A Monster's Pet


AN: I LIVE! i'm not dead yet~! Wahaha!

disclaimer: I don't own any character nor do i profit from saki and her author's work


"So tell me please…" I whispered while grunting softly ever so trying my best not to shout. I was lying on my bed sideways facing away from the door.

"Yes?" She replied while sending warm breaths inside my ear lobe. It's not reaching my nose but it still felt suffocating, no not her breath but the atmosphere it was creating.

"Why are you in my room again?" My eyebrows twitched as my face got shrouded by her shadow as she leaned on top of me. Of course I was trying my best to just ignore her but as I see her shadow envelop me I couldn't help but tell her off, not that I think she would listen to me but there's always that chance that she might.

"Because the mansion had no more free room since Kaori Senou joined at the same time as I did." She replied. I still can't believe it myself that a chombo happened to me. That's something only the newbiest of the newbies commit.

"I understand that but why are you so close to me?! There's about a meter of free space on your side of the bed!" I tried my best not to shout but my voice was beginning to pick up. I felt someone's arm wrap halfway around me in a gentle yet very forceful embrace.

"I don't get what you mean, it's pretty comfortable here." I heard her say this while I felt either getting pulled closer to her or she was leaning on my back.

"Doesn't the term 'personal space' ever mean anything to you?!" I don't really get it but I'm beginning to feel a slight lump touch my back and I don't know why either but my heart is racing faster than normal right now.

"Tugs, tugs, tugs, tugs," she said this in a sort of 'rock' tone. Was she making some sort of weird hum? I would appreciate it if she didn't do it so damn close to my ears it's giving me Goosebumps. It was especially freaky to me because it reminded me of that tune used in bars as people stripped in front of a crowd to seduce them.

"What is it now?" I protested to know what foolishness she's doing now while making that beat.

"It's not me it's your heart." She said this rather seductively inside my ear.

"E-Eh?" I yelped in a soft squeaky voice. She can feel it? She can feel my heartbeat? I couldn't lie to myself to deny what she was saying.

"When I put my chest on your back like this your heart goes off that I can almost dance to the beat." She pulled me closer once again and that slight lump I felt started to carress the surface of my silk shirt and entices my back beneath it. Just imagining what those two things I feel grazing my back almost made me lose my mind.

"S-Stop it." I said this almost beggingly. Like a child being bullied by her older peers I asked for her pity. My cries fell on deaf ears as she continued to make her advances. This time I felt something perk up in front of me beneath my own clothes.

"You're excited." She said this before letting out a teasing chuckle. After that a meek squeak came from me as I denied her statement. How can I be excited when the person who traumatized me for the past few years is groping me from behind in my own room?

"Y-You're wrong, I'm not excited at all." I tried my best to keep her advances at bay but I felt my legs clumping together just to push back my feelings gushing beneath my waist. It would be troublesome if she finds out my increasingly getting wet shorts. Why is it wet? W-Well I don't know either maybe because it's the sweat since it's too hot.

"Dishonest pets are punished did you know that?" She continued. I felt her hand try to sneak in between my legs, and it would've if I didn't firmly closed them together. I simply could not allow her any access to that part or my dignity will totalled.

"I-I'm not your pet! I thought I already told you that." I wanted to shout now but if I did then I'm not sure what kind of trouble I would bring to the team. Also, I'm not sure my teammates will help me from Saki or help Saki to do me instead. They're not exactly the normal bunch; I learned that the hard way yesterday.

"Your body is telling me a different story though," this time I felt her hand pass me as I felt her lift my shirt's front. I felt her fingers touch my navel, making soft touches as it encircled that small hole where my umbilical cord used to be when I was born.

"S-Stahp…" I gasped. I felt my own muscles weaken as if my own body was just about to give up.

"Your lips are being especially dishonest today. Why don't we ask your other lips then?" This time I felt her hand intrude inside my shorts and panties from the opening below my hips. I used both of my hands to cover my mouth to prevent myself from shouting as I helplessly waited for her hand to reach that part of my body.

"Eh? Shouldn't this part be covered by hair?" She said this as she reached that part only a few inches above that special place that I was trying so hard to protect.

"W-Well I"

"Eh? Don't tell me Suehara-san is someone who likes to keep cute by shaving that part." This devil of a girl chuckled teasingly while I was about to cry as I hold her hand from above my shorts to keep her from moving further down.

"N-No stupid!" I said this aloud but yet in a whisper. I love being clean but there has never been a time when I needed to shave that place. Why? Well… for some reason it seems my growth is rather abnormal down there. While my peers have probably grown a small bush by now I have yet to see a single speck of hair on my own.

"Then it's really going to be in full view once I remove these troublesome barriers?" She asked. Thinking about it, she probably meant my shorts and my panties when she said 'barriers'.

"T-That's sexual harassment! Stop it!" I cried. I was quite sure at this point that tears were ready to flow from my eyes.

Dok, dok, dok!

"Sakehhhh, Kyouko it's time to wake up! It's going to be our first training together!" This was the voice of a very happy Sera. After this I immediately felt Saki retract her hand from inside my shorts slowly.

"T-Thank you captain!" I thanked my new captain from the bottom of my heart. A little more and I don't know what could've become of me right there.

"How boring…"

Even though I'm not looking at her I know Saki is frowning right now. This is the same phrase she uttered yesterday when I escaped her advances by using our match as a reason. Imagining her disappointed face makes me feel heavy for some reason but I didn't let it bother me.

"No matter, the day is just starting isn't it?" She said this with full of hope and vigor in her voice. I could not believe the persistence of this girl. Why can't she just leave me alone?

"You're the high-school national champion and three time MVP please act more responsible!" I tried lecturing her. I know this is a useless attempt but I still wanted to say what was in my mind.

Just as I was about to stand up I felt something wet and soft touch and bite gently on the nape of my neck. I squealed gently as I gasped and felt chest rise. I heard a soft clicking, no more like lapping sound at the same time and I can perfectly imagine what it was.

"You didn't think I'd just let this go without getting anything did you?" The girl behind me asked before she leaned forward and grazed my cheeks with her lips.

I felt my blood rise to my cheeks and if I looked in the mirror I would probably see my face as red as a tomato right now. What she did was more embarrassing than what she was doing a moment ago. I could still feel that wet smooch she gave me and the gentle nibble was eating through my heart and brain similarly to how my skin itched in protest for more. When she finally released me I immediately walked to the mirror and there I saw the nape of my neck the mark she gave me as her 'gift' for this morning. It was clearly visible even without the lights.

"Y-You, you, you idiot!" I cried and turned to her as she stuck out her tongue playfully.

Okay, I bet everyone is wondering what's happening. What became of the tournament? I rather not explain everything in detail because it was too embarrassing. To think the team led by Sera Eguchi would one of the first teams to drop out of the tournament is just too much. However I'm sure people will not be satisfied until they hear it so let's go back to one thirty in the afternoon the day before yesterday.


One Thirty P.M. Saturday we eagerly watched the match of our vanguard, Yae Kobashiri. The moment she sat on the table we already expected her to gather a lot of points. There are two popular strategies when it comes to team tournaments, the most popular is putting the ace in the vanguard position to gather enough points to sustain the team the rest of the way. With all the powerful aces competing, the three other teams do well not following that strategy. The other strategy was to put your ace as the general of the team. This later strategy is a 'comeback' strategy where the ace can retrieve the points her team lost from earlier matches. For our team it's unclear what strategy we followed. The battle potential of each member are not too far apart. Sure it's arguable that Sera is our ace but back yesterday I was able to top her.

"Oh it's starting." Sera eagerly watched how her chosen vanguard would do. For the first hand our Yae was seated on south. After rolling the dice, it's settled that her turn comes in second.

For the first turn her hand revealed a pair of the two of balls, a pair of the three of balls, a four of balls a five of balls, two six of balls, a seven of balls, two red dragons and an east wind tile. This is actually a good hand and it's almost complete. If she plays the hand right she could win a seven han haneman for pinfu, hon'itsu and ryan'peikou. True enough she discarded the east wind tile which served no purpose on her hand. On her second turn she managed to draw the four of balls. She had her ryan'peikou. On this turn she declared riichi.

Declaring riichi indeed increases your hand's value. However I cannot help but feel that it was rushed. She had a three way wait but it feels like she could've lured in her opponents more. On the next turn she failed to get her winning tile while her opponents were starting to catch up. Even on the fourth and fifth turn she still could not draw the tile she needed until on the sixth turn-….

"Riichi!"

-another competitor finally caught up to her and it's with a monstrous hand. It was the vanguard of East Chikuma. All characters so that would make it a chin'itsu but it was a more special hand. A quad of ones and a trio of nines with one of each tiles between one and nine that's a nightmare hand that's known as nine gates or nine lanterns. Won't it be ironic if our group would get hit by that?

The next turn proved to be a big blow for us as Yae drew the three of characters. That was the last remaining tile missing from her enemy's hand. It didn't matter now if she could feel her enemy's intentions she's obliged to throw that because she's under restrains thanks to her own riichi. I looked at the frown on her face, it was clear that she wasn't happy about discarding it, but she had no choice.

"Ron!" Exclaimed the girl from East Chikuma. In an instant, thirty-two thousand points were shaved off from us. I can hear many people laughing. For someone in a team called 'Nine Lanterns' to get hit with the yakuman hand 'Nine Lanterns' is rather comical. We consider ourselves already lucky since this 'nine gate's was a 'dirty' one and only had one sided wait. If it was a 'true nine gates' then sixty four thousand would have been taken from us in a flash.

"Crap!" Nagi Shinmen cursed. She had one hand in a fist with her teeth in tight grit. It was a very debilitating blow. She had to play after this and if Yae can't bounce back then she will have very little points to work with. For those who cannot follow the point distribution it's like this: East Chikuma who now named itself as East Chicks have the lead at one hundred and thirty-three thousand points, Tile Pushers who are dominated by Toufukuji members are at one hundred thousand points, On the Board, a seemingly new team, at a hundred thousand too and then us who were at the pitiful score of sixty-seven thousand points.

"Don't worry it's just the beginning!" Sera encouraged all of us. True, we're still only thirty-three thousand below the second place. If Yae can win consecutively we can catch up in no time.

"Ron!"

Just as I was conditioning my mind that we were still doing okay another declaration of ron erupted in the arena. This time it was from a girl wearing glasses who plays for 'Tile Pushers'. I looked at who the poor soul was. Who was the unlucky girl to get hit directly? To my surprise I saw Yae cringed as she took some point sticks in her pile and hand them over to her opponent. As I feared, it's our vanguard that got hit again. All I could do is pray that it wasn't too much.

"That would be sixty-four thousand please." The enemy revealed the amount our Yae had to pay. The hand she got caught by was a well-known hand designed to shoot down players with direct hits. It was the Kokushi Musou nope even worse it was a thirteen sided wait Kokushi Musou. Without restrictions this hand is a double Yakuman.

After only two rounds our score now is… three thousand. It's the most depressing thing I have seen. After only two turns our points have been reduced to almost nothing. Even in individual tournaments this is something almost impossible to save. This is much more troublesome in a team competition where the next teammate will have to work with the amount of points the previous hands down.

"I-It looks like I will have to work it out in my match." The girl who always carried her swords close beside her took a huge gulp down of saliva from her own mouth. She sounded pessimistic but believe me that's already optimism. If our 'bansei ace' can make it through I will already consider that a miracle.

"I- I think we made the wrong sequence here." I couldn't help but say this. At this point what we needed was Hanada Kirame's ability to ensure our safe passage to the next round, the ability to 'not be bankrupt'.

"Come to think of it… why didn't we go with that plan? Hanada-san did show that her ability was legit in all her games." Nagi Shinmen asked Sera who was on the edge of her seat as she watched our vanguard tremble.

"That would have been a more marvellous line-up." Hanada herself agreed with that supposed plan. It was only yesterday when we really decided that Yae declared that she would be the vanguard.

