The Realization of Haruhi Suzumiya
I am now one hundred percent certain it was a dream. However, at the time it felt so real, it was a little disconcerting.
I'm so sorry.
A girl was apologizing, over and over again. I couldn't see anyone, but I could hear her voice, clear as though she were standing only a few inches away from me. It sounded like she was crying. Her speech was fragmented, mixed with sniffles and sobs that wrenched at the heart.
But nobody replied.
I began to get irritated- not at the girl, but at the person she was talking to. It was obvious she was sorry; sorry with all her heart. So they didn't they reply to her?
Why couldn't they forgive her?
She sounded so sad. So confused. Upset. Lonely. Her voice wrenched itself from her throat in broken gasps, like the final words of a dying person.
Hey, I wanted to shout into thin air. She's sorry! She's truly sorry! Can't you see that? Even I can tell that, and I don't even know who she is! So…
Take pity on her.
Take pity on that sad, confused, upset little girl.
Only a heartless person would ignore her apologies. Only a heartless person would be able to stand there, unmoved, listening to her without a shred of sympathy.
F-forgive me, please! Please…
Or had the girl done something so terrible she couldn't be forgiven?
I'm begging you…
But I couldn't accept that. If a person was sorry from the bottom of the their heart, and recognized the error of their ways, then they deserved to be forgiven no matter what crime they'd committed.
Moreover, that girl didn't sound like she was capable of hurting anyone. She was crying. She was sorry.
She sounded like a little kid.
… …She sounded like my sister.
Look, I wanted to say, my sister's done all kinds of stupid things. One time she ate all my pudding- and I was looking forward to that pudding, damn it! But I still forgave her, because that's what people do.
That's how we function as a society.
I'm sure this girl has done something much worse than stealing pudding, but it was probably an accident. She sounds so young. Maybe too young to have realized, exactly, what was she doing.
And, despite that, she's still begging for your forgiveness.
She's still apologizing.
She's trying to understand, so she can set things right.
Isn't that enough?
Why… are you letting her cry…?
Or maybe that was just my big brother instinct kicking in. Having a little sister myself, it turns my stomach when I hear a young girl crying like that. Maybe I was too close to the situation to judge it properly; maybe there are some things that, no matter who did it, just can't be forgiven.
If the tearful, sobbing voice belonged to an old man, would I have been so quick to forgive them?
Listen to me…
Y-you'll listen to me, right…?
You can hear me, can't you…?
But her voice was getting softer and softer. It began to dwindle into non-existence, like flickering candlelight.
I wanted to shout back a response. She sounded so desperate, and it seemed like the proper thing to do. I didn't know how I knew this, exactly, but it seemed vital somebody forgave her.
I wanted to fill in the role of the person who should have been responding, because she deserved an answer for all her pains, damn it!
Even if you can't hear me, I'll keep saying it…
I'll say it over and over again…
Please forgive me.
I began to wonder how long she'd been apologising for. It sounded like her voice was giving out. Maybe she'd worn her throat red raw with unanswered apologises. Maybe her eyes were filled with tears.
Maybe she's been apologizing for a long time.
I had to end her suffering. I truly felt, at that moment in time, I was the only person who could- because nobody else could hear her.
But… even though I opened my mouth…
The words wouldn't come.
I wasn't sure whether that was her voice or mine.
But… she didn't say anything else.
I couldn't hear her anymore. All I was left with were the mournful cries of the cicadas. That, and a small, accusatory voice at the back of my head.
Even if she never gets a reply, she'll keep on apologizing.
She'll do it forever.
What if she person she was apologizing to was… me all along?
And I never said anything in return.
… …But I'm sure it didn't matter.
It was only a dream, after all.
"Hey, Kyon. Get up!"
I was already awake when I felt Haruhi Suzumiya's hands on my shoulders. She shook me with such force my body was thrown back and forth like a ragdoll.
Haruhi Suzumiya really is a scary person- and that's before you consider she might be a 'God' or the 'potential for evolution', or whatnot. For a start, she's stronger than a mountain bear. Honestly. Her mammoth strength is completely disproportionate to her slender body and skinny limbs.
Haruhi sometimes reminds me of a female character from a fighting game. I always believed it was a physical impossibility for a single waifish high school girl to send a fully grown man to the floor with a single punch.
When I met Haruhi, I was forced to reassess that idea.
Then again, Haruhi is the exception. She's certainly not the norm. I'd even go as far as to say nothing about her is 'normal'- but I guess Haruhi's definition of 'normal' is vastly different to mine.
I doubt those game designers have ever run into a girl like her in real life.
If there's more than one girl like Haruhi in this universe, I'd like to humbly request permission to vacate Earth and resettle on Mars.
As Haruhi shook me, she smashed my head against the seat behind me. Multi-colored stars exploded across my vision, making me feel light-headed.
Hey, Haruhi. It's great that you're so energetic this early in the morning, but do you think you could possibly direct your boundless energy at a pursuit more worthwhile than giving me a brain hemorrhage?
"Huh?" Haruhi frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean what I said. Get off me. I'm already awake."
"Okay, okay, Mr. Grumpy," said Haruhi teasingly, prodding me in the forehead.
Hey! Who is the cheerfully smiling girl, and what has she done with the real Haruhi? Does she have an identical twin?
Throughout the bus ride to Hinamizawa, Haruhi had this sour expression on her face, like she was chewing lemons. Now, however, she was smiling so brightly she could've the poster girl for a new brand of toothpaste.
…Haruhi's mood swings are so numerous and severe they're enough to give me whiplash.
I could understand why Haruhi's face was so miserable throughout the bus journey, though. I'm sure the expression on my own face was not all that different to her's. Even Koizumi's fake smile had been more strained than usual.
The bus was small, dingy, and poorly-lit. The windows were covered in a lovely, decorative film of dead bugs and dirt, accumulated, no doubt, over its years and years of service. It smelt funny, too- a little like the contents of a trash can mixed with the scent of those mouldy sandwiches my sister stuffed down the back of the couch a few years ago.
The bus was so rusty it looked like it could be an antique. Every time it turned a corner it had made a loud, screeching noise, as though it were shouting in pain. It sounded like it was ready to fall apart and pebbledash our bodies across the pavement.
I'm sure I lost half of my expected lifespan riding on that thing.
The only plus to the bus ride from hell was that angel in a human's guise, Mikuru Asahina. She was my balm, my salve, the medicine for my tortured soul! Every time I glimpsed her wide-eyed, terrified face, I'd feel just a little better.
I'd tried to remain strong for Mikuru.
I was surprised I'd actually been able to fall asleep, given the uncomfortable, cramped circumstances. However, exhaustion took a great toll on me. I gave in to the sweet release of sleep two seconds after closing my eyes.
At least we'd finally arrived! That felt so uplifting, I had half a mind to pull Haruhi into a celebratory hug. Of course, I didn't do that. I was still half-asleep, but I wasn't stupid.
If I ever did something like that to Haruhi, she'd probably try and bite me.
But at least the bus journey was over.
Haruhi must have been thinking that, too. That was probably why she was smiling so brightly.
We'd finally arrived in Hinamizawa.
Ah… Hinamizawa. Maybe I should explain.
For those of you unfamiliar with Haruhi Suzumiya's thought process, you're not alone. I don't understand it either- and I've known the girl for almost a year. Sometimes, I can hardly believe she has a thought process at all.
I suppose I can try and explain the little I do understand of her twisted psyche to you, though.
If I wanted to be kind, I'd say Haruhi has a 'unique sensibility.'
If I wanted to be cruel (and, let's face it, more truthful), I'd say she was completely insane and rather deranged. Charmingly so, some people (not me) might add, but she's certainly not normal, by any stretch of the word.
Now, you may be wondering why I entertain the company of lunatics when I'm an average guy. Well, your humble narrator here made a severe error of judgement when it came to Haruhi Suzumiya last year. She was a curious, dour-faced oddity who sat behind me in class. She was pretty (and still is, if I'm being truthful; but something about the personality behind that face sours her good looks a little), but aloof. She never spoke to anyone.
I know now there was a good reason for that.
Because when I got involved with her, it flipped my life upside down.
…Ah, but I've already explained that story. If you want to hear about my 'amazing' escapades with time travelers, aliens and espers, you better go back and start reading this in chronological order.
Anyway, Haruhi, with her 'unique sensibility' and all, grows bored quite quickly. And when Haruhi is bored, it can get… 'problematic' for an average guy like me.
And by 'problematic', I'm not referring to minute little irritations like getting a stubbed toe or summer cold.
I'm talking about the end of the world.
…Yeah, if I heard somebody say this to me, I'd think they were running a fever and needed some fresh air, too.
The blue giants, closed space and the squad of magical esper boys probably aren't things you can easily explain unless you've seen them for yourself.
Just take my word for it.
When Haruhi gets bored, bad things happen.
It's a pretty big problem.
However, a few weeks ago, Haruhi found something on the internet that kept her exceedingly entertained.
And to think- this all began because Haruhi read a murder mystery novel, and then did a quick scan through google search.
(I've seen the pages Haruhi has bookmarked on the computer- and she doesn't wipe her search history, either. That girl has some very… strange hobbies. But we won't go into that. I don't think my stomach could take it. I'll just say this. Whilst I love google for being so easy to use, I wish people like Haruhi were restricted from using it; that way, I might get a little peace and quiet in my life.)
On that day, after reading her novel, Haruhi typed in 'strange, unsolved murder mysteries' or some such thing on google. By a stroke of good luck (or a streak of monumental misfortune, looking at it from my perspective), Haruhi managed to come across a website devoted to strange cults, myths, legends, folklore and curses.
One of the villages it mentioned predominantly was Hinamizawa.
I don't know much about it myself, but here are the basic facts.
Hinamizawa is a small village close to Kyoto. It's located in the mountains, and has about two thousand inhabitants. Even though it's so small, it's famous for having some kind of festival unique to the village. The festival involves cotton drifting or something- but that wasn't what Haruhi was interested in.
When Mikuru asked about the festival, Haruhi said callously, "Oh, don't bother with that! No matter what the origins are, a festival's a festival, right? They'll all the same."
I'm sure the inhabitants of Hinamizawa would be pretty angry with that comment. Haruhi had, in the space of five seconds, managed to insult centuries of their unique culture and traditions.
Then again, I would expect nothing less of Haruhi Suzumiya.
…To be brutally honest, my opinion of festivals is almost identical to Haruhi's. They're just an excuse to eat junk food and watch pretty girls in yukata now. Whatever 'dignity' they once had is completely gone- especially for the younger generation.
I'm sure the gods are rolling over in their graves at this blasé attitude I have.
The gruesome murders that took place on the night of every festival were more interesting than the festival itself.
At least, they were for Haruhi.
The knowledge there was a gruesome murder mystery actually made her eyes light up, like constellations. She was so happy it looked like she'd just heard W were getting back together.
I, however, had more reservations about our trip to Hinamizawa. Knowing Haruhi and the strange affect she has on her surroundings, was it really a good idea to plunge, head first, into a potential murder mystery scenario?
As irritating as I find Haruhi, I don't really want her to die.
And I certainly don't want to be killed myself.
I wasn't the only one with serious second thoughts about Haruhi's choice for a 'great summer vacation spot!', though.
(Why couldn't we go to the beach like a normal group of friends? I've always wanted to try smashing a watermelon- and Mikuru looks so cute in a bikini it's almost criminal…)
Koizumi had seemed a little… apprehensive at Haruhi's enthusiasm.
Mikuru had shuddered at the mention of a 'serial murder' case like a leaf in the wind.
Even Nagato had tensed up slightly.
But, no matter what myself or my fellow SOS Brigade members thought, Haruhi would not be swayed. It wasn't like anybody overly exerted themselves to sway her, anyway. Koizumi agreed with her like usual, Mikuru was too scared of Haruhi's insane grin to do anything other than pour tea on the table instead of in Haruhi's cup, and Nagato sat there reading like a doll.
A meteor could have crashed into the school building and Nagato wouldn't have batted an eyelid.
I tried to make excuses- something about my parents being away and my little sister needing a caretaker (which were actually both true and perfectly valid).
It didn't work.
It didn't work because Haruhi signed my sister up for a summer camp using my name, without my permission.
When I confronted Haruhi about it, Haruhi had smiled a smile that could curdle milk, and said, "I'm clearing away the unnecessary distractions. We could take your sister to Hinamizawa, too- but would you really want her to be involved in something like that?"
Hey, I'd retorted. If you're that worried about harming an innocent party, what about Mikuru? She's just as fragile- if not more- than my little sister, and you saw how she spilt that tea over herself when you mentioned 'murder', right?
But Haruhi had shrugged and said that was different.
If it's convenient for you, Haruhi, of course it's 'different'. I didn't really understand why Haruhi was so keen to drag us all along with her. She's a strong, independent girl, and if she really wanted to she could have investigated Hinamizawa herself.
But you could use that line of reasoning to say 'why bother forming the SOS Brigade at all? Why don't you do all of this alone?'
And I'm pretty sure I know the answer, without having to ask.
Isn't it boring investigating a murder mystery (any mystery) without a few allies? Even Sherlock Holmes had Watson.
Maybe I should feel flattered Haruhi always chooses me as a partner when it comes to things like this.
I'm too used to her behavior at this point to be truly angry at it. But I feel happiness would be the wrong reaction, too. I usually settle for a quiet kind of irritation, but I'm not really sure what to feel. It's kind of like biting into a rice ball and not knowing what the insides are made of, and some of it tastes good and some of it tastes bad.
It's difficult to react.
There are some things it's simply better to ignore.
So, there we were, as per Haruhi's wish (or, to borrow Koizumi's words, 'because Suzumiya-san wills it.')
We all had our misgivings about this unusual 'summer vacation'; however, Koizumi, Mikuru and Nagato had unanimously decided it would be better to indulge Haruhi and placate her, rather than sabotage her elaborate plans deliberately.
After all, Koizumi had said, his voice deadly serious despite his pleasant smile, we don't know how she'd react to that.
But it would probably be bad.
Whatever. I'm kind of sick of that girl always getting her own way.
In my humble opinion, I think somebody should give her a good slap about the face.
… …That person would have to be braver than me, though.
Haruhi Suzumiya is so fierce even the forces of nature fear her. Case point for the prosecution: the weather forecast predicted it was going to rain when we arrived at our destination. However, the sun was shining so brightly it was almost blinding.
I'm not going to equate this to Haruhi's 'godly' skills, though. That's something I refuse to do.
At any rate...
Even though Haruhi is aggravating, annoying, and a thousand other adjectives besides, I don't think I'd like to try and upset her.
She looks a lot better with a big smile on her face.
Thoughts like that are kind of dangerous, though, so I always ignore them. It might not be the 'brave' thing to do, but I'm beyond caring.
When Haruhi woke Mikuru and Koizumi, she used far less force than she'd done with me. Haruhi merely prodded Koizumi in the forehead to rouse him- and, whilst Haruhi resorted to a rather… unorthodox… method to wake up Mikuru (nothing says good morning like groping a girl's chest?), at least she didn't try to give her brain damage.
…You probably shouldn't do that to Mikuru in public though, Haruhi.
If I did it, I'd be arrested.
Sometimes, I really hate double standards.
Fortunately for Nagato, she'd been awake for the whole bus journey, her eyes unblinking like a bush baby's. She'd been reading. I had to respect Nagato for that. I doubt I could have read more than a handful of words during such a bumpy journey without being sick.
Sometimes I wonder about Nagato. I know she's some kind of 'alien' figure but, judging by her immense strength, emotionless eyes and iron constitution, she seems more like a robot.
We barely had enough time to register our surroundings before Haruhi barked at us to gather our luggage and get moving.
Nagato lifted her heavy bags with ease. However, when I tried to do the same with my own bags, I felt the muscles in my arms cry in protest and my face contorted into an expression of pain.
They were heavier than I thought.
Tch… And Nagato made it look so easy.
I believe I'm going to develop a complex if I hang around so many god-mode level, super-powered girls. At least Mikuru was lovely and delicate, as always.
Haruhi had presided over us as we packed, instructing what to take and what to leave. We all had spare clothes, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and those basic commodities. However, we also had some more unusual items, like flash lights, notepads, pens, pencils, a first aid kid, screwdrivers, and… wire cutters…?
I would like you to guess whose spare clothes were sacrificed to fit these unusual items into their bag.
Go on. Guess.
When I thought about the wire cutters, I couldn't help but worry Haruhi was planning to rob a bank. Maybe, if the murder mystery in Hinamizawa wasn't interesting enough, she'd stop playing detective and become the villain in a new mystery.
Well, I wouldn't put it past her.
That's how disturbing that girl is.
"Come on, Kyon!" Haruhi chided. She swinging her bad casually, as though it was stuffed with nothing more than thin air and bubble wrap. "Stop being such a baby!"
"It's not my fault you gave me the heaviest stuff to carry!"
"Don't complain. I'm the Brigade Chief, so it'd be unseemly for me to cart stuff around like a pack mule, and Mikuru and Yuki are girls! You're a boy, Kyon, so suck it up!"
"What about Koizumi? Does he not count as a 'boy' anymore?"
"Him? Well, you know." Haruhi shrugged. "He's my right-hand man. He's the smart one. You're not qualified to do anything more than menial tasks. You should be thankful I give you jobs to do at all!"
I glared at Haruhi. She was smiling so brightly I felt like drawing on her face.
You know… I get the feeling she just likes bullying me. Nagato is the silent, bookish type, and Mikuru is the mascot, and Koizumi… stands there and smiles… but it always falls upon me to do everything.
I wonder if I should feel flattered at Haruhi's attentions, or dubious. Ever since she forced me into her 'Brigade', I've felt a little like I've been marked by some unlucky star.
Here are a few words of warning.
If Haruhi Suzumiya becomes interested in you, your life will never be the same. You should try and avoid her at all costs. With this advice, maybe you'll get away unscathed.
In the end, Koizumi had to come and help me shift the extra luggage. He did so with an easy smile, but I could tell he was tired, too. His hair didn't look as smooth as usual, and… were those bags under her eyes?
Seeing somebody that handsome looking less than perfect was a rather cathartic. It made me feel better about myself.
After what seemed like an eternity, with much shouting and squawking from that annoying girl, we managed to unload all our luggage.
I felt a sense of freedom when I managed to escape the musty confines of the bus. There was something refreshing about the outside air. I inhaled it deeply, sighing, as a cleansing feeling gently washed throughout my body. After that I felt slightly more invigorated, like a plant kept in the dark for a year that was finally given sunlight.
As I contemplated this, struggling to support my luggage, the bus drove away.
And I realized there was no escape.
…Ah. Maybe that sounds a little over-dramatic.
After all, at the time, I had no idea anything so terrible would happen. It was more like a vague premonition; a half-formed thought, stimulated by the sudden memory of the dream I'd had earlier.
I'm so sorry.
I wonder if that girl is still apologizing.
And if anybody will listen to her.
I think… it's pretty important.
Judging by Haruhi's previous description, Hinamizawa was a small village. However, the place we found ourselves in was anything but. The roads were fairly busy, and the buildings were pretty tall and imposing.
And, for a 'rural village', there were a lot of buildings.
As Haruhi led us about, seemingly in circles, I began to see more and more things that contradicted Haruhi's story that Hinamizawa was a simple village. Granted, this place was smaller than our hometown, but as we walked we passed a fairly large library, a cinema, several shops and an abundance of cafés.
I'd expected to see fields, wooden houses, maybe a solitary shrine up in the mountains where people prayed to their God (according to the website, the God of Hinamizawa was called 'Oyashiro-sama'). I was feeling equal parts disappointed and relieved my imaginings were not correct.
And, to tell the truth… I was just a little dubious.
Were we even in the right place?
Come to think of it, that bus service had seemed pretty suspicious. There hadn't been any other passengers save us, and the bus had been so old I could hardly believe modern health and safety regulations would allow it to be used.
"Couldn't one of the organization members have driven us there? What about Arakawa or Mori?" I asked Koizumi, falling into step beside him.
It's kind of strange how, despite the indifferent (bordering exasperated) feelings I have for the guy, he's the one I invariably spend the most time with.
Of course, I'd prefer to spend my time with Mikuru, but I doubt the poisonous spider that is Haruhi Suzumiya would release Mikuru from her web so easily. Poor Mikuru has no hope fighting back against Haruhi's cruel clutches, and I'm not brave (or stupid) enough to try and wrestle her free.
I'm sorry, Asahina-san, but there are some things that are out of my control. I hope you understand.
At least I can actually hold a conversation with Koizumi. With Nagato, you're not always guaranteed a response. Nagato is very 'minimalistic' when it comes to speech and, whilst she usually gets her point across with straightforward gestures, it doesn't contribute to a great conversation.
And, Haruhi… Well…
I'd rather have my right arm torn off by a shark than spend more than five minutes in her company.
Koizumi answered my question with an easy smile, but something about him seemed a little 'off'. I think those bags under his eyes and his too-pale skin had something to do with that.
"I wish I could have arranged our transportation through the organization. However, given the recent circumstances, it was impossible."
I scrunched my nose up at this, frowning. Something about that story didn't seem very truthful. Koizumi had connections. I'd seen that before, when he and his 'organization' staged that elaborate murder mystery for Haruhi. I was under the assumption the organization would do anything within its powers to keep Haruhi from pressing the self-destruct button on the whole universe.
"That's usually true- however, none of my usual contacts were available. They were tied up with a meeting."
"Strangely enough, no."
Yeah. That certainly was strange. I thought Koizumi's whole organization was centered on that troublesome girl- didn't they treat her as a God? I couldn't imagine anything more important than Haruhi Suzumiya occupying their attention.
"To be honest…" Koizumi smiled, and he leant forwards slightly. I had to bite back the urge to shove him away. "Can you keep a secret?"
"I'm sure nobody would believe what you're about to tell me anyway," I said flatly, rolling my eyes. "Nobody in their right mind would acknowledge the existence of espers and time travelers."
"You're forgetting somebody."
"Suzumiya-san. She clearly believes in those supernatural creatures, correct?"
My voice was deadpan when I said, "You can't be serious. The only way Haruhi fits the definition of 'normal' is if you add an 'ab' to the front of it."
"Hmn~" Koizumi laughed softly. "Maybe. Rather, I think she has an interesting way of looking at things. Haha~"
When he laughed like that, it made some part of me want to punch him in the face. Just to see how he'd react.
"What's your secret, Koizumi?" I asked sharply. Haruhi's increasingly poor mood seemed to have a knock on effect on me. Like a line of dominoes being pushed over, Haruhi's melancholy was contagious, and could spread. That, coupled with my lack of sleep and the bumpy bus journey, wasn't constructive to creating a good mood.
