Hoshinomori Chiaki and Proximity Connection
Editors: Deus Ex-machina, Perditor
I couldn’t help praising it as I fiddled with the control pad connected to my computer.
The game on the screen… Wasn’t the latest cutting edge AAA grade games.
By using existing art work and traditional RPG structure, the game was presented in nostalgic bitmap art, that reminds me of indie games made during the Super Famicon era.
Which was known as free games.
They are games created by hobbyist and distributed free of charge online. I was playing an adventure game made by the most popular RPG maker software.
Although the graphics were constructed using the RPG software, the game didn’t have any battles or character growth elements. It was a pure exploration, puzzle solving and storytelling game from start to finish. Commonly seen amongst free games. That was the reason the quality varies greatly, but if you ask me about the quality of the game I was playing──
“Eh… I need to use this here?”
I controlled the main character, little girl, and chose the ‘key of death’ I just got from the item selection box to enter the new room, ‘room of poison’── And what appeared before me was a wall full of faces, all of them squirming about as they groaned in an unknown language.
“... Woah, the creator is sick in the head as usual…”
I gulped. By the way, ‘sick in the head’ is my way of complimenting him.
Actually, this game… Or rather, this creator always made games that were hard to understand. After playing midway, the storyline was normal, there were no obvious programming errors or typos, and the game was made really carefully… Unfortunately, there were too many ‘super developments’.
The super development wasn’t natural too, it was so bizarre that the player would feel they were playing another game midway. I thought the creator would explain in detail later, but he just tossed all the earlier storyline away, which makes me wonder what the point of all that was.
It was impossible for such a game to be popular; since,the games made by this creator were too niche. However, the second game he made was much more docile, without any strange super developement, and the ending was unexpectedly normal. That’s why it made it into the popularity rankings of free games in no time. I only learned about this creator through that game...
Aside from the second game, without exception, his other works were… putting it nicely, unique; putting it not so nicely──
“I don’t get what the content is saying.”
It could only be described in such a way, as if someone’s nightmare was being visualized.
But such games also had their blind following among the open-minded world of free gaming… How should I put this? I don’t think the works of this person werethat ‘outstanding’.
His style always follows a set route: ‘The story starts out interesting, turns into shambles because of the super development, and proceeds into the ending in a mess.’ There was nothing ‘deep’ about the super development either, so you can’t really talk about it with others.
A work that combined the four elements of no climax, no ending, no meaning, and no taste. (I coined the term ‘4chan’ for this.) This was the style of this creator─ ‘NOBE’.
But somehow, I like the games made by ‘NOBE’.
I couldn’t really answer properly even if you ask me why. The flaws I mentioned earlier bother me and the super development would make me retort: “Hey hey hey…” I probably agree more with the negative comments.
But even so, I still look forward to new works by ‘NOBE’.
As I thought blankly about the creator while I explored the ‘room of poison’, the faces on the wall started speaking.
“The adverts by the mobile service provider do not get to the point though.” “The ice cream looks delicious, but they can do away with the song.” “Why do they want to film a live action version so much?” “I can’t accept a generic comment which includes a discount code as a product review.” “It’s a little too late to release a huge DLC now.” “The trend of jacking up the prices by adding the words ‘limited edition’.” “Physical ability and talent are two different things.” “Oh, so ‘this game enhanced the internet communication functions’ huh?” “No matter how I look at it, it's your own fault that you are not popular.”
“So the poison in the ‘room of poison’ refers to a venomous tongue!”
I retorted to the screen, and a smile appeared on my face.
That’s right, it was this kind of feeling. I couldn’t explain it clearly, but this was why I always have a smile on my face when I play the games by this creator.
This was different from it being funny because the game sucks too much. If I could appraise it more directly, I feel that the games made by this person… his worldview feels very comfortable to me.
Like his choice of words for the game messages, his taste in picking pictures, way he uses the music, all these trivial things. All these elements suit my taste perfectly.
The occasional glimpse into his personality I get when his developer blog refreshes also resonated with me. It even surprised me that there is someone with such compatible sensibilities as me.
I was definitely drawn to the ‘personality’ part of the creator.
That might be so, I didn’t know his age or gender. This was normal on the internet, but from how vague the creator was on his private life, he must have taken extra care to protect his privacy. The only thing that was clear was his internet handle ‘NOBE’.
And of course, I didn’t interact with the creator either. I would leave my comments about his latest release on his blog (basically compliments) or express my agreement with the passages posted on the blog. Even so, I had never received any response. But I like the icy attitude of ‘NOBE’ too, a true die hard fan.
“Erm, next will be… this way?”
After exploring the entire ‘room of poison’, I made the main character enter the next room, which was the bottom of the sea for some reason… Although I was exploring a mansion and there wasn’t any mention of me entering a tunnel, a room in the bottom of the sea suddenly popped up.
I was stunned, but still explored the surroundings──
── The next moment, a giant jelly fish suddenly appeared and killed the main character by eating her!
The unreasonable situation made me froze momentarily, but such deadly traps were common in games made by this creator, so there wasn’t any need to panic. I just need to reload an earlier save file. So I waited quietly for the screen prompt to appear… But after waiting for so long, the game over message still didn’t appear, and only the jellyfish that ate the main character remained on the middle of the screen.
Thinking ‘it can’t be’, I timidly press the left button on the directional pad, and──
── The giant jellyfish moved one step to the left.
“Can the main character be switched in such a way!?”
Even a die hard fan like me couldn’t help roaring at the screen. Immediately after that, the worried voice of my younger brother came from next door: “B-Bro, what’s the matter?”
I answered: “I-It’s nothing.” and turned my gaze back to the game screen.
To confirm, I pressed up down left right on the directional pad. The Jellyfish moved according to my input commands.
I looked at the screen dumbfoundedly for a moment, but a smile returned to my face quickly, and I continued playing.
As I continued controlling the jellyfish and played the game… I muttered subconsciously:
“Really, just what kind of person… is ‘NOBE’...”
And of course, I was aware that many people had different personality or remain anonymous.
But even so, I was still very interested in this person ‘NOBE’.
“Hey Amano! That game made by ‘NOBE’ is incredibly nonsensical!”
On a certain morning, Uehara-kun who ran into the classroom didn’t go to his seat, and headed straight for me. The first thing he did was complain to me loudly.
I tried greeting him with a cool smile, but Uehara-kun didn’t even acknowledged me, and approached with a fierce attitude that made the other classmates cringe.
“I trusted you because you recommended it! During the starting ‘mystery exploration’ segment, I was looking forward to it when I saw all the puzzles and foreshadowing!”
“Yes, the beginning is interesting.”
“That’s right! Not just that, when the super development happened midway and changed into a ‘fishing game’, I was shakened, but still played on patiently by telling myself ‘Well, Amano recommended it, so the story will be make sense in the latter half, and lead to a touching ending…’!”
“Woah. Uehara-kun, I think your personality of not giving up immediately is great.”
I tried soothing him with compliments, but it was not effective. Uehara-kun said with a trembling fist: “In the end… In the end…” He then slammed it onto my table with a bang, and roared with tears in his eyes:
“Why is the ending an arrogant bearded old man taking a picture with a huge black bass!? What the hell! What happened to the haunted mansion in the first half of the story!?”
“Ara~~ Isn’t that interesting?”
“What’s interesting about that!? Your taste is too weird! That is just a trash game!”
I answered honestly, and Uehara-kun grabbed his head and squirmed.
“You actually agreed! Then why recommend it to me!? Out of ill will? You wish ill on me!?”
“How can that be! A tenth of it is out of goodwill!”
“So ill will is nine-tenths!? Damn it, compensate me! Give me back the time I spent on that lousy game all night at the expense of passing on watching ‘Ame Talk’!”
<TL: アメトーーク Ame Talk>
“Ah, their segment on ‘Celebrities that love gaming’ last night was super interesting.”
“So you did watch that!”
Uehara-kun strangled me…Sigh, how blissful. I had resigned myself to a dull campus life, but I actually get to experience such friends-like interaction, this was like a dream… Like a dream… there’s a large patch of flowers around me… Hmm, isn’t that my great grandmother I had only seen on photographs──
“Ughh, you are strangling me too seriously!”
I hurriedly shook away Uehara-kun’s hands. He answered me with a face of rage: “I am really mad!” I-I see. So he really was angry. Oh no, I had completely forgotten about how to gauge the distance between friends.
I apologized to Uehara-kun depressedly.
“I-I am sorry. Erm, there was a 90 percent chance that this game wouldn’t suit you, but I carelessly… hoped that you might like it.”
“Huh?? Ah... In the end, this incident started because I asked you whether ‘you have any games only insiders would recommend’... My bad, I overreacted.”
Uehara-kun scratched his head as he said that, then sat down in the seat in front of me. I placed my phone onto the table and apologized once again: “I am sorry.”