"Well it's because she insisted on it." Sera hesitantly pointed at the plasma-screen set to our teammate playing in the match. I gritted my teeth in a combination of both anger and disappointment. I was angry at Yae for being such a spoiled idiot and at our captain for letting that girl have her way.

"Why? I mean we all saw her performances in the nationals!" I was almost shouting at this point and I could barely maintain a calm face. I know I'm new to the team and I shouldn't say such things but I could not believe how foolish that decision was. I mean, in Himematsu I may not be the president of the club but I know that every decision we made was based on the team's overall feelings and judgement. To me this felt like we sacrificed the team just for the sake of one selfish woman's ego.

"I'm sorry Kyouko…"

Sera began talking after a short pause. It seemed to me that she regretted her decision.

"I just felt that everyone in this team must enjoy their roles. I was worried that if I insist another role on her any further then she might not perform at all." Sera explained. I imagined how the scene it might've been when Yae approached the captain for her position. I placed myself in her shoes and wondered if I could've told this stuck-up girl to stand down.

"But still I…"

"Kyouko…"

I felt a hand tap my left shoulder gently. I looked and saw that it was Kanbara, my first friend in this team.

"I think it was the right decision. If Yae quitted because we didn't give her the vanguard position then we wouldn't have made this tournament for not making the cut." Satomi Kanbara explained. It was then that I realized how much of a burden it really was for our captain to make that decision. We didn't experience this in Himematsu because we had so many club members. It must've felt like being cornered against a wall to make that decision. I realized that I was being inconsiderate to Sera; she was only doing her job for the team.

"I'm sorry president." I turned to Sera with my head bowed. In turn, Sera looked at me with a smile.

"No you're right. I was too selfish. I only wanted for our group to finally make its debut. But a debut like this is also unacceptable." She sounded contrite of her decision and I couldn't blame her. Even if we didn't make this tournament we could've still made our debut in another tournament different from this one and in a better light. This kind of performance is something sponsors would call a sign of a bad investment.

"B-But it's not yet over!" Kozue Furuzuka clenched her fists above her chest to show us her fighting spirit. Usually this is enough to revive everyone but the current situation is much direr. Four no-tens and we're basically dead.

"I'm going to go to the comfort room for a bit." I said. I didn't know what to say to my teammates to raise their hopes and I couldn't bear seeing them downhearted like that. Nobody in my team stopped me although Kozue and Nagi turned to me with a sceptical look before I left the area.

When I crossed the hall outside there were already many people loitering around. Most of them were fans of the mahjong players currently participated in the tournament. It was inevitable that I listened to some of them gossip.

"Hey! Sera Eguchi's team is really taking a beating out there." One man who looked as if he just graduated high-school softly whispered this to his friend who was standing beside him.

"Yeah, gosh they even got hit by two yakumans in a row. That's something that only happens in a manga!" The girl who replied sounded pretty happy while saying this. I felt myself angered listening to these morons but I couldn't bring myself to confront them because that would just add garbage to the already disappointing reputation we're currently showing.

I continued my way until I reached a big door. Outside this door was some sort of small balcony built to give people some fresh air. Although you can argue that it's useless since nobody really uses it. However the view it gives of the city is quite breath-taking. It didn't help to ease my mind of our current situation and it would've been a better view if it was already dark but I did feel a little refreshed as I allowed the wind to blow on my face and through my hair for a bit.

"I guess you won't be seeing me play today."

I whispered to myself before I chuckled. I remembered how she explicitly said that she was really looking forward to my debut. With what's happening right now I doubt I'll even have that chance to sit on the table. Somehow I felt sad as I imagined her disappointed look. I leaned on the balcony's marble railings as I tried to soothe myself by appreciating the city's view in the afternoon.

"In one way I guess this is good. If we lose before my turn comes, I won't have a chance to embarrass myself." I chuckled again. I was doing my best to give myself reasons not to despise Yae for her selfish attitude.

"Now we can't have that can we?"

A gentle voice replied from behind me in a playful tone. I narrowed my eyes a bit and I didn't have to ask who it was because I've been hearing that voice in my dreams and everywhere since yesterday. I didn't bother myself to turn and meet her since she joined me and leaned forward on the railings herself.

"A chance to see you embarrassed in front of thousands of expectators is something I cannot allow to pass." The girl who began to accompany me sounded teasingly playful but also annoyed in a way.

"There's something seriously wrong with you." I turned beside me to give her that awkward look as I examined her face. She met my eyes rather sheepishly.

"You, striving your best to get close to me, ah those were the days." She smiled and sighed as if she was a reminiscing nun in an isolated cathedral.

"Okay, first and foremost I was trying my best to get close to you on points!"

I emphasized 'on points' by saying it aloud.

"Second, please don't say things like that in that weird perverted tone. People will misunderstand." I closed my eyes and sighed. I can imagine how people would begin to talk behind our backs if ever they heard this girl say one of her lines to me.

"Misunderstand how exactly?" She titled her head as she asked me something that I thought would already be obvious.

"I don't want people thinking that we're actually lovers." I decided to be blunt. If I didn't, this girl would probably just make fun of me.

"They wouldn't misunderstand it then."

"You…" I already had a fist prepared to bash her face in for that.

"In any case, shouldn't you prepare for your game?" This question boggled me. I don't want to be Miss Pessimistic but on how it's going I doubt I need to worry about my game.

"Didn't you just see what happened back there?" I asked sarcastically while pointing behind me with my thumb.

"Yeah, some idiot got hit by two yakumans in a row, so what?" She replied like it was something absolutely normal. Well this is the monster who swept the high-school division with ease so I guess she has the authority to say something so arrogant.

"Last time I checked we only had three thousand points left. Even if by some miraculous way she manages not to get driven down to negative we still have… w-wait…" As I said the word miracle something popped in my mind. The term miracle is something not new to the person I'm talking to. I turned my head slowly back to her only to see her playfully grinning at me.

"What? Is there something on my face?" She asked with a smirk. Once again I ask myself if this was the Miyanaga Saki who was supposed to be shy and innocent. Is she only like this towards me?

"N-Never mind."

I imagined my suspicions away. She was able to manipulate my score in my matches before but it's foolishness to think that she can do the same thing in a different match she's not playing in while being so far away from the players.

"Can you tell me again why the most powerful mahjong player up to date is not in a team?" I remembered our conversation from before. I couldn't believe that she wasn't a part of any team. I mean, I can only think that she was teasing me again by lying and then surprise me later by defeating me in a another captain's match.

"I can tell that you think I'm lying." Bull's-eye! I turned my head away from her to avoid eye contact.

"I just don't understand how come you're not with Haramura in a team." I replied and imagined how close Nodoka and Saki looked three years ago. They looked very inseparable that it's almost a no brainer to think that they would be in the same team for the pro-leagues.

"Oh? Are you so much captivated by me that you want to see me play already?" She walked in front of me and followed where I turned my head as if she was forcing herself in my field of vision. Was she only trying to get a reaction from me? Is it why she says these embarrassing things?

"Please don't add such useless meanings in my words." I felt my cheeks get a little hot. This girl is little by little figuring out how to push my buttons.

"Whatever happens in this tournament I will be joining a team directly after it." She replied after a soft chuckle. After this tournament? Is she here actually here to look for suitable teams? If that's the case then it's that monster team that's most appropriate. I'm talking about the team of monsters with Miyanaga Teru at its front.

"Nope, it's definitely not that team." She said this with a proud yet carefree smile.

"Please stop reading my mind." I requested in an annoyed voice. I couldn't tell if she was really getting in my mind or if I was just a really easy girl to read. I was never the girl who had the perfect poker face. I am thankful that in mahjong having a cold face isn't a requirement or I might not have made it at all.

"The match should be over by now. Your team will be looking for you." She said this out of the blue. Did she have a timer set for the match? Or was she just guessing? I noticed that the sky has changed its colour a bit which means time indeed passed. I don't know why, but time seems to pass quicker whenever I'm talking to this girl.

"You're right… besides it's pretty disrespectful to be here while my teammates pull their hair out from watching that massacre." I nodded. I was pretty thankful that she reminded me… not. Now I feel disgusted again that I have to see my team's disappointed faces.

Every step I took leading back to the room our team was given for preparations was very heavy. It almost felt like the ground itself was absorbing bits of my energy until I'm too exhausted to move. Upon arriving there I saw a girl with two kodachis waiting outside the room's door.

"Nagi, going somewhere?" I waved to Nagi. She was supposed to be the team's sergeant.

"Suehara-san!" Nagi ran up to me then jumped unto me like a koala to a tree.

"S-Shinmen-san is there a problem?" At first I thought that she was about to cry before telling me the bad news. Of course I was already expecting that someone would tell on how Yae got hit by another yakuman effectively ending the match. However as I examined Nagi's face more I realized that she wasn't crying or lonely at all. In fact she had a huge smile on her face.

"Yae pushed through for us! We're not leaving the competition just yet!" Nagi sounded really happy as she reported this to me.

"Eh? She scored huge hands and got us back into the running?!" I felt excited for once today. I can feel my lips slowly turn into a smile hoping that Yae scored a yakuman of her own to give us more points.

"Nope, she did not win a hand at all." Nagi replied while waving her head in a no gesture.

"E-Eh?!" I was surprised. How exactly did she survive without scoring a single hand… and why am I supposed to be happy about this?!

"For some reason the three other competitors did not score anymore as well. That last hand that Yae was hit by was surprisingly the last hand to be won by any of the players in that match." Nagi explained this to me with a weird smile on her face. I could tell that she was perplexed about what happened.

"Then our score is…"

"That's the funny thing. Yae couldn't win a hand but she was always in tempai. Now we have eleven thousand points!" I could not imagine what Nagi just explained to me. If what she said was true, then at some point in time Yae was in tempai eight times in a row.

"Gosh… now I wish I was there to watch…" For some reason I kind of regretted going to the balcony.

"Suehara-san?"

"Hmm?"

"Who's that?" Nagi asked and pointed past me.

"Eh?" I turned behind me and saw a girl wearing her boy's cap so far down her face that her eyes was literally hidden from sight.

"Hi there I-...!"

"T-This girl is just a friend! Please don't mind her." I replied for Saki before this troublesome girl could say something I would regret.

"A friend? Is she competing too?" Nagi asked. It was natural I guess that she would think that this girl is also a mahjong player.

"N-No I…"

"I'm Kyouko-san's girlfriend." My heart skipped a beat after I heard this coming from behind me.

"E-Eh?!" Nagi squealed. It was a similar squeal you hear every time you go to a concert and girls see their most admired band member on the stage.

"D-Don't listen to her Nagi she's just being random." I went in between the two while flailing my arms and hands in front of like I was making a small barrier around me. This isn't the worst case scenario that I have been replaying in my mind but it sure is close to turning into it.

"S-Suehara-san I didn't know that you were in to girls." Nagi said this while avoiding eye-contact with me with her face lighted pink.

"Shinmen-sannn!" I was almost in the verge of tears while trying my best to convince my teammate otherwise. At that point I only hoped that Nagi wasn't the kind who loved talking to others about the latest gossips.

"You're Nagi Shinmen right?" Once again the girl behind me interrupted me before I could say anything more. Come to think of it I haven't properly introduced them to each other. I don't have the slightest bit of idea how to introduce the girl behind me. I didn't know if telling Nagi that this girl who claimed to be my lover's name was Saki would be a good thing.

"Y-Yes. You know about me?" Nagi had a smile on her face. It seemed that she was honoured to have someone know her who was outside of the mahjong world.

"Yes of course. Nagi-san is the cute girl who wears kodachis going to a game. She's really quite cool. Like a modern mahjong samurai." I don't know why but hearing Saki say these words of praise to someone she just met is a little annoying.

"I-I'm not cute or cool at all." Nagi replied shyly. This one was even more upsetting than hearing Saki flirt. I guess seeing people act this way just gets on my nerves. I mean, why else would I feel irritated seeing Saki and Nagi like this?

