Chapter 9:

闘争 Strife

Head Games with Hyouka

Aside from the aggressive pounding of his fingers against the controller gripped in his hands, Yuji’s apartment was a calm environment. In his game, he was represented by a burly yakuza man. The boy’s angular eyes narrowed in concentration as he fought through the henchmen who got in his way, locked in battle.

It was early Saturday afternoon, the sun modestly peeking through the gap in the curtains, warming the spot where his cat Kaiya lay, napping.

Hyouka sat nearby at the table on the ground, her chin resting on her hand as she watched him with little excitement. Senseless violence hardly appealed to her, though glimpses of the game’s story were intriguing. She had arrived maybe half an hour ago, citing boredom as her reason for visiting.

“Mongrel, when is your birthday?”

Yuji momentarily glanced away from the screen, surprised by the random question.

“November fourth, why?” He turned back to his game, his fingers mashing the buttons.

“I found this magazine in your mail pile." Hyouka boredly replied, flipping the page. “So you’re a Scorpio.”

“It’s just junk mail!” He explained a little too quickly, though he knew all too well that it was his.

The girl cocked a brow at his rushed reaction. However, she carried on.

“Do you want me to read your horoscope?”

“Huh?” Yuji tensed from where he lay on the floor. ”D-Don’t tell me you actually believe in that stuff!” He brushed her off.

“No, not really.” Hyouka replied. ”I find it intriguing as an art form, I suppose.”

“Anyways....what does it say?” He asked tentatively.

Looking back down at the page of horoscopes, she scanned it until reaching his sign.

“Brimming with passion, Scorpios will experience deepening bonds this month. However, as the House of Death, be aware of a potential clash with someone close to you as Mars opposes Pluto. It is wise to tread lightly and orient yourself with details. You will thank yourself later.”

Yuji immediately bolted upright, startling Kaiya, who quickly scampered away.

“Are you kidding me?!” He had barely paused his game when he made a grab for the magazine, though Hyouka held it out of reach.

“Don’t tell me you actually believe in that stuff.” She mocked his earlier words, rolling her eyes.

“Sh-Shut up! Gimme that!” Leaning across the table, the boy managed to tug it out of her grip, wanting to see if she really had recited it correctly.

He was just as devastated as he read it himself and found it to be just as she had said, flopping against the ground.

“This sucks!” Yuji groaned, rubbing his temples. “Wait, when’s your birthday?!”

“March thirtieth.” She answered plainly.

“Pisces...” He murmured, looking for her horoscope. ”Ah, here it is!”

With that, he began reading it out loud.

“Imaginative and sensitive, Pisces will undergo a period of unconscious reflection. While Mercury is in its direct state, Jupiter and Neptune alike will be going retrograde. As the House of Mystery, relax and do not shy away from opportunities. By breaking your chains, you may welcome growth towards your idealistic self.”

The girl hummed softly, her expression enigmatic. Yuji, however, was less than content with this.

“Wait, why the hell do you get a good one?! This is bullshit!”

“Be quiet, mongrel. You’re just unlucky. Maybe you’re even cursed.” Hyouka said ominously.

“No! Don’t say that!” Yuji had paled, heart pounding in his chest at the suggestion.

He did not need this looming over his head all month.

“Hm? What’s going on here?” A velvety voice suddenly spoke.

Both Yuji and Hyouka looked towards a source- a young man who stood in the doorway of the living room.

Dressed in a neat suit, he was shockingly handsome, with soft yet structured features. He was on the taller side, with a lean, slender physique. His eyes were long-lashed and a familiar ochre color, confidently meeting Hyouka’s gaze. His glossy black hair had the same blue undertone as Yuji’s but was worn on the longer side, framing his face with the longest section reaching his shoulders. A small silver hoop earring adorned each ear.

Yuji scowled, huffing quietly.

“We’re just hanging out. Don’t get in our way.”

