Chapter 18:

Strike Three


The first day Yukio challenged him, Maekawa was really amused.Bookmark here

“So you’re getting better, huh? Aiming for the big leagues?”Bookmark here

Although he was in the same class with Yukio, he always practiced with the seniors, for good reason; he was their best batter. It was also why Yukio went to him. He would be able to bowl without any inhibition, and know that if he manages to win this duel, he won’t be far from bettering the seniors.Bookmark here

He had practiced a lot, and gotten much better. None of the clubmates he practiced with were able to hit him anymore. If they had any other coach, he would’ve either sent Yukio to play with the seniors or guided him. But sadly, the one they had only clapped at them occasionally and left without saying anything.Bookmark here

Their practice was over for the day, and most of them were already changing in the locker room. “Don’t think I’ll show you any mercy, okay?” Maekawa smirked.Bookmark here

Yukio just smiled a little.Bookmark here

“Oh, by the way,” before taking his stance, Maekawa added, “if the ball goes out of the ground, you will search for it.”Bookmark here

Yukio prepared himself. This was the moment. Not only did he have speed, but all his practices also added ‘accuracy’ in his arsenal. But he had no idea whether it was enough for people like Maekawa. He was about to find out.Bookmark here

After the first ball swooshed past the bat, both of them stood still for a few moments.Bookmark here

A friend of theirs, Haru, was observing their duel, and he was the one who returned the ball to Yukio’s hand.Bookmark here

“Well done!”Bookmark here

The word finally grounded his thoughts. He had done it! He had beaten the best batter of their club!Bookmark here

“Not bad,” Maekawa was still standing with the bat, pretending that nothing happened. “Come on! You still need two more strikes, right?”Bookmark here

The second time, he did hit the ball. But it went up high in the air, and Yukio had no problem catching it.Bookmark here

Now the signs of irritation were visible on his face. Students who were about to go home had gathered around them. Somehow they realized the importance of what was going on.Bookmark here

“It seems I am a bit tired today. Not that it matters against a newbie. Alright, give it your all this time. Show what you’re capable of, and I’ll do the same.”Bookmark here

Yukio was a bit worried. He only wanted to see how good he was. It wasn’t his intention to aggravate Maekawa, someone he looked up to.Bookmark here

Should I be a bit slow…Bookmark here

He shook off the thought the next moment.Bookmark here

He is right, Yukio thought, I am a newbie. And if he can’t play me, that just means he isn’t as good as people think he is.Bookmark here

Taking a deep breath, Yukio took his stance. Maekawa did the same, with a stern expression in his face.Bookmark here

And then they gave their all.Bookmark here

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At first, Yukio wasn’t sure what happened. The ball had left his hand, hit Maekawa’s bat, and disappeared.Bookmark here

Was it a home run?Bookmark here

Even before he saw the ball, he knew something was wrong. Maekawa had thrown away his bat, and he was walking away. As Yukio looked at him, suddenly the ball dropped behind the place where he was standing.Bookmark here

As he checked the ball, he realized that it had gone up and dropped roughly where Maekawa had been standing. And the wooden bat showed a particularly long crack, which didn’t look anything like the ball marks such bats normally had.Bookmark here

Puzzled, he left the ball and the bat in the clubroom. He walked home all alone that day.Bookmark here

He had no idea that he’ll also be alone tomorrow.Bookmark here

And the next day.Bookmark here

And the day after that.Bookmark here

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“Hey!”Bookmark here

Maekawa pretended that he didn’t hear him.Bookmark here

“Hey!” This time Yukio was louder.Bookmark here

Reluctantly, Maekawa turned towards him.Bookmark here

“Wanna play again?”Bookmark here

Saying the past few days had been bad would’ve been an understatement. Not only was he shunned by everyone in the baseball team, even his classmates had stopped talking to him. Even Asano and Haru. And whenever he tried to talk to Maekawa, he got no response.Bookmark here

And there was nothing he could do. He kept coming to the practice, but most of the days he just practiced pitching at a corner, alone. The teachers read the atmosphere, and they had also started avoiding him.Bookmark here

He had no idea just one student could influence everyone like that. It was worse than bullying. It was worse than the time Onee-san left him.Bookmark here

It was better when I didn’t know Maekawa, Yukio had realized.Bookmark here

Today he was grasping at the last straw. He intended to bowl a few normal pitches, without any pace, and let him have his fun. If it meant he could have another chance at a normal life…Bookmark here

He didn’t expect that everything would go back the way it was before. He was never an idealist. He just hoped they would take pity on him, and let him hang out with them like before. He would pay their restaurant bills, and whatever else they ask him. And then, after a few days, he would leave the club because he isn’t ‘good enough’.Bookmark here

And that’ll be the end of it.Bookmark here

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Yukio made sure that the first pitch didn’t have any extra pace. Maekawa swung his bat, and hit the ball out of the ground.Bookmark here

The people observing them started cheering.Bookmark here

So far so good, Yukio thought while searching for the ball.Bookmark here

By the time he found the ball and returned, everyone had left. Maekawa was the only one standing on the ground, looking at him with a stern face.Bookmark here

“You did that intentionally, didn’t you?”Bookmark here

He didn’t know what to say.Bookmark here

“Did I forget to mention it? Do your best. Today I’m not the least bit tired.”Bookmark here

But if he did his best…Bookmark here

He prepared his next pitch. He wouldn’t do his best, as he didn’t want to take that chance. But this time there would be more pace.Bookmark here

Show that you are as good at batting as people think you are, Yukio prayed.Bookmark here

