The Saint Is Coming
By JR Salazar
November had just started, and an icy feel, a wintry breeze swept over Nagano Prefecture and the small town of Kiyosumi. Not too long ago, its high school had made history, as the girls' team of the revitalized mahjong club won the 71st Inter High School Mahjong Team Championship. The trophy sat in a newly-erected glass shelf inside the club room, located at the top of a building that was now being reused due to a spike in enrollment.
Inside the clubroom was a girl with short brown hair and twintails. She elected to grow her hair out after the tournament as per the recommendations of her older sister. That girl was Saki Miyanaga, the No. 1-ranked high school mahjong player in Japan and regarded by scouts as one of the Top 100 young female mahjong players in the world. A second trophy was inside the shelf: that of the individual tournament table. She beat her sister Teru Miyanaga on the last hand, issuing a rinshan kaihou that caused her to be trending globally on twitter for a week.
But this time, Saki wasn't playing mahjong. She elected to use the club room for a different purpose. It was simply to read a book and take a break from the usual attention that came from being the best mahjong player in the country. Like Teru, Saki loved reading books. This time she was reading something on the Sunshine Policy and the two Korea, and the legacy it left.
Still, Saki thought about the team victory and what it did for them, the town, and the prefecture. There was her, the captain. Her girlfriend, Nodoka Haramura, the vice-captain. Hisa Takei, the student council president and lieutenant. Mako Someya, the bespectacled sergeant. And Yuuki "Tacos" Kataoka, the freewheeling vanguard. Those were the five.
She recalled about the final table, which pitted her against her sister and West Tokyo powerhouse Shiraitodai High School, the defending champion at the time; Achiga Girls Academy of Achiga, Nara Prefecture; and East Tokyo's Rinkai Girls' High School, composed primarily of overseas students. The problem for Rinkai was that they would be overmatched and were destined to finish fourth.
So this became nothing more than a three-team race, when it came time for the captain battle, Kiyosumi and Achiga had left Shiraitodai in the dust, even at 156,000 while Shiraitodai were stuck at 65,000. Rinkai was dead in the water, earning just 23,000 points.
Soon enough, before the last south hand was to be dealt, both Kiyosumi and Achiga were stuck at 175,000 points. It became nothing but a match of wits between Saki and her Achiga counterpart, the monkey girl known as Shizuno Takakamo. Saki, as the hardcore fans would argue, trolled the entire table by winning the match and the title for Kiyosumi on a rinshan kaihou. That was enough for Kiyosumi to crack 200,000 points. Not even Kouko Fukuyo and Uta Mihirogi thought it was possible, but it was done. Achiga was second with 130,000 points, Shiraitodai was third with 60,000 points, and Rinkai managed just 10,000 points. That day, Rinkai's coach was fired on the spot by the school's headmaster.
And yet, it was the individual tournament that finally ended the enmity between Saki and Teru. In the final table, Saki saw through her sister's tornado hand and countered with her move. Just as with her captain battle at the team tournament finals, she delivered more of the same and pipped her in the end, 50,000 to 45,000. The other two players, Shizuno and Ryuuka Shimizudani of Senriyama Girls' High School, could only watch the personal battle be dealt.
After the match, Teru gave Saki and embrace and cried on her shoulder. And Saki never forgot the words Teru told her. "The reason I hated you then...was because you never proved to me that you were blooming like a flower on a mountain. You listened to me all this time, and I never got to be with you until know. I love you, because you're the only sister I have, and I don't want you to forget that."
And Saki was crying as well. And everyone across the country knew that this was a personal war that was nearing its end. From that day onward, the Miyanaga sisters finally got along. There was no doubt that any hate Teru had for Saki was gone. History. Dust in the wind.
If there was one thing Teru still didn't like about Saki, it was the fact that she was a slacker when it came to academics. Every few days, Saki would receive a phone call asking her how she was doing in her classes. Teru was becoming that "tough love" type of an older sister, always expecting the best from her because she knew that what their parents were telling Saki was wrong and that the reason she was mad at her was that she was forced to believe in what they had to say. This individual tournament was the closure the Miyanaga sisters had waited years for, and it happened, and it couldn't come any sooner.
A ray of light shined of Saki's face. She looked towards the heavens and felt her heart beat. Doki, doki. Doki, doki. "Doki, doki, doki, doki," she said to herself, whispering the words her heart was saying. Then it dawned on her. Toki Onjouji.
Saki never knew personally Toki Onjouji, other than the fact that she was a very strong, a very fierce mahjong player. Toki made a name for herself in finishing second in the vanguard battle in the first semifinals of the team tournament. But she didn't just finish second. After successfully predicting the discards on the final hand, Toki collapsed and was rushed to St. Luke's International Hospital, where she was in ICU for several days. Somehow she was able to survive and prevent a cardiac arrest due to exhaustion, but she would be hospitalized for a while. She was still in the hospital as of the end of October, and her friends, especially her significant other Ryuuka, were not able to visit her that often because they had their duties as students.
But the event had effectively derailed Senriyama's chances of moving on to the Finals as it was Shiraitodai and Achiga that progressed. Even though she never knew Toki personally, Saki never liked seeing someone lose their life playing the sport they loved. And that was something she admired from Toki. A warrior born to play the sport she loved, loving it so much that she was willing to die for her team and her sport. At Senriyama, she was hailed as a campus her, and even all of Osaka hailed her as a hero of the city. Saki only wished that she would be discharged from the hospital and finally return home. There, a key to the city would be waiting for her.
"Toki, I'm sure God has a plan for you, as he does for all of us," Saki said as a songbird tweeting a simple tune.
The door opened. A very busty girl with long pink hair, holding a stuffed penguin, walked inside. "Saki, why are you here?" It was Nodoka. "Everyone else has headed home."
"Oh, Nodoka, hello," she said. "I was just reading about Korean history and the Sunshine Policy, that's all."
"There's Miyanaga-pro right here," said Hisa, walking in with Mako.
"Hi, Saki!" Tacos said, walking in with a bag of tacos. "Are we playing another game?"
"No, I think we should try something different," Saki said. The five of them sat down at a table. "It's about Toki."
"Toki?" Nodoka asked, confused.
"She meant Toki Onjouji, from Senriyama," Hisa said.
"Oh, you mean that girl that is still in the hospital after collapsing in her match with Saki's sister," Mako said.
"She's still in the hospital?" said Yuuki, confused.
"Yeah," Saki said. "Onee-chan really worked her to the point of exhaustion. I want us to pay her a visit and give her some presents so that she can go home to her friends faster."
"What should we give her, Saki?" Nodoka asked.
"We'll debate on what we should give her as we go along."
"But don't you think it's a bit expensive for us to go to Tokyo?" Mako asked. "I mean, it's not like we have any business there right now."
"For me," Saki said, "I believe all of us mahjong players form a sisterhood that is united by our love for this game. I don't want anyone to die playing the sport they love. So I want to cheer Toki up by having us all visit and see how she is doing."
"We're gonna have to think about that, Saki," Nodoka said to her lover.
"Hey guys!" said a boy with blonde hair walking in. It was the ace of the Kiyosumi boys' team, Kyoutarou Suga.
"Kyoutarou, how are you?" Saki said. "We're about to play a match soon, did you want to join us?"
"No, I have great news to tell you guys," he said. "Apparently, a wealthy millionaire in the area has donated 1.5 million yen to the school, and a huge cut is going to the mahjong team. We can use it for whatever we want."
"All right!" Yuuki said, punching the air. "We can go to Tokyo this Saturday!"
"Uh...what? Is that all?"
"We're planning to visit a fellow player who is in the hospital. She's a very good player, too," Hisa said.
"Oh, you must mean Onjouji from Osaka. Yeah, I heard of her. She's still hospitalized after all this time?"
"Apparently, she is," Nodoka said. "This is all Saki's idea. I guess it would be nice to visit her and see how she's doing."
"Can I come too?" Kyoutarou said. "I mean, for a sickly girl, she's got an awesome body and cute eyes and-"
"No," the others said. At that moment, Kyoutarou wailed and ran away from the clubhouse in tears.
"Drama king, relatively speaking," Hisa deadpanned.
"So it's settled," Mako said. "We're all going early Saturday morning to Tokyo to visit Toki."
"All right, thanks a lot you guys," Saki said. She had a smile on her face. She didn't know if Teru was going to follow suit and visit Toki too, but if not, she was representing her sister as well.
"Ugh," Shizuno Takakamo said, reclining on a chair, throwing her head back towards the ceiling of the Mahjong Club Room of the Achiga Girls Academy. "Beaten again by my wife on the last hand." She was playing with Ako, Kuro Matsumi and Arata Sagimori. Kuro's older sister Yuu was stuck sleeping inside a school-issued kotatsu, a nose bubble coming out of her head. Naturally, she elected not to play.
"Wife?" Ako exclaimed with a chuckle and a raised eyebrow. "Are you trying to talk like a boy or something? Even though...I do like you..."
"Does that matter? I lost, fair and square. 10 straight matches and I still lose to Ako. I'm in despair! Getting my ass handed to me on a cold steel platter by my only love interest has left me in despair!"
