Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Gakuen Kino 5 - Chapter 8 (Part 2)

Sorry for the wait. Here's more Gakuen Kino.

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Chapter 8 - Part 2: The Enemy is the Baseball Club
~Nine~


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“Here’s to a clean match!”

Chako-sensei said energetically.

The members of the Take Action Now Club stood in a row alongside her. And across,

“A clean match. Thank you, Chako-sensei.”

The response came from an ordinary female student from the school.

She was a tall girl with a lively air about her. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail, and she was wearing red school-issue sweats.

“I’m thankful to everyone from the Take Action Now Club.” She added.

Following her,

<Thank you!>

The opponents standing in a row behind her cried in unison, taking off their caps and bowing.

Kino spoke.

“Chako-sensei… you don’t mean…”

“Yes, Kino. Everyone, we’ll be facing the school baseball team today!”

Yes. Standing before the Take Action Now Club were nine boys in uniform and a girl in sweats.

“I see! That explains it…” Kino mumbled in understanding.

The meaning of the chapter title is finally clear.


“Let’s have a clean match, everyone. Get to practicing, now! We’ll be having a quick chat with Yuri.” Said Chako-sensei.

“Okay.” “Let’s go.” “Let’s get started.” “Yeah!”

The nine members of the baseball team set down their things and began to run laps around the grounds. Wait, nine? That’s only just enough for a game.

But before that, let’s go to Chako-sensei.

“Let me introduce everyone.”

She introduced the girl in sweats who had shown up with the baseball team.

“This here’s Adachi Yuri. She’s the manager of our school’s baseball team. The team members and I lovingly call her ‘Yurippe’. She’s a fourth-year student, just like Kino and Inuyama.”

“My name is Adachi Yuri! It’s nice to meet you!”

Yuri bowed. She wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as Kino was before a meal, but it was a close match. Her ponytail shook up and down.

Chako-sensei continued to explain.

“Yurippe’s the one who asked for the match. She wanted to schedule a practice game, but she didn’t have contacts in other schools. And, well, to be honest, our school’s baseball team isn’t that great.”

The members of the Take Action Now Club(sans Kino) got the gist of the situation.

The goal of every high school baseball team was the Kōshien(1). But the students had never heard of their baseball team winning a single preliminary game necessary to qualify for the elusive tournament.

“The baseball team’s not popular, and there aren’t many members.” Chako-sensei said ruthlessly, pointing at the team as they ran in a straight line along the grounds.

One, two, three… Yes. Even on a second and third count, there were only nine people.

On one hand, it meant that anyone could enter the starting lineup as soon as they joined the team. On the other, it meant that if even one person missed out, they could not play a game.

In other words, none of the members could back out saying, ‘I have a cold today’, ‘Today’s supposed to be my first date with her’, ‘I’m not feeling it today’, or ‘my favorite voice actor’s concert is today’.

“But they’re all passionate, love baseball, and want to win if they can.”

Yuri nodded at Chako-sensei’s explanation. The nine members of the baseball team were indeed running dutifully.

“And what better training is there than playing a real game? The problem is, you don’t get any stronger if you don’t play against someone stronger than you. But our team is so close to the bottom that other schools just won’t…”

Yuri trailed off. To be frank, the baseball team wanted help from other teams, but they were so weak that no one would face them. Understandable.

If a team wanted to take time out of their schedule to practice, they were better off playing against someone helpful. No matter what excuse the other schools gave, that was probably what they were all thinking.

“And that’s why Yurippe here—with her high standards—chose us. We’re strong, after all.” Chako-sensei declared. Yuri bowed energetically. It was a truly polite request. Yuri spoke, her head bowed a full 90 degrees.

“Thank you for taking time out of your Sunday! It’s an honor to be able to play against the Take Action Now Club! Thank you!”

“Not at all,” Shizu and Inuyama replied like gentlemen. But behind them,

“I can beat anyone who gets in my way. And I’m going to eat.” Kino muttered. What on earth is on this human’s mind? 90% food and 10% drinks.


While the baseball club practiced, the Take Action Now Club sat along the platform and waited.

From the looks of the baseball team’s defense practice, they couldn’t even pay lip service to their skills. The students were sluggish, and sometimes they made simple mistakes from their lack of experience.

But the team, along with Yuri—who was helping to pick up balls—looked happy.

They were not skilled, but they enjoyed the sport. What use was there in liking something they sucked at? Who cares. They were just happy to play.

