Chapter 12:

Chapter 12 - Opening Game

Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム

“You’re joking, right?” Chinatsu asks. She asks that, but from her expression I can tell she knows it’s not a joke. She’s ready to burst out at any moment.Bookmark here

I don’t blame her. Not after what I just said.Bookmark here

“Moriyama wants to join, and you want to let her?”Bookmark here

Right? Even it sounds crazy to me. I can’t imagine myself from a few years ago thinking that even as a remote possibility.Bookmark here

“I’m serious here.”Bookmark here

“Calm down, Chinatsu,” Shinichi urges. “Let’s hear it out first. First of all, why?”Bookmark here

“Well, like I said before. Moriyama apparently has experience with Artfes. She knows how it works, how to get in. She even knows some people on the inside, which can really help us get in easier. And she has experience in parts we don’t, just like we have experience in parts she doesn’t. Maybe we can learn something.”Bookmark here

I try my best to avoid eye contact with Chinatsu. Moriyama is like me, a producer and project leader. But whereas I’m also a programmer, she’s also an artist – Chinatsu’s role. One of the things we could learn from her might just be in that field. But Chinatsu won’t have any of that.Bookmark here

“No. No, no, no. Absolutely not. I don’t care. Even if she were the daughter of Artfes’ owner himself, I am never going to be in a team with that person.”Bookmark here

“Okay, you’ve answered why for us,” Shinichi says, ignoring Chinatsu. “Now, what about her? Why did she suddenly say she wanted to join us?”Bookmark here

“I’m not really sure about that one…”Bookmark here

“You didn’t ask her?”Bookmark here

“No… We were just walking on campus and–”Bookmark here

“Why were you walking on campus with her?” Chinatsu says, her words pointed.Bookmark here

I turn to her, and I see her sitting there, leaning slightly forward, eyes aimed straight at me. Her eyes are burning. I get a feeling that if I answer unwisely, I’d regret it…Bookmark here

“I just happened to run into her while I was walking to class. She was lost, so I helped her get to her building.”Bookmark here

I turn my head and clear my throat. When I turn back, Chinatsu doesn’t seem pleased.Bookmark here

“Anyway, I don’t know. I haven’t asked her.”Bookmark here

“I think you should ask her first,” Shinichi says. “No offense, but we’re not exactly friends with her. We don’t know why she’d want to join us, and I think that’s important. She’s going to be working with us after all, if she joins.”Bookmark here

“She’s not joining,” Chinatsu stomps her feet.Bookmark here

If.”Bookmark here

I go out of the clubroom and sigh. I turn my head and there she is. Moriyama’s been waiting in the hallway as I was talking with the team. She’s looking out the window, playing with her phone. I approach her, and the footsteps make her notice me.Bookmark here

“Hey,” she calls out, putting her phone in her pocket.Bookmark here

“Hey.”Bookmark here

“So…?”Bookmark here

“So, uh, they want to know why you want to join the team.”Bookmark here

“Right, I guess that makes sense. They’d want to know. Hmm… Where should I start?”Bookmark here

Just then, her phone rings. She quickly pulls it out and looks at the screen. Her eyes widen in surprise, and she quickly picks it up. She gestures sorry to me as she goes towards the window. I stand there waiting in front of the clubroom. Not sure where to look, I start turning my head left and right. Wow, the walls are so interesting.Bookmark here

“Gotcha,” I hear her say before she turns off the call.Bookmark here

She walks towards me and bows, bringing her hands in front.Bookmark here

“Sorry, something urgent just came up for a class project. I need to get there as soon as possible.”Bookmark here

“Ah, it’s fine. We can just talk about this another day.”Bookmark here

“How about we meet up somewhere after we’re both done?”Bookmark here

“Somewhere?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, like a family restaurant? Maybe Saizeriya? There’s one near campus, right?”Bookmark here

Eh? Moriyama and I, eating together outside of campus? Cool it down, I tell myself. It’s perfectly normal for two adults of the opposite gender to meet together outside of campus and eat… right? But at the back of my mind, I hear myself saying could this be… a date? I cringe at my own conceitedness. Like heck it is.Bookmark here

“S-s-sure, I don’t mind.”Bookmark here

“Great! Meet you there!”Bookmark here

She turns around and runs as she waves at me. Before she goes too far, I call out after her.Bookmark here

“Wait!”Bookmark here

She stops and turns.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“…Just in case, you know, since we’ll be meeting up later, and like, we don’t know where each other is, and like, uh, what I mean is.” Pull it together. “Uh, can I have your LINE address? You know, so I can, uh, c-c-contact you, about the d–, I mean about when we meet up.”Bookmark here