"Now, now, aren't you going to be late for the match Nagi?" I asked. For every match there's at least a thirty minute break time before the next match starts. I thought that we've probably been talking mindlessly for at least fifteen minutes now. My main concern is to have her disappear from the scene before everything escalates.

"O-Oh yes, sorry, I'll go now!" Nagi bowed in front of us before dashing away.

"Will she be alright?" I asked myself as I watched my teammate disappear through the corridor leading to the playing area.

"Suehara-san you're back! Wahaha we made it through!" Some other's voice interrupted me from imagining Nagi's flustered face as she goes in the playing area.

It was easy for me to deduce that it was Satomi Kanbara who just went out of the waiting room to greet me.

"Ah! Satomi! T-This girl is-…" The first thing I had in mind was to pre-emptively introduce Saki before she could say anything misleading while I gestured beside me.

"Huh? What girl?" Satomi tilted her head curiously looking at me.

"Eh?"

I turned to my left only to see that there was no one beside me.

"S-She ran away!" I squealed. Not that I mind. In fact I am more thankful that she disappeared before Satomi could see her. But I have this feeling I will see her again in the very near future.

"Who?" Kanbara still had that inquisitive look. What's weird is that she could look at me with it while having that staple smile she sported.

"N-Nobody l-let's go in, I still have yet to congratulate Yae for making it through." I gently had Satomi turn away from me as I pushed her gently back inside the room by her shoulders.

"Eh? Did I miss anything?" Satomi asked as we entered the room.

Inside the room everyone was happy. Sera had a big smile of relief on her face. I checked our match's scoreboard and it was still a depressing sight. The first place was at one hundred and fifty-four thousand, the second place was at one hundred and twenty-four thousand, the third place was at eighty-nine thousand and there's us at eleven thousand.

"So nobody really scored after that." I had a weird smile on my face. I could not help but think that this is someone's doing, no not Yae, someone who has been stalking me.

"It's time to counter attack!" Sera looked at me with a spirited look in her eyes. I can tell that her resolve has returned because after all even though we're behind by that much we have a better chance now than we had when we were stuck at 'zero'.

"Yae, good job hanging in there." I turned to Yae who was sitting silently in one corner of the room. I could tell that she wasn't happy with the result. After all what's there really to be happy about? She got hit by a double yakuman in the get go and a yakuman in the second.

"Don't patronize me." She said this looking angrily at me. I guess from her point-of-view I was patronizing her. But in reality I am being sincere… although I don't really believe that it was with Yae's power was she able to hang on.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I scratched my head and sat beside her. I wanted to apologize more because it was I who doubted her the most. I felt guilty that I was sure we'd be packing at the same time Yae left the playing area.

"It was strange… every last draw I get the tile I need to be in tempai…" She said this with painful expression.

"What do you mean?" I did not fully understand what she meant. I couldn't tell if it's how she phrased it or if I'm not just getting at the core of what she was trying to say.

"Didn't you watch my game?!"

"Uh o-of course I did. Ahaha." This is a lie of course. I don't know what she will do to me if I dared to tell her that I baled on observing her extremely depressing game.

"I did get tempai in most of my hands but I only got there every time it's my final chance to draw." She explained. It was clearer to me now but since I didn't watch her game I could only imagine what happened.

"Only get to tempai in the last turn?" I repeated what she said. I had my thumb on my chin as I remembered something similar to it. If I remember correctly, it was on my last year of playing for Himematsu in the nationals where I can only win in the final turn. That happened a few times in a row and in all of those games the girl who calls herself Miyanaga Saki was my opponent.

"I couldn't win a hand at all…" Yae looked like she was about to cry at any moment. If you think about it, she has a very valid point. To some onlooker's point-of-view it looked incredible to see someone always get to tempai. However, even if she would always get it, if she can only get to it in her final draw then her chances of winning a hand is exactly at zero. If this is an innate ability that she just awakened then I hope she puts it to sleep fast because it's really extremely useless.

"There, there it's not good to dwell on something like this while one of our teammates is out there fighting for us. Let's cheer on her shall we?" Sera noticed the gloomy atmosphere we were beginning to generate and immediately changed the topic.

"Yes! Go, go Nagi-chan!" Kozue cheered.

"Y-yeah, go!" I tried to act enthusiastically and I really am. But it's just unbelievable that she will hear me cheering for her all the way here from the playing area.


Together, I and the rest of the team watched Nagi's match. Unlike Yae, she performed extremely well. In the first turn she was able to score a non-dealer san'baiman and gave our team twenty-five thousand points. It was a direct hit at the second place at that time. That wasn't even Nagi's shining moment in that match, like a true samurai she steadily cut down the points of our foes until the second place was already in firing distance. Before the match recess, she scored a dealer haneman which allowed us to finally over take the second place. In the end of the first half of her match the allocations were: one hundred and twenty-two thousand points for the team in front, we're at their back at eighty-one thousand points and the teams we overtook not far from each other at seventy-five thousand and sixty-four thousand.

"Marvellous! Nagi's in a roll!" Hanada Kirame had a wide smile on her face… not that it's unusual but she really sincerely sounded jubilant for Nagi. She's playing after Nagi Shinmen so I guess it's understandable that she's the most happy about this.

"If she can continue on her pace she might just get first place for us!" Sera said this in her usual Kansai accent.

Unfortunately Sera's words did not come true. In the second half the first place scored a non-dealer haneman while another team scored a dealer baiman. The last hand won was by our very own Nagi Shinmen which was a dealer San'baiman: thirty-two thousand points. So now the points are one hundred and twenty-six thousand for the first place, us with one hundred and three thousand points and the other two teams with seventy thousand and fifty-two thousand points. It was ironic to see the previous second place in the match so far behind at fifty-two thousand but it's probably because their current player isn't the strongest in their team. If we're lucky their best player was probably the girl who scored the first yakuman against Yae on the vanguard's match. If that's true then we only have two other teams to really worry about.

Next up for our team was Hanada Kirame. Her ability is something we hope not to use in this point of the game. Her ability to 'not be bankrupt' is a lifeline but also quite depressing to see used in a game. We're already in firing range from the first place; hopefully Hanada can step up her game and leap over her opponent. I escorted Kirame outside the room and there we met Nagi on the way to the playing area.

"You were marvellous!" Hanada praised Nagi as they met each other outside the room.

"No, the enemies this time were weak." Nagi disappointedly closed her eyes. Despite her success I can tell that she was not contented with what she got.

"I suppose they played their hands on the vanguard's match." What I meant by this is that all the enemy teams must've placed their aces in the vanguard's position if Nagi was right about everyone in her match being trash.

"I didn't feel fulfilled at all." She sighed. I don't really understand how she felt. After that intense depression and despair we had after watching Yae lose so many points she should really be happy that she was able to score over a hundred thousand points and get us back into the running.

"Let's just be thankful that we have a better chance of winning this shall we?" I scratched the back of my head.

"W-Where's she?" Nagi started looking around us and even moved me gently to see what's behind me.

"Where's who?" Hanada who still hasn't gone to the playing area asked wondering.

"Suehara-san's girlfriend." Nagi replied. My eyes opened wide in shock. This is something I don't want anyone to spread about me. I wanted to squeal but my throat became so stiff that nothing came out of my mouth but a soft whimper.

"E-Eh? That's marvellous Suehara-san! You brought a lover? A-And a girl even?" For the first time ever I heard Hanada sound in a different tone other than 'happy'. She sounded unsure and troubled even while she masks it with her trademark smile.

"D-Don't listen to her I have no girlfriend!" Once again I flung my arms around tirelessly as I failed miserably to change their opinion of me.

"It's okay Kyouko; girl to girl relationships are marvellous!" Hanada flashed me a thumbs up. She was trying to root for me and cheer me up but that's something I didn't want happening either.

"I'm telling you that you're misunderstanding everything!" The only thing keeping me from breaking down into tears right now is the thought of getting into my match later on with swollen eyes.

"Marvellous! I shall dedicate this match to your love then Suehara-san!" Once again Hanada flashed me a smirk and a thumbs up before finally disappearing into the corridors.

"… Geez Nagi why did you have to say something so unnecessary!" I cried after I turned to Nagi who was looking at me innocently.

"Eh? But I thought you wanted your relationship known to everyone since she was so straightforward in telling me that information a while ago." She replied.

"Didn't you just hear me squeal in despair back then?" I reminded her how much I denied that girl's statement before. Sometimes I'm not sure if this teammate of mine is mentally impaired.

"Eh? So you're really not going out with her?" Nagi asked.

"As I said before… she was just playing!" I persisted. I hoped that this time she would finally understand.

"I-If that's the case then maybe I can… with her umm…" Nagi turned her face away from me as she placed one hand on her lips to muffle her voice.

"Maybe you can what?! And why are you posing so shy with a flustered face?!" I recognized the pose she was unconsciously portraying and it's the pose a girl in love does every time she thinks of her 'target of affection' in romantic movies.

"Why are you guys so noisy out there?! Hanada's match is about to start let's watch inside." Sera opened the door and invited us in.

"Wahaha Nagi! You were so amazing!" Kanbara welcomed and praised Nagi as we entered the room. I was wearing a weird face which I hoped nobody noticed. I couldn't help but think something troublesome just started inside Nagi. Also, for some reason I felt my heart tighten but I couldn't properly explain it.

"Hanada-san is stronger than me in practice matches and she did make it farther in the national tournament than me so we should be fine now." I can feel the confidence in Nagi's voice. However when I tried to make eye contact with her she suddenly averted her gaze.

After putting the awkward atmosphere between me and Nagi aside I decided to concentrate on Hanada's match. Their game didn't start until after twenty more minutes. When it did start the pace of the game was horribly slow and none of the players could get to tempai.

"Wahaha I guess there are times when none in the game can get a good break huh?" It was the second hand when Satomi said this. She was absolutely right about this. It doesn't mean that someone needs to get lucky and win in a mahjong match; sometimes the tiles are just so shy to come out for everyone.

"Oh look it looks like Kirame-san has finally a good hand." Nagi pointed at the screen just as the cameras took a close up of everyone's hands.

Her hand was composed of a three of characters, a four of characters, two nines of balls, three red dragons, three east winds and three south winds. She only needed a two or a five to finish her straight and complete her hand.

"That girl from 'Wood Pushers' has three of the five of characters though." I noticed the hand of one of her enemies. This means that she only had five more tiles that she can draw to give her the win.

One of the players in the table just drew one of the two of characters that Hanada needed. It was a big disappointment for us who were watching the fight. Now Kirame only had four outs left before her hand loses its value. If Hanada wins this hand it will be a baiman and if we're lucky we can overtake the first place in one go.

Immediately after Hanada discards the tile she drew, the girl after her drew the tile she needed. Time stopped as we waited for what that girl would do. When we looked at her hand that girl may form a small straight using that tile but it would mean that she would be opting for a longer wait. We looked at the girl's expression, at first she was smiling as she prods the tile between the other two tiles on her left. Then after a short pause she discarded it.

"Ron!" We heard Hanada claim that tile through the little speakers in the room. It was a direct dealer baiman and the victim was the first place holder. That girl was punished with a sixteen thousand points deficit. With that we finally managed to overtake the leader by nine points; the score now is: one hundred nineteen thousand points for us with one hundred ten thousand points for the team in second place while the other teams points remained unchanged.

"I told you Hanada-san will come through for us!" Nagi felt rather proud for predicting how Kirame will perform. However I can't help but think that we're getting ahead of ourselves. It was just one hand; the game was still far from over.

I regretted having those pessimistic thoughts, not because I was proven wrong, but because my worries were proven to be right. That baiman was the only hand she scored for the first half of the match. I may sound like it but it isn't really so bad. At least we didn't get as many points shaved off than the other teams. All of a sudden the team which was lying in last place scored a non-dealer haneman. Hanada wasn't in dealer's position that time so she didn't need to pay the lion's share. Because of that two teams in the bottom shared the same score which was immediately broken after one of them scored a mangan. It was a direct hit to the second place at that time.