He pitched, and the ball went clean past Maekawa’s bat.Bookmark here

For a few seconds, his mind was blank. He had no idea what to do.Bookmark here

When Maekawa walked up to him with a smiling face, he regained his composure.Bookmark here

There were just the two of them. No one saw him this time.Bookmark here

Was Yukio in the clear?Bookmark here

After patting his shoulder, Maekawa said, “Well done. Try to do a curveball this time, okay? Good luck.”Bookmark here

Yukio was almost beside himself. Not only he wasn’t angry, he was giving him suggestions! Did he realize that playing Yukio could be good for his batting as well?Bookmark here

With renowned spirit, he prepared himself for the next pitch. Maekawa was also ready with the bat.Bookmark here

As he pitched, Maekawa swung his bat. But it didn’t hit the ball.Bookmark here

It hit Yukio.Bookmark here

He could’ve sworn that it wasn’t an accident. The bat was intentionally thrown towards him. If he didn’t guard himself at the last moment, it would’ve hit his face.Bookmark here

Yukio fell on the ground; more due to shock than the force of the bat. His right arm stopped the bat, and it was hurting like hell.Bookmark here

He was suddenly on the verge of crying.Bookmark here

After coming near him, Maekawa spat on the ground.Bookmark here

“Pathetic.”Bookmark here

He wasn’t even trying to hide that he did it intentionally. Probably because there was no one around them.Bookmark here

After he turned and started walking, Yukio’s pain suddenly turned into rage.Bookmark here

Why was this happening to him?Bookmark here

It was Maekawa who talked to him first. Although he later discovered why, he fulfilled his part, and kept paying for them. He joined the baseball club to help his classmates, and to get closer to people. He did everything that was asked of him, everything that he needed to do. And this is what he got in return?Bookmark here

So this was the true face of the person he admired so much? Someone who makes friends just to exploit them? Someone who is so bad at batting he can’t hit the ball of a ‘newbie’?Bookmark here

And he was calling Yukio 'Pathetic'?Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

Before Maekawa could turn around properly, the bat struck his right hand, hard.Bookmark here

With a loud cry, he fell on the ground, face down.Bookmark here

“What? Already injured? Did you see me screaming when you throwed this bat at me? Huh?”Bookmark here

Finding no answer, Yukio targeted his left hand this time.Bookmark here

With another scream, he turned around. His eyes were directed at Yukio now.Bookmark here

And Yukio was tasting a delicious fear.Bookmark here

“What? Wanna play? This is the only game you can play, right? Not that you can hit a single pitch of mine. Proper pitches, I mean.”Bookmark here

“D… damn you!” Maekawa was finally talking, “You bastard, just see what happens to you…”Bookmark here

“YOU THINK I CARE?!”Bookmark here

With all his power, Yukio swung the bat.Bookmark here

This time aiming for his head.Bookmark here

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“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Thank God he’s alive, otherwise even I couldn’t have stopped the criminal charges. Do you know how much I had to pay to shut his family’s mouth? Do you?”Bookmark here

“How could you do that, Yuki? How? What if he died? And for what, a baseball game? What is wrong with you?!”Bookmark here

“To think that my sister was raising such an insolent child…”Bookmark here

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Blood, blood everywhere.Bookmark here

He was standing over an ocean of blood.Bookmark here

His hands were red, and full of scars.Bookmark here

Several corpses were floating in the ocean around him. They had a familiar face.Bookmark here

His own face.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the ocean vanished.Bookmark here

There was just darkness. Another look revealed the ocean was filled with black soot, with a dying ember in its midst.Bookmark here

A scream filled the atmosphere, as the ember vanished.Bookmark here

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When Yukio regained consciousness, a pair of large eyes were observing him.Bookmark here

He quickly raised his head, realizing he wasn’t in that building anymore. It was a big house that almost looked like a storage shed. He was lying on a bed, with a white cover on top of him.Bookmark here

He was wearing a white T-shirt and white jeans. Not the dress he was wearing when… he left his apartment.Bookmark here

And a young girl was staring intently at him.Bookmark here

She had European features, yet looked pacific. Her dress was the strangest one Yukio had ever seen. It looked like she wrapped a bandage around herself, but it was actually a piece of long cloth sewn that way. And it also made her features prominent…Bookmark here

“Good morning, Yukio-kun!” The girl said as he was staring at her. At her face.Bookmark here

Exiting autopilot, Yukio suddenly felt very confused.Bookmark here

What happened? Where was he? It definitely wasn’t the place he was protecting. Then…Bookmark here

“Who are you?” He somehow forced the words out.Bookmark here

“Oh, I am sorry. I should have given my introduction.”Bookmark here

Her Japanese sounded strained, indicating it wasn’t her native language. Was he still in a different world?Bookmark here

“Hello. I am Wei. Wei Barog.”Bookmark here

“Hello…”Bookmark here

He was trying to decide whether to ask her their location or the outcome of his battle with the Tiztaanian, when someone entered the house.Bookmark here

“Sugi!” Yukio exclaimed.Bookmark here

So it meant Amanda did look for him, and he was saved by-Bookmark here

“Listen, Yukio.” Sugi interrupted his thought process.Bookmark here

“Before you speculate anything, let me tell you the truth.”Bookmark here

“The truth?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

Then Sugi said something that confirmed all the suspicions he had for a long time.Bookmark here

“Ever since the beginning, everyone has been lying to you.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean…” Yukio uttered, but he knew what Sugi meant.Bookmark here

“And before I say anything more,” Sugi took out something from his pocket, “You need to tell me where you got this.”Bookmark here

He was holding a ring.Bookmark here

The one Yukio found on Earth 2.0.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.