Chapter 6: Part 2
Tomonori quickly polished off her lunch, and we set up a game of Hyakunin Isshu Karuta (1).
Our school happened to finish off the year with a school-wide Hyakunin Isshu tournament.
I really wanted to complain and say that we should be doing this in Jaunary instead, but I’m sure the school board had their reasons.
I really didn’t care about this game, but Tomonori seemed to really be into it, so she’s been dragging me into these games for three days now.
I stood up with the stack of cards containing the front halves of the poems, while Tomonori took my seat.
We had been doing this for three days, so I didn’t think she really needs to see the bottom-half cards to give me the correct answer. We were high schoolers, after all.
“Rice field in autumn. A hermitage built from harvested grains. The woven mat is coarse.”
I went in order and read out the top card.
She didn’t even remember the first one?! What the hell has she been doing for the last three days?!
“I know this one! My sleeve is wet with dew.”
Orito took that card, causing Tomonori to complain.
“I had that oneeee~~~. Stop getting in the waaaay~~.”
Tomonori frowned and glared at Orito, who now was sitting in front of her with a satisfied look in his eyes. Next, we moved onto the second poem.
“Spring has passed, giving way to summer. White cloth gleams.”
It seemed that Orito had learned a bit of tact. He clearly knew the answer, but just stood there smiling and looking at Tomonori.
Tomonori looked at each bottom-half card laid out before her, and then looked up at me with a serious look in her eyes.
“…… Can I use a protractor?”
What angle exactly did she want to measure? How would that even help? I actually was kinda curious!
“If you think it’ll help, then go ahead.”
“… Hung up to dry… at the foot of Mount Amanokuguyama.”
I heard an angelic voice descend from the heavens, and couldn’t help but turn my head to the side to find the source of that beautiful sound. I found myself looking at a pigtailed girl who was smiling at us.
She was Hiramatsu Taeko. She was top of the class, and in a lot of ways was way too good to be a high schooler.
“Got it! Got it got it got it got it! I got the card, Aikawa! Just look at this! I got it, see?!”
“Tomonori, I’m pretty sure that counts as cheating.”
Orito smacked Tomonori on the shoulder.
“Ah… maybe I’m just not cut out for Hyakunin Isshu…”
“Hiramatsu, you’re supposed to be pretty good at this, right?”
“Ahh, yeah. During middle school, Hiramatsu went to a National Hyakunin Isshu tournament and took six thousand cards in a row. It shook the Karuta world to its very core.”
Orito, I wasn’t asking you. But before I could say that, he had already finished his explanation.
“Hmm, that’s pretty amazing.”
“That’s… it’s not… a big deal…”
Hiramatsu waved her hands from side to side, trying to lessen the impact of Orito’s words. Orito just smiled and occasionally interjected with things like “no, really.”
“I think Hiramatsu is the only person in the world who would be able to win a national tournament without losing a single card.”
“Do you have any tricks you can share?”
Tomonori clasped her hands behind her head and leaned back in my chair.
“… Hmm… well… if you only need to win…”
“So there is something?! The queen of all certain victory tricks or something?! Tell me, tell me!”
“Why are you so desperate to win here, Tomonori? Did something happen?”
She probably had a really stupid reason for this…
“Why do I want to win, you ask? Cuz there’s a big tournament, of course!”
Yup, her reason was as stupid as expected! God, she looks so proud of herself too…
“Well, I guess you could try to learn just the first five syllables of the top half of the poem… and the last five syllables of the bottom half…”
“Ohh! That’s amazing! That way I only have to remember half… nah, only thirty fifty percent!”
I think she meant thirty-five percent there… well, to be honest, I’m not sure what exactly she was calculating anyways.
And so, Tomonori’s intense Hyakunin Isshu boot camp training restarted under Hiramatsu’s supervision.
Thirty minutes later…
“I’ve mastered the poem by Emperor Go-Toba!”
“Only one? Well, I guess that’s pretty impressive for Tomonori.”
“Why exactly did you pick that verse?”
Orito asked that. Tomonori gave him a confident look, as if the reason was obvious.
“Because it makes me feel like I’m in Aura Battler!” (2)
I had no idea what she was talking about.
Hiramatsu and I were both staring at her vacantly, so Tomonori seemed to get a bit nervous.
“A-Anyways! Let’s go off to battle!”
Tomonori stood up and pointed outside the window.
We couldn’t see very well through the rain, but she was probably pointing to the gym.
The break was close to being over, so we all decided to head for the gym.
We passed through a hallway as the rain beat a loud drum solo on the roof and went into the gym. Everyone was trying to evade the rain, so we all ended up lining up and passing through this hallway, like a long stream of ants carrying food back to the anthill.
