Volume 7, Chapter 1-2: Another Ichaival?
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Next Day

Looks like this was going to be an extended mind dive. What was going on? Usually they only consisted of big events, ending right after their conclusion. I arrived home after my encounter with the idols, heading upstairs. Once I entered my room, it was the next morning already, transported back to school again. Needless to say, it was a jarring shift.

“Yuki, big news! I’ve made the headline! I’m famous! I have been looking forward to this day and it has finally come,” Ichizen announced, holding a newspaper.

I glanced at it, seeing a well-positioned shot of Ichizen curb stomping the idol leader. First of all, it was probably a bad idea to have so much buzz around such an incident. Second, I doubt the teachers at school found it gratifying. What the hell was I doing? I shouldn’t be worrying about a false event.

“Yuki, by the way, those idol girls seem really scared of you. Did you do some kind of awesome submission hold?” Ichizen noted, as one of the idol girls walked by.

When our eyes met, the idol girl immediately glanced at the ground. She shuffled away, not looking back. Did the meeting with Tatsumaki scar them that much? Yeah, it definitely did, considering he pulled a knife on one of them.

“Yeah, Ichizen brings up a good point. I’ve never seen them so meek,” Yuka joined our conversation.

“I didn’t do anything at all. Do we have any quizzes or tests coming up?” I asked.

“Maybe in math class? You know how the teacher is,” Yuka shook her head.

“Why so concerned?” Ichizen questioned.

“Because I care about my grades unlike you,” I retorted.

“Yuki, have you ever gone to a tennis game before?” Yuka asked out of the blue.

“No, I don’t have much of an interest in sports. Why?” I responded, caught off guard by her question.

“A really interesting team is coming here for a match. Ichizen, mind if I borrow that for a second?” Yuka requested.

Ichizen nodded and Yuka flipped through the newspaper. She folded the paper over, showing me the news story. There was a photo with the caption “Fearsome Mantan Tennis Team Pays Visit”. However, something else piqued my interest. One person in the team photo stood out. Are you serious? First Zhuyu, and now Ichaival? This person was a chubbier version of the portal user, but definitely him.

“I want to check this out,” I decided.

“Good idea, Yuki! Maybe we can see some beautiful women! Hey, don’t be so quick to judge. I meant their tennis skills, not their looks,” Ichizen agreed with a smile.

“Mantan doesn’t have a female team. Their manager is a female student, apparently the daughter of a big company CEO,” Yuka shattered his expectations.

“That doesn’t matter! We’ll go support our school! I might be able to convince more people about the beauty of sandwiches!” Ichizen stood firm.

“What time and where, Yuka?” I asked for details.

“Our school field at 4. I heard Mantan High has a state of the art sports facility. They really are an impressive school,” Yuka replied.

I glanced at the article again, realizing something. Their school symbol matched the exact one on Tatsumaki Ryuu’s ID. So he was a Mantan student. That only gave me more incentive to go.

After classes ended, I headed over to our tennis courts. Ichizen and Yuka joined me. He hummed a silly tune during our walk. I normally dismissed it as an annoyance, but it felt nostalgic after not hearing it for such a long time.

“Ichizen! What a rare sight, and with Tomo no less. Come on a date with your girlfriend?” one of the tennis players greeted.

“No way, man! Don’t let Yuki hear you say that. She’ll kill you, you know,” Ichizen joked.

“I know, I know. I’m happy you came out today to see us. Mantan will probably crush us, so you’ll be watching a total squash. We’ll try to not get a donut, but it’ll probably happen,” the tennis player admitted.

“Hey, don’t give up! The fight hasn’t even started yet. Believe, my friend. Have a sandwich if you’re hungry. Might be a bad idea since your matches start soon,” Ichizen realized, pocketing the sandwich.

The tennis player nodded, jogging back out onto the courts. Ichizen climbed up the bleachers, taking a seat next to me. I was surprised Ichizen knew someone on the tennis team. It made sense, since Ichizen was pretty sociable. Reminded me a bit of Kisai and Felicity.

A bus pulled up outside of the tennis courts and the Mantan players arrived. A young woman exited first, holding a clipboard. She had wavy, light blonde hair, dropping below her shoulders. The woman kept a calm composure on her face, essentially the exact opposite of Felicity. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling they were similar in other ways.

The entire team filed out and I caught a glimpse of the Ichaival look-alike. He wasn’t as slim, but retained the same basic face. It made me question his tennis skills. Then again, outward appearances often were a poor representation of someone’s true potential.

They all wore track suit jackets with the Mantan school symbol. Their black shorts contained the name of their school on a red stripe, running down the left leg. Everyone carried fancy tennis bags as well. Their jackets had the individual player’s names embroidered. “Meshino Sueo (Nex)” was the name of the Ichaival doppelganger.

“Your eyes are scaring me, Yuki,” Ichizen commented.

“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m just seeing what kind of competition we’ll be facing,” I continued my observation of the Ichaival look-alike.

“Right, I sometimes wonder if you’re just crazy and hiding it,” Ichizen remarked, chuckling.

“The blond hair girl is their manager, Oogane Mikoto. Right now, she’s their fill-in coach,” Yuka revealed.

“Is that allowed?” I inquired.

“Their current coach, I heard, is sick. She’s just doing it until they can find a replacement. She’s been with the team since her freshman year. They must really trust her,” Yuka noted.

Impressive. Perhaps that was the similarity between her and Felicity. The dedication and sense of leadership. If Ichaival’s apparent copy was here, then that meant Shan was nearby too? Scanning the players, I saw no one resembling the tall man. Perhaps these look-alikes contained a much deeper meaning.

“Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Kanshou Seiji. I’m the captain and this is our vice-captain, Meshino Sueo. Most people just call him Nex. Let’s have a good game today. Mikoto, can you exchange the lineup with their coach for us?” the captain introduced himself.

