Anyhow, a round of applause to Narane for the immaculate translation and MadTix for the excellent edit! This series will also have a compilation in the near future, so please look forward to it!
Today's a sunny and bright Sunday.
Okay, sunny or not, the weather wouldn't matter a bit to an 'indoors-type' guy like me. But, if I were to take a quick glance out the window whenever, I'd prefer if there was a ray of sunlight than a dark, cloudy mess. Humans are photosynthetic creatures, didn't you know?
The problem was that I wasn't particularly feeling great, in spite of the amazing weather.
I wasn't feeling down because I was stuck in my room on a beautiful weekend, being watched by my dad as I study-- ...oh, nevermind, that actually is a good reason to be down-- but it was mostly due to the events of yesterday.
Yes, that incident that quickly went downhill.
* * *
""It's the Otaku Word Chain!"" said Yeonji and Yerin in unison, who then resumed exchanging their menacing glares.
"Hah! To choose the Otaku Word Chain, you appear to be quite confident! But I will soon show you that your confidence was mere recklessness!"
"Hmph, just don't be asking me later if we can compete with something else! So, are you bringing those two behind you to make a team of three?" asked Yeonji, pointing at the maid and the butler.
Yerin nodded, "That is correct. But there are only two of you; if you ask nicely, I may scale down my team!"
"Heh! Don't bother, we already have three! We now have three against three playing. Any objections?"
When did we have three people?! Yeonji, you're not thinking about forcing the nurse into this game, are you?
Yeonji and Yerin began discussing the conditions and rules of the game, unimpeded due to silence from everyone else. There wasn't a clean entry for interjections when two of the world's greatest egoists were butting their heads together here.
"The only rule in effect will be the 'unique subject pool' rule! It's fine this way, right?"
"Quite the standard play. Yes, I will accept-- The contest would end too quickly if we use rules that are too complex for lowly peasants, after all!"
I'm surprised you two haven't damaged your eyes yet from glaring at each other all day...
Yeonji broke out of her duel of glares. "Hm. I think we're done setting the rules. How about we start talking about the stakes of this match?"
"Oh, it isn't much; once I win the match, you put an end to your silly little 'Clotaku Club' and take leave from the infirmary. Then our Moe Research Club will rightfully take place."
Her bet was as predicted. Yeonji nodded and agreed, "Yeah, I'll accept. And what if you lose?"
"Hah, surely that will never happen! It is utterly unnecessary to prepare for something that won't happen in the future."
"Nyuuuuu-t!" scowled Yeonji, gritting her teeth. Yerin grinned mischievously as she watched Yeonji wallow in anguish.
"Hmm... If you really need a false hope to grip onto, I will give you one," said Yerin, brushing her golden hair aside, "In the off chance that we lose, we will do anything that you ask of us. So, tell me your conditions."
"Anything we want, huh...?" repeated Yeonji, a dark, evil aura quickly forming around her. Her voice became unnervingly sinister, befitting a demonic echo from the depths of hell. "Is that so... If we win, how about we strip you down and tie you to the school's front gate?"
"Hah, that's fine by-... What?!"
Yeonji continued her maddened babbling, "Strip you down to the last thread of your clothes... Tied down under a banner that says '100 Won per turn'... Ka-haha, you dirty pig!"
"Stop it! What kind of twisted things are you imagining right now?! What do you mean by '100 won per turn'?!"
"Loose like a used-up rag... All sticky... Dripping..."
"What are you saying?! What is with those uncomfortable descriptions?! Stop it, stop it right now!"
"Well... Okay, I think that'll do for our victory condition."
"I will not accept! Think of something else! Anything else! You could get rid of MoeRe when you win!"
"What?! That kind of crap won't satisfy my newfound inner sadist!"
"H-how can you refer to our MoeRe as 'that kind of crap'?!" cried Yerin, jolting in surprise.
It seemed that Yeonji had discovered something dangerous and twisted within herself. "Yeah... If we win, you should wear a sign that says 'I am an Otaku. I await the nation's judgment' and go around the school with it! Of course, this is while you're still naked."
"Why do you keep going back to that?!"
"And once you're done with that, go straight to the gallows."
"After all that humiliation, I'll be executed?! How can you be so insensitive of human life?! Shut up!"
"Kyaaaa-! S-stop laughing like that! You're weird! ...H-hey you, that peasant over there! Do something about this rabid hamster!"
"...Uh, I'm kind of tied up to a chair over here."
Chaos ensued. After a whole lot of things happening in between then and now, it was decided that the winner of the Otaku Word Chain game gets to scrap the loser's club.
* * *
--And that's the full story of what happened yesterday. Now it's easier to understand why I'm feeling so down, right?
In a blink of an eye, I'd been assaulted and kidnapped in the middle of a nice day, and now, all the effort I've poured into starting the Clotaku Club was about to go to waste. Yeonji already mentioned before that 'something like this will happen on its own', but I couldn't get rid of the nagging feeling that this chain of events was started entirely by me.