“Oh sure! It’s moriyoko422.”Bookmark here

“A-alright, thanks! I’ll add you later.”Bookmark here

With that, she waves and continues running, disappearing behind a corner. After no more trace of her is left, I turn around and go back into the clubroom.Bookmark here

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I stare at our chat on my phone. I’d added her after I came back to the clubroom and sent her a message just to test. She replied immediately, and then I replied with a sticker. She replied back with another sticker. And then nothing.Bookmark here

I’m standing in front of the Saizeriya, hesitating on whether I should message her or not. I haven’t been waiting long. Maybe around 10 minutes? But so far there was no sign of her. Deciding not to, I open the selfie camera instead to check my hair. It’s pretty well-kempt, but there was a strand or two out of sorts. With that done, I reopened LINE and her chat. For the next few minutes, all I do is stare at the chat without doing anything.Bookmark here

Finally, I write a message, but I don’t send it. My finger reaches for the send button several times, but it doesn’t land. I decide to send it, but just as I did, someone calls out my name.Bookmark here

“Hoshino!”Bookmark here

Moriyama walks across the street and reaches me.Bookmark here

“Sorry I’m late. Have you been waiting long?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I just got here.”Bookmark here

“Shall we go then?”Bookmark here

We go up the stairs to the second-floor restaurant. Opening the sliding door, we were greeted with the usual irasshaimase and sat at a table. We both ordered a serving of paella rice along with drinks from the drink bar. After the waiter leaves, Moriyama stretches her arms.Bookmark here

Otsukaresama,” I say to her after what seems to have been a hard day of work.Bookmark here

“Thanks.”Bookmark here

“Finished your project?”Bookmark here

“Yep! It was a lot of work though.”Bookmark here

A few moments of silence follow. Moriyama is playing on her phone, and with nothing else to do, I do the same. The waiter finally arrives with the food and places our meals on the table. I go to the drink bar to fetch both of our drinks. When I get back, Moriyama’s taking a picture of her paella rice.Bookmark here

Itadakimasu!” With that, we dive into our meals.Bookmark here

“So…”Bookmark here

“Hm?” Moriyama’s stuffing paella rice into her mouth.Bookmark here

“Should we talk after we eat, or while we eat, or…”Bookmark here

“Oh, right, we came to do that, right. Let’s talk while we eat.”Bookmark here

“Okay, so?”Bookmark here

“Why I want to join?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

She puts down her spoon and goes into a thinking pose, resting her cheek on her hand as she looks up at nowhere in particular.Bookmark here

“I’ve never had a team, you know.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” She’s had numerous teams. I mean, they kept changing, but that was still a team.Bookmark here

“Not literally. Of course, I did have a bunch of teams that I went into competitions with. But for some reason, they never stuck together, you know? I never had my very own team. A group of people that I could always rely on, that I could lean on to.”Bookmark here

“None of those teams from before? At all?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. We always split after a few competitions. Nobody’s really stuck with me since my first time joining those competitions. But that’s the complete opposite of you. You’ve been with this team since the beginning, and you’ve stuck together. I always thought, ‘Ah, how nice that would be.’”Bookmark here

“So, that’s your reason?”Bookmark here

She nods. “And of course, I want to help you get into Artfes. I want to help you reach that dream of yours.”Bookmark here

“While I appreciate that, I can’t help but ask why you want to help me that much.”Bookmark here

“Hmm…” She goes into thinking mode again. “I’m not so sure of it myself, but maybe because that’s kind of inspiring? Like, how you’re chasing your dreams right now.”Bookmark here

“Are you not doing the same?”Bookmark here

“What do you think?” She smiles.Bookmark here

“I thought you were doing the same, whatever that dream may be.”Bookmark here

“Not true,” she says as she grabs a spoonful of rice. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”Bookmark here

Another moment of silence. But it’s not as awkward as the one before it. Instead, I’m thinking about a lot of things. A lot of people, even Moriyama, seem to not know what they’re doing with themselves. Is that just how people at our age are?Bookmark here

“When I saw how close you guys were, and how you were able to do the things you wanted to do while being in a group, I thought maybe I could experience that too. I joined some clubs on campus, but they never really clicked. Maybe because I didn’t actually enjoy it.”Bookmark here