"My God, you watch too much anime, Shizuno," Arata deadpanned.
"That's because there's a lot of cute girls in anime that sound just like me," she retorted.
"You're just someone that has a disturbing naked track jacket fetish," Ako snarked. "Are you even wearing anything underneath?" She looked down. "Oh my God! Stripes?"
"What, you're surprised at my selection?"
"I'm surprised that you're even wearing anything underneath, you commando freak!"
"Are YOU wearing anything, honey?" she asked Ako, her lips forming a sideways 3.
"Wh-What's that supposed to mean?"
"I take that as a No? Ha! I win the argument on the grounds of the last laugh!"
"Winning isn't everything," Arata said. "Just playing the game and knowing what you're saying is."
"Don't take my word for it. I only know what I know."
Ako looked to Kuro, who was looking out the window. "Kuro, what's wrong?"
"Toki," Kuro whispered. "Why is it that I can't get that image of her off my mind? She smiles at me, and then she falls off her chair, her beaten eyes closed, and I come to her aid. She barely opens her eyes as Ryuuka comes in to her aid. She whispers to me, Ryuuka and Kirame, 'Let me go to the house of the Lord, where it will not be so hard to live,' before she blacked out into a coma."
"Why is it that I cannot get the images of her being rushed to the hospital out of my head? It just hurts for me to even think about her dying to save her team. It feels as if she was a student of ours, even though she isn't."
"There are some things you just can't control, even though you want to," Arata said.
"You guys," Kuro said, "I think it's time we paid Toki a visit to see how she's doing. I hope and pray to God that she is all right and she is recovering well. We really need to pay her a visit, you guys!"
"But Tokyo is a flight away; there is no way we can get there, and we really don't have any need to visit her," Shizuno said.
"Still, this is a personal thing for me. I want to see her and assure to us that she is doing well because I have my doubts."
"What's already happened has happened," Yuu said, waking up from her sleep. "There really isn't anything we need to do."
Kuro had tears in her eyes, still thinking about that moment. "Toki..."
"Oh, there you are," Harue Akado, the team's coach, said to the members of the club as she walked in.
"Ms. Harue, good afternoon," Ako said to her.
"Good afternoon," the others said.
"I have some great news to tell you. A group of business leaders is footing the check for a weekend trip to Tokyo for you guys, all expenses paid."
"What?" the others exclaimed.
"Dear God, that is amazing!" Shizuno said. "Kuro, now you get to be reunited with Toki."
"Could the Lord be so good to this team?" Kuro whispered. "Could He?"
"At least I get away from the countryside for a few days," Arata added.
"It's a bit cold out there, so I'd better make sure I bring my fur hat for this trip," Yuu said.
"I guess it would be nice to recall what happened," Ako added. "Maybe retrace our steps."
"Be sure to pack up soon because we're leaving on Friday," Harue added.
"Yes, ma'am!" they all said.
Stars were on Kuro's happy eyes. "Toki...Toki, hang in there, we're coming!"
"So boring," Sera Eguchi said at the mahjong club room of Senriyama Girls' High School. "All we're doing is lounging around, not even bothering to play a game or two..."
"What did you expect?" Izumi Nijou said, slumping on a sofa. "It just doesn't feel the same. Hiroko, what are you doing?"
Hiroko Funakubo was playing a skirt lift game on her iPad 3. "Keeping myself occupied."
"Oh god," Sera said. "With that? My god, you're such a hopeless perv."
"At least I'm not feeling so bad, unlike Ryuuka over there."
Ryuuka was sitting closest to the window, melancholy as ever. She never felt so down, so hopeless. "I hate this world," she said. "We didn't even win anything, and we don't even know—I don't even know—if Toki is ever going to come back." Tears were falling from her face. "If she is dead, I don't know if I will even have any more reason to live my life anymore."
"You really love her that much, huh?" Sera said, patting Ryuuka on the shoulder, concerned.
"We're inseparable. I want to be with her, by her side, but I can't. I'm stuck here, trying to finish up school like the rest of you. I can't take care of the one I love. I'm so pathetic."
"You really want to visit her to see how she's doing, right?" Izumi said.
"Anything, Izumi! I want to see her again! I don't care if she's dead, I want to see her. Whether she is dead or alive. She didn't need to go so far just to help us out. Toki didn't have to do this. And we couldn't do anything about it, and we couldn't make the final."
"Well, things happen for a reason," Hiroko said. "There are things you just can't control. And we're too poor to go back to Tokyo to visit Toki. We're just going to have to wait until she gets discharged from the hospital and returns home on her own power."
"And when is that gonna happen?" Ryuuka shot back.
She got up. "Then you're in no position to talk. I don't know when Toki—my Toki—will come back to us. It may not happen. But even if it doesn't, I want us to at least see her at the hospital!" Then she sat down on the sofa, head in her hands, sobbing. "What am I going to do...what am I going to do with my life..."
"There you are," said their coach, Masae Atago. "Why the long faces?"
"Ms. Atago, Ryuuka here is bummed because she can't see the reason for her existence anymore," Sera said. "And it's gotten all of us bummed, too, because she is the captain."
"Maybe this will cheer you up," Masae said. "A brother of a member of the Senriyama Class of 1976 donated one million yen to the club just today."
"What?" they all exclaimed.
"So I thought that we can use the money to go back to Tokyo and see how Toki is doing."
"Yaaaaaaay!" Hiroko, Izumi and Sera said.
Ryuuka got up from her seat and went over to Masae. "Ms. Atago, are you serious? We can all see Toki again together?"
"Yep, you're all leaving on Friday night so you can visit Toki on Saturday. There might be a chance that she gets discharged from the hospital this weekend, but let's just hope for the best."
"Thanks, Ms. Atago!" Ryuuka exclaimed, shedding tears of joy. She looked towards the sky, smiling. She never felt so confident and hopeful in her life. "Toki, hang in there, I'm coming to take you back with me! Just you wait, Toki!"
"Wow, she's back to her bubbly self again," Sera said.
"The Lord sure works in mysterious ways, doesn't he?" Izumi added.
"When Ryuuka Shimizudani is happy, all of Senriyama is happy," Hiroko concluded. "And that's good." She closed her skirt-lifting app and turned on some tommy february6.
"Just close your eyes and then remember
The thoughts you've locked away
When tomorrow comes you'll wish
You had today
And as we sit here alone
Looking for a reason to go on
It's so clear that all we have now
Are our thoughts of yesterday
If you're still there when it's all over
I'm scared I'll have to say
That a part of you has gone
And as we sit here alone
Looking for a reason to go on
It's so clear that all we have now
Are our thoughts of yesterday
Well, maybe this could be the ending
With nothing left of you
A hundred wishes couldn't say
I don't want to
And as we sit here alone
Looking for a reason to go on
It's so clear that all we have now
Are our thoughts of yesterday
It's so clear that all we have now
Are thoughts of yesterday..."
"Ugh, this early in the morning?" Yuuki groaned as she walked over to Nagano Station with Saki, Nodoka, Mako and Hisa, yawning while holding a bag of tacos on Saturday.
"Better than taking a late night train and staying overnight," Mako told Yuuki.
"Thank God I got these tacos." She took a bite. "Except that this is a burrito. Oh well; it's Mexican food so it has to be delicious." She shoved the whole thing down.
"Sometimes it's nice to broaden your horizons."
"Whatever!" she said, talking with her mouth full. "Here, have a burrito."
"Ah, there's our train," Nodoka said as the shinkansen, the bullet train, made its way to the platform. The party of five took their seats and collected their thoughts. Saki elected to play an online game of mahjong on her iPad, while Nodoka elected to take a rest to catch up on some sleep, Etopen propping her bust up.
A pair of cat ears perked up across from the group. "Ooooh, it's them. Hello-nyan!" It was Kana Ikeda.
Mihoko Fukuji was there to greet them, too. "Good morning."
"Hello, you two," Saki said. "Fancy you getting up this early to go somewhere."
"Ohhh?" Kana asked. "And where are you guys going, nyan?"
"We're heading over to Tokyo to say hi to an old comrade of ours," Hisa said as the train began to take off.
Mihoko had an idea. "Would that someone be...Toki Onjouji?"
"Eh? Don't tell me you're going to visit her too?"
"We are, nyan," Kana said.
"And so are we," Touka Ryuumonbuchi said, waving to them.
Koromo Amae went over and gave Saki a hug. "Saki-chaaaaaan! Good morning!"
"Koromo! What's up, little bunny?'
"Heheh! Me, Touka and Hajime wanted to see Toki, too because she is cool. I want her autograph!"
"You do realize she's not a professional, right?"
"Ehhhh? So? The way she fought against your older sister was awesome! I want to meet the great Toki-sama!"
"We think she's going to be discharged today from the hospital, according to some reports online," added Hajime Kunihiro, holding her iPad to reveal some headlines. "So we plan to give her something to make her smile."
"Wow," Mako said. "News is really spreading fast that Toki might be released from the hospital today. So it's probably a good idea that we all went."
