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E6 - 6 This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.

This is Chapter 1 from Volume 6 of the Toradora! Light Novel series. The text is from Baka-tsuki.

Transcript

Saturday.

The day long cultural festival was extremely chaotic, courtesy of the crazy antics of the students. Everyone's laughter, tears, excitement, and passion were all inundated into the campfire, as if trying to burn the night sky black.

And then the next day was Sunday.

The job of cleaning up the remains of the disturbance caused by the rowdy students fell to the members of the cultural festival committee members and the student council. They supervised the cleaning up of each class's activities, checking whether the rubbish have been taken out, and also if the ashes of the campfire had been cleared. The student council held a party for the graduating third-years in a corner of the gym to celebrate the success of the cultural festival. The leader of the cultural festival committee asserted that he had no regrets while shedding manly tears, and buried his face in a bouquet of flowers amid wild applause. The student council president, who also clutched a bouquet of flowers in her hands, patted his shoulder, and spoke while dabbing at her hair,

"Oh yes, I have something to say to everyone."

She spoke as if it was nothing important at all.

===
Chapter 1 ===

"So what happened in the end? Did you accept that huge object?"

"It's part of my job, so I couldn't reject it~. That was extremely annoying, it was this big!"

"Though I haven't seen it, it can't be much bigger than this right?"

"Nope, Maya, you're too naive. The thing was THIS BIG!"

The weirdo, wildly flailing her arms in the air violently, managed to hit the head of someone who was quietly sitting at his desk. A pair of glasses fell onto the desk as a result of the attack, landing with a sharp sound.

"I'm so sorry! It was an accident... Oh, it's only Yuusaku."

The attacker, Kawashima Ami, turned towards the victim, with the guilt in her watery doll-like eyes fading to a coldness, reminiscent of a desert night. The victim, Kitamura Yuusaku, was her childhood friend, so it would've been a waste of time for her to put on her facade of cuteness. Ami sighed lazily and said,

"Alright, I'm really sorry. Here are your glasses."

Regardless, the fact that she had hit someone was the truth, so Ami apologized, albeit rather casually. She intimately put the dropped glasses back onto the bridge of the nose of her childhood friend.

But...

"...Yuusaku?"

"..."

Kitamura, the class representative, student council vice-president, and boy's softball team captain, was an honest and righteous person who loved to be with people, taking part in numerous school and social activities as if he would die if he did not busy himself. The lively Kitamura now had both his eyes and mouth half-open, looking to be in a near-dead state, and probably didn't even notice that he had been hit. His line of sight was not directed at Ami, and he just sat down in his seat without any reaction.

"Hey, Yuusaku, are you alright?"

"Doesn't look good..."

"Hey Maruo! Pull yourself together!"

Kihara Maya poked his cheeks lightly with her finger, but still could not get a reaction from Kitamura. She exchanged a look with Kashii Nanako, who was beside her, while Ami merely shrugged her shoulders in a cute fashion and raised an eyebrow, thinking that they were overreacting. The abnormal status of her childhood friend didn't seem to be the result of Ami's attack.

"Maruo's burnout sickness seems to be worsening..."

Hearing Nanako's assertion, Ami and Maya nodded in agreement, and lowered their heads to look at the zombie-like Kitamura.

That's right, in the weeks after the end of the exciting cultural festival, all the passion from the festival was gone, and students were forced back into the boredom of normal school lives, with the season also changing unconsciously from the luminous autumn to a black-and-white winter. Thick clouds deprived the world of sunlight, and the orange autumn leaves had turned into dry dead leaves, swirling in the wind on the other side of the gloomy windows. It was almost four in the afternoon and with the day's lessons and cleaning duties already over, only homeroom was left before dismissal. Now was the free time where everyone awaited the arrival of the homeroom teacher. Kitamura's abnormality was hidden by the boredom of everyday life, and had unwittingly permeated his entire body.

The times he opened his mouth to speak decreased, his answers to questions posed by teachers grew rarer, and he was not seen eating anything during lunch break. His zipper would be unzipped at least once every two days, he had a hollow look in his eyes, and his glasses were full of oily fingerprints, which clouded his sight. By the time his friends noticed his abnormal state, he was too far gone to be pulled back into normality.

It couldn't be helped, going back to the mundane and boring everyday life after the lively cultural festival. Kitamura must have been burnt out. Everyone in class 2-C thought so. The blank expression was the result of being burnt out. The untidy fringe that was originally tidy is also the result of being burnt out. Increasing forgetfulness, the increasingly untidy uniform, walking unsteadily along the corridors, and walking straight into walls when in a hurry, all these were signs of being burnt out.

He could be cured if we could get him to turn his attention to everyday-life once again, right? But Kitamura's condition seemed to be rather serious, as he showed no signs of life, even with three pretty girls surrounding him (Ami, Maya, Nanako). At this time...

"A...Ami..."

"...Wha, What?"

The corpse suddenly spoke. He raised his head to look at the popular model/childhood friend's beautiful face, and stuck out a pair of trembling hands, as though he was an old man who was going to die in five days.

"That's disgusting, go away!"

Ami stepped away from him.

"...When you said 'very big' just now... What was it...? It can't be...some weird job...to have you say big, could it be..."

"Huh?! What are you talking about!? Yuusaku, are you going crazy!?"

"Hahahahahahahahahaha!" Ami laughed madly, and applied a special move she learned from God knows where. The most effective way to shut someone up was a slap, and so the reanimated corpse was slapped in the face. Kitamura slumped to the side without any sign of resistance.