“To be honest, everyone on the baseball team is a good person…” Chako-sensei said, sounding grave for once. The Take Action Now Club listened closely.

“…But the problem is their supervisor.”

Heh. Just like the Take Action Now Club. Kino thought, but did not say. She kept herself in line.

Kino did not know who was the supervisor and coach of the baseball team. Shizu, who knew everything, chimed in.

“Would that be Watanabe-sensei from the social studies department?”

Chako-sensei nodded.

Kino thought of Watanabe-sensei. She remembered a polite man in his mid-thirties. He was married and had a three-year-old daughter, and was a rather popular teacher.

“Huh?”

There was nothing particularly problematic in that image.

Sara and Elias must have thought the same thing, because they also tilted their heads. But Chako-sensei quickly cleared their doubts.

“He’s a good, hardworking teacher, but he changes when he leads the team.” She explained. “He loves baseball and he’s passionate, but that ends up backfiring. He’s too strict on the team—in other words, This is Sparta. He won’t let even a single puny mistake slide, and scolds the unlucky student in front of everyone. So a lot of members get angry and quit.”

“…”

Although Kino was a student there, all of this was news to her. All she knew about the school was the menu for the student cafeteria and the school bakery.

Inuyama spoke.

“So that’s why he’s not here today.”

Come to think of it, Watanabe-sensei was nowhere to be found. Yuri the manager was leading the team. To inform you in advance, he won’t appear in this story. Probably ever.

“The baseball team may be weak, but they want to have fun and relax. That’s how they should be playing in their matches, but they can’t play at their best when they’re always scared of making mistakes and getting scolded.” Chako-sensei said.

Kino wasn’t sure if that sounded convincing coming from Chako-sensei, who was always twice as relaxed as everyone else.

“I want to draw your attention to the captain—um, that one. The one doing pitching practice in the corner. He’s Totsugawa, a fifth-year student.”

Chako-sensei pointed at a student who was solemnly pitching at the catcher. He was stick-thin and very tall.

He must be Totsugawa. He is a major character in this story, so please try to remember his name.

“He’s been a very talented student ever since junior high school—a pitcher and a slugger—but he hasn’t been playing at his best since he came to our school. Totsugawa always blames himself for his team being weak and for Watanabe-sensei always getting mad at them. Thanks to that, he’s suffering from a stomach ulcer at that young age.”

Poor thing. The Take Action Now Club gave him looks of pity. He was an example of Japanese responsibility and earnestness gone wrong.

“There is such a thing as being too responsible. If only people were more relaxed, like me!” Chako-sensei commented.

If every person in the country were like her, the country would fall to ruin.

In any case, the Take Action Now Club was facing the baseball team.

“I suppose it won’t be as stressful for them to play against us, instead of a genuine team.”

Just as Shizu said, in spite of our main trio’s incredible athletic skills, the Take Action Now Club was a team of newbies.

Though the baseball team was weak, they practiced hard every day. They would not lose that easily. This might actually be a pretty good match-up.

But—

“Sensei, we still have a problem.” Said Shizu.

Naturally. Inuyama, Sara, and Elias had also been concerned for quite some time.

“All right. I’m gonna do this!”

The only person who didn’t care was one protagonist named Kino.

“We only have six people, Sensei. And the other team has only the nine—we can’t borrow any players.” Shizu said.

“I see you’ve noticed. Good eye, Shizu!” Chako-sensei replied like a teacher, and grinned. You know, it takes a special eye to not notice the problem.

Clap.

“Oh no! I didn’t think about that!” Kino cried, clapping her hands together, but everyone ignored her.

“Don’t worry about it. I prepared three helpers in advance. Come on out!” Chako-sensei exclaimed, raising her hand. And three men suddenly dropped down—excuse me. Chako-sensei swung her hand and pointed at the school gates.

“Attention, please!”

As everyone watched, three men rushed ordinarily through the gates.

They were kuroko(2).

They were three kuroko.

Dressed in black with their faces covered by black masks. The very same ones who work in kabuki theater. They had average heights and average builds, and looked nearly identical. Frankly, it’s impossible to tell them apart.

<Good afternoon.> They said in unison, bowing together in perfect sync. What teamwork!

Chako-sensei stood behind them.

“These people are our helpers today! From the left, we have—”

The men spoke.

“Please, call me Sato!”

“Please, call me Suzuki!”

“Please, call me Takahashi!”