"Wahaha, she's not getting anything at all." Kanbara commented. She was correct. It wasn't Hanada's fault at all; she's simply not getting any luck with her draws. I only know a few monsters who could care less about draws.

In the second half, Hanada scored an eighty fu four han hand in east position which forced all her enemies to pay four thousand points each. It wasn't much but it's high enough to keep us in front. The final scores after some exchanges between the other players are: one hundred and seventy-two thousand points for us, eighty-nine thousand and four hundred points for the team directly behind us, seventy-one thousand and three hundred for the third place and sixty-three thousand and one hundred points for the current team in the last place. Even though Hanada did not add much to our point's pool she did a pretty god job defending them. She managed to dodge direct hits and did not get hit by a tsumo much either.

"It's my turn next!" Sera Eguchi, our captain finally stood up from her seat. She hasn't done so since our match started. I don't know how she did it for a few hours but she hasn't rested her butt from sitting down and kept her eyes glued on the game monitor. I suppose she felt responsible for her team and didn't want to show us her anxiety by sitting down.

"Take care out there pres." I was the first to wish her good luck. If my estimate is correct, then Sera Eguchi is probably the strongest in our team overall. It's not that I don't have confidence in myself but unlike me her performance is more consistent.

"Um!" She nodded. She had a confident smile on her face which says a lot.

"Show them what the star of Senriyama can do wahaha." Kanbara added.

"Ha-ha that's not right, I'm not a part of Senriyama anymore. Have you forgotten the name of our team?" Sera looked at each of us in the eyes before we all exchange smirks.

"We're the Nine Lanterns!" We spiritfully shouted. Since I've joined this team Sera always did seem to be proud of the team she made and the name that she gave it. I can't help to wonder why it's 'Nine Lanterns' though, we're only seven…

I'm not sure if this is going to be a team tradition, but like how it was with Nagi and Hanada, I was the one who escorted Sera out of the room and met Hanada along the way.

"Did I miss anything marvellous while I was gone?" Hanada asked. She asked this probably because we looked chipper.

"You missed watching yourself do marvellously." I replied. I tried using her trademark word but I have to admit that it doesn't sound as good for me compared to when she uses it.

"You're just saying that, I didn't score much at all." This is the first time I saw Hanada Kirame's shy and humble side as she scratched the back of her head with rosy cheeks.

I smiled as I walk to her before I realized that I haven't gone to the bathroom since we arrived. I could hold out more but I didn't want to wait for the 'point of no return' when I'm already sitting on the table where leaving isn't allowed.

"S-Sorry I need to go to the bathroom. How is the president doing?" I asked Hanada before I gestured to leave for the comfort rooms.

As I expected, there were no people in the room. I believed most were busy watching their teammates play in their respective waiting-rooms so I wasn't surprised not to see anyone around. There were also very few people I saw on the way there. They didn't recognize me so I didn't bother striking conversations with them even though I recognized some of them. After doing my business I made sure that my hands were clean and that there was nothing on me that would give the team a bad name when I face the cameras later. I looked at myself in the mirror where I saw a pathetic girl trying her best to look confident even though she's very nervous for her upcoming debut right after her President Sera's battle. After fixing myself, tucking in my dress and making sure that there were no unwanted smears or whatsoever I decided to hurry back but just before I could get out of the comfort room I happened to stumble on an unexpected situation.

Past the toilet room door was the girl who seemed to love stalking me for some reason. At first I wanted to hide because I was sure she was after me again but as I looked at her closely she wasn't paying attention to me. Instead, her eyes were lazily fixed on the girl in front of her as she condescendingly looked at her with her arms folded on her chest.

"I thought I felt something different in here. So, you're alive." These rather frightening words came from the blonde girl in front of the tomboyish girl with a boy's cap. I looked at that girl and was startled. That girl was also very familiar to me because she was also an opponent in my very last match in my high-school career in the nationals as a Himematsu Mahjong Club Member. It was no other than Oohoshi Awaii, the so called 'next Teru'. I remember how powerful she was and if it wasn't for Miyanaga Saki she would've taken that match by a landslide. Right now she's facing the one person who managed to destroy her every year.

"You sound disappointed, it was very nice of your boss to send me friends after I rejected his offer." Miyanaga Saki replied. It was then that I felt that I was listening to something gravely serious. I deduced that the 'boss' Saki mentioned was the owner of the team Oohoshi Awaii and Teru were in. It was the team that was rumoured to collect powerful mahjong monsters using dark means.

"That's not true I'm just surprised. I was crying when I heard that the boss sent a gang of thugs after you." Awaii sounded sincerely lonely when she said this but I wasn't one to judge if she was. From how I hear it, it sounds like they were previously friends before something happened that separated them.

"He didn't seem to like me turning down his invitation." Saki chuckled as she nodded her head.

"You shouldn't have turned the offer down in the first place. We could've been all together again. You, me and Teru onee-sama." Awaii was farther from me than Saki so I could only barely make out the expression on her face but she sounded disappointed. Also this statement from her proved my suspicion that the three of them knew each other before.

"Hmm? Is that a sense of longing from your voice that I hear?" Saki replied rather teasingly. I felt my lips turn into a frown. Is she always like this to every girl she meets? Wait, why do I sound jealous? I-it's probably this atmosphere.

"Don't tell me you're in this tournament too." Awaii asked rather anxiously.

"Sorry to disappoint you but nope, no I'm not." Saki waved her head in a no gesture.

"Then why are you here? Wait! Perhaps it's because you finally decided to join Teru and me?" This time, Awaii sounded happy and excited. Could it be that this girl sincerely wanted Saki to join their team?

"That's a good thought… but…"

Saki extended that 'but' syllable as she allowed Awaii to walk closer to her.

"No." She finally gave her reply. She did tell me before that she had no intention of joining the dream team that tycoon started creating. Now that a familiar face and an actual member invited her I expected that she would have a different answer but surprisingly she was quite adamant on not joining that team.

"Why not Saki-chan? Don't you want us three to be together again? It will be just like the old times; you, me and Teru-oneesama." I saw Awaii encircle Saki and put her arms around the waist of the girl with the boy's cap. She rested her chin on that girl's shoulder as an old friend would.

"That would be nice…" Saki looked like she was considering the idea for a moment after I saw her flash Awaii a gentle smile.

"Yes wouldn't it?" Awaii returned that smile and nodded.

"But at the same time, it's also impossible." Saki said this quickly as if she already planned on saying this beforehand.

"Why not?" Awaii reluctantly stepped back as Saki rejected her advances.

"You see me and Teru are not exactly complementing ingredients in a team." Saki started to explain and for the first time in this conversation she removed her hands from her chest and folded them above her head instead.

"What? That's impossible. You and Teru are… Wait… you don't mean you're still angry at Teru onee-sama for what happened last six years?" Awaii gasped.

"Six years? Has it been that long already?" Saki looked rather lost. It was as if she was surprised about how fast time was moving for some reason. Good for her… it went rather slow for me…

"Saki-chan please forget about the past and come to us! We need you! Teru-san needs you!" Awaii continued to encourage her counterpart. Listening to this conversation felt a little awkward. I feel like I was listening to Saki's secrets and I should feel bad for this but for some reason I felt rather honoured.

"Oohoshi, for six years we didn't give a damn about each other. I'm not exactly sure a year more would make any difference. And the year after that would be the same and so will be the next fifty or sixty years of our lives and then we die." Saki replied with an uncaring tone of voice.

"Don't be like that Saki-chan I'm sure Teru…"

"I'm glad the two of you have become close enough to speak in behalf of each other." Saki interrupted Awaii before the blonde could continue

"Saki…" I heard Awaii's trembling voice. She sounded like she was crying a bit. I didn't fathom a girl of Oohoshi's calibre could shed tears in front of someone. I always saw her as the tough and cool type almost like Teru.

"Awaii! Where are you? The captain is looking for you!" A voice that I heard for the first time interrupted their conversation. It was coming from the same direction Awaii Oohoshi came from. It was a little girl wearing red bunny ears who was looking for Awaii.

"Amae-san!" It seems that even Awaii looked surprise to see her teammate there.

"Oohoshi, Teru is looking for you. It's almost your turn to play are you ready?" The girl in bunny ears asked cheerfully. From what Awaii said earlier I recognized that this girl was Amae Koromo. We didn't have a chance to play with them before in Himematsu because Ryuumonbochi was eliminated in the nationals before we could play with each other and they never made it back again in the following years because of Kiyosumi.

"I'll be there." Awaii nodded. She seemed like she wanted to stay there some more to talk to the girl in front of her who was stubbornly refusing her invitations.

"Eh? Who is this?" Koromo finally noticed the other person present with them and turned to her direction. I thought that because they have been together as rivals in the same prefecture for so long that she would recognize who it was immediately. But probably because of the boy's cap and how low it was pulled down her face Koromo didn't recognize who it was.

"It's nobody." Oohoshi tried to keep Koromo's attention away from the other girl but it was too late. Koromo was now intently looking at the other girl in that hall.

"Are you bullying Awaii?" The girl with the loli body asked with a sharp look on her face. I expected Saki to give another witty comeback as she usually does but instead she just smiled as she looked down on the girl. Koromo probably noticed the little trickles of tears that uncontrollably rolled down on Awaii's cheeks a moment ago and those are probably why she asked this.

"Koromo-chan let's go." Awaii tried to pull Amae away.

"Don't call me Koromo-chan I'm older than you!"

I was surprised to hear this. I didn't expect someone who looks like she was still in middle school to be older than Oohoshi Awaii. Wait, that meant that we were probably of the same age? Not that it matters… what's going to happen?

"And you, I won't forgive you if you're bullying my teammate. I will show peasants like you true despair!" As Koromo said this I felt an incredibly oppressing intent burst out from her radiating outwards towards Saki. I, who was still hiding inside the comfort-room behind Saki, felt it too and I could only imagine how much more pressure Saki should be feeling since she's probably the direct target of this attack. I was all too familiar with this kind of pressure. This was similar to how I first felt when I met Saki in the mahjong table. The goddess vessels of that miko team also made me feel this sensation but not as intense as Saki's or this girl's. What's different I guess is that Saki was unconsciously radiating that aura while this girl was purposely sending it to what she perceived to be her opponent.

The aura was so oppressive that I almost felt like hurling. I wanted to vomit everything I ate this morning. However even though I was holding my stomach I made sure that my eyes were fixated on Saki. I saw for a moment her head turn towards my direction. For a friction of a second her eyes panned to me as if she always knew that I was there. I don't know if it was just me but for a second there I thought her eyes looked concerned as she glanced at me. Then by merely lifting up her cap's visor at Amae the shorter girl doubled back and that oppressive feeling left me.

"Y-You-…!" Amae looked displeased and surprised. Her face looked stunned and she almost fell back if not for Awaii who caught her from behind. From Amae's reaction I could only tell that Saki probably did something to return that pressure to Koromo. However I did not know how she did it because all I saw her do was push her visor up a bit.

"K-Koromo are you alright?" Awaii looked worried for Koromo. She probably knows better than me about what happened. After all, I sensed similar feelings from her in our battle before comparable to that of what happened just now.

"What are you two doing?" A new voice interrupted them. This time I wasn't familiar of the voice but upon seeing the silhouette of the owner I immediately knew who it was. Pink hair and a face similar to that of the high-school champion, it was no other than Miyanaga Teru.

"C-captain!" Awaii once again looked surprised to see another one from their team arrive on the scene. This time it's their ace, the rumoured strongest and from what I understand also the big sister of who I perceive to be the most powerful mahjong player there is.

"Awaii your game is going to start in ten minutes go prepare."

The more mature woman reminded her teammate before she glanced at what's in front of her.

"Take Koromo with you to the waiting room then proceed immediately to the playing area. We don't want the boss to be angry by being late. He'll say that we're making him look bad in front of the sponsors." Teru gestured to the direction of their room. Amae was reluctant to follow Awaii but she was dragged along. Only Teru and Saki were left standing in the hallway.