When we lose the competition tomorrow, will it really be the end of Clotaku Club?
I wanted to believe that everything that had happened so far was a great prank, but Yeonji and Yerin looked like they were very far from joking around. They even signed a binding contract that turned this game into a legal obligation, so there was no way to back out of it now.
It was almost as if our club was a Hardcore Mode character-- or, more appropriately, a Hardcore Club, I guess?
They took the contract one step further and added a silly clause that prevented either side from making another club. There could only be one.
Yeonji aside, what made Yerin think it was a good idea to accept this silly duel? Compared to the week-old Clotaku Club, her MoeRe seems to have a history that goes back to her middle school years. It was obvious how attached she is to her club, but Yerin accepted Yeonji's declaration of war without a moment's hesitation.
Seriously, what the hell is everyone thinking?
I shook my head. It didn't matter if I understood them or not, the duel was going to happen regardless. There was no need to worry my little head over it.
I suppose I should still try my best in the match tomorrow. However, whether we win or lose, if it happens, then it happens. I had no will or reason to be so eager about putting an end to Yerin's club, so I wasn't going to waste my time practicing for the match.
...If practicing would help me pay back all the trouble Yeonji caused in my life recently, then maybe I would.
"...I guess I'll study." I diverted my train of thought. There were probably better things to worry about in my life, especially on a nice Sunday morning.
In times like these, it's best to fill my head with other thoughts. Filling up my head with memorization-heavy courses should clear my head. Korean history or modern history should do nicely.
You might think, "Why is this guy suddenly thinking about studying?" But don't forget that I'm still a student at Eunsung. It might seem that all I really do in school is hang around with Yeonji, but I've always been studying to maintain a decent grade.
When do you ever see anime characters study, other than in one or two episodes? They're all studying when they're not on screen, of course; even if some high school girls who do nothing but eat cake all day get admitted into Ivy League universities, it wouldn't be a strange thing in the context of anime.
Wait, they were studying when off screen?! What a convenient excuse! My life would be so much simpler that way, if I could go to sleep and know everything when I wake up again.
No big surprise that there's a saying that girls in anime never go to washrooms, or pick their nose, or whatever else. They're humans, too, so they'd do everything they need to do as human beings when they're off screen. Yeonji, for example, spends most of her time having drinks from the club's fridge, so she takes very frequent trips to the washroom-- ...moving on.
So, without being a fictional character, studying is still a big part of my daily life.
Feeling dreadful from the harshness of reality, I pulled out my textbooks from my bag--
--And then I was interrupted by the doorbell.
Every damn time I try to start studying, something like this happens. Oh well, though, life finds its way to be cruel sometimes, sort of like how your parents yell at you to stop being lazy only when you start doing something useful.
I lurched toward the door phone, grumbling all the way. I turned on the camera at the front door, but no one was in sight.
I picked up the door phone and asked if someone was there. "Hello?"
...But there was no reply. Did someone ring the door by mistake?
Just as I was about to turn around and leave,
The doorbell rang again. What the?
The camera still showed no signs of anyone being outside. Confused, I walked to the front door and opened it.
"Is anyone th--"
As soon as the door opened, a small hand abruptly reached through the opening, grabbing my arm.
What the hell?!
The mysterious intruder who appeared with nothing but a grumpy voice was... Yeonji. No wonder I couldn't see her from the door's camera!
I was surprised, not just from being reminded of how tiny she is. Yeonji came to my house, not on a weekday, but on a Sunday!
Why is this so shocking? Because my dad is in the house, since he doesn't have work on Sundays! He's such a conservative old man, as if he came straight from the Chosun era. If he saw that I brought a girl into this house, nothing good can come out of that.
"What's the issue here? You're looking like you don't want me here," Yeonji moped, casting a disappointed glance out of the corner of her eyes. I had to focus on getting out of this situation first.
"Huh? Oh, uh... You're mistaken. S-so, what's happening?"
I almost added at the end, 'Why aren't you home on a Sunday?'.
Yeonji replied cheerfully, straightening up, "It's Sunday! I'm not going to waste it being stuck inside my room. Let's go for a walk!"
...When did I become your dog? You're going to take me out for a walk because you feel like it, is that it?
I was about to start studying, anyway. Unless she wants to see me get kicked out of Eunsung and transfer to a different school, she should leave me be.
"Hmph, why study now? Okay, then we'll study together at your house."
Yeonji continued, grinning like a villain, "I was going to go over tomorrow's match with you, but... if you want to study, then we'll just have to study together. My marks are better than yours, so I'll teach you. Can I come in? Mrs. Kang, it's Yeonji~!"
"W-wait! I'll change and go out right now!"
I can never deal with her.
* * *
And so, I somehow ended up walking around with Yeonji on a Sunday morning.
Going over tomorrow's match, huh? I guess she was getting nervous about it, too. Though, it would be stranger if she didn't care at all that our hard-earned club was in danger.
"Ah, what a nice day~! On a day like this, you really have to enjoy the sun!"