With names that just begged to be asked, ‘those are pseudonyms based on the three most common family names in Japan, aren’t they?’, one of the kuroko stepped forward and raised his hand.

<Together, the three of us are are kuroko! Nice to meet you!>

Finally, they shouted in unison. I feel like I’ve heard that line somewhere…

Come to think of it, knowing their names is useless if we can’t tell them apart. Don’t they have nametags?

“It’s nice to see you again. And thank you for helping us with the play before.” Said Shizu. The people at the play were, yes, in the same outfits. But how did Shizu know they were the same people? Is it the way they smell? Is that it?

“I forgot to introduce them then, but these three were my underclassmen in college.” Chako-sensei lied confidently.

As clever readers may have noticed, these men are members of KAERE.

They’ve made quite a few appearances, but if you’ve forgotten them, please refer back to Gakuen Kino 2, chapter 4.

Yes. Composed of talented individuals gathered from the JSDF, the Japan Coast Guard, and the police force, KAERE is the world’s number one anti-demon task force!

Hm? How do I know that they’re number one?

Because there’s only one anti-demon task force in the world.


“We’ll be needing your help again today.” Shizu said. The rest of the club greeted the kuroko in turn.

Kino and Inuyama, who had seen KAERE—er, them—at the play, were not very surprised. But temporary members Sara and Elias were fascinated.

“Um, why are you dressed like kuroko?” Sara wondered. Any sane person would want to know.

Although she wasn’t expecting an answer, they spoke in order, from the left on—in other words, from Takahashi.

“Because I like kuroko!”

I suppose that’s understandable.

“Because I always dress this way!” Said Suzuki.

I suppose everyone has a different idea of what is fashionable.

“It’s Japanate!”

I have no idea what he’s talking about.


In any case, with the addition of three dependable kuroko to the team, the Take Action Now Club had nine people.

“Now, time for a strategy meeting.”

Glancing at the baseball team, which was hard at work practicing, the club muddled together. Kino turned into Chako-sensei, who turned into— Excuse me. The club huddled together. Naturally, they didn’t play limbo or anything of the sort.

Chako-sensei looked everyone in the eye(and in the kuroko’s case, their masks).

“We’ll first decide on the positions. I’ll be catcher. And as we said earlier, Kino is the pitcher.”

“Yeah!”

“Shizu is on first base.”

“Leave it to me.”

“Inuyama, shortstop.”

“Understood.”

That’s all good. The problem starts here.

“Elias on second base, and Sara on third.”

“Huh?” “Huh?” They asked in unison. Being unskilled at catching fast balls, they didn’t really want to take the infield.

But Chako-sensei sounded very nonchalant.

“Don’t worry, you two. Just stand next to your plates. You don’t even have to catch the ball if it comes. Elias, you hide behind Kino. Sara, if anything happens, run as fast as you can.”

She had given up on them right away. Sara and Elias were really just there to fill numbers. But they seemed relieved about Chako-sensei’s judgement.

“And I’ll leave the outfield to you! I’m counting on you, Mishima! Ito! Shimizu!”

<Understood!>

The men cried in unison. Wait, did something happen to their names?

“We’re counting on you to keep the outfield secure. Throw everything you catch to Inuyama or Shizu.”

<Understood!>

The baseball team seems to be finished with practice.

It was 1:57 in the afternoon.

Let the battle commence.


Author Sigsawa Keiichi will be giving his live commentary on the game.

In other words, I’m going to keep writing.

Ahem. Under the beautiful blue sky, the nine members of the Take Action Now Club and the nine members of the baseball team stood face-to-face before home base.

On the faces of the baseball team members were quizzical looks—why are we playing against these people?

First was the beautiful but truly bizarre—

“Hm? What is it?”

—bizarre but truly beautiful Chako-sensei.

“Let’s have a good game.”

The cool and handsome Shizu, famous for his katana.

“Um. Let’s have a good game.”

The second star of the school, Sara the famous diva.

“…”

Inuyama, a beautiful white-haired boy.

“Hello…”

Elias, a foreigner in looks only.

And three kuroko who were clearly suspicious. You couldn’t blame the team for being confused.

The baseball team was a little amused, and very confused.

Incidentally, Kino—who was completely unremarkable save for her belt—was cast out of the spotlight.

“Hey! I’m the protagonist here!”

Anger will get you nowhere. Although Kino would have been feared like an apex predator if this were an eating contest.

