On a certain day in late January...
Just as the noise of cheering was heard from the sports ground where PE class was taking place, Haruaki, dressed in gym clothes and sitting on the floor, turned his head to look and sighed lightly.
Sitting beside him, Taizou asked, probably because of seeing him sigh:
"Haruaki, what's up? If you sigh so suddenly, happiness will escape."
"No... I was just thinking how she's still so conspicuous."
"Oh, that girl? I was quite shocked in the beginning, but it can't be helped since she comes from a totally different cultural background. On the other hand, I'm quite used to it already."
"The same goes for that time with Fear. You guys' adaptability is really amazing... But it's not a bad thing, I guess."
Haruaki exhaled again and looked towards the sports ground where the girls were in lesson. The boys were taking turns playing soccer (Haruaki and others were not participating) while the girls were playing volley ball. Since PE lessons were held for two classes together, among the many familiar classmates on the field, girls from the adjacent class could be seen mixed between them.
One particular court was drawing the crowd's attention. With a stiff expression, a girl was performing an underhand serve cutely. After the volleyball slowly went over the net, one of the opposing team's players received it while another tossed it up unsteadily. Finally—
A dark-skinned figure leapt into the air.
The figure gave off a short but forceful shout while spinning her body, sending the ball towards the other side of the court from high up in the air—Of course, she spiked the ball with her foot.
The opposing team exchanged glances with one another, bearing difficult expressions that seemed to be saying "no one can return this kind of ball..." while looking all around for assistance. At this moment, the teacher who was refereeing another match also seemed to have noticed the unusual behavior on this court.
"...Girl, Seat No.19 of Year 1 Class 1, do not spike the ball with your foot."
The shovel-wielding physical and health education teacher—Kaidou-sensei—spoke with great exasperation. Called out, the girl tilted her head slightly and flipped through the volleyball rulebook she was holding even during the match while saying:
"Pardon my bluntness, but this book says that 'players can legally strike or push the ball with any part of the body.' Reporting this kind of report."
"Although it does not count at breaking the rules, volleyball is essentially a competitive sport played using the arms and hands... Rules aside, treat it as a kind of etiquette. Also, the other students cannot practice if you use your foot. Think of it as holding back for them, so use your hands."
"Affirmative. However, the match already ended with that point... Based on new knowledge just gained, the ball just now should be the so-called match point."
"Is that so? Then just start with your next match. Okay girls, time for teams to swap. Next match up please."
Following Kaidou-sensei's instructions, another group of students took over the court. The dark-skinned girl walked over to the waiting area in full composure without being out of breath in any way.
Putting aside Taizou and others who had displayed amazing adaptability, Haruaki still felt there was something not quite right with this scene. A dark complexion with gray-colored hair. A gym uniform whose lower hem was forcefully tied up below the underarm to expose the navel. A pair of long and slender legs extending from a pair of shorts. At the very bottom was, of course, bare feet.
Un Izoey. As a member of «Lab Chief Yamimagari Pakuaki's Nation», she had enrolled as a student in this school several weeks earlier because the superintendent had accepted Yamimagari Pakuaki's request. As a side note, she was placed into the same class as Konoha in Year 1 Class 1 next door... On that note, Class 2 also had a transfer student back in the second term—a certain noisy silver-haired lass. It would be problematic if Un Izoey were dumped into another class where no one knew the inside story, which was probably why Class 1 with Konoha's presence was chosen in the end.
Taizou nodded repeatedly and said:
"Yeah, her athletic abilities are really outstanding. Looks like the sports clubs will be competing for quite a while."
"Oh, as expected, there's a recruitment battle?"
"But she seems to be completely uninterested. Oh right, there's something I wanted to ask you! According to sources in the neighboring class, she seems to be quite friendly with Konoha-san! I heard that they're frequently talking together in private! This could very well be a hint from the gods, asking me to 'become good friends with that girl to gain another connection with Konoha-san and raise affection points'! Hey hey, what do you think they chat about? After returning home from school, did Konoha-san tell you anything?"
Actually, Haruaki did know. Calling it chatting was not correct. Konoha was simply giving Un Izoey educational instructions along the lines of "Please do not do anything too bizarre!" Konoha probably had no wish to do this but being the only one in the class privy to Un Izoey's origins, she had no choice but to act as Un Izoey's surveillant and educator.
While Haruaki and Taizou chatted, a new set of teams took their positions on the court.
"Damn country girl... How dare she steal the spotlight on her own!? Does she want to show off her athleticism that much!? Wait and see, I can do everything that she can do!"
"Fear-kun, being motivated is very good and all, but please don't use your feet."
