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murder of crows

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The morning had a slight chill in the air. It was early, the sun half-peeking out beyond the horizon, the sky still a dark shade of blue. Some of the birds had begun to chirp their charming melodies, twittering from the highest branches in the trees; though most stayed asleep in their nests, huddled with their companions in the warmth their homes provided. The sunkissed dewdrops hanging from the grass brushed against Aoki Manami’s ankles as she ran through green fields that laid just before Karasuno High School.

If she walked, Aoki wouldn’t be late for morning volleyball practice, but she wanted to be early for once. Yui put so much effort into making their team a capable one, one that was worthy of standing on the same stage as the men’s team and the other amazing teams in the prefecture. She didn’t like to admit it to herself, but guilt crawled up Aoki’s spine whenever she thought of how many morning practice’s she had missed over the years -- how much time she had wasted.

Aoki remembered last year’s Spring Interhigh Preliminaries with startling clarity. It was the first match of the season, the other team was leading by seven points, and all she could think about was her overwhelming regret. Regret at not trying harder, not pushing herself further. She wanted to be a force to be reckoned with, but as the nights got longer and the air got chillier, it became hard to remember that feeling. It faded with her memories.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

The sound resonated from the gym across the yard. That was the gym the boy’s volleyball team used, if Aoki recalled correctly. Were they already practicing? Aoki’s eyes widened in astonishment -- Daichi really was something else. Without really thinking about it, she moved closer towards the gym, peeking in through one of the side windows.

There was certainly practicing going on, but not the entire team. Aoki squinted; she could only spot three people. Right away, she recognized Tanaka Ryuunosuke who was an extroverted second year that most of the girl’s team were familiar with. And the other two boys… who were they? Were they first years?

The first boy was tall and muscular, and his hair, black as midnight, hung just above his intimidating eyes. Tanaka tossed the ball to him and the other set it with a precision Aoki had never seen before. She herself was a setter and all that was running through her head was ‘how could he possibly do that?’

What a horrifying level of skill.

And Aoki couldn’t believe she hadn’t realized it or even seen it before, but the other boy was already in the air. His bright hair moved wildly atop his head as he soared, his hand spiking the ball with an emphatic boom. He was flying.

He was already at the summit, the other boy smirking behind him, and then- the volleyball hit the other side of the court.

Aoki was not the best setter, she could certainly admit that to herself, but she didn’t need to be good to see that something incredible was happening before her eyes. Those two first years were going to be a force to be reckoned with. She was watching something brilliant being created.

Something brilliant. And terrifying.

***

Aoba Johsai had a lot of practice matches. They had one of the best teams in the whole prefecture, and leading their way was Oikawa Tooru. The school had a lot of pride for their volleyball team and they supported them in any way possible. Even their practice matches would garner a lot of backing. All eyes were on Aoba Johsai.

Today was different.

The students of Aoba Johsai watched with rapt attention, but their focus kept straying to the team on the other side of the net. They watched from above, leaning against the railings as Karasuno took the lead.

Watabe Akira, a member of the tennis club who possibly had a small crush on a certain captain and setter, stared at the practice match, her eyes darting back and forth as the crows took another point. “So, who exactly are these guys again? I don’t think I’ve heard of them before.”

Her best friend, Akui Matsu, shrugged before letting out a deep sigh. He always acted so bored. Liar. “Karasuno. I always thought these guys were nothing special. I think they used to be good or something, but they’ve been pretty middle tier for a while.”

She tilted her head. Another point for Karasuno. “They don’t look middle tier right now,” Watabe replied. “But then again, Oikawa isn’t here.”

“Oikawa again?”

“Shut up!” Watabe yelled, her cheeks puffing up as she crossed her arms. “I’m just saying that we aren’t at our best right now. That’s all.”

“Right, of course. My bad,” Akui drawled, sarcasm dripping from his tongue.

Before Watabe had a chance to respond, another voice chimed in. “There’s a nickname for them, you know?”

Watabe turned to her left. There was a boy gripping the railings, his tie half done and his shirt untucked. She recognized him vaguely as a member of the track team and she was pretty sure he was in the year above her.

“A nickname?”

The boy nodded. “For Karasuno. Everyone calls them the clipped crows.”

Watabe turned back to the practice match in front of her. Karasuno was a few points away from taking the set. The rally started, the ball was set, and with a lightning speed that Watabe had never seen until today, a boy jumped and the ball hit Aoba Johsai’s side of the court before she could finish blinking.

Akui still had a bored expression, but she could see the intrigue hidden underneath.

“Clipped,” she repeated, the words settling uneasily in her mouth, “they look like they’re flying.”

***

Direct Messages

Obara Rintarou, Natsuke Taiki

4:42 P.M.

Obara Rintarou: dude, if i get murdered, tell my parents i love them pls

Natsuke Taiki: ?

Obara Rintarou: i might get murdered and THAT’S how you respond

Natsuke Taiki: Okay, what is it?

Obara Rintarou: yknow that dude from karasuno vball ?? well HE'S HERE at the same place where im buying peach popsicles

Natsuke Taiki: You’re going to have to be more specific.

Obara Rintarou: THE REALLY SCARY ONE WITH THE MAN BUN AND ALL THOSE KILLER SPIKES

Natsuke Taiki: Oh yeah, that one. He’s strong.

Obara Rintarou: UM YEA I KNOW THAT

Natsuke Taiki: I heard he mugged someone at a convenient store once.

Obara Rintarou:

Obara Rintarou: yