Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Gakuen Kino Chapter Six

Gakuen Kino I: The Cell Phone Menace

The origins of the Galactic Overlord's childhood as a young slave who was freed by Samoyed Mask!


Anyway, it's a prequel story. Enjoy!

-----

As the rain fell--

A lone cell phone strap was lost in thought.

It was a simply designed phone strap of green leather and yellow metal.

There was nothing attached to it--no keys, other objects, and of course, no cell phones.

It was merely a strap.

The cell phone strap was thinking about something, lying under the hydrangeas blooming by the bus lane sidewalk.

Drenched by the third day of rain--

The cell phone strap lay there like a stone, lost in thought.

He thought,

"Could I really find you?"

-----

Gakuen Kino Chapter 6: Hermes Takes a Stand
~Strap Meets the Girl~

-----

It was one Sunday in June.

An afternoon drenched by the blessings of the rainy season.

A girl was walking on the bus lane sidewalks, which were lined on the sides by apartment buildings.

The girl was in her mid-teens. She had short black hair, large eyes, and a pretty face.

She wore a plain pair of jeans that you could find anywhere, and a black long-sleeved shirt. Over her chest was a large picture of a Škorpion vz. 61submachine gun with the stock folded. Over her back were the words "That's right, a woman like me is a scorpion'(1) written in Gothic font.

If you know where to buy a shirt like this, please contact the author. If you've actually made one of these shirts yourself, you might be better off not wearing it in public.

The girl was wearing a thick belt around her waist. On the right side was a leather holster containing a model revolver. Also on the belt were small green pouches that wrapped around her waist.

The girl wasn't holding a bag, but was holding a big black umbrella. Printed on one corner of the umbrella were the words 'Not secretly a SPAS-12'.

She walked through the rain and arrived at the station area. Around the JR station were shopping malls and restaurants.

The girl, having arrived at the entrance of the area, stopped in front of the mailbox--a box three times faster than most boxes--and took out an envelope from her pocket.

"Go-! To Grandma!"

The girl dropped the letter into the mailbox, speaking the name of the recipient. Of course, this is not necessary for safe delivery. Neither is praying after you've dropped it off.

She unclasped her hands from prayer.

"Well… what to do now?" she mumbled, having accomplished her mission of the day.

In front of her was a lively station. However--

"It's Sunday, so no new books or magazines are getting released. I can't just go on a shopping spree, either… I guess I should just go home. I'll just grab a snack at the convenience store. Ice cream… yeah, ice cream sounds nice."

The girl turned around and walked back the way she came.

She had gone about a hundred metres when she noticed someone. It was a grandmother on her way home from grocery shopping.

She was a tiny woman with a bent back who looked to be extremely elderly.

This grandmother was pushing a grocery cart with both hands, balancing an umbrella on top of it. The cart was filled with plastic bags from the local supermarket and paper bags from a department store.

It looked like she was trying to cross at a pedestrian crossing that didn't have a traffic light. The road was usually empty, but it was surprisingly crowded today. Actually, there was some emergency gas line work going on at the more often frequented road, diverting all of the traffic this way. Of course, the old lady didn't know this.

The old lady tentatively yet desperately tried to cross the street. She looked to her right, looked to her left, took a step forward, and hurried back when a car came speeding her way.

The cars just wouldn't stop for the old lady, as she was too short to be properly visible. Pedestrians actually have the right-of-way at a crossing. This question is on the driving exam.

"Hmm…"

The girl caught sight of this and made her move.

"You're trying to cross, ma'am? I'm going too. Let me help."

Kino didn't actually have to cross here, but it wasn't a complete lie, as a convenience store happened to be across the street from where they stood.

"How very thoughtful of you. Thank you, young lady."

"Just leave it to me!"

The girl stepped in front of the old lady and took one step into the crossing. She held out her right hand, which wasn't holding the umbrella.

Her pose, proud as an athlete taking the Olympic Oath, brought one car to a stop. Another car on the opposite lane caught sight of this and also stopped.

"There's nothing to be scared of if we're crossing together! Let's take our time."

The girl and the old woman slowly made their way across the road.

"Thank you."

"It's no problem."

The cell phone strap was watching the chatting duo as they crossed the road.

He was watching them from the flower bed beside the crossing, drenched and without an umbrella.

'Helping an old lady cross the street in this day and age? What a kind-hearted girl. She just might be the one.' he thought.

-----

Having crossed the street safely, the old lady thanked Kino profusely.

"Here, take this. It's not much, but…"

The old lady took out a package from her cart. It was from the department store's eatery section.

Inside were several individually-wrapped strawberry mochi. The old lady took one and handed it to the girl.

"Th-thank you! This is the special strawberry mochi from the ____Place at the department store in front of the station, right? I love these!"

"I'm glad you like it. I'll be off now."

"All right. Take care, ma'am!"

Once the old lady had disappeared into the apartment, the girl looked down at the strawberry mochi in her hand.

And--

"Just as planned."

She smiled evilly, like she had just killed someone with a curse.

In other words, the girl had seen this package from the start. She had also calculated that if she'd helped this lady, there was a chance that she'd be given one in thanks.

My goodness.

The cell phone strap, however, was across the street. He couldn't see any of this. He couldn't hear any of her wicked laughter.

"Thanks for the meal!"

The girl cheerfully took an unseemly bite out of the mochi as she continued on her way.

-----

She had walked about two hundred metres since then. The strawberry mochi had long disappeared into her stomach.

Three boys around her age approached her from the other side of the wide sidewalk.

The trio were students from a different prefectural high school nearby. They were all in uniform, perhaps because they were on their way back from club activities. They seemed to be on their way to the station.

Normal people would just pass her by, but there was something strange about these three.

"Oh! It's her… it has to be…!"

One of them said, looking at the girl.

"Seriously, man? Now's your chance!"

"Yeah! Go over there! Ask her out!"

The other two urged him on.

It seemed that one of the trio had seen the girl before in passing and fallen in love with her at first sight. Of course, it looked like he had lamented to his friends that he would never see her again, and that he couldn't just barge into a school full of strangers to try and look for her.

The girl, who had no idea about any of this, continued walking towards them with the intention of passing them by.

When the gap between them had closed to about three metres, the boy finally worked up the courage to speak.

"W-wait! Please! I'd like to talk to you!"

The girl, surprised by the boy's sudden cry, looked around as if looking for the person he was talking to. There was no one around. Looks like she was the one.

"What is it?" the girl asked politely.

The boy, red as a tomato, was pushed over by his friends.

"Um! I happened to see you at the bookstore in front of the station before. E-ever since then, I couldn't stop thinking about you…!"

Most people would know from this that he was asking her out, but this girl was dense.

"I see. And?"

Her answer was stoic and professional.

"Huh? Well… uh…"

The boy was terribly flustered. He was completely unprepared for an answer like this.

He'd already said what needed to be said, after all. What more could he add? He was so nervous he couldn't speak. The boy was frozen for few seconds.

"Ask her to a movie!" his friend advised. Friends are wonderful people.

"W-would you like to go watch a movie with me? I-I'll pay for the tickets!"

The boy was desperate to not lose this chance. So he squeezed every last drop of courage he had into this bold statement. 'There! I can do it too, if I put my mind to it!' he thought, wanting for the first time to give himself a pat on the back.

His friends applauded him in their hearts and waited for the girl's response.

And the girl--

Still didn't get it.

"No thanks."

It was a cold answer.

[No, (I like free stuff, but I'd feel bad about owing someone.) Thanks (anyway).]

This was what the girl meant. She didn't understand why this boy asked a perfect stranger to watch a movie with him. However--

"Oh…"

The boy was stunned.

The boy, thinking that she didn't like him, responded hurriedly.

"I-I see. I understand! Please excuse me!"

And he ran through the rain, tears falling from his face. Farewell, my love. And farewell, my foolish youth.

"Hey!"

"Wait up!"

His friends chased after him as he disappeared into the distance. The girl was left standing alone at the sidewalk.

'What was that about? Does he like movies that much? I guess it is fun to watch in a big group.' 

The girl, completely dense when it came to the arts, continued walking, shaking her big black umbrella.

The boy had already gone a million lightyears away from her thoughts.

The girl's mind was filled with thoughts of the ice cream she would soon eat and buy.

Even after eating that gigantic strawberry mochi? Yes.

-----

The cell phone strap was watching her.

The strap, who was just under the hydrangeas, was now atop a flowerbed beside the confession spot. Goddess knows how he got there.

And that cell phone strap thought--

'Doesn't look like she's so easily swayed by the temptations of romance. She's an uncommonly strong and strict girl! I'm starting to like her even more!'

He was, yet again, under the wrong impression.

-----

Having bought her ice cream (vanilla with a chocolate coating) at the convenience store, Kino finished it all at the parking lot, under her umbrella.

"That was good. I had a good walk and a nice snack, so I guess it's about time to get back to the dorms."

The girl entered a small alley from the busway. There was a sign ahead that read "______ Academy ahead".

The girl was a dormitory student. She lived in the dormitories of this academy that had both a junior high and a high school.

It was about a ten-minute walk from the convenience store to the dormitories, and the road passed through a small suburb and a thick forest. One of the slight inconveniences of the dorms was that there were no shops or mailboxes between them. The school was atop a hill, and the dorms at the foot of the climb.

As a side note, there was a school bus that operated between the school and the station, as it was too far to walk to and back. The bus would pick up students at the big street by the suburbs and let them off at the main entrance.

The girl had just arrived at the small park beside the suburb.

Several boys of early elementary school-age were running around in rubber boots and raincoats, completely disregarding the heavy rainfall.

"They're so energetic." she mumbled, and was about to pass right by the park, when suddenly--

"Huh?"

The girl noticed that one child was being poked in the back by all the other children.

The child certainly didn't look very happy to be poked at, but the others just laughed and chattered, without showing any signs of stopping.

Kino then caught a glimpse of the face of a smiling boy in a yellow hat who was poking the lone child.

"Hm."

She took action.

Kino marched into the park she was about to ignore, raised her umbrella and her hand into the air, and shouted without warning.

"You little curs!"

Never mind the fact that no one these days uses the word "cur".

The children stopped in their tracks.

"If you're bothering him, stop it now! And if you're just playing around, find some other game to play!"

The big sis unleashed her fury.

The kids were momentarily stunned, but they talked back at her, saying that she had nothing to do with this and that they were just having fun.

So the girl walked up to the boy in the yellow hat and pinched his hand before he could escape. It was an impressive display of force.

"Ouch! Ouch! What are you doing?"

"You said you were just having fun, right? So I'm joining in! How about this? Is it fun? Are you having fun? Well?!"

Kino's gleeful threat drove the children to silence. The boy she pinched turned his eyes away from her glare.

"You should play games that everyone can enjoy! How would you have felt in his shoes?And remember, what goes around comes around! What if you get bullied by someone next time? Do you think someone's going to come and help you? You're not too young to understand what I'm talking about, right? Well?!"

"O-okay…"

The defeated children nodded reluctantly.

"All right, then."

Kino let go, and the boy in the yellow hat rubbed his hand as he hesitantly stepped back. He then took the hand of the boy they were poking earlier.

"Sorry. Let's all go play together at my house."

As the children left the park, the girl added in a threatening tone--

"Remember! I'm always watching you. If I catch you bullying someone like that again, I'll be there in a flash!"

The girl's eyes glinted like a predator stalking her prey. They had the look of a murderer of dozens. If this were an anime, her eyes would be glowing red.

"…"

As the children left in silence--

"Whew."

the girl let out a languid sigh.

She then righted her umbrella and went back on her way.

And about thirty steps later, a devilish smile graced her lips.

"Hahaha! Serves you right, you brat! This is revenge for shooting me with a toy gun two months ago at the park! You got away last time, but you can't run forever! Man, that felt great!"

My goodness.

She hadn't actually been defending the weak or teaching a bully the ways of righteousness. Kino was just taking sweet, petty vengeance on a kid under the pretence of discipline.

But the cell phone strap, who was watching from a distance--

"She worked so seriously to defend a total stranger from other kids! A true protector of justice, wearing the shell of a young girl!"

The cell phone strap was talking nonsense on top of the jungle gym. Don't ask how he got up there. That'll just hold back the narrative.

"I've decided! She's the one! Final answer!"

-----

The school dormitories were in the forest.

A cylindrical main building was sandwiched in between the rectangular boys' and girls' dorms.

In accordance with falling birth rates and the increase of importance placed on privacy, each room housed one student. The rooms weren't big, but they had a bed, a desk, and other furniture needed for basic day-to-day life.

There was a green sailor suit hanging from her wall.

It was a minimally decorated room. There wasn't even a single poster on the wall, only a lone sticker on the door. The sticker was of a phrase: "Guns don't kill people. You're the one that does the killing.".

The girl was sitting at her desk, reading a comic magazine.

Outside, the twilight hours were darkened with rain and clouds. The only light source was the fluorescent desk lamp. It was just before the cafeteria dinner time.

The magazine pages were yellowed with age, and the cover was falling apart. The publishing date printed on the cover was dated at several years ago.

The magazine was a gift, left behind by an upperclassman Kino had never met. Books and magazines like this were commonplace in the dorms. According to rumours, male students would pass around dirty magazines in much the same fashion.

The girl was reading a comic about a female Special Forces Operative in high school who worked as a freelance killer with a Beretta 92 semi-automatic pistol.

"Wow. She's really cool."

--was Kino's opinion.

After finishing the comic, she placed the magazine on her desk and mumbled.

"Special Forces Operative, huh… but I'm just a normal high school student with marksmanship training from Grandma… Every day's normal. Nothing ever happens. No one's ever asked me out, and I don't do anything special…"

Kino mumbled all this as she set aside her ideas of normalcy, the confession she ignored, and the abnormal actions she took earlier.

It was at that exact moment.

"Don't worry! You can become cool too! You can be a Warrior of Justice!"

Someone's voice rang out through the room. It was a young, boyish tone.

"W-who's there?" Kino knocked over her seat as she stood.

"If you can hear me--"

"I'm hearing things! It must be a hallucination! After all, I'm the only one in this room!" Kino declared, cutting off the mysterious voice. It was a very quick decision.

"W-wait--"

"Hm… I can't hear you!"

Kino desperately ignored the mysterious voice as she passed the time by spinning around the room. It was an interpretive dance.

"It's almost dinnertime. Not yet? I can't wait much longer~ Lalala~ Hmhmhm~"

The timing was perfect.

The bell signalling dinnertime rang at that exact moment.

Kino stopped spinning.

"All right! Time to eat!"

"W-wait a second!"

"Can't do that. Gotta eat."

"You can hear me! So let me ask! Are you my master?"

"Nope. This is all a hallucination."

The girl left the room. She shut the door.

And the cell phone strap, who had squeezed into the room through the veranda door like a cricket--

"…"

was left alone in the room.

"This… this is amazing… I thought she might be surprised, but to think she'd just boldly and blatantly ignore me! That strength of heart and firm mindset is admirable! This girl is the one!"

The cell phone strap made a lonely show of himself.

Meanwhile, the girl had run to the cafeteria as fast as she could and was asking the cafeteria lady for an extra-large helping of rice as usual.

"I was so hungry I started hearing things. That was scary." she explained.

This isn't very relevant, but dinner tonight was  composed of fried food.

First, there were two crunchy cream croquettes. They were warm and golden croquettes filled with corn. Cream would spill out if you cut it open with your chopsticks.

There was one large fried shrimp. Inside the crispy fried batter was a large, juicy shrimp. Beside it was a special sour tartar sauce, meticulously crafted at the cafeteria kitchens.

The fresh diced cabbages that lined the plate were perfectly matched by the pork cutlet sauce. The Neapolitan spaghetti with parsley was an oily, but essential part of dinner.

On a smaller plate to the side was fresh spinach and seasoned tofu. The devil's tongue jelly and the carrots created a wonderful blend of colouring, and the smell of sesame was positively mouthwatering.

The miso soup was full of vegetables, moist fried eggplant and fried tofu. One sip would fill your mouth with the wonderful taste of miso (what else?).

The side dish was salted pickles, and the rice was the beautiful, silver-hued akitakomachi(2). Both could be refilled infinitely.