“Don’t be so rude, Yuji. It’d be impolite to ignore a guest.” The older boy replied, unfazed by his dismissive attitude, eyes softening as he turned back to the albino girl. “Oh my, that dress looks lovely on you!”

Hyouka was dressed in the pale blue lolita dress she had purchased the other day, with matching ribbons in her white hair.

“Thank you. I’m Hyouka Morikawa. Pleased to meet you.” She introduced herself, dipping her head slightly.

”It’s nice to meet you too- I'm Yuma Tanihara.” He bowed back, flashing a white smile at the girl.

“Are you brothers?” Hyouka glanced between the two. Though their appearances were a stark difference, the resemblance was too strong to suggest otherwise.

“Unfortunately, yeah.” Yuji grumbled, sitting back up. His attire was the opposite of Yuma’s, consisting of a t-shirt and shorts he had thrown on after having answered the door in his underwear. A thin black headband kept his hair out of his face, as he hadn't bothered to gel it back.

“So, you must be my brother’s classmate.” Yuma remarked, sitting down on the couch.

“That’s right. I’m his master as well.” She replied coolly, Yuji’s face flushing fifty shades of red.

“Sh-Shut up, Hyouka!” The boy flung the magazine in her direction. “He’ll get the w-wrong idea!”

“Oh?” An amused smile tugged at his brother’s lips, though he merely kept his focus on the girl, almost pouting. “That’s too bad, I would’ve loved to have you as one of my clients...”

“Clients?” Hyouka blinked.

“That’s right, Morikawa-san. I’m a host!” Yuma reached into the pocket of his suit, producing a small rectangular card and offering it to her. She cautiously took it.

Followed by a phone number, there was a charismatic headshot of Yuma, posed and smiling.

“Aoi?” The girl read the name, slightly confused. That wasn’t who he had introduced himself as, after all.

“That’s my professional name, think of it as a stage alias.” Yuma explained, leaning back against the sofa.

“I see, that makes sense.” Hyouka hummed, flipping the card over in her hands. The back displayed the logo and name of his supposed workplace, Club Asmodeus.

Yuji, however, seemed rather annoyed by this whole interaction.

“You’re so sleazy! She’s not even allowed inside a club, so don’t try to recruit her as one of your customers!”

Yuma arched a brow, irritation flashing in his eyes.

“I’m not being sleazy. All I’m doing is telling Morikawa-san about my job. She doesn’t seem to mind.” He glanced down at her.

“I don’t.” Hyouka calmly replied. “I’ve never met a host before, so I find it interesting to learn about.”

Grumbling to himself, Yuji rolled over and grabbed his controller, unpausing his game and returning to it again.

“Sadly, I have to get going.” His brother rose from the couch, dusting off and smoothing out his suit.

“It seems rather early for a club to open, doesn’t it?" Hyouka remarked, glancing at the clock on the wall. It was only about 4 PM.

“That’s right, but hosts have to get their hair and makeup done.” Yuma chuckled. “After that, there’s still things to do before we officially open for the evening.”

“Ah, I see.”

“It was nice meeting you, Morikawa-san.” He bowed again. “I look forward to getting to know you better next time we cross paths. Have a lovely day!”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, and try not to trash the place, Yuji.” Yuma added as an afterthought, a faint bitterness lacing his tone. “I hate coming home late to a mess. It’s gross.”

“I know!” Yuji protested, not even looking back at him. “Just get out already!”

His older brother scoffed quietly, before giving Hyouka a friendly smile and wave.

“Until next time!”


With that, Yuma grabbed his bag and left the apartment, leaving the pair alone. It was rather quiet now, aside from the sounds of Yuji’s game and button pressing.

“What a no-good playboy...” He muttered under his breath.

Hyouka rolled her eyes at this.

“I thought siblings were supposed to get along.”

“Well, you thought wrong! You’re an only child, so you don’t get it!” He snapped.