"Ah~ Nothing important. Merely, I should have been in that same meeting too. I skipped out- I thought dealing with Suzumiya-san was more important." He smiled, holding a finger to his lips. "Don't tell, right?"
I didn't respond to his theatrical performance. Instead, I sighed.
"Who would I tell?"
"So you're saying there was literally nobody who could have driven us there?"
Koizumi nodded. The light-hearted nature in his words had dissipated. He looked more serious than before, though the small smile remained.
"That's what I'm saying."
"So… What about that bus driver?"
Hey… I hope you know a shrug isn't a satisfactory answer! I'm so used to you giving me your scientific spiel when I ask a simple question, it's a little strange to get silence as a reply.
I began to feel a chill run down my spine.
If Koizumi wasn't sure what the situation was, that was, potentially, a very bad sign.
Koizumi and I fell silent, the sound of footsteps replacing conversation.
I began to make plans to corner Nagato at some point and question her about our surroundings. If Koizumi didn't know, she was the next safest bet. And, if Nagato didn't know what was going on…
I'd cross that bridge when I got to it.
Providing it ever came up, of course.
Please don't penalize me for being an optimist. When your life hands you one string of improbable events after another, you can't help but hope for a future that will be relatively uncomplicated and simple.
I suppose it's a coping method.
As we walked, Haruhi's sunny smile slowly slipped away, until the upside V of a mouth she'd been wearing on the bus returned. Seeing it again felt a little like greeting an old friend.
Hello, Haruhi Suzumiya. Welcome back.
It's nice when you're cheerful, but it's like a brief spot of respite in a storm. After a while, the hurricane always comes back- and its always worse than it was before.
"So, Haruhi." I tried to speak casually. I had a feeling any wrong words would trigger the 'detonate' button in her mind. "About Hinamizawa. It's pretty big, isn't it?"
"This isn't Hinamizawa." And then, for good measure, Haruhi tacked on, "Moron."
Was that really necessary?
Haruhi's words didn't shock me, though. It was typical of Haruhi to be rude- and, at any rate, I'd already suspected we weren't in Hinamizawa.
…I really hope you haven't got us lost, Haruhi. I know you think maps 'curb your creative impulses', but I'll never forgive you if we get spirited away in this city and never make it back home!
"Are you a moron? I know what I'm doing."
I'd never have guessed.
"I did my research. This is Okinomiya. It's the closest city to Hinamizawa. No buses run directly there- the terrain is too hilly, or something. And there are no bus stops."
Ah… That makes sense.
I'm surprised Haruhi researched Hinamizawa and its surrounding cities so much. Usually, when something piques her interest, she just plunges straight in.
"And how far is Hinamizawa from here?"
"About three or four miles. Not too far."
Well, sure. Three or four miles might not sound like a lot when you're only carrying one bag like you, Haruhi. However, that same distance begins to seem like a marathon to somebody like me, who woke up at five a.m. to catch that bus, got about two hours of sleep, and was then forced to carry the bulk of our bags around like Atlas supporting the Earth. And what about Mikuru? She's struggling almost as much as I am! She's teetering around like a spinning top, and her face is all red! You're not suggesting she walks three or four miles like that? She'd collapse!
I admire your enthusiasm, Haruhi, but we're not all built like panzer tanks.
"Hey, stop complaining! I've got this all sorted! You're not going to walk that far."
"What are we doing then?"
"We're going to stay in Okinomiya. There are hotels and stuff around here… somewhere." Haruhi shrugged. "We just have to search."
Ahh. A hotel.
I must say, I like that idea of being in a comfortable hotel room far more than camping out in some random junkyard under an old tent. This might be a rare occasion where I actually agree with one of your decisions, Haruhi.
"Don't get the wrong idea! It's not for you!" Haruhi retorted. "We're investigating murders, right? It'd be foolish if we camped out in the town where those murders are happening. I don't want to become the next victim."
An exceedingly sensible, if a little macabre, piece of reasoning, Haruhi. I'm impressed.
"Besides, Mikuru-chan-" Haruhi reached forwards and grabbed Mikuru's shoulders. Mikuru gave a small 'eep!', as though she'd been electrocuted, "-is our secret weapon."
I looked at the trembling Mikuru, held still by Haruhi's iron grip.
A secret weapon…?
I saw Nagato's shoulders tense up, ever so slightly. Then, I realized why the situation seemed so familiar.
"Wait," I said, shaking my head. "You're not suggesting Mikuru shoots eye lasers at her enemies or something, right?"
Haruhi sighed at this, and flicked me in the forehead.
Hey! That hurt, you know.
"Don't be a moron," she said.
Well, I'm sorry, but the 'Mikuru beam' wasn't my idea in the first place.
"U-um… H-how am I a secret weapon…?" Mikuru asked.
"You're cute," was Haruhi's response. "Really adorable! People would never suspect a girl like you would get involved in creepy murders. So, when people see the adorable Mikuru-chan, they'll let their guard down! They might give us more information that way!"
Haruhi began to get passionate during her oratorio. She threw her arms wide, nearly decapitating Mikuru.
"As such, we need to keep Mikuru-chan as fresh and cute and completely adorable as possible! And it'd be totally counterproductive to my plan if she had to sleep in a tent in the middle of the mountains, right? Her hair would get all messy, and she'd get scratched up, and the 'adorable' factor wouldn't be as high! It needs to be over nine thousand, you hear? Honestly, Kyon, you're so stupid!"
Says the girl who asked me once, in all seriousness, if she thought it was possible for human beings to levitate.
I believe this would be a severe case of the pot calling the kettle black, Haruhi.
Whilst I'm not particularly taken with being called 'stupid', at least I have the satisfaction of knowing we won't be spending our nights in Hinamizawa shivering in sleeping bags. Thank you, Mikuru- by simply being so adorable, you've saved my back a few weeks' worth of painful, sleepless nights!
Following Haruhi's 'invigorating' speech, that sour-faced girl snapped her fingers, yelled 'come on, pick up the pace!' and began to walk again.
However, after about half an hour of searching, and no potential hotels in sight, even Haruhi's feet began to drag a little.
Well... it wasn't strictly correct to say we'd seen no hotels. However, out of the two we had seen, one was a fairly... seedy establishment, with a suspect name. Whilst Haruhi was all for staying there, I had a vague feeling there were age restrictions for a place like that... The fact it was located in an area of Okinomiya with various shops selling things that made Mikuru's face turn beet red was further proof it definitely wasn't child-friendly. The second hotel we found, in a slightly more respectable area of the city, was completely full.
"I don't understand it," Haruhi said, frowning. "This place isn't even that nice! Why would so many people want to stay here?"
I noticed a few people walking past gave Haruhi dirty looks at that. You might want to watch your mouth, Haruhi. Although... it's useless telling you that, isn't it? I know you won't listen.
"Well, we're staying here," I pointed out. "And wasn't that cotton drifting festival in Hinamizawa pretty popular? Maybe a bunch of people from out of town decided to stay here so they could see it."
"Whatever!" Haruhi exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. "That's so selfish! We're not just here to witness a stupid festival! The activities of the SOS Brigade are serious. How dare they try and conspire against us?"
"Nobody's conspiring against us, Haruhi."
Those irritated bystanders might, though, if you don't stop insulting everything and everyone in a very loud voice.
"P-please don't fight!" said Mikuru, squeaking like a mouse. "U-um, this is a pretty big city. There must be a place to stay somewhere. We'll just have to ask somebody..."
"I was going to suggest that myself," said Koizumi.
Koizumi turned, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun. I wondered, a little bitterly, what happened to the rain the weather forecast promised. Did that mean I'd been carting that umbrella around in my bag for the past two hours for nothing? I knew the umbrella only made up a very slight portion of the total weight stacked on my back, but it was still annoying.
Then, Koizumi let out a small 'ah', as though he'd just been hit over the head with an apple and discovered gravity.
"W-what is it, Koizumi-kun?" Mikuru asked.
Koizumi pointed towards a nearby building in answer. Haruhi, Mikuru and I turned to stare at it (Nagato continued to look straight ahead). It was a fairly small building, with a colorful sign that proclaimed it sold various games, from card games to board games to memory games, from any time period.
...Huh. It's not often you see a traditional, old-fashioned store like that. Nowadays, when you think of 'games', your mind jumps to computers, Nintendo and Sony. Seeing such a humble store was almost heart-warming.
It wasn't the store, however, that was unusual.
But the fact that were so many people hanging around it was.
I wouldn't have expected a shop like that to have so many customers. However, my expectations were completely shattered as I looked through the window. Beyond the display of various old fashioned games there was a throng of people, moving around, chatting. Cheering? It looked like they were watching something.
It was then that I noticed another sign next to the shop's name. Apparently, there was some kind of contest on. I guess that was why there were so many people.
Haruhi seemed to have noticed that sign too, because her gloomy expression from moments before lifted, and her eyes began to sparkle.
Uh... It's never a good sign when her moods flip like that. Whenever Haruhi got that expression, I always worried she was going to do something illegal.
"Excellent work, Koizumi-kun! There are so many people there, they'll definitely help us!"
Well, they'll be more inclined to help than the people on the street, all of whom have heard Haruhi slighting both Okinomiya and the sacred Hinamizawa festival in one swoop. Here's a top tip for life, Haruhi, which might have evaded you: if you're nice to people, they're more likely to be nice back.
"Okay! Let's go! You get fifty points, Koizumi-kun!"
As Haruhi praised her second in command, she gave him an over exuberant thumbs up that nearly hit Mikuru.
Hey, Haruhi. I know you're excited, but why do you always have to abuse Mikuru? I don't care if it looks accidental- if something happens that often, it can't be a coincidence. Poor Mikuru. She looks so wide-eyed and frightened, I just want to take her in my arms and... and...
Actually, I'd better not finish that thought.
Smiling cheerfully, Haruhi grabbed hold of Mikuru's slender wrist and began to drag her across the road, heedless of any cars that got in her way. I couldn't help but sigh as I watched her, her limbs windmilling around, cursing at the cars for their audacity to be on the road when she was.
It must have been nice to be so carefree.
"Wow! Check it out!" Haruhi exclaimed, looking about the store with wide eyes. She looked just like a small kid in a... ...store filled with old-fashioned board games, I guess.
"O-oh... I don't recognize any of them..." said Mikuru. In direct contrast to Haruhi's enthusiasm, Mikuru looked lost and confused. The expression suited her perfectly.
Well, I'd be more surprised if Mikuru did know any of those archaic games. For a start, I could only recognize one or two myself. And, for another thing, Mikuru Asahina is not what you'd call an ordinary person. She is, in fact, a time traveler. Being from a different time plane, with more advanced technology, I'm sure board games must look as alien to her as hovercrafts and laser cannons would to me. Not that I know the specifics of Mikuru's time frame. For all I know, hovercrafts and laser cannons haven't even been invented where she came from. Any time I questioned Mikuru about the future, she'd only smile coyly and reply with a 'that's classified.'
I forgive her, though, because she's so cute.
It's impossible to be angry at a girl like Mikuru. Haruhi was right- her face really is a devastating weapon. It's probably second only to Nagato's impressive fighting skills.
I don't know about the residents of Hinmizawa, but I know I'd feel guilty if I was suspicious of a cute girl like her.
"Huh? You don't know any of them?" Haruhi asked Mikuru. She jumped up, her tongue sticking out of her mouth, to pluck a game off the top-most shelf. Then, she dusted it off, and shoved it in Mikuru's face. "Not even this one? You don't even know Irensei?"
