In spite of the great tragedies from yesterday, such as the intrusion into our club and the Sangkam's Game, the members of the Clotaku Club faithfully continued their daily activities.
Though it's really nothing but nesting in one spot while wasting away with their usual otaku stuff.
The nurse was fixated on her computer, playing a visual novel.
Yeonji laid flat on her belly on the couch while reading a light novel.
Yerin and co. watched an anime from their 82-inch television.
Just like that, our club refused to change and remained pure as gold... but I couldn't share their attitude this time.
I pretended to play games on my PXP, while occasionally sneaking a glance at Yerin. To any outside observers, I might have looked pretty strange and pathetic, but I had a really good reason for being extremely mindful of her.
I mean, seriously, how was I supposed to act after hearing... that?
I looked at her again. She held a cup of black tea in one hand, stroked her golden hair back in a truly ladylike manner, all the while watching an anime. She sat arrogantly, her legs crossed and eyes glittering in bright blue. She looked and acted like a typical ojou character-- she was like a condensed ball of hubris and pompousness.
There was no way that she was the same girl from the day before. How could I possibly be calm?
From the many glances that I snuck on her, I couldn't see any sign of her being that timid, quiet girl. Surprisingly, I would have rather believed that Sukyong-sunbae was joking about it.
Looking at Sukyong-sunbae, who stood behind Yerin like a statue, I recalled the things she had told me during the lunch break.
"...S-so, that girl I saw before--... it’s the girl, sitting there?" Fragmented pieces of my question barely made it out of my broken brain.
It was a tiresome repeat of my previous question to her, but Sukyong-sunbae answered nonetheless. "...Yes. She is the same person that you have in mind. She is indeed Lady Yerin."
She left no room for doubt or misunderstanding with that answer. I fell into silence and returned my eye to the telescope.
The short-haired girl was still there, hanging her head low like someone who's been fired from her dream job. Her features, attitudes-- there was absolutely nothing that reminded me of that golden-haired lady, Eun Yerin.
Unmindful of the disbelieving, shocked face that I probably had, Sukyong-sunbae explained calmly. "...I believe you already know of Lady Yerin's school life before she had met Miss Yeonji, and you, Mister Injin."
"Of course-..." Of course I knew. It wasn't exactly easy to forget.
That's right. Like I explained before, Yerin wasn't a Clotaku before, but rather a Pubtaku, or, an otaku who is aggressively open with otaku activities. Ever since her middle school days, she had done all kinds of atrocities, leading to her becoming the symbol of fear known as the Pubtaku Queen.
That was the true Eun Yerin.
Yet now, those days had long since been stopped by another girl who believes that the world can be owned by the otaku who remain in secret until they grow in power. After an eventful match between her and the Clotaku Club, Yerin agreed to reflect on her past and cease her ways.
At the time, I believed that outcome was the best possible conclusion for Yeonji and the entire school... but the problem never ended, it seemed.
"...After that day, my lady kept her promise and attended her classes without her wig and the colored contacts..." Sukyong-sunbae added, while I fell deep in thought.
Right, it was a wig. Yerin's ladylike act looked very appropriate with her flowy, golden hair and her eyes like a blue lake, yet they were ultimately a part of the act. While she restricted her act to our club room now, her previous self as the Pubtaku Queen was permanently in this form. It should truly be a legend among the otaku.
Anyway, the first thing she had done to keep her promise with us was taking off her wig and her contacts when outside of the club. This I knew, because the nurse had explained this the other day. So, I should not have been surprised by the recent discoveries, but...
Sukyong-sunbae stopped her quiet mutters and regained her concise voice. "...Unfortunately, my lady's behavior changes when she takes her wig off."
"...What?" What did she mean by that?
Sukyong-sunbae continued, her expression aptly describable with the color of metallic silver. "...I meant it literally, I'm afraid. Perhaps-- instead of 'changing behavior', it would be more appropriate to say that she 'returns to her original behavior'."
The... original behavior?
After repeating her words in my head, a realization crossed my mind.