“My sister and I have a great relationship, actually.”

“Wait, what?” He glanced back at her. “You have a sister?!”

“No, I don’t. You’re surprisingly gullible." Hyouka retorted.

“Whatever...” Yuji grumbled as he faced the screen again, cursing himself for walking right into her trap.

The girl ignored him, deciding to return to reading that fortune telling magazine. If her suspicion that it was Yuji’s was correct, it seemed he was in too deep. She had never pegged him as the superstitious type either, which caught her even more off guard.

She had nearly finished reading when Yuji spoke up again, saving his progress and closing his game.

“Do you wanna play?”

“Play what?” Her brows knitted together.

“A video game, duh.”

The petite girl glanced away, shrugging her shoulders slightly.

“You've played some before...right?” He stared at her.

“Of course I have.” Hyouka insisted, ruby irises searing in annoyance. ”I like relaxing ones like Stardust Meadows and Critter Crossroads.”

“Really? You like games where you have to be nice to people?” Yuji asked a little too mockingly.

“I thought you knew your place, mongrel.” She glared up at him. “I’m more than willing to treat you like the stray mutt that you are.”

“Jeez, calm down.” Yuji huffed, holding a controller out to her. “C’mon, I’ll teach you how to play a different kinda game.”

“Fine.” She rolled her eyes, crawling forward and reluctantly accepting. “What are we playing?”

“Super Ultimate Smash Brawl.” Yuji selected the it from his library, booting it up on the TV.

“What a stupid name.”

“Shut up.” He scowled at her as he clicked through the menu , bringing them to the character selection screen. While Hyouka seemed to gravitate towards a queen, Yuji chose a knight.

After being dropped into a randomly generated stage, it was time to battle. The three second countdown began.

“Okay, so the basic controls are-” Yuji’s explanation was soon cut off by Hyouka’s queen suddenly jumping around and berating him with attacks, her thumbs jackhammering the buttons.

His eyes narrowed as he quickly began fighting back, with a much more solid grip on the controls.

”I was gonna teach you! What the hell?!”

“I’ve played something like this with my cousins before. I can figure it out on my own.” She replied, furiously testing each button and its function.

“Whatever, suit yourself.” The boy muttered, aware that his own experience with the game was miles above hers. When Hyouka ended up flinging her queen into the void, he decided to lighten up his strategy once she respawned.

As she managed to get a fairly high attack combination with little resistance from Yuji’s knight, she jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

“Ow! What gives?!”

“Don’t go easy on me as if I’m incompetent.” She glared up at him. ”I hate being patronized. If you’re more skilled at this game, then let me lose to you with dignity.”

Yuji stared back at her, a bit shocked by her outburst of conviction.

He understood where she was coming from though.

Early childhood memories of playing video games with his older brother came to mind. Being so young, he struggled to compete against Yuma’s more refined strategies. Yuji never seemed to be able to surpass him, until suddenly, the victories came like second nature.

At first, he was overjoyed.

However, during one of their gaming sessions, he happened to glance over at his older brother. Contrasting his own feverish button-mashing, Yuma wasn’t putting in nearly the same amount of effort.

In fact, he was barely trying to compete with him.

“Don’t just lose on purpose!” Yuji had yelled, hurling his controller across the room and stomping off.

After that, Yuji rarely found himself victorious against Yuma whenever they played together. The occasional times when he did win, however, felt special.

He couldn’t recall anything like that recently though.

Yuji shook his head, snapping out of it.

“Fine, have it your way!” He returned to the match with his same aggressive attacks from before.

Hyouka turned back to the screen, ready to take on his rampaging chevalier, large crimson eyes narrowed in focus. She fought back with the same level of energy.

In the end, the queen was vanquished by her knight, who stood triumphantly above her.

“Gotcha.” Yuji smirked.

Hyouka sighed, looking away as she tucked her hair behind her ear.

“...Let’s play again.”