If the side dishes weren't enough, there were seaweed and egg furikake(3) and bonito furikake, and packs of natto(4) as well.

The students were still young, after all. They should be well-fed and well-worked so they could grow tall and strong.

This concludes the completely irrelevant description of dinner. I wrote it to taunt all of you hungry readers. I regret nothing.

-----

"I'm so full! That was great!"

The girl returned to hr room in sheer euphoria.

It was dark outside the window. Kino turned on the light and closed the green curtains.

"Welcome back." the cell phone strap greeted quietly.

"Thanks." Kino responded obliviously, brain still filled with pure joy for dinner.

"That was so good…"

The girl fell back onto her bed, taking off her belt with the holster. The cell phone strap, now on the desk, questioned the girl.

"Have you ever shot a gun before?"

Kino answered, looking up at the ceiling.

"Yeah. Grandma taught me to."

"That's great. So I wanted to ask you--"

"What? I don't want to subscribe to any newspaper, if that's what you're asking. I don't even get TV here. I don't need any jars, either."

"No, that's not it."

"Then what?"

Kino asked, closing her eyes, stomach full and in peace.

She'd turn into a pig if she just fell asleep like this.

Suddenly, the cell phone strap said something shocking!

"Do you want to become a Warrior of Justice and protect this school?"

"Whaaaaat?!" Kino opened her eyes and sat up, using her abs.

She looked around, searching for the source of the voice.

"Where are you?"

"Right here."

The voice was coming from her desk. Kino went up to it and noticed the cell phone strap. It was definitely not her own.

She picked it up.

"Hello."

This strap was definitely the source of the voice.

"What? You're going to explain, right?" Kino asked stoically.

"I'll explain everything so it's easy to understand. The forces of evil are descending upon this school. They're planning to take root in the hearts of vulnerable teenagers, turn them into  demons, destroy the school, and draw this society--this country--this planet--into a whirlpool of chaos. And they're almost here. The Goddess of this world decided to protect it by turning me into a cell phone strap and sending me to find warriors to combat evil."

The girl frowned as she listened to the cell phone's serious explanation.

"Did you hit your head? …wait. You don't have one, do you?"

The strap ignored her question.

"Only a fellow student can combat the demons. It also has to be someone with a heart full of justice. After all, the warrior has to remain in the closed space of school. It also has to be someone who can fire the legendary demon-sealing weapon, Big Cannon~Shining Iron Demon Destroyed. In other words, someone who knows how to use a gun. I can't leave it to someone who puts his finger over the trigger before he's ready to fire."

Kino asked quickly, "So where's this justice-loving student of yours?"

"Right here! You, the girl with a heart of gold, skilled in gun usage, is the best candidate to become the Warrior of Justice! The Goddess said when she sent me here that someone who was perfectly suited to the role would be nearby! And I found you! This must be fate! You are the warrior chosen by the Goddess! When demons appear, you have to use the Goddess's powers and transform into a Warrior of Justice to seal away the demons! End explanation."

"Why me…? Sure, I know how to use guns, but I'm not interested in Justice. Sorry, but go find someone else. Bye."

Kino opened the curtains and the window. She opened the screen door, too.

Past the balcony was a forest damp with rainwater. And darkness. Kino was planning to throw the strap into that space.

"W-wait! There's more--"

"There is?"

"If you become a Warrior of Justice now, you'll receive three months' worth of free detergent!"

"Don't need it. The dormitory laundry room already has a lot of detergent from the newspaper company. They got it from the faculty office and the library's newspaper subscriptions. There's actually so much they don't think they can ever finish it,"

"I-I also have two tickets to an amusement park! How about a date with your boyfriend?"

"Are you making fun of me? I don't have a boyfriend."

"Become a Warrior of Justice now and get into shape! If you'll look at this graph, seven out of nine have successfully lost weight!"

"My BMI's fine. I don't need to go on a diet."

"The power of the Warrior of Justice will send scalar waves to deoxyribose nucleic acids and make you rich! The effects have been scientifically proven by Doctor Gerose Belmont of the University of East Illinois! You can buy a Ferrari and bathe in cash while being attended to by beautiful maids! Effects are near-instant!"