Mikuru shook her head slowly. She looked like she was afraid to give her answer, as though she thought Haruhi would bite her head off.
Don't worry, Mikuru. I'm afraid of Haruhi, too.
"Wow! Have you been living under a rock?" Haruhi asked, bumping Mikuru's forehead lightly with her fist. "Everybody knows Irensei! I used to play it with my dad all the time! It's timeless!"
"Ahaha! I have to agree with you there!"
I turned about at the sound of that voice. I didn't recognize it.
The girl who had spoken had light green haired tied up in a long ponytail. She was wearing simple clothes, with a holstered airsoft gun over her shoulder.
... ...Hey, wait a minute. Are those illegal?
She had a 'leader-like' air about her. I'm not really sure how else to phrase it, but she way she stood and stared down at Haruhi, a perfect stranger, gave me the impression she was pretty confident. In some respects, she reminded me of Haruhi herself.
"Who are you?" Haruhi asked the girl with the ponytail distrustfully, folding her arms. I can only assume she felt intimidated by her presence. Not many people spoke to Haruhi so casually. Then again, back at home, not many people spoke to Haruhi at all. They all knew the rumors about her, and were too smart to get caught up in them.
Somehow, I pitied the girl with the ponytail.
She didn't know what she'd gotten herself into.
She looked like she could take care of herself, though, what with that airsoft gun. I wonder if she knows how to use it...?
"Oh, I'm sorry! I should've introduced myself, ahaha!" the girl laughed. "I'm Mion. Mion Sonozaki."
"Hey, Mii-chan~" said a second girl, tugging at Mion's sleeve. She had a very strange haircut and was wearing a white dress. The dress would have been rather demure- it was past her knees, even longer than the girls' standard uniform skirts- save for the rather big slit through the middle of it. "Who are you talking to? Who is it, Rena wonders...?"
"I'm Haruhi Suzumiya!" Haruhi announced, stabbing her thumb against her breastbone.
Haruhi spoke so confidently, I was beginning to get a bad sense of deja vu. It reminded me a little of her introductory speech in high school. I hoped she wasn't going to follow her name with something weird, like 'I'm not interested in ordinary humans' or 'I'm here to solve a murder mystery!' If she wanted help from these people, I don't think that would go down too well.
Thankfully, Haruhi cut her description of herself down to her name. After that, she pointed at each of us in turn, and introduced us.
"This is Mikuru. That's Koizumi. That's Nagato. And the one with the stupid expression on his face is Kyon."
Hey? What kind of introduction is that? I don't want these strangers to get a negative impression of me because of you!
Ah... Then again, hanging around a girl like Haruhi gives people a negative impression of me through association, anyway.
"And we're all members of the SOS Brigade!" Haruhi finished, smiling proudly.
She's the only person I know who's proud of belonging to a club with such a stupid name. Then again, she was the one who chose it.
"The SOS Brigade?" Mion asked, tilting her head to one side. "You're members of a club, too?"
"You could say that," said Koizumi.
"What do you mean, 'club too'?" Haruhi asked. Her eyes had narrowed. I could tell, from the mention of another club, she was beginning to get competitive.
Haruhi. Please don't insult these people. I thought were going to find a hotel to stay at? These bags I'm holding are pretty heavy, you know.
"We're in a club too, yes we are!" said the girl with the inappropriate dress who called herself 'Rena'.
"Yep! Uncle Mion'll introduce you to the gang, since you already introduced yourselves so nicely! Hey, Rika-chan! Satoko-chan! Kei-chan!~"
Then, with lightening speed, she reached forwards into the throng of people and pulled out two young girls and one rather bewildered looking guy. The girls looked about nine or ten. One of them had long blue hair and a mature look, whilst the other had short blonde hair and looked a little... 'rough', I think, would be the best adjective. The boy was about my age. He had short brown hair, a strange fashion sense and, on the whole, was fairly unremarkable. Certainly not an esper or alien, or anything Haruhi would find interesting.
"Hey, Mion!" the boy exclaimed, pushing the green haired girl away. "What gives?"
"I'm saying hi to these newcomers!" Mion explained, waving her hand in our direction.
The boy, the two smaller girls, Mion and Rena all stared at us. I was beginning to feel a little uneasy, as though I were a specimen under a microscope. Mikuru's face flushed red, and she ducked her head behind her hair.
"This is Satoko-chan," said Mion, pointing towards the blonde girl. "And this is Rika-chan." She pointed towards the blue-haired girl.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sirs," said Rika, bowing her head.
"And the gawking moron over there is Kei-chan," Mion said, pointing towards the only boy.
One boy in a club full of girls? This looks like the set-up for a bad harem manga...
"H-hey, Mion!" Keiichi said, his eyes narrowing. "D-don't introduce me to strangers like that!"
"Ahaha!~ The truth hurts, doesn't it, Kei-chan!" Satoko cackled wickedly.
"Why, you little brat..."
I watched as Keiichi took hold of Satoko's head and rubbed his fist into the top of her head.
"H-hey! Get off! Get off!" Satoko yelled. "Kyahhh!"
"No way! Not until you repent! Say you're sorry for being so mean to big brother Keiichi! Are you ready to repent yet? Are you sorry?"
"N-not a chance!"
And then Satoko stepped on Keiichi's foot, elbowed him in the stomach, and pushed him into Rena. Rena stumbled, nearly falling backwards into a display of games. Fortunately, she managed to support herself, though her eyes were wide in surprise.
"S-s... Satoko!" Keiichi yelled, turning about, his fist raised.
But Satoko wasn't there.
She was hiding behind Rika.
"There there, Kei-chan, sir," said Rika in that soothing way of her's, reaching up on her tip toes to pat Keiichi on the head. "Satoko didn't mean anything by it, sir. She's sorry. So don't be mad at Satoko. Hauu~"
As I watched the scene play out before me, it felt like I was watching a play. I felt like I should've had some popcorn with me- that was how strange the situation was.
"Aha!~" Mion laughed, winking at us. "We're the game club. Even though Kei-chan's pretty uncouth-"
"Hey! Says you, Mion!"
Mion stuck her tongue out at Keiichi, and continued.
"-we're pretty serious about what we do. Don't be fooled by Satoko or Rika-chan- despite their ages, their deadly! Do you think your SOS Brigade can defeat us?"
H-huh? We've barely known you five seconds, and already that sounds like a declaration of war!
"W-what?" Mikuru asked, clasping her hands together at her front. She was trembling. "D-defeat...? I-I don't get it..."
"Aren't you here for the competition? Aren't you?" Rena asked, tilting her head to one side curiously.
"Or... Don't tell me..." Mion began to laugh. A dark expression spread across her face, warping her good-natured smile into something quite sinister. "You were going to enter the competition, but then you saw the much-famed game club was participating and decided to chicken out! Is that it?"
"And, once more, our enemies run away from us in fear!" Satoko cackled, crossing her arms. "This is getting boring!"
Keiichi looked almost as confused as Mikuru. He turned to Rika and asked, in what he evidently thought was a quiet voice, but I could clearly hear him, "Are we really that infamous...?"
"It would appear so, sir. It's a shame." Rika pouted. "And I was hoping for some good competition this year. How sad..."
I decided to end this talk of competitions before it got to Haruhi's head. I could already see the gears turning in her mind. Her fingers clenched into fists, and she began to smirk sadistically- which was never a good sign.
"Ah, we weren't here for the competition at all," I explained quickly. "We were going to attend the Watanagashi Festival, and-"
But Haruhi quickly cut me off.
It looked like my attempts to divert Haruhi's attention were in vain.
Haruhi sometimes reminds me of a magpie. When she sees something shiny, she just can't let go or back down.
"Shut up, Kyon!" She turned to the members of the game club. She looked as determined to take them down as the Greeks had been when they tried to invade Troy. Her smile was almost a mile wide, and as she spoke she moved animatedly, so her yellow hair ribbons bounced. "Yeah, sure! Whatever! We'll take you on! The SOS Brigade never backs down from a challenge! This'll be a piece of cake! Your defeat will be so swift you won't even have seen it coming to you!"
Those are inspiring words, Haruhi, but what about the rest of your brigade? I have no intention of playing any board games with these guys, and-
"Great!" Mion exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "We'll grind you into the dust!"
"Ha! We'll just see about that! Get ready for your imminent executions, you guys!"
...It looks like birds of a feather really do flock together.
Is Mion a second Haruhi?
That thought was so disturbing, I couldn't help but shudder.
The rules of the competition were fairly simple. As there were twenty contestants, including the SOS Brigade and the games club, we were divided randomly into five groups of four. Somehow, by a massive stroke of improbability, all the games club members ended up in different groups. I noticed Haruhi grit her teeth at this- they were our real opponents, and they were all spread up amongst (in Haruhi's own words) the 'small fry'- younger boys and girls about the same age as my sister.
I ended up in the same group as Keiichi and Koizumi (am I cursed to be with this guy or something?), whilst Mikuru was in Rena's group, Haruhi was in Satoko's and Nagato was in Rika's.
"It's not fair," Haruhi complained, glaring at Mion. I could tell, by that deadly, armor-piercing expression that Haruhi saw her true opponent as Mion Sonozaki- and she couldn't even lay a scratch on her.
Personally, I think Mion should count her lucky stars. Whilst I've no doubt Mion was very serious, Haruhi can get so engrossed in these petty squabbles to the point where she alters the fabric of time and space. I wouldn't want Haruhi to sever Mion's limbs clean off in a fit of telepathic rage or anything.
And, before you say anything to the contrary, I wouldn't put it past Haruhi.
After you've seen giant camel crickets and parallel universes, almost anything's possible.
We competitors, willing or otherwise, were led into a back room by the store manager. Haruhi had to shove Mikuru along, because it looked like Mikuru had lost the use of her legs. There, five tables were set up, like a scene from a kid's birthday party. I took a seat between Koizumi and some young child Keiichi addressed as Okamura.
"Alright, you guys!" Mion cried, addressing the members of her game club. "I expect nothing less than one thousand and one percent effort from you, okay?"
"Sure thing!" Satoko replied, cracking her knuckles. "I'll tear this impudent girl into pieces!"
Isn't that a little violent? I didn't realize board games were so serious.
I hate to say it, but I was beginning to feel a little apprehensive. Well, at least I've played all those board games with Koizumi; that has to count for something, doesn't it?
I gulped, feeling Haruhi's narrowed eyes glaring into my back.
I had a feeling Haruhi wouldn't forgive me if I lost.
Urgh. This was just like that baseball incident. Why couldn't Haruhi enjoy things like a normal girl, without getting so competitive?
I was feeling less than amicable to the games club- and Mion Sonozaki, in particular. I took such pains to keep Haruhi under control, and then this club came along, undid all my hard work, and got me into another unwelcome situation. Didn't they realize how much of a handful babysitting a practical God was?
...Of course they didn't. That was a stupid question.
Haruhi is a burden I and the rest of the SOS Brigade have to carry alone.
"This isn't a simple games club only activity anymore!" Mion shouted. She sounded like she was making a speech before she went onto the battlefield. "We have new opponents now- the SOS Brigade! And we'll pulverize them! We'll meet each other together in the final like we already planned, right?"
"Right! I'll do my best, yeah," said Rika, smiling.
Rika looked unthreatening enough. However, at that small gesture, the two young boys in her group began to swoon.
"Yeah! You can do it, Rika-chan!" they congratulated her.
...Wait. Weren't they meant to be her opponents? It looked like Rika had already launched an offensive attack before the game started!