...But this girl, it had been thirty minutes since we had left my house, and there was not a single mention of the match. Instead, she was acting completely out of her Otaku character.
Also, that smiling, happy face... it had absolutely no trace of nervousness.
Something felt wrong.
Whenever Yeonji felt either very content or very angry, something weird happened in my life. I began shaking from the ominous feeling. It didn't help that I wasn't dressed up to deal with this chilly wind of April.
Yeonji stopped leading the way and tried to attract my attention. What is it now?
She turned around with an exaggerated movement and put her hands on her waist as if to show off. Both of us fell silent for a while.
"Nya-hem... Um... Hey, Kang Injin, don't I look different today?" asked Yeonji, sounding hopeful.
Did she... change her hairstyle? Unfortunately for her, I know absolutely nothing about hairstyles. I remember back then, when my mom got her hair permed and I didn't notice it at all-
"Not my hair! My clothes! Clothes!"
Yeonji shouted angrily, waving her fist at me. Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess it was my first time seeing her without the school uniform on. So, uh...
On her hair was a strange ribbon, her pale shoulders and neck exposed above her off-the-shoulder sweater, then a short, checkered skirt below that, and then finished off with striped stockings covered by platformed shoes.
I inspected Yeonji all around, while her eyes sparkled brightly in eagerness for my response. I smiled forcefully and commented,
"You're not in your school uniform today!"
"That's it?!" screamed Yeonji, filled with despair. "Nyuuuu-t! Seriously? Is that really it? Isn't there anything else you can say?"
Say what else? I had no idea what she wanted me to say. Then... Oh, here's one.
"Uh... You look a little taller?"
...I guess not.
After squawking like a dying rooster, Yeonji dropped her head and sighed, dejected.
Low, droning groans escaped her lips like the cries of deep sea fish from the bottom of the Mariana Trench. "Nyuu... I knew this would happen. I never expected anything from an Otaku who has zero interest in 3D women, but loves those boring 2D girls who wear the same thing every single day... Why did I waste so much time in front of the mirror so early in the morning...?"
"Hey, hey, hey," I interrupted, having interpreted some of her words as insults.
Yeonji raised her head back up, bearing a mysteriously serene expression; her image was that of a smiling Buddha sitting under a linden tree.
"Well, whatever. It doesn't matter now, so go buy me some chicken kebabs."
"How can you say that like it's a natural thing for me to do?!"
It was a good thing that I brought my wallet in case of emergencies like these.
Her energy returned in the very moment she took a bite out of the skewered chicken. She stuffed her face full like a squirrel, and pointed at an empty bench with her free hand.
"Let'sh *munch* shtey here *munch* fer a momenh," she mumbled, her mouth full. I couldn't understand a single word she had said, but she likely wanted to rest on that bench for a bit. I dusted the seat off with my hand and sat with Yeonji.
Hm... the weather's pretty nice.
I looked towards the sky and saw an endless sea of blue, devoid of any clouds. It was like the skies I'd see in generic anime openings.
...It saddens me that the only poetic comparison that I can think of involves anime.
By the time I looked at Yeonji again, she was already down to the last chicken skewer. She sure eats quickly for someone with such a small frame.
"...Yuu don *munch* geh any." She sneered, noticing that I had been staring at her. What a greedy girl.
In the end, she ate everything by herself, down to the last bits of the sauce that got on her fingers. I really was expecting her to share at least one of the skewers. Holy...
Her mouth was almost covered with sauce, which soon disappeared like the rest of the food when she wiped her mouth with her fingers and then sucked the sauce out of them.
I was just about to consider wiping her mouth for her, too. She doesn't realize how this scene is supposed to work out!
"Here, throw this out," demanded Yeonji, passing over the bare wooden skewer. I briefly contemplated on salvaging the last remaining bits of chicken on it, but quickly decided against it.
After throwing the skewer away in the nearest garbage can, I came back to find Yeonji looking up to the sky like I was doing before.
"What are you doing?"
"Nyuu-... I was just thinking, today's sky really looks like an anime opening."
...You thought about that too? We're completely hopeless.
We sat down together and stared at the cloudless sky in relaxing silence... but however poetic that might sound, that's incredibly boring, so I started a conversation with Yeonji instead.
"Hey, can I ask you something?"
"No, you can't."
I glared at her menacingly, but she failed to take notice. With her sight still fixated at the sky, she explained, "It's because I already know. You were going to ask why I decided to have a match with them, right?"
S-she's pretty good.
"I told you already, this is something that would happen eventually." said Yeonji, pouting. "And I don't like her, either. I thought I'd use this chance to put her out of her misery."
"You know, it could be the end for us, instead." I replied. I felt that she needed to be reminded that the match was significant for us, too.
"Of course, when you kill, you also have to prepare to be killed. If I want to destroy her club, I have to risk my own." Yeonji emphasized.
"You... really want to go that far to stop MoeRe or whatever?"