"Muu, Kirika. Why? That kind of trivial thing, I can—"
"Kaidou-sensei is warming up to swing her shovel."
"...Do it too. However, there are etiquette problems, right? Then forget about it."
On one side of the court was a team whose core was composed by girls from Year 1 Class 2, including the silver-haired girl—Fear, glancing sideways at Kaidou-sensei— and Kirika who was wearing a tracksuit as usual. The opposing team was a mixed group of students from Class 1 and 2.
"Oh! Fear-chan and Kirika-chan are our opponents! I have a feeling this battle will be intense...!"
"Oh there you are, Kana. I was thinking how it's rare for you not to be on our side. So you're on the other team."
"Because it's fun to be a mercenary once in a while. Konohacchi, do your best!"
"Cow Tits is there too huh... I see... Fufufufu! I feel sorry for Kana, but now that I know this, I can't hold back anymore!"
"I know this happens every time, but why do you have to be so defiant towards me...?"
Fear's opposing team included Kana and Konoha. Konoha was standing in the front row near the net while Kana was in the back. Then the match began. As a promising new star in the swimming club, Kana was quite athletic, in other words. After Kana fired off a spectacular overarm serve, Haruaki was expecting Kirika to step forward to receive and toss the ball, but as though saying that would be too slow, Fear jumped high up in the posture for an unexpected two-step attack.
"Cow Tits, try to block if you can! No matter how you try to use those soft and flabby walls to block me, the justice of the Ladylike Bosoms Alliance will easily overcome them—!"
"Ridiculously incomprehensible words again...!"
Displaying jumping ability that was hard to imagine coming from her slender body, Fear flew into midair and spiked the ball as hard as she could. On the other side of the net, Konoha could be seen narrowing her eyes beneath her glasses. Then to block the spike, she jumped, causing two great bulges to be seen wobbling under her gym clothes—
"...Wow~ So scary~"
However, she only jumped a few centimeters and remarked in pretense while Fear's spike flew over her head.
The ball bounced off the court with a great slam. "Hmm~ As expected of Fear-chan." Kana nodded as she caught the ball after it rebounded. Fear angrily glared at the opposing team's blocker.
"Hey Cow Tits, play the game seriously!"
"I am very serious."
Clearly putting no effort in blocking, Konoha inclined her head and smiled.
"It can't be helped, after all, Fear-chan's athleticism is very outstanding! No problem, no problem, I, Kana, will instantly get a point back!"
"Sorry... We'll try to receive the balls at least."
Konoha and the rest of the team spoke as they rotated their positions. None of the other team members were surprised to see Konoha failing to receive Fear's spike. Konoha was not holding back specially just for today. Rather, due to secretly possessing physical capabilities that no ordinary human could rival, she never used her true power in activities like PE in the first place. From the very beginning, Konoha has always played the role of a "girl not very good at sports" which would raise many questions if she suddenly started to compete seriously with Fear.
Fear was clearly displeased that her challenge was rejected unilaterally but she probably understood Konoha's difficulties. Despite upturned lips in a frown, Fear continued to play normally... Yes, this was a scene just as usual.
(However... It's probably not completely the same as usual.)
As expected of Konoha-san, even the way she cowers from the ball is so lovely... Haruaki pondered as he heard Taizou muttering while staring intently at the court.
The first thing different from usual was a scene that had started several weeks earlier.
Outside the court, the dark-skinned girl was sitting cross-legged on the ground, taking out something resembling a notebook from the collar of her gym uniform. Glancing frequently at Fear and the others, she wrote down something using a pencil. Probably nothing important—It was simply because she was very intent on executing her mission.
Then the second thing different from usual was a scene that had only started a couple days earlier.
"The ball's over there, Kirika!"
"...Eh? Oh... Sorry, I spaced out a little."
"Well—Don't worry about it. The lead is widening."
The ball bounced on the court. After picking it up, Kirika stared at the ball and sighed.
Indeed, it's quite strange—Haruaki thought.
(Recently, Class Rep... really seems quite distracted. Why?)
After their teams finished the match, Fear returned to the waiting area outside the court. As usual, Cow Tits was not using her real skills, making Fear very displeased, but a victory was still a victory nonetheless, so it still felt great.
"Hey hey, Un Izoey-san, are you interested in archery?"
"Archery? I'm quite skilled."
"Really? You've done archery before? That's perfect, then could you visit the archery club next time to try out... No actually, just coming for fun is fine—"
"Due to the unknown, allow me to ask a question. What will the prey be? Does this country have unmaniha as well, only I've never seen them? Hopefully, they're not too strong."