"...It is so." She nodded, "...The original purpose of her idea of 'blonde, blue-eyed, pompous nobility' was a role model taken by Lady Yerin back when she was disheartened by her disappointing prospect for her future. In other words, the weak, unconfident Lady Yerin is the Lady before taking on an alter ego."
"...Right, that reminds me." I remembered what Sukyong-sunbae had told me about Yerin's past. I didn't think about interpreting it that way. Still, I wasn't fully convinced that was the entire reason. "But that... doesn't sound right to me. You told me before that she began wearing the disguise more than many years ago..."
That is, Eun Yerin wasn't acting as her alter ego for a short period of time. Over the last many years, she lived her new life without ever returning to her original personality. Why was it that taking off her wig was all that took to force her old self on her?
--But Sukyong-sunbae had a quick reply. "...Of course, even my lady has to hide her hobbies around her family."
"Oh." Right, even the Pubtaku Queen had to hide herself when she was at her home. Come to think of it, that was one of the critical points used in the argument that put a stop to Yerin's embarrassing act.
"...For a very long time, she lived as a closet otaku at her home, and as her alter ego at her school. Perhaps her two lives were the main cause for her different personalities."
So, her brain tells her to be quiet when her wig is off, and be unbearably arrogant when it's on? ...Isn't that a serious case of multiple personality disorder?
I wasn't sure what to think of that. I felt myself mentally fall apart like I've been a victim of Gestaltzerfall.
Sukyong-sunbae spaced out, her eyes without the usual brightness. "...I can only imagine what the true reason may be. It is, however, a fact that my lady regains her weak personality without her wig."
"...Okay, I understand."
She continued, "...And that is where our problem begins. After my lady returned to her class without her wig, the bullying began."
I had to believe it because I already saw what had been happening to her, given that girl was indeed Eun Yerin. Still... how could anyone be bold enough to bully an Eunsung family member? Did everyone simultaneously forget the meaning of fear?
"...She had always been alone in her class."
Sukyong-sunbae gave me a quick summary. Her classmates were initially happy enough to see Yerin without her obnoxious attitude, but their resentment towards her began overtaking them when they had realized that her true personality is timid and cowardly. After a long time of embarrassment and suffering under Yerin's rule, her new doormat persona allowed her classmates to take revenge, intentionally or not.
They did not need to lay a finger on her. She only needed to see that she was not welcome there.
The old Eun Yerin would have quelled this movement by abusing her status in the Eunsung Group. But the new Yerin was a fragile little girl who would be emotionally damaged by such a juvenile act of bullying.
"...To my shame, this incident was a recent news to me and so I could not gain much information. I have at least reached the conclusion that the problem is becoming worse by the day."
Sukyong-sunbae explained that the level of harassment became bolder over time. Initially, the students were hesitant to try anything on her, but they became increasingly relaxed due to Yerin's complete inaction. At this rate, Sukyong-sunbae remarked, there was no telling what they might think to do to her next.
"...Even for students of Eunsung, they still have the mentality of high school students. They appear to be acting on their emotion without considering their consequences. A little push could drive them over the edge and cause great harm to the entire school. We cannot let this be."
Whatever their reasons, if the word got out that the granddaughter of Eunsung CEO was getting bullied at school, the entire Eunsung Group would be up in flames about it. Her class, no, the entire school might suddenly disappear in the next day.
This sudden realization hit me like a brick to my head. Using all of my might to stop my shaking body, I asked, "B-but then... what's the reason for telling me this? Why me, of all people?"
At first, I was listening simply because she was telling me the story. And then I realized that it was an awfully serious business where the entire school could be demolished at any time. In that case, why not ask Yerin's homeroom teacher, or maybe the principal, to come up with a peaceful solution? I had no clue why she had to go through the effort of finding me and dragging me here to tell me these things.
Did she want me to ask around for help myself...? I suppose it makes more sense that a third year student like Sukyong-sunbae is staying away from a first years' problem... maybe? That doesn't sound right.
"Please, I beg of you."
And in the next moment,
As I stood there, confused and winded, Sukyong-sunbae made a request in her clearest voice.
"...Mister Injin, please help our Lady Yerin."