One major feature stood out about Mantan’s tennis team captain. He was…. dashing? Was that the correct word? No, “prince” fit better. This guy oozed the charisma of royalty, backing it up with his appearance too.

“What’s up with this guy and his ridiculous bishonen appearance? I’m so jealous. Yuki, please help me regain my self-confidence,” Ichizen cried out in mock terror.

“Ichizen, can you please just shut up? Although, he is quite good looking, you are right about that,” I requested.

“How rare for Yuki to comment on someone’s appearance,” Yuka remarked.

“It can’t be denied. When you look at him, sparkles should be surrounding him. Thinking about it actually makes me want to throw up,” I said.

“Your analysis is quite keen, Yuki. I, myself, can’t disagree with you,” Yuka agreed.

“So lonely over here. Everyone’s going to leave me. That’s fine. Heroes start out with a single resolve. My resolve is to be better than pretty boy over there,” Ichizen muttered.

“Yes, thank you very much. What shall the first match be?” their manager conversed with our tennis team’s coach.

“What do you think, Sueo? Was it the correct decision for us to play singles today?” Kanshou asked.

“It should be fine, good practice when we face Saizen later on this year,” Ichaival spoke for the first time.

“Good call. Mikoto, do you have the scouting report?” Kanshou asked, calling the manager over.

“Don’t I always, Seiji?” the female manager replied, flipping through her clipboard pages.

“That’s why you’re the best manager around. Are you okay with all of this so far? You didn’t have to take on Coach’s responsibility. Don’t overwork yourself,” Kanshou asked with concern.

“Focus on the game instead of my well-being. You didn’t answer my question, which one do you want?” the manager dismissed his claims.

“Sueo, can you go check on everyone else while I do this?” Kanshou requested, taking the clipboard.

“Of course. I see you,” Meshino nodded, nudging the captain with a knowing look on his face.

“Dude, come on. Just go already,” Kanshou shook his head with a brilliant smile.

What was this development? I better get answers from the researchers. I continued eavesdropping on their conversation. Ichizen went somewhere during my intense monitoring. Yuka read a book until the matches actually started.

“This actually might be a problem for our doubles. Too bad Nakadachi isn’t here today. It is unfortunate he has to be at a chess tournament,” Kanshou muttered, going through the clipboard pages.

“It’s not as bad as you think. I just received this information from Coach, might be helpful,” Oogane peered down at her phone.

“Let me see. Hey, Sueo, over here!” Kanshou called his vice-captain over.

Meshino jogged over. Kanshou showed him the data and then motioned something with his hands. Meshino nodded, returning back to the team.

“Yuki, you want some?” Ichizen returned, offering me a bag of chips.

“Ichizen, where did you go?” I asked, declining his offer.

“Just off to the student stand. Two bags for only one dollar. Some really good deals the Mantan students have,” Ichizen answered.

“Wait, you bought them from the other school?” I asked.

“Yeah. Our school isn’t selling food. Why shouldn’t I take advantage of the deals going on?” Ichizen responded.

“I can’t really argue with you there. With prices that cheap, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something wrong,” I approached it with skepticism.

“It’s pretty good. I don’t taste anything weird. You worry too much, Yuki,” Ichizen shook his head, munching on the chips.

Half an hour later, matches finally started. Kanshou, his track jacket now unzipped, met up with our team’s captain. Meshino stood next to him, a smile on his face. How strange to see such a carefree expression. Ichaival actually displayed a happy face more often than everyone else though. Well, to be fair, Felicity had a smile pasted on her face every damn moment.

“Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Kanshou Seiji and I’ll be Singles I today. This is my vice-captain,” Kanshou introduced, giving a very optimistic smile.

“I’m Meshino Sueo. Let’s have a good game. I’ll be Singles II by the way,” Meshino said next, shaking our captain’s hand.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the official signaled for the start of the first match. How disappointing, Doubles I started before the singles matches. I watched with boredom, not really focusing. I was more interested in seeing Meshino and Kanshou.

The time finally came for Meshino’s turn. He walked out with a red racquet, their school name emblazoned on the black grip. The official looked over at the scoreboard keeper, who switched the names and reset all the numbers to zero.

“One set match. On the right, we have…. and the left, we have Meshino Sueo from Mantan. Gentleman, let’s play a fair game. Game start!” the official announced, tossing two tennis balls over to our school’s player first.

Meshino awaited the serve. As the ball arrived on his side, he returned it back with power. The ball swerved to the left and Meshino’s opponent missed it.

“0-15….,” the official announced.

I didn’t follow tennis too closely, yet Meshino’s stance and his swings indicated he was pretty good, relative to our players. He dominated his opponent. Meshino’s serves were quite powerful, causing our player to whiff.

“Oh, this is interesting. Never expected someone who looks so heavy to give our team such a hard time. Guess it’s never good to underestimate people,” Ichizen commented, drinking a bottle of soda.

“Have you just been buying things from Mantan?” I asked.

“Yeah, things are cheap. Not like anyone from our school is providing this service,” Ichizen nodded.

“What else do they sell besides food and drinks?” I asked, curious about the selection.

“I saw some sunglasses, but it’s mostly just edibles. Do you want a souvenir?” Ichizen replied.

“No, I was just wondering,” I shook my head.

“They have pretty durable bookmarks. I can verify since I’m using it right now,” Yuka joined in the conversation.

“When did you leave? I didn’t even notice,” I asked in surprise.

“During the break between this game and last. I just walked over to see if they had anything tasty and noticed this pretty cool bookmark,” Yuka replied.

“See, you should definitely check it out too!” Ichizen advised.

“Maybe,” I said and then saw the surroundings around me fading.

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