworm could be seen sitting comfortably under a square shaped crater. Yuuki’s dagger impaled, right in front of her. Seeing her newly minted student has no inclination to move, the thief somersaulted into the crater. “Do you need help getting up?”
“Umm… thank you.” The white mage agreed, taking her hand. At the moment, the computer telepathically announced the score to her brain.
Kataoka : 31,800
Suga : 5,500
“I’m still behind Nodo-chan.” Yuuki groaned. Though, her last attack did put her in second. Just a few hundred points ahead of Saki. She gazed at the bookworm who has standing silently beside her. Feeling sorry for her student.
“Cheer up, Saki! It’s a simple rookie mistake! Besides, the student can’t surpass the master easily.” The thief laughed cheerily. “Here have a taco!”
Unnoticed by the participants of the current game, someone has entered the mahjong club and was fast approaching them.
Hisa Takei has just finished student council duties (or more like shoved them to her Vice-President). And she was now ready to act on her other more preferable duty – the mahjong club leader. It helped that she has a good crop this year. Her underclassmen were so cutely diligent. She was sure that they would still be doing club activities even if it was just the three of them.
And sure enough, when she passed the door that lead to the arena, there was a red warning light above it. Signifying that the game was on progress. Hisa smirked. It’s nice to be validated.
Stopping on the room across the arena, Hisa opened the door to the operation room. Wires, monitors, and lots of processors are stacked neatly in place. This was the room that monitored the various going on in the arena.
Oh? What’s this?
At the large screen in the back of the room, there were 4 gauges that was being monitored.
4 people? But, Mako asked for a leave since her family’s mahjong parlor was understaffed. Did they have a guest? Itching to scratch her curiosity, Hisa typed a few commands in one of the keyboards, allowing her to communicate with those inside.
The screen split into 4 partitions, one for each player. As always, Nodoka was the first to notice, “Buchou?”
“Hello, I just want to check up on you.” Hisa said cheerfully.
“Student Council President?” This time it was the unknown girl who spoke. She was wearing a white cloak that covered her whole body and holding a staff. The hood was up, but Hisa could make out short cropped hair and red eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“Student Congress President.” She corrected. “And I’m the leader of this club.”
The girl blinked like a lost lamb, unsure how to respond. “I see.”
Hisa wanted to recruit her already
“Don’t mind me, please continue your game.” She grinned and closed the communication line. Now then, what to do? She gazed at the monitor when she saw a small flashing red bulb on the side. Something wrong with the machine?
“Ask and you shall receive.” Hisa smiled ruefully. Well, she better fix it now before it becomes a major problem. She pushed a few buttons on the keyboard in front of her. “Let’s see.”
Stress level: 99%
Hisa scratched her head. What arcane simulation were they running to put that much stress in the machine? She was sure that they’re just using the standard version . She pushed a few more buttons to check.
“Riichi variant. Standard setting. E-S rounds. Dora activated. Ura dora activated, Limit hands, -” The student congress president knotted her brow as she read the list. There wasn’t anything here that could stress the system. She also didn’t find anything wrong on the last maintenance so it can’t be the physical components fault. The last battle yesterday also went without a hitch.
“So what was causing all this stress?” Hisa watched the red line hold steady.
Her heart skipped a beat.
That shouldn’t be possible. There are times when the simulation consumes more energy and there were times that it didn’t; like there were lulls in battles and frantic aggressive exchanges. The gauge should be uncontrollably fluctuating to reflect that.
But, it was happening. The gauge has refused to budge at the 99% for a couple of minutes now. She has to accept that.
The redhead pushed thoughts of impossibilities away from her mind. This was mahjong, she reminded herself. Impossibilities were its currency. Think. What was the variable that was different in yesterday’s match and the current one?
In excitement or fear, she didn’t know because there was only one.
With a few stroke of her finger, she got her answer.
The screen that was supposed to display her profile. Her speed, resiliency, mana gathering, affinities. All the data that the computer was supposed to collect. Everything was displaying an error value.
It wasn’t a damming confirmation but it was a close one.