* * *
I thought that I might have a disease that makes me sigh a lot.
Soon after those last words, the school bell marked the end of my break and I had to rush back to my classroom. I wasn't able to get any explanations on why and how I should help Yerin.
--Mister Injin, please help our Lady Yerin.
Sukyong-sunbae asked me as if there wasn't anyone else in school who could help her, but... I personally did not believe that I had what it takes to take care of a sensitive issue like group bullying.
And that meek, short-haired girl turned out to be the girl sitting over there. That was the tougher thing to believe at the moment.
Maybe everything so far had been an elaborate joke. But if it were, it was completely tasteless and unfunny. And considering that it was Sukyong-sunbae, who was Yerin's most loyal servant, I couldn't imagine her joking around at her mistress's expense.
That meant that she was telling the whole truth. Then, what was she expecting me to do to help her? How tiring!
I tried my best to come up with a solution, despite the lack of answers. I felt my thoughts scatter up and fog around my head, circling around without a clear shape.
I gave up.
I wasn't going to worry about a problem that I don't fully understand. I stopped trying to guess my way around it and ended my thoughts about it altogether.
But then a shrill voice pierced the air.
"Hey you, the peasant over there!"
I snapped back to reality in surprise. Yerin had paused her show and glared at me with her cold, blue eyes.
I realized what I had done. I must have been staring in Yerin's direction when I spaced out, which she noticed then... oops.
As expected, her next words were full of thorns. "...You're staring at me, sighing, and frowning... what is your problem? If you have an issue with me, then tell me about it! If you don't, then avert your dirty gaze immediately! You are the most unpleasant man."
I was completely caught out. And she had noticed me some time ago, too-- how was that possible, when she was facing away from me until a few moments ago?
"I am quite sensitive to any onlookers. When a brutish wolf like you looks at me, I can feel my skin crawl and sting. Have you any idea how much that distracts me from my anime backlog viewing session?"
Sensitive? That's a superpower at that level! I couldn't tell if she were gifted or cursed by it. Regardless, I was apparently a nuisance to her, so I quickly apologized. "Um... you see, I… sorry."
I didn't want to get Yerin angry by talking back to her. What was I going to do, be honest and say that I'd been thinking about how she acted during the lunch break?
"...What a greedy, dirty look... hmph. I will generously forgive you for losing your head over my perfect beauty, but I will surely remove both of your eyes next time. Understand?"
Such scary words did not fit her glamorous face. ...What did she say she was forgiving me for, again?
Before any retorts inside me could escape my lips, Yerin turned around with a 'Hmph!' and resumed her show. At least I was able to get by without making our day any worse.
And there you have it-- the Eun Yerin that I knew.
She was the type of person to threaten to pull the eyes out of anyone who dares to look at her for too long. She was like a poison dart frog-- pretty and colorful, but toxic and dangerous in reality. To think that she becomes that timid little girl who can barely speak, just by taking off her wig and her contact lenses-- I couldn't believe it at all, no matter how many times I reconsider it.
I glared at her once more, full of great disbelief, to find any visual similarities between Eun Yerin and the timid short-haired girl, but--
A blunt force suddenly struck my side.
Before I had noticed, Yeonji had stopped reading her novel, snuck to the side of the couch where I sat, and leapt at me with full force. Her small frame meant that she usually deals less damage than she intends, but it still hurts like hell when she uses her entire body.
"...Hey, you jackass... what do you think... you're doing?!"
"Who are you to ask that, hmm~?" Yeonji climbed on top of my shoulders as I writhed in pain and tapped my head with her palms. "How could you spend your precious club time staring at that idiot blonde? You must have a lot of time to waste! Why don't you spend some of that time working for the club? You stupid, dumb idiot!"
"No, ... eughkrh."
Before I could even say 'no wait', Yeonji's stocking-clad legs wrapped around my neck tightly and garbled my words into unintelligible grunts.
… Yeonji had been using all sorts of new techniques to torture me ever since she realized that pure physical force wasn't doing too well for her. Not only was she a natural-born sadist, she was working hard to improve herself as one. I was terrified.
"S-stop... I, I can't breathe! I'll do anything, so stop it!"
