Chapter 5:


Hello School;

I spend the first two hours hanging around the classroom to make sure things run smoothly. The energy in the class is almost tangible, the waiters and waitresses all beaming while acting out their cliché roles. Even Suzaku is so into it that it feels out of place. Customers trickle in slowly, usually in groups of four or five. When it becomes clear that everything is under control, I decide to take a walk around the festival grounds.

The hallways are crowded and dense with excitement. I don’t get a clear view into all of the rooms, but I can make out where most of the classic events are. For example, the gym has been transformed into a haunted house, which is operated about as professionally as one would expect from a high school class. Everybody seems to enjoy it regardless, and they even manage to spook me once.

The hallway is much busier when I leave the gym, so I wander out into one of the courtyards. It seems to be split straight down the middle, with the one side containing some sort of obstacle course and the other a bunch of food stalls. It’s not a bad combination, as I fall for the convenient placement by buying snacks at the food stalls and then proceed to watch the action at the obstacle course.

The course gets different approaches, some take it easy, while others fly through the course as if the obstacles weren’t there. Some students also come in groups and try to complete the course side-by-side, not caring about competition. I watch for a good while, and in that time, one of the members of the athletic club makes quick work of the previous course record. The announcer, a girl who’s part of the student council, adds that the new record holder is also into rock-climbing and that his time is going to be near-impossible to beat. Everyone present is pretty excited by this, and I get caught up in it as well.

About a dozen attempts later, most people seem to assume that the announcer was correct, and the interest soon dies down a bit. I decide to take a stroll through the school grounds and visit some of the stalls. Luckily, my parents gave me enough money to spend today.

I should probably buy them each a gift to show my appreciation.

I find a stall that sells some small homemade trinkets like keychains and bookmarks, each with their own colour and pattern. I consider buying a bookmark for my father, but decide against it on the merit that he already owns too many of them to begin with.

I continue browsing. I don’t normally enjoy a leisurely pace when I’ve got an objective in mind, but the environment at the festival seems to affect me enough to make me stop caring about that. The students that move around by themselves smile and laugh just as much as those who are part of a group. It feels like a totally different environment from the normal school life, and it puts my mind at ease.

Many stalls later, I still haven’t found anything that might be a suitable gift for my mother. Not surprising, since I didn’t expect any of the stalls in a high school cultural festival to sell something related to baking or interior design. My last hope is the culinary club, so I set out to try and find out where they are situated.

I make my way around to the rear side of the school building, where there are far more decorations surrounding the grounds, rather than the stalls each being decorated individually. This must be where the festival games are hosted. A couple of classes chose to join efforts to set up an area with a lot of simple games that fit the festival feel. It’s no surprise that it is a popular zone today.

I enter the school building, asking the first person I see whether they know where the culinary club is set up. She’s unsure, but she directs me down the hallway, so it seems like I’m still on the right path.

Sure enough, I reach the home economics room, and it looks like the culinary club is busy inside. They seem to be making a bunch of different foods, apparently to supply some of the stalls. The only thing they seem to publicly offer is a small table where you can ask to have a batch of cupcakes decorated to your request. It looks good, but it doesn’t make for a practical gift at all.

Luckily, the literature club room is just down the hall, so I decide to check it out. I end up buying an anthology for my father and a fountain pen for myself. I scout about inside the school building, but I don’t find anything that could work as a gift for my mother. I make my way outside again, and eventually return to the trinket stall that I visited before, buying a decorated keychain for her.


It’s almost time for Suzaku and the others to finish their shift. I head back inside, and for interest’s sake decide to check in on the Shogi and Chess Club room. Unsurprisingly, it is deserted. Although most clubs participate in the festival, there’s not really much that the Shogi and Chess Club can offer at an event like this. As I leave the class, I hear a rowdy laugh from the staircase.

Well, I guess Misu is finished with his shift, which means Saori and Suzaku are as well.

“Hey Misu!” I shout as I start jogging towards them. “Wait up you guys.”

“Aya! Come join the party, man, we’re gonna go celebrate the end of our shift.”