With trembling hands, Hisa pressed the button for the records of the game data.
Saki walked down the pavement. She has excused herself from the game after she saw the student president. She did promise to play only so that they will have enough players.
Now, its time to go home. And not a minute too soon, the weather has turned bad and its raining quite hard. Looking at those clouds, it would only grow harder. She should –
A flare of aura.
Her eyes widened.
She could feel it. Haramura-san has left the building and heading her way. She was chasing her. The pinkette’s normal calm aura – frantic, confused, anxious – making it stand out as a beacon to her senses. Sooner or later, she would catch up.
The question was what would she do about it?
I’ll think about it.
Just for today.
Her words came back to her.
Saki stopped and turned around. She stood in the howling wind and the cold rain like a statue with her umbrella. Waiting.
And right on cue, Haramura-san arrived. The middle school champion was in a sorry state. Her hair a bit disheveled. Her clothes drenched. But, her eyes were resolute, challenging. “Plus minus zero, three times in a row, was that on purpose?” Haramura asked, her words echoing in the rain.
Saki closed her eyes for a moment.
This is it.
The moment she pronounced those words, Nodoka’s aura reeled. It was like seeing a massive resolute tower get a crack on the foundation. Saki’s heart ached at the sight.
She hurt someone.
“Why?” Haramura-san asked.
Why not? Saki wanted to ask. She didn’t.
After a few moment, when the silence lengthened. She decided to answer. Haramura-san was brave enough to ask, she should at least answer honestly.
“Losing hurts.” She said simply.
Her whole body ached. She couldn’t move without triggering a lance of pain. Her lifeblood was steadily draining away every second. Something was skewing her insides.
She just wanted it to stop. Make the pain go away.
Why does it hurt this much?
“But, winning means your opponent will be the one who would be hurting.”
She could hear the howling, more animal than human as someone burned. The stubbed hand of kindly servant as they delivered her food. The eyes that once looked at her fondly refused to even glance at her.
Her heart twinged, twisted. She was the one who caused it. She was the one to blame.
Saki watched the lightning as it drew strange shapes in the sky, Gazing anywhere but Haramura-san, the person she was hurting with her explanations. “That is why I play that way.” Saki smiled self-deprecatingly. “In the end, I suppose I’m just a coward who does not want to be hurt. A person who does not hold a single conviction to be able to clash with others.”
A beat of silence as the wind howled.
“I’m sorry Haramura-san, but that is just the way I am.” She turned away, ready to leave.
The bookworm looked back. There was a new determination in Haramura-san’s eye as she returned her stare. “Fight with me. Please, I promise I won’t be hurt nor will I blame you. Just fight with me. Even if for just one more time”
Saki’s gave a painful twinge at that desperate plea.
Do you want me to hurt you again?
You can’t promise not to be hurt. Not when I’ve already caused you pain. Saki wanted to point out but she swallowed the words away like always. Watching, Haramura-san’s aura flare, she knew that this offer was as serious as it can get.
And yet, she cannot allow herself to grant it. No matter how sincere the pinkette was, she cannot do mahjong for that reason. To protect her friend she could try to play mahjong again for a little while. But, this request has no such purpose. Besides, she was painfully aware that one time has a distressing tendency to be two times which will morph to three and so on. Causing Haramura-san this fleeting pain would be better for her in the long run. “I’m sorry, I can’t grant that.” She said as gently as she could.
“Why?” Haramura-san asked a second time, prepared to be stubborn.
This time Saki thought of her past and the pain that she doesn’t want to ever feel again. Of mahjong, the system that caused it. A system that made sure that nothing can be gained without taking it from someone else. And found that she can say this sincerely.
“It’s because I hate Mahjong.”
And for that the pinkette has no counter. Her eyes widened. Her aura flared out and simmered below the surface, a flame that can be snuffed by a strong breeze.
Please let that be enough. Let that pain I gave be enough for the happiness I gained this day. I don’t want to hurt anyone again.
Saki turned her back one final time certain that no one would call her back.