Part 45: NC5XB3
Funnily enough I was just reading the most recent update and thinking that I should suggest that for the parts where you say "go back to Update 14 (or whatever) and read from here to here before continuing", it would be handy if you could link directly to those updates. It'd save the reader having to go back to the OP and locate the link there.
Maybe not immediately useful for Hanako's route if we're past Act 1 with all its parts that are common to all routes, but going forward?
I don't have any experience with screen readers, but for formatting your commentary in the updates so that it gets called out by them somehow, maybe if you put it in [code] tags? If they'd pick that up? Or maybe if you prefaced (or book-ended) it with a particular emoticon, since they have alt-text now? And if/when images in general get alt-text, you could use your avatar or some other portrait image instead, maybe. I don't know, this is just off the top of my head.
That first idea is probably a good one, I'll go back through these updates when I have time. The second one is also pretty good... I'd have to think on what to use.
But talking about thinking about things...
Update 40: NC5XB3
(Silence, Crowd Sounds)
I leave Lilly in the stall and head out in search of Hanako. In a way, I feel bad for leaving her with the crowds, but even though she was clearly under pressure, I can't help but think that she is enjoying herself.
The halls are packed with swaying crowds meandering throughout the festival. If there's one thing I know about Hanako, it's that she's not going to be anywhere near this. And with the students showing their friends and family their dorms, I doubt she'll be there either. Following blind intuition, I move against the grain of the crowd. Thankfully, this crowd seems to be slightly less festive than your usual festival crowd; I assume this is out of consideration for the student body.
(Crowd Sounds Stop)
As I force my way through the masses, it doesn't take long for them to thin down into nothingness. This is not surprising, since I am standing before the library. Even the most eager of students don't bother to show anyone this section of the school.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Fripperies
As I enter the library, the noise of the festival fades into a dull background noise, and soon I am in the reading area at the rear of the room. Behind one of the partitioned desks I see the top of a head, with straight, dark hair catching my eye.
HISAO: "Hey, Hanako. I had a feeling I'd find you here..."
The head jumps a little in shock before slowly peeping over the partition.
HISAO: "Hey. Lilly's pretty busy, so she sent me to find you."
HANAKO: "O-oh. Do you want to sit down?"
HISAO: "Actually, I am feeling a little hungry. Would you to like to get something to eat from one of the stands?"
HANAKO: "Um... I... I brought some food so..."
I shouldn't be surprised, but it was worth a try. Expecting her to go outside today was a long shot.
HISAO: "How about we eat in the tea room? I passed by it on the way here, and no one was around. We can make some food there, and it'll be a little more comfortable. What do you say?"
HANAKO: "S-sure. Let's go."
Hanako closes her book and puts it away with deliberate, practiced movements.
HISAO: "Good to go?"
We walk side-by-side from the library to the tea room. As expected, there is barely a soul around. If it weren't for the murmurs through the walls, you wouldn't tell that there was a huge festival going on outside. Hanako carries her bag in both hands and focuses on just the floor ahead of her. Every now and again, she seems to break her pace a little and steps in slightly shorter paces. The first time it happened, I gave it no mind, but I soon notice that she does it on a regular basis.
HISAO: "Are you all right?"
She stops dead in her tracks.
HISAO: "I dunno... it looked like you were tripping or something..."
A pink blush rises into her cheeks as her gaze returns to the floor.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Everyday Fantasy
HANAKO: "It... it's nothing."
HISAO: "You know, when you say nothing like that, people are inspired to ask further questions."
For a second I don't think she is going to answer. Prepared to leave it be, I almost set off walking again, when...
HANAKO: "It's a... a game."
HANAKO: "Do you... see the floor here?"
What a bizarre question. The floor looks just like any other floor; covered in those tiles made up from squares of linoleum. Nothing noteworthy.
HISAO: "Well, yes. What about it?"
HANAKO: "Sometimes... when there's no one around... I only step on the darker ones..."
Hanako's voice trails off as her explanation continues, until I can barely hear her voice over the roaring silence of the empty hall.
HISAO: "Darker ones?"
Shuffling her feet, Hanako points the toe of her shoe at a tile that is barely a shade darker than the others.
HANAKO: "L-like these ones."
HISAO: "Oh, right, so these ones are no good?"
I point out a nearby tile.
HANAKO: "Y-yeah. Something... something like that."
HISAO: "Oh, I see. Do you play this game a lot?"