“Tch. I’ll destroy you all. Grr…”

But the only one who responded to her mumbling and teeth-grinding was—

“Sigh…”

—Hermes, hanging from her belt.


The two teams are finally gathered, but aren’t we still missing something?

Ah, yes. The umpires.

You need at least four umpires in a baseball game. One at home plate, and one on each of the bases.

Then,

“Sorry to keep you waiting.”

A cloud of dust swept past the grounds, and four people—who did not look at all like umpires—walked in, shoulder-to-shoulder.

With solemn steps, they stepped forward—four middle-aged men. They looked so grave that they’d probably spent their entire lives refereeing.

It was like the opening sequence of a cop show or a historical drama. It’s a shame that there’s no BGM.

“You’re here.”

“You’re finally here.”

Chako-sensei and Yuri said in unison. They must have been the ones who called the men.

The four men stood side-by-side behind the home plate. The head umpire, who was holding a mask, solemnly spoke.

“Good afternoon.” He said gravely yet tersely. He had a resonant baritone voice, like a movie star. No one could go against a voice like his.

At the head umpire’s instruction, the leader of each team stepped forward. Chako-sensei stepped aside, so Totsugawa was met by Shizu.

The umpire gravely announced the rules.

“The game will last for nine innings, no overtime. No blows to the eyes or below the belt. Hitting with the elbow will be a warning on the first—”

Is this umpire all right?

“—one joker in play. 3 Spades beats joker. Eight Ender and Revolution rules are in play.”

Shizu and Totsugawa nodded, listening carefully to the explanation. Are these two all right?

“No passing when the yellow flag is being waved. Stop in case of a red flag, and the checkered flag means the race is finished.”

As the umpire continued, Inuyama whispered to Chako-sensei.

“Where did you find these people?”

Chako-sensei replied quietly.

“On the internet. Yurippe and I used the library computer to look for umpires in the area—”

Of course. You can find anything on the internet—even umpires for a suspicious game like this.

“—but we couldn’t find anyone, so we ended up going to Yahoo Auctions. We got ‘em cheap.”

Are these umpires really all right?


Now, it’s time to decide on who gets to bat first—in other words, which team is first on the offensive.

The head umpire took out a coin.

He flipped it over to show that it had both a heads-side and a tails-side. On the heads-side was the profile of a goddess poking out her tongue like Peko-chan(3). And the tails-side was, for some unknown reason, charred black.

Shizu allowed Totsugawa to pick.

“Um, I… I’ll take… tails! No, wait. Heads!”

He must be very nervous.

This is only the beginning. Is he really going to be all right?

In any case, the coin toss dictated that the Take Action Now Club was batting first. In other words, the offensive.

“Then, let’s begin. All bow!”

“Let’s have a clean match!”

“Let’s have a clean match!”

Two rows of people bowing to one another in unison. It’s a heartwarming sight.


Game start. Finally.

The Take Action Now Club’s bench was on the first base-side of the field. The baseball team’s bench was on the other side.

That didn’t, however, mean that they had real benches.

The Take Action Now Club had the mat they had used earlier that day. As Chako-sensei had prepared thermoses and snacks, which were carried in by the kuroko, their bench turned into a feeding frenzy.

“Huzzah! Whoohee!”

Looks like Kino is happy. What language is she cheering in?

The baseball team was using the platform by the school building as their bench. Yuri had gotten some water in a large plastic tank and was mixing up sports drinks for the team.

The team soon finished preparations and took the defensive.

Now, who would have the honor of batting first for the Take Action Now Club?

“Oh, right. We need to think about that. First will be… we’ll go in order. Sara! After that will be Elias!”

Where has Chako-sensei put her sense of strategy?

“M-me?” Sara repeated nervously. Chako-sensei handed her a hemet and a bat.

“Go on. Have fun!”

And with that, she so irresponsibly sent Sara off.

Shizu, who could no longer sit by and watch, spoke up.

“Sensei, perhaps the three of us should be the first three batters.”

That’s the logical choice. After all, the first person on the lineup has more chances to bat.

Generally, the players with the best chances of safely reaching a base were first or second. Even better if they were fast runners. And players who could hopefully send everyone to home base with a hit were usually third, fourth, and fifth.

Was it really all right to plan the batting order so carelessly?

“It’s all right. Don’t worry. This is a strategy of sorts, you know.” Chako-sensei said, neither taken aback nor hurried. So in the end, Sara was the first batter.

