Chapter I-3: A golden world in books; Heaven in the pupils

 After two weeks of fourth-grade school life, Shou’s perspective on the learning experience turned about completely. Compared to staying at home or playing in the park, playing hide-and-seek with Yuki and Ei, talking (and later arguing, then fighting) with Jyun, and listening to the teacher telling stories all seemed to be much more enjoyable and exciting. Like a debate or even a duel, Shou found that while interacting with classmates at school can be fun, it could also be unexpectedly challenging.
 “Shou-kun, what did you get?” Ei asked as the group received their writing assignments back.
 “Hold on, let me go through it first. Looks like the teacher made comments in our papers.” Shou gave a brief satisfied look towards his returned work with an 83 written on the top right hand corner.
 “96! Of all that and I got a 96?” Jyun’s right hand chopped at his work held by his left hand. “And to add to that, why is it that you always get one, just ONE mark higher than me all the time?!”
 “So I’m better, so too bad. Nyah-ah!” Ei made a face at Jyun. She turned to Yuki and asked, “Yuki, what mark did you get?”
 “I’m OK.” Yuki stuffed her paper into the desk drawer.
 “Oh be a good sport. Tell us what you got?” Jyun tried to convince the classmate beside him.
 “I will tell you my mark, if you can tell me yours.” Even Shou offered, glancing up from his much-distracted paper-checking process.
 “I rather not.” Yuki reaffirmed her position.
 Shou’s mind itched for knowing Yuki’s mark, but could do no more after prying a few more times. Furthermore, at the end of his own paper, the teacher wrote a comment in red ink: Try to build more on the story’s conflict. Please write your letters harder and clearer next time. Scanning the latter line several more times in somewhat disbelief, he fumed and slammed the paper onto the desk with his palm before stuffing it into the drawer. He gave no explanation for himself when the others gave a surprised stare.

 Shou shut the door behind him as he entered the privacy in his own room, slipped off his backpack on one shoulder, gave a jump and catapulted the mass across the room, effectively knocking down half the items placed on the end of his bed. Drawing out a plastic sword placed behind the door, he began to strike up a whirlwind of destruction as he targeted the most breakable objects in the room, as well as leaving dents in all the wooden furniture.
 “Wha–” Yuu opened the door and began, when Shou let out a scream of rage and flung the sword straight towards the interloper on his wrathful fest. The rounded tip of the toy sword smashed right on Yuu’s chest, knocking her off her feet with a heavy cough.
 “MOM!”
 Shou stood frozen in the afterpitch pose as his mother asked in a cold tone, “Shou, did you just hit your sister?” She picked up the plastic sword in the middle of the doorway, tip pointing outward and towards Yuu, still sitting on the ground and shaken up from the impact.
 “I’m taking away this now.” Suiryuu picked up the sword and continued, “You should know better than to destroy things at home and to hurt your sister! What should you say to her?”
 Shou remained silent.
 “Apologize to her!”
 “Sorry!” He yelled.
 “Yuu, leave us alone now, would you?” Suiryuu helped a silently muttering Yuu get back up and motioned her back into her room. She then told Shou to sit down and sat beside him on the bed, with the plastic sword in her left hand. She began, “What’s the matter? Did something bad happen at school?”
 A silent Shou bobbed his head sideways once as he gave a slight shrink on the shoulders.
 “Did your school friends upset you?”
 Again, a shrink.
 “You’ve got to talk about it.”
 “I don’t want to.” Shou spoke the only prepared phrase. Why should I tell her that I got criticized by my teachers that my writing is ugly? It’s not my fault that the 2H pencil I chose happened to be ‘too light’ for you to see, and that I don’t press as hard on the page with it! Then, sitting right in front of me, is this girl who gets praised as a genius in art class and the most clean-cut writing I’ve ever seen, just as if she is there, placed there by fate, to mock me! He recalled the moment during recess, he snuck back into the classroom as everyone was outside, and pondered whether or not to sneak a peek at Yuki’s paper. He had one hand on Yuki’s desk and as his morality took its last stand with the prevailing forces of curiosity, a girl in a cardigan and grey skirt appeared in the corner of his eye as she asked in a flat tone, “Tachibana-kun, what are you doing beside my desk?”
 Shou shook his head violently to shake away the memory.
“OK, everyone listen up!” The teacher called to her students without much success, as the students expressed in their riotous ways as much as possible in the slim timeframe that was between classes. Not only does this cacophony become one of the most feared noise pollution in the school, it is also the unstoppable type once it has begun! “Looks like there is no other way, then…” she shook her head. This is the final straw, she thought to herself.
She gathered her breath and began to howl the short pejorative command:
“SHUT YOUR MOUTHS!!!”
The classroom went dead silent from the flash thundering of off-scale decibels, making every syllable take its toll as it drilled into every student’s inner ear. The windows shook in echo as a pencil dropped from a shocked student’s frozen hands.
“All right, you’ve all quieted down now, right?” The teacher recovered her default smile and continued, “Today in language class, we will go to the second-graders as reading buddies…” At this point, several students gave a cheer, while some others immediately grimaced at the thought. “…Allow me to continue. Before you go, you will find a partner and select two books from this box, then wait in line in front of the door.” The quick bunch of students already stood up and went for the bookcase as soon as the teacher had finished her sentence.
Shou took a quick glance towards Yuki, and then towards Jyun, Ei, then back at Yuki again.
“I guess I’ll go with Ei then…” Jyun proposed.
As soon as he finished Ei resisted, “Why must I go with this impudent, happy-to-see-people-die smart aleck?”
Jyun challenged, “Ah, But ever since the last story writing bet, don’t you want to know who is the best storyteller in class? Let the kids be the judge this time. Unless you are too much of a wimp to bet on this! Hey everybody listen up, Ei Ogasawara is a…”
“What are you talking about, I won last time! Fine, if you lose, this time you treat me to afternoon tea! I want a big tart with three layers of fruit and jelly on top!” Ei hastily accepted the challenge and defined her bet while extending the sound on the word “big”. Her enthusiastic eyes shone like stars in greed and wrath of imaginary retribution.
Shou thought to himself: Who’s the more impudent one now…?
He turned to Yuki and asked in a careful and quiet tone, “Utsuki-san…”
“It’s fine if you just call me Yuki.” She callously cut off his sentence. “Hmm, I’ll work with you then…Go pick some books for us, but please don’t pick a book that’s too long.” and Shou obediently complied.