Hanako shakes her head.
HISAO: "Just when the halls are empty?"
HISAO: "Well then, no point in stopping, I'm beginning to get really hungry."
She nods again, this time with a little more enthusiasm.
HISAO: "Well then, let's go."
We set off down the hall, and this time I notice that Hanako is paying a little less attention to the floor. I wonder; just how lonely does someone have to be to come up with a game like that? But, before I realize what I'm doing, I find myself trying to aim each step so it lands on the correct tiles.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Raindrops and Puddles
The noise of the festival is slightly louder inside the tea room, but the breeze coming through the open window makes it worth it. Without thinking, I walk to the windowsill and inhale deeply. I sometimes forget how clean the air is here compared to back home.
HANAKO: "Do... would you like some tea?"
HISAO: "That would be great, thanks."
It occurs to me that this is the first time I've been alone with Hanako without her trying to be somewhere else. Turning from the window, I watch as she makes a simple pot of tea and arranges some sandwiches onto a plate. I've seen her do this before a number of times, but this time she seems slightly different.
It's like she's...
Eventually she places the small tray on the table and pours two cups of tea. The fresh scent of brewed tea mingles with the breeze, and for a second I feel like I'm the only one in the world.
HISAO: "I think I know why you like this room now."
HANAKO: "Um... I don't know what you mean."
HISAO: "Well, there are quite a few people out there, but in here it's like another world. You can pretend that there's no one around for miles."
HANAKO: "Y-you're right. It's like the world has forgotten this room. And b-because of that, you can forget about the outside."
That would be appealing in some cases. As far as I can tell, conventional bullying doesn't exist in this school. But then again, I haven't seen a single person talk to Hanako besides Lilly.
If you're ignored by the world, a place where you can forget its existence would hold a special appeal.
HISAO: "That's a good point. It's like this room gives you some kind of complete freedom."
HANAKO: "Y-yeah. Say... do you play chess?"
HISAO: "Chess? I've played it a bit, I guess. I take it you've played before?"
HANAKO: "A little..."
Without saying anything more, Hanako moves to one of the cupboards and digs out a small chess set.
HANAKO: "Do... do you want..."
HISAO: "Sure, why not?"
I cut her off, but she doesn't seem to mind it.
We arrange the pieces, and before long we are sending pawns charging to their inevitable fates. I take my time and intently examine each move and its consequences, nostalgia for the game taking second place to the matters at hand. For a time the game is a lengthy battle of attrition, but I spot an opening and tear a line in her defense. A few moves later, her king is cornered by several of my pieces.
HISAO: "Checkmate. You're not bad at this, are you?"
An honest appraisal. Her technique is pretty good, but several times I was able to exploit her lack of prediction. I pick up a piece and examine it. It looks relatively new, yet worn for its age.
HANAKO: "I... I guess not."
HISAO: "Does Lilly play?"
The absence of Hanako's answer causes me to think about my question.
HANAKO: "A... A bit... T-this is the first time I've played against someone... other than her, or..."
She cuts herself off abruptly, leaving the answer hanging in the air. Someone she knew before coming to Yamaku, maybe.
HISAO: "Well then, I'm honored to have played against you."
HANAKO: "Um... can we play again?"
She asks as if she were asking me to cut off my own hands. The spirit of competition's gotten into her?
HISAO: "Sure. Though don't expect me to go easy on you this time..."
Not that I was before, mind. She seems to appreciate the competitive tone.
HANAKO: "S... same here..."
As we are setting up the pieces, there is a noise at the door.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Concord (Lillys Theme)
LILLY: "Good afternoon."
HISAO: "Oh, hey there Lilly. Are you finished?"
LILLY: "You both are here? Wonderful. At any rate, our teacher managed to round up some extra help, so I was able to leave. Have you been here since you left?"
HISAO: "Pretty much, we've just been playing a bit of chess."
HANAKO: "W-would you like a cup of tea?"
LILLY: "Actually, I think it may be a good idea to go outside for a little while..."
The instant drop in Hanako's face shows her objection to this plan, even though she says nothing. I feel strangely compelled to voice what is plainly in view on her face, but Lilly can't see.
HISAO: "I... I kinda think that we should just stay here..."
LILLY: "Really? It's so crowded here that I was thinking we should leave the school and head for the local teahouse."
HANAKO: "You mean the S-Shanghai?"