"Including us," said Momoko Touyoko, waving with Yumi Kajiki.
"Hey, champs," Yumi said.
"Hi," the Kiyosumi team said.
"Did you guys eat?" They responded by holding their burritos. "Cheaters."
"This is pretty good," Saki said, taking a big bite. "Good job, Yuuki!"
"Of course," she replied rather smugly. "Even though I should have ordered tacos..."
"Yeah, you should have," Mako snarked.
"Are you still hungry?" she exclaimed.
"No, I'm fine."
"These are breakfast burritos, by the way."
"Tex-Mex," Touka said, looking at the contents. "Can't believe there are restaurants in Kiyosumi that offer Tex-Mex...Incredible."
Saki heard her phone ring. "Hello?" she asked.
"Morning, Saki," Teru said over the phone.
'How is my sister, now the greatest mahjong player in the country, doing right now?"
"Ahahahahahah, I'm doing just fine. Listen, onee-chan, me and my friends are heading over to Tokyo to visit somebody."
"Would that someone be Toki?"
"Eh? How did you know?"
"I'm like you in the fact I can sense the intentions of certain people. Actually, it was more of a hunch. Me, Sumire and Awai are doing some shopping, but we're planning to see Toki too, later this afternoon."
"I got all my Nagano aces on the train right now, we'll be there in about 50 minutes. Toki, I think, is at St. Luke's International Hospital."
"Yeah, I think I know where that is. I think I got directions. Do you have directions?"
"I forgot to search."
"Saki. I'll make sure that we meet you at the station so we can figure out the itinerary for you and your group."
"You're the best, onee-chan!"
"I know. See you."
"Bye!" And she hung up.
"So what did she say?" Koromo asked.
"Well...she told me she's meeting us with the Shiraitodai crew at the station. Knowing onee-chan, I think we're gonna be heading to a mahjong cafe before we meet Toki."
"A mahjong cafe? Awesome! Touka, Touka! Saki-chan told me we're going to a mahjong cafe in Tokyo!"
"Very nice, Saki," Touka said. "Your sister is getting used to living there."
"I guess," she replied, laughing it off.
"And why are you in twintails?"
"I decided to grow them. I was tired of going short, so I grew my hair long and bring back the old me. Onee-chan told me that I need to grow them anyway."
"You look better in twin tails!" Kana said.
"There's a number of famous anime characters that tie their hair back in twin tails."
"And Onee-chan gave these bands to me after I had beaten her in the final," Saki added.
"Ooooooh," they all said.
"Stick to that hairstyle," Hajime said.
"Will do," Saki replied, saluting her.
"By the way, knowing that you and Teru are not good with directions," she said, pulling out a map on her iPad, "we'll help you out."
Shizuno yawned as the train from the hotel that they were staying made its way to Tokyo Station. The girls and their coach, Harue Akado, were catching up on some sleep after the Friday night flight took the living daylights out of them.
"Ah!" Shizuno said. "Feels good to go back to Tokyo where I can go to eat the best ramen in the country!"
"There are people from other regions that might want to have a word with you on that," Ako deadpanned.
"I know, my dear Ako but Tokyo had the best. Cause they're the capital."
"Some ill logic, Shizuno," Arata replied.
Yuu was wearing her fur hat, thick clothes and covering her mouth with her muffler. Also, she was wearing cheap sunglasses.
"Someone is listening to a little bit too much ZZ Top today," Arata deduced.
"Way too much," Kuro snarked. "Onee-chan, why are you wearing sunglasses?"
Yuu flashed a peace sign. "Subara!"
"You're the last person I want to hear that from."
Shizuno felt her phone ring. She flipped open the lid to get the message. "Shizuno! We're going to meet Toki today at the hospital! Wish you were here," the message read.
The monkey girl was laughing. "Uh, Shizu, are you all right?" Ako asked.
"What is Saki talking about? WE ARE HERE!" she roared in a loud as they entered Tokyo.
"Lower your voice," Harue said.
"Oh now what? Now you're trying to be like Madoka or something?" Ako snarked.
"It's because she sounds like me!" Shizuno retorted.
"Yep, you've been watching a lot of anime lately."
"That was last year, though. This is the now."
"Guys. Train." Yuu pointed to a bullet train arriving.
"Ooooh. Here they come," Kuro said.
"Ooof, that was a long ride," said Saki to the Nagano party as they disembarked from the train. She noticed Teru, Awai and Sumire walking over to them. "Onee-chan!" Saki went over to Teru and jumped in her older sister's arms, overjoyed.
"Good morning, Saki," Teru said. "Did you get some sleep?"
"I sure did!"
"Morning, Hisa," Sumire said to her.
"We meet again."
"So the finest from Kiyosumi, Kazekoshi, Tsuruga and Ryuumonbuchi are here, eh?" Awai Oohoshi said, nodding her head. "The best Nagano Prefecture has to offer."
"We like being a factory of talent," Touka clarified.
"Is there any place to eat, Touka?" Koromo asked.
"We'll get breakfast soon."
"Let's go greet them now," Shizuno said to her party. "Hello everyone!"
"This is a surprise," Teru said. "Achiga Girls, good morning."
"Morning, Teru. Oh, who's the new girl? Is she a friend of yours."
"I believe she is more than."
"Ahem." Saki held back her twintails to remind Shizuno of who she is.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry! Forgive us, oh Blessed Miyanaga Sisters! It was dishonorable of us to disrespect your name!" Shizuno said, throwing herself down before the two of them.
"No harm done, Shizuno," Saki said.
"Shizu, get up. Get UP!" Ako said, forcing Shizuno to stand up.
"We meet again, Teru," Kuro said.
"Good morning, Kuro," she replied with a smile.
"You grew your hair, Saki," Arata said. "Normally it's short."
"I made her grow it long again," Teru said.
"It looks real nice. You should stick to it," said Yuu.
"Anyway," Awai said, "we're all here because we're seeing...her, right?"
"You know who she is," Nodoka said.
"We all know who she is," Mihoko said.
"Exactly, because she's on our team!" said a voice. The others turned around. It was Ryuuka Shimizudani, with Izumi, Sera and Hiroko. And Ryuuka had a very confident smile on her face.
"Well, well, if it isn't the rest of Toki's team," Kana said, excited.
"Senriyama Girls High School of North Osaka is here to get back our city's treasure," Ryuuka said. "And my 'waifu.'"
"Well, isn't that obvious," the others chorused, shrugging their shoulders.
"But it's true! Stop it! I'm that close to her, you know?"
"It's all right," Shizu said, giving Ryuuka a pat on the back. "We trust you."
"Saying that in the open...very bold," Yumi added.
"Well, this gathering is very...how should I say it...Subara," said another girl with purple twintails with her entourage. The others turned around. It was Kirame Hanada and the rest of the Shindouji Girls High crew: Yoshiko Yasukouchi, Hitomi Ezaki, Mairu Shirouzu and Himeko Tsuruta. "It was a long flight but we survived."
"Jeez, everyone from all over is here," Yuuki said. "Eh? I'm out of burritos."
"We're all here to see Toki, right?" Saki said to the group.
"Right!" they all exclaimed.
"But we need to find a place to pass the time, like a mahjong cafe. Onee-chan, do you know a place?"
"I'm sorry, Saki, I failed. I forgot to get directions."
"Typical of the Miyanaga sisters," Hiroko grinned.
"Siri," said Hajime to her iPad assistant. "Find us a place to play mahjong."
"I have located 13 mahjong cafes near Tokyo Station," the assistant said, showing a map.
"Problem solved," she said to them.
"Yaaaaaay!" they exclaimed.
"Follow me!" Hajime said. And they all followed her. Saki took her sister's and Nodoka's hands, while Hisa took Mihoko's hand. Little did they know that a number of bystanders were watching.
"Oh my God, it's them!" said one. "It's the mahjong girls!"
"Mahjong girls? Where?" asked another.
"They're from that reality show Saki-The Player," exclaimed a third.
"We can't let them leave the station without them signing our autographs!" shouted a fourth.
"Let's catch them! Let's go!" screamed a fifth.
"Oh no," Saki said. "Everyone, are you ready?"
"Yeah!" they replied.
"Ruuuuuuuuun!" The entire party was chased by a mob of fans wielding shikishi boards and Sharpies. The police had to step in and give protection but just about everyone in the station had taken photos and video of the massive rendezvous.
Toki Onjouji was relatively free of the chaos that was going on in that part of the metropolis. She was reading a book, entitled "The Bible," with the subtitle "New International Version." Ever since that traumatic incident that nearly cost her life, she had become even more religious. Today was the day she would be formally discharged from St. Luke's International Hospital, but she still had that condition. And she would be forced to live with that condition unless something miraculous happened.
Dressed in her hospital gown, she looked out the window. Clear blue skies. No clouds. But it was very cold. November in Japan was like that. Her winter uniform was placed in a bag, and she would be wearing that in a few hours. Toki never remembered anything after she fell into a coma during the semifinals of the 71st Inter High. And she was in a coma for a few days. Only four days after was Toki able to open her eyes and notice where she was.