Uehara-kun sighed and said: “It’s fine.” But he immediately followed up with: “But…”
“I don’t get why you find this thing charming at all.”
“Ah~~ … well maybe…”
I didn’t refute. The truth was, aside from the internet, I had never met anyone else who praises the work of ‘NOBE’.
I answered with a wry smile:
“Eh, but I do feel that game is really bad.”
“Isn’t that right? Basically, your taste in games isn’t too different from me. In fact, the stuff you recommended earlier were all really interesting, that’s why I trusted your judgement so much.”
Hearing someone say that was the most blissful thing for video gamers. However, Uehara-kun put his elbow on my table and rolled his eyes.
“And that’s why I don’t understand why you recommended that. It feels like a prank.”
“Ah~~... you are right…”
“Ugh, hey hey, aren’t you going to deny it?”
Seemed like Uehara-kun wanted to debate me but got blindsided. I scratched my cheeks.
“Ehh~~ … Well, I don’t have any excuse. How should I put this, the charm of that game can’t be explained with words. Putting it more arrogantly, those who don’t understand won’t, it’s just like one’s taste in food.”
“Food huh… If I have to say, this isn’t a matter of like or dislike, it is dubious whether the thing is actually food. It can’t be called a game.”
“Maybe. But I like this.”
“... You like bearded old men fishing for black bass?”
“Not that. What I like is the details within the game, or its worldview.”
“I don’t get you…”
After saying that, Uehara-kun leaned onto the chair’s back, rocking the chair on its hind legs as he crossed his arms behind his head…To be honest, I couldn’t explain further. If I had to use a great example I haven’t used before…
With a laugh, I put up a cool front and said:
“That’s right, Uehara-kun, this is something like love, and can’t be explained with reasons.”
"… What the hell is a cherry boy like you saying to a guy with a girlfriend?"
Amano Keita’s heart suffered a billion points of damage! My face turned red with shame!
“T-That’s not the point! I am talking purely about spiritual connection! M-Maybe you and your girlfriend already have… erm, a more intimate connection.”
For some reason, my words stunned Uehara-kun… a moment later, the redness of his face could even rival mine. Uehara-kun then averted his gaze… Could it be…
“Erm… Uehara-kun, I remember you had been dating with your girlfriend for almost half a year…”
“Ah, that’s right! Spiritual connection is important! Yes, that is everything!”
Strange? Could it be, Uehara-kun appeared to be very frivolous, but was unexpectedly──
“E-Enough about me, what about you? You!”
Uehara-kun suddenly accused me to conceal his embarrassment. I tilted my head.
“Me? Well, I told you I didn’t interact with ‘NOBE’ at all…”
“Who’s asking you about that! I mean you and Tendo, Tendo!"
He mentioned an unexpected name, which made me tilt my head blankly.
"Tendo-san? Hmm? What about Tendo-san? If you are asking about my interaction with the Gamers Club, I will greet Misumi-san when I meet him on the corridor by chance, or chat with him a little...”
I didn’t meet the upperclassmen since then, much less Tendo-san who was from a completely different realm…
"Tendo-san and I don’t have anything in common to the point of being depressing."
I replied in a tone insinuating: ‘What’s the point of asking this now?’ Uehara-kun showed a stupefied expression for some reason.
“Are you… serious?”
“Hmm? I am serious… Or do you want me to confess and get dumped?”
“Eh, I don’t mean that… After that time, you didn’t see Tendo around much?”
“? Yes, that’s right. There are times when I saw her one sidedly, but the thing is, we interacted in the past, so I got better at noticing her from the corner of my eye. Sigh~~... Am I really sissy for acting this way?”
I realized how disgusting I was, and felt a little depressed. Maybe I still had lingering feelings for Tendo-san, or held on to some hope. People with chunnibyou were really troublesome.
When I smiled with a hint of guilt, Uehara-kun looked even more stupefied.
“You… You aren’t dense, but your self esteem is too low, and a bit off in your taste.”
“? Off? Ehh… Ah, you mean my views on the games made by ‘NOBE’?”
“No, not that, I mean Tendo… Forget it. It’s funny that way too. But you have to be careful about drifting too far apart, and losing the hook.”
“? Drifting too far apart? Ah, it’s fine, you might not know since you laid off gaming for a while. The effect distance for proximity connection for the 3DS is further than expected.”
“... Is that so.”
Uehara-kun answered disinterestedly… What’s going on? I felt our dialogue was out of sync. Was this the gulf between nerd game players and normies?
── At this moment, I suddenly noticed a request for aid from my mobile phone. After notifying Uehara-kun, I checked and found a message from ‘MONO’. I wanted to clear the quest while chatting with Uehara-kun, but found him peering at the phone screen.
"Ah, Uehara-kun, are you interested? I can send an invite──"
"Well, not really. I’m interested about the person on the other end… What’s the name again? One of the reason you rejected Tendo’s invitation…"
“Hmm? Ah, you mean ‘MONO’?”
“Yes. Connecting spiritually with someone you don’t know the face or background of, don’t it have the feeling of destiny about it?”
I didn’t imagine Uehara-kun to be have such romantic ideology.
“It would be great if the other party is a beautiful young girl. Sigh, but I won’t mind even if ‘MONO’ is a old man.”
“Huh… Could it be your preference is…”
Uehara-kun backed away as if that was true. I hurriedly explained:
“N-No, that’s wrong! I just think that if we can chat about games happily, then the gender of the other party wouldn’t matter… Or rather, I have less reservation when talking with guys.”
“Oh… I see… You really think of gaming as your everything…”
“Not at all. I often think: ‘will a pretty girl fall from the sky’?”
“Your taste lean too much towards gaming.”
“That might be so, but I don’t have the determination to grind the stats like in gal games though! I will just hope for blessings falling from the sky, and that the other party will like me unconditionally!”
“That’s too depraved!”
Uehara-kun sighed with a stupefied expression, then stared blankly at my phone screen. After I finished the help quest, then asked:
“... Oh right, why did you pick your internet handle to be ‘Tsucchi’? Since your family name is Amano, I thought you will pick something like ‘Rain’.”
After hearing his question, I answered while thinking that it is rather embarrassing for someone to watch me play social games:
“To be honest, I will name the hero Rain or Keita when I play RPGs. But I prefer distancing myself for internet handles…”
“Ah~~ I feel you.”
“And so, I used my mother’s family name ‘Tsuchiyama’ and chose the handle ‘Tsucchi’. On the other hand, my internet alias is ‘Yama-san’.”
“Oh~~... It is hard to make conversation if you use such a reason. Boring.”
Uehara-kun sighed in resignation again. And then…
“Looks like you need rehabilitation before I can use your love comedy as entertainment.”
“What are you saying? Love comedy? Rehabilitation?”
What’s the link? I blinked blankly, and Uehara-kun looked at me with serious eyes.
“Think carefully about it, Tendo is too high a bar even for me. Under such a situation, the current you… Even if Tendo is willing to take the initiative, it will end in no time with such a huge imbalance. You are… too weak.”
“Yes, I don’t know what you are talking about, but it’s clear you want a fight. Uehara-kun, let’s take it outside for a round of Mario Party!”
“Your way of picking a fight is too gentle! Sigh, Amano, calm down, you are mistaken. I just want to tell you… Compared to Tendo, you are lower than a lice.”
“Yup, that’s no different from what I thought you are trying to do! Let’s Mario P──"
“Huh? Or you think you are compatible with Tendo?”
“Ah, sorry. Compared with Tendo, I am worse than lice.”
I was devastated that the first friend I made put such a cruel fact before me. Only now did Uehara-kun start to ease the atmosphere.
“Eh, I am not trying to make you depressed. Like I said, I want to help you rehabilitate… In other words, salvage you from the situation of being a loner.”
“Huh!? So you are going to finally introduce your girlfriend and friends to me──"
I could see that Uehara-kun awkwardly averted his gaze…
He cleared his throat and continued:
“N-Not really, that bar is still too high for you right now.”
“Eh, you have a point.”
I was actually half joking. I couldn’t imagine myself chatting happily inside Uehara-kun’s circle of friends. I think that interpersonal relations require effort from both parties, but feeling strained and exhausted from being friends felt wrong too.
But in that case, what does Uehara-kun want me to do?
I couldn’t figure it out… Uehara-kun smiled at me deviously, and nonchalantly stated his idea.
"Amano, try chatting up a game enthusiast and quiet── ‘girl’!"
The ideas from normies were too horrifying, which made me shiver with a headache.
“Alright Amano, the target is Class A’s ‘Hoshinomori Chiaki’. She seems to be the same type as you, a loner nerd girl who likes video games.”
After school. When class was over, Uehara-kun who got information about girls through his network came to my seat.
I glared at him with an obvious show of displeasure.
“Like I said this morning, I don’t want that, this is like picking up girls…”
But Uehara-kun didn’t back down and glared back at me with a straight face.