But in the middle of all these people, one person suddenly stopped walking.
A pigtailed girl just looked up at the sky with a hint of sadness in her eyes.
“Something the matter, Hiramatsu?”
I couldn’t help but call out to her after seeing her look so downcast. Even if I was one of the shier people at this school.
“A… Aikawa-kun… the rain is pretty strong today, isn’t it…?”
She looked like she was spacing out, but I think it was more like she was thinking hard about something. I couldn’t bring myself to ask though.
The entire school was now sitting inside this gym. Each class formed a line, and after the principal gave out a few words of thanks, the Hyakunin Isshu tournament finally began.
The prize for the winner was a ballpoint pen. Wow, way to kill my motivation. At least make the prize money or something…
I was put in the same group as Orito, and we sat in the traditional Japanese way in front of a fully laid out Hyakunin Isshu Karuta board.
“Well then, we will now begin the first match.”
I heard someone speaking into a microphone. It was a handsome, rather familiar voice.
When I looked up, I saw that Anderson-kun and Mihara were next to the microphone. They weren’t even part of the student council, so why were they up there mixing with the teachers…?
“Why are those two up there…?”
“Ahh, they’re on the event committee. For this tournament.”
This might be my chance. I had wanted to ask Anderson-kun some stuff today anyways. And this was a good opportunity to get to him.
I would win this tournament, and while I was getting my prize I’d tell Anderson-kun that I needed to talk with him later. It was a perfect plan. A wonderful, amazing plan! I suddenly felt myself going from zero to a thousand percent motivation to win this thing!
“Everything begins here…”
Hearing Anderson’s voice, I immediately smacked the ground.
“The Gates of Ousaka… by Semimaru.”
This poem by Semimaru was one of my favorites. There was no way I’d let anybody else take this card.
The others in my group looked at me in shock after seeing me immediately take that one card.
Every little part of their faces told me how utterly surprised they were that I wasn’t completely useless.
This feeling of joy… it was incredible!
Like this, Orito and I completely destroyed the first match.
In our arsenal, we each had thirty poems that we had memorized, together with another twenty that we had partially learned using Hiramatsu’s trick. So, put together, we knew a hundred poems. It wasn’t enough to guarantee that we’d get every card, but this should be more than enough against a normal high schooler. It kinda made me feel guilty when I thought about the people who were had worked way too hard to memorize everything though…
The second match passed, and then the third, and then the fourth. Things were going smoothly as Orito and I advanced further and further in the tournament. But…
We hit our first wall during the semifinals.
“Hello, my darling. How are you this fine day?”
It was the vampire ninja, Saras. As her appearance might suggest, she was an invincible armada of unparalleled beauty and intelligence and athleticism and scholastic achievement and everything else.
She was one year above me in school, but this tournament included everyone in the school so it wasn’t too strange seeing her as my opponent. I could easily imagine that she would be a dangerous adversary.
She swept her long, black hair upwards, put a hand on her hips, and stood there looking quite formidable. Her long legs extended from her tall body and were planted atop the ground right in front of where I was sitting.
“… Why exactly are you standing up?”
“So I can better look down at you, my darling.”
She crossed her arms and looked down at me, her eyes brimming with confidence.
“From the peaks of Mount Tsukubane-”
Hearing Anderson-kun’s voice, Saras thrust out one of her long, beautiful legs which were clad in black stockings. Her skirt fluttered.
“I-I can’t go on, Aikawa. This is it for me.”
Orito no longer seemed to be able to concentrate on the Karuta.
He was so preoccupied with the mysteries of what lied up that skirt that he couldn’t keep his eyes on the cards.
What a devilish plan this was! Of course, when a guy was presented with a chance to look up a girl’s skirt, it was an ironclad rule that he would have to try.
I admit that I was also pretty tempted…
But Orito was the very embodiment of perversion, so I wasn’t surprised that this would knock him out cold.
The other boys around us also had their gazes nailed to Saras’s skirt, which was waving to and fro right next to her buttocks.
“Wake up, Orito! Even if you looked up her skirt, it’s just her stockings! There aren’t any panties!”
Orito’s eyes widened at my words. And then, he slapped me across my cheek.
“You idiot! Aikawa! It’s not stockings! It’s pantyhose!”
Wait… that’s the part that got him angry? Geez, this guy was just so unreliable.
“If you would like a peak, than help yourself. But I will be taking this match.”
Dammit! Now all the boys were starting to gather beneath Saras to get a good angle up her skirt. Damn her and that unconcerned personality of hers!
Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! I wanted to look too! Of course I would also want to look!