"Yes." replied Yeonji, not even giving a hundredth of a second of thought. "Her group is evil. For all the Otakus trying to survive in this country, and for the new Otaku world I'm trying to make, it's evil. So I'm going to demolish it. I'll remove all traces of it from our school." Yeonji stated boldly, her tone resembling the response of Cold War-era American citizens who were asked about their feeling towards Communism.
If they're evil, are you saying you're on the side of good?! 'Dear Lord, forgive the anime figures up my sleeves', is that it?!
"Whether or not I'm the Mysterious Otaku doesn't matter; they're still evil. As long as they stand in my way, I'll never accomplish my dream. Hmph, whoever tries to stop me will be sliced and quartered."
Such a terrifyingly inappropriate remark did not fit her cute face.
By her standards, it seemed like 'whoever tries to stop her = absolute evil'. For someone who's still in high school, she was well on her way to starting a coup d'état.
Speaking of Yeonji's 'dream'...
I haven't been keeping it in my mind thus far, but what Yeonji declared back then-- that she was reshaping this country to a place where Otakus aren't looked down upon-- she was clearly serious about making it happen.
If she were to achieve that dream, history books in the future would say that tomorrow's match is 'both her first great challenge and her chance to embark upon the world of politics'.
...Just thinking about that makes my every muscle twitch. I could never keep a straight face when thinking about her goal. What caused her to set such a silly goal? If you keep your Otaku life in secret and let everything be, isn't that enough? Why try to change an entire country?
Yeonji muttered to herself in search of a reply. Her quivering pink lips soon unsealed, having found her desired words:
"The reason for this goal is...-"
"Oh, hello, Mister Injin. How are you?"
Interrupting Yeonji was the voice of an expressionless woman, who happened to be Yerin's maid from yesterday-- Sukyong-sunbae.
* * *
"Erk- uh... S-Sukyong-sunbae?"
"...Yes, that is I. This may be late, but I must formally introduce myself. I am Sul Sukyong."
Her sudden appearance left us in disarray. Not mindful of our state, Sukyong-sunbae held the ends of her skirt and curtseyed.
She was wearing neither a maid outfit nor the school uniform, but simple, normal clothes. Defying her casual looks, she could not contain her cold, stern aura from making me curiously uncomfortable.
"And, please feel free to call me Sukyong. You do not have to be polite, sir."
...It's precisely that attitude that's forcing me to speak politely, you know.
Sukyong-sunbae turned around to speak to Yeonji, preceded by another polite bow.
"We have also met before. Is your name 'Seo Umji', perchance?"
"It's Seo Yeonji!" screamed Yeonji.
Sukyong-sunbae clenched her hands in front of her and apologized. "I am sorry. Madame remembers you by 'Seo Umji', so I may have been influenced by her. I will be more careful in the future."
"Nyuu-..." groaned Yeonji. She couldn't be happy that someone from Yerin's group was here, especially after a discussion where she wished for the end of all things that had to do with Yerin.
I moved in Yeonji's way after interpreting Yeonji's predatory glare as danger signals.
"By the way, what are you doing here? Is Yerin nearby?" I asked, out of fear that she might really be nearby, in which case I was planning to bolt away in the other direction.
Sukyong-sunbae shook her head. "...No. I only work for six days a week, part time. Madame is at her mansion. I am taking a walk outside to enjoy this sun."
"...Is that so."
What happened to Otakus being shut-ins today?! I sighed.
Sukyong-sunbae narrowed her eyes in contemplation. "That is my reason. What about you, sir and madam? Are you two on a date?"
"No," I denied immediately, afraid of there being a similar misunderstanding to the one Yerin had yesterday. Is it really strange for a boy and a girl to be together without being on a date?
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Yeonji crying like a kitten with a stomachache.
Sukyong-sunbae stared at us quietly, inspecting my honest-to-god smile and Yeonji. A moment later, she resumed, bearing a blank expression that was curiously different than before. "...Yes, I see. I understand. Then, may I join you two?"
""Wha-?"" Yeonji and I simultaneously responded.
"I asked if I may join you two," repeated Sukyong-sunbae, maintaining an unyieldingly void face that was impossible to decipher, "If you are not on a date, then I am not interrupting anything by joining, yes?"
"Uh, I guess not, but..."
"...If not, are you heading to a place I should not join? Say, a love hotel?"
"W-what are you saying?! Of course not!"
"Then, please excuse me."
Sukyong-sunbae marched towards us, placing herself directly between Yeonji and I. And so, it was quickly decided that Sukyong-sunbae was joining us for a walk.
Yeonji gritted her teeth like she had a grudge against her enamels, but there was nothing I could do about this situation. Our walk continued, now in a strange combination of me + Yeonji + Sukyong-sunbae.
After Sukyong-sunbae joined us, the atmosphere grew... fairly awkward.
It wasn't only because of Yeonji's negative disposition towards anyone affiliated with Yerin; my only memories of Sukyong-sunbae involved repeated, painful blows to my neck. On top of that, as her blank face suggests, she was a woman of few words. Having an engaging conversation proved difficult with our group.
The way she stood between Yeonji and I, she felt like a personification of the Berlin Wall.
To make matters worse, Yeonji was getting angrier by the second. I had to speak up quickly and dissolve any negative feelings in this group.
I hesitated for a few moments, and finally worked up the courage to speak: "By the way, Sukyong-sunbae... Why are you still talking that way?"
"...Pardon me, Mister Injin?"
That! Exactly that!
"I mean, you know, talking to us politely like I'm your boss, or, speaking like a maid."
I couldn't really describe it in any other way than 'maid-like'. The 'Madame' isn't here with her, so why is she still talking like she's at her job?
After tilting her head around like a puppy in deep thought, Sukyong-sunbae replied, "You misunderstand. I always speak like this."
"You're kidding!" It's shocking enough to hear someone talk like a maid in this country, so how am I supposed to react if it was never an act?!
Sukyong-sunbae continued nonchalantly, "To tell the truth, my lady's way of speaking is an act. She is fully aware of how she speaks to others."
"Of course! It would be scarier if she wasn't aware!"
"She speaks in a tone more befitting her age when she becomes panicked or when she's alone... and I find that cute. If you ever get the chance to hear it, please do so, Mister Injin."
"I don't need to know that! Wait, why are you revealing sensitive information about your own boss?!"
"However, I am not acting."
Sukyong-sunbae paused in her track, standing still. We turned around, as she lagged behind by a single step by pausing.
"This has always been my way of speech, Mister Injin. Ten years before, perhaps fifteen, I have always been taught and grew up to speak this way."
"There were three children," said Sukyong-sunbae nonchalantly, "The eldest sister, far older than the other two, and then a little sister and brother. The eldest was an Otaku; perhaps the world's most powerful one."
Oh hell, I don't even want to know what that means.
"She was as bad as... hm. Let's say, she wanted to raise her siblings into character archetypes she enjoyed as soon as they were able to speak. Is that clearer, Mister Injin?"
"...!" I gasped.
"It is as you imagine." Sukyong-sunbae nodded quietly. "The little sister was raised to be an emotionless and expressionless combat-maid, and the little brother was made to be a butler with a permanent, honest smile on his face. The children were raised very closely to the liking of the eldest, and came to resemble characters from animations."
Yeonji gripped on my shirt tightly. We stared at her, our eyes no doubt filled with disbelief and terror.
"You might not believe me, but I am telling the truth." Her robotic narration continued. "It was fairly easy to learn how to talk in this manner, but I was not sure how to fulfill the 'combat' duty. I learned Tae-Kwon-Do and Taekkyeon; now I am capable of kicking a man's face whilst standing perfectly upright. Would you like me to demonstrate, sir and madam?"
We remained silent. Yeonji's grip of my shirt doubled in strength.
"...And so, we were raised this way," said Sukyong-sunbae, following a momentary pause. Without a slight change in tone or emotion, she continued, "And one day, my sister went bankrupt. She had a lot of debt to her name. She had a decent job, but her salary could not cover the debt. I should have said something when she was on a buying spree while our country's exchange rate was weak..."
...She went bankrupt from buying too many imported Otaku goods?! She's crazy! The terror intensified even further.
Sukyong-sunbae's voice carried no signs of disturbance. "...She escaped out of the country, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The only thing we learned from her was how to live a life of servitude, and thus we were almost forced to do all manner of things to survive..."
...What are these 'all manner of things'? This isn't something that little kids shouldn't hear, I hope.
"Then, we were saved by Lady Yerin."
"Ack!" Yeonji flinched, squeaking like a kitten falling off furniture.
"...Our family and the Eunsung group had a connection. After hearing about our situation, she kindly repaid our debts and hired us. It is thanks to her that we are attending Eunsung at this time."
I've believed that she was some psychotic, rich girl who extorted her poor fellow classmates with the promise of money. I was embarrassed.
Yeonji's face became reddened. She must have been thinking the same. However, her expression quickly became cold when she began speaking again. "H-hmph! Beautiful story. So, what are you trying to say? Are you saying that you people have such a heartwarming relationship, so I should go easy on you guys tomorrow? I'll say it now, I'm winning that match."
...Come on. Can't you put a little more effort into reading the mood?
To my surprise, Sukyong-sunbae was unwavering at Yeonji's remark. She replied quietly, "...That is not what I want, but... You hate our mistress because she is the Pubtaku Queen, yes?"
Yeonji flinched. She frowned and replied angrily, "That's right. I don't hate her just because I'm on the other spectrum of Otaku. She simply went too far! Crossed the line! I won't stand for the image of Otakus going to hell thanks to her!"
"...About that," Sukyong-sunbae interrupted softly, "The reason she became what she is now was entirely our fault."
I lost count of how many times Yeonji was taken by surprise today.
Sukyong-sunbae explained further, her tone faintly distant and nostalgic. "...That is right. The first time she embarked on the path to becoming an Otaku was around the time she was in fifth grade."