"Anything? You just said you'd do anything, right?"
"N-no... not anything, but whatever I can do for the club..."
Even with my life on the line, there was more risk in promising Yeonji to do 'anything' for her. Yeonji grumbled in disapproval and fidgeted before getting off of me.
And she still had the gall to say, "Then play a game with me!"
"...Game..." Her suggestion was just as wasteful as staring at Yerin... I guess? It was out of nowhere, regardless. "...Hey, didn't you tell me to try to do something good for the club? What do you mean, play a game?"
"Hmph. Don't be so quick to look down on it! You'll know when you see my game."
Yeonji dug through her backpack. Soon, she had a game package in her hands-- a game for PX3, titled 'Winning Twelve 2012'.
I was shouting before I realized it myself, surprised by Yeonji's unexpected game. That game was the famous Winning Twelve-- usually shortened as the 'Winning' series-- a widely known soccer game. It was such a great hit that it had undisputably become a national game. The game had teams from every country with hundreds of professional teams from them, allowing you to play as players from real life. The title was given as such so that the player can act as the 'spiritual twelfth player of the team', or something like that.
Anyway, it struck me as strange that Yeonji demanded that we play a sports game. I mean, are girls usually that interested in sports to play a sports game? Not only that, Yeonji was an otaku, so her demand felt very weird.
And so I asked. "A Winning game... do you really like soccer?"
"I've been watching 'Plasma Eleven' all night yesterday! I've been liking soccer ever since then."
"Oh, come on!"
Such miserable words did not fit her cute face.
To add, 'Plasma Eleven' is an animation series about soccer. For reasons I couldn't tell, there was a huge female fanbase behind it. Still, the idea of 'soccer' in that show involved flaming kicks, teleporting around the field, and all kinds of superhuman maneuvers, so I wasn't sure how much I could trust Yeonji to like the real life soccer.
As I stared at her in disbelief, Yeonji coughed and began explaining herself. "Nya-hem. What's important is that we can further our goals of the Clotaku Club by playing this game."
"What did you just say...?"
Winning Twelve helps otakus infiltrate our society somehow? That got me curious.
"Fufu, it's trivial. I quickly investigated yesterday, and it turns out that this Winning game is strangely popular in this country! I even heard that it's one of those games that can impress your superiors in the military if you're good at it."
"Well, I guess so."
Winning was so popular that our internet cafes were more or less Winning cafes. I, too, often played Winning when my friends pulled me into their gaming sessions. But, how did that help us at all?
Yeonji confidently answered. "So, Winning is a game title that's very familiar to all the normies in our country. So, if we play this game now, we'll be able to understand the normies' mindset, and then we'll be able to use it as a way to get closer to them!"
"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!"
Right as I expected, her reasoning quickly went nowhere. Using our game knowledge to get along with normies was… okay, sure, let’s say that’s completely fine. It’s better than going to an internet cafe with friends only to end up not playing anything well. But how does that let us understand the mindset of normies?
Yeonji shoved the game package closer to my face. “That’s what I’m trying to find out! Quit your bickering and start playing!”
Nope. As far as I knew of that game, there was no exploration into the minds of normies in Winning. But attempting to control Yeonji in the middle of her inextinguishable whim was more difficult than stopping an army of millions with a single blade. I reluctantly nodded at her.
With my agreement, Yeonji became even more overjoyed and shouted at Yerin, “Hey, idiot blondie, get off of my television! We’re using the PX.”
Please be a little nicer when you’re asking people of things! I’m cringing and I’m not even involved in the conversation!
Unsurprisingly, Yerin did not appear to be too fond of Yeonji’s mugger-like demand. “...What do you expect to gain by being rude with your requests? If you must deny me of my anime to use the television, should you not do so with the appropriate manners?”
“Huh? Who cares about manners? Go talk about your stupid manners somewhere else!”
With a rude comment that should not belong to a girl’s mouth at all, Yeonji charged forward headfirst, butting into Yerin as she had done to me before. I suppose that was exactly what the old idiom, “the fist is faster than words” meant. I had complicated feelings as I watched Yeonji boldly use violence as her earliest solution to any problems.