She cut a rather sad figure, but Sara nervously stepped up to the plate and bowed her head. Oh, her helmet’s crooked.

Was it really okay to play baseball with a celebrity like her? The baseball team wondered.

“Play ball!”

The umpire called heartlessly.


The game has begun!

Sara took three strikes in a row. She didn’t even get a chance to swing.

Elias did not fare any better. He tried to swing twice or so, but it was futile.

Chako-sensei, who followed, was the same. She swung all three times and failed.

That was three outs—time for a change. The top of the first inning was over in the blink of an eye.

Totsugawa, the pitcher, ended up throwing only ten balls in total.

This is a piece of cake. I’ll win this, no problem.

Something like relief flashed over his profiled face as he stepped off the mound.

Chako-sensei stepped off the home plate and went to the Take Action Now Club, all decked out for defense with gloves at the ready.

“Well, he throws really fast. We might have some trouble getting in a hit.”

Says the person who swung with gusto when the ball bounced off the ground.

“So don’t let ‘em take a single point, Kino.” Chako-sensei said, her eye glinting.

“I won’t.” Kino nodded. Then, she added—

“If they don’t score any runs on us, are you going to buy us any special food?”

“Well—”


Although it was a mystery what Chako-sensei had said,

“Hahaha! I’ll show you what I’m made of! Prepare yourselves. You won’t get to touch the ball as long as food’s on the line! Yeah!”

Kino spun her arms wildly and stepped onto the mound.

“There’s something wrong with this picture, Miss Pitcher.” Hermes commented.

Kino fixed the gun belt around her waist, pressed her cap firmly down on her head, and lathered her hands with the powdered rosin she had just learned to use.

“I’ll do this!”

She held her breath. For a second, a hint of gravity flickered in her eyes.

And so, Hermes was unable to say anymore. Ah, loneliness.

“Throw!”

Kino practiced pitching several times to Chako-sensei, who stood in as catcher. Thud. Thud. The ball was practically sucked into the glove.

The baseball was initially relieved that Shizu was not the pitcher. But as they watched, their faces grew stony.

All right. It’s the bottom of the first, and let’s start the offense.

Oh. And it’s over, in the blink of an eye.

The baseball team, freed from their supervisor-slash-coach, had been cheering.

“Take it easy!” “We’re here to have fun!” “It’s just a relaxing game!”

To repay Yuri for her unusual dedication, they had enthusiastically taken the mound. But—

“Hyah!”

Kino’s pitches made a mockery of them all.

That was, in part, thanks to Chako-sensei the catcher guiding Kino. She must have all the info and strategy for each team member memorized. she held out the glove into corners where each batter would have difficulty hitting—in other words, places where Kino should throw at.

“Over there this time, huh. Go.”

Kino threw with pinpoint precision at the corners Chako-sensei picked. With sniper-precision. And very fast, too. The batters might have a lot of trouble with her.

And each throw, even the ones that were barely in the box—

“Strike three! Out!”

—was carefully and solemnly called by the umpire.

And so, Kino took out the baseball team’s three batters all in a row.


Now, the top of the second inning.

C’mon, do your best. Hurry up. Use your time wisely.

Batting for the Take Action Now Club this time were the three kuroko.

“Hmph!”

“Yah!”

“Hyah!”

And all three were out.

To explain for the sake of the kuroko’s honor, they hadn’t held back on purpose, and they weren’t untalented.

None of them had experience with baseball, but all three were very athletic. They had done their best to hit the ball. Their enthusiastic swings and multiple fouls speak for their determination.

So what just happened? The reason lay with Totsugawa’s newfound resolve.

Seeing the incredible pitches thrown by a newbie(maybe) like Kino, his fighting spirit must have been set alight.

He gave it his best shot from the first pitch on, throwing difficult balls and taking out all three batters.

The baseball team was all smiles as they returned to the bench.

“Awesome!” “That’s our ace for you.”

Everyone praised him, giving him hearty slaps on the shoulder.

Totsugawa also grinned. But,

“I can’t lose…”

His smile quickly gave way to a scowl as he muttered to himself.


The bottom of the second.

The baseball team was brimming with energy, inspired by Totsugawa’s drive.

“Hah!”

The batters did their best to hit Kino’s pitches. Their pride as baseball team members gave them tenacity.

The fourth batter especially, who was a power hitter, narrowly fouled off a strike and hung on as well as he could, wearing Kino out.

“Damn it! He’s good!”