“Where do you guys wanna go? I have a pretty good idea of where most of the stalls are.”

“Can we get something to eat first?” Saori asks. “I’m starving after all of that work.”

“Sure, there are a bunch of food stalls right in the courtyard, so we might as well start there.”

After getting some takoyaki and sodas, we decide to explore the festival grounds together. We walk around in a much more random fashion than I did earlier today, but we still manage to visit a bunch of the stalls that I wanted to show them. Finally, we make our way back to the courtyard and take a seat across from the now-deserted obstacle course.

“Hey Ayato, are there any decent festival games?” Suzuka asks.

“Well, I saw a couple of them at the back of the school, but I didn’t really go check them out.”

“So, let’s go unleash our inner gamers! I bet we can win some sweet prizes while we’re at it.”

“Uh, I don’t think video game skills translate to festival game skills,” I reply.

“Nonsense! Almost all games work the same - gain experience, experiment to find some pattern or weakness, and exploit it until you win.”

Suzuka is acting uncharacteristically enthusiastic. He’s also staring off into the distance. I follow his gaze and notice that he’s looking at the sun, which is close to setting. Then it hits me - the sunset, Misu’s plan to confess to Saori, and Suzaku’s promise to help Misu out. I guess I should do my part in helping him out as well.

“I think that’s a bit oversimplified, but you have a point. Let’s go show’em what we’re made of.”

“Wow Suzaku,” Saori speaks up, “I’ve never heard you sound so passionate about something before. What happened to not sharing what you like with everyone?”

“Tonight is special, ok?”

Misu seems to slightly blush at this statement. He’s been rather quiet, so I guess he’s a bit nervous about tonight. I choose to break the silence by agreeing with Suzaku.

“That’s true, this festival only happens once a year, so we should probably get going if we want to make the most of it.”

“Hang on,” Saori interjects, “I don’t remember me or Misu agreeing to go play festival games. Where’s the democracy?”

“Democracy would have led to a standstill if both of you voted against going, anyway,” I counter. “Why don’t we split up for now, then meet up later at the bonfire?”

“Sure,” Misu finally speaks up, “I wanna go see what stalls we missed. Do you want to join me, Ri?”

“Yeah, that sounds better than playing some games with these nerds,” Saori says with a playful smirk.

“Says the manga-lover,” Suzaku replies with a roll of his eyes.

“Whatever,” Saori laughs. “Let’s go, Misu. We’ll see you guys later.”

As we all greet each other, I put my hand on Misu’s shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. He seems to get the message of reassurance. I look at the sky again and notice that the sun is now practically touching the horizon.

“So,” Suzaku says after a couple of steps, “do you think she’s gonna say yes?”

I’ve been wondering the same thing recently.

“Yeah, I think she likes him as well. Since my talk with Misu, I’ve noticed her stealing glances at him during classes, and they hang out way more than most casual friends do.”

“They’ve been friends since primary school, right? The more I think about it, the more I think they’d make a great couple. They were even neighbours until last year. Imagine it, Ayato, we might witness the classic girl-next-door scenario get a happy ending.”

“Haha, I hope so.”

As I say it, I realise that I actually mean it this time. Today has been very different from our usual days, after all, and it’s been really great so far. Maybe this change will be good.

Our quest to conquer the festival games begins. We seem to be playing each of them in order, starting from the first one to our left. Suzaku takes them all rather seriously. At the gun-shooting game, he designates a large plushie near the back as our target. I don’t recognise the character, and I’m not sure why he chose it as the target other than the fact that it is larger than the other prizes.

“I won’t need all five of my shots to win, so you can go first.”

Suzaku smiles as he gestures for me to step up to the counter to take my shot.

“It seems like you’re getting more and more confident with each game,” I say as I aim.

“This time, I have a reason to be confident. I’ve spent some time playing those first-person shooter games at the arcade. I even held fifth place on the scoreboard of one of them for a while.”

My first shot misses to the right of the target.

“Again,” I answer, “I’m not sure that translates to this game.”