"The big object I was talking about is a dog! A dog! I heard that I had to pose with a bulldog at the photo shoot, so I thought it would be a teddy bear-sized dog, but it was actually a gigantic, two-meter long canine that had to be dragged out on a chain~! The photographer even said, 'This is a pure blood bulldog. Come on, hug it! Don't you think it looks like a llama?' 'It sure looks similar~ It even has the smell of a primitive beast! I don't even know what a llama looks like~!' That's what happened~."

Just what was Maruo going to say after "could it be..."? Barbie doll? Chicken roll? Or could it be... The girls didn't want to find out exactly what he was going to say, so they just whispered disgustedly among themselves. Behind them...

"How's Kitamura... He doesn't look good..."

"Yes, yes," the boys nodded uneasily.

Burnout sickness.

As for Kitamura's abnormal condition, the boys had another interpretation. But they were still the minority, as most people felt that Kitamura was just burnt out. But the extreme interpretation of the minority...

"It's worrying. Just looking at him evokes a strong sympathy."

"I feel the same way... If the rumors are true, just what happened to him?"

"Obviously a whole series of horrific treatments..."

"After all, the opponent is... right?"

"It's really lamentable... To make him burnt out like this to look so haggard."

"Really heart-wrenching... But now that you mention it, where are they?"


  • *


...Takasu-kun, so pitiful...


"!?"

The person turned around at breakneck speed. He heard it, he really heard it. A pair of fierce-looking eyes shot out bolts of lightning in its line of sight, turning to the innocent high school students who were walking past in the corridor during lunch break, and flooring them one by one.

Who was that...?

"No!?"

Or could it be you...

"Ah!"

Or maybe...

"Not me!"

You...

"What are you still dawdling over!?"

"Argh!"

A cold, peppermint-flavored sensation was shoved straight into the deep recesses of his nostril, taking its virginity. Takasu Ryuuji was violently brought down to earth in a wave of pain.

"What are you dilly-dallying for? You're soooooooo slow! Homeroom is about to start! If you have the time to scare people, then you better speed up! You garbage school swimsuit-con perverted dog!"

At the same time the colorful language was uttered, about three centimeters of lip balm was extracted from his nostril. The beautiful and violent girl who was twisting her face in an effort to bring Ryuuji back to reality was none other than Aisaka Taiga, the one everyone referred to as the Palmtop Tiger.

With a face that was as beautiful as a flower full of disdain and her light-colored hair fluttering in the air, her diminutive body gave the impression of an exquisite doll. The widely-acknowledged beauty that was the sum of these special parts now stuck out her chin arrogantly, puffing her flat chest, and struck a familiar pose as she glared at Ryuuji, looking as though she wanted to continue the colorful language.

"It's all because of you ACH~OO!"

Without any prior warning, a mouthful of saliva burst out from Taiga's mouth. Ryuuji didn't even have time to avoid it.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH~!"

A wailing that stemmed from embarrassment now emanated from Taiga's mouth. It was like digging one's own grave, to put it simply, and was her own fault. And to go one step further, it was extremely stupid... The lip balm that was shoved into Ryuuji's nostril a while ago was now lodged deep in Taiga's nostril as a result of her sneeze. Taiga once again started wailing pitifully,

"Hhhhhhhow could th-this kind of ludicrous thing happen to me! Get it out get it out, I can't pull it out!"

Her extreme clumsiness was cause of the introduction of a foreign object into the deep recesses of her nostril. The lady's reputation was in jeopardy!

Although the event happened so quickly, Ryuuji knew it was not the time to laugh.

"Ah, you idiot! You're really stupid! Don't move! I'll help you pull it out now!"

"Arghhhhh!"

Luckily it was just before dismissal time, so the disaster was not witnessed by anyone else. If Taiga had been seen like that, she would surely not be able to survive in society in the future. The red-faced Taiga wildly flailed her limbs around, twisting her body. Ryuuji grabbed Taiga's head and pulled as hard as he could, finally getting the lip balm out of her nostril.

Pop! Taiga was finally free of the peppermint attack on her mucous membrane, but was still rubbing her nose furiously at the pain, leaning onto the wall for support, with her tears sticking onto her long eyelashes. Taiga naturally had a serious case of rhinitis and a sensitive physique, so contact with the lip balm would probably have been too provocative.

"Taiga! Pull yourself together! Anyway, didn't you do the same thing to me just now? It's divine justice, to tell you that you shouldn't do such weird things to me in the future..."

The low grumbling was also for her own good, but Taiga's wet eyes glared fiercely at Ryuuji,

"It went deeper into my nostril than yours, and my nostril is also much smaller! It's completely different from your wide and loose black hole!"

"Oh..."

Ryuuji had nothing to say about that, and could only keep silent. In front of him...

"...Nose, my nostril...so cold..."

"Don't pick your nose! It's revolting!"

Taiga, who was distracted by her stinging nose, was making extremely unlady-like actions, sticking her finger a few centimeters into her nostril.

"..."

Ryuuji moved to stop her hand, but Taiga's movement suddenly stopped, staring at the lip balm that was in Ryuuji's hand. The glossy texture of the lip balm that was pulled out from two different nostrils now appeared to be even more polished. Taiga stared at the lip balm while still holding on to its cover, her face revealing a minute and indescribable expression. She bit her lips tightly, and raised her head to look at Ryuuji. Ryuuji thought she wanted her lip balm back, so he passed it onto her hands. But Taiga still kept quiet, her eyes darting between lip balm in her hand and Ryuuji's nose. Just when Ryuuji was wondering what she was going to say...