She looked so innocent, too.
At least Nagato was emotionless enough to be unswayed by cute things.
At any rate, Mion and the members of her club sounded really fired-up- although Keiichi seemed a little apprehensive.
"Hey, Mion," he said tentatively. "What if we don't get into the final...?"
"Huh?" Mion frowned, her mouth forming that upside V Haruhi so often sported. "Is that a joke, Kei-chan? Ahahaha! What makes you think any of us would lose to any people like this?"
Keiichi sank back in his chair, blinking at me. Somehow, through that small exchange between us, I felt his pain. I could tell Keiichi was much put-upon by his oppressive leader like I was with Haruhi.
I sympathize with you, Keiichi.
However, that doesn't mean I'm going to go easy on you! Haruhi would never forgive me if I did that.
The store manager handed each of our groups a random game from his stores. All of the games looked dusty, as though they hadn't been touched by human fingertips for thousands of years. It was then that I realized the true meaning of the words 'punishments for the losers' on that sign outside. The manager intended to use this competition to sell off his old stock- i.e. these unpopular games nobody wanted- away to the losers of each group, wasn't he?
What a con.
Oh well. I couldn't blame him. I doubted any kid- even one who was incredibly stupid- would've willingly parted with their money to purchase the old, beaten-up millionaire game our group was given.
The aim of the game was fairly simple. Each player had to spin the roulette to advance towards the goal. The player with the most money at the end won.
...I can't believe Haruhi wants me to get worked up about this. At least chess requires some degree of skill, but this is completely random.
"You can take lengths to ensure the results aren't random, though," Koizumi said to me, so quietly Keiichi and Okamura couldn't hear.
I looked at Koizumi with some surprise. His smile didn't falter.
Oh, how charming. It was almost as if he hadn't just suggested we cheat.
"You know, you would make a perfect con artist," I replied.
Koizumi laughed at this a little, brushing a few strands of hair out of his eyes. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"Aha~ At any rate, don't you think cheating would be best in this situation?" said Koizumi. "Suzumiya-san looks quite invested in this game; I would hate to see her reaction if she lost."
I didn't want to admit it, but Koizumi had a point there. I wouldn't want the world to end over a matter so trivial as the outcome of a probability game. It seemed a little unfair to Keiichi. Mion had looked so fierce when she scolded him. However, I'd rather Keiichi got chewed out by Mion for a few minutes than the whole world coming to an end.
I looked over at Nagato, who was sat watching Rika with empty eyes. The game placed before their group was some kind of fishing one, that involved catching plastic fish with magnetic rods. The thought of Nagato playing such a childish game with her usual blank slate expression was almost humorous.
As I looked at Nagato, the short-haired girl tilted her head in my direction, ever so slightly. Our eyes met for a few moments. However, those moments were enough.
From that glance, I was sure Nagato was reassuring me she'd rigged the roulette on the game.
Thank you, Nagato. You must be the most helpful member of the SOS Brigade. I have no idea what we'd do without you.
"Hey," said Keiichi, tapping my shoulder. He looked a little annoyed. "Stop looking around at everyone."
He probably thought, in those few seconds I conversed with Koizumi and looked at Nagato, I'd formulated some kind of plan with my fellow SOS Brigade members. Normally, I'd say such a thing was paranoid- however, as he was completely correct, I didn't say anything. Instead, I tried to keep my face impassive. It was useless feeling guilt over something that would, eventually, save the world from destruction.
As soon as the game began, the odds very quickly began to tip in my favor. Koizumi was doing only slightly better than Okamura, and was trailing behind Keiichi, but I was in the lead by about fifty thousand yen only five minutes in.
The higher my pile of money rose, the more confused and perturbed Keiichi looked.
That confusion quickly changed to fear, however, when he noticed Mion's eyes fall upon him.
Only five minutes into her own game, and Mion had already finished. She was reclining in her chair, a can of juice in her hand, whilst her three competitors sat with completely devastated looks on their faces. Even though Mion didn't have any help from an alien with unfair reality warping skills like I did (at least, I didn't think she did), she had already won. That sent a shiver up my spine.
Mion Sonozaki was a very scary person.
I'm sorry, Keiichi. I know I can't explain it to you, and you wouldn't believe me if I tried, but it's better this way.
I couldn't imagine how difficult it must have been for Keiichi, having that green-haired demon girl glare at him with so much venom.
...Actually, no. Scratch that. I understood how Keiichi felt perfectly.
Even though I was in the lead, Haruhi kept shooting me these dirty looks. They seemed to be saying 'you better keep it up, or else.'
I think the person I felt the most sympathy for in that sorry situation, however, was the young kid Okamura. He was just a pawn caught up in a violent game between the reigning champions, the game club, and the unruly challengers, the SOS Brigade. He didn't have a clue what was going or, or why he was being glared at by both Mion and Haruhi.
Suffice to say, the 'aura' around our table was fairly dark.
I bet Okamura only came along for some fun. However, before he'd even had a chance to protect, he'd somehow become caught up in a fight to the death between two demons.
You have my sympathies, Okamura. I hope being glared at by Haruhi won't have too long a lasting impression on your psyche and medicial wellbeing.
As Okamura took his turn to spin the roulette with shaking fingers (even though both he and Koizumi were being widely ignored by everyone else, both Mion and Haruhi focusing on Keiichi and I), I turned to look at the other tables.
Rena and Mikuru's group were playing some kind of alphabet matching game with cute cards. It looked like Rena was going to win. She had a silly grin on her face, her cheeks were flushed, and she was snatching up the corresponding cards at lightening speeds. All the while, she was muttering "haooo!" and "how adorable!" and "I want to take it home!" to herself.
Rena's transformation was nothing short of disturbing. I thought she seemed like a fairly normal person before.
It didn't look like Mikuru had a chance against such a ridiculously super-powered girl. She was getting flustered. She kept dropping her cards, squeaking apologizing and, every once in a while, jumping, as Haruhi sent her a glare cold enough to freeze water.
Mikuru's bashful nature, however, began to have a devastating affect on Rena. Whereas before she'd been preoccupied with matching the 'cute' alphabet cards, she soon began to take an acute notice in Mikuru. Her eyes were shining in a way that reminded me of Taniguchi's when he saw a girl in a miniskirt, and her cries of "haoo! I want to take you home!~" were soon directed at Mikuru instead of the game.
I hoped Rena didn't try to do anything inappropriate to Mikuru as Haruhi always did.
I'm sorry, Mikuru. I'm sorry you have to suffer so much!
At Nagato and Rika's table, the fishing game had already drawn to a close. Whilst Rika's cute charms had won over her male opponents, to the point where they did nothing but cheer her on as she beat them mercilessly, Nagato had remained unaffected. Instead, she cooly continued the game. Every time she reached for a fish, she caught it. It didn't even wobble as she lifted it from the table with the weak magnetic attraction between the pole and the fish; however, when Rika did it, sometimes she dropped some of the plastic shapes and had to give up points. I assumed Nagato was controlling the magnetic attraction between the fish and the pole somehow- and it paid off, because the end game had been reached quickly with Nagato the clear winner (Rika's male fans looked upset. However, they took the chance to comfort an 'upset' Rika as their consolation prize, and didn't seem to mind too much).
Satoko and Haruhi were playing some kind of memory game. It looked like they had to memorize cards placed upside down on the table to score points. It looked fairly past-paced, and the other two people in their group had a fair number of cards, too. Haruhi was biting her lower lip, and Satoko's face was flustered. It was a mark of how deeply they were concentrating that the pair of them were silent, neither trading insults, as I would have expected from a child like Satoko and a (let's face it) childish teenager like Haruhi.
Within a few more minutes, the game I was playing with Keiichi (Okamura and Koizumi's input affected the final result about as much as raindrops in the ocean) was concluded with my victory.
Even so, I couldn't feel good about it.
To begin with, my victory had been assured at the very beginning.
For another, Mion looked positively murderous. I couldn't help but worry she was going to disembowel Keiichi. Keiichi seemed to think so too, because his face was pale as a sheet.
It took a great amount of concentration to convince myself I'd done the right thing. I didn't really want to think of myself as responsible for Keiichi's upcoming execution.
Nagato was the one controlling the spinner.
Or, I know! Why don't we just blame Haruhi for this mess and be done with it?
I blame Haruhi for so many things attributing one more misfortune to her name won't hurt, really.
The game between Rena and Mikuru was concluded soon after the game between myself and Keiichi. The end result was rather surprising.
Neither girls won.
Well, it had been a given from the start that Mikuru couldn't be the victor. She hadn't been quick enough; her beautiful fingers were like sea slugs (in speed only, not appearance) when compared to Rena's dizzyingly quick motions. Honestly- that girl moved so fast her fingertips left after images as she moved!
I thought for sure Rena would win, after she steamrollered so mercilessly into the lead.
However, what happened, I think, was this.
Rena, who seemed to have some unhealthy fascination with 'cute' things, got distracted mid-way through the game by Mikuru's flushed face.
I can understand that. Mikuru really is adorable. I'd drop any task in a heartbeat just for a chance to stare at her.
Whilst Rena was distracted, another girl on their table- a short kid with purple eyes and a stuffed lion plushie in her hands- managed to sneak into the lead, beating Rena by only two points.
During Rena and Mikuru's game, quite the crowd had gathered around the table. It looked like tension was pretty high. Some of the more excitable spectators had even begun placing bets on whether the newcomer would be able to steal a victory, or if Rena would snap back to her senses at the last second and reclaim her win.
Of course, that didn't happen. Their game was, in the end, a win for the girl with the lion plush.
Rena, however, didn't seem to mind. She was too busy cooing over Mikuru's flushed face. It looked like she was plotting to take Mikuru home with her.
Well, I'm afraid I won't allow that! If you try to kidnap Mikuru, I'll come running to her rescue- you see if I don't!
Besides, I don't think Haruhi would be too happy if you kidnapped our mascot. And it'd be in your best interests if you remained on good terms with Haruhi.
Finally, all eyes turned towards the game between Satoko and Haruhi. There were only a few cards left on the table, and all the players seemed to have an equal-sized stack of cards. It was... too close to call.
I noticed Haruhi had tied her hair back in that stubby ponytail, even though her hair was really too short for it. Tendrils of hair were springing out of the bobble like tendrils of seaweed floating at the ocean floor. The messy, disorganized look complemented the blazing passion in her eyes. She'd clipped her bangs back, too, so they couldn't get in her way.
It was obvious she was taking the game really seriously.
Then again, Haruhi poured one hundred and one percent of her heart into everything she did.
I'd only won my game via supernatural inference from Nagato, but Haruhi was determined to emerge the victor from this skirmish by utilizing her own abilities.
Somehow, the sight of Haruhi trying to hard made me feel a little humbled.
Even though I'd never say it to her face (Haruhi is already impossible to deal with- she doesn't need a swelled head, too), sometimes, I think Haruhi Suzumiya can be very impressive.
And that ponytail really did look very nice on her...
Satoko, too, had an expression of equal determination on her elfin face. Her eyes were narrowed, the sleeves of her pink shirt were rolled up, and she was staring at the cards on the table like a hungry lion that had been fasting for two weeks would have stared at a zebra.
But... it was too late.
Because it was Haruhi's turn to attack.
And, if she knew what all the three cards were that were lying on the table, she could win.
Well, I hate to break it you, Satoko, but I've seen this girl learn how to play the guitar in under an hour. If she can memorize that many chords, and replicate them almost perfectly to a crowd of cheering students, then she can almost certainly memorize the faces of three playing cards.