"That's too young--!" Yerin was an Otaku prodigy herself.
"...At that time, she was raised with the label of being the granddaughter of Eunsung Group's CEO. She had high expectations and jealousy from those who surround her, but unfortunately she was never the sharpest tool in the shed-- to put it bluntly, she displayed below-average intelligence."
Below average? Considering how she acted yesterday, it was difficult to imagine that to be true. Though, I guess she acted like an idiot at times.
"She judged the position she was in as the child of the Eunsung Group, and compared that to her academic abilities, and... she must have been quite depressed. It was that time, when one of the employees at the mansion brought a DVD to boost her confidence, titled 'Is Maria-Sama Watching Over Us?!'..."
What does that have to do with boosting confidence?! Even if that's a great series... but, still!
Sukyong-sunbae answered calmly, "'Is Maria-Sama Watching Over Us?!' is truly the masterpiece among shows about being a proper lady. Through the animation, Madame was able to understand what it means to live the high-society life, and she began her life anew."
That sounds like some terrible sales pitch for a lucky charm. 'With this charm, our client Mister A had all of his problems solved in a single day, and he started a new life!'
"...And around this time, she began to act as the 'proud and haughty, yet intelligent and noble lady' archetype."
"I really hoped that wouldn't be the case..."
What kind of employee managed to convert the employer into an Otaku? Scary.
"Lo and behold, the employee was my big sister all along."
"She caused all of this by herself?!" Not only did she change the lives of her siblings, she exacted the same upon her mistress! Is she some sort of a supervillain? Her 'decent job' was working at the Eunsung mansion?!
"...However, Madame was initially a closeted Otaku. She never flaunted her hobbies outside of her room." That was the most unbelievable part of her entire story. She continued, "The time she began her path as the Pubtaku Queen was... yes, right after my big sister escaped from the country, and Madame saved us and admitted us into Eunsung Middle School."
"That's not a long time at all!"
If she was telling the truth, she became the Queen within merely three years. The horror behind this story was surely unending.
Very briefly, a note of apprehension entered and exited Sukyong-sunbae's blank face. "...Yes. Ultimately, she started on her path precisely because of what happened when we were admitted into the middle school."
"Two children were admitted into the school, not by passing the tough entrance exams, but purely through the sheer power of the Eunsung family. They also talked in a manner that was completely foreign to other schoolchildren."
Sukyong-sunbae continued as if she was reading a textbook, "At that time, we were likely the most alien things the school had yet to see. We never had proper education prior to that date, either, so it was impossible for us to get along with other children. We acted differently, and we were Otakus. Soon, we were outcast and became a target for bullying."
It didn't matter at all that Eunsung had the more intelligent children of our population; bullying still happened. One could even say that they may be capable of bullying even better by applying their intelligence.
"Saving us from being bullied was, again, our mistress." Sukyong-sunbae shook her head, a hint of sadness entering her voice. "She was... too young to know any better. She confronted the bullies and defended us, asking what's wrong with being an Otaku."
Yeonji's hand quivered, shaking my shirt with it. Or, maybe I was the one shaking instead.
"She used her power to create the Moe Research Club, watched anime in the middle of class, wore a wig and tinted contact lenses, and forced classmates to cosplay... I do not agree that what she did was right. She might already know that her actions were poisonous. Nevertheless, that was the root of her evils; thanks to us. And we have crossed the point that we cannot go back."
I knew there was something wrong with her hair and her eyes. I sighed. Sukyong-sunbae firmly shut her mouth as if she felt a bitter aftertaste.
"...The reason I wanted to say this... isn't because I wanted to gain your sympathy before the match. Rather, I wanted you two to win tomorrow."
Taken by surprise once more, we exclaimed. "Then... you want the Moe Research Club gone?"
"Yes," she nodded. "The club is... the symbol for the kindness and mercy that our lady showed us, but my brother and I do not want her to build any more bad reputation to her name."
Her emotionless face returned, and her voice rang honest and true.
"The club is the result of her three years of effort. We couldn't end it by our hands. No one else could have ever thought about ending it. I am very delighted that there is finally a chance for an end." For a moment, she looked as if she was sighing in relief. "...Perhaps the whole reason she bet her club on this match is also because she wanted someone else to end her current lifestyle."
We could not find a proper response back. A moment later, Yeonji spoke, still holding onto my sleeves. "Then, what, you're going to work with us and throw the game on purpose?"
"No, not at all."
There was no end to the twists.
Sukyong-sunbae hastily replied to dissolve our confusion. "...I am but a maid. If my mistress gives me an order, then I have to perform it regardless of my personal beliefs-- that is how I was raised. And so she had spoken, 'We will show those peasants what for, and make them both kneel before me! I will make that tiny girl weep and lick my boots!' and so on."
...It didn't sound like she wants her lifestyle to end.