“Hey hey hey, what are you saying? Anyone who wants to make friends has to start by talking to complete strangers. It’s a given it will be somewhat like picking up girls.”
“T-That might be so… b-but even then, why must it be a girl!”
“Huh? The final objective is obviously for you and Tendo──"
Uehara-kun seemed to realize something and scratched his head at this point.
"Ah～～… No, I remember now. For guys, you already know the gamer Misumi right? And you have no problem talking with me.”
“That… That is true.”
But to be honest, I was still quite distanced from Misumi-san to call him a ‘friend’. We only chat when we meet occasionally, and wasn’t that close to make the effort to keep in touch.
But Uehara-kun didn’t know about that awkward gap, and started persuading me:
“Think about it, if you keep grinding the same type of enemy in a RPG, the experience points will dip right? It’s the same for this. Amano, you need to challenge a new enemy so you can grow rapidly.”
“Somehow, I feel your arrogant face is trying to say: ‘good good, I made a perfect example by using the concept of RPG for Amano who loves gaming.’ It feels irritating.”
“Why are you so acute when it is about your inferiority complex!? That is a worse characteristic than main characters who act like blockheads!”
“I’m just a background character anyway. Not a main character like you, how nice.”
“Annoying! Loner twisted nerdy virgins are annoying! Please, if you go on like this, Tendo will──"
"? Tendo-san will what?"
Why did he mention Tendo-san here? I couldn’t help tilting my head.
The words ‘oh shit’ might as well be written on Uehara-kun as he averted his eyes…
“... T-Tendo will keep calling you a ‘giant slug’!”
“Tendo-san calls me that behind my back!?”
What a surprise! Especially the fact that she didn’t choose the weakest minion, the cute ‘slime’. She went out of her way to call me a ‘giant slug’, that shows her malevolence clearly!
I might be shocked, but I still replied Uehara-kun:
“T-That’s really depressing… I wish she could upgrade me to the level of ‘giant rat’...”
Y-Yeah, that’s right. I don’t get your standards for doing that though… Eh, it’s a lie anyway…”
“Huh? What did you say?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
“I heard you say it’s a lie.”
“At times like this, you need to act like a main character that is hard of hearing! Why did you hear that! The love comedy can’t proceed like this! Are you consciously pulling out the flags!? You really have no right to be a main character! Even though you have the quality of a main character in attracting events!”
“W-Why am I being lectured?”
Did I mishear? That should be it, Uehara-kun had no reason to tell me a lie like that. Also, unless his conscience was biting at him… there was no reason for him to mumble about telling lies. Yes, I should reflect on this. Pulling myself together, I looked into Uehara-kun’s eyes again.
“I-I understand, Uehara-kun. Being branded a ‘giant slug’ is too miserable, so I will believe you and try rehabilitating! I will go to that… Erm, Hoshinomori-san and chat with her!"
“G-Great! Amano, I’m glad you understand where I’m coming from. No point in wasting time──"
“Erm! Uehara-kun, please introduce that girl to……"
"── Go and find that Hoshinomori, and talk to her now, Amano!"
For some reason, Uehara-kun slinged his backpack onto his shoulders, then waved at me… Strange? Wasn’t this the usual way he bid farewell…?
"I will be playing with Aguri at the arcade, I will pray for your success! Bye!"
Uehara-kun left the dazed me behind, and followed a girl with a light tan that was waiting outside the room before I realized it… She seemed to be his girlfriend named Aguri (I don't know why she always glares at me from afar before walking off). He left with this cute schoolmate hurriedly.
… Which means… I will be going to this female schoolmate I didn’t know, and talk to her. And purely for the sake of building a better relationship… Yup, this simply means…
I clutched my bag as I sat alone in my seat, and muttered:
“Hmm? Isn’t this just picking up girls…?”
This idea from a normie was too horrifying, which made me shiver with a headache.
── On top of nausea and a headache, I was also inflicted with petrification.
Oh no, my stomach is starting to act up.
I walked towards Class A on the corridor, and couldn’t help nursing my lower abdomen. There was a dull pain, as if someone filled it with lead. However, this pain probably wouldn’t subside with stomach medicine.
Why do I have to go so far as to challenge picking up girls…?
Even I myself didn’t understand why my legs didn’t led me to the shoe racks, but towards Class A. I wasn’t that determined about this and felt repulsed by this idea, but my legs showed no signs of stopping.
Despite that, I thought about it as I walked and came up with a few possible reasons.
First, Uehara-kun’s idea played a big factor. He isn’t just a friend that I finally made, he even used his own methods to come up with this proposal. And also… he just happened to play a game made by ‘NOBE’ that didn’t fit his taste, which made me feel bad…
He will ask me about the result the first thing next morning. If I answered ‘I didn’t even give it a try’, that would be too disappointing as a friend. At least, I hope to answer: ‘I went to her class to look, but I missed her as she already went home.’”
On top of that… that thing with Tendo-san bothers me too...
That was the second factor.
I still feel guilty about wasting her effort and goodwill. Since I had another chance to build an interpersonal relationship through games once again, I felt that I couldn’t avoid this. Also, I didn’t take everything Uehara-kun said wholesale, but if I want to meet Tendo-san again and apologize, it would be impossible if our relationship was so bad that she calls me a ‘giant slug’. I need to at least be a bit more decent.
And the last factor, which was trivial when compared to the previous two…
Just wanting to talk to a girl who likes games.
After getting to know Uehara-kun, I realized once again how happy it was to chat about games with others. There wasn’t any grinding of skills or exchange of high value information… Just idly chatting about what games we liked, and which games were interesting. These carefree chats about games were really blissful.
When I realized it, my stomach didn’t hurt that much now… Yup, it should work now. Go go, Amano Keita. I am not committing any nefarious acts, I should learn from Uehara-kun who made it into the high school social circle, and talk to that person confidently! I straightened up my posture and made my way outside Class A, then gulped.
The door to the classrooms were open since school was out, and the students inside the room would be able to see me if I took another step inside… I just remembered, this was basically the first time I was visiting another class… my legs started shivering.
I-It’s fine! School is out, so there shouldn’t be that many students around. Someone like me is different from Tendo-san, no one will notice even if I entered the classroom! Yes! Let’s get it over with quickly
Making up my mind, I took a step forth and peered into the classroom from the entrance. As I expected, there were not many students around, and no one paid me any mind.
I patted my chest in relief and surveyed the room. And then──
── I locked eyes with an absolutely gorgeous blonde girl. Only now did I remember… Tendo-san was in Class 2A too.
The school idol was seated in the middle of the class, surrounded by her classmates. When they saw her surprised face, their gazes slowly focused onto me… Oh no.
That incident between me and Tendo-san reached this class too, and the classroom turned a little rowdier. I couldn’t help backing away and hiding half my body.
And so, even Tendo-san who always looks composed showed a wavering expression. After shifting her gaze away from me, she immediately did a simple touch up to her hair for some reason. She then cleared her throat, and appeared even more at ease than usual.
? Eh… What is with her reaction?
Could it be like Uehara-kun said, her reaction by treating me like a ‘giant slug’? I took another look, and even though Tendo-san was blatantly making an expression of ‘I am not bothered by Amano-san at all~~’ while chatting with others, she would peek towards me from the corner of her eyes every now and then.
W-What is this? How should I interpret her attitude?
A-Anyway, the only thing I knew was that it felt very awkward. Leaving Tendo-san herself aside, the ones who grew tense from her unusual reaction were her classmates instead… Recently, I had been making too many enemies.
Feeling depressed, I still thought about my next course of action.
Well, my objective today is different anyway… Yup, I won’t earn any ire if I don’t bother the school idol.
After my quick conclusion, I stepped into the classroom once again, looking around the room in search of Hoshinomori-san. And of course, just the information ‘quiet girl who likes games’ wasn’t enough for me to find that girl.
I was a bit hesitant, but I still steeled myself and chatted to the two girls closest to me.
“M-May I ask…”
“H-How can I help…?”
The reply was a bit too tense, which made me depressed. I told myself it wasn’t because I was disgusting, but because I was the center of attention, so I muster my courage and looked at the other party’s eyes.
── However, the other girl asked before I state my question.
“A-Are you looking for Tendo-san?"
Her question made a few girls in the classroom squeal a little. I peeked at Tendo-san, who was still cool and composed…But her eyes glanced my way more frequently, and her gaze seemed to be looking forward to something.
I couldn’t guess what Tendo-san’s intention was… I still waved hurriedly with a bitter smile. In order to not trouble Tendo-san, I refuted her with a heavier tone.
“Ah, no no. I am not interested in Tendo-san at all, and don’t have any business with her!”
That moment, a loud ‘Cock’ sound came from the room. I was wondering what happened, and saw Tendo-san had banged her forehead onto the table, what the hell!
Not just me, the entire classroom was shakened by this. Tendo-san lifted her head slowly, and showed her typical graceful smile as if nothing had happened… That was scary. W-What’s with her? Was she not feeling well?
But the atmosphere lightened because Tendo-san lifted her head.
Seeing this chance, the girl talking with me asked as if she just remembered something:
“Eh, s-so you are not looking for Tendo-san? I heard the rumours and thought…”
I nodded to affirm her suspicion, and did my best to answer with a smile:
“Yup, I am here to look for another girl, not Tendo-san.”
The knocking sound sounded even louder than earlier! Tendo-san’s forehead had sunk into the table a little, and steam like smoke was wisping out! T-Tendo-san?
Everyone held their breath. As for Tendo-san, she slowly raised her twisted smiling face that looked like a mask… said to her classmates “excuse me for a moment”, then left her seat… She then walked towards me with a smile on her face!
Uwah! W-Why!? Why is Tendo-san walking to me !? It got so awkward the previous time! I still haven’t shaken off my title of ‘giant slug’ yet!
The situation was completely unexpected── like grinding near a save point and suddenly entering a final boss fight, which threw me into extreme confusion.
Under the watchful gaze of the students from Class A, Tendo-san came before me, and spoke after widening her smile even further:
“It’s been awhile, Amano-kun.”
"L-Long time no see, Tendo-san…"
I was so nervous that my entire body turned stiff, and I broke out in cold sweat. Compared to the first time I met Tendo-san, my fear had grown stronger. My smug feeling from back then was completely gone, and only the negative and darkness remains. I was scared.
I stood up straight as if I was being lectured by a teacher for violating school rules.
Tendo-san was composed and smiling… But at the same time, she seemed a little nervous as she asked me:
“So, what brings you to Class A? I-I heard just now that you are looking for a girl…”
“Ah, yes. I am looking for a girl in Class A…”
“... I-Is that so?”
Tendo-san who was standing appeared a little giddy for an instant… So she really was unwell?
But the next moment, she seemed to have figured something out and turned cheerful. She then asked me excitedly, as if she was clearing up something:
“Oh right, I know! Amano-kun is so serious, so you must be looking for a girl from my class for committee work or some other duties──"
“Erm, no, it’s not like that.”
I panicked because I seemed to have been misunderstood, so I spilled the beans without a second thought.
“I came to class A in order to build a better relationship with that girl! It has nothing to do with Tendo-san!”
Tendo-san still had a smile on her face, but she was falling backwards for some reason. I rushed forth to support Tendo-san’s back and held her steadily, and squeals erupted from her class. No no no, now is not the time for that kind of reaction! No matter how I looked at it, Tendo-san had obviously fallen ill! And her face was red as she looked at me from such a close distance! Not just that, her mouth was opening and shutting, like a goldfish gasping for air…
"!～～! Ugh～～! P-Pla..."
Tendo-san wanted to say something, so I turned my head and perked my ears. And so, she…
She suddenly wailed with tears in her eyes!
"You big playboy～～～～～～!!"
Tendo-san pushed me away, and ran out of the classroom… Weird, what happened? This felt familiar though, what was with this situation?
By the way… What did she say? Beckpla buoy…? What did that mean?
Tendo-san was probably too near and she wailed too suddenly, so I didn’t hear what she said clearly. Well, I thought I heard ‘big playboy’, but that was definitely not words to describe me. Ugh～～ …I was really bothered, and wondered what she actually said.
But the sharp gazes from the people around me didn’t allow me to ask any further… Could it be, they think Tendo-san and I were a couple and we were having a fight? Even though Tendo-san was just feeling under the weather… I couldn’t stand it, for her classmates to not show concern for her at a time like this felt wrong to me!
I felt a little angry for acting like a ‘dense main character who didn’t show concern for how others felt’. Thanks to that, I could relax my tensed emotions and asked the female student once again:
“Erm, I’m looking for a Hoshinomori Chiaki… Is she here?"
When the female student heard my question, her mouth was wide open as she said something nonsensical:
“I-Instead of Tendo-san, you want Hoshinomori!?"
“>Huh? Erm… that’s right, I’m not here for Tendo-san, I’m here to look for Hoshinomori-san."
I didn’t know why she mentioned Tendo-san, but I still answered her.
For some reason, the classroom turned rowdy… What was it, what was it?
The female student seemed impressed as she looked at me.
“Y-You think Hoshinomori is better? Even after seeing Tendo-san?”
“? Well, I am only here for Hoshinomori-san though."
I was losing patience. So annoying for them to involve Tendo-san in everything they say, although I know she was really popular. And the squeals in the room every time I speak. What’s wrong with this class? You should worry about Tendo-san’s health instead! I couldn’t stand it!
And so, I insisted that Hoshinomori was the only choice for me. The classroom got even rowdier… I don’t get it.
With a face of a neighbourhood housewife entertaining herself with the love gossips of others, she pointed to a corner of the classroom… Taking reference from my class, It happened to be near where I was seated.
After being shown the way, I looked over there and…
This… U-Uehara-kun’s information network is too strong...
I saw someone with earphones looking down at the screen of her console, oblivious to everything that just happened in the classroom. She just concentrated on her gaming with a blissful smile──
── She was the same type as a certain someone, this background type girl without any thing striking about her was sitting there.
This is… just like the reenactment of that scene last time.
A student who had drawn the gazes of all the students in the class was approaching another student playing video games at a corner of the classroom.
The only different thing was, unlike Tendo-san, I was a big coward.
Tendo-san she… is always basking under such gazes...
Only now did I felt impressed by this fact. Just recently, I was on the verge of breaking down just coming into contact with Tendo-san… Tendo-san endured more gazes than this and still managed to act naturally.
… Really, the more I get to know her, the further she feels. She can still insist on the things that she likes, which makes her truly a great person… I have to at least shake off my title of ‘Giant Slug’.
Nowadays, whenever I think about Tendo-san, I will compose myself mentally. This wasn’t just superficial admiration, I understand that she was worthy of respect… Although we were the same age.
After steeling myself, I didn’t want to lose to those gazes, and walked straight up to Hoshinomori-san.
She was still wearing her headphones with her eyes glued to the screen.
I just stood in front of her desk and looked down at this scene.
…Oh no, the other party didn’t notice me at all. This schoolmate of mine was focusing entirely on the game.
W-What should I do? Touching the shoulder of a girl… Isn’t good either...
To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with taking the initiative to talk to others. Not just that, I seldom contact others through phones or emails either… Because I will wonder: ‘Am I bothering them?’ Pushing myself to ask a female classmate about Hoshinomori-san was already my limit.
On top of that, Hoshinomori-san…
It feels that… she is completely immersed in her game, it is hard to chat her up...
I could empathize since I play games often too, there was nothing that spoils my mood more than being dragged back into reality when you were totally engrossed in the game world.
Hoshinomori-san leaned forth and studied the screen carefully. Her curly hair that reminded me of seaweeds covered both side of her console, barring away the annoying sunlight.
She is absolutely in a world of her own! It is hard to chat her up!
I also play video games in class, but not to such an extent… Or I hope I didn’t. No, if Uehara-kun was to judge, he would probably say: ‘how alike.’
Okay, I couldn’t bear to interrupt Hoshinomori-san who was focusing so intently on her game. To be honest, my business with her was just trivial chat about ‘let’s be friends.’
I pulled out the chair in front of Hoshinomori-san’s desk, and sat on it side ways with my elbow on the back of the seat. Frankly speaking, I didn’t really dare to sit in someone else’s place, but the owner seemed to have already went home, so this was an exception.
I peeked at the screen of the game. Thankfully, there wasn’t that much seaweed like hair to the front, so I got a clear view.
Hmm, isn’t this ‘Aegis VIII’ that was just released last week? I happen to be playing this too...
On the screen was a 2D style chibi male main character defeating enemies with his sword and exploring the open plains. This type of game was known as Action RPG.
Fearing spoilers, I timidly checked how far Hoshinomori-san’s had progressed in the game. She seemed to be slightly slower than me, so I patted my chest in relief and continued watching her play.
On closer look, she seemed happier than I imagined. I caught a glimpse of her mouth through her hair, and she looked defenseless, opening it halfway in her joy. It was a little disgusting, but I felt as if I just met a comrade, and felt really happy.
How should I put this… Maybe I like seeing people enjoying their games with a smile.
It was probably because I saw Hoshinomori-san’s blissful face, it eased my tensed emotions greatly.
I watched her play her game in silence momentarily.
The main character charged around the plains, defeated mob monsters, and then explored every corner of a dungeon.
Before I realized it, only the two of us were left in the classroom illuminated by the setting sunlight. I saw a few bags around the classroom, so it just happens that just the two of us were alone…
Ugh… If I want to talk to her, now should be the best chance… right…?
Without the gaze of bystanders, the bar for picking up girls lowered substantially… Wait, no no no, this wasn’t picking up girls!