The doctors at the hospital gave her a five percent chance of survival because of the damage her Triple Turn Ahead move did to her system. She had to be hospitalized for a while to repair damage to her organs, and she swore to herself to never go through that again, because if she did that one more time, she would suffer a heart attack and would die on the spot.
Toki closed her eyes, and remembered the stress that she went through during that match. The tears came down her face as she remembered the pain her lover Ryuuka went through. They were so close that they were inseparable and that they were a couple. And she decided that this was the last time she did a Triple Turn Ahead. It wasn't as if she would be able to help Senriyama move on to the final. She received news weeks later that her school was eliminated.
She knew that she could only do so much to help her team. So much. But at the end of the day, Toki knew her team had fought well, and to make it this far in the tournament was good enough in her eyes. But she never knew that her heroism would not go unnoticed. At least she wouldn't know yet. All Toki knew was that she was going to leave the hospital and return home. That's all she knew.
The door opened. A beautiful young woman with long, flowing pink hair and a long, flowing white dress with white hair bows walked in, accompanied by a curious-looking familiar. "Are you Miss Toki Onjouji by any chance?"
"That would be me," she said. "And you are?"
"My name is Madoka. A pleasure to meet you this morning."
"Oh! You're that goddess that saved Mitakihara Town last year."
"Not just that...the whole world. Anyway I can here because you had an illness and you wanted it to go away somehow before you were discharged. At least, that's what your dreams were telling me..."
"That's correct. How did you know?"
"I'm a Goddess. I know what I know. Anyway, I think you need to live your life and do your thing without having any sickness. Just be a normal person doing extraordinary things playing extraordinary games that goes way back when."
"How can you do that? I understand that I have my condition, but I can manage with proper rest and medication."
"If I help you out here, no medication will be needed, and you can do your technique without any life-threatening side effects."
"You can do that? Wow..."
"Ms. Toki. Extend your right hand and reach out."
"Um...okay..." Toki went and gave Madoka her right hand. The Goddess clutched it and closed her eyes. Soon, Toki was bathed in light, and the process began. Toki closed her eyes as she felt the warmth envelop her and heal her.
"The heroics...of a young woman in the prime of her life with so much to live for...a family, a job and a future...nearly sacrificing it to help the school and the city she loves...and the woman she loves...must never be forgotten," Madoka said. "For if these deeds were to be forgotten in history, then the work she did in being who she is today was all in vain, all a lie. So if the world remembers and adores a heroine of her profession so much that it inspires a generation to do the same...then the world...will be better for it."
Toki opened her eyes. "Oh my goodness," she said. "I don't feel tired at all. I actually feel good. I've never felt so better in my life. And it's all thanks to you."
"I must also inform you, Toki Onjouji, that your heroism has earned you a special honor bestowed on by the people of Japan," Madoka said.
"What is it?"
Madoka gave Toki a wide smile. "You will be the Saimoe Prime Minister for the year 2013."
Toki was shedding tears of joy. "Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness, this is not possible...this...this is unreal..." She had to laugh. Toki was reminded of a moment where she bragged to Ryuuka that she could dominate anyone because she had the body and the charms. In those days, she didn't have the condition which nearly cost her a chance at living. And then she joked that if she won this special position as the Saimoe Prime Minister of Japan, Ryuuka would be her deputy. Indirect nepotism at its finest.
She had to collect her emotions. She never felt so overjoyed in her life. "So that's why you came here."
"Precisely. Mami-san gave me a hint."
"Mami Tomoe, the current Saimoe Prime Minister, right?"
"Yep, she is wrapping up her term on New Year's Eve. Then she's going back to work."
"You know what work."
"Oh yeah. That."
"Anyway, now that you're good to go, take your time leaving the hospital. Your friends and your Ryuuka won't arrive until this afternoon."
"Thank you so much."
"Congratulations in advance, Toki. And please, take good care of my country." Then she left.
"I will!" Toki said, waving her off. The resident doctors were looking at her with confused looks to suggest she was waving goodbye to a ghost. A very beautiful ghost, at that.
"Tokyo American Club, huh?" Hisa said as the entourage arrived at the building.
"This place is supposed to have one of the largest mahjong areas in the city," Hajime said. "The Logan Room is where the mahjong takes place."
"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Koromo said as they all walked in.
"Um, I'm sorry, but only members can be allowed to play mahjong in the Logan Room," said one of the staff members at the TAC.
"Um, sir, do you realize who we are?" Kirame asked the staff member.
He took a close look. "Oh my God. You are...the competitors of the 71st Inter High Tournament and the Nagano Prefecture Tournament earlier this year!" He bowed. "Please forgive us. We will have the area ready for you shortly. Follow me."
The group did followed the gentleman, who showed them the Logan Room, which was empty, except for a plethora of mahjong tables that were set.
"Awesome!" Shizuno said. "And there's some food, too!"
"I think we can start playing," Mihoko said.
"Hey Teru," Kuro said to her.
"I think I have your number this time."
"I want to pair up with you as well!" Tacos said.
"Time for some more Subara-style skills," Kirame said.
"It's just like the semis all over again, eh onee-chan?" Saki said.
"So persistent. But they've earned my respect."
"I am ready to face you and win, Rinshan Princess!" Shizuno boasted.
"Hey, don't forget about me!" Koromo added.
"I wouldn't mind another crack at you three vets," Awai said.
"Ready for me to spread the love on you again, Nodocchi?" Touka asked.
"Stop it with your perversion; I want none of it," she said flatly.
"The sisterly bonds run deep," Arata remarked.
"I'd like to face you guys again, let's do this," Hiroko said to them.
Soon enough, the others were pairing in fours and getting their game on. As the staff member returned to the desk, he saw a mob of 200 to 300 at the door. "Excuse me, but who are you?"
"We had some rumors suggesting that Japan's best mahjong players are passing the time here," said a fan. "We want to watch."
"Yeah, I want to see Saki kick Shizuno's ass again!" exclaimed a second.
"Nodocchi and Touka in some yuri action! It's glorious!" hollered a third.
"The Koromo will win! The Koromo will win!" screamed a fourth. "I die for Koromoooooooo!"
Eventually, the staff member gave up and allowed the fans to watch the action from a designated area in the Logan Room.
"I think we're being watched," Ako said to Sera.
"You're right," she replied, seeing the cameras and oohs and aahs. "We'd better step it up for them for so that they get to see something good." The others nodded and upped the stakes in their contests.
"Rinshan Kaihou!" Saki and Teru both shouted, winning some hands. That caused the crowd to roar in approval. An old man who was staffing the place did bring out a video monitor, showing the scores of the different tables in action, and every table was being used.
"Blooming like a flower on a mountain, Saki," Teru said to her beloved sister.
"That's how we Miyanagas roll, onee-chan." The fans were going to spend some time watching these players do their thing. From Hell Wait, to hoarding dora tiles, to stealth, to Haitei Raoyue...the different special abilities were on display on Saturday, and the fans were taking plenty of photos. Afterwards, there was plenty of time to get autographs.
Back in the hospital room, Toki was busy packing her bags and fixing her Senriyama uniform. "Hmmmm. Should I or shouldn't I?" she said, looking at a couple of hairclips that a prominent young guitarist from Sakuragaoka, who chose to remain anonymous, gave her. Toki never wore any hair ornaments. She always liked her hair short, natural, shoulder-length, without any of the fancy stuff. In terms of hair, her bangs were her charm point.
Eventually, she decided to wear the clips on the right side of her bangs. Toki let out a sigh. All the stress and suffering she went through was over. Now she could continue living her life and moving on to the next chapter. And she was going to do it as the Saimoe Prime Minister of Japan. She still wondered what the position was about, but she imagined it to be one where she went to different parts of the country, talking about women's rights and the right to love whoever they wanted.
She was a liberal in that aspect, and while she was too young to vote just yet, she wanted to vote for the Democratic Party in a future election. And after that experience, she indoctrinated herself in Catholic beliefs. One of the things she wanted to do in the future was visit Rome and gain a deeper understand of her religion. At the same time, she still wondered if she wanted to continue her career as a mahjong player.
Toki was regarded as a Top 10 player and held on to her ranking despite not playing a competitive match since her recent hospitalization. And that urge, that drive to compete at the table was even stronger now that she could predict the discards without her health being affected. But she swore to herself that this would only be used for very important tournaments. That national semifinal was going to be the last time she ever went Triple Turn Ahead for the year, that's for sure.
Carrying her bag, Toki left the hospital room and began the process of discharging herself from the facility. "I think Ryuuka...and the others...are playing a pickup game somewhere..."
"It's great to play mahjong again, even if it's for fun," Koromo said to the pack as they got on board the Hibiya Line later that day.
"And remember what Saki told you," Touka reminded her.
"Mahjong IS fun! She was right!"
"I think we really entertained the fans," Himeko said on the train.
"Of course," Kirame said. "Everyone needs to know that the power of Subara must not be underestimated."
"Only thing good that comes from it is that you don't go under zero," she snarked.
"What a Subara comeback!"
"So now we finally get to see her," Kuro said, pumping her fists.
"The woman of the hour, huh?" Shizu said to her.