Hearing Yerin's confident declaration of war, Yeonji scowled, her eyes burning with a predatory light. Sukyong-sunbae glanced at her. "And so, I will not be holding back in any way tomorrow. Whatever my own desires may be, I must still do my very best to bring our Moe Research Club to victory."
What am I supposed to do differently, then?
Yeonji must have been thinking the same. Noticing the expressions on our face that I assume were the same, Sukyong-sunbae assured us calmly. "...Despite that, I wanted you to know this."
"Please win against us, however much effort we will put into winning, and allow our lady to drop her façade. This is all I can say for now."
"Nyuu--." groaned Yeonji, quietly.
Sukyong-sunbae bowed. "...Whoever wins the match tomorrow, I believe there cannot be another chance for me to tell you of this. So, please forgive me for my rudeness. Oh, and one more thing--." She paused just as she was about to turn around and leave. "--I would like to add, thanks to my big sister's 'education', I am very knowledgeable of the Otaku culture. As far as the Word Chain game goes, I am confident that I will fare very well against any opponent. Also..."
At that moment, Sukyong-sunbae's blank, expressionless eyes lit up pleasantly, as if to smile at Yeonji with her eyes.
"Miss Yeonji, I absolutely love what you are wearing today."
* * *
After Sukyong-sunbae had left,
We sat down on the next bench we could find, and spaced out in silence. There were many people around the park; I looked around aimlessly, seeing women play badminton and kids riding around on their tricycles.
I muttered to myself, "...That story, I wonder if it's real."
Sukyong-sunbae's story was, honestly, too ridiculous to be true. However, her expression was serious and her voice rang true; but, even then, why tell us anything at all?
Was it because she didn't want to keep that secret from us? Or, was it simply a ploy to distract us from focusing on winning the match?
Yeonji answered my thoughts, her eyes still unfocused and staring at nothing in particular. "I think she was telling the truth, probably."
How unlike her. I thought she would be stubborn and say something like 'Of course it's a trick from them! I'm not going to fall for that!'
"Heh," Yeonji scoffed, "I did find it strange, too. That butler-brother guy, he was in a neighboring class back in middle school. Everyone thought he was a strange person, something about his constant smile bothering people."
I couldn't disagree, since I thought he was pretty strange, too.
"A brother and a sister who grew up to an Otaku's expectations, and a girl who tried to defend them by becoming an Otaku herself... That's just gross. Just hearing about it makes me cringe." Yeonji grumbled.
"I'm pretty sure you don't get to mock that, when you're trying to create a land of Otakus yourself."
"Hmph, that's not the issue here..." Yeonji pouted, and nervously swung her legs underneath the bench from side to side. After a moment of wasting energy with her legs, Yeonji started another conversation. "You know, back then..."
"Before the weird maid girl showed up..."
Unfortunately for Sukyong-sunbae, Yeonji had now profiled her as the 'weird maid girl'. You're like this to the nurse, too! Can't you watch yourself a little more when dealing with older people?
Ignoring my judgmental glare, Yeonji continued. "You asked me how I came up with the goal I mentioned."
"Hmm... Yeah, I did." As I remember, it was interrupted thanks to Sukyong-sunbae's sudden appearance. "What about it?"
"It was maybe July of last year... Do you remember the 'War of Otaku Power Levels'?"
The War of Otaku Power Levels.
It all began in the anime board of the country's largest online community, 'DDInside'. One user uploaded a video of himself cosplaying in the streets of Seoul, and it soon gathered the attention of many, receiving hateful comments like 'This is an embarrassment', or 'Don't do that in public', and then came the defense from the Otakus who were against being closeted.
Within hours, the argument spread to every other major Korean websites, dividing the communities into two opposing sides of the discussion; the groups that labeled themselves 'Clotaku' and 'Pubtaku'. The incident grew uncontrollably large, so much that every single Otaku in the country would have heard of it by now.
...In other words, it was the most embarrassing, cringe-worthy time period in Korean history.
Just to add, the Clotaku group seemed to be on the losing side that time. To support their own claim, the Pubtakus created and uploaded numerous videos of themselves cosplaying or acting out scenes from the anime in public, and there was no stopping them. The Clotaku side could not find an effective way to denounce their actions, and so the 'war' ended the way it began; awkwardly.
...Ultimately, the war only made the image of Otakus worse off in the country.
God damn, why did I even remind myself?
As I beat myself up to be rid of my memory of the incident, Yeonji continued. "I was part of the Clotaku group when that happened. Phew... I can't count how many opponents I've cut down with my keyboard."
...A keyboard warrior, huh? Well, I guess it suits your usual image.
Yeonji made a solemn expression like a general leading an army to a battle. "However, the battle was against us. There were many Otakus pretending online that they had an ounce of courage to display their interests in public, when in reality, they'd rather run away and hide. Plus, I could never find a good way to retort when they ask me why I should be embarrassed of something that I truly enjoy in life."