My head started hurting again. To avoid the atmosphere going astray, I had to choose the way I start the conversation carefully.
Anyway, I decided to leave the conclusion for later, and return my gaze onto her game screen. And then…
Ah, she is finally going after the boss? What a long journey. The difficulty of this dungeon didn’t feel like the games of recent years. The enemies are strong and the save point is placed near the entrance.
The game was entering its climax, and my thoughts on chatting up Hoshinomori-san was tossed aside.
Hoshinomori-san gulped nervously. Indeed, if she loses now, all her time spent playing after school would be for nought. And from what I glimpsed, Hoshinomori-san didn’t grind too hard, and could even get in trouble fighting the dungeon’s minions. Her skills were similar to mine, she knew the controls, but was not very proficient.
As for whether she can beat the boss, it’s probably 50-50. I only challenged him after grinding to a higher level than Hoshinomori-san, so I had more leeway, but it was still a tough fight.
The boss room was right before her. Hoshinomori-san stopped, and I couldn’t help straightening my back.
And so, after waiting for five seconds… Hoshinomori-san finally stepped into the boss room. After the display of an exaggerated warning message, a huge rock giant blocked the main character’s path.
We both gasped at the same time.
Hoshinomori-san pulled away from the boss, planning to observe his attack pattern first. This was the standard method when one faces a boss you met in an Action RPG for the first time. However…
With the soft sound effect that leaked out from her ear phones, stone spears sprouted out from the walls of the cave. This was one of the annoying ability of this boss, if you go near any stone walls or objects, it will attack with spears that was almost too fast too dodge.
This attack will definitely land the first time. And she will think it is just a trap, then get stabbed again when she hides in the other corner.
Just when I was thinking that, Hoshinomori-san got stabbed as I expected. Her movement pattern really resembles mine, which made me giggle.
Now that I thought about it, even the way Hoshinomori-san played earlier was eerily similar to mine. Even though I often watched my younger brother play and others livestreaming their playthrough online, I had never seen someone whose thought process was so similar to mine. The truth was, this game was very liberal in playstyle, weapon choice, stats allocation and skills to learn. But somehow, her choices were almost similar to mine.
Ah, she won’t expect the spear to sprout from other objects, and will get stabbed once more.
As I was thinking that, Hoshinomori-san got stabbed as I expected.
Hoshinomori-san’s face turned anxious. That hit brought the main character’s HP bar to the halfway mark, and there was basically no way to heal during boss fights in this game. Items couldn’t be used, so magic was the only means. But that would drain a lot of MP, and the casting time was also rather long.
That was why grinding to increase attack and max HP was so important.
Oh no, it might be difficult to win like this.
Even though I was at a higher level than her, I barely managed to defeat the boss. In that case, since her skill and play style was about the same as me… her odds are low.
Okay, although she made up her mind to attack the boss fiercely, that heavy smash attack with an unreasonably wide hitbox… Ara, she got crushed as expected.
Hoshinomori-san made the same mistakes I did.
Fearing that the time she spent adventuring would be wasted, her breathing started getting rugged, but her controls remain deft and cautious, easily dodging the attacks she had seen before and counter attacking. The boss’ HP dwindled slowly, and the tide was turning, but the main character will fall with another hit.
She replicated my situation almost perfectly! But when I was playing, I grinded harder so I could still take another hit when I took down the boss… But for her...
This could literally be described as nerve wrecking.
I was leaning completely forward, Hoshinomori-san and my forehead was almost touching as we watched the screen, but she was so focused that she didn’t notice me.
Hoshinomori-san could dodge the attacks she had seen before… But this boss will use new attacks when his HP drops…
Although it was an attack that could be evaded easily after seeing it once, it was used in a way that would ‘definitely hit players who saw it the first time’... At least it hit me.
Damn it, it will be unbearable to die after making it this far!
I was more emotionally invested than usual because I watched the progress of the game together with her!
I glanced at Hoshinomori-san’s face, and she seemed to be enjoying this tension too, but I still felt…
That’s right, the grueling game difficulty might add to the experience… But if possible, players would still prefer to avoid wasting the vast amount of adventuring time they spent.
And for Hoshinomori-san, there was probably some other reason. Gaming inside the classroom in public view was not very conducive, and the gaze of her classmates didn’t feel comfortable either. If her adventure was all wasted… That would be too terrible.
It was finally time.
The Rock Giant raised its hand in a ‘banzai’ stance, and started charging for an attack.
Having not seen this attack pattern, Hoshinomori-san was surprised. This was natural, as the pattern that worked so far had been dodging left if the boss moved its right hand, dodging right if it moved its left hand.
But this time, ‘both hands were raised’... several ways of dodging would come to mind, but she wouldn’t be able to confirm which works best and…
She will pull back as she thinks putting some distance between them cannot go wrong! I did that too! But──
The Rock Giant finished charging.
After hesitating for a moment, Hoshinomori-san pulled the control stick down hard and pressed the emergency evade button, dashing backwards──
── I couldn’t help yelling before that happens!
Hoshinomori-san immediately pushed the control stick forward instead, making the character roll between the legs of the Rock Giant! At the same time, the Giant smashed the ground with its fists, a donut shaped shock wave spread outwards in all directions.
That’s right… except for the safe spot between the legs of the Giant, it will hit everywhere else.
“Now! Hit it hit it hit it!”
As I cheered her on, Hoshinomori-san mashed the attack button, plummeting the Giant who was exposed after it dished out a huge attack! And so, when the Giant’s stun time ended and it prepared for its next attack──
── The HP of the boss had finally been depleted.
After a brief silence, the Rock Giant exploded dramatically.
The moment the stage clear message was flashed… We couldn’t help standing up.
Coming back to our senses, we locked eyes and shouted:
Hoshinomori-san and I high fived with our right hands.
Looking at her again, Hoshinomori-san was an innocent looking cute female girl when she lifted her head. But when her seaweed like fringe drooped down again, she immediately… turned back into a vague existence.
Ah, I felt it was a pity. I wanted to look at her face more clearly… Wait.
Snapping out of it, the two of us were touching palms, and staring blankly at each other.
Her earphone fell from her left ear, and the sound from the game buzzed in the silent classroom.
Hoshinomori-san… asked in a voice as soft as a mosquito’s:
"…… E-Erm, may I ask… Who are you?"
"Ah～～… Well, that’s…"
Thinking from her perspective,
Returning to reality from the game she was completely engrossed in, she found the classroom to be empty except for a guy she had never seen before smiling intimately and touching palms with her.
This wasn’t a matter of picking up girls anymore, it wouldn’t be strange if she made a police report. This first meeting was very much overboard.
"……Eh～～…… Please listen…… Well…… I…… Erm……"
My gamer brain that splendidly rescued her from a crisis… failed to provide a single ounce of useful information right now.
Hoshinomori-san and I sat on the bench of the deserted bus station. The setting sun provided warmth for my back.
In the end, I tried to express my reason for finding her. Even though she remained skeptical, she still agreed to speak with me on the condition of only doing so before her bus arrives. The reason she stayed so late in school seemed to be the low frequency of the bus she was taking home.
And so, the situation turned into me waiting together with her for her bus…
Oh no… After a short conversation in class, I didn’t speak with her properly...
It was fine while we were walking, but once we sat down, the silence was unbelievably heavy. That being the case, talking about games right off the bat seemed inadequate too. I decided to start off with trivial matters.
“The bus… How long before it comes?”
Hoshinomori-san trembled for some reason when she heard me, then answered with a bit of stutter.:
“... Erm, a-a-about f-fifteen minutes… But… it depends on the traffic…”
“I see, there are few trips, and the arrival time is unreliable, it must be hard on you.”
Hoshinomori-san nodded quietly.
…… Hmm. It felt like the conversation was over. Although Hoshinomori-san didn’t say much and answered in short spurts, I was the one responsible for holding the conversation and was despairingly unskilled in this. I thought I had improved somewhat after talking to Tendo-san and Uehara-kun, but I was wrong. The two of them were the ones who were good, I didn’t improve at all. No matter what, I should start with an introduction. With that in mind, I said with a stammer:
“Ah, s-sorry, it’s a bit late to say this now, b-but, I’m from Class F, my name is Amano Keita."
"You are Amano… san."
"Y-Yes. And… well..."
… I couldn’t think of a good opening line. That was expected. Who could say something like ‘I want to be good friends with you’! Even putting it in a nice way, it would be troubling to underestimate how bad my social skill was.
… After agonizing over it, I gave up and handed the topic docilely over to the other party.
"Hoshinomori-san… you… like… video games… right?"
The two of us were in the same grade, so I should be more relaxed and speak to her as an equal. But I didn’t have the guts.
Hoshinomori-san nodded in response… Her eyes covered by her seaweed-like hair seemed to be looking at me suspiciously.
Although her gaze made me anxious, I still racked my brains to keep the conversation going.