"I think it'll take an inhuman amount of courage to apply this thing to my lips once again... It can't be used anymore... I should throw it away..."

Ryuuji's triangular eyes immediately flashed blue, not because his innate abilities were awakened, granting him the ability to kill with sight, but because of Taiga! Because of the environment! Because of the education of the masses!

"I won't allow you to throw it away! It's too wasteful!"

It's too wasteful! Too wasteful! The phrase resonated in Ryuuji's mind with a scorching rhythm. Dongdongdongdong,dongdongdongdong, it's such a waste, it's such a waste, dongdongdongdong, it's so wasteful! Ryuuji's all-time favorite phase: "It's such a waste!"! The vegetable leftovers from cooking, "It's such a waste"! Vegetables leftovers should be mixed with shredded burdock roots and eaten! The flier with a blank side on the back, "It's such a waste"! The paper used for advertisement fliers make the best scrap paper! Everything that is thrown away before its functions are fully utilized, "It's such a waste!" "Never ask for plastic bags!"

Taking into account the statements above, how could it be possible for Ryuuji to condone Taiga's act of throwing away a sparkling new lip balm just because it went into someone's nose? That would be tantamount to selling his soul to the devil. This is the responsibility of humans, the only species born on Earth to possess sentient intelligence.

But...

"I'm never going to use it! The surface is coated with the insides of your nose!"

Taiga obviously did not appreciate the tremendous responsibility of humans to respect to all lifeforms on earth. Let me enlighten you! Ryuuji spoke at a deliberately slow speed,

"It's alright. The deposits from my nostril are already in your nostril, so the layer on the lip balm is actually your own nasal secretions."

"Argh!!!"

Although it was the truth, Taiga howled like a steam whistle, furiously rubbing her nose with her jacket sleeve as if her life depended on it - though it was too late to rectify anything.

"The dirty things from your nose are in my nose... I've been corrupted! It's incurable!"

"That's rude! Didn't you spark this whole chain of unfortunate events in the first place? Alright, just cap the lip balm properly. Bear the responsibility to use it until the day its time is up. Here, wipe it with a tissue."

"Do you seriously think that it'll be alright after wiping it with a tissue!? I'll give this to you! No room for negotiation!"

"I don't want it! Except for mentum, men don't use lip balm anyway!"

"Why not! Didn't you say 'what a waste'? Couldn't your mouth accept anything and everything? You meddling, perverted dog! Amazing isn't it, Ryuuji isn't the town's 'It's such a waste' ambassador for nothing!"

No matter how much of a waste, who would want a lip balm that has been shoved into the nostrils of two different people? There would still be room for negotiation if she used a penknife to shave off the affected portions, but it would be impossible for Taiga to do something like this. She would only watch as the nasal secretions take over the lip balm. Ryuuji quickly turned around to reject the present, and just as expected...

"Don't be shy! Come! Apply it on your lips! Don't you always complain about your dry lips?"

"I don't want it! St-Stop it! Go, go away, that's so dirty... Argh... It tastes salty..."


...Takasu-kun is too pitiful...


"!"

The voice was clearer just now, and came from behind Taiga, who was preparing to apply the lip balm onto Ryuuji's lips. It must have been a reaction to the image of intimacy painted by the single-hand grip that Taiga had on Ryuuji's neck, and Ryuuji's ultimately futile resistance.

Just where did it come from?

White flames sprouted from Ryuuji's cursed eyes, looking for the owner of that voice. Taiga saw the opening and continued to apply the dirtied lip balm onto Ryuuji's lips. But Ryuuji didn't care about it anymore (Since it had been applied on his lips once, it wouldn't make much of a difference if more was applied).

The problem now was the voice that Ryuuji heard. It wasn't an isolated opinion, for he had been constantly hearing such whispers for the past few weeks...

Regardless of the time and place, in toilets all over the school, on his way to and from the classroom, sometimes at the rubbish dump during cleaning time, and also just now when he was walking with Taiga in the corridor.

Those people would start whispering "Takasu-kun is so pitiful" whenever they saw Ryuuji.

Although he gave all that he had for the Palmtop Tiger during the cultural festival, he still lost to the glasses boy from the student council. Even though he was rejected, he's still so devoted to her...

Even though he was rejected.

"Bastards...! Who's the one spreading such rumors...!"

An irritated Ryuuji threw off the baggage that was Taiga, his eyes flashing as if foretelling the fall of an empire, shooting menacing glares at everyone around him. He didn't notice that a first-year girl 200 meters away fell unconscious as if hit by an inter-continental ballistic missile. Taiga didn't notice it either, as she shrugged her shoulders like a westerner, happily shaking her head while saying,

"'Spreading such rumors' is referring to that rumor right? Yes yes, that's really bothersome, I've also heard that low-level rumor flying around..."

Not realizing that she was grinning like a Cheshire cat, which gave her milky complexion a rosy tinge, Taiga continued,

"Right... How did it go again? Me, who was chosen as the campus queen, abandoned Ryuuji who won the competition for me for a re-re-re-relationship with Kitamura-kun, right? I heard that it was something like this, or maybe not... Most probably right... It's rather annoying isn't it..."

Taiga grinned even wider... Although she referred to it as a low-level rumor, it was obvious that Taiga was extremely happy with regards to the contents of the rumor. Looking at Taiga's happy face that was bordering on euphoria, Ryuuji started to suspect whether Taiga was the source of that particular rumor. He immediately dismissed this suspicion though, as an idiot like Taiga couldn't be smart enough to spread rumors about herself in school.