I suppose, to use chess terms, this would be a perfect 'checkmate'.
Haruhi seemed to realise that too, because she was smiling.
The crowd around Haruhi was buzzing, all of them chattering excitedly. And, truth be told, I could feel my own pulse speed up as Haruhi's fingers hovered over the cards.
"Uuu~ Haru-chan is amazing!~" the little girl with the stuffed lion said. "I've never seen anybody take on Satoko-chan like that!"
"No," said another boy. "I think Satoko-chan will definitely win! She must have a trump card!"
"You're only saying that because you liii~iiike Satoko, Tomita!"
"I-I do not!"
I could feel the tension in the room rising...
All eyes were on Haruhi and Satoko.
Then, in a blur of motion, Haruhi's fingers were on the card closest to her.
"The two of hearts!"
She turned it over.
The two of hearts stared back at her.
Emboldened by her success, Haruhi's smile widened just a little more. She reached for the card left of the two of hearts with another lightning fast, precise strike.
"The queen of spades!"
She flipped it over.
There was just one more card left.
And it was worth the most points.
If Haruhi got this, she'd win.
But, if she didn't... Then it would be Satoko's turn.
And Satoko would win.
At the moment, the SOS Brigade had two wins, from Nagato and myself. The games club had one win, from Mion. Rena and Mikuru's game had been a draw.
If Haruhi won, the SOS Brigade would have proved they were superior to the games club!
I hear the crowd gasp audibly as Haruhi's fingers reached for the last card.
She was getting ready to turn it over.
The tension was building. I could feel my heart beat increasing, just a little. I wasn't even interested in this childish game- not really- but the atmosphere was infectious, I guess.
And part of me really wanted Haruhi to win.
It was stupid to take such things so seriously, but Haruhi was trying so hard it would seem almost cruel to have her victory snatched out from beneath her at the last moment. I think Haruhi... really deserved to win.
And I'm not saying that as member of the SOS Brigade, but as a completely unbiased, third party spectator.
I turned to look at Mion's face. I wondered if it was as tense as Satoko's.
However, to my surprise, she looked... completely calm. She could have been carved from ice. She reclined in her chair, sipping her juice, as though this had gone exactly as planned.
Maybe Satoko did have some kind of trap prepared, then?
But... that couldn't be possible...
"I'm sorry, Satoko-chan!" Haruhi said, her fingers dancing over the last card. "I know you worked really hard, and I respect that! Even though you're just a kid, you exerted an effort in this game worthy of any SOS Brigade member! You have my congratulations! And..." Haruhi smiled. "You also have my sympathies. Don't cry when I beat you! The ace of spades!"
And Haruhi flipped over the last card, as if in slow motion.
Everybody in the room held their breath.
The true identity of the last card was... ...
Well. The confusion on Haruhi's pretty face said it all, really.
Because the last card wasn't the ace of spades.
It was the five of diamonds.
And, from that one wrong, false move, Haruhi had just lost whatever points she'd previously gained.
So the winner of that game was...
That was the store managed said.
Haruhi could only sit there, her eyes wide, her face pale. She looked like she'd just seen a squirrel getting hit by a truck. Or maybe she was squirrel about to be hit...
It looked like she couldn't believe what had happened.
She wasn't the only one.
Haruhi had seemed so confident before. I'd been completely convinced of her victory. And I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Koizumi, Mikuru and I were all wearing expressions almost identical to Haruhi's. Some of the people crowding around Haruhi and Satoko's table looked shocked, too.
But Rena, Rika, Keiichi and Mion didn't look surprised at all.
In fact, I'm sure they knew this was going to happen all along.
"Yay! Satoko! You did it, sir! You did it, yeah!" said Rika, patting Satoko on the head.
Even though Rika's voice was polite, I got the feeling she had issued us a challenge. It sounded like some kind of rebuke.
Huh. I can only assume Rika isn't as innocent as she looks. She seems to have a pretty cold-hearted personality hidden behind those wide eyes and cute smiles.
"Satoko-chan! I'm so glad you're on our side!" Mion congratulated her, giving the blonde girl an over-enthusiastic high five. "I knew you'd pull through for us!"
"Well, I had to make up for Kei-chan's embarrassing defeat! Oh ho ho ho!" Satoko cackled.
"H-hey, you! Don't get too cocky!" Keiichi reprimanded her, tugging at her cheeks.
"Uwahh! Mii-chan, Mii-chan, Kei-chan's being a sore loser!"
"Yeah, get off her, you bully!" Mion said, grabbing hold of the back of Keiichi's shirt and pulling him away from Satoko. "You should kneel to the floor and kiss Satoko-chan's shoes! Her victory means I can go a little easier on you for losing so easily! But don't think your punishment will be any less painful and embarassing, okay? Hahahaha..."
A dark aura began to surround Mion. Her eyes looked almost hollow, as though somebody had poked two holes out of her head with a bread knife.
Even though I hang around with the likes of Haruhi Suzumiya, I have to stay Mion's facial expression was enough to make me shudder.
"Ah! No! M-Mion, have mercy!" Keiichi begged- which seemed like a smart thing to do, given the circumstances.
If it was me, I'd have done the same thing, masculine pride be damned.
"Aww! Kei-chan looks so cute when he's scared!" Rena squealed, releasing Mikuru's hands (how long was she clung, leech-like, to Mikuru, I wonder?) and throwing herself round Keiichi's middle.
But Haruhi continued to sit there, her eyes wide.
She looked... shocked.
Rika approached Haruhi and slowly, tentatively, stretched out her hand. It looked like she was debating whether to pet a dog that might or might not be rabid. It seemed even little Rika understood there was something disturbing about Haruhi Suzumiya. Smart kid.
However, Rika's desire to comfort Haruhi eventually took over her common sense, and she reached forwards, patting Haruhi on the head.
"There there. I'll send all those negative emotions flying away... You worked very hard, sir. Satoko-chan just plays dirty."
"H-hey, Rika! That doesn't matter!" said Satoko. "A win's a win, right? The way I got there doesn't matter!"
As Satoko said that, the mystery behind Haruhi's sudden defeat was solved.
Haruhi had sounded so sure it was the ace of spades. And I'm one hundred- no, one hundred and one- percent sure if Haruhi had been playing against anybody else, the last card would have been the ace of spades. However, when the attention of her competitor's had been diverted- or maybe Satoko had got her fellow competitors on her side (the boy, Tomita, seemed to have a crush on her already)- Satoko had swapped the last card with another one.
She'd tricked Haruhi.
If possible, Haruhi's eyes widened even more at this news. More than three quarters of her face seemed to be made up of large, brown eyes.
I waited to see what she would do.
I think... I was even half-afraid at her reaction.
She'd boasted so confidently to Mion, and had then exerted all her efforts into winning. She would have won, as well, if Satoko hadn't cheated.
I think, in a situation like that, even I'd be a little annoyed.
But Haruhi was never 'a little' anything. When she reacted to things, she reacted with extremes of emotion- because Haruhi never did things by halves.
I watched Haruhi.
I think we were all watching Haruhi.
And then, slowly...
Began to clap.
She was smiling.
"Well done, Satoko-chan. I think maybe I underestimated you a little, just because you're a kid..." Haruhi laughed. "But I see you're more cunning than me! Man, I was so close, too. To think I'd be fooled by a basic trick like that... But!" Haruhi stood up. The motion disrupted the cards on the table. In an over-the-top manner, Haruhi reached forwards and stabbed a finger in Satoko's face. "If we have a rematch, I definitely won't lose! I, Haruhi Suzumiya, SOS Brigade leader, would never fall for such a cheap trick two times in a row! So prepare yourself, Satoko Houjou! Next time I'll definitely kick your butt, and then I'll give you the death sentence! Brace yourself!"
"Ah, no problem!" Satoko retorted, sticking out her tongue. "I'll be waiting for your challenge, old woman! But it'll be light-years before you can defeat me!"
Haruhi's eyes sparkled at the new challenge. She smiled.
"Oh. We'll just see about that!"
And then she sprang to her feet, and began to tickle Satoko mercilessly.
The tension-charged atmosphere dispersed almost instantly, and I saw Rika give a sigh of relief.
Why was Rika relieved? She doesn't know about Haruhi's god complex- so how could she have known something was wrong?
Maybe she was just good at reading the atmosphere. She seemed like a very astute girl.
...I hadn't even realized I was holding my breath until I heard Haruhi's cheerful voice.
Honestly, I wasn't sure what I was expecting.
When I turned my head to one side, I saw Itsuki Koizumi smiling at me softly.
"Suzumiya-san really is an amazing person, isn't she?" he said.
And I was forced to agree with him.
It was a rare occasion indeed.
As the 'winners' of our games, the store manager oh so 'kindly' gave Nagato, Satoko, the girl with the lion plush and I gifts, wrapped up in brown paper bags. And by 'gifts', I mean he gave us more useless items that had been gathering dust in his inventory for a few years. At least, that was I how I saw it.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because I'm not. If I owned a failing toy store, I'd try to get rid of my old stock by palming it off on stupid grade school kids, too.
I'm not ungrateful. I'm just a realist.
Or maybe 'cynic' is a more fitting word to choose.
At least the girl with the plush lion was happy.
In Satoko and Nagato's paper bags were small plush animals. Whilst the stuffed tiger suited Satoko perfectly, who had it making small 'rawr' noises and attacking Rika's head, I found Nagato's toy sea lion slightly less fitting for her. Nagato stared down at it blankly, as though it were a cauliflower. After a few moments' scrutiny, she handed the plush toy over to Rika, with a clipped, "Here."
I didn't blame Nagato, either.
The toys did look cute, at first glance, but Satoko's tiger had stump instead of a tail and Nagato's sea lion was missing an eye. It looked like more like a Cyclops than a cute, cuddly toy.
That further strengthened my hypothesis the old guy was trying to get rid of the old junk nobody wanted.
"Oh?" Rika said, as Nagato handed her the toy. "Don't you want it, sir?"
"I think we're a little too old for childish toys like that," said Haruhi, affecting an air of superiority.
I'm sorry, but I couldn't suppress my sniggers (inside my mind, of course. Laugh at Haruhi in real life, and you'd get boot marks all over your face).
Haruhi may have called the stuffed animals 'childish', but wasn't she the one who dressed Mikuru up in outfits like a life-size doll every day?
Oh well. I already knew Haruhi Suzumiya was a hypocrite when she said she didn't really believe in God during casual conversation. Although, that was more like dramatic irony rather than outright hypocrisy. Haruhi doesn't know she's some god like being (or thereabouts), and I hope for the sake of the world it stays that way.
"Are you sure, sir?" said Rika, looking at Nagato.
Nagato nodded. "It can defend you."
What? Nagato, speaking more than one word at a time?
I think that was more shocking than Haruhi's spectacular defeat at the game shop.
"Defend me from what? I'll be fine, sir. Auu~"
By means of explanation, Nagato pointed at Satoko's tiger. Satoko was making it prowl across Rika's hair, as though searching for its prey.
Hey, Nagato. Do sea lions eat tigers?
Even so, I couldn't suppress a smile.
Nagato rarely joked around, but I think the light-hearted atmosphere had infected her. Even though her expression was... well, expressionless, as usual, there was a certain light about her eyes that warmed the heart.
"Ahh! Yuki-chan is cute, too!" Rena squealed, latching her arms around the stoic Nagato. "She's so cute!"