But to my surprise, Hoshinomori-san spoke to me on her own.
"E-Erm… Y-You are from the Gamers Club, right?"
I didn’t know how to react to this unexpected question and Hoshinomori-san lowered her head for some reason.
"I’m sorry. No matter how many times you all ask… I-I don’t intend to join the Gamers Club…"
"Huh? P-Please wait a minute!"
Seeing how flustered I was, Hoshinomori-san tilted her head bafflingly. I raised my voice to clear the misunderstanding.
“I’m not from the Gamers Club, alright? Well, they did invite me before…”
"? Then, you are not acting together with Hyobu-san… or Tendo-san?
"? I don’t know who Hyobu-san is… But Tendo-san did invite me to join the Gamers Club. And just like you, I turned her down…”
"…J-Just like me…?"
Hoshinomori-san opened her eyes in surprise. However, I was the one who was shocked. I didn’t expect us to have things in common for even that part.
Anyway, I decided to clear up our relationships with the Gamers Club. I told her the gist of what happened between Tendo-san and me, and Hoshinomori-san bowed towards me with her face slightly blushed and said:
"M-Me too! A freshman girl called Hyobu-san invited me… And then… I visited the Gamers Club once… But, eh, how should I put this…”
“Ah, take your time, it’s fine.”
I reminded her with a smile. Hoshinomori-san was acting just like I did when I spoke with Tendo-san, which amused me a lot… Sigh, although I felt rather thick-skinned for looking at her from such a perspective.
Hoshinomori-san backed away a little shyly, then continued:
"… I turned down the, Gamers Club… because… erm…"
Hoshinomori-san seemed very anxious about finding the right words to express herself. Inspiration struck, and I took the initiative and told her:
"Is it because… The actual content of the club is different than the ‘gaming’ you had in mind?”
! Nods her head furiously!
After hearing what I said, Hoshinomori-san nodded as if she was enlightened. I felt happy about it, and couldn’t help continuing:
“The Gamers Club is good and all, but for us, that is too dazzling…”
"T-That’s right! Playing games with others is enjoyable, I enjoy a match with another person occasionally too… B-But, I have no intention of being the very best that no one ever was…”
“I know right!? But, the Gamers Club is a through and through ‘club activity’.”
Nods furiously! "Like I said, Hyobu-san who invited me… As well as Tendo-san who approached me again on the basis of being classmates, I feel bad towards them… However…”
“Yes… since gaming is our sanctuary, we can’t really compromise on this…”
When we realized it, we had already started chatting. Seems like our similarities were beyond Uehara-kun’s expectation, we were alike to the very core.
With the tension eased, I naturally moved to the main topic.
“I prefer playing casually. Like those mindlessly repetitive mobile games…”
“T-That’s right, I get it. Playing leisurely is important, right! But that doesn’t mean I only like simple games…”
“Yup, difficult games are nice too. Like those that explores dungeons…”
“Well, RTS and those foreign beat-them-up games are attractive too… Right?”
“Of course! Although I am really bad at them.”
“Yes, my skills are terrible too.”
The two of us laughed softly.
I didn’t expect to find someone to talk about games with like this… Today is a good day.
I was enjoying the blissful moment quietly. Although being chatted up by Tendo-san the first time was also blissful enough to give me wings; but the bliss I felt today was different in nature compared to that day.
I took a look, and Hoshinomori-san who was lowering her head had a cheerful expression now, as she looked at me excitedly.
"Hoshinomori-san, I am surprised… Erm, this might sound rude, but you are really chatty.”
“Not at all, that’s not true. B-But, I will talk more when I am with people I am comfortable with…”
Oh no, that’s just like me. No wonder she sounded so intimate. I wasn’t sure if it was her catch phrase, but she will occasionally repeat herself with ‘t-that’ or ‘b-but’, which express her seriousness and was unexpectedly soothing. I took a deep breath and said:
“Sigh, I feel at ease. Hoshinomori-san, you don’t really make me conscious that you are a girl─ Ah, putting it that way sounds rude, my bad."
My words made Hoshinomori-san smile wryly.
“Not at all not at all! That’s my tone when I speak, so that’s natural! Erm… all this while, I couldn’t get used to the way girls talk… even using ‘watashi’ makes me feel embarrassed. B-But, I am glad that you find this more comfortable.”
Hoshinomori-san might be bashful, but she still smiled… How touching…
She is actually talking happily to someone like me… Oh no, I feel like crying.
Ever since I entered high school… No, in a sense, fulfilling a lifelong wish made me feel touched. But at this moment, I noticed a bus approaching on the road.
“Ah, Hoshinomori-san, is that the bus you are taking?"
I asked her, feeling that it was a shame. Hoshinomori-san confirmed it with a slightly gloomy face: “Ah, yes, that’s the one…”
Well, it can’t be helped. There is always next time...
With that in mind, I stood up and said: “Let’s stop here for today…”
Hoshinomori-san answered: “Yes…”
As she got up, the bus rolled into the bus stop, and the door near the driver’s side opened.
It would be awkward for Hoshinomori-san if I kept looking at her, so I turned my back to the bus and walked towards the school.
Ah, I’m glad I mustered my courage. Will she be willing to chat about games with me next time…?
The door of the bus closed with a ‘pomf’ behind me. When the bus passed me by, I looked at its window, seeking out Hoshinomori-san. But she was probably seated on the other side as I couldn’t find her.
Feeling a warmth that didn’t stem from the weather, I walked back to school alone.
── At this moment, I heard someone jogging towards me. Strange, there wasn’t anyone around just now. I turned as I thought about that, and found…
“Hmm… H-Huh, Hoshinomori-san?"
Hoshinomori-san who was rushing to me lowered her gaze shyly, as she fidgeted with her bag she was holding in front of her. She seemed to be squeezing out all her courage as she said:
“E-Erm… T-The bus that goes to my home… comes infrequently…”
“Yes, I-I know. Hmm? I-Isn’t that the bus you were… waiting for?”
I was half confused and half expectant, which made my heart race. I waited quietly for Hoshinomori-san’s next words. I could see how red her face was despite her long fringe… she shouted her proposal to me:
“E-Erm, before the next bus comes, can you chat with me for an hour!?”
These words and how cute Hoshinomori-san was dazed me for a moment──
My face turned as red as her’s was, and I replied quickly:
“I-I will be happy to!”
This felt like being invited to go for a drink. Although I have never visited a bar before.
Our attitudes were too stiff, which made me smile.
And so, the two of us returned to campus, and finding that Class A was still empty, we started chatting there again. The more we talked, the more I realized that Hoshinomori-san’s hobby and interest aligned surprisingly with mine, which made me suspect that we were siblings separated by birth. Well, my blood related younger brother was completely different from me in his hobbies though. After asking, I realized that Hoshinomori-san also had an excellent younger sister too, even this part was eerily like me too.
Especially for video games, the games we played, our attitude towards them and even our playstyle were virtually identical.
After chatting for 50 minutes, our nervousness when we first met was all gone and we were really close.
Not just Uehara-kun, I spoke to her with a tone more intimate than my younger brother and asked:
“Oh right, Chiaki. You were playing ‘Aegis VIII’ just now, so you like the Aegis series?”
I didn’t use honorifics for a girl, which was not like me at all. It was the same for Chiaki too…
"Of course! T-That’s right, you really saved me just now, Keita."
Chiaki had gotten used to calling me by name, this scene was just like a loving couple about to get married, but people who got along were probably like this, yup.
…… No, thinking about it calmly, it was strange for us to be so close. But for the two of us who didn’t make any friends before, this issue was the same for both of us. The appearance of a too ideal person to talk with resulted in our brains secreting excessive endorphins, and we were in a drunk-like state.
Our faces were flushed as if we had beer, and kept talking in our excited state.
…… In a way, this was a ‘dream-like’ period of time.
We had completely forgotten about the next bus timing, and chatted intimately.
"Speaking of which, the Aegis series is really a masterpiece, Chiaki!"
“T-That’s right! I love that series! The best part about it is…”
“Yup, it is definitely…”
Looking at each other’s face, bearing an expectation of our views in aligning, we shouted the charming part about the Aegis series──
“Music right!” “Characters right!”
…… We stared at each other blankly… That was strange. There seemed to be a difference in opinions just now… N-No, that wasn’t possible, yup.
With a smile that was a little stiff, I continued by acknowledging Chiaki’s view:
"Y-You are right, the music in that series is absolutely fantastic."
“T-That’s right, yes. No matter what, the charming part of that series is in its music! Using music to bring out the fine aesthetics of fantasy! The world building only works uniformly because of the music!”
“I completely agree.”
I had no arguments about that. The music in the Aegis series was wonderful. However, the foundation of the world building had to be supported by the character design──
“The only flaw is some ‘Moe’ elements got mixed into the character design.”
For a moment, time seemed to freeze. I squeezed out a smile and said “No no no.”