That's right, this particular rumor has become the hottest topic of discussion for the bored student population. The rumor transcended class and grade boundaries, and was swiftly exchanged between the members of the student population.

Of course this wasn't the truth. Taiga wasn't romantically involved with Kitamura. Her desire was totally ignored.

At the campfire during the cultural festival, Taiga did accept Kitamura's request for a dance, something that Ryuuji also witnessed. It was a beautiful portrait, but beautiful things are always short-lived, as the two of them soon pulled Ryuuji, Minori and Ami in with their usual rowdiness, so there was no sign of a "romantic relationship". To Ryuuji, the most annoying aspect of the rumor was not the misinterpretation of the situation by the student population, but the "Takasu-kun did so much in the competition, but was still abandoned". Ryuuji was unable to dismiss such a misunderstanding. It was true that he gave his all in the competition to cheer Taiga up, and won the competition together with Minori after surpassing numerous obstacles, but instead of reinforcing his manly reputation, Ryuuji was now the pitiful "But he gave his all..." guy. The whole misunderstanding stemmed from the everyone's perception that Taiga and Ryuuji were in a romantic relationship, and by the time Ryuuji actually noticed it, it had become the truth in the minds of his schoolmates, which is why the rumor about Taiga abandoning Ryuuji, Taiga being stolen by Kitamura, and Ryuuji becoming the poor abandoned dog came about.

Why is it like this? When did it become like this?

"Damn... You're actually so happy about it... Don't you feel extremely irritated to be misunderstood to be in a relationship with me!?"

"Hmm~ You're right..."

The one who had the fear-inducing title of the "Palmtop Tiger", was smiling broadly and showed no hint of annoyance for some reason.

"They actually said that I'm the ex-girlfriend of a dog, conflicting feelings...but I'm human... Seems like I abandoned you right? What's important is "now", everything with you is in the past already..."

Taiga went "Fu!", and continued,

"But you're really rather pitiful, it must be really depressing to be abandoned by me right? You gave so much for me but didn't get anything in return. My heart has already been stolen by Kitamura-kun... Fufufu!"

She laughed uncontrollably, still looking at Ryuuji while cooing in a soft voice, "So pitiful~"

"Taiga... You..."

"Alright, let's stop talking about this and go. We have to get to class before the single woman gets there. Hahaha!"

Damn!

Ryuuji was now extremely offended by the gleeful Taiga who was happily bouncing along in front of him. To be rumored to be in a relationship with your crush - anyone would be extremely pleased with such a rumor. But the other protagonist of the rumor, Ryuuji, was now famous as the "School's Top Abandoned Guy". In comparison, to be misunderstood as the "scary delinquent" would have been better than being pointed at and pitied by the people who aren't even associated with him. "That's Takasu, the abandoned guy, so pitiful..."

Glaring at Taiga, who was in an extremely good mood, Ryuuji's feelings of displeasure intensified. Although he couldn't kill the hated person in front of him, he could still use his fingers to flick her undefended hairpin. Strike the blow! Ryuuji quietly moved nearer to Taiga...

"Look! There! The photo board! Lucky! No one's here! We can pick the ones we want without any restrictions!"

The sixth-sense of Taiga, who turned around, was on par with that of wild animals. Ryuuji quickly retracted his outstretched hand.

"Let's go! Quickly!"

Looking at Taiga's anxious expression, Ryuuji's displeasure dissipated.

Snapping back to reality, Ryuuji could only shrug his shoulders at Taiga's familiar expression, as she looked like a kid when she moved her short legs quickly to speed up her walking speed.

As for Ryuuji's displeasure, the rumor was unforgivable. But... it wasn't like he could do anything about it.

Ryuuji felt his displeasure changing into gentleness, the warm feeling welling up in him - that was the extent of his displeasure. He was just like an overcooked egg tart, melting at any opportunity. The result was that Ryuuji was gentle to everyone around him. There were times where even he was unable to accept such a character, but what could he do? He would feel happy whenever he saw Taiga's familiar arrogance and impulsiveness.

At that time...

When Ryuuji received the message from Taiga's father and saw the expression of Taiga who understood everything, he thought that he would never be able to experience the "normal life" ever again.

He expected that everything was destroyed, finished, and Ryuuji, whose mind was full of such thoughts, was extremely afraid, and very sad.

But right now, the world was still operating normally, the earth was still orbiting as it should, every morning and night came on time, and the light sounds of Taiga's running still echoed.

Ryuuji rubbed his numb nose, following Taiga's lead. Nothing has changed, everyday still progressed as it should.

Yes, the events of "that day" did not leave any scars on Taiga's tough heart. "You deserve it..." Ryuuji didn't direct this at anyone. Taiga hasn't changed, as she was still the tigress that reigned as queen, one that no one, not even her father could vanquish...

"Hurry up! You servant! COME!"

"..."

Taiga acted like she was calling a well-trained dog, and how would you expect me to take this insult lying down - but that's another question altogether.


Something which must be done after school.

"Let me see... Ah! I found Kitamura-kun! Ryuuji, look, it's him right?"

"Isn't that a bit too small... He's rolling his eyes... You still want that?"

"I want it! I want every photo taken of Kitamura-kun! Number 53... Heh heh, this is the fourth one."