Giving into my temptation, I tried to lift my head, but then I felt a foot come forcefully down on the back of my head.
“Umm… I thought you were okay with people looking…”
“I won’t show anything to you, my filthy piece of shit darling.”
Why was my pet name getting worse and worse? Seriously, just “shit darling” is fine…
“It’s… because I’m embarrassed, of course.”
A hint of pink leaked into Saras’s cheeks. Ugh, what a tsundere.
I continued to take card after card, while Saras kept her foot on the back of my head.
Just take the foot off, dammit. Exactly how long were you planning to keep that thing there?
Orito was taking Karuta cards while staring up Saras’s skirt. He could only do that because of the excellent peripheral vision he had developed through years of being a huge pervert. He truly was a pervert in a class of his own.
Orito and I ultimately managed to survive that match.
Saras hadn’t managed to take a single card, probably because she was stepping on me for the entire duration of the match.
“Oh.” Saras seemed a bit lost for words.
I pushed her leg off me and stood up.
“Sorry, but looks like I won.”
“Indeed, I have been soundly defeated. I had not even noticed that the match had ended.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was so entranced by my garbage darling’s hipline that I didn’t even notice our time had run out.”
Well, yeah, I had been pretty much crushed down to the floor the entire match, so my butt was probably sticking out pretty far…
“Just seeing that is enough to sate my appetite. So go on and win, darling.”
Saras spun around on her heels and left. I watched her straight, long hair waving to and fro, and felt intense regret that I hadn’t gotten a peek at her stock-… her pantyhose.
“Well then, we’re off to the finals. Our opponents will be…”
Hiramatsu and… Tomonori!
Tomonori?! Impossible! The only poem she had memorized was poem 99 by Emperor Go-toba, so how the hell had she made the finals?!
“To think we’d have only first years in the finals. Now then, who shall prevail?!”
Anderson-kun’s voice echoed through the gym, and the students who had already been knocked out of the tournament cheered. Some of the students who were still hurting from their losses were playing their own games of Hyakunin Isshu. Well, it’s not like they had anything else to do.
I looked at the pigtailed girl sitting politely in front of me. I had managed to get this far in the tournament because of Hiramatsu in the first place.
But, that’s why… I would beat her. And then, I would talk with Anderson-kun!
My favorite Semimaru poem was right in front of my eyes. This must be a sign from the Heavens that telling me to win this match.
Anderson-kun began to read the first poem of the finals.
Ahh… my Semimaru…
“Doors of Y-”
…… What was with that insane speed?! It took two syllables for her to know exactly what the poem was! She didn’t just know the poems… she had rapidly memorized where every single card was on the board as well.
There was no way I could beat this…
Smack. After Hiramatsu called her name, Tomonori hit the ground like she was trying to swat a fly.
“Woohooooo, got one! I’ll get this one next!”
I see. Hiramatsu was a very nice person, so she was signaling Tomonori. Tomonori wanted to take the card closest to her, so whenever that poem was read, Hiramatsu would call her name. That’s how she got carried all the way to the finals.
“Tomonori, that’s so dirty! That’s so not manly of you! Not manly at all!”
Orito complained, which caused Tomonori to frown.
“I’m not a man!”
Quick hands stampeded over more and more of the board. Soon, I found that all the cards in front of me had already been taken.
I knew I had to do something here to stop her, but I couldn’t do a single thing.
If Hiramatsu could recognize a poem from two syllables, then we wouldn’t be able to touch her. All we could do was sit silently and get crushed.
In the end, Tomonori rose to victory.
“Hey, you guys running this thing!”
Orito desperately called out, tears streaming from his eyes.
“… What is it?” Anderson-kun responded, looking at Orito like he would a criminal suspect.
“You sure you’re happy with a final match like this?! Let’s play with another set of cards! Another set!”
“You should just play the same game with famous lines from anime instead or something.”
Mihara looked a bit tired and annoyed as she suggested that.
“Yeah, that! I don’t think Hiramatsu knows a lot about anime, so that’s good!”
“Oh! That sounds like fun!”
Tomonori and Orito both seemed quite excited at this idea.
“Are you okay with this, Hiramatsu?”
I spoke up to Hiramatsu, my tone very apologetic.
“Yes… I don’t mind…”
What an amazingly kind person… she was pretty much the very picture of the Virgin Mary.
And so, we cleaned up the current game of Hyakunin Isshu. In its place, we put down a hundred cards with famous lines from anime written on them.
The rules were slightly different from standard Hyakunin Isshu. Instead of a front half and a bottom half to each card, Anderson-kun would just start reading the cards and we would just have to find that card in the pile.