I felt my heartbeat race a bit. Teru and Saki, in one place, facing each other, not in a mahjong match but facing each other anyway, I was anxious about what will happen.

"You have to forgive my teammates the situation we are in is rather stressful for them." Teru sounded apologetic. I felt sad watching her. The great Teru who walked proudly in high-school looked degraded for some reason. If it's true that the owner of the team whom they call 'boss' are using dark means to keep his members in check then it's a no brainer why she looks so down. Furthermore it appears that she recognized who it was she was talking to.

"No harm done."

Saki replied with a nod. She sounded more polite than she usually was but still not the rumoured innocent and naïve little angel that she was supposed to be.

"Well aren't you going to check on your teammates?" I also noticed that Teru wasn't following Amae and Awaii who already disappeared from the scene.

"When it comes to mahjong I trust my current teammates. I don't think I need to worry about them." Teru waved her head. I understood what she meant. I mean, their dream team is something only veteran professionals would manage to match. Against fledging professional teams they were sure to steamroll their way through the opposition match by match.

"So you say… well what is it?" Saki suddenly fired a question.

"What is what?" Teru tilted her head and acted confused. Is she joking? Or was she sincerely not aware what Saki's question meant?

"If you're willing to waste your time standing in a hall like this you must have something in your mind." Saki replied. She was right. Looking at Teru it was clear that she had her intentions for staying here. I was starting to really look forward to their conversation.

"I'm just surprised that you're not a ghost yet." Teru replied pertaining probably to that talk about armed thugs Awaii mentioned a while ago.

"Well you sound happy." Once again I heard Saki chuckle. I saw for myself that she was right, Teru was even smiling. It was the first time I saw Teru genuinely smile because in all of those advertisements that she was hired for, her smile looked so fake.

"Isn't it normal?"

"Is what normal?" This time it was Saki who returned a question in an awkward manner. These two are really alike. Now I can see why people would call them sisters.

"That I'm happy to see my little sister alive?" Swoosh, swash! These sounds were never heard but in my mind I imagined a small explosion after Teru just said that. So it's all true! Saki really is Teru's little sister! I could feel my heart thumping louder as I got pulled deeper into their conversation. It's too bad that I had to be hiding inside this washroom like a stalker because I surely would love some popcorn while listening to these two.

"Ahaha are you?" Saki laughed rather menacingly before she raised her hand to her face and covered its entirety with her palm and fingers without covering her eyes as she looked at her older sister. It was as if she was using her hand as some sort of mask.

"Saki… I…"

"Spare me the bullshit Miyanaga Teru!" This was the first time I heard Saki shout cutting Teru. The words she used were harsh but she didn't sound angry, but rather impatient.

Both of them paused for a few seconds. Saki was focused on Teru's face like a lion fixated on its prey while Teru's eyes were somewhat meeker.

"You… you really changed." Teru was the first to break the silence. I can see her point. Miyanaga Saki indeed has changed a lot since she first played Mahjong. I watched her replay matches in both individual and team tournaments and from there I can say that it was a total transformation. Not only did she become infinitely better than what she once was but her attitude took a total dive.

"This coming from the girl who caused it all." Saki's tone was sarcastic. I realized then that Teru had a big part on influencing Saki. What happened back then? I really want to know. Hopefully no one comes in this washroom to see me eavesdropping on these two.

"You're right; I shouldn't have the right to say that." I saw Teru smile. It was a smile painful to watch. A smile should have happy implications behind it but all I could sense from hers were regret.

"If you're here to convince me to join your team then I would repeat what I said to Awaii a while ago." Saki pre-emptively declined Teru's possible offer before Teru could even start.

"No, heavens no. I'm glad you didn't accept that offer actually. Whatever you do, don't get involved with our boss." Teru waved her head in a no gesture. This was a big surprise to hear. While her other teammates were desperately encouraging Saki to join them the ace herself feels different.

"I don't plan to." Saki nodded in reply. After this, I saw Teru turn her back from her little sister while waving behind her with two fingers raised.

"I'll see you when you join a team then." These were the last words I heard Teru utter before she disappeared in the corridor that led to their waiting room.

I turned my attention to Saki who stood still near the washroom I was in. As she turned and walked toward my direction I slid quietly behind a wall hoping that she won't notice or find me.

"A certain pet better come out of hiding now before I make her regret ever eavesdropping in front of a million people." Her threat gave me chills because I know she would really do it. That time I didn't mind that she called me 'pet' rather I was too scared that she'd do something to me in this place filled with many competitors that will scar me for life. I immediately went out and bowed low in front of her.

"F-Forgive me." I said this in a formal and begging tone. I was at fault and I knew that it was wrong to listen uninvited to other people's conversation but I just couldn't help it. I wanted to ask about how she knew I was there when she had her back turned to me for most of that time but I was too busy trying to appease her.

"Nope, I'm not going to forgive you that easily, get in one of those cubicles now." I started to panic when she dragged me and pushed me in one of the cubicles in that washroom. I unconsciously imagined stuff that I thought she would do to me that only happened in mangas.

"I-I'm sorry already stop it!" I protested as I saw her lock the door in the cubicle after she squeezed herself inside before forcing me to sit down on the toilet seat.

"No way, you peeped in my personal business so now I'm going to force you to show me everything!" She was unrelenting as she started unbuttoning the first three buttons of my blouse.

"That's absurd!" I tried pushing her away with my feet but to my surprise she used that chance to put my legs above her shoulders as her shadow covered me. My body unconsciously arched itself forward as I used my hands to push against her shoulder but she was more than capable of overpowering me and she did. She was halfway pulling my blouse down my shoulders when she suddenly paused and looked up as if she forgot something.

"Oh… wait that's not good…" She muttered. To my surprise she stepped back on her own then showed me her all high and mighty 'hands folded on my chest' stance. I was more worried on what she's thinking about than what she would've done if she continued her assault because everything that worries this girl is probably something in catastrophic level.

"What is it?" I asked. If it was something personal I didn't want to barge in any more than I already had. However, the way she looked at me suggested that I was also heavily involved in whatever it was.

"Your captain is currently taking a serious beating. I suggest you begin to compose yourself. You're going to have to work hard to make a comeback." The face she showed me was filled with disappointment, not with me but probably with my president who should still be playing right now. I was startled because there were no television inside this washroom yet she sounded like she knew perfectly well what was happening outside in the playing area.

"How can you say that? You're not even-…!" I wanted to complain but she pushed a bottle of cold water on my cheeks.

"Go drink and go back to your teammates. I don't advise you to watch Sera's match though, it's going to be depressing." She said this before she turned and walked away. I was stunned because she seemed really serious about the matter.

I picked myself up and hurried to our room and even though Saki told me not to, I checked the television set for our president. I immediately noticed that Saki was right. Our score which was over a hundred the past match was now as low as fifty-three thousand and nine hundred while the first place was in a very high position at one hundred and thirty-one thousand and four hundred points. To make matters more unbelievable, the team that was leading was the last place an hour ago in Hanada's match.

"W-What happened?" I couldn't help but ask this to my teammates who looked extremely crest fallen while they were watching the set.

It was then that they told me what happened. Kanbara explained to me on how Sera couldn't complete a hand no matter how good her starting hand was. It was as if her hands were sealed by some sort of phenomenon. She couldn't even get to tempai. I remembered one person before who was able to seal her enemy's hands by looking at them but to find someone with rather similar abilities here right now is mystifying.

"It's the last hand; if Sera can get this we might still have a chance." Nagi pointed at the television set.

When the tiles were dealt I noticed that Sera had a good starting hand. Three of the two of characters, one three of character, two of the two of bamboos, three east winds three of the two of balls. She was immediately in tempai. She can get a heaven's hand if she gets what she needs in her first turn as dealer or she can win a Suu'ankou with 'tanki' wait. Both hands I mentioned were Yakumans. Nothing would raise team spirit more than seeing her win with a yakuman. But even if she didn't what we really wished for is that she manages to win consecutive times in a row and force dealer repeats. We know she's capable of that kind of feat.

On her first turn to draw she drew the four of characters. I felt my stomach twist in quiet anticipation. It was an annoying miss; it was one tile higher than what she needed. The other players were far from tempai still which means we had more chances of winning this hand than anyone else. None of the other players had the three of characters which was the tile Sera needed. Upon one round of drawing none of them improved their hands and the three of characters were still missing from the game. Hopefully the tiles we needed were not in the dead wall which would be impossible to gain without the abilities of the high-school champion.

"One last tile but it seems so elusive." Nagi bit her lips. I too could feel the same tension she was feeling. It's these moments that can piss a player so much.

"She needs to win this or that's it for the vice-captain match." Yae Kobashiri finally stood up. I looked at her and saw that she didn't look as crest fallen as she did an hour ago. Even though I didn't like her very much I felt a little glad. I just wish that I can say the same for Sera right now.

Three rounds of drawing later one of the players have finally caught up to us. Her hand wasn't very strong but it was obvious that she was aiming to end the round to end the match. This girl was the current leader and I couldn't help but wonder if she was the person with the ability similar to that of the girl with a monocle in Miyamori High. Another round later and the first three of characters finally appeared in the game. However another player had it and we could only wish that player discard that tile and deal in to Sera. Sadly, it was not fated that the girl discarded the tile; instead she kept it as a part of her straight and threw the red dragon instead.

"That was close!" Kanbara said. She was beside me and even though Sera was already in a pinch she still had her trademark smile. Sometimes I envy this girl. Normally, in team tournaments, people already panic when their vice-captain is losing very badly because it's almost a coup de grace for the whole team. I wish I could be as calm as her but if Sera doesn't win this one the pressure will be on me to make a comeback. It's not that I'm not used to that kind of pressure but being honest; no one really gets used to that kind of pressure.

I really want to tell people how Sera won that match and scored consecutive high scoring hands in a row but I would be lying. Her potential yakuman ended in an anti-climactic tempai which never bloomed. The only compensation we got in that last hand apart from the cheap one thousand points awarded to tempai holders was the fact that none in the game managed to score either. At least that meant the score I needed to accumulate did not increase.

"I guess it couldn't be helped." Kanbara sighed. She sounded disappointed but she was still smiling… how does she do this?!

"I'm sorry that I wasn't here to watch this game with you guys." I felt guilty that I missed most of Sera's game because of eavesdropping inside the washroom. Not that it would've done something to change Sera's fate in that match but still that would've added to the team's morale… or at least made it look like that I care more which is not a lie.

"No, I'm actually glad you didn't watch the game. You might've lost your spirit if you saw what happened." Kanbara replied. While Sera was our team president; Kanbara felt like our vice-president and sometimes even more than that. Her mahjong skills might be average but she surely takes care of the team nicely like a veteran manager… or something like that.

It was my turn to be escorted out of our waiting room. It was Kozue Furuzuka who went with me and we even met Sera on the way. She looked really depressed, almost like Yae a while ago. I searched inside me for the perfect words to say to her but I couldn't find anything appropriate. Back then I didn't have this kind of opportunity to comfort my captain in Himematsu because that girl of the Atago do really well on her own even against gifted opponents.

"P-President… I…" I struggled to spark a conversation.

"Don't worry about me… concentrate on your game. I'm sorry Suehara-san but I'm leaving this up to you." She raised her hand in a gesture of a 'high five'. I guess this was her way of 'tagging' someone like that in a wrestling match. I took a deep breath and raised my hand to meet hers and gladly accepted the 'high five'.

"Leave it to me!" I said this with full confidence. I didn't know what I was going to face but I couldn't lose now. No… not now because I can imagine someone's face teasing me if ever I fail to impress her in this match. Wait… is she beginning to become my motivation? Something is beginning to be seriously wrong with me.

I walked alone to the playing area where three players were already waiting. I didn't know them because these players are mostly from the prefecture of Kiyosumi and the gate keeper of Kiyosumi that repelled any other school from entering the nationals made sure that I didn't get a chance to face any of these girls. They were all smiling at me when I entered the room as if they were mocking our team for our horrible performances in the first and fourth match.