“What are you saying, Chiaki? The Aegis series is built on the enchanting heroines that debut in its various venues.”
Chiaki seemed baffled by my words, and tilted her head to the side.
"? Ara ara, you sure like to jest, Keita. What are you talking about? Isn’t the heroines the only flaws in the Aegis series? The later releases trend towards ‘Moe’ a little too much. ‘Moe’ is the main thing that spoiled the game, right?”
“Huh, what are you saying? ‘Moe’ is a great spice for all media, you can even say it is a crucial ingredient. Although it would be troubling if the balance goes off scale…”
Chiaki slowly frowned as she listened to what I said. She squeezed out a stiff smile and said:
“H-Hold on, Keita, please stop joking. ‘Moe’ only brings detriments with no benefits to gaming right?”
When I heard what she said, I also replied with a forced smile:
“No no no, you should be the one to stop joking, right? ‘Moe’ surpasses gender, and even extends to inanimate objects too… It is embodied in all things in life, no matter how hardcore a work is, we can still find a wonderful entertainment value in it, that’s ‘Moe’.”
── I felt the temperature inside the classroom increased by a degree or two.
“Y-You had a big fight with her!?”
Uehara-kun yelled hysterically, silencing the rowdy Class 2F.
I was bothered by the gazes from around me, but I still mumbled a reply while scratching my face:
"Well… Something like that…"
"H-How did things turn out like that…?"
Uehara-kun sat onto the seat in front of my desk, and placed his right elbow on the table menacingly.
When the gazes of our classmates drifted away, I turned my eyes away from Uehara-kun and replied:
"… I guess it’s our difference in values and beliefs…"
"Huh? Hey hey hey, I heard that Hoshinomori is a loner girl who likes games. What is this about? Is she a fujoshi who only plays BL games?"
"N-No, it’s not that… The games we like are almost the same… And our game preference is so alike that she is practically my body double…"
"? Eh, or is she actually a hidden normie, or her personality is very repulsive… something like that?"
“No, it’s not that either… Her experiences were almost the same as mine, and we got along fine as if she was my doppelganger. To be honest, she speaks a little nerdy, but that makes it more relaxing and I was less conscious about her being a girl. She was more like a friend to me than you who is lofty for some reason.”
“I like you the best.”
I tried smiling amiably, but it seemed to be disgusting too, spoiling Uehara-kun’s mood badly. With a solemn face, he asked:
“I don’t get it at all. Shouldn’t you two get along great? Not just friends, she might as well be your fated partner.”
“Erm… That’s true. We did hit it off great.”
Uehara-kun couldn’t fathom the reasons and tilted his head. He then asked me from another approach.
“So, what led to the fight? It’s a serious matter, right?”
"Well… Because we…"
I averted my eyes away from Uehara-kun, and said it quietly in an attempt to bring it across casually:
"… We fought because our attitude on ‘Moe’ is different…"
I was completed refuted by Uehara-kun’s loud voice. With no regards to the gaze of our classmates, he leaned towards me agitatedly.
"What the hell! Why did you fight so hard about this with a girl you just met!?"
"Erm, how should I put this… This is how vast the gulf between our communication skills with girls are.”
"I feel a different sort of respect towards you now! Just one short hour, and you turn from a first meeting to getting along like a one true pair, then progressed to sworn enemies! I’m not as fast as you!”
“Because I’m the type who will choose the simple options wrong even when I play galgames because I overthink things.”
"I’m starting to see why you can’t make friends!"
After venting his agitation, Uehara-kun was stupefied and sighed, then laid onto the table.
"First Tendo, then Hoshinomori… Why did you get into a fight with someone that matches your ideals...?”
"Even if she is a girl, I won’t back down. For it concerns gaming!"
"What useless manliness you are asserting! So that’s what happens when a nerdy loner gets involved with his strange ego!”
"… Erm, U-Uehara-kun. Wasn’t it cool when I announced that I won’t back down just now? If this is a scene from a light novel, this will definitely be a timeless quote──"
“Let me tell you then, that is really revolting!”
Uehara-kun was filled with rage as he lashed out… Weird, I thought my recent conviction was a good thing. Looks like I completely misunderstood. Life is hard.
Uehara-kun looked at me with utter disappointment. I decided to rebuke him a little.
“A-Alright, I admit that incident with Tendo-san was completely my fault. But this time… I think Chiaki and I should share the blame.”
“You are calling her directly by name? Just how close did you two get in one day…? Sigh, forget that for now, since you said there was a big fight, the other party must have retorted too…”
“Of course. And the content of our fight is basically about the necessity of ‘Moe’ in games and other media. I agree; she thinks there is only harm without any benefit.”
“Yup, from the topic of your big fight, I can tell you two get along really well.”
“Stop that! Getting along with such a person makes me want to puke!”
“Just how bad is your relationship with her! You are just like a divorced couple!”
I crossed my arms in silence, and Uehara-kun sighed deeply… He then looked at me as if I was annoying.
“Well, even so… you two are basically compatible, right? In that case, you just need to apologize and make up with her.”
"Hmmp, instead of such humiliation, I would rather commit seppuku!"
"The determination of a Samurai completely does not fit with you, why are you so repulsed by that idea! … Sigh, I get it I get it. I will go together with you after school, that’s fine, right? With someone as a buffer, you two will discuss more calmly, right?”
“...... If you insist, this humble one won’t reject your offer.”
"Yup, even I am thinking about ending our friendship. Seriously though, I am really intrigued by Hoshinomori who got into a huge fight with you. I will accompany you there after school.”
Uehara-kun then massaged his shoulders lazily and waltz back to his own seat.
… That’s true, with Uehara-kun soothing things, maybe we can reach a compromise...
After all, I didn’t fight with Chiaki because I wanted to. If we could get along, that would be for the best.
With this faint hope in our after school meeting, I started playing social games again.
In conclusion, it was hopeless.
"What! Wait wait, Keita, what do you mean! The Japanese game industry that is leaning too much towards ‘Moe’, and the foreign game industry that prioritize gameplay and story! Just think about it and you will know which side holds the advantage! Stupid stupid stupid~~! I can’t stand it, shorty with narrow field of vision is really…”
"H-Hold it hold it, Chiaki-san. Let me ask you then, when you play foreign made games, don’t you ever think: ‘If only the girls are drawn cuter…’ No, you definitely did, right? Romance or not, ‘Moe’ and ‘cute’ are important elements! Narrow minded seaweed head who can’t even get this is really…”
"Timeout timeout time~~ out!”
Uehara-kun got between Chiaki and me who were glaring at each other.
I had no choice but to back off, as for Chiaki……
"… O-Okay, Uehara-san……"
She backed away quietly with her face red… Although she was an introvert, her reaction definitely didn’t stem from that reason. From the looks of things…
"Oh～～ Chiaki, you only have eyes for handsome guys, but not ‘Moe’.
"What did you say!? T-T-That has nothing to do with this! Also also, I-I am not ogling… I-It is not like… what you said…”
Chiaki kept stealing glances at Uehara-kun, and would lower her head shyly when their eyes met.
I sighed exasperatedly.
Sigh… Uehara-kun says he will be neutral during our discussion, but he is basically supportive of Chiaki… It’s only natural, he’s handsome after all.
As I was feeling disinterested, Uehara-kun showed his obvious fatigue as he smoothed things over.
"Why are the two of you so quick to bicker… And you are criticizing each other’s appearance right? That’s not good. Although it’s true that Amano is a virgin shortie.”
I glared at my friend who was not neutral at all. He ignored me and smiled amiably at Chiaki.
"Hoshinomori, I think your hair is nice. Natural curl looks great on girls, and has a feel that artificial curls can’t replicate. How could he call you a seaweed head, I can’t stand him…”
Uehara-kun seemed to be saying this seriously, he even scratched his head as he glared at me in bewilderment… I-I didn’t think Chiaki’s hair was that bad, I was just getting back at her for badmouthing me…
Chiaki looked at Uehara-kun with a dazed look of admiration… Her eyes were just like how I looked at Tendo-san some time ago.
I can understand how she feels… After all, I admire Uehara-kun too.
How should I put this, maybe he had a certain charm that attracts nerds? The subject himself probably wouldn’t be happy about this though.
Right now, we were seated at the back of Class F, with three chairs placed around one table. And of course, there was some distance between Chiaki and me, with Uehara-kun in the middle, his elbow on the desk.
It had been 40 minutes since we started talking after school. We went all out since the beginning in a continuation of yesterday’s fight. And so, even with Uehara-kun mediating as a neutral, it only shifted how we feel about him, while our relationship showed no signs of warming.
With the issue at an impasse, Uehara-kun finally muttered impatiently:
“Why is your relationship so bad? It might not sound nice, but to me, the two of you are the same kind. For someone like me who couldn’t get what you two are arguing about, I think you two get along superbly well… Hey, don’t make such an obviously repulsive face!”