Rika had accepted Nagato's offering with a smile, and then Satoko and Rika turned to have some kind of war between their plush tiger and sea lion. Rena's eyes doubled in size at that, and she alternated between hugging Nagato, Satoko, Rika and Mikuru, before spinning around in circles with the cry that she was "dizzy! So dizzy! Haoooo!"
When I opened my brown paper bag, I found- to Mion and Haruhi's amusement- a baby doll wearing a ruffled, lacy dress.
Even though I had no interest in girls' toys, I could appreciate how well made it was- save for the chip in its arm and a missing shoe.
Let me make this clear.
I'm not a lolicon pervert. I have no interest in a doll like that. I have a little sister, you know. The first time Taniguchi brought up a lolicon anime with me was the last time. I don't display my anger outwardly too often, but when I do, it can be quite scary- according to Kunikida, and he never lies. I don't think he's able to.
I thought about keeping the doll as a gift for my sister. She's the same age as Satoko and Rika, and they were both looking at the doll appreciatively. However, I wouldn't trust my sister with something like that, even if it is broken- she'd probably break it.
Besides, if I tried to keep the doll, I'd probably be branded as a freak.
So... That presented the problem of who to give it to.
Naturally, she was my first choice. Mikuru is a very girly-girl, and her eyes were wide with... not envy (I refuse to believe Mikuru Asahina has a bad bone in her body. Haruhi, on the other hand, is made of nothing but), but a certain kind of longing on a certain kind of girl gets with those cutesy dolls.
However, I knew Haruhi was watching me. I doubted she'd be very happy if I gave Mikuru that doll. At any other time, perhaps I'd ignored this and just handed it to Mikuru anyway- but Haruhi had just been defeated by Satoko. Despite Haruhi's smile, I'm sure she was secretly upset. She was acting far more mature than usual, but I didn't feel like testing her limits.
That's not cowardice. That's called using your head.
Naturally, my mind wandered to Haruhi. She was more of a tomboy than Mikuru, and I doubted she'd appreciate the doll like Mikuru would, but I was sure it would make her happy. The few times I deigned to share my lunch with Haruhi (and that doesn't include the occasions Haruhi stole my bento box and ran off with it, without my permission, which she has done a couple of times) she looked truly happy. Even though she tried to hide the smile, it was still there. But... giving Haruhi the doll would send a different signal from making too much rice and sharing that. I didn't want Haruhi to get the wrong idea.
Hell, I wasn't even sure what kind of 'idea' I'd give out, but it was one that would make my life more complicated.
So... Rena, then?
But Rena was kind of scary around cute things, and her mind had already gone into meltdown from the combined efforts of Satoko, Rika, Nagato and Mikuru. Giving her anything else to 'haoo' over would probably give her a heart attack. Rena already bought herself those cute animal cards she'd been playing with as well- she plenty of 'cute' to be getting along with.
That left only one girl.
A girl who hadn't received a gift to begin with.
And that was Mion.
Even though Mion had won her game, she hadn't received any prize. Mion said that was because her uncle run the store, and he always gave her discounts on games, so she didn't really deserve any freebies.
But, even so...
I think Mion was a little upset by that.
I didn't know her very well, but I'd gathered she was a tomboy. She didn't seem like Rena or Mikuru. She was more like Haruhi.
But I was sure she'd appreciate the gift all the same.
And, if I gave it to Mion, it meant I wouldn't have to worry about giving to Mikuru and upsetting Haruhi, or giving it to Haruhi and, subsequently, giving her the wrong message.
After that long, in depth discussion, it seems a little bit like I'm in a dating sim.
However, in a dating sim with Haruhi, you've got to be very careful not to choose the wrong option. If she gets angry, she can do far, far worse than ignore for you a few days.
It was horrible, really, that the future of the world could boil down to something so trivial as who got a chipped doll with a missing shoe.
This is indeed a disturbing universe.
"Here you go, Mion," I said, handing the doll casually over the green-haired girl.
"What?" Mion asked, her eyes widening. "You're... giving it to me...?"
"Yeah! You don't know Mii-chan at all!" Satoko laughed. "She's more manly than Keii-chan!"
"Hey! Are you trying to insinuate something, you brat?" Keiichi asked, grabbing hold of Satoko's shirt.
"Oh, no~ Nothing at allll~" Satoko whistled innocently, in a way that wasn't fooling anyone.
I ignored Satoko and Keiichi's childish squabbling, and looked up at Mion.
"You don't have to accept it. I just thought, you didn't get a gift, even though you won... So it's only fair."
"Huh?" Mion's cheeks flushed a light pink.
Somehow, I got the feeling I was seeing a very cute side of Mion Sonozaki. It was probably a rare sight- rarer, even, than the winter solstice. I wondered if I had a camera, could I take a picture of it and sell it for five thousand yen?
...Stop that, Kyon.
You're thinking like Haruhi.
"What about your..." Mion looked up at Haruhi, her eyes scanning her slowly. "Friend?"
I don't like the emphasis you're placing on that word, Mion.
The appeal of your 'cute' side is fading rapidly.
"Oh, no! No, it's okay!" Haruhi reassured, shaking her head. She smiled. "You won a game, so you deserve a prize. And Kyon's such a freak, I don't want to know what he'd do with a doll like that!"
"A-ah... Alright then..."
And, with trembling fingers, Mion accepted the doll. She hugged it to her chest softly, awkwardly. But there was a small smile on her face.
I think... I did a good deed then.
Somehow, it felt like I'd managed to prevent some kind of tragedy.
At least Haruhi's still smiling.
"A-ah! Well!" Mion coughed and cleared her throat. Her blush had vanished. It looked like she was trying to regain her cool after the brief lapse in her authoritative personality. "I've been meaning to ask. Is there any particular reason you're here, other than the competition?"
Haruhi perked up immediately at this.
"Yes! We're investigating-"
I slapped a hand across her mouth before she could say anything incriminating.
Wasn't Haruhi the one who said we should keep our investigation under wraps to avoid becoming the next sacrifices?
"We're here to visit the Watanagashi Festival in Hinamizawa village," I said.
"Oh? Really? Is that so, sir?" said Rika.
Hmn... Her words were innocent enough, but I detect an... almost accusatory hint behind them.
Does she know I'm lying?
Maybe the fact my hand's still covering Haruhi's mouth is a giveaway. Oops.
I slid my hand away quickly, wiping it on my shirt.
"That's such a coincidence! It is, it really is!" said Rena, nodding so viogrously her hat nearly fell off. "We all live in Hinamizawa too!"
And then, the full weight of what Rena said hit me.
I could see the gears turning in Haruhi's mind, too, as she began to asses our situation.
It was Koizumi, however, that put the pieces together first.
"Yes," he said, sighing. "It's quite a shame. We travelled for six hours to get here, intending to stay at a hotel in Okinomiya, only to discover there are no rooms spare. And we wouldn't want to return home after seeing the festival."
Man, he's a pretty good actor. But, if that's the case, why are the smiles he always gives me so fake?
"Ah. Well, I'm not surprised," said Mion.
"Is the Watanagashi festival really that popular?" asked Koizumi.
"Well, yeah," said Mion, shrugging. "It's always pretty full around here this time of year."
"The Watanagashi Festival is a pretty big deal," said Satoko. "Tons of people come from all over the neighboring cities- it's awesome! Okinomiya and Hinamizawa get really busy!"
"It's so nice that such a simple festival can bring so many people together," said Rika.
Rena was nodding, too.
Keiichi, however, looked confused. In fact, this seems to be his natural look.
I pondered. Keiichi seemed to get along well with Mion and the others. However, he wore that perplexed, slightly 'out of it' expression more than the others. I wondered how long they'd been friends, really. It seemed like a few years at least- but maybe the actual figure was closer to a few months.
"What's the Watanagashi Festival?" he asked.
I've heard the name of this festival tossed about casually, with no explanation as to what it actually is.
Would anybody care to enlighten me?
"The Watanagashi Festival is unique to Hinamizawa village, sir," Rika explained in her slow, melodious voice. She could have been chanting a sutra with that soothing tone. "It involves beating a mattress and sending the cotton buds drifting down the river."
"So it's a festival centered around... futons?" I asked.
Well, I've heard of weirder things.
Anime conventions, for one.
"Somewhat. However, there is also a focus on praising Oyashiro-sama," said Rika.
"Oyashiro-sama?" Keiichi asked.
Rika opened her mouth to reply, but Haruhi beat her to the punch.
"Oh, I've read about this!" said Haruhi excitedly.
At that moment, Haruhi sounded like one of those children holding their hands up in class, desperate that the teacher picked them for a question. I always wondered what would have happened if those keen students were never chosen. Would their knowledge have leaked out of them, like a sponge?
However, Haruhi isn't the sort of the person who'd wait around with her hand in the air until somebody picked her. Instead, she just barges right in.
I'm not sure if it's a good quality or not.
"Oyashiro-sama is the guardian of Hinamizawa village, isn't he? He was there when demons rose from the cursed swamp Onigafuchi and massacred the villagers. Oyashiro-sama came up with a proposal- the humans and demons should try and live side by side, because the demons had been driven out of Onigafuchi and had nowhere else to go. Over the years, the humans and demons bred together, producing people that were neither human nor demon, which is why Hinamizawa was called Onigafuchi as well."
Mikuru and Keiichi both looked taken aback at this grisly story.
"M-massacred...?" Mikuru asked.
The others, however, looked more calm- even Satoko and Rika. I got the feeling these stories were common knowledge with all residents in Hinamizawa.
Apart from Keiichi.
Maybe he hadn't been living there very long.
"You know a lot about Hinamizawa despite living so far away," said Rika. "How is that, sirs?"
That suspicious tone was back in her voice.
I turned to look at my fellow SOS Brigade members, to see if they'd noticed the subtle change in Rika.
Koizumi was still smiling. Mikuru looked nervous, but only about the brutal word 'massacre'. Nagato was emotionless as always, and Haruhi was smiling, looking pleased with herself.
...I guess not.
Was I just being paranoid?
"Oh, it's easy to find stuff like that if you read around," said Koizumi casually.
Rika nodded. She still didn't look placated, though.
"I suppose so..."
"There are a loottt of legends like that about Hinamizawa- I'm not surprised we're infamous, even halfway across Japan!" said Mion, laughing. "I think everybody in Hinamiawa itseld knows at least five different versions of that one story."
"It's like Chinese whispers," Rena agreed. "The stories get passed down, but the details always change, always. The only thing that remains constant is Oyashiro-sama."
"We worship Oyashiro-sama as a deity in Hinamizawa, but the exact details of his origin are unsure," said Rika. "The Watanagashi festival is partly a celebration for the futons, but it's largely about Oyashiro-sama. Much of the folklore in Hinamizawa wasn't even propagated by the villagers."
'Propagated', huh? That's a pretty big word for a ten year old.
You're making my little sister look stupid, Rika. Stop it.
"Why wasn't it spread by the villagers?" Haruhi asked. "It seems kind of weird holding a festival around a legend not even started in your village. Juust saying."
"Hinamizawa used to be a really isolated village- even more so than today," said Mion. "Mostly because it was in the mountains and it was hard to reach. So outsiders began to suspect the people of Hinamizawa had weird traditions and customs because they'd never been able to get to the village, and they spread those around. There are some pretty gruesome stories. I'm sure most of them are lies."
"Every rural village has a few myths and legends! They do, they do!" said Rena.
Well... that made sense.
Don't take everything you see at face value, right?
But what about all those murders...?
"So you worship a deity you don't know much about, huh...?" I found myself saying.