"The woman of the hour, yes, you are correct."
"We already have the presents ready, right?" Harue said to her team.
"Yes, ma'am!" they said, holding them.
"The moment of truth beckons," Momoko said. "Time for me to go into stealth mode." And she did. Yumi rolled her eyes, sighing.
Heading up the stairs from the station, the crew continued their walk towards the hospital.
Senriyama Girls' High School, located in the northern part of Osaka City, was rather quiet, except for the sound of footsteps. A lone man wandered about, strolling the surroundings, twirling a little cigarette. His bushy hair spoke of stories of glories past, of adventures past. And he wanted to get his own peace of mind, just having a little walk before heading out of town to do other ventures.
He noticed that the flowers were in full bloom. The school installed a new garden that was full of lilies. He went to one and took a strong whiff of its scent. A stretch, and he looked towards the heavens with a smile.
"Thus always to Osakans," Spike Spiegel said to himself. "Great food. great personalities, and a business-like nature that is serious with a capital S. That's what I like about this town. Nothing speaks Kansai like Osaka." Spike checked his watch. "Time for me to call that man."
He flipped open his mobile, and punched a few numbers. "Hello?" the voice on the other line said.
"Yo, Houtarou, what's up?"
"Hey Spike," Houtarou Oreki said.
"What are you up to, bub?"
"I am with Eru here at the National Stadium, just getting everything set up for the event later tonight."
"Very good. I got some news to tell you."
"Toki's won it."
"She did? But the voting's not expected to close for several hours."
"Based on the exit polls I got online, it looks like Onjouji is going to take this one. Pass this on to everybody and have them come down to the stadium. I'm not going to be there, but be sure to get everyone you know on board so that they welcome the new leader of Japan, moethestically speaking."
"I'll get on it Spike. Thanks a lot. See you, Spacer Cowboy."
"That's my line. See you." Spike hung up and ran off, disappearing in an instant.
Houtarou, meanwhile, was watching the event staff prepare the stage with a bored expression.
"Houtarou, what's wrong?" Eru Chitanda said.
"Toki is projected to win it all," he replied flatly.
"Really? Amazing! That's wonderful."
"So, I want you to pass it on to as many of the candidates from this year's race as you can. We don't have to worry about the members of the Saki Party because Toki will probably tell them. Just focus on the ones not on the ticket."
"Right. I've got my phone, and I am curious!"
"That and a tree. Get going." And Houtarou left her to check on the event staffers.
Eru punched a few numbers. "Hello, Mayaka?"
"Yeah?" Mayaka Ibara said, over in Akasaka.
"Tell everyone that Toki Onjouji is going to be the next Saimoe Prime Minister and have the competitors assemble at the National Stadium."
"Okay!" Mayaka hung up, punched a few numbers and called someone. "Nyaruko?"
"Helloooooo!" exclaimed Nyarlathotep, who was being snuggled by Cthugha.
"Tell everyone that Toki Onjouji is projected to win the office and that they should head to the National Stadium."
"Got it!" And Nyaruko hung up.
"What was that, love?" Kuuko asked.
"Toki's our next Prime Minister. Get me my phone before I give you a taste of my crowbar."
"Yes, dear." And Kuuko gave Nyaruko the phone.
Nyaruko punched a few numbers. "Hello, Yayoi?"
"Um...hi?" asked Yayoi Kise, in the middle of drawing a few mahjong tiles with her Cure clique in Shibuya.
"Tell everyone that Toki Onjouji is going to be our next prime minister and that we should head out to the National Stadium ASAP."
"Um...okay!" And she hung up.
"What was that, Yayoi?" asked Miyuki Hoshizora.
"Toki...I think...has won it."
"She did? That's awesome!" Nao Midorikawa said.
"And we have to tell everyone to head to the National Stadium tonight to congratulate her."
"And what else?" Akane Hino asked.
"We also need to tell everybody that took part in the race that Toki has...won."
"All right, let's do it!" Reika Aoki said as the others broke out their phones and called some people.
Yayoi, meanwhile, punched some numbers. "Uh, hello Akarin?"
"Hi, Yayoi-chan," Akari Akaza said inside a bus that was leaving Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture. She was with Kyouko Toshino, Yui Funami, Chinatsu Yoshikawa and the rest of the school's Student Council.
"Listen, I know you lost to Toki, but...you actually lost to the next Saimoe Prime Minister."
"Oh my. That's great!"
"So, you need to, um, tell everyone about this and if you can, head over to the National Stadium to greet Toki."
"We're actually on our way to Tokyo to go out on the town with our relatives, so this is good timing."
"All right." And Akari hung up.
"Hey Akarin, who was that?" Kyouko asked.
"It was Yayoi. She told us that Toki won it all."
"So your defeat to her was not in vain..."
"And we have to let everyone know, right?" asked Yui.
"Yeah, I think so..."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Kyouko asked. "Let's get calling."
"Good idea," said Ayano Sugiura. The girls broke out their cells and did some calls.
Akari punched some numbers and made her call. "Hinata?"
"Hi, Akarin," Hinata Hakamada said. She was with the members of the Keishin Academy girls' basketball team and their coach, Subaru Hasegawa, over in Roppongi.
"News flash: Toki Onjouji is going to be the next Saimoe Prime Minister of Japan."
"Do you have any plans for tonight?"
"Good, because tonight, there's going to be a victory rally at the National Stadium. Be sure to tell everyone you know, and if you can get there, get there because we're heading there right now."
"Cool," Hinata said. "All right. Thanks, Akarin!"
"What did she say?" Tomoka Minato asked.
"Mokkan, Toki's won it. We need to tell everyone and also head to the National Stadium tonight."
"Are we going to have to pay to get in?" Airi Kashii wondered.
"I don't think there's a charge for this..."
"Let's get calling," said Subaru.
"All right!" Tomoka exclaimed. The team got out their phones and made some calls.
Hinata, meanwhile, punched some numbers and reached out to someone. "Hello, Sena-sempai?"
"Yo, Hinata-chan, what's up?" asked Sena Kashiwazaki, who was in Odaiba with Yozora Mikazuki, the Hasegawas, Yukimura Kusunoki, Sister Maria Takayama and Rika Shiguma.
"Toki has won!"
"Whoa," she said.
"What happened?" Kobato Hasegawa wondered.
"Toki Onjouji's our next Saimoe Prime Minister."
"Is there anything you want us to do?" she asked Hinata.
"Tell everyone and then head to the National Stadium tonight."
"Got it. Thanks a lot!" And she hung up.
"I'll help you out, Niku, but just this once."
"Hmph. Fancy you helping me out for once."
"A massive victory...a tile predictor who nearly sacrificed her life for the cause...RESURRECTION!" Rika exclaimed before fainting.
"Oy, Rika, stop," Maria said.
She took out her phone and raised it. "Time to call!" she roared. The others whipped out their phones and did some calls.
Sena punched some numbers. "Hello, Mio?"
"Hi, Sena," Mio Akiyama said with her band, and Ui Hirasawa. They were finished with a gig down in Ikebukoro.
"Toki won. Tell your friends and if you can, get to Kokuritsu."
"I'll let them know." Mio hung up. "Guys, Toki Onjouji won!"
"Cool," Yui Hirasawa said.
"That Saki Party finally did it this time, huh?" Ritsu Tainaka said.
"Did your friend say that we have to head to the Olympic Stadium?" Azusa Nakano said.
"That's right, Azusa," Mio replied.
"Let's have some tea and then we can call our folks," Tsumugi Kotobuki added.
"I'll start calling," said Yui's sister Ui. "Hello, Ririchiyo?"
"Hello, Ms. Hirasawa," Ririchiyo Shirakiin said at the Maison de Ayakashi, fondled by her boyfriend, Soushi Miketsukami.
"Toki won the race. Everyone is heading to the National Stadium tonight. Spread the word, please."
"I will. Thank you."
"Ms. Ririchiyo?" Soushi asked.
"Sou-kun, we need to start calling some people. Toki's won it all."
"Ms. Onjouji. I will."
"I'm going to bring Karuta with us and we're heading over there ASAP. Start calling."
"Yes, Ms. Ririchiyo." H*e punched a few numbers. "Ms. Chihaya?"
"This is Mr. Miketsukami, correct?" asked Chihaya Kisaragi at the 765 Production office.
"Inform everyone in your group that Ms. Onjouji will be sworn in as Moe Prime Minister and that you are expected to arrive at the National Olympic Stadium tonight. Be sure to inform other people as well."
"I will, thank you." Chihaya hung up. "Hey everyone, big news!" she said to the others.
"What is it?" asked Iori Minase.
"Toki Onjouji won the Saimoe Prime Minister office." The others applauded.
"Is there anything we need to do?" asked the Producer.
"We need to call other people to let them know, and also, we have to head to the National Olympic Stadium tonight."
"Let's do it!" Yukiho Hagiwara said.
"Yeah!" they all said, pumping their fists. And with that, the news began to spread like wildfire about the returns.
"So this is St. Luke's International Hospital, huh?" Mako said as the entire party reached the hospital. It was 5 p.m. JST.