"We've already picked tiles for positions. It seems you're going north." Said one of the three girls who will be my opponents. I only nodded and reply and prevented myself from saying something unnecessary. I felt that if I wanted to really win this for the team I had to be in full concentration without anything else boggling my mind except on how to win every hand.

"You're Kyouko Suehara from the previous Himematsu dream team right?" One of my opponents asked much to my disbelief. It was a girl wearing damn large eye glasses. Her hair was only up to neck length and she looked very thing rather than slender.

"Yes." I couldn't say I wasn't because that would count as sarcasm. After all I didn't want them to suddenly get weird ideas like ganging up on me early in the round. I wasn't surprised at all that they knew about me. I'm quite proud to say that some of my matches were televised before and even recorded on tape by many teams. Then again on hindsight it might be bad because they may already have prepared a counter measure against my playing style. What's my playing style you ask? I'm not gifted in mahjong like some monsters in the game and nor do I excel in digital gameplay. I guess you can say that I'm blitz player because I like going for small and easy to win hands. Unfortunately that kind of style won't be much help in this match because of the huge advantage the first place has and if I want to win this I'll have to go for limit hands.

Not too long after, the dice finally rolled and everything was set to start. On the first hand nothing looked too promising for me. It wasn't a bad hand but it wasn't also a big hand. I wasn't too far away from tempai and I only needed three more tiles to score a seventy fu and four han worth hand which should be around at least eight thousand points similar to that of a mangan. After five turns, I managed to get all the tiles I need but one which is the two of sticks.

"So Miss Kyouko Suehara, can you share with us why you haven't played mahjong in the tournaments for so long?" One of my enemies asked. The tone she used was that of a spoiled brat bullying a little girl in the playground sandbox. I didn't bother to look at her or even answer.

"I was wondering that too, I've been watching your games back then before you suddenly disappeared." Another one asked me. However, this one seemed tamer as if she sincerely wanted to hear a proper reply. This girl looked the youngest among my opponents and she had black hair that she kept in a fold and held them with a pony tail. Come to think of it that hair style almost looked like mine.

"I'm sorry but things like that aren't really something I want to talk about in a game." I replied. I was careful not to sound all high and mighty as I rejected her but I also wanted to sound firm about my decision. I looked at her and saw her frown in contrast to the girl who asked me first who was sneering beside me obviously mocking me.

"You know what I'm more disappointed about? Sera Eguchi! She sucked back there." That mother fucker. I felt my blood rise upon hearing this girl bad mouth my current president. I know me and Sera haven't been acquainted long but that doesn't mean I don't see her as a friend; and I hate it when people talk bad about my friends. I took a deep breath while drawing my tile which unfortunately wasn't the two of sticks and ignored her.

"Yes, she lost the most in that match. She contributed so many points that now we a fairer chance of winning this game." The third girl added to the conversation. I seriously wanted to slam my hands against the table in protest but I remembered that there were cameras all over us. If I did something unbecoming here and lost there will be nothing to redeem our team in front of everyone.

"You said it! It's so shameful that the former number two seeded-…! Hwoah!" The girls in front of me gasped as I slammed the two of sticks that I just drew. I looked at the motor mouth in front of me as I declared my win.

"Seventy fu four han. That will be four thousand once and two thousand twice." I said this in a deeper voice than I usually had. Two of them had an astounded look while the most talkative of them in front of me clicked her tongue. She was probably disappointed that she didn't get the first win of the match and this was very satisfying for me.

I won two more consecutive hands one of which was a direct hit non-dealer baiman to the leader and the later was an eight thousand point sixty fu and four han hand by tsumo. If this was an individual game I'd be happy but as it stands I'm still far from taking the lead. But still I had to give myself a little bit of credit for overtaking the third place even by just a little.

"Getting a little cocky now are yah?" The blabbering idiot in front of me started again. When I look at her she doesn't seem faced by my wins at all. I believed that the reason for her confidence is the huge margin between us. However I know for a fact that such gap in score can be reduced to nothing with only a few hands or a high scoring yakuman.

I wanted to shut her up again by winning another hand but another player stopped me and won the hand. It was a puny thirty fu and two han hand worth two thousand points and since it's won from a tsumo the payment is split and I didn't have to pay the lion share of that pot.

"That should stop you for a while." It was the girl who was second to ask me why I left the world of mahjong that scored. She was the most sincere amongst the three in there and also comparably the most quiet. Looking at her right now I felt that she's not a bad person unlike the blabber mouth in front of me. I frowned at her jokingly to answer her taunt.

Little did I know that she was the most dangerous opponent in that match. After that hand she scored consecutively against everybody. I suppose it's true that the best players don't show their skill pre-emptively. In the span of four rounds she managed to score forty-five thousand points against everybody while I stole one of those rounds with a non-dealer haneman to keep myself in the game.

"W-Who is this girl?" I could hear the girl at my left whisper as she looked terrified at the girl in front of her at my right. The idiot directly in front of me was also wide eyed as she took the blunt of all hour wins.

It's not needed to be said that we were all baffled on how this one girl was doing but we had no time to appreciate her abilities more as before one of us could utter another word the sound of tiles consecutively dropping interrupted us. Taka-taka-taka-taka-tak, yes that's the sound you don't want to hear coming from one of your opponents in any mahjong match.

"Tsumo! That will be sixteen thousand. Four thousand from all of you!" The girl cheered. It was a dealer mangan. I didn't feel this before since I was used to fighting stronger players with monstrous aura but this girl was emanating a dangerous pressure too. I could feel the air around us getting thicker and thicker until it was harder to breathe. She's not causing it, but rather it was our own fear of losing that's causing us to get fidgety.

"S-Someone seriously stop this girl." Is what the girl in front of me wanted to say. She looked more helpless now and her confidence in herself seemed to diminish little by little. That was the end of the first half. The current leader had a big smile on her face while the two other girls looked extremely depressed. As for myself I also felt the stress but I was accustomed to not showing it.

We were given fifteen minutes to do everything we wanted to relax. It's not an ample of time but I decided that it would be best spent by getting myself a bottle of cold water. On the way out of the playing area I was met by my teammate and president Sera Eguchi. She had a gentle and relaxed smile on her face but all I sense behind it was regret. It's obvious that she still couldn't forgive herself for losing so many points.

"Are you alright?" I asked her. She looked more stressed than me and I was the one currently playing. It was probably her guilt that was doing that to her.

"I should be asking that. That girl from that team 'On the Board' is really something." She scratched her head while pretending to laugh probably to cheer me on.

"Don't worry, I'll be able to win this somehow." I replied with mock confidence. If she was guilty of bringing the team down there was no way I could be truthful and say that it's going to be damn hard to win this game.

"Here I thought you might want to have a drink." She tossed me a bottle of cold iced tea. It was of apple flavour, not my favourite but this will do. After drinking a few mouthfuls I gave the bottle back to her which she insisted I take back with me to the playing area. I declined because I felt that it will only distract me from playing my best. She also asked me if I needed to go to the washroom and I replied with a wave of my head in a 'no' gesture. I didn't want to go because I might stumble into something weird again.

I used all of my remaining time to calm myself down. I closed my eyes while I sat in the playing area to compose myself and think back on how that girl managed to win that many hands. Did she have any weakness that I overlooked? If there's a time to review the rounds it's this time. I thought and thought but no matter how much I looked back I couldn't find any real weakness to her play style. She didn't have any habit and it seemed that she was just playing normally. It wasn't long before the other players in the match arrived and we all sat down. Using the north, south, east and west tiles we figured out each other's positions for the starting round. I was playing on south this time which means I'm second to the dealer… who was the girl from the team 'On the Board'.

For the first hand, the hand I got wasn't very promising. But after about twelve turns, I finally managed to get on tempai along with one other who was the current dealer.

"Riichi!" She declared. She immediately caught the attentions of the two other players in the match. As for me, even though I was in tempai I didn't want to declare my riichi because I didn't want them to be weary of me. This is usually called 'hidden tempai' but it's not really something that should be named.

"N-Not again." I heard the noisy one mutter. She was obviously lost on what she should discard. She focused on the girl eating up all her points and clumsily discarded the last tile I needed, the one of bamboos.

"Ron!"

I quickly claimed the win after she set the tile on the discarded pile. She gasped in shock as she looked at me.

"Thirty fu and four han. That's Seven thousand and seven hundred points." I declared. It wasn't much but winning off the person who bad mouthed my team's president felt great; at least for the time being. The look on her face that says 'you bitch!' was also priceless.

Two rounds later and I managed to win another hand, this time it was a dealer mangan and every single one of them were forced to pay eight thousand points. The lead of the leader was still huge, about forty thousand more but at least I began pulling away from the dirty mouthed numb skull beside me. I was just worried that the last place who was now really struggling for points would fall negative before I could catch up to the leader.

Immediately in the next round I managed to decrease the lead of 'On the Board' by eight thousand by hitting her with a forty fu four han hand. I was now finally within firing range but I still needed all the luck that I could get.

"You're really amazing! To be still holding on like this." The points leader said this almost as if she was taunting me. Did I misjudge her attitude? Was she really the kind who taunts her enemies? I did not have anything against that kind of attitude since I am used with my previous team captain who taunts the hell out of everybody whenever she plays in a match and it didn't matter if it was a tournament or not. I didn't bother answering this because I wasn't finished with my objective yet.

In the next three turns this girl made it harder for me to catch up as she once again ended my momentum and scored a haneman for twelve thousand points. Worse is that I had to pay the bigger share of that pot because I was the dealer. Then, immediately in the next turn she scored a fifty fu three han hand worth four thousand and eight hundred points. It wasn't much but it led again to a much wider lead and there were barely any hands left. Two turns later I was again the dealer as surprisingly no one won in those two turns.

"This game is mine!" The girl cheered. This time she wasn't taunting us. There comes a time when you're winning so much that you want to declare your win even before you actually do. This is a strategy adopted by some players to demoralize their opponent more or sometimes they just do it for the heck of it. This girl emitted a dangerous aura which intimidated her opponents in the match which included even me. It wasn't similar to Saki's or Awaii's killing aura, it's a much lesser version of that but that still meant she was a gifted player who an average player will take years to beat.

"Damn it, do I still have a chance?" I was beginning to doubt myself. More or less that girl was right. It's already the last hand and I was the dealer. My only chance is to be able to win this one to force dealer repeats but I still had much to score before I reach her. I can already imagine the disappointed faces of my teammates who are counting me back inside our waiting room. However, more than that, I could imagine the face of that girl who destroyed me three years ago. I could only ask if she was expecting this to happen to me or not. Saki… even though she had no business being here she really came in this tournament to cheer me on. I don't know what her real objective was but just knowing that she came made me feel warm somehow.

The instance I uttered her name in my mind I felt a rather warm sensation spread over my chest. It was coming from my shirt pocket. I looked down and saw that it was the popsicle stick that I had since yesterday. Because of everything that had happened I almost forgot that I still had the darn thing. We were allowed a minute to stretch every after a round and for me I used that minute to check on that stick. Why did it feel so warm?

The stick felt warm even in my hands especially the portion where the popsicle used to be. I remembered how Saki teasingly sucked on it before she forced it into my mouth and I couldn't help but frown.

"Let's start!" The girl who was moments away to claim her win excitedly urged everyone to start. The referee inside the room who usually stayed in one corner to facilitate the match nodded and agreed with her.

I still had the popsicle in my hand when the official gave us the go to start. I nodded but I felt that I had to do something before we start. I placed that stick in my mouth and started to suck on it as if it was dripping with something precious. Immediately everything in the room disappeared as if the tournament had been a dream. Now, I was in a field filled with flowers. In the middle of that field was a hill where one flower was growing alone swaying with the wind. That flower looked extremely beautiful compared to that of the other flowers around me. I didn't know what was happening, am I still in the tournament? Did I collapse or something and now I'm dreaming?