The photos that were posted on the board were all taken by the photography club. They had set up a display board in the corridor outside the club rooms, and also numbered the photos. On a side note, the members of the photography club were attacked last year by an unknown person and the club was almost closed down. Furthermore, only girls were allowed to join from this year onwards. Only a few people knew the reason, but it was rumored to have something to do with the illegal selling of female student swimsuit photos. Students could purchase the photos at a price of 10 yen each from the newly-established female photography club. Everyone could find and take down the number of the photos they wanted, then write down their class and student number along with the payment in an envelope and put it into the box in front of the club rooms. The photos would be sent to the classes in a few days. With the relatively anonymous ordering system, the teenage boys and girls in the midst of puberty would of course not buy only photos of themselves.

"Ah, Ryuuji, here! There's one with Minorin in it!"

"Where, where!?"

"She's wearing her bald cap! This is a must-buy!"

Taiga took down the numbers of the photos with Kitamura in it, while Ryuuji did the same with the photos that had Minori in them. Just like most of the student population, they took advantage of the system to legally obtain pictures of their crush. No matter how widespread digital cameras and cellphones have become among high school students, this tradition probably would not vanish for the foreseeable future.

The photos on the display board were all taken during the cultural festival a while ago. Juniors posing in front of the decorated classrooms, maids who were accosting customers outside the maid cafes, couples making funny faces, the wind band performing intently. The picture of a conversation carried out in Greek costumes, that should be the drama club's performance right? There were also planning committee members who were engaged in discussion along the corridors, the students in charge of maintaining order shouting through loudspeakers; the other display board had a few group photos of the individual class activities, and the individual photos of the participants of the beauty pageant. There was a picture of Taiga with her angel wings, and Haruta jumping up and down clutching the prize in his hands. The photo next to it was one of Ami laughing. There was also a facial close-up of the contest participants (Ryuuji's face was coincidentally blocked by other contestants, looking like a deliberate setup by the photography club). There was even a special section set up for Ami, with the photo of her mistress and whip get-up given special attention, adding an exotic tinge to the wholesome public high school corridor.

There were smiles all around under the bright colors of the photos, reconstructing the events of that day in the 2D frame.

"There sure are a lot..."

"The student council members have got at least a picture each. And what's the big deal about the special section for that stupid chihuahua? It's revolting... There are quite a few photos of myself too, though I don't really want to buy my own photos. But the beauty pageant... Would it better to buy it?"

"Just buy it as a memento. I'll buy one to show Yasuko."

"Since you want to buy my photos, I won't need to buy them myself, it'll be a waste of money~!"

"You're actually quibbling over such minute details..."

"Memories trump pictures."

"Priceless..."

Taiga crouched down to take a look at the photos pasted on the lower end of the display board. Ryuuji, who lowered his head to look at Taiga, still felt the peppermint-flavored lip balm's presence in his nostril.

Although the cultural festival was only a few weeks ago, looking at the miniature representations of that day evoked a feeling of nostalgia. The wrestling match that the class put up, Taiga's beauty pageant, and also the competition... There sure were a lot of hardships. But the thought that is "It was happy" and the sadness that "It ended" fused into a funny feeling, embodied by the cold peppermint air that flowed out of Ryuuji's nose. A lot happened on that day - he even argued with Minori. A lot of happy, sad and thought-provoking events happened that day. The emotional pair of triangular eyes turned to a photo and stopped.

"Hey! Taiga! Look at this photo!"

Hearing Ryuuji's voice, Taiga followed his line of sight and was left breathless, her shoulders slightly shaking.

That was a photo of the campfire night.

Within the few square centimeters of square frame, the angel with a crown on her head, held hands with and exchanged smiles with the bespectacled student council vice-president. The light from the campfire illuminated the sides of their faces and the two of them looked as if they only had eyes for each other, as if... just like in the rumor, the two of them looked like a couple in love.

Ryuuji gave his honest assertion of the photo,

"This photo...is really good..."

Taiga didn't answer.

She didn't respond at all, and just smiled as she continued staring at the photo. Although Ryuuji was close enough to catch the sweet scent of Taiga's hair, he didn't know what she was thinking about. All he knew was that Taiga's gaze towards the the photo was unwavering, and that her fingers were extremely white.

Taiga finally nodded as if accepting something momentous, and took down the number of the photo. Suddenly, she twisted her face to the side.

"Fu!"

She released the breath that she was holding,

"Fu...hahahahahahahaha! I can't take it anymore! What is this! Exorcism?"

"Huh...?"

The romantic atmosphere was immediately shattered, as Taiga's laughter was like a machine gun with unlimited ammo, relentlessly shooting at everyone who heard it, with her finger still pointing at a nearby photo. What is it? Ryuuji walked closer to take a look...

"H-how mean..."

"Right, it's really mean, what's this face about!? Are you acting cool!?"

"No! I'm saying that you're too mean!"

Ryuuji hugged his head and groaned. Taiga's too mean. She's actually laughing at my face! She laughed uncontrollably as she pointed at the photo, which was of Ryuuji during the competition before the campfire. To tell the truth, the face that was captured on camera was indeed rather horrifying, because as a result of the breathlessness caused by Ryuuji's full-blown running, his already scary face had become even more twisted, turning into a face that would scare the pants off even the ugliest of ghosts, and this horrifying face looked as though it was hunting Minori, who was running in front of him. Even Ryuuji himself had to admire the photography club for their courage in posting this photo.

That is because I was at my limit! There was no time to consider my facial expression as I only thought about running as fast as I could for Taiga, and yet...