But Kino has more stamina than she looks. And she stuffed herself silly earlier.

Out. And another. She only just managed to strike out the fourth and fifth batter. But—

Clang!

“Nooooooooooo!”

Kino had let her guard down. Her ball slowed down, which made it a perfect target for batter 6.

The ball flew low toward the gap between the shortstop and the third base.

“Whoa!” The baseball team stood. Would this be their first base hit?

At that moment,

“HAH!”

Inuyama leapt to the side. The ball landed in his glove.

It was a beautiful jump. Just like a doggy catching a frisbee in midair.

Inuyama landed on his arm, then spun forward and stood as though nothing had happened. The dirt clinging to his sweats scattered to the ground.

“Phew. That was close.” Kino sighed.

The umpire raised a fist to signal the out.

“Wh-what the heck…” “How’d he just catch that?” “W-warp speed?” “Isn’t that guy the shortstop?”

The baseball team whispered in shock.

Their surprise was only natural. When Inuyama stood, he had come face-to-face with Sara, whose eyes had turned to dinner plates. In other words, he caught the ball from very close to third base.


Time to switch out again.

“Let’s all get out there and have fun!” Yuri cheered, spurring on the team as they set up for defense. But their steps looked heavier than before.

“You were amazing, Inuyama-senpai.” Sara said as the Take Action Now Club returned to the bench. And staring from a distance was—

“Damn it… they’re a bunch of newbies…”

—a member of the baseball team.

“I can’t lose here… there’s nothing more humiliating. It’ll bring shame even to my descendants… I’ll end up committing seppuku…”

His voice was filled with bitterness and resolve.

Who was this, you wonder?

Obviously, it was him.

The guy headed for the mound.


The top of the third. Kino, the seventh batter, was up.

“I’ll send it flying!”

Putting on her helmet, she took her metal bat and strode toward home plate.

“Just a base hit is fine too, Kino. Even if you bunt it and the ball rolls to the outfield.” Hermes advised from her belt.

“I know, Hermes. Baseball is all about teamwork.” Kino confidently replied.

“Oh?” Hermes sounded pleasantly surprised.

“Since I’m the first batter this inning, once I get to first base—”

“Yeah? Yeah?”

“—I’ll pull off a comeback grand slam. Goodbye, pinch-hitters!”

“…Were you even listening?”

Hermes was disappointed.

At this moment, he was probably the most disappointed cell phone strap in the world.

Comebacks, grand slams, and pinch-hitters were completely irrelevant to the situation. She got every one wrong.

But Kino doesn’t care.

“Right. Right now, I am Babe Ruth.”

“I’m surprised you know him.”

“Bay Bruce, right? Where the foghorns sound?”

“…Kino, what is the relationship between baseball and bays?”

“…First cousins?”

“I see. On the mother’s side or father’s side?”

“Bay in English is ‘bay’, father is ‘father’, and mother is ‘mother’.”

“…And?”

“That means I can’t tell you which side just from the name.”

“I see.”

Lost in highly un-constructive conversation, Kino stood in the right batter’s box. For your information, right and left in this case is from the pitcher’s perspective. So the box on the third base-side is the ‘right batter’s box’, and the one on the first-base side is the ‘left batter’s box’.

“I’ll do this.”

Kino bowed lightly to the umpire and the baseball team.

And,

“I’ll get a base hit!” She cried, holding her bat perpendicular to the ground. Bam.

Isn’t that something you call a called home run?

Normally, the audience would go wild at something like that. But there’s no one to cheer this time. Meanwhile, it was an act of provocation to the opposing team. Don’t try this at home, kids.

“Is she serious?” “Not bad.” “Just try it, newbie.”

The defense sniggered.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could just laugh like this every time some n00b tries to show off?

“Grr!”

But it seems like laughter was nowhere on the horizon for the pitcher, Totsugawa.

The deadly-calm catcher quickly signed him. He should throw the first pitch outside the strike zone.

The strike zone, for your information, is an imaginary square through which a pitch must pass through.

In other words, in this case, they would throw the ball outside the square. A newbie like Kino would overextend herself and swing anyway, getting a strike.

Totsugawa silently nodded and whipped his arm forward.

A perfectly straight pitch. Completely intentional.

‘Hey, that’s not what we just—’

The catcher hurried to catch the ball, but it never reached his glove.

“Cha… shu… men!”

With a three-part rhythm on her lips, Kino pulled back and stepped forward, her eyes locked on the ball.