Fear listened to Un Izoey's conversation with the other girls while finding a place to sit. At first, she was worrying whether Un Izoey might cause some kind of incident but it looked like she was not being ostracized or bullied by her class, but gradually becoming a part of them, probably... Although either way, it did not matter to Fear.
"Oh dear~ They ended up losing... Although they caught up a little towards the end~"
Kana remarked while sitting down beside Fear. Kirika and Konoha did the same.
The next match was starting on the court with Scoop-sensei acting as the referee. As long as they were not too noisy, chatting was fine.
"Oh right, it's almost that time of the year again."
"What do you mean?"
"It's here again~ Valentine's Day, VA-LEN-TINE'S! Not the Van Allen radiation belt! —Lemme try some of these cheesy jokes!"
"Nuu, you're suddenly getting very excited. Valentine's Day...? I think I've heard of it, but maybe not..."
"Eh? Do you really not know? Ohhh... God..."
Kana covered her face with her hands and shook her head in an exaggerated manner to imitate a foreigner. Then as though a switch had been flicked, she suddenly put her arm forcefully around Fear's shoulders.
"If you don't know, then I'll just have to tell you! It'd be a real shame if a cute girl like Fear-chan did not participate in this kind of special festival! Listen carefully. The day known as Valentine's Day happens only once a year, a girls' festival held by girls for the sake of girls! In other words—"
Kana explained in an especially excited tone of voice. After listening to most of it—
"Hmmuu, so February 14 is called Valentine's Day? How do you describe it? A festival related to love between opposite genders. Looks like it has nothing to do with me. Kana, are you participating?"
"Ugh!" Kana instantly groaned and turned her face away.
"V-Very regrettably... Even I, Kana, have been busy with stuff like the swimming club all year round, without any time to spend on pursuing romance. Right now, I don't even have a crush..."
"Then this festival is really none of our business."
Kana cleared her throat as though mustering her spirits, then waggled her index finger left and right:
"No no... Actually, there's more to the meaning of Valentine's Day than that. This is a once-a-year celebration, a grand event! Isn't it lonely if you can't participate? So there's also another case where you give chocolate to boys who normally take good care of you."
"Normally... taking care of me...?"
The image of a boy's face surfaced in Fear's mind. An idiotic and shameless face. Always engaged in a ton of shameless activities, always nagging, but always cooking delicious food for them, and also—
No no no—Fear shook her head repeatedly.
"I can't accept this, it's too weird. Even if someone helps me all the time, isn't it fine if I say thank you face to face? There's no reason at all to limit it to February 14. Also... Basically, being forced to spend money buying chocolate, that's totally one-sided and unfair for the girls—"
"Oh, it's not one-sided at all~ One month later, on White Day, there's a rule that boys who received chocolate have to give a return present to the girls! And the standard is to return three times the value!"
"Three times! This... What should I say... What a deal!"
In that case, the situation was not quite the same. What an astounding interest rate. 500yen's worth of stuff would become 1500yen. 1000yen would become 3000yen. Wonderful. It's even more profitable than Kuroe's beauty parlor!
"Basically, that's what people call 'courtesy chocolate.' So... How about the two of you here who've been acting like it doesn't concern you, what are your plans~?"
"M-Me? I... Umm..."
"Hmm...? Oh, Valentine's Day? Uh... Well..."
Konoha began to act awkwardly. Kirika, who had been lost in her own thoughts, also looked up as though she finally caught up to the conversation. For some reason, both of them glanced towards the boys who were playing soccer.
"I'm not asking which type of chocolate you're giving, but you will, right? Like Akki, for example."
"W-What are you talking about? Ahaha~ Uh, hmm... I guess... You're... right. We are cousins after all, it would be only natural."
"Ah... Hmm yes, being classmates after all, and I've troubled him quite a bit. Although I also feel like I'm being conned by confectionery companies' absolutely ridiculous gimmicks, not giving chocolate would seem a bit impolite... I guess. Probably, something like that."
These two girls are going to give chocolate to that guy? Then I guess I really should give him chocolate too. How should I put it, this... Although I worry if he might get the wrong idea and mistake it for love, no wait, why do I need to worry? Rather, that kind of misunderstanding is completely wrong in the first place, but why am I feeling agitated, surely this shouldn't matter at all—
"What about you, Fear-chan~?"
"Muu, uh... I don't think... I cause him too much trouble, but umm... After all, I'm living in his house and he cooks for us. If Cow Tits and Kirika gives but I don't, then it looks like I don't know my manners... Perhaps... Maybe? Umm... Valentine's Day is a cultural festival that involves this type of common understanding, right?"