She chuckles.Bookmark here

“With my ‘teams’, I was having fun doing what I wanted but I felt alone. Then with those clubs, I didn’t feel alone, but I wasn’t having fun. I sort of just exchanged one part for another. So, I want to experience both. See how it could be. And it seems like your team’s really fun. They look like nice people.”Bookmark here

“I guess the guys do look like nice people.”Bookmark here

“And Chinatsu-san too.”Bookmark here

“Really?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“I’m honestly surprised you could say that after what happened.”Bookmark here

“I don’t fully understand why she doesn’t like me that much, but I guess to a certain extent it’s natural to hate a rival, isn’t it?”Bookmark here

“That’s true…”Bookmark here

“You hated me too, didn’t you?” She smirks.Bookmark here

“Kind of.” I hated her, yes. But mixed with that hatred was curiosity and interest. Somehow, the more she beat me and the more unreachable she seemed, the more I became pulled towards her.Bookmark here

“Well, that’s my reason.”Bookmark here

“Got it. I’ll go talk about it with the others tomorrow. I’ll message you once we’ve made a decision.”Bookmark here

“Thanks. But it’s alright if they don’t want me. I understand. And I’ll still help you with Artfes however I can.”Bookmark here

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“So, that’s her reason.” I’m standing in front of the team like I usually do, with the whiteboard behind me.Bookmark here

I explained Moriyama’s reason for joining – that she wanted to help us because she felt inspired by how hard we work, and also because she wants to try experiencing what a team like ours is like. I didn’t tell them exactly how Moriyama felt. It felt like she was pouring her heart out when she said all those things, as if those things were things she’d kept in her heart for a long time and did not disclose easily. Having heard that, everyone’s thinking hard on the explanation I just gave.Bookmark here

Everyone, except Chinatsu. She’s sitting in her chair, her face as solid as stone, her expression unchanging just like her opinion – that Moriyama has no place in this team.Bookmark here

Mitsuo seems fine with it, but I doubt he’ll be the first one to say it. That’s not the type of guy he is. He just goes with the flow, and as much as possible tries not to rattle the nest. Miura probably agrees too, but he’s probably mindful of his position, especially since Chinatsu obviously doesn’t want Moriyama in. Compared to everyone else, he’s new here, and he knows he hasn’t contributed anything much yet. With that position, he wouldn’t feel he had the right to say his thoughts on something so controversial.Bookmark here

So, only Shinichi was left. Shinichi’s serious and sees things rationally and logically. He won’t agree if there’s no benefit for us. And out of everyone, he’s the one that’s still thinking. His eyes aren’t focused on anywhere in particular, whereas everyone’s gazes are floating around the room or to the faces of the other members. Excluding Chinatsu, of course.Bookmark here

Shinichi nods to himself, and everyone’s attention goes to him. He doesn’t move his eyes, but he nods once again, as if confirming whatever he was thinking of. Finally, he looks up.Bookmark here

“I think we should accept her.”Bookmark here

“Huuuh?!”Bookmark here

Chinatsu jumps out of her seat as she shouts her disbelief. Her eyes are filled with rage.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?”Bookmark here

“Why should we even consider accepting her? What reason could you possibly have, huh?! Why would we need her?”Bookmark here

“We don’t need her,” he calmly replies. “But it wouldn’t hurt either. If we want to enter Artfes, considering that she has experience, she could be a great asset for us. She would know the ins and outs of it, as well as having insight into the process of application. Furthermore, she herself is a skilled person. That’s obvious from the fact that she kept defeating us, year after year.”Bookmark here

This is Shinichi’s true self. Cold, logical…Bookmark here

“Also, you mentioned that you didn’t know how to do the visual effects we wanted, right? I think she has the skillset to cover for that.”Bookmark here

And tactless.Bookmark here

Chinatsu’s turning redder than the pink clothes she’s wearing.Bookmark here

“What? Did I say anything untrue?”Bookmark here

“Well, you didn’t.” I have to act before this gets worse. “But your wording was…”Bookmark here

I turn to Chinatsu.Bookmark here

“That’s not what he meant, Chin–”Bookmark here

“Shut it, Ken-chan.”Bookmark here

Her attention was fully on Shinichi.Bookmark here

“Are you saying I’m not good enough for Silverstorm?”Bookmark here

“You’re imagining things. I said no such thing.”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah? Then what did you mean?”Bookmark here

“You’re still our primary artist. But there are some areas in your field that you aren’t very good at yet. And from what I’ve seen in her games, she seems to be good at those.”Bookmark here

“Since I’m the artist, I’ll handle it. Everything.”Bookmark here

“Wouldn’t it be easier if there were two? And perhaps you could even learn something from her.”Bookmark here