Clang!

A crisp, clear sound shook the grounds. This is one nice baseball bat.

The ball shot over Totsugawa’s head—

“Ah—”

—and as he turned, it slipped past the center fielder’s grasp, and tumbled along the ground.

Kino, immensely satisfied with the hit—

“Oh well, my name’s Kinoemon~♪”

—was half-humming at home base. Stay back, JAS*AC. I’m warning you!

Then,

“All right. Next pitch, please.” She requested.

“Huh?”

The pitcher stared. Like he was looking at an exotic animal.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING, KINO?! RUN!”

At Chako-sensei’s cry,

“Oh, right.”

Kino hurried to first base. She put her back into it and charged.

Kino is a rather fast runner. The ball went from the center fielder, to the second baseman, to the first baseman—

“There.”

—almost the very second Kino stepped on the base.

Verdict, chief?

“Safe!” The umpire cried, holding out his hands.

“Man, that was close.”

Kino, who could have easily made second base, innocently muttered to herself.

“I guess baseball’s all about speed.”


The honor of the first base hit of the day went to Kino and her run to first base.

Although it really could have been a run to the second base.

“Hey, I thought you said you wouldn’t say that stuff.” Kino said. I never promised that.

“Do you understand, Kino?” Shizu asked, running up to first base as a messenger to convey some important information.

Inuyama was batting next. If it wasn’t a fly, she should run. Second base was her destination, but third base was fine too, if she could reach it.

He also told her that there was a kuroko standing by near third base. If he spun his arms wildly at her, Kino had time and was to run to home plate. If he held up his palms, she was to stop and not dart out.

“Okay.” Kino nodded firmly. “Could you tell the kuroko not to wave his arms too hard? I don’t want him to fly off. If he gets tired and stops spinning, he’ll crash.”

Don’t worry yourself over things that won’t happen.

“Anyway, do your best.”

With that, Shizu left and Inuyama stepped up to the plate.

With ferocity in his eyes, Inuyama calmly took the bat. His form was compact yet sharp.

The pressure around his tranquil form was formidable, to say the least. Someone who could sense power levels could probably see his aura shimmering.

“Grk…”

Trepidation rose to Totsugawa, as he faced Inuyama down. It was natural. After all, his ignoring the catcher’s strategy had lost them the first base.

“All right, I’m gonna run.” Kino readied herself.

And the batter, of all people, was Inuyama—the one responsible for the incredible catch during the top of the inning.

“Let’s calm down and do this!” The catcher roared.

Totsugawa stilled himself.

“I’m still fine.”

His face relaxed slightly. That one mistake would be his only mistake. He looked at the catcher’s signal.

This pitch, as well, should be thrown out of the strike zone. Totsugawa nodded and threw.

“Ball!”

Inuyama let the ball pass, glaring silently at the pitcher. It was a serious duel now.

Now, how about that second pitch?

It was another close one, flying low outside the strike zone. Inuyama did not swing. He stood like an immovable mountain.

The catcher signed Totsugawa. The third pitch would be narrowly on the edge of the strike zone, but on the inner half.

Narrowly on the edge… sort of reminds me of politics. Which parliament were we talking about again?

The ball left Totsugawa’s hand and precisely down the course he planned.

“Hah!”

And there goes Inuyama with a swing. His left foot stepped outwards—

Clang.

And he hit the well-placed pitch, sending it flying to the left.

The third baseman couldn’t even take a step as the ball shot past to his left and rolled into the outfield. This is called a hit to left field.

“Run, Kino. Just to second base.”

“Got it.”

As Hermes instructed, Kino ran to second base and came to a stop. She did not charge forward like a rhino. Inuyama reached first base with ease.

“Damn it…”

Totsugawa ground his teeth. In the blink of an eye, they were down to no outs and two bases filled. The team was in trouble.

His throw had been perfect. But Inuyama was just that good. However—

“Damn it… damn it…”

The ace was a bit shaken. Actually, he was very shaken. His gloved left hand pressed down on his stomach. His stomach stung.

And standing in the left batter’s box was—

“Please give it your best shot.”

—Shizu. A lone dove flew past him.

Not only was he handsome and intelligent, he was so athletic that every sports team in the school had tried to scout him. Every student knew of his incredible skills.

The air around him as he stood with the bat was even more formidable than Inuyama’s. The katana he still wore at his side looked like it was in the way, but it was no time to be making such observations.