She briefly looked like she could use a long beard to scratch to aid her thought. "Worst of all, there weren't many amongst the Clotaku group who were willing to actively resist the Pubtaku. By definition we're supposed to be secretive and quiet, so how many of the Clotaku, do you think, were willing to lead the argument?"
Yeonji was special for having a twisted goal behind being a Clotaku.
"The only argument we had was to show the ridicule and hate we get from others... like, we needed to tell real life experience of people who were bullied. However, there wasn't anyone who would reveal such a story. At least on the Internet, no one wants to reveal that they're weak."
"There was one Clotaku who did. One guy."
Cold sweat dripped from my forehead. I nervously shot a quick glance at her; Yeonji's face had yet to change from her solemn expression.
"So he told a story about his time in middle school, when he was bullied by his schoolmates for hanging around with a Pubtaku friend..."
I screamed involuntarily.
"Whoa! What's wrong with you?!" exclaimed Yeonji, rebalancing herself after almost falling off the bench in surprise. Sweat continued to drop in volumes from my face.
"N-n-n-nothing! I was sitting for so long, my back was hurting, or something."
"How much did it hurt that you had to scream for your life?! That was most definitely a scream coming from snapping your spine off!"
...How do you know how people scream when they snap their spine?
Yeonji clamored on for a while, upset by my outburst, but the situation safely passed with a few quick excuses. Yeonji resumed, now eyeing me suspiciously. "It was the classic, heartwarming tale of 'I couldn't leave my friend be, since we were best friends since we were young'. However the bullying began, I was thoroughly impressed by his fresh tale of school bullies. So, I saved the text and linked it to every website I went to."
"Dooooon't doooooooo thaaaaaaaaat!!"
I knew it! I knew something was wrong! I deleted that post a minute after I uploaded it because I got too embarrassed, and you just went ahead and spread it all over the Internet?! My darkest past is just an impressive story to you?!
...But I would die of embarrassment if I said that to her. I screamed internally, my body flailing about and steaming. Yeonji looked at me like I had gone mad.
"...Why not? I'm sure OP himself would have wanted to spread the tear-jerking tale. And really, I got a lot of responses from other websites, and most people sympathized with him, such as 'lmao what a poor bastard LOLOLOL'."
"They're mocking him however you see it-! There isn't a single bit of sympathy in that comment!"
"Well, don't forget that DDInside is full of Tsunderes. They probably wrote that in the comments, but silently cried by their lonesome. Tsk tsk, they're not honest people."
"That's pretty terrible in its own way!"
At this rate, I'll be the one who's silently crying by my lonesome! Yeonji sighed, as tears almost welled up from my eyes.
"Well, despite my best efforts, the war went in the favor of the Pubtaku..."
"And the only person who suffered was that writer!"
"His noble sacrifice will always be in our hearts."
"No one died yet! Don't kill off people like that!"
"And that was my reason for starting that goal."
Yeonji concluded, ignoring my objections. "There was only one man back then who dared to reveal his tragic past, but I am sure there are many more who suffered like him in our world. I know that a lot of them have a good reason be disliked, but I confidently doubt every Otaku is like that. I want to save those people. Because..." Yeonji stammered, hesitant. "Because, that's what I thought I had to do when I read his story."
Yeonji firmly closed her mouth, silent. I could not say anything.
I wanted to tell her that she was utterly ridiculous for having the idea of becoming a modern day savior, but my own embarrassment prevented me from talking further.
...Did she realize that I was the wrote one wrote that post?
Yeonji's expression was overly nonchalant for that to be true. Not that she could have figured out that it was me, when I had posted anonymously.
I wanted to ask her if she knew.
"I'm going home." As soon as I opened my mouth, her small body bounced off the bench. "It's almost lunchtime, so I'm going to eat at home. I'm hungry."
"... Is that so?"
Where did the chicken skewers from before go? Noticing my upset glare, Yeonji posed with her hands on her hips and grumbled, "What, you got a problem? If you want me to stay with you, you pay for lunch. Conveniently, there's a restaurant right there."
"I'm not going to pay for you!"
My wallet isn't bottomless, you know! I shot down her demand, and Yeonji scoffed in response. "Hmph, how greedy! Anyway, you don't get to study today! Just memorize words you can use tomorrow! If you play poorly tomorrow, I'm going to throw you in an iron maiden. Do your best!"
"Hey, hey, hey..."
Before I could say 'please have mercy', Yeonji was already far, far away. She looked perilously close to falling down and hurting herself by running in those platformed shoes, but she disappeared without an incident.
"And she left..."
I stared at the direction Yeonji left, spacing out.
I sighed. I was disappointed that I could not ask, but I was thankful that I did not ask.
If I managed to ask her, what would she say?
I stood alone, looking at the cloudless blue sky above me.
I started walking back home. Like Yeonji said, at least I shouldn't be embarrassing myself by playing poorly.
1. Reference to Kaitou Saint Tail. There are many variations of this line in different English translations, so the reference may be hard to notice.
2. Reference to 'DCInside'. It is essentially the 2ch/4chan/Reddit of Korea.