“Yeonji Drill Breaker----!”
“Kyaa-! Wh-what do you think you’re doing, you peasant?! Get away from me in this instant! If you keep touching me there…”
“Touch where, hmm? I can’t listen to you if I can’t understand you! Gimme the television, I want the tele--”
“Argh, fine! Okay! I understand, so please, get off of me!”
Yerin quickly caved into Yeonji’s demands after she shamelessly buried her head in Yerin’s breasts and wriggled around. Yerin screamed and ran away from Yeonji and turned the anime off.
Yerin was usually quite confident when dealing with anyone else (me, for example), but she strangely couldn’t deal with Yeonji. Maybe she was weak against pure, relentless assault that Yeonji constantly did upon others. Her act was being a high-class lady, after all.
I sighed for Yerin in sympathy as she migrated to the couch to escape Yeonji’s oppression. I asked, “Hey, if it’s not too much trouble, why not play the PX with Yeonji? I can sit out, no problem.”
“Hmph! I decline!” She declined without a second thought. “A game about soccer? Why would I desire to be a part of such a brutish sport, even in a virtual world? Pff… you peasants can enjoy your game by yourselves.”
Says the person who got scared away by a peasant. Yerin had already recovered and continued her high-class act.
I only asked her because I was sorry for stealing her television (20%) and because I was afraid of having to play Winning with Yeonji (80%). I had no choice since Yerin didn’t want to play.
...That aside, calling soccer a “brutish sport” wasn’t very nice. I was, after all, a Korean high school boy. Whether it was soccer, or a game about soccer, I had to like it. I couldn’t help but to feel offended by such a blatant bashing of my favorite sport.
I felt that I now had the responsibility of showing her the true art of soccer. With that thought, I grabbed a controller and began a game of Winning Twelve with Yeonji…
“Eightfold tackling formation--------------!”
...What a brutish sport.
In five minutes since the beginning of a match, I had to agree with Yerin that the game of soccer was nothing but barbaric savagery that had no equals in the world of sports. Back when Yeonji and I had just sat down, I had a moment of peace, teaching Yeonji how to control the players and how Winning is played-- but I really should have known what would have happened next. She only asked a couple of questions-- “How do I shoot? What about a sliding tackle? Sprinting? Player switching?” And she dove straight into a match.
I naturally chose our country-- the national team of South Korea.
And Yeonji’s choice was the English Premier League team, Manchester United-- usually shortened to Man U. In terms of the in-game statistics, it was a team that was on a completely different level than the South Korean team. Yeonji insisted before the game, “I’m going to pick a good team! You pick something worse!”
I was still confident at that point that I was going to win. My opponent was a complete newbie. The abilities of the player were far more important than the numbers put into the player stats, so I was sure that Yeonji wasn’t going to beat me just by picking a better team.
I should have known how she was going to play the game while knowing nothing but ‘shoot’, ‘sliding tackle’, ‘sprint’, and ‘player switch’.
With a battle cry that most definitely did not belong in a game of soccer, Yeonji made her character do a sliding tackle at my own character. He screamed and rolled on the virtual ground. I could almost feel his pain-- he let out such a pained, terrified scream.
His name was Park Jaesung, a player of our national soccer team. The other player, explaining that his sliding tackle was an accident to the referee, was also Park Jaesung, wearing the Manchester United uniform. I suppose the game allowed duplicate players to exist when two teams with the same player face each other...
Yeonji was very pleased with the result. “Alright, I defeated him!”
“‘Defeated’ him?! What are you, crazy?!”
This isn’t a fighting game! Stop attacking my players!
“But, that guy-- doesn’t he look exactly like one of my team’s players? I can’t leave that alone! I have to kill him.”
“Don’t kill people just because they look the same--! This has nothing to do with doppelgangers!”
I knew there was something going on when she kept on throwing tackles at my player, even when the positions weren’t appropriate!
Yeonji made an evil grin and chuckled quietly. “Fufufu, it’s a really nice feeling, destroying someone with another who looks exactly like him! I think I can understand how evil overlords feel when they pit heroes against each other in a colosseum.”