Not knowing what I should do, I approached the hill which wasn't too steep. I took my eyes off the flower and upon reaching the top that flower seemed to disappear and in place of it stood a girl. She was smiling gently at me with her hands in her pocket as she looked at me straight in the eye.

"What took you so long? I've been waiting here since you started." She said this with a rather impatient tone.

"Where am I and what's happening?" I asked. I was deeply confused. If this was a dream then it's weird, yes, weird even for the level of the nightmares I've been having lately.

"What? Did you forget? You're still fighting in a tournament." Saki giggled almost as if she was ridiculing me.

"W-What then I-…!" I panicked . I couldn't help but think that I was somehow knocked unconscious and my real body is probably being resuscitated right now in the playing area.

"Oh calm down will you everything's going to be fine. This place is not affected by common space and time." She approached me and gently wrapped her arms around my waist.

"Not again…" I sighed. I was now almost certain that this is one of those dreams again where this girl abuses me. If it was true then the only salvation I can see is that when I wake up the tournament is also a bad nightmare and that we were still just on our way there.

"You're too tensed. Relax. When you go back, make sure you show everyone there what for." She said this in a commanding manner as she used her free hand to pull head closer to hers as she leaned forward. Before I knew it I was already leaning forward myself as if I was accepting, no, inviting her lips.

"J-Just this once then." I closed my eyes as I felt my blood fill my cheeks. I felt our lips graze against each other. Knowing her I expected her to push her tongue in but before anything else could happen-….

"You're the dealer Suehara you discard first." A voice interrupted and when I opened my eyes I was back in the playing area sitting on my place.

"Are you dreaming or something?"

The girl from the leading team teased.

"And why in the world are you sucking on that stick?" She asked. I noticed that the stick was still in my mouth. This should be natural IF there was a popsicle on it but since there wasn't any then it was quite embarrassing.

Nothing's changed but somehow I felt different. I felt my eyes sharpen as I looked at my opponents. Then as I removed the stick from my mouth the girl in front of me, the girl with the most points, stood up and stepped back as if something repelled her.

"I'm sorry, I spaced out for a moment, and did I startle you?" I asked. I noticed that she looked as if she was shivering and she was sweating abnormally. She looked like she has seen, no, felt that a monster was in front of her.

"W-What was that? Is there a problem?" The official asked who was surprised by that girl's sudden movements.

"N-Nothing." The girl waved her head embarrassed as she took her seat.

Other than that I didn't feel anything else until I touched my tiles. Dozens of mirrors appeared in the room which hovered over my opponents. I didn't know if I was imagining them but since the official or anybody there didn't notice them then I dismissed them as my imagination. I waved my head a bit and sure enough they were gone. However strangely as I looked at my opponents I could somehow understand their playing styles. The girl beside me was a girl who loved playing with tiles of bamboos, the glasses girl on my left preferred not getting any terminal tiles and almost always goes for tanyaos. The girl in front of me was indeed special, she had the ability of 'sacrificial fortune' an ability where she sacrifices the first few hands by taking apart her hand in which triggers 'fortune' which guarantees her to win with bigger hands in the next rounds. The number of hands that she purposely sacrificed in the second half was two and she already won twice. Since this is the last turn, it means that she cannot use that ability again since everything will be up to me; if I don't win this round then the game is over.

Four turns after the starting the round I was in tempai and my hand was rather scary. I had three of the five of balls, three of the six of balls, seven of the seven of balls an eight ball, a red dragon and an east wind. I drew another eight ball and discarded the red dragon. I was finally in tempai but I didn't bother throwing a riichi stick.

One turn immediately after that, the girl in front of me declared riichi but for some reason I wasn't bothered. It's like I'm already so sure that I was going to win this hand no matter what she does. As if all of a sudden, she wasn't even in my level. Her riichi proved to be her undoing in this round for she was forced to throw away a six of balls. I immediately claimed it and called a kan. I drew from the dead tile a five of balls which allowed me to complete another set. The three other players in front of me were amused when I called another kan this time with the five of balls. Before I reached for the tile in the dead wall I already felt that the round will end there as if I instinctively knew what tile it was I was grabbing. True enough I drew the eight of balls which finally completed my hand.

"Tsumo! That's a dealer san'baiman that will be thirty six thousand please!" San'baimans are usually worth only twenty four thousand, but if you win with it as dealer then without the limiting rule then it surpasses a regular yakuman. With 'he who is responsible pays' rule the leader of that match was forced to pay the entire amount of the san'baiman.

"W-What!?" Everyone in the table gasped. The once leading woman stood up again in surprise as she saw her points get shaved critically in the final hand.

That should've been the end of the game right there. That was the last hand and the final score would've been one hundred fifty thousand and seven hundred points for us leading over 'On the Board' which should be in one hundred and twenty eight thousand. It was a miraculous comeback. However…

"I'm sorry but we can't count that win and I'm sorry but that's the end of the game." The official of the match approached us and reputed my win to my surprise.

"What why?!" I protested. It was a legitimate win. Even if I had miscounted how much I won the official would only need to correct the numbers and allow the match to continue since I was the dealer and I should have the option to extend my dealership.

"Well… it should've been fine and it would've been a legitimate win but…" The official pointed at a tile which was misplaced at the back of the dead wall. In my eagerness to win I became too brash and accidentally knocked off a tile from its wall. This was called a chombo. The moment that tile fell I was already disqualified to win the round and worse the punishment for this was a deduction of sixteen thousand points to be distributed to the other teams equally.

"B-But-…!" I knew I was in the wrong but this was just so mortifying. I was about to win and in such a grand manner to and yet I have to face this embarrassing loss due to a chombo?!

"I'm sorry but rules are rules." The official shrugged. I knew that he was just doing his job but still.

Everyone in the table laughed except for the girl who won that match. She looked at me with such intent that I felt her eyes pierce through me. I felt really embarrassed as the other girls laughed at me. I didn't know why these idiots were so happy, they lost too! The only one who had the right to cheer wasn't even smiling.

"Thank you for the match." All of us bowed down in front of each other and thanked each other for the wonderful match. No… I didn't think it was wonderful… it was a chombo for god's sake!

I felt like crying, no really, I wanted to burst out in tears because even though it wasn't a national type of tournament it was still televised and losing with a chombo was something many would look at as 'immature'. I can imagine the disappointed expressions on my teammates' faces except for two: Kanbara and Hanada who would blankly smile. I am not too excited about meeting them but even before I could go out a hand grabbed my wrist tightly that I almost yelped in pain.

"You! What was that?" I turned to see who it was and found out that it was the winner of our match. It was the girl from 'On the Board'. She had a very puzzled look on her face as if she couldn't understand something.

"What was what?" I asked. I felt that she was insulting me if in case she was asking 'what the chombo' was all about.

"In that last hand, you suddenly changed. Like a completely different person. Don't tell me you held back until the final hand for the fun of it?" She asked with a frown. It sounded like she was offended.

The question she asked was a question I still had no answer to. I didn't know it myself. Can I tell her about the split second dream that I had before we started that round? Of course not! She'd probably think that I should belong in a mental hospital if I did that.

"Who knows…?" I lazily answered as I shrugged, turned away and walked away. I didn't want to have to come up with an explanation. Besides, I was still heartbroken myself because of that chombo and all I really wanted to do right now was to disappear.

"This is not over! It might not be in this tournament but I will have you fight me again in another!" She shouted. Was it a challenge? Boy… this is the first time someone actually challenged me like that and actually felt interesting.

"Yeah, yeah… I waved away without saying another word as I exited the room." The members of the winning team passed me without giving me notice. After them I saw my own teammates. They were heartbroken, crestfallen and eyes swollen from crying rivers of tears and wait… cancel that, no that was my imagination being pathetic. In reality I was surprised that they were enthusiastically running up to me before I got embraced by Nagi Shinmen.

"Good job Kyouko!" Sera cheered me on. I wasn't sure if she was just making me feel better or if she misheard or misread the winner announcement.

"Uh… Sera, I lost I-…!"

"Silly it's not about winning or losing! You certainly surprised everyone with that last hand. We all know you won that! Look!" Sera pulled Kanbara from behind her and pushed her forward.

"Ah!"

Satomi gasped as she took out her mobile phone from inside her skirt's pocket.

"Here look. Apparently your almost successful comeback in that last hand has attracted the attention of dozens of sponsors. They said they loved your 'dynamic and exciting' play-style and they want to be a part of it by funding some of our activities!" Kanbara reported with high enthusiasm. Somehow failing there wasn't really a big setback for them it seems.

"You were amazing Kyouko!" Nagi started rubbing her cheeks with mine. I didn't mind this kind of skinship because I am used to it back in Himematsu. Besides Nagi is my teammate who… who's probably interested to the girl stalking me but I won't tell her that.

"Hey that's my trade mark! But no joking, that last hand was amazing!" Hanada looked a bit offended that Nagi used 'subara' but it was probably her own sense of humour.

"I don't really understand it…" I scratched the back of my head. No matter how much they speak I don't really get how they can be so happy.

"Kyouko, unlike in high-school, where we only have one chance to enter national tournaments every year, professional mahjong is less restrictive. This tournament was only to attract more sponsors and thanks to you that's what happened." Sera went behind me and gave me a strong tap on the back, so strong that it felt more like a slap.

"But it was an embarrassing loss…" Even with all the praises I couldn't raise my head because even in the high-school division a chombo is very rare, and sometimes one doesn't even happen in a course of a year.

"Yeah it was. Wahaha, I bet many people will be talking about it." Kanbara replied to my concerns teasingly. I pouted towards her direction and I was greeted by a funnier smile than she than that she usually displayed.

"This tournament is over for us, but don't slack off just yet because we'll be joining both minor and major tournaments. In fact there's one coming up in just a month!" Sera encouraged the team. Immediately, everyone except me and someone else who was wearing a frown since she arrived there.

"The end of that game sucked. You should've won that." A familiar voice interrupted us. It was the voice of someone I haven't met in a long time. It's someone whom I respected and continue to respect, Hiroe Atago. Yes this is my previous captain whose ego reaches that of the gods themselves. She was with her sister, Kinue Atago, and her face was brimming with confidence as usual.

"Kyouko sorry we couldn't come to you beforehand to cheer you on." Kinue had a frown displayed on her usually calm face.

"Don't be silly, we're in different teams now. You're not obliged to do that." I replied as I scratched my cheek. My teammates were silent when I noticed them and I realized that I haven't properly introduced them to my ex-teammates yet. I felt rather guilty because it was rude that I haven't already done that.

"Ah, Hiroe this is my current team president, Sera Eguchi." I gestured to Sera who stepped forward and extended her hand.

"It's nice to finally meet you." Sera was the first to attempt contact with my former captain. She was using her usual Kansai accent.

"Yes, I envy you right now because you just met the best mahjong player there is: me." Hiroe replied. Did this narcissist just level up? Even, I, who's the most tolerant of her attitude next to her sister, felt that it was over her to say something like that.

"Ehehe… I'm sorry but people say that she's cute like that." I softly whispered this to Sera whom I saw perspire because of the awkwardness of Hiroe's reply.

"I hoped you didn't watch my game, it was embarrassing." Sera replied back but not before nodding subtly in my way.

"I was playing when yours came up. I was lucky enough that I finished my match right before Kyouko's turn." My previous captain explained. I felt taken aback that my match was seen more by everyone than that of my teammates. I thought that it was probably because since it was the last match of the day, more teams have finished with their matches and watched other games. Then again… maybe I am just unlucky….

"I'd love to chat more but I'm afraid I'll just get in your way, you have more games for today right?" Sera politely said this to Hiroe. She was right. Because Hiroe's team won their match they didn't have too long before they were called for their next battle. Because it's the first day, the matches are relatively made rapidly unlike when it closes in the championships where teams only play once per day and sometimes even only once per week.