Uehara-kun yelled when they saw the expressions we were making. I glanced at Chiaki, and she glared back at me through the gaps of her seaweed…
“Don’t duel with your eyes! Sigh… you two are really…!”
Uehara-kun ruffled his hair hard. After exchanging looks, we tried to speak in a non-hostile tone.
"…… How far had you played ‘Aegis VIII’?”
I started the conversation. Seaweed head… No, Chiaki answered as she averted her gaze.
"… E-Erm…… I-I reached the ‘hidden village of the elves’...”
Her words made me intrigued and I leaned closer!
"Ah, you played until that part!? That is one of the most beautiful villages in the entire series!”
Chiaki also answered excitedly when she heard me:
“Yes yes! That’s right, it is really wonderful! There are many ways to showcase an Elven village, but it’s rare seeing one that could build the atmosphere to be so fantastical and intellectual at the same time!”
“That’s right! Not just that, the graphics give the player a subtle sense that the village dislikes humans and doesn’t welcome outsiders. The way they present that is really masterful. The thing that builds the atmosphere further would be the pretty──"
“B-But, the only regrettable part is the unpleasant Moe──"
At this moment, our voices overlaps perfectly.
“Character portraits of the elves!”
Sharp sound of friction came from the air. There were other students in the classroom, but everyone just happened to stop at the same time. The ticking sound of the clock reverberated in the classroom. And then──
"Why are you arguing about that!"
The moment the two of us glared at each other, Uehara-kun retorted loudly.
Not giving Chiaki and I the chance to continue, he gave his opinion:
“90% of your opinions matches correct!? You don’t need to go that far! Why don’t you two compromise on the last 10%!?”
In response to his opinion… Chiaki and I smiled wryly.
"Uehara-kun, you don’t get it. We… will even turn down an invitation to a normies Gamers Club, we are lone gamers, and the only thing we build up is our strong egos. Especially on our taste in games, there are no backing down for us in that!”
"Keita is right! Just like the gap between lovable bad games and detestable games that couldn’t be explained easily! Lone gamers also have a line they won’t back down from!"
"You two are such a pain!"
As Uehara-kun finally showed a face of stupefied resignation, Chiaki and I used this chance of him not interfering to argue as much as we could.
Before I realized it, we had ignored him and another 20 minutes passed.
We were still fighting, but when I saw Uehara-kun’s girlfriend… Aguri-san peering in from the corridor, I remembered.
Ah, he said he is meeting his girlfriend, and can only accompany us until 5.
I stopped arguing when I remembered what Uehara-kun said. While Chiaki was tilting her head baffledly, Uehara-kun suddenly muttered as he checked his smart phone: “Oh no.”
I didn’t have the chance to tell him that Aguri-san was here, and he started packing his stuff in a hurry.
“Sorry, let’s call it a day, alright? Well, you two can continue──"
"I thought so. Anyway, I’m meeting someone at the school gate at 5."
Hmm? Meeting at the school gate? Aguri-san is already here to pick you up… Ah, you couldn’t see her from your side.
I wanted to warn him, but the anxious Uehara-kun refused to pass his turn to me.
After tidying up his stuff, he looked at Chiaki once more. The blushing Chiaki straightened her back.
… Oh, right. Isn’t it better to clarify that Uehara-kun has a girlfriend?
Eh, it’s weird to introduce it like this too… Right? Being too concerned would make him uncomfortable instead… But making it clear early would be better… No, I don’t need to worry, yup.
I forgot about the matter with Aguri-san and thought about my own things. And so, Uehara-kun smiled at Chiaki.
"Bye, Hoshinomori. Sorry about making you join us out of the blue."
"N-No, not… at all..."
Chiaki lowered her gaze bashfully── At this moment, the face of Aguri-san looking this way changed… Ah.
Uehara-kun mentioned that he invited Chiaki himself… And it is obvious that the blushing Chiaki likes him…
As I was feeling uneasy, Uehara-kun continued saying with a cool smile:
“But it was fun. It’s interesting listening to you talk about gaming.”
"Uwah, Erm… Erm… Thank you..."
Chiaki answered bashfully. Aguri-san was obviously shaken as she started trembling. Eh, wait, t-this situation…
I wanted to warn Uehara-kun, but seeing a scene of jealousy for the first time made me panic and I couldn’t find the words to say.
As I was still mulling over it── Uehara-kun said the critical words with his best handsome guy smile.
"Oh right. Hoshinomori, your hairstyle is fine now, but judging from your hair texture, I think cutting it a bit shorter would suit you much more. After all── you are already cuter than others just the way you are!"
I could see a spray of shotgun pellets flying in all sorts of direction.
One of them was a bullet of love that pierced Chiaki’s heart.
Another was a terrifying bullet that made me more anxious.
The last one was…
Ah! Aguri-san is going somewhere with unsteady steps──!
The last one was a bullet of sadness that opened a serious wound in Aguri-san’s chest!
I checked Uehara-kun’s face immediately. He had a brilliant smile, without any hint of ulterior motives. That was only natural, he wasn’t planning anything nefarious.
This is the same pace when Uehara-kun gave me advice! After breaking into the high school social scene, he is sincerely cheering for Chiaki who is similar to me in his own way!
The lack of malevolent intent increased the power of that smile over 9000! It was enough to make Chiaki fall for him. If… If his girlfriend who felt a bit troubled because he felt distanced recently was to see this… It would be a kill shot if Aguri-san saw this!
"And Amano, see you tomorrow. Bye～～"
After saying his farewells, Uehara-kun prepared to leave cooly… Oh no, if he leave like this, he will meet with the depressed Aguri-san, and it might end horribly…!
When I realized it, I already stood up and shouted loudly… I was also holding my bag and saying something that I shouldn’t be saying:
"A-Aguri-san said she is not meeting you today!"
Uehara-kun and Chiaki both tilted their heads in confusion. Uehara-kun asked:
"… Erm, Amano, why are you the one passing the message…?"
Shit, I didn’t think this through clearly. But… But it would be problematic if the two of them met like this! I might not know much about love, but I could tell this! Most important of all… I think 70% of the fault behind this misunderstanding lies with me!
Deciding to see it through, I mustered my courage… and lied to Uehara-kun.
"S-She has some matters to discuss with me today!"
Uehara-kun was stunned. Oh no, my lie was too outrageous. This was bad.
Thinking that saying anymore would expose my lie, I ran off hurriedly.
"B-Bye then! If you wish to, please continue to chat!"
"Ah, hey!" "Hmm? Wait wait…"
The two of them behind me was confounded. That was expected, even I felt this was weird!
A-Anyway, I need to find Aguri-san! I have to catch up with her!
I ran in the corridor hurriedly, but couldn’t find Aguri anywhere. Worst of all, I didn’t know anyway to contact her. If she contacted Uehara-kun and wanted to break up with him, that would be… Uwah! What did I do to my first precious friend I made in high school ahhh!
As I ran anxiously along the corridor, I suddenly noticed a prominent blonde beauty in the distance.
She noticed me too, and seemed to be shaken… After weighing the seriousness of the matter, I mustered up my courage and talked to her.
"A-Amano-kun. That previous time… Erm… I am probably mistaken…”
It was rare to see her stammering, but I didn’t have time for that now!
I asked flusteredly:
"Tendo-san! Did a girl just pass you by!? She looks like… How should I put it, dressed like a hottie, but it suits her well and feels rather cute…”
"Huh? Ah, yes there is. If you mean a girl that looks like that and seemed depressed, she was walking towards the school gate just now…”
"! Thank you!"
I ran after thanking her. However, Tendo-san who didn’t understand the situation shouted a question towards my back:
"A-Amano-kun! Why are you chasing that girl!"
Why ask me? This was hard to explain. And I didn’t have time right now.
I turned back as I ran, deciding to just tell her the key point.
"Simply put, it’s a matter of the heart!"
…Eh, did I convey my intention well? Tendo-san stood there blankly and her bag fell onto the floor… Forget it, I didn’t have time to explain. I guess Tendo-san only asked why I was in such a hurry out of courtesy, but was not really interested in my after school activity. Yup.
I kept sprinting at full speed. And finally, when I reached the school gate…
I caught up with Aguri who was changing her shoes, with no intention to wait for Uehara-kun.
Aguri glared at me as I panted, and muttered:
“Ah, the disgusting nerd who is interested in Tasuku…”
“So that’s how you see me!
No wonder she kept glaring at me from afar!
I was stunned, and Aguri-san looked at me with suspicious eyes… Ugh, I caught up to her, but I don’t know where to start. The entire matter needed to be explained from the very start, but he might think I was just speaking up for Tasuku because we were bros… Hmm… From the looks of things…
Making up my mind, I looked at Aguri-san’s… unexpectedly innocent face, and told her:
“W-W-Want to have some tea with me?”
…… Recently, I felt like I have been chatting up girls a lot.