"This is where the paramedics sent her to months ago," Sera said, looking at the building.
"Let's go in. Maybe she's still upstairs," Saki said. They all went into the lobby.
Ryuuka was at the head of the pack. She noticed, in the back, a girl dressed in the Senriyama winter uniform, reading a book. Tears came from Ryuuka's eyes.
"Toki...TOKI!" she cried running over to her.
"Ryuuka," Toki said as the two of them shared an embrace.
"Toki...my love...it's a miracle!" she sobbed, smiling. "I missed you so much!"
"I told you I would be all right...didn't I, Ryuuka?" she said, comforting her. The others gathered around to watch the reunion.
"If you had died in that hospital...I...I...I wouldn't have known what to do with myself!" The embrace was tighter. "I'm so glad that you'll be able to come back home with us!"
"I know. And I have news to tell you."
She drew back. "What news?"
Toki paused, then smiled. "I'm going to be the next Saimoe Prime Minister of Japan."
That drew a roar from the mahjong party. Hugs and tears were shared all around.
"And I'm not sick anymore, so if I do that triple turn move, my health won't be affected. But I promise to only do it if it's really, really necessary," Toki said.
"Pinkie swear?" Ryuuka asked, extending her pinkie.
Toki obliged. "I swear on my life."
"Come here, you!" Ryuuka was so overjoyed. The tears were still flowing down, and even the other teams from the other schools were in tears.
"Toki?" asked Kuro walking over.
She hugged Toki real tight. "I'm conceding the race." That drew plenty of gasps from everyone as she let go. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, Kuro."
"She's reached the top of the mountain," Teru said.
"Indeed, onee-chan," Saki concurred.
"Teru," Toki said.
She went over to Teru and gave her a hug. The tears were coming out of Teru's eyes. "I never got to say this to you before they took me away, but good game. I lost, fair and square."
"No, for me, the result did matter," Teru replied, embracing her fellow vanguard. "If you had died doing that, my win would have been as bad as a loss, maybe worse. I'm glad you're fine."
"And I can challenge you without affecting my health either, but I don't have any plans to do so."
'You never change. But I like that from you. You've earned my deepest respect."
"Toki-sama!" Koromo said, walking over to her.
"Hello," she replied, hugging the little bunny.
"I get to meet one of my heroes! You're awesome, Toki-sama! Can I get your autograph?"
"Do you have a board and pen?"
Touka handed Koromo the items. "Here you go!" Koromo said. "Tee-hee!"
"All right, let me do this for you." As Toki gave Koromo her autograph, a few cameras were taking photos of the occasion.
"A miracle," Izumi concluded.
"Of the highest order," Hiroko added.
"Siri, find us a mahjong cafe to eat dinner," asked Hajime on her iPad.
"I found one mahjong cafe within 100 meters," the assistant answered.
"I think we should go ahead and have dinner to celebrate Toki's victory," Shizuno said to everyone, who nodded.
A chauffeur walked in and whispered to Saki. "Okay guys, I have a major announcement," Saki said. "We have a chauffeur that is going to send us back to the Tokyo American Club, and then he is sending us over to the National Stadium for a special ceremony, which I think has to do with our Moekko of the Hour here."
"Whoa," they all said.
"Oh my goodness," Toki said. "I'm being given the VIP treatment here."
"And from what I have heard, a special press conference will be held at the club at 7 p.m. So, guys, you can spend some more time playing mahjong but at 9 p.m., we all have to get on the bus so that we get to the National Olympic Stadium in time."
"Got it!" they all said.
"All right, let's go!"
The party cheered as Saki and Toki led them to the bus, which could fit everybody.
"A red letter day for all the mahjong players in Japan," Kirame concluded. "It's Subara!"
"And the people of Osaka," Himeko mused. "I bet they've got some key to the city waiting for Toki. Or something."
"Try not to think too much of it," Mairu reminded them.
Toki, meanwhile, collected her emotions, internalizing the news that she knew was being spread all over. She knew the race wasn't over yet, but it was close to its conclusion.
Houtarou looked at the completed stage and was impressed with the layout. A house band began to go through warm-ups as the crowd began to file into the stadium. There were long queues of people coming in, holding photos of Toki, wearing Toki masks, waving flags of Senriyama, Osaka City and Osaka Prefecture, and the Rising Sun flag, as well as signs and banners of encouragement.
He whistled at the number of messages that were being raised: "Sakimoe 2012!", "A True Japanese Heroine," "Toki Onjouji - Willing to Die For Her Country," "Mahjong's Greatest Saint!", "She Isn't Dead Yet!", "We Believe In One Vision!", "Rise, Toki, Rise!", "It's Toki Time!", "Victory for the Futuristic Player!", "Toki - Senriyama Version, Episode of Side S", "Toki Onjouji - The Pride of the Kansai," "You Can't Say Tokyo without TOKI!" and the usual "Ron!" "Tsumo!" and "Riichi!" messages. Houtarou saw oversized tiles, point sticks and Etopens being carried into the stands, and the crowd was singing "Miracle Rush" and "Futuristic Player", which they believed to remind them of Toki and her team.
Drums were pounding, people were jumping and hearts were beating. And Houtarou was smiling. Eru looked at him with a curious look.
"Houtarou?" Eru asked. "What's wrong?"
"Eru...I think we're going to have a full house for this one." Within minutes, the other competitors in the Prime Minister race, outside of the Saki Party were going to take their seats on the pitch in front of the stage. Every candidate was going to be represented. Some candidates would be feeling sleepy, but all would arrive in time.
"Ooooh, you're right."
While the others chose to play some more games inside the Logan Room, Toki rested on Ryuuka's lap in the hall, lost in thought again. "What are you thinking about?" Ryuuka asked her.
"Next spring, I am graduating from Senriyama," she said. "I know my role as the Saimoe Prime Minister is ceremonial, but I have a bad feeling that some of the responsibilities that go with it will get in the way of what I am going to do in college."
"Have you thought about where you want to go?"
"I've narrowed it down to three choices: Osaka Sangyo, Ritsumeikan and Kyoto. That's it. I like the mahjong club at Ritsumeikan, but Osaka Sangyo is more local."
"Wherever you go, I want to go too," Ryuuka said. "I'm going to be graduating, too, and those are the same choices."
"A lot of us are gonna be thinking about where to go once high school is over. I know that I'm gonna have to catch up on my schoolwork, though. I may have to take my mind off mahjong for now."
"Don't overwork yourself, Toki. I hate seeing you do that to yourself. You always do that. It's not good to always try so hard to help everybody."
"Do you hate me for it?" she asked her, looking up.
"It's not that, it's just...I want you to always take care of yourself. I know you're better and all, it's just...I'm always worried about you so much, you know?"
Toki smiled. "Didn't I tell you that if I win this office, you're going to be my deputy? So you also have some work to do...Ryuuka-chan."
"That's the first time you referred to me as that. You must really be feeling better."
"I feel so good I can make love to you as many times as I want."
"Not if I can help it. Don't say a word, Ms. Prime Minister." Ryuuka and Toki locked lips and consummated the love they had for each other once again. A few minutes later, an official went over to them.
"Uh, Ms. Onjouji, the press is ready for you," the official said.
Toki got up. "I'll see you in a bit, Toki," Ryuuka said to her, blushing as she walked back to the Logan Room.
"See you," she said. Toki turned to the official. "Sir, where do I go?"
"Over here," he replied, escorting her to a press room that was full. Toki was surprised at the number of cameras and press members from around the world. There were people from Japan, South Korea, Canada, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Germany and Australia.
This was her opportunity to work on her press conference skills. She took part in something like this before as part of her team at the Inter High, but this was different. This was all about her.
"Okay, since Ms. Onjouji is here, we will first have her say some words, and then we'll open the floor to questions," the moderator said next to Toki.
"I want to say that this is an honor for me to be here today," she said. "To be the Saimoe Prime Minister takes a lot of fortitude and courage, and I thank everyone I have faced during this long journey. It's the fruit of all the battles I have won during this long campaign. Thank you."
"Time for questions. Yes, the gentlemen in the back."
"Hiro Otonashi, Mainichi Shinbun. Ms. Onjouji, how does it feel to win this position? What are your feelings?"
"Well...I can't believe it," she said. "I never thought that what I did in that Arena would lift me up to such a high status. At the end of the day, I'm just a high school student that likes to play the game of mahjong, but to be given this honor and this task of representing everything great about Japan? it's a thrill."
"Second question, the man in the middle," said the moderator.
"Im Woo-Lee, Seoul Sinmun. There have been discussions in many political forums throughout cyberspace that the Saki Party has been buying this election and there have been allegations of corruption. You are seen as the Tammany Hall of the Saimoe world, according to many dissidents. Your thoughts?"
"I think they are unfounded," Toki said. "At the end of the day, it is up to the voters to determine who they want to win the office, and I just happen to be the beneficiary, as well as my party. I clear myself and my constituents of any wrongdoing or foul play, as it is the responsibility of the voting public."
"Third question, the young lady in the front," the moderator said.