Hiroe nodded before she once again turned back to me. She extended her hand to me which I graciously accepted with my own. This girl was never someone who enjoyed hugs and preferred that of a formal handshake. I guess it's in her nature.

"I'll see you again in other tournaments right? Just because we were once teammates don't think I'll ever take it easy on you." She said this in a friendly yet somehow intimidating manner.

"I can't imagine you ever doing that." I replied teasingly with a smirk. Because of her arrogant nature it's usual where people think that this ex-captain of mine rarely gives her all but it's actually the opposite. Never has she held back in her matches not even in practice matches. Quite the opposite of someone else I know who almost always holds back like she was playing with a bunch of kindergartners.

It was after a minute later when our team decided to leave the premises. It was relief for us that we didn't check in a hotel before hand because we would've paid in full for a month's stay and regretted it. Back in Kanbara's van, I couldn't help but feel sad, not only because of that mistake I made but because I felt something was missing. It was then I remembered that she came to watch my debut and yet I didn't even see her on the way out.

One of my teammates, Kozue, noticed the distant look in my eyes and called my attention.

"What's wrong Suehara-san? Still troubled over that? Please cheer up it wasn't all bad." Furuzuka looked really worried and frankly it was touching.

"Yeah cheer up Kyouko, you already helped the team a lot with that last minute kan combo." Kanbara added. A Kan combo eh? Now that she mentions it, it does feel like a combo but it wasn't something that I would use often. Why? Because that's her trademark move. Besides the fact that I am scared myself that those Kans will later comeback to haunt me, I also don't want to depend on the signature move of the girl I consider as my greatest rival.

"Besides I believe that you and Nagi did best for the team today. Right Yae?" Hanada joined in the cheering squad. But I feel that she did the wrong thing by asking the girl who probably liked me the least in the team.

I turned to Yae to see her expression and hear her thoughts about the matter. It would be interesting since she has been silent since we finished with the match.

"I-It wasn't all bad, b-but don't get me wrong because I wasn't that impressed either." She replied as she closed her eyes and turn her head away from me. I could only smile a bit because it felt awkward hearing such a weird reply from a teammate. People have a term for replies like these, what was it again? Tsundara? Tundure? Oh well.

She might hide it but I am rather sensitive to these kinds of things. I can see her blushing face as she tried to deny her own praises for me. So there is also a cute side to this girl after all. I wanted to giggle but I felt that might reverse everything. When the team finally saw me smile I felt that the atmosphere changed for the better. I guess it was me that was making it a little heavy awhile ago and I felt guilty for it.

After a few hours of heartrending experiences on the road in courtesy of Satomi Kanbara and her expert driving skills we finally arrived in our team's mansion. Because of that tournament we were able to gather some sponsors who were willing to fund our battles for the next coming few tournaments. I can only pray that next time I would be popular for something different to a chombo.

Upon arriving in the mansion everybody in the team except me went inside the mansion. I stayed in the front yard for awhile to pause and observe at that building which will serve as our headquarters from hear on out. It wasn't a great debut but with that I am finally back. I'm finally in the same field as her again and I felt quite ecstatic.

"That was quite the show there, you have talent for showmanship." A voice I did not expect to hear called from behind me. I turned to see a girl leaning lazily on the porch of our front gate. She wasn't too far from me and the gate was still open as it became my responsibility to close it.

"You just appear whenever you like don't you?" I was surprised to see her here when I didn't when I left the tournament building. Did she follow the van all the way here? How exactly does she travel? I don't see any other car near here.

"Don't be surprised, I left immediately when I saw you lose. Sorry for not being there, I was afraid you might cry your eyes out if you saw me there. You were in front of everyone and I didn't want you to embarrass yourself." She said this in a surprisingly apologetic tone. I wish she didn't say this. I walked to her slowly as I felt my eyes start to get heavy. I wasn't falling asleep but my vision was getting blurry as I felt the first tear drop roll down my cheek.

"May I… may I cry now?" I asked this of her when we were finally only a meter apart. I felt her arms pull me closer before I felt them wrap around my shoulders. At that point I didn't know what came over me but I just lost it. That shoulder which allowed me to rest on it felt like the warmest pillow on earth as I cried uncontrollably. I complained as I used her as a body pillow like a teenage girl who just got rejected for the first time. Why? I constantly asked. Why did I have to lose? Did I not give it everything I have? I wanted my debut to be filled with the joy of victory that's why I tried so hard and yet to lose on the very first match...

"There, there, everyone in that place saw how hard you worked." I felt a hand rub and caress the back of my head. Why did it feel so good? Her touch felt softer than the finest cashmere and it was easy to get lost in it. Her encouragements that she whispered in my ear felt a thousand times more refreshing than the cheers my teammates gave me just awhile ago.

"For so long, I haven't played for so long and yet I…" Still, I couldn't stop myself from opening to her. All my regrets, I poured everything on her chest and shoulder which kindly allowed me to rest on them. All the while as I used her shirt like a towel she kept silent as she continued to tenderly caress my hair. Even if she wasn't saying anything, even if I wasn't looking at her face, I could tell that she was carefully listening to me and that touched me more than anything.

"Don't worry; I will support you from now on. It took me long to get here but, I'm finally here." She whispered this as close to me as possible. That sentence made me stop for a bit like my mind jolted in curiosity about what she just meant.

"K-Kyahh!" The sound of a squealing maiden interrupted us. I turned my head slowly as my Saki's arms continued to support me only to see a heavily blushing Nagi Shinmen staring at us in front of the mansion's main door. She looked extremely flustered and it seemed as if she fell down in surprise the moment she opened that door.

As if my body was programmed, I automatically tried to push Saki away who had a rather sadistic smile on her face the moment she saw someone watching us. Once again she overpowered me as she continued to hold me by my waist as I try to move closer to Nagi.

"I-It's not what you think." Somehow I managed to wipe the tears off my face before I tried to convince Nagi. I was too late however since her squeal already attracted the attention of other predators in the form of my teammates. Kozue Furuzaka had a rather similar reaction to Nagi and covered her face shyly while everyone else leaned forward as if to check us out more. This did not stop Saki from letting her hand continue to stay around my waist.

"S-Suehara-san, I don't know if it's good for the sponsors if you're seen making out with your girlfriend out here." It was Sera's turn to shoot and it felt like a critical hit. We were not making out but my face flustered maximum red just imagining if that actually happened.

"Y-You! This should be punished by death penalty!" Yae looked embarrassed too but she had a frown on her face in contrast to everybody who were either smiling or hiding.

"So this is the girl in question. This is marvellous! Did she follow us all the way here? That's so touching." Hanada sounded extremely excited to meet the girl who persistently kept embracing me despite my protests. What exactly has this girl been doing for the past few years? She definitely had no muscles, I could tell because she felt soft as a marshmallow to the feel but I can barely move her.

"Wahaha, so you came." Everybody suddenly grew silent including me. We all turned our heads to the girl who was walking towards us. Kanbara was the sole person there who did not looked surprised.

I felt the arms around my hips loosen before the girl behind me passed me. Unexpectedly, Saki met Kanbara in the middle of the walkway from the door to me. They had friendly smiles on their faces as they looked at each other. They both raised right hands before they gave each other a 'high-five' to everybody's surprise.

"I've been in the neighbourhood for a couple of days now." Saki replied. I was just as confused as everyone in there. I didn't know what was happening but it seemed as if Kanbara had been expecting Saki for some time now.

"It's great that you managed to find the place. I thought you'd be going with Senou." Everyone including me didn't move an inch as Kanbara continued her conversation with Saki. Everybody was stunned that Kanbara knew the girl but I was more surprised since I knew who the girl was while they didn't. Kanbara and Saki had been in the same prefecture but never were they teammates since they were in different schools. But since they were in the same prefecture I could understand if they became close in training camps and such but still….

"It was hard to miss; I didn't know that your auntie was so rich. Senou said that she'll be coming tomorrow." Saki chuckled after that reply. I recognized the other name that they were talking about, it was that girl from Tsuruga who had the ability of 'beginner's luck'.

"A-Ah, S-Satomi can you please tell me what's going on here." I rushed beside Kanbara before they could continue with the conversation.

"Wahaha, forgive me, I kept it as a secret to everyone to be a surprise but I present to you our newest applicant!"

As Satomi Kanbara was saying this, the girl removed her cap to reveal a rather long brownish hair that reached an inch past her neck. She took two blue hairclips from inside her shorts' pockets and used them to shape her bangs that almost covered her eyes when uncontrolled. She separated her bangs with the two clips to form an almost leaf like shaped extension in the middle.

"Miyanaga Saki!" Kanbara said the name of that girl out loud.

Without a pause, everyone including me screamed "Eh?!" in surprise. I knew that she was Saki but never did I imagine that she was planning on joining the team. It was even more unexpected that someone from our side already knew about this beforehand. Every single one of my teammates raced to gather around the newest addition to the team. Even Yae who was usually timid looked extremely excited after hearing this shocking news.

"M-Miyanaga Saki? T-The National High-School Three Time Individual Champion? I-In our team?" Sera who should be used to meeting powerful monsters in the mahjong world looked so shocked.

"This is marvellous! It's shocking… but marvellous!" Hanada looked more Jubilant than she usually was.

"Well technically I'm going to join tomorrow." Saki looked rather friendly in contrast to how she always talked when talking alone to me.

"I-I'd invite you to join us in our mansion but I'm not sure you'd like sharing a room." Sera stuttered. Never have I seen her nervous before even in front of a serious game and yet she's stuttering like a teen struggling to get her date for prom.

"Oh I was planning just that, in fact I already have plans."

After saying that she subtly turned to me while flashing me a sharp yet rather seductive stare. I took a huge gulp of my own saliva as I stepped back a bit. When she said 'whatever happens today I will join a team' I should've already guessed what she had in mind.

"I'll be in your care starting tomorrow." She stuck out her tongue my way as if to tease me. It sent chills down my spine as I imagined how I would live my days from that time on.

True enough early in the morning Miyanaga Saki joined the team the next day together with a blonde girl named Kaori Senou.

"W-Why?! Why my room?!" I complained to Kanbara who told me about the details of Saki's transfer to the mansion. It's not like I didn't expect this but I could not help but deny to myself and convince myself that it was all just a mistake.

"Wahaha, she explicitly requested it. She told me that she wanted to get closer to you, the person whom she fought years back in the nationals." Kanbara replied rather happily. Doesn't she realize the heavy explanations of her decision? As for me I couldn't go against her since she's technically the owner of the mansion and I'm more of a freeloader.

"Can you please help me with my stuff Kyouko?" Speaking of the devil, Saki arrived in front of us just as we were talking about her. She was holding a huge bag where I assumed all her stuff were in. I nodded obediently and helped her carry that bag. It was really heavy but it felt like there wasn't much inside. Something felt blunt inside it and in my struggle I accidentally dropped the bag which caused the zipper to open up a bit.

I could not help but take a peek inside. What was it that was so heavy taking the space of the huge bag? Inside were a bunch of metallic objects that I could not recognize until I pulled the zipper a little more. A little more tug and something like a rope dropped from the bag and it was already easy to identify what it was attached to. It was on a circular leather object which was the only non-metal thing inside the bag. From the belt on the middle that served as its 'adjuster' and 'lock' I realized what it was and as soon as I did I turned to the girl who owned it.

"I came well prepared you know. That leash will come in handy tonight."

She said this as she looked at me filled with sadistic intent and a grim smile. I could only look at her rebelliously with teary eyes as I began to recognize the other items inside the bag. It was an assortment of handcuffs, ankle-weights and things that resemble the shape of a man's appendage that I could not push myself to mention. I felt my sweat turn cold as I met her eyes.

"Just some training utensils…I read on some magazines that these things are perfect utensils to train a naughty pet, you'll let me try it sometime right?"

"Y-You" I felt my knees weaken in front of this new threat that she just revealed in my face. Some of the tools I saw in that bag were as thick as graduated cylinders in government funded laboratories and those were the small ones.

"Mahjong is fun isn't it?"