“Tachibana-kun, this book…it’s not bad, but why do you want us to act out everything in it?” Yuki frowned as she asked Shou.
“Well, I thought it’d be fun, competing with Jyun and Ei, and think about it, a prize by the teacher for the most cooperative and creative group?” Shou said while he thought to himself: How terrible a result it would be if the prize were given to either Jyun or Ei, who already monopolized most of the class’ glory!
“I think you and the two are all trying too hard to outdo others. Of all, one should only need to compete with themselves.” Yuki quietly said, letting the din of the bustling fourth-graders muffle her words in static.
“What?” Shou asked.
“No…nothing.” Yuki emotionlessly replied and returned to her state of silence.
Not before long, they arrived in front of the second-graders’ classroom. The teacher divided the second-graders to their fourth-grade partners. Because the second-grader’s class is smaller than the fourth-graders, some fourth-grade groups had only one partner, such as Shou and Yuki’s group, and settled down in the classroom’s sofa nook.
Yuki began, “Hello, this is Shou-kun, and my name is Yuki. What’s yours?”
“Shuuichi, 8 years old.” The little boy reported back.
She gave a smile. “You’re an honest little boy, aren’t you? All right then, let’s begin?”
The three of them held the book together, as the little second grader sat in between the two older children, and Shou began reading the first narrative lines:
“Today, our story takes us back to a time long, long ago, to a historic land called China…”

The story began with the people of the earth find that the moon is slowly falling down onto them. In panic, the Emperor desperately searched for an emissary to the moon. Min-Yo, the lightest little girl in the land, boldly risked herself by climbing up the old fragile silk ladder to the moon. There, she met a lonely moon dragon, with opal skin and eyes of lapis lazuli, claws and teeth of silver and wings of gold – and became friends with him.
Each person took turns to read the pages, occasionally letting someone else pick up the dialogue. As the story progressed, Shou automatically looked to Yuki as her sunshine voice played out little Min-Yo’s character, and gets looked back when the gentle moon dragon let out his words.
Shou’s facial expressions came naturally as he became as the lonely moon dragon, expressing his frustrations and feelings of emptiness as lunar dust storms rolled in his eyes. Yuki acted as the soft-spoken girl, bringing forth a natural naïveté and lovingness, as if the layers of clouds in the sky finally show a beam of sunlight, shining down on spots in the green plains dotted with yellow sunflowers.
The girl gave presents from the emperor and her own. The dragon took delight in the colourful and sweet vegetables she brought, for he ate nothing but bland stewed moonflowers. However, he had no surprise or joyfulness when she presented a large diamond, meant as a present from the Emperor, and showed her an entire cave full that contained an ocean of similar gems.
Shuuichi at this point began to grow a little dazed from the sunlight shining from behind, and fell onto Yuki’s shoulder. She gave a surprised look for a second, then continued with the story, not minding his actions.
I want to do that too, Shou’s inner voice cried as he gave a look towards Yuki. Within his body, something pulled his breath down from the bottom of his throat and jabbed like a dull dowel towards the back of his heart, giving the organ a startling pulse.
When their eyes slowly and unnoticedly met, their thoughts pass through the two pairs of eyes, filtered by shining pools of tears. Completely fused in with the story, Shou was a half-unconscious thirsty lost traveller in a desert, gratefully absorbing the clear, nutritious brook flowing from Yuki’s eyes with an indescribable euphoria.
“Yes, Shou?” Yuki seemed to notice his change of expression.
“Hmm? Nothing.” Shou replied.
The two figured out together that the moon is falling to the earth because of the precious jewels and items he collected over time, and the intelligent girl suggested throwing the items into the sky, so the moon will not be as heavy. Through determination and hard work, they managed to throw all the jewels to the sky, shining as a dazzling display of stars across the celestial canvas. The moon also soon returned to its normal distance with the earth, and the moon dragon was grateful with his newfound friendship with the little girl.
 As the story ended, Shou gave a sigh of relief as he finished the last of his lines and looked at Yuki again. As if a large fish broke off a hook and somersaulted back into the ocean, and her empathic brilliance vanished with the mythical jewels in the night sky, the oceans…the lands…
“I…I’ll go return the book…” Yuki finally stood up from the sofa, her voice slightly shaking. “Oh…I’ll go too…” Shou unnaturally mumbled. When Yuki went to return the book, Shou’s hungrily traced her face for her eyes, hoping for any traces of the gentle feeling left.
“Aiee~~!”
“What’s going on?”
“CRASH!” A series of sounds clashed behind the two children, and Shou finally snapped back into this reality, heavily flushed.
Behind them, there was trouble.

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