Totsugawa stood on the mound. Though the air was chilly, there was cold sweat dribbling down his face. The same went for the catcher.

If Shizu managed a home run like this, the Take Action Now Club would take three runs at once. Why did he have to be batter 9?

The baseball team had but one option. Yes. The catcher stood.

The pitcher would throw balls that could not be squared up on, four times in a row. Then the batter could freely walk to first base. It was a ploy to take the bat out of Shizu’s hands. An intentional base on balls.

An underhanded play like this against a team of newbies? Totsugawa had no choice but to obey.

“Grr…”

With a mix of disgruntlement and relief, he threw. Telling himself that it was all necessary for victory.

The ball flew far to the left. The catcher moved to catch it.

Shizu stood calmly in the batter’s box. When the umpire called four balls, Shizu slowly went to first base.

Naturally, Kino went to third base and Inuyama to second.

Now the bases are loaded, and there are zero outs! This is the Take Action Now Club’s big chance!

The next batter was—

“Oh no…”

Batter 1 again. The sniffling Sara.

We all know how this story ends.

Totsugawa threw with passion and cold cunning.

“Eek!”

Sara was out.

“Whoa!”

As was Elias.

“Prepare yourselves for a graaaaaaand slaaaaaaaam!”

And so was Chako-sensei, in spite of her voice shaking the foundations of the grounds and the city around them.


It’s the bottom of the third.

The baseball team also started off with batter 7. But,

“Not gonna lose!”

Kino’s spirited throws were too overwhelming. Out.

Batter 8 did everything he could to last, but he only managed a feeble grounder toward second base. Shizu lunged and grabbed the ball.

“Kino, to first!”

And he threw to Kino, who followed Hermes’s advice to the letter and ran from the mound to first base.

“Hyah!”

Snatching the ball in midair, Kino stepped on the base faster than the batter. Out.

“Argh!” “That was close.” “He was doing really well.”

The baseball team was vexed.

Batter 9 was the pitcher, Totsugawa.

The coach had decided on the team’s batting order. To his irritation, Totsugawa had been dropped down because he’d been making nothing but mistakes recently. He was, on one hand, understanding of the fact. On the other hand, he wanted to be given a higher position.

Totsugawa carried himself with determination as he faced down Kino.

If nothing else, I’ll get myself to first base.

That was his humble motive, but Kino’s throws were much too accurate.

“Strike one!”

A swing and a miss. And again. Three strikes passed by in a flash.

“ARGH!”

Frustrated, Totsugawa slammed the end of his bat on the ground.

“Totsugawa-senpai…”

Yuri the manager looked on, worried.


Let’s speed things along.

Top of the fourth. Kuroko, go.

Kuroko 4 and 5, disappointingly enough, hit nothing but groundball outs and struck out respectively.

And number 6 made solid contact with the ball out of nowhere—

Clang! The ball flew high into the outfield, but it was unfortunately an easy flyball to center.

Eating sakuramochi with a side of cheap green tea for a snack, Kino watched with unusual gravitas.

“Hm…”

“Huh. Something on your mind?” Hermes asked quietly.

Kino replied.

“Yeah. Looking at that ball flying through the air, I feel like…”

“Like?”

“I feel like getting some chicken.”

“Oh.”


Bottom of the fourth.

the baseball team was back to batter 1.

And once again, three batters were taken out back-to-back.

Determined to reach first base no matter what, batter 1 attempted a safety bunt from the first pitch out. Lightly hitting the ball, he ran as fast as his quick legs could carry him. But—

“Hah!”

Kino’s furious rush and throw, in tandem with Shizu’s long limbs, narrowly put a stop to the batter’s charge.

Batters 2 and 3 were struck out back-to-back against Kino’s unyielding pitches.

“What the…” “Didn’t think they’d be this good.” “This is gonna be one though game…”

Ripples of unease began to shake the baseball team as they shared their thoughts, returning to defense after a short rest.

“…”

Totsugawa too, as he returned to the mound with a complicated look, sensed the beginnings of a heavy agony taking root in his mind.

His suffering will only get worse in the next chapter.


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Part 3.


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(1): The Kōshien is Japan’s annual national high school baseball championship. It’s a tournament that every high school baseball team in Japan dreams of going to.
(2): Kuroko are stagehands in Japanese theatre who dress all in black.
(3): Peko-chan is the famous mascot of Japanese confectionary/restaurant company, Fujiya. 


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