"Annette Chung, Sydney Morning Herald. Ms. Onjouji, what are your plans as the next Saimoe Prime Minister?"
"I've discussed my plans as the new Prime Minister with my soon-to-be deputy Ryuuka Shimizudani, but I will go into detail with the supporters at the National Olympic Stadium. As of right now, I am keeping them under wraps."
"Fourth question, the man in the corner, over there," said the moderator, pointing.
"Geoff Russell, the Guardian. Ms. Onjouji, you seem to be in a very healthy state of mind. Have you fully recovered from your exhaustive state?"
"I actually feel so good that I could run into the night if I wanted to," Toki said. That drew plenty of laughter. "No, actually I do feel really fantastic. I'm not going to go into much detail, but I can tell you that when I play mahjong from now on, there will be no more side effects that could affect my health. I plan to be more careful next time, though, just to be safe."
"Fifth question, the man in the other corner, down there," the moderator said, pointing to a portly journalist.
"Robbie McAdoo, Globe and Mail. Ms. Onjouji, have you thought of participating in another tournament, perhaps an individual one, now that you have been discharged from the hospital and are ready to return home?"
"It's up to my coach, Ms. Masae Atago, to ask me if I am interested, but as of right now, I want to focus on catching up on my schoolwork because the entrance exams for university are coming up soon, and I want to be admitted to my first choice university," Toki replied.
"What school would that be?"
"Osaka Sangyo University."
"Sixth question, man in the front," said the moderator, pointing.
"Ronaldo Villarreal, El Mundo. Ms. Onjouji, do you have any regrets about your team not making the finals of the 71st Inter High School Championships?"
"No, I don't," Toki replied. "Everything happens for a reason. I tried my best to go through, and it turned out to be in vain, and I don't have any bad feelings about it. We did go that far in the tournament, so I can hang my hat on that. I think our school has the best mahjong club in all of Osaka, and I'm sure everyone is proud of us over there."
"Seventh question, the person in the middle, yes, you, go ahead and speak," the moderator said.
"Dennis Paige, the New York Times. Do you have any plans of coming to America and helping make the sport more popular in the States?"
"I've always wanted to visit America, but I've made it a priority to finish my education in Japan first before I decide to travel to another country," Toki said. "I understand that the American rules of the game differ from riichi mahjong, and what I would like to do, if that's the case, is to make our variety of the game popular over in the U.S.A."
"Eighth question, the lady in the back," said the moderator, as Toki drank some Diet Coke, her lips forming a three.
"Dieter Baumann, Der Spiegel. Has any man ever confessed to you, Ms. Onjouji?"
Toki blushed wildly. "Well, you see...I'm actually a lesbian, not a bi, and I attend a girls' school, so I don't get to meet guys that much," Onjouji said.
"Ninth question, the man in the far right," the moderator said.
"Roy woods, Los Angeles Times. What's your favorite song right now?"
"I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons," Toki said, blushing.
"Final question, the gentleman right here in front of us," said the moderator.
"Jun Okada, the Asahi Shimbun. What is the message you want to say to your supporters?"
"Thank you very much, everyone, for your support of One Vision, and the Saki Party. To my supporters at Senriyama and Osaka, I will return home very soon. I will do my best to represent this great nation because it is the highest honor someone like myself can receive."
"That concludes the press conference, thank you ladies and gentlemen," the moderator said. "You are to take photos of Ms. Onjouji for 10 minutes. Ms. Onjouji, will you be willing to pose with a few tiles?"
"With pleasure." Toki took a few mahjong tiles and posed with them, showing her emotionless, trademark expression. But she had to laugh because it looked so serious. Still, she kept at it until the people at the press room left. As Toki sighed, she went back to the Logan Room, where it was a literal mahjong party, full of food, drink, and special abilities galore. And of course, there was an audience. She took out her iPhone and took some photos, as well as the crowd. There was some security, so that the fans didn't get too close. Since she wasn't playing, Toki decided to play her favorite song on her iPhone.
"And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we've known
Will blow away with this new sun
And I'll kneel down
Wait for now
And I'll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
So break my step
You forgave and I won't forget
Know what we've seen
And him with less
Now in some way
Shake the excess
But I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
So I'll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies
But I'll kneel down
Wait for now
I'll kneel down
Know my ground
Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow
Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you..."
That was the type of music that made Toki want to spread her wings and fly over the skies of her city like a dove, a messenger of peace. She closed her eyes, but before she was about to fall into a trance, there was a hand on her shoulder. "Eh? Who...who is that?"
"Toki, are you daydreaming again?" Ryuuka asked her. The two of them sat down, Toki on Ryuuka's lap as usual.
"No, just listening to Mumford and Sons," she said, looking up at her lover. Ryuuka simply smiled. "Ryuuka. When I am with you, it's like I'm with my guardian angel."
"I know. Because I've always been taking care of you. Now that you're well, I wonder..."
"No, I don't want you to change the way you treat me. It's because...I'm fine with you treating me like you're my guardian angel. I don't what you to change, Ryuuka," she said, caressing the softness of her lover's face, wet with tears.
"Oh, Toki..." And the two of them shared another long kiss.
An official from the Tokyo American Club walked over to the two of them. "Ms. Onjouji?"
"Yes?" she asked.
"A couple of coaches are waiting for you and your entourage at the entrance."
"Do you want me to inform everyone?" Ryuuka asked.
"It's up to you, but they are waiting to take you and everyone else to the National Olympic Stadium."
"Thank you sir." And he left. Ryuuka got up to address the crowd. "All right, guys, we need to head over to Kokuritsu shortly, so finish up what you're doing and let's head over there. Thanks a lot for supporting Toki!"
"Yeah!" the players roared, finishing up their games as the entire entourage left for the buses. It was 9 p.m. Japan Standard Time, and Toki, accompanied by the Senriyama team, led the way. Because there was traffic, it would take them about an hour to head down to the National Stadium by coach. And along the way, a number of fans would take photos of the coach, which had the livery of the Saki Party on it and the face of the soon-to-be-elected Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, at the stadium, Miyuki Hashimoto was leading the crowd in the singing of one of the campaign songs for the Saki Party, "Futuristic Player."
"Towards the promised place, over the future...
Within the accelerating future
A miracle takes form
If I am holding your hand
How could I ever give up?
In my palm,
The countless wounds
From our battles
Come, let us go, the road awaits
Add one more move to the memories the world gave us
The overflowing sound becomes a rhythm and sets dreams abloom
I will fill the field with my song, a futuristic player
Our feelings overlap and reach towards the next smile
And, yes, a certain victory
Our intertwined fingers will give us strength
One day we'll reach it, over the future!"
The crowd was jumping, swaying their glowsticks, waving their flags and banners as the rest of the candidates from the race made their seats. Some were dancing to the music. Others were taking photos and tweeting. Still a few were electing to catch up on sleep. But all were having a good time. A video screen showed a helicopter shot of the coaches making their way to the stadium.
On the bus, Toki received a phone call. "Hello?"
"Hello, is this Ms. Onjouji?" said a voice on the other line.
"Yes, that's me."
"Wonderful. Good evening. My name is Mami Tomoe, the current Saimoe Prime Minister of Japan. I want to personally congratulate you on your election as my successor."
"You're that girl with the muskets, right?"
"Thank you very much, Mami. It's an honor to be given the task of representing everything wonderful about this country."
"Your role is mostly ceremonial. You do have to appear at a number of events related to moe and anime and all that. Otherwise, you are able to do your other pursuits without much interruption."
"At the Kohaku Uta Gassen I have to give you a schedule of events that you are required to attend as the Saimoe Prime Minister; that is after the inauguration takes place."
"Are you heading over to the National Stadium?"
"Yes, I am with my group."
"Excellent. So they moved the victory rally venue to Kokuritsu. Okay. I won't be able to watch the event live, but I will see it on the television. Once again, congratulations on your election, and I will see you at the Kohaku, Ms. Onjouji."
"Thank you, Mami." And Toki hung up.
"Who was that?" Ryuuka asked.
"Mami Tomoe, Madoka Magica Party leader and the current prime minister. She congratulated me on my victory."
"Nice," Izumi said.
"Man, I love this city more than ever," added Sera.
"A city that never sleeps," Hiroko remarked.
Kuro looked at Yuu with a confused expression. "Onee-chan, why are you wearing sunglasses on the coach?"
She gave her a thumbs-up. "Look sharp."
"She's been listening to too much ZZ Top," Ako, Shizuno and Arata said.
"Nice to see that our trip is reaching its climax," Saki said to Nodoka and the rest of the Kiyosumi team.
"Where did you get the tacos?" Mako asked Yuuki.
"A fan gave me a bag. It's still hot and fresh. Want one."
"Sure..." The others had a snack.
"Onee-chan," Saki asked Teru, "have you thought about what university you wanted to attend?"
"I'm going to return home next spring," she replied. The Shiraitodai girls were next to the Kiyosumi team.
"I want to attend Nagano University, Shinshu or Matsumoto. I also want to try to attend Toudai, but that's a bit of a longshot. Besides, I want to quit Tokyo and go back...with you."