"Who do you think I made that expression for!? For you..."

"Yes, yes thank you very much..."

Taiga's placed her finger on her cheek, opened her eyes to their greatest capacity and looked upwards...

"La!"

And stuck out her tongue at Ryuuji, after which she turned back to the display board.

"...!"

The abandoned Ryuuji had nothing to say to that.

Could anyone teach me the method to hurt people with three simple actions? Ryuuji clutched his heart and sank to the ground. It's useless to retort! That person is unreasonable!

"Olaolaolaolaolaolaolaolaolaolaolaola!"

"Gah!?"

Ryuuji could only move away and turn around in response to the sudden increase in air pressure.

"Oh..."

"Ola...ah!? Takasu-kun, why are you sitting here!? ...Could it be because of my 'Ola'!?"

"Ah, no, not that! I'm just a little hurt mentally..."

The girl hesitantly looked down at her own fists, while Ryuuji quickly shook his hands at her, trying to telling her "It's alright, don't be nervous."

"Is it? Then that's good." The girl who nodded seriously in response is none other than Kushieda Minori.

She smiled at Ryuuji, who felt infinitely blessed.

The crush on her started in his first year. They became classmates when they were promoted to year two, became friends at the end of spring, went on a trip together in the summer, and got an insight into her inner world. In autumn, her actions became even more weird, and the unspoken distance between them made Ryuuji uncomfortable. The two of them even argued. In the end though, the two of them smiled at each other under the starry sky, forgiving each other for past offenses. Then...

"Takasu-kun's also here to pick photographs? What a coincidence."

"Yup."

And it is winter now.

"Has Takasu-kun chosen a lot of photos?"

"Just a few."

"I see."

Minori spoke facing the photo, showing the side of her face to Ryuuji, her body wobbling lightly. Her capering hair almost touching Ryuuji's shoulder, to which she whispered "drunken fists". That was the kind of girl she was, that is, Ryuuji's longtime crush. More simple than anyone, and yet more complex. As brilliant as the sun, an astonishing life form. As for the "Ola", it was merely a way for her to remember the photo numbers.

"Ah, Minorin!!!"

"Hello!!! Taiga!!!"

The voice of the cute animal trainer came from the other side of the display board, so the crouching Taiga moved beneath the display board, happily shouting from below. Minori also crouched down in response, and thus the pair of best friends met in a toilet bowl squatting position. What are the two of you doing... They were totally ignoring Ryuuji's blank stare.

"I found Minorin's photo, number 81. It's very cute!"

"Number 81 right... Got it. Listen up, I have something to tell Taiga too. Look at number 200, Ami's photo. Hint is 'lower-part-of-the-breast'."

"!?"

Ryuuji's head snapped back to search for the photo in question. Number 200! Which one is it? Even if he wasn't romantically interested in Ami, there was no high school male in the world who wouldn't want to confirm with their own eyes after hearing that kind of hint! Everyone together! "It's such a waste~!"

"I really can't stand this perverted dog..."

"Ah! Wh-What am I doing..."

Taiga's icy tone brought Ryuuji back to reality. Right, Minori's here too, can't do anything embarrassing. Ryuuji quickly composed himself and nonchalantly took down number 200 in his order form. Although he took great care not to be found out, Taiga, who had been observing him the whole time, sighed loudly to the display board,

"Seriously, Ryuuji's sexual urges have already gone over the threshold of tolerance, I feel like killing him..."

"Really gone over... Hey!"

"If you're really that interested in stupid chihuahua's lower breast, then I'll tell you about it. There are... six on her breasts! I saw it with my own eyes!"

"There aren't."

Ryuuji's response was too straightforward, and Taiga scoffed at him, violently flourishing her hair, which was almost touching the ground, "Ah...so boring. I have no time to discuss Ryuuji's sexual urges. You can go fantasize in front of stupid chihuahua's breasts... I feel like going to the toilet. I'll go to the toilet, and then back to class."

"So that kind of position would make someone want to go to the toilet..."

In response to the nodding Ryuuji, Taiga retorted, "I don't have time to talk about perverted things", and disappeared from his sight.

"Taiga's going to the toilet? Do you want me to go with you?"

"It's alright, I'll go by myself."

Minori was still in her squatting position, looking at Taiga's indoor shoe-clad feet swiftly disappearing from sight. "She rejected my company..." Minori could only stand up now that she was the only one in the squatting position,

"She actually ran away from me. And Taiga even passed on a horrible thing to me. Now I feel the urge to go to the bathroom too..."

Ryuuji tried to replay her words in his head, and peered down at her, speechless. Minori seemed to feel his gaze, and as their eyes met

...

"NO!!!"

Minori spun like a top, her face extremely red after one round of spinning.

"Di-Did I just say something embarrassing? Argh~ That's so embarrassing! But I shall use my powers to break free of this encirclement! Come, Takasu-kun! The destined conflict! Hoohahaha! It's Minori's round! Draw the card!"

It was as if she was trying to hide something (it was far too late), as Minori exaggeratedly flourished her photo order form in front of Ryuuji.

"Erm..."

"Dong... I sacrifice 90 yen to summon 9 photos! Fast magic 'spotlight' activated! Spotted number 25, the photo taken with softball juniors, summoned after paying 10 yen! End turn with a defensive formation on the battlefield! Alright, it's Takasu's turn!"

"Hu-Huh...?"

"Move quickly, if not it'll always be Kushieda's turn!"

"Hu-Hu-Huh?"