“...What a nasty thing to enjoy.”
In her case, it wasn’t just about understanding evil overlords-- she was almost an evil overlord herself. If she were born during the Spring and Autumn period of China, she would have been the one to prove that humans are inherently evil.
After a brief moment of rest, the match resumed as the referee blew his whistle. Park Jaesung of my team was replaced due to his leg injury, and Yeonji’s Park Jaesung received a red card and left the match. Tragically, all Park Jaesungs were eliminated from the game.
“Hey, what’s the deal? Why is he getting kicked out? What a stupid referee, kicking people out for petty reasons!” Yeonji shouted at the virtual referee.
...Petty reasons? Is there even a bigger reason than tackling hard enough to break someone’s legs? I mean, is it even possible to commit a greater harm in this game?
“Nyuu- That’s strange, this never happened in Plasma Eleven.... Hmph, whatever! I can win perfectly fine with ten players. I never needed Park Jaesung in the beginning.”
“...You. Apologize to him after this game.”
I really had to show her what it truly meant to play a game of soccer. I felt bad that I was blatantly attacked at the start of the game.
From the free kick that began at the halfway line, I committed all of my players to the offense. I did a short-range kick, and passed, and passed, and passed...
“Uhah! Whoa-! Nnngh! Oorah! Kyaa---!”
Yeonji grunted and shouted incessantly as she sent multiple dangerous tackles towards my players. My players expertly dodged and weaved between Yeonji’s players with short passes. From the noises she made, it probably was impossible to tell if she were playing Winning or some random shooter game.
I advanced the ball towards Yeonji’s goal, dodging her pitifully predictable tackles, and finally reached her team’s penalty area. Two players on defense were in the way, but they were still controlled by Yeonji. I predicted the obvious tackles coming my way and swerved to the side for the game-winning pass, but--
“Nngh… Niyaa… Kyaaa------!”
With Yeonji’s battle cry(!), players of Manchester United simultaneously threw tackles from all directions.
Yeonji had quickly spammed the ‘player switch’ button and the ‘sliding tackle’ button, causing every single player of Manchester United to slide in the rough direction of my players. The covering fire of tackles managed to take out two innocent midfielders who were nowhere near the ball.
Seeing one of her players receive a warning from the referee, Yeonji sighed in relief and wiped a drop of sweat off of her forehead. “Alright! I managed cut the opponent’s offense short!”
“The only thing you cut short is my team’s health---!”
What happened to sportsmanship?! Who attacks players without the ball like that? What an outrageous play!
“But I was going to be down a goal if I didn’t do that!”
“If you don’t think you can defend on your own, then trust the goalkeeper!”
“Hmph. How can you tell me to trust some dumb AI to save the game? ...Anyway, I managed to stop the goal with just a yellow card, so it went well for me, right?”
Her team was fortunate that they were only in a game. If it were real life, they all would have been barred from playing a professional match ever again by every single soccer and football association. I was almost angry at how she treated this game.
Yeonji, meanwhile, casually asked, “That aside, that was pretty awesome. ...Yeah, that’s exactly the Eightfold Tackles tactic that I was looking for. How does that sound?”
“...When you say ‘tactic’, if you mean ‘cheating’, sure…”
And please, don’t ask for my agreement for stupid things like that! Also, your naming sense sucks as always!
--Of course, I couldn’t actually say any of this. Yeonji was left free to smile and giggle.
I continued the game with Yeonji, afraid of the sure future of my players that was most definitely going to involve things breaking, fracturing, and ripping apart…
1. A psychological phenomenon where delays in recognition are observed when a kanji character is stared at for a while. [Wiki] ←
2. Parody of Zhuge Liang’s “Eightfold Maze”, or the “Stone Sentinel Maze”. ←
3. Park Jisung in real life. ←
1. A psychological phenomenon where delays in recognition are observed when a kanji character is stared at for a while. [Wiki] ←
2. Parody of Zhuge Liang’s “Eightfold Maze”, or the “Stone Sentinel Maze”. ←
3. Park Jisung in real life. ←