LILLY: "Of course; with everyone at the festival it should be practically empty."
LILLY: "Oh, that's right, you probably don't know of it. There is a teahouse not far from here, which we go to every so often."
HISAO: "Sounds like a plan. Hanako, what do you think?"
Hanako jumps a little at being forced into the conversation, but at least she seems less distraught than before.
HANAKO: "If... if it's the Shanghai, I think it'll be nice."
LILLY: "Well then, it's settled. Let's be on our way."
Hanako and I rise from the table and our preempted chess game. Before I can do anything, Hanako has poured the pieces into a small container and placed the board away.
HISAO: "Looks like we're ready now. Please, lead on."
Hanako moves to Lilly's side and we venture onto the school's corridors.
(Crowd Sounds (Muted))
The pair leads me through a series of unfamiliar doors, and we emerge on the side of the building opposite of the festival grounds. Insulated by the heavy stone of the building, the noise from the crowd has faded to a murmur.
HISAO: "Strange; I thought that most people would be beginning to leave by now..."
LILLY: "They're probably here to view the fireworks."
LILLY: "Yes, apparently the school puts on quite a show. A lot of people come from town just to watch them."
Lilly's decision to leave the school grounds seems to make sense now. Hanako would probably have a hard time with the whole town descending onto the school. Or ascending, as the case may be.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Afternoon
For the second time since arriving at Yamaku I find myself walking down this road with Lilly. Only now that I can barely hear the incessant noise of the festival do I realize how loud it was. I can hear my ears ringing slightly in the still evening air as they recover from the day's assault on them.
Hanako clings to Lilly, but still manages to guide her along the road. That, and avoiding the occasional gaze from curious pedestrians, appears to completely sap her constitution. She rarely raises her focus from the ground in front of her, nor does she utter a word. Lilly, on the other hand, maintains her prim and proper persona just as she does in school. It's obvious she purposely puts effort into her appearance, rather than hiding it as Hanako does. It's striking how different they are in their way of holding themselves outside of Yamaku's grounds. That said, it's obvious in both their cases that they do visibly change.
Inside Yamaku, everyone is special, which negates the special-ness of it. But once we venture outside the school gates, we are returned to the status of outsider and generic labels. Especially when we are still in school uniform. It's like hanging a sign around your neck challenging people to figure out what is wrong with you. I'm surprised that so many of the students keep it on. Then again, with canes and wheelchairs common among the students, I guess it's not really that much of a giveaway. Or maybe I'm the only one that sees this as a stigma? Maybe you get used to it after a time, like any other school uniform.
The teahouse seems fairly standard from the outside; just an ordinary building with typical signs decorating the entrance. It looks like the type of place you'd walk by without a thought, just another generic café in a sea of thousands. If Hanako hadn't steered Lilly into the entrance I would have continued on down the road without ever knowing that it existed.
Inside the teahouse it takes on a more traditional feel. Everything seems to have been made from the same lump of timber, from the counter and benches to the high-backed booths around the walls. But the most striking feature of the room is the lack of life. I think I can faintly hear something bubbling away in the background, but otherwise the room is silent. Without any direction, we simply wait near the entrance, politely obeying the Please wait to be seated sign.
HISAO: "Er, is this place closed or something?"
The sound of a chair falling over echoes throughout the empty room, and a head shoots up from inside a booth.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Katawa Shoujo OST - Generic Happy Music
YUUKO: "I wasn't asleep and welcome to the Shanghai!"
Yuuko, dressed in a pastel apron and clutching a menu, rushes to greet us. Her misaligned glasses and ruffled hair cast suspicion on her previous statement. But whether she was asleep or not isn't the first question that leaps to my mind.
HISAO: "You work here now? What happened to the library?"
YUUKO: "What? Lilly? Hisao? Welcome to the Shanghai!"
Yuuko, still waking up, jerks into a violent bow, dislodging her glasses in the process.
YUUKO: "Uweh!? My glasses..."
As I pick up her spectacles off the floor, Lilly offers an explanation.
LILLY: "Yuuko works here part-time as well as at the library. It's one of the reasons we like to come here."
Yuuko takes her glasses from my hands, shakily putting them back on.
YUUKO: "Yes... that's right... thanks... Shall I show you to your table? There's no-one else here so you can choose your table and order whatever you like, but there may be a delay as I will have to make it myself..."
LILLY: "It's all right, Yuuko. Just a pot of black tea and a plate of sandwiches will be fine."