"Sigh... You're too slow! Stop stating the obvious! Aren't we exchanging each others order form to see what photos the other has ordered?"

Although Ryuuji was happy that the hand holding the order form was swatted, it didn't show on his face.

"We are? You're really good... I couldn't understand what you were talking about at all..."

"You're joking again! Anyway, so how? What have you ordered? The class photo would obviously be summoned in the aggressive stance right? Let me see, let me see!"

"The photos I bought are... My turn, my turn."

Just as Ryuuji was preparing to hand his order form over to Minori... Wait! How could she see the order form? Ryuuji finally realized that something was wrong, and froze. It's not the time to laugh, it's my turn now.

"Mm? What's wrong?"

"Ah, no...noth-... Gah..."

"That's weird... Is there a problem with your card arrangement? I'll help you look..."

"No need!"

"...That's even more suspicious."

Minori craned her neck towards Ryuuji to peek at his order form, while Ryuuji frantically tried to keep the contents from her prying eyes. If she sees that the order form is filled with the numbers of the photos with her in it, my turn will end in an explosion and I'll lose the game (even though I'm not familiar with the rules). To prevent that from happening, Ryuuji planned to nonchalantly slip the order form into his back-pocket.

"Hey! What's with that photo!?"

Ryuuji pointed at a random photo, immediately distracting the cat-like reflexes of Minori, who immediately turned to the photo.

"Very good! Would the follow-up be the spirit photo attack!?"

Ryuuji took the chance to stuff the order form into his pocket, and prepared to say "It's about time to get back to class" to add on to his previous attack so as to end the game. However...

"Ah! Th-This photo is..."

Minori's voice sounded uncharacteristically hesitant.

"There's also a photo of the competition..."

Ryuuji, who was standing beside Minori, also raised his head to look at that photo.

It wasn't the horrific photo that Taiga was laughing at, but another photo from the competition, specifically, from the moment Ryuuji and Minori crossed the finish line. Ryuuji's chest touched the tape at the finish line while carrying a look of utter desperation, while beside him, Minori twisted her face as though she was crying while flailing her limbs. At the crucial moment, Ryuuji and Minori overtook the other contestants and got to the finish line at the same time. With their gym top sleeves in a mess, the two of them held each others hand tightly.

Both their expressions were as terrifying, but the two of them would never forget the warmth of the other's fingers. They would surely remember it for life. No matter how much time passed, no matter what kind of boring adult they became, they would surely be able to feel that warmth in their hands.

"...It's my turn again."

Minori suddenly lowered her head and spoke. She took out her order form again, and used a mechanical pencil to add a number to the form. Hiding her face from Ryuuji, she carefully folded the order form up, while saying in a small voice,

"Say... Takasu-kun..."

Then in a louder voice...

"I want to buy this photo. Do you want to buy it together as a memento?"

...Ryuuji was shocked.

Blood was pounding in his ears, and his heartbeat was rapidly rising.

"Oh...alright."

Minori asked if I wanted to buy it together with her. She said she wanted to buy the photo together, so as to remember the moment that is more important than everything else to me! If you don't get excited after hearing that, then you're not a living man.

"...Alright. Let's buy it together."

Ryuuji stammered, nodding furiously at the same time. So happy, so happy. His flushed face looked as if it was about to shoot fire. Minori lowered her head to count the change she took out from her pocket, the side of her face too brilliant for anyone to be able to look at her directly.


  • *


"Please sit down~ Homeroom starts now~"

With the Thump! of her footsteps, the thirty year-old single woman (Class teacher, Koigakubo Yuri) appeared at the podium. At the end of a day's work, her makeup was still largely intact, though her chin was slightly oily, and her pleasant smile to the students also showed that she was a "dedicated teacher". She had recently cut her hair, resulting in a much tidier and cleaner appearance, though this could have been a result of her losing weight.

The fitted white jacket and knee-length skirt fit her body nicely, while the pink-gold necklace accentuated her skin tone, as the single diamond on the necklace brought out a low-profile feminine charm. She wore an Omega watch on her delicate wrist, steadily reflecting the time of the day. Her outfit wasn't overly flashy, managing to maintain the feel of a teacher, and thus the single woman finally succeeded in breaking free of the boring fashion trend of the teachers. After turning thirty, the single woman was heading towards becoming a pile of dead ash, but "a woman's fighting will" once again reared its head, rising up from the fire that was "aging", like a phoenix to spread her wings.

The students were totally unaware of what had happened to the single woman, but...

"Alright, everyone sit down~ Stop talking~"

Even though she was trying her best to spread her wings, it's never easy to pull healthy second-year high school students from their lively conversations.

The students were still running around and making noise, with less than half of the class seated properly.

"Don't be too rowdy~"

Whack!

At the same time as the veins on the single woman's forehead bulged, the time space of the classroom was dramatically altered.

"Huh!?"

"My ears hurt..."

The weaker students suddenly stumbled, covering their ears.

"Get into your seats... I must leave school early today... Someone's going to matchmake me. Thirty-four years old, university professor, second son in the family, owns land, and is looking to get married. His parents are both teachers, so they want their son to marry a teacher too. I've also heard that they're already living together with the eldest son. Miracle, it's really a miracle match. Even though we've only exchanged e-mails four times, we get along surprisingly well. So we're going to watch a movie today! Then eat dinner! Then according to the situation and atmosphere...! For today, for today, I... I'll...!"

BamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBamBam!