“You just watch. My training will pay off!”

For the remainder of the game, my shots seem to miss by more and more each time, while Suzaku’s come consistently close. He still makes up excuses, like how his gun’s barrel is malformed, to try and cover his extreme confidence. On his last shot, though, he knocks over the target. The guy in charge of the game cheers while handing the plushie over to Suzaku. I giggle silently at the sight of Suzaku enthusiastically celebrating the fact that he just won a large plushie.

“Could it be that you also have someone that you want to confess to by giving them that plushie?”

“Pfftt,” Suzaku snickers, “if only I did.”

“So what are you going to do with it now?”

“I’ll keep it, of course.”


“What? You don’t think a guy is allowed to have a plushie of an anime character? Have you even seen this show?”

“I haven’t. And I don’t think that at all, it’s just a bit surprising coming from the guy who’s normally pretty reserved about his interests.”

Suzaku looks up at the darkening sky before he answers.

“Yeah, like I said before, today feels special - like I don’t have to care about others judging me or something.”

I pause for a second before I answer.

“I get what you mean. The atmosphere is… different.”

“Yeah, perfect for a confession. I wonder if Misu’s made his move yet.”

“Quit worrying about it, the man’s got enough pressure on him as is.”

“I’m just excited, I’m gonna tease him relentlessly about this.”

“Your impure intentions are showing,” I laugh. “Come on, let’s move on to the next game.”

We eventually get through all of the games, even though I sit out the last few since I didn’t budget for it like Suzaku apparently has. Before we head on over to the bonfire, Suzaku asks to make a detour to the classroom so that we can drop off all of the prizes we won from the games.


By the time we arrive at the field, the bonfire is already burning strong, filling the dark area with warm light and the unmistakable smell of a wood fire. The festival attendees are scattered around the field, all facing the fire that’s currently breathing life into the ultramarine sky. It’s almost as if the flames embody the whole festival’s excitement, so it’s fitting that this is the closing act.

Almost as if in response to my thought, a voice erupts over the announcement system, bringing the official closing statement of this year’s festival. The applause and cheers of everyone present blend with the crackling of the growing bonfire.

I look around at the rest of the students. There are a few large groups and quite a number of couples gathered, among which I spot Misu and Saori… together. I nudge Suzaku to get his attention. He looks somewhat annoyed, as if I interrupted something important. I gesture in Misu and Saori’s direction, who are far enough away that I doubt they have noticed us. In fact, it doesn’t seem like they would notice much going on around them, since they are holding hands and staring into the fire. Suzaku reacts with a sophisticated applause, like you’d see at the end of an opera or theatre performance.

This festival has had far more positive outcomes than I expected. Throughout the preparations, I thought on more than one occasion that it all seemed like a waste of effort. But after experiencing today, I thoroughly accept that I was wrong. I have never been involved with the inner workings of a school festival before, so I guess that made the difference. We have all settled for staring into the pulsating flames, which brings me to a state of clear-mindedness.

Suddenly, my eyes are attacked by the orange flames turning light blue in an instant. I stagger for a second, and then the colour returns to normal. I look at Suzaku, but he just has the same look on his face as before.

“Dude, what the hell was that?”

He visibly flinches at my words and then answers me with a frown.

“What was what?”

I stammer for a second.

“The damn fire turned blue!”

“No it didn’t. Just look.”

“No, I know it’s not blue now, it just went blue all of a sudden and then back to normal!”

“Calm down, man. I’ve been watching it this whole time, nothing like that happened. Are you sure someone didn’t shine a blue light in your face or something?”

What? You really didn’t see that? How? The entire field was bathed in blue for a second.

I walk over to a student who was standing behind me and ask her whether she just saw the fire change colours.

“Huh? Change colours?” she replies, clearly caught off-guard. “I didn’t see anything like that.”

“And you’re sure you’ve had your eyes on the flames this whole time?”

She simply nods.

I turn back to face the fire. The flames are orange, as they should be. But I saw them turn blue.

Not again…