"That's true," Rika affirmed. "Even a shrine maiden for Oyashiro-sama like myself doesn't know everything. But~" Rika smiled. "I'm sure Oyashiro-sama is a kind, benevolent god! Nipahhhh~"
Ow! That's so cute, I can feel the onset of diabetes already!
Rena seemed to think so too, because within seconds she'd pulled Rika into her arms, and was muttering some nonsense about 'taking her home'.
You do realize kidnapping is illegal, right, Rena?
At least my friends (is 'friends' too kind a term? 'Acquaintances', maybe?) aren't the only strange ones.
"The Watanagashi Festival is popular, but it's not the only reason this place is so packed, though," said Mion, winking.
"What's the other reason?" Haruhi asked.
I could tell, by that gleam in her eyes, she was hoping it was something to do with a gruesome murder.
Well, it looked like she was about to be disappointed.
Mion chuckled, shaking her head. "It's nothing really. A stupid thing. But you'd be surprised how many people take it so seriously! It's kind of creepy!"
"The cafe Angel Mort is having a special offer. Have you heard of Angel Mort?"
I was about to say no and shake my head, just as Koizumi, Haruhi and Mikuru were doing (Nagato just stood there).
But, before I could, I remembered something...
Something Taniguchi had once said.
We'd been sat in our classroom at lunch, chatting (well, Taniguchi had been chatting. I'd been pondering the advantages and disadvantages of ramming my chopstick in his eye), when Taniguchi said something about his life-long dream being to visit Angel Mort.
"It's only the most amazing place ever- like heaven, but with more sexy waitresses!" Taniguchi had babbled, when Kunikida asked him what he was talking about. "It's a really famous cafe in Oko... O... whatever, and all the waitresses wear the most amazing outfits!"
So I had heard of it, then. Through Taniguchi, no less.
"Angel Mort would be your run-of-the-mill cafe if it wasn't for the waitresses," Mion explained. "It's normal for customers to come there from all over- Chiba, Osaka, Hokkaido... it's ridiculous- but when they have special offers, the city can get swamped. If you couple the time of the special offer with the arrival of the Watanagashi Festival, then there's no wonder you can't find hotels."
"Huh... Damn it," Haruhi mumbled darkly, folding her arms. "And we came so far..."
"D-does this mean we'll have to go back...?" Mikuru asked, clasping her hands together, trembling.
I could see poor Mikuru was stuck between two evils. One hand, she didn't want to stay in Hinamizawa and investigate a series of murders. On the other hand, she didn't want to take another six hour bus journey on the crappiest bus in Japan so soon after she'd just got off it. My feelings were almost identical to Mikuru's, so I could understand the pain on her face.
"Well..." Mion frowned, tilting her head to one side in thought. "How long are you planning on staying in Hinamizawa?"
"About a week," answered Koizumi.
"We were really looking forward to seeing the festival too," Haruhi lied shamelessly.
This was the girl, remember, who said all festivals were 'boring' and 'the same'.
"Kyahh! That's no good, no good!" said Rena, shaking her head. "It would be so sad if you had to go back home now!"
"Yeah. We still need to have our rematch!" said Satoko, pointing a finger at Haruhi. "I'll beat you next time, too!"
"Oh really? Bring it on, you little pipsqueak!"
Haruhi began to tickle Satoko again without mercy, until the blonde girl was squealing and tears ran from her eyes.
"Please don't bully Satoko-chan, sir," said Rika, smiling at Haruhi. "She doesn't know what she's saying sometimes."
"R-rika! Are you teasing me too?" Satoko asked.
"Am I? Am I, I wonder? Auuu~"
And, as expected of Rena, she said, "Kyahh! Satoko's so cute! I want to take you homeee!"
Throughout that energetic scene Mion had the fingers of her right hand under her chin, her left arm still wrapped around the beautiful doll. It looked like she was thinking.
Then, just as Rena made to crush Satoko's ribs in a bone-crunching hug, Mion snapped her fingers together and smiled.
Rena stopped trying to molest Satoko and turned to look at Mion.
I saw Satoko heave a sigh of relief. It was obvious she'd just been saved a lot of pain.
"Alright!" said Mion, that 'leader-like' voice that reminded me of Haruhi. "I've decided! Why don't you guys stay with me?"
Haruhi's eyes lit up at this request. She opened her mouth, ready to agree whole-heartedly...
But is this really a good idea, Haruhi?
Wasn't it you who said we shouldn't stay in Hinamizawa itself, in case we attract the attention of any murderous locals?
Granted, Mion, Satoko, Rika, Rena and Keiichi don't look like murderers, but shouldn't we be careful?
Or am I just being paranoid?
"Wait a second," I said, placing a hand on Haruhi's shoulder to stop her tackling Mion in a show of affection. "Are you sure that's alright? Wouldn't your parents mind?"
There was a small pause.
Did I just... say something wrong?
Then Mion shook her head, dispelling the icy atmosphere, and laughed.
"Hahaha! Of course not! I live with my grandmother. She won't mind! She's so old she hardly knows what's going on! Ahaha!"
Isn't that a little disrespectful?
"But is your house big enough for all of us?" I pressed.
Mion sighed, and prodded me in the forehead.
Yep. She definitely reminds me of Haruhi. There was an inhuman strength behind that one finger; it was almost enough to push me back into a lamp post.
"I wouldn't have said you could stay if it wasn't. It's hu~uuge!"
As Mion said 'huge', I couldn't help but look down at her chest...
Gah. I think I've been spending too much time with Taniguchi.
"Mii-chan's family is very influential in Hinamizawa," said Rena. "Their home is like a mansion!"
"A mansion, huh?" said Keiichi. He frowned. "And you teased me so relentlessly about my house!"
"Well, a big, grand mansion doesn't seem to suit an unrefined, moronic guy like you!" said Mion.
"Oh ho ho ho!" Satoko laughed. "It's true, it's true!"
"Shut up, you brat!" Keiichi said, flicking Satoko in the forehead. "And I could say the same at you, Mion! You don't look like the refined sort of lady who'd live in a big mansion either!"
I had to agree with Keiichi on that one. Mion looked like she'd be better suited to camping outside in the howling wind, rather than living in a luxurious mansion eating brioche.
"I have surprisingly hidden depths!" said Mion, buffing her nails on her shirt. She smiled. "I'm far more refined than you, Keii-chan!"
"Like hell you are!"
"You shouldn't talk to a lady like that, sir," said Rika.
"Yeah! Maybe you should address me as 'ojou-sama' from now on!" Mion cackled.
"I think plain old 'Mion' is good enough for you," said Keiichi.
"Don't back-chat me like that, I'm your leader!" said Haru- actually, no, that was Mion again. I got a bit confused there; that sounded exactly like something Haruhi would say. "I still haven't forgiven you for losing today!"
"Oh, I have an idea!" said Haruhi enthusiastically. "If your house is really that big, why don't we all stay there for a sleepover? Me and Satoko-"
Satoko and I, you mean.
"-can settle our dispute- and I'll obviously win- and we can all give Keiichi his punishment!"
Eight people, all crammed into one house, shouting and shrieking until the crack of dawn?
(Please note, I am aware there are ten of us. I'm just not counting myself and Nagato in the 'shouting and shrieking').
That's just what I need after having only two hours sleep the night before, Haruhi.
But the others all seemed to think it was a good idea.
"That sounds like fun, like fun!" said Rena.
I noticed she had a strange habit of repeating the last part of her sentences when she was excited.
"Yes. I think we'll all get to know each other very well," Koizumi agreed, smiling easily.
As he said this, I saw Rena blush slightly at the connotations of his words.
Hey, Koizumi. This is no time for flirting.
I say this, of course, because I'm jealous his good looks have such a devastating affect on all women. Even a girl like Rena.
"Haha. Was I? Sorry," he said, smiling.
Nice try, esperboy. That apology was as convincing as a processed cheese.
"But we can't stay up too late," said Rika. "We have school tomorrow, sirs."
"Huh? School?" Haruhi asked.
Yes, Haruhi. It's that building where we go six days a week to sit amongst our peers in sweltering classrooms, 'learning' information that will be of no use at all when we enter the real world.
"I know that!" Haruhi snapped. "I was just a little confused, because we're already on our summer break."
"Our school timetable must be different to yours, sirs," said Rika.
"Alright, Rika-chan! We won't stay up too late... Haha..." said Mion.
I don't like the sound of that laugh.
"A sleepy Rika-chan would be so adorable, though!" Rena squealed. It seemed she'd finally recovered from Koizumi's devastating flirtation attack. Her 'adorable' mode was back in full force. "Haoo! Adorable, adorable! I want to take her home!"
"You can take her back to my home," said Mion.
And, with that, Rena had Rika in her arms and was squishing the girl's face against her flat chest.
"Ah, I'm so excited!" Haruhi declared, clapping her hands together. "This is going to be great!"
The sad thing was, though, Haruhi wasn't interested in sleepovers, or games, or meeting new friends.
I knew she wouldn't be truly satisfied...
Until she'd learnt more about the murder.
These cheerful, light-hearted times would only placate her for so long.
Mion led our party of ten along a dusty, weather-beaten track that was meant to lead to Hinamizawa. It was surprising how quickly the city of Okinomiya fell away, the large buildings and libraries and roads morphing into trees and hills in a matter of minutes.
We still had our heavy bags to carry. However, with five additions to our forces, we spread our luggage out more. I felt a little guilty giving one of my bags to Rika, as she looked so small. However, Rika assured me country girls were a lot stronger than I thought- and that seemed to be the case. Rika shared my heavy load without complaining. She didn't even break a sweat.
Haruhi and Mion walked at the front, talking to each other, laughing. Nagato stood off to one side by herself. Rena was talking to Koizumi and Mikuru. By the light blush on Rena's face, I had to wonder whether Koizumi was flirting with her again. Keiichi and Satoko were arguing about something. I saw Keiichi hit Satoko upside the head. They reminded me of a brother and sister. It was hard to believe they weren't related.
I walked alongside Rika. The blue-haired girl looked oddly serious, despite the cheerful chatter that surrounded us.
Not for the first time, I was struck with a strange feeling Rika knew something.
That Rika... was more than an innocent, smiling girl.
I looked down at Rika in surprise.
Her voice had sounded deeper. More mature. I couldn't imagine her saying 'hauu' or 'nipah' like that.
"You and your friends should... be careful."
As Rika spoke, I felt a chill go down my spine.
There was something 'off' about that girl.
It sounded like she knew something.
As the wind whistled through the trees, and sun began to set and the cicadas started to chirp, I thought I could hear that voice again.
That soft, melancholy voice.
The one from my dream.
I'm so sorry.
a/n: Holy hell, if this isn't the longest chapter I've written for /anything/ in my whole life! o_o And they've only just friggin' arrived at Hinamizawa! XD
This is a Haruhi/Higurashi crossover (if you couldn't tell already, ha XD). But. Butbutbut. It might be a little different to what you're expecting ^_^
I was mainly inspired to write this by Thnikkafan's excellent Haruhi/Higurashi crossover, so I hope they don't sound too similiar ;A; The events in this won't be the same, anyway.
There's probably a whole bunch of spelling errors in here aaaa ._.
Owing to the monstrous size of these chapters, the next chapter probably won't be done in a while.
But I take ages to update everything, so you should be used to that XD
I should work on my other Haruhi fics that people actually want me to write but, yanno. I lack the inspiration XD
I hope you liked it, and I'll see you next time ^_^