An overpowering aura originating from the podium suddenly made known its presence. "What's this unnatural pressure I'm feeling!?" "I suddenly feel terrified!" The originally rowdy 2-C students were seated in two seconds flat. Very good. It's not like I don't have leadership qualities! The single woman used her fingers to fix her slightly messy hair, and her face once again revealed the gentle smile of a teacher.

"Che..."

An irritated sound immediately froze the single woman in her tracks. A thorn-like gaze and the sound came from the center of the classroom at the same time. Twisting her face in annoyance, the Palmtop Tiger glared at the single woman. The female delinquent with the nickname of "tiger" stared at the single woman who was attempting to speed things up for personal reasons with unmasked displeasure.

But the single woman who would have already admitted defeat on a normal day was different today. She closed her mouth to return Taiga's glare, and stood straight up on her 6 centimeter high heels on the hard earth, rather, the classroom floor.

"I, I won't lose today! There'll be a high school class gathering that's held once every five years next month... Even if I can't get married in time, I must at least get a boyfriend by then! Class Representative! Please shout your orders~!!"

But the single woman's request was not met with the expected answer.

It's here again. The class of 2-C whispered among themselves, and the single woman frowned in confusion. Of course, Ryuuji was also confused as well. This has been going on for a while. His feral eyes turned to his zoned-out friend, not because he was angered by his friend's inanimation and wanted to give him a critical hit to the throat, but because he was worried.

"Class representative! Kitamura-kun! Hey~!"

"Ah... Ah..."

The single woman called a few times before Kitamura, the class representative, opened his eyes. The untidy fringe, together with his hunched back, seemed to reflect his uneasiness to such a movement.

"...Stand. Bow. Thank you for the hard work..."

He sat back onto the chair. No one followed his actions, they only looked at him with worried eyes. Taiga also turned around, looking worriedly at Kitamura's blank face. The burnout sickness that her crush had contracted made her extremely worried, so she didn't notice the few glances that were being cast her way.

"The Palmtop Tiger is really a scary woman..."

"What kind of relationship can they have to make a man into such a state...?"

This is the exaggerated portion of the rumor. Some people secretly say that "Kitamura doesn't have burn out sickness. It's because he's worn out by the Palmtop Tiger's exhausting demands." "To tear Kitamura into a shell of a man, and to restart her relationship with the Takasu that she abandoned, she's really a horrifying female tiger, to toy with two men so cruelly!" ...This is the content of what a small portion of the students who believe the rumors think.

The students, who each seemed to have their own explanation of Kitamura's condition exchanged awkward glances, while the single woman in front of them forced a smile. How could she waste time at such a place! The professor would be at the fountain in front of the cinema in thirty minutes! The class reunion in a month! Cousin's child is going to school next year! Forty years-old in ten years!

"Al-Alright! Even though a lot has happened, everyone please face such problems with vigor!"

The single woman still had a smile on her face as she tentatively looked at the unhelpful corpse of the former class representative. The corpse wore its usual blank expression, looking out of the window blankly. Although the single woman was in a hurry to go on her date, she was still worried about the corpse.

"Tomorrow's Friday, the last school day of the week! After the rest days would be the widely anticipated...is it right? Yes, the student council president elections! Kitamura-kun! You have to work hard for it! You're the best candidate for the next student council president... No, you're the only candidate!"

Upon hearing the single woman's words, whispering broke out among the students. To be honest, no one was really anticipating the elections, but...

"Oh right, it's the elections soon! An activity!"

"It's already this time? Time sure flies!"

"The next student council president will obviously be Kitamura!"

The students of 2-C broke out in applause, joined by the single woman, awkwardly making enough noise so as to breathe some signs of life back into the corpse. As long as there's a new activity, the corpse named Kitamura should be cured of his burnout sickness. Then he'll start to come back to life and fight to be the next student council president.

Ryuuji also deliberately applauded loudly, exchanging looks with Noto and Haruta,

"Hey, Kitamura, work hard! We'll of course help in your campaign!"

"Great, let's have a roaring campaign! Right, Kitamura!"

"Do you want another wrestling match? I could write the script for you?"

"Ahaha! Haruta is such an idiot! Who would put up a wrestling match in an election campaign!?"

"I'm an idiot?"

"Yeah! I'm not stupid! You're extremely stupid! "

"Right? Kitamura, you'll be bothered by such a campaign method right?"

"Right?"

"Elec......"

Wham! A exultant classmate smacked Kitamura on the back, and Kitamura seemed to say something.

"Hmm? What? What's wrong? Kitamura?"

"Elec......"

"Yes~? What's the problem, class representative?"

"What are you saying? I can't hear you properly. Anyway you should dismiss the class first right?"

The single woman hurried him for personal reasons.

Bam!

The corpse kicked his chair and stood up.

The sound of the chair falling could even be heard from downstairs. This occurrence happened too quickly, and left everyone staring at the corpse in disbelief. The single woman's smile froze, Ryuuji, Noto, Haruta and Taiga also stiffened. Even Ami stopped working on her nails, turning to look at her childhood friend who had just returned from the gates of hell with wide eyes. The whole class had stopped moving.

"I'm not running for student council president...and I'm quitting the student council... I'm not going to do it, I'm going to quit everything, I'm not going to continue, I'm going to quit-not-going-to-do-it-not-going-to-continue-not-going-to-continue! I'm already, already, already..."

The long awaited voice of Kitamura resounded clearly in the classroom,


"I'm giving up on everything!!!!!!"


Light Novel
Main Series' Volumes

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