YUUKO: "Right! I'll get right onto that!"
Yuuko hurries off to the back of the café, leaving us still standing at the entrance. She pushes the swinging half-doors open before realizing that she hasn't seated us.
YUUKO: "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Please, sit wherever you'd like! I'll be right back!"
Following her advice, I lead Lilly to the nearest booth as Hanako follows. As I begin to sit next to Lilly, I realize how appropriate this place is for Hanako. The high-backed booths totally separate you from the rest of the room, and it doesn't look like it gets all that many customers. All of the furnishings, from the cushions on the benches to the condiment holders, look dated but aren't overly worn. I wonder if Lilly deliberately selects places like this to take Hanako? She seems like the type that would go to lengths to cater to Hanako's unique predicament.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Everyday Fantasy
LILLY: "So, Hisao, I didn't know you played chess..."
HISAO: "Well, not very well, but I do know how to play."
LILLY: "I suppose the obvious question would now be... who won?"
Lilly's innocent smile makes me hesitate. I don't really want to look like I'm lording my victory over Hanako.
HANAKO: "H-Hisao did."
HISAO: "Yes... but, uh, not by much..."
Damn. Saying that out loud makes me feel like I've done something terrible.
LILLY: "Well done, Hisao. You've accomplished something I've only ever failed at."
HISAO: "Er, thanks. I haven't played in ages, so it felt good to play again."
HANAKO: "Y... yes... It did."
Hanako fidgets with her hair a little and looks away as she replies, but a small smile emerges. It's a little more extreme of a reaction than I expected, but still kind of cute in that Hanako way.
It throws me a little off guard, and only Yuuko's cataclysmic re-entry shocks me back into conversation.
HISAO: "Are you all right there, Yuuko? Do you need a hand?"
YUUKO: "I'm fine I'm fine I'm fine. I have to do this properly, it's my job."
Concentration plays across her face while she stares at the tray in her hands, as if simply looking at its contents will hold them in place.
Her sprite vibrates sharply.
Apparently her dedication to this job only goes as far as her concentration; once it is broken, she suddenly loses it.
YUUKO: "I'll be in the library tomorrow afternoon if you'd like to try again..."
LILLY: "That sounds perfect, I'll meet you there after classes."
HANAKO: "Um... L-Lilly..."
LILLY: "Oh dear, that's right. Tomorrow is Monday, how could I have forgotten?"
I'm starting to feel a little left out of the loop here. Then again that's to be expected; I have been here for barely a week, so it's impossible to know everyone's schedule.
LILLY: "Well, perhaps we could come to some other arrangement. Yuuko, will you be in the library later in the week?"
YUUKO: "Hmm, maybe, but this is already overdue..."
HANAKO: "A-and there are some... things I n-need..."
LILLY: "This might be a problem..."
Lilly ponders for a second before discovering the answer.
LILLY: "I wonder, might we be able to enlist the help of another, if need be...?"
HISAO: "Um, to do what? You lost me quite some time ago..."
Being volunteered for something without even having the slightest idea what is going on isn't really my thing. And here I thought I had finally escaped the clutches of the Student Council and their repeated attempts to recruit me.
LILLY: "Oh, of course. The other day I was helping Yuuko sort the new Braille books in the library. But Hanako and I usually go shopping on Monday afternoons; it's quieter on that day than on weekends. Last week we couldn't go because I was busy with the festival. I managed to slip away later in the week, but Hanako couldn't make it."
HISAO: "Well, since I can't read Braille, I'm assuming you'd like me to go shopping with Hanako?"
LILLY: "Correct. You were a great help to me the other day."
HISAO: "I think I can handle that. Hanako, what do you think?"
HANAKO: "I-if you wouldn't mind..."
HISAO: "Of course not. I'm still not familiar with all the stores in the area, so it sounds like a good idea."
LILLY: "Now that we have that arranged, shall we have some tea?"
It's now that I realize our tea has been sitting idly by all this time, getting no hotter.
YUUKO: "It's my fault! Let me pour that for you..."
Yuuko reaches out with shaking hands, but I intercept her; she looks in no state to be handling hot liquids.
HISAO: "It's all right, I've got it. Since you've already made the tea and sandwiches, you've fulfilled your waitress duties, right?"
YUUKO: "I... I guess."
Yuuko relaxes a little, but still watches eagerly as I share out the assortment.