"Hmm~ Maybe so~ Anyway, I think Akki will be really happy if he receives chocolate from Fear-chan~ Conversely, if he doesn't get any, he might end up quite depressed. Gufufu."
In that case, it can't be helped—Fear thought. That's right, there's absolutely no choice in this. Jeez, that shameless brat, giving me so much trouble.
"I have to ask something... Kana, roughly how much does chocolate cost? I earned some money from working part-time a few times, but I don't have much left after spending it on various things."
"Now is the time for me, Kana-sensei, to tell Fear-chan something important... In any case, handmade chocolate is the best! Boys are the most happy when they receive handmade chocolate! Boys will feel the added value just from the fact that the chocolate is handmade from a girl. Probably ten times as happy!"
"Ten times...! Wait, wait, lemme think. Supposing someone made some chocolate that's equivalent to what's sold for 1000yen commercially..."
"After the boy receives it, the value he experiences is ten times a thousand—10000yen. Then on that whatever White Day, the return gift is triple—"
Fear gulped hard.
"In other words, the return gift is... 30000yen's worth of rice crackers!"
"Hold on a second! What's with the weird units of measurement you're using in your wishful thinking!?"
For some reason, Konoha was displeased by this perfectly logical reasoning. Kana also gave an incomprehensible response: "Ohoh! For just an instant, Fear-chan's eyes turned into Yen symbols~!" Then Konoha frowned in exasperation:
"Let me say this... Valentine's chocolate is a gift instilled with everyday gratitude rather than desire for a return gift. The important thing is how to convey your feelings of thanks and whether the receiver will be happy—However, if all you want is to to prevent him from criticizing you for a lack of manners, go ahead and give chocolate anyway. I am quite doubtful that Haruaki would be delighted by such insincere motives."
At the very end, Konoha even scoffed twice lightly. It was very infuriating.
"What did you say!? Then let's make this a contest, Cow Tits! Simply giving chocolate to please the shameless brat is too easy... At least I'm confident that I can satisfy him more than you! Also, provided I can satisfy him, of course he'll give me an awesome gift in return!"
"Eh, using important Valentine's chocolate for a contest, that's really quite..."
"Haha, looks like you think you'll lose."
"Hmm..." Konoha frowned with displeasure but did not refute her outright, simply casting her glance elsewhere as though saying "whatever."
"I have no intention of having a contest at all. However, the end result will be my victory anyway. In other words, that's all there is to it, nothing more."
"Tsk, what bold words..."
Konoha looked quite calm and composed. Infuriating, sure enough.
However—Although it finally developed into a duel, things would be bad if they continued like this. After thinking calmly, Fear concluded this was going to be a tough battle. Konoha was most likely going to give handmade chocolate. In that case, Fear had no choice but to oppose her with the same, but... She had no skills in this area. Fear had never made any kind of chocolate at all.
(Then I'll need intensive training... Uumu, but how should I do it...?)
Think. Intensive training would need a location. Using the kitchen at home would be equivalent to exposing her abilities to the enemy, Cow Tits. Furthermore, Fear obviously had no idea how to make chocolate at all and needed a coach to instruct her and give opinions. A trustworthy coach who knew how to cook—
Upon further thought, only one candidate came to mind in the end. Fear knew that there would be many problems when the time came, but there was no other way. If the candidate were to refuse, then so be it.
Fear glanced sideways to make sure that Konoha's attention was not focused on her. Then Fear quietly leaned towards Kirika, who was sitting beside her, and whispered in her ear:
Lost in her own thoughts, it took Kirika a moment's delay to look up in response.
"Uh... I've got something... I'd like your help with. Although this probably offers you no benefit at all... No, since you already said you're giving chocolate to Haruaki, in a certain sense, you have the right to participate in this 'who can make the shameless brat the most happy' contest—In other words... Umm... I know that for you, this would be like a gesture of kindness for the enemy, but even so... If... If possible—"
While saying this, Fear once again realized it was an unreasonable request. If their positions were reversed, Fear would certainly refuse in Kirika's place. Only one person was eligible to satisfy Haruaki the most and receive the best return gift. Who would want to increase the number of opponents?
Nevertheless, Kirika agreed with unexpected readiness after listening to Fear's request:
"I-It's really okay?"
"Yes, unless you don't want me, please allow me to help."
"But... As weird as it is for me to say this, I will be absorbing knowledge and skills seriously, so serious that even dry rice crackers would turn into wet ones. If you intend to participate in the contest, then you'll basically be helping the enemy—"
"Don't worry, I don't intend to compete."
Kirika interrupted Fear and murmured. Then she repeated herself softly.
With an inexplicably lonely smile—As though speaking to herself.
"That's right... I have absolutely... no intention of competing..."
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