The three of us were fairly okay when it came to famous anime lines. But Hiramatsu would have to purely look for the cards on the floor to match what Anderson-kun was saying.
Like this, we should be evenly matched.
Ah! Actually, wasn’t a minute ago a perfect opportunity to talk with Anderson-kun? Crap, I completely forgot. Oh well. The match has already started, so I’ll have to worry about that later.
The first card…
“When this war is over… I’m gonna get married.”
Anderson-kun put quite a bit of emotion into it when he read that line.
Umm… war is over… war is over…
I had just found the card, but Hiramatsu was quicker and took it for herself.
The second card…
“There might be a criminal among us, so how do you expect me to just stand here with you all?! I’m going back to my room.”
“Wooooo!! Got it, got it! My point!”
Ahh, Tomonori got to it before Hiramatsu. So it was possible. This was definitely possible!
“Let’s go on 2chan for a bit and then study.”
Tomonori got two in a row?! Also… why were all these famous lines death flags?!
“There is no need for the Demon King to trouble himself with this. We will personally-”
Orito’s glasses sparkled as he listened to Anderson-kun.
“I have this one!”
Orito swiped at the cards. Okay, we all get that you’re super cool and all that, but stop making such a mess! Look, now half the cards are flying all over the place!
Ugh, what a guy. Orito and I hurriedly picked up the cards that had gotten knocked away.
“Just leave this one to me and run! Hmph, don’t worry. I’ll catch up right away!”
Anderson-kun had already started on the next one, so we didn’t have enough time to put all the cards back nice and neat.
But Hiramatsu got it!
Hiramatsu looked a bit unsure for a second, but then she took the card.
However, compared to Orito and Tomonori, the number of cards Hiramatsu had taken was incredibly small.
“Phew…” Hiramatsu sighed. I then heard the sound of rustling clothes as she began to undo her school uniform. She had loosened it to the point where I could catch a glimpse at the soft-looking valleys between her breasts.
Had she just entered into serious mode?
If I leaned forward just a bit, I could see her bra. No, Ayumu, don’t look! Don’t look at that light blue bra of hers!
It only took a single syllable for Hiramatsu to smack the correct card. It was like the entire board had transformed into Hiramatsu’s territory.
“So… this moment has come at last.”
Orito’s glasses sparkled.
“What do you mean?”
“The number of cards remaining… that number has gotten small enough to enter into Hiramatsu’s perfect memory regime.”
Perfect memory regime… it sounded cool and all, but I had no idea what he was talking about.
Well, what it probably meant was this:
The rest of the cards on the board were now pretty much within Hiramatsu’s control.
And that wasn’t all. Because she had untied her uniform like that, Orito and my eyes were now glued to her chest. Her pigtails were a nice accent to the whole picture, and you cannot even fathom how excited this made the two of us.
So, she had disabled her opponents, and also increased her own speed with this serious mode of hers.
This was bad… this was really bad. I shook my head fiercely, trying to dispel all the evil thoughts from my brain.
What should I do? Would this match really end with me not being able to take a single card? Wasn’t there something I could do? Anything at all…
“If you see any misbehaving monsters, then just beat them to a pulp!”
This one… I knew this one. But… huh? Hiramatsu was also looking for it? No, she seemed completely at a loss.
What did this mean? Was the card missing?
Missing… at that thought, my mouth dropped open in realization.
Earlier, Orito had sent half the cards flying, and we had picked them all back up.
But maybe, we had missed a single card…
I looked to my side.
And indeed, there it was. A single card lay right in front of Orito, close to his body where he couldn’t see it. There it was!
“If you see glittering treasure, pounce and take it for yourself. Have audacity and lightning speed…” (3)
As Orito looked all around in search for the card, I leapt at him and thrust him out of the way.
“Uwah! What the hell are you doing, Aikawa?!” But I ignored him.
Goooooo!! I threw out my right hand with such force that I almost fell over.
Hiramatsu also seemed to notice the card, and quickly reached out for it as well.
“Victory… is there for my taking!”
Smack! Hiramatsu’s pale hand touched mine.
Perhaps she was a bit more sensitive to cold than I had imagined, but her hand felt chilly and slippery to the touch.
But yes… her hand was now touching mine. The back of my hand.
One card only. I had only managed to take a single card, but that didn’t stop me from vigorously pumping my fists.
(1) A rather strange but popular game in Japan that consists of players memorizing a series of poems and trying to complete the poems correctly when the first half of the poem is read out. The second halves of the poems are also on cards, and the person who completely identifies the poem completion can take the card.
(2) Anime from the 1980s.
(3) The start of the opening from Slayers.