(Sudden Silence, Popping and Crackling Effect)
The screen starts flashing briefly and irregularly. It took me 25 screenshots just to catch the flash and action, you will better be grateful .
As I am about to bite into the sandwich, a low, loud rumble can be heard, along with a flash of light from outside.
LILLY: "Ah, I take it the show has started."
Different fireworks burst and fade in time with the booming weve been hearing.
Only now looking outside, I realize that dusk has come and gone, leaving us in the peak of twilight. Sparking tracers arc upwards ready to explode in the floral shapes of fireworks.
YUUKO: "Let's go watch! Oh... sorry Lilly..."
LILLY: "Please, don't miss the show on my account. From what I've heard, this isn't a bad location to watch them from."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Lullaby of Open Eyes
The screen lights up a different color every time a firework goes off.
With the exception of Lilly, we rush to the window of the small teahouse to watch the show. The strobe of colored lights plays across Hanako and Yuuko's smiling faces, and for a second I forget to look out the window. In this totally new world, there are a few things that don't change.
I think that's why the school makes such a fuss over this festival. It's a chance to show the similarities between everyone.
The show is over all too quickly; fireworks are expensive, even for the most well-funded schools. Before we return to our tea and sandwiches, Hanako turns to me.
HANAKO: "Um, t-thanks for today. ...and tomorrow."
HISAO: "That's okay; I don't think that I could have faced those crowds either. On days like this it's more relaxing to spend some time away from everyone, don't you think?"
HISAO: "Anyway, we've been delaying this tea for far too long now, let's get back."
We return to the booth and our light meal.
LILLY: "That sounded impressive. Bigger than last year's at least."
YUUKO: "Yeah it was great! I've never seem them put on such a show. It gets better every year!"
LILLY: "I'm afraid, however, that during that time, the tea has gone cold."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Ease
YUUKO: "Oh no! Let me make some more! This is my fault!"
HISAO: "Calm down, Yuuko, it's nobody's fault."
I take a sip from my cup, just to prove the point.
HISAO: "This tea isn't too bad cool, anyway. It's like an iced tea."
HISAO: "Yes, really. If you add a bit of sugar it's kinda nice."
YUUKO: "Are you sure?"
HISAO: "I'm positive. Now why don't you sit down and we'll finish this together?"
Yuuko doesn't seem convinced, but sits down regardless. She carefully measures out about five teaspoons of sugar and adds them to her tea.
HISAO: "Er, I said a bit of sugar..."
YUUKO: "I know but I like my tea sweet anyway."
Curiously I peer into her cup. As expected, hardly any of the sugar dissolves in the cold liquid. She stirs it twice before upturning the cup and drinking the contents, sugar and all, in a single mouthful.
YUUKO: "You're right! That's not bad at all!"
HISAO: "Er, good..."
I look back to Lilly and Hanako, both of whom have finished their meal as I witnessed Yuuko's personality in action. Not wanting to hold anyone up, I use her tactic and finish the remainder of my tea in a single swill.
HISAO: "Well then, it seems we're all finished."
LILLY: "Should we head back now or do we want seconds?"
Yuuko's expression shows that this is quite clearly not a good idea.
HISAO: "I think that it would be best if we got back soon. We do have to get back before curfew, after all."
LILLY: "Oh, that is a good point. I'll meet you tomorrow, Yuuko."
YUUKO: "I'll be looking forward to it, Lilly. Goodbye, everyone."
We make our way out of the small teahouse and into the dark of the night. Lilly and Hanako once again take point, but under the cover of darkness Hanako seems slightly less stressed than she did on the trip here. We move against the occasional group of people emptying the school grounds, but Hanako seems to lead us along a few minor roads, avoiding the bulk of the crowd.
Outside the dorms, the school seems strangely quiet when compared to the noise of the day.
HISAO: "Well then, thank you both for today. I think I learned a lot."
LILLY: "You're most welcome, but I'm afraid that I really must be going. Today's been a long day."
That's right; Lilly spent all of today on her feet, and I can imagine that walking outside of the school would be pretty tiring for her. I feel a pang of guilt as I remember that I was probably the only one in the school that got up around ten this morning.
HISAO: "Sure thing. Well, I'll see you both tomorrow. Good night."
LILLY: "Good night, Hisao."
HANAKO: "N... night."
The girls return to their dorm, and I to mine. Actually, now that I consider it, today tired me out as well.
END OF ACT 1