“Why would I want to learn from her?!”Bookmark here

“That’s enough.” I stand in between them. “Shinichi was just expressing his opinion, Chinatsu. And he’s not saying she’d be your replacement. She’d just help out. You’re still Silverstorm’s first and primary artist. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”Bookmark here

She backs off.Bookmark here

“Now, how about we get back to our discussion?”Bookmark here

Chinatsu turns around and sits back down. Shinichi turns his attention to the front, along with everybody else.Bookmark here

“What Shinichi said was true. Especially the part about Artfes. We have no experience in this kind of thing.” I continue, watching Chinatsu’s expression as I talk. “So, let’s just vote.”Bookmark here

“I don’t think we need her. We can get by on our own.” Chinatsu says.Bookmark here

“Maybe we could. But I want to make the best game possible. I’m really serious about Artfes, and I want us to do our best. If we have someone who understands Artfes, that’s one load off our shoulders. We could focus more on the game. We’ve been making games for years. I don’t want to let any of that go to waste.”Bookmark here

Silence.Bookmark here

“Alright, let’s vote on it. Those who agree to let her join, please rain your hands.”Bookmark here

Shinichi, Mitsuo, and Miura all raise their hands. I keep my hands to my side, and I look at Chinatsu. She’s looking down, and her hands are crossed.Bookmark here

“You really want to make it to Artfes huh, Ken-chan?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” I replied firmly.Bookmark here

“There’s no other reason for letting her in except to just help us get to Artfes right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. You’re our artist, and that won’t change.”Bookmark here

Slowly, she raises her hand until finally, the votes are complete. I raise my own hand and bid everyone lower their hands.Bookmark here

“Alright, that settles it.”Bookmark here

I go out to bring Moriyama in, but before that I walk towards Chinatsu. Her eyes are watery, and she looks up at me as I come. Her eyes are saying she’s not sure why I’m headed towards. I lean down to her ear.Bookmark here

“Thanks, Chinatsu.”Bookmark here

With that, I go out of the room and invite Moriyama in.Bookmark here

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“I hope we’ll be able to work together well,” Moriyama says. She’s bowing at each one of us. Even towards Chinatsu, who doesn’t respond and instead stares at her with a cold, stone-faced expression.Bookmark here

“Welcome. So, let’s get straight to the point. What do you know about Artfes?”Bookmark here

“Ah, sure. Got any markers?”Bookmark here

I hand her the black and blue markers. She turns around and starts drawing on the whiteboard. As the image starts to form in front of us, it looks like a diagram of steps, with each process connected to the next by an arrow.Bookmark here

“Alright, so there are several steps we have to go through,” she begins. “First, there’s of course registration. This is just filling out forms. We can do this one online. However, we need to submit a proposal.”Bookmark here

“Like an actual document?” I ask.Bookmark here

“Yes. They provide the template on the website. We have to fill in what it is that we want to showcase there. Name, type, description. But we also have to show them. In this case, we have to show them our game.”Bookmark here

“Wait, what if it’s not finished yet?” Mitsuo asks. “We’re going to take some time making this one, right?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry. The registration is still three weeks away. We don’t need the full game. We just need a presentable prototype. We either send the prototype itself or make a video, sort of like a trailer. But I think we’d have a better chance if it was the actual game prototype.”Bookmark here

She moves her fingers, now pointing at the second step.Bookmark here

“After waiting for their reply, we should get an email notifying us if we’re accepted or not. If we are, then we get to planning for our actual booth. We have to explain how our booth is going to be like and what equipment we need. Again, this is mostly done online.Bookmark here

“After that, there’ll be the Technical Meeting. This is where we actually have to go to a specified location. There, they’ll explain about the event. The rundown, the locations, contact information, emergency procedures, and a lot of other stuff. Everyone who’s been accepted will be there.Bookmark here

“A week before the event begins, they usually open the doors of the convention hall for us to start setting up our booths. So, we can go in at this time and start setting it up. After that, it’s just waiting for it to open.”Bookmark here

She turns to us and smiles.Bookmark here

“Any questions?”Bookmark here

As nobody’s answering, I stand up.Bookmark here

“Alright, then. We know what to do. We have three weeks, right?”Bookmark here

“Yep.”Bookmark here

“Then, let’s get to work. Let’s make a prototype that’ll sweep them off their feet.”Bookmark here

With that, everyone pumps their fists in the air and shout out a battle cry.Bookmark here

Our battle was just beginning.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.