Chapter 73:

Volume 3, Chapter 18: Doppelgangers

Heroes of the Past

201X Semester I Week 10 FridayBookmark here

“Yuki, hey!” someone called my name.Bookmark here

I blinked, seeing Ichizen peering into my face. This again, huh? Strange how these situations no longer fazed me. A classroom again? I could never start off in the comforts of home.Bookmark here

“What class is it right now?” I asked, gathering information first.Bookmark here

“It‘s government, but it’s a self-study session since the teacher left. You’ve been spacing out a lot. Something wrong?” Ichizen asked with concern.Bookmark here

It was weird, being in high school again and Ichizen not dead. Still, it felt comforting to know Ichizen was here, even if he was just a construction of my mind.Bookmark here

“I just need more sleep, that’s all,” I replied, reaching for my phone.Bookmark here

“Oh, you’ve been staying up like me and playing games? Everyone does it, you know? No need to worry about it. This guy I’ve been playing online with, goes by the username Nex, feels like we could be great friends in real life,” Ichizen guessed incorrectly.Bookmark here

“That’s not it. By the way, Ichizen, that sandwich incident….?” I inquired.Bookmark here

“Hey, I did nothing wrong, okay! Sandwiches were threatened and thus were defended. Besides, the teacher was a sandwich man, who took care of matters as he should. Those idols haven’t retaliated yet, so I guess it’s fine,” Ichizen revealed.Bookmark here

“You better hope they don’t. I swear, the freaking things you get into,” I said, shaking my head.Bookmark here

After checking the date, it seemed that the sandwich incident occurred two weeks ago. Quite a considerable amount of time. I got through classes and took the bus home. I noticed the group of idol girls, who insulted me last time, on there. They followed me after I got off.Bookmark here

“You!” one of the girls shouted, waving her finger at me.Bookmark here

“Do you have nothing better to do than trail me? If you’re just going to stand there, at least let me pass,” I made a snide comment.Bookmark here

“We haven’t forgiven you for what your friend did. It ruined our entire performance. The fans were so disappointed!” another girl shouted as the group formed a circle around me.Bookmark here

This was getting annoying. Could I use my powers? I glanced down at my hand, but nothing happened. Should I just continue insulting them and hope they give up eventually? Chances of that were pretty slim. I doubt they would let me go, especially after the destruction Ichizen committed on their male counterparts.Bookmark here

A young man wearing a red dress shirt and black striped dress vest approached us. He wore an eye patch over his left eye and had long hair, tied back into a short ponytail. Wait a minute, I knew him. He passed by us without a glance. Two of the girls immediately stood in front of him, blocking his path.Bookmark here

“Hey, don’t ignore us. Don’t you know who we are? Guess you don’t, considering your ugly school badge. What kind of shoddy student are you? We’ll have to make sure you remember our names,” one of the idols said.Bookmark here

He wore black dress pants with light, white stripes. His school ID hung from his belt. Wait, that symbol. I recalled seeing it at end of the sandwich incident. Could it be a coincidence?Bookmark here

“Look, I really don’t want any trouble. Let me pass,” the young man finally spoke.Bookmark here

He carried a flat, but piercing expression. Zhuyu, it was all there, the way he dressed and even his stare. However, this person carried a more dangerous aura, comparable to Kyoi’s, and looked less than pleased.Bookmark here

“He~llo! We’re the best school idols you’ll ever get to see. We placed in the top two for the past two years,” one of the girls announced.Bookmark here

“I don’t follow things like that. I apologize if I haven’t heard of you before, but right now I would prefer if you please allow me to get by. That girl over there would appreciate it too,” the man remarked.Bookmark here

“You’re siding with this bitch? Fine, we’ll just have to show you idols are not all pretty looks and voices! We’ll beat you down right now. Girls, get him. Make sure she watches!” their leader commanded, a joyful expression on her face.Bookmark here

Three idols inched closer to him, while the others restrained me. Zhuyu stood there with a calm expression. As the idols surrounded him, he sidestepped the one on his left. He caught an idol to his right with a neck hold, retrieving his pen from his vest pocket. He twisted open the pen top, revealing a small knife blade. Oh crap, this guy meant business.Bookmark here

“Hey, like I said before, just let me pass. I’ll even forget you were planning to beat up this girl. Leave, now! If you don’t, something bad will happen,” the man emphasized.Bookmark here

“You…. don’t sc-a …. re us at all! You’re…. bluffing,” the idol leader stuttered.Bookmark here

The man sighed and with one swift movement, sliced off the red ribbon in the captive girl’s hair. His eyes were scary. Please don’t say no. I did not want to notify the police, reporting a massacre, because these idols were idiotic enough to not heed his warning.Bookmark here

“Okay! Okay! Enough, we’re backing off. You can have the girl! We never wanted her. It was just all in fun. Hah, hah, we’ll see you then,” the leader spat out words in rapid succession, dashing away.Bookmark here

The rest of her followers booked it too, leaving only me and Zhuyu behind. The man sighed for the third time, retracting his blade. He clipped the pen back into his vest pocket, giving me a small smile.Bookmark here

“Wait!” I called out.Bookmark here

“Look, it’s probably best you forget what you saw,” the man suggested.Bookmark here

“No, that’s not what I wanted to ask. Is your name, Zhuyu, by any chance?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“What? No, it’s not,” the man replied, shaking his head.Bookmark here

“At least tell me your name, since you did kind of save me and all,” I came up with a lame excuse, curious about his name.Bookmark here

“We’ll probably never even meet again. Doesn’t matter,” Zhuyu said.Bookmark here

“Just tell me already,” I insisted.Bookmark here

“Tatsumaki Ryuu. Are you happy? Look, I’ve gotta go. I hope those idol girls or whatever don’t bother you again,” Tatsumaki finally revealed, walking off into the distance.Bookmark here

Of course it wasn’t Zhuyu. Was my mind just creating alternate versions of the people I actually knew? This was a question I definitely needed to ask Shane and Emily.Bookmark here

Next DayBookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

“Why so concerned?” Ichizen questioned.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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.Bookmark here

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

“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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

“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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

“Is that allowed?” I inquired.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

“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.Bookmark here

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

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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

“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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“0-15….,” the official announced.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.Bookmark here

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

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

You can resume reading from this paragraph.