"Um, I haven't thought about what universities I want to consider, onee-chan," Saki said, waving it off.
"You're just a freshman, so you have time to make up your mind."
"God, look at the traffic," Ako groaned, seeing the queue of cars heading towards Kokuritsu. "We should have taken the expressway."
"Aren't we on the expressway, though?"
"Yep...Man. Am I dumb."
Toki's phone rang again. "Hello?"
"Is this Toki? This is Mikoto Misaka."
"Oh, hi there. How are you?"
"Congratulations on your victory," she said at a viewing party at Tokiwadai Girls' Junior High School. "Everyone here in Academy City is here supporting you. Take care of yourself." Mikoto raised to the phone. "One, Two, Three!"
"WE LOVE YOU TOKI!" roared the crowd with a cheer.
"Thanks, everyone. I love you all." And Toki hung up.
"Now who was that?" Izumi asked.
"Everyone from Academy City," she said. "I'm getting a lot of congratulations from everyone. The race is not over for a bit, and already I'm being deluded with these messages."
"Is your inbox full?"
"No. But it will be if this keeps up."
"Then why don't you delete them?"
"I'll wait until the dust settles and then I will do it."
Finally, the coaches arrived at a special location in the stadium parking lot, outside of the crowd. There was a massive security barrier to allow the Saki Party to make their way to their seats without fans rushing in for an autograph.
"Excuse me," said an official for the Saimoe Election Administration Commission to the coach containing Toki. "We will have the rest of the party except Toki make their way to their seats. Ms. Onjouji, you will walk to the podium on our signal. Stay inside for now."
"Yes sir," she said.
"Toki, I'll wait for you at the stage," Ryuuka said as the two of them shared another kiss.
"Yes, Ryuuka," she whispered. "See you in a bit."
"We'll see you out there!" Saki said to Toki.
"All right." And so Toki sat inside the coach, collecting her emotions and realizing that she was on the cusp of officially winning the race. 11:05 p.m. came. The official walked back to the coach. "Ms. Onjouji, it's time for you to face the crowd."
"Give me a moment," she replied, calm as ever. Making a Sign of the Cross, she slowly left the coach and began her long walk to the stage. The roar soon hit a high crescendo at Kokuritsu, as the fans waved flags and chanted as a melody compiled by students at Senriyama's performing arts department played in the background. Waving to the crowd, smiling, Toki was full of energy as she counted her blessings.
"God," Toki said to herself, "you were right about telling me to go back home because I'm not tired of living just yet. Not when I have my whole life to live. Thank you for giving me my life back." She then entered the podium and made her speech...
A funny thing happened a while before I came down here. I met Saint Peter several hours ago, and I wanted in but he told me, "Go home, young lady, you've got a lot of work to do before I can get you in." And I asked, "What work?" He said, "Living." So here I am.
But that's why I have never felt so good to be alive. To get a second chance to live the life I love is an absolute thrill, and I have never had this much energy since I wasn't diagnosed with the condition that made me sick all of a sudden. But I have been discharged from the hospital several hours ago, and I am here speaking with you all.
I want to say that there has never been a more humbling moment in my life, not only humbled by the extent of what has happened tonight. Even if it had been the cliffhanger that we were all expecting because of the voter improprieties, it still would have ended the same. But, you know, to have the support of this great country, I consider the trust you have in me as something important, and I will promise you that I will do all I can to help justify the faith you have in me to lead.
Earlier this evening, I spoke with Kuro Matsumi outside St. Luke's International Hospital. Kuro fought a great race and is someone that I have tons and tons of respect for. Now she pledged her cooperation in the transition that will take place, so I returned my cooperation. I also talked with our current prime minister, the Hon. Mami Tomoe...oh nice. Well, actually, it wasn't the cliffhanger we were expecting, so it all worked out, didn't it?
Anyway, as I was saying, both of them were gracious in helping me with this transition to my new role as Saimoe Prime Minister. All across Japan, from Tokyo to Osaka, from Fukuoka to Nara, from Nagano to Kagoshima, there are many people that I owe a lot—A LOT—of thanks to. I want to thank the Saki Party National Committee, those wonderful fans, nerds, geeks and mahjong buffs that made the campaign run; and in every prefecture, city, town and village, to all the volunteers who have helped us get to where we are, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks.
To the love of my life, Ryuuka Shimizudani, I love you more than you can imagine and I look forward to a strong partnership with you as my Deputy Saimoe Prime Minister. To my close friends, Izumi Nijou, Hiroko Funakubo and Sera Eguchi, thanks for your companionship and solidarity. We're gone through so many battles as a team, but now, we must work together to get Japan moving again.
To the students at Senriyama Girls' High School in Osaka City, thank you for your support and friendship. I will return home soon and I look forward to graduating from my wonderful alma mater at the top of my league.
To those who of your whose vote I have not won...I may not have won your vote tonight but I believe that the bonds we share are strong, our voices are shared, and I need your help and support, and I will also be your Saimoe Prime Minister.
A good friend of the outgoing head of state, the Goddess, Madoka Kaname, visited me several hours ago. She told me of this news and at first, I didn't know what to say. I remembered telling Ryuuka, "This was only a joke." At the time, I was only kidding when I said that I would get the Saimoe Prime Minister position. I didn't think such a position would exist. But there does exist such a position.
And such a position comes a lot of responsibilities as the Saimoe Prime Minister. Even though my role is primarily ceremonial, my duty is to represent this country and be the representative of everything this nation has to offer. As you know, we are home to the finest women in the world, and I happen to be a shining example of the femininity, the pureness that makes Japan special.
I am unafraid of what will lie ahead and I don't believe, for a second, that Japan is afraid of what will lie ahead. Everyone, we are going to do what needs to be done together. We're going to get Japan going again by putting more people to work, more people to school, and more people to answering their callings in life.
The fighting spirit of the Japanese people is a sight to behold, and we went through so much...several regional conflicts, two global conflicts, recessions, and a transformation from a war-torn state into one of the rising economies of the world. We are among the world's largest and technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles and processed foods. And we rose into one of the giants through our fighting spirit and our never-say-die attitude. And it's time for us to move forward, onwards and upwards.
When I accepted your nomination for Saimoe Prime Minister...I asked for your prayers at that moment. Now I won't ask for them at this particular moment, but I will say that I would be very happy to have them in the days to come. For in 2013, the world will find out if Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which will be its first since the success that was the 1964 edition. As your leader, I plan to have mahjong parlors and clubs in every continent and every country, so that even five-year olds in Africa can learn how to riichi.
There will be other events that will come this year for Japan, but since my prediction skills in limited to mahjong, I cannot tell you what is to come, only to be ready for these events.
So, Japan, it is time to celebrate. Every city, every town, every village, every prefecture has made their decision. Their voice has been known, and I am the one that will lead this country. I plan to lead Japan with the belief that people should have the confidence in themselves to Saimoe now, and often.
Thank you, good night and take care of yourselves. God bless you all, and may God bless Japan.
11th Saimoe Prime Minister of Japan
National Olympic Stadium
November 3, 2012
And then it was done. It was over. The fans had left the stadium and now the Saki Party was ready to go their separate ways until the inauguration ceremony at the upcoming Kohaku Uta Gassen.
"Well Toki, I want to say one more time, congratulations on the victory," Shizuno said at Tokyo Station. "You were the one that deserved to be our next Prime Minister."
"You did an awesome job, Toki," Saki said.
"How are you going to get home?" asked Nodoka.
"I plan to take the bullet train back to Osaka with everyone," Toki replied. "According to Izumi, the headmaster told my team that if I win this thing, we get Saturday off to rest."
"Very Subara," Kirame said. "No doubt as to who is the queen of Saimoe this year."
"Closure at its finest," Koromo added.
"And to have it come from the Kansai is an even bigger honor," Yuu added.
"Are you still wearing your sunglasses, onee-chan?" asked Kuro.
"She hasn't taken them off," Ako added.
"Gutsy," Arata concluded.
"Well, I think we can all depart for our respective cities," said Mihoko.
"You've been a wonderful team, and this victory is for all of you. Good night, take care of yourselves, and I hope we meet each other soon. All of the best!" Toki said to a wonderful applause.
"Oneechan?" Saki asked Teru.
"I'll see you later, okay?"
"Next year, if they allow me in, I'm coming back home." The two of them shared one last hug.
"Keep in touch all right?"
"And there go the legendary Miyanaga sisters," Hiroko said to the team. "The best one-two combination in the game."
"The train's waiting," Izumi said. "Let's go." After hugs and handshakes all around, all the different mahjong teams went their separate ways. Ryuuka, Toki, Izumi, Sera and Hiroko took the bullet train heading for Osaka, which arrived 10 minutes later. The group was tired, but happy that the Futuristic Player was going to lead the country next year.
One last time, Toki rested on Ryuuka's lap, dreaming for a little bit of everything she did and what the future held for the two of them. It was going to be a challenge, being in this new position, but the hope was that Toki would be ready to answer the goal and unite the followers, the believers, of all things moe in the country she loved so much, and was a proud citizen of.
THE SAINT IS COMING