"Does anybody even believe in stuff like that anymore?"

"Wait! Just one more minute! Please listen for one more minute! I'll explain how amazing it will be to become a Warrior of Justice. Please--"

"I don't want to."

"Then what am I supposed to do?!" the cell phone strap finally got angry. Looks like he may be suffering from calcium deficiency.

The girl began to warm up by rotating her shoulder. Looks like she had nothing to say anymore.

"If we talk it out, I'm sure we can reach an understanding(5)…" the cell phone strap muttered the famous last words (but not really) of a Prime Minister who was assassinated.

"I'll toss you after I listen to one last offer. Have fun in there."

The girl retained her cool.

The strap was in trouble.

"Ohhh… and I finally found someone, too…"

"Finished? Bye now. I have homework to hand in for tomorrow, and I need to get started. There isn't a lot of time, since I'm not so good at history and math. Bye. I hope someone nice picks you up."

The girl took hold of the strap, raised one leg, and prepared to throw.

"You know, I could do that homework for you…"

The girl stopped in place upon hearing the strap mumble, and put her foot back on the ground. If there was a runner, he would have reached second base.

"What did you just say?" the girl asked.

"Huh? I said I could do your homework for you." the cell phone strap replied nonchalantly.

"You can do that?"

"My brain's different from that of a human's, you know."

He didn't look like he could have a brain anywhere, but setting that aside--

"Th-then try this!"

The girl shut the window and the curtains. She opened up her Japanese History textbook and put the strap on the page.

"Hm… Question 1: A. Question 2: C. Question 3: B. Question 4: B. Question 5: D."

Kino drew breath, watching the strap answer with ease, she then lifted it to eye-level. She smiled at him for the first time.

"What's your name?"

"My name's Hermes. A scrap who's been given the name of the Greek god of travellers and thieves."

"…you mean a strap?"

"Yeah, that's it."

As a side note, Hermes is also known as Mercury in Roman mythology, but let's set that aside.

"Hermes, huh? My name's Kino. Answer me. Answer me now!"

The girl who called herself Kino asked a question.

"If I become a Warrior of Justice, what about you?"

"Of course, I'm planning on staying as a cell phone strap on your belt 24/7 in case of demon attacks--"

"Even during tests?"

"Well… yeah…"

The strap trailed off, but it was a positive answer.

"I'll do it." Kino answered firmly.

"Huh?"

I'll be a Warrior of Justice. But in exchange, you have to help me out when I don't know something on a test, okay? Give and take."

"…"

"Well?"

"As a high school student… It's your responsibility to work on your studies…"

Hermes trailed off again.

"Hm? You said you needed a Warrior of Justice right now, right? Or do you want to go back to the forest?" Kino threatened.

"Uh… I guess it wouldn't do for a Warrior of Justice to fail and drop out… so only if you're really in a tight spot."

Kino tossed Hermes into the air and clapped. She then caught him.

"Great! Contract completed! I'm counting on you, Hermes!"

"Thanks. Whew…"

The strap called Hermes sighed and fell into thought.

'Oh, Goddess! Have I made the right decision? Is this really all right…?'

"Yeah! Now I won't end up failing! Oh yeah, could you wake me up in the mornings so I don't sleep in? Thanks!" Kino spun around her room in a dance.

"I guess it's fine. After all, this will be hardest on you, Kino." Hermes replied.

Kino then stopped dancing and looked at Hermes, still resting on her palm.

"…"

She stared at him.

"Wh-what?" Hermes asked.

Kino screamed.

"Oh my gosh! The cell phone strap is talking!"

"You noticed that now?!"

This was how Kino and Hermes were brought together by fate.

Kino's first battle against a demon was not long afterwards. It was a summer day at the end of the rainy season.

The wheel of fate had begun to spin.

What will happen to Kino and Hermes?

That question is answered in volume one, currently in print.
-----

(1) Source of quote is unknown. Any suggestions?
(2) A famous type of rice in Japan.
(3) A type of condiment for sprinkling on rice.
(4) Fermented soybeans famous for their smell.
(5) Again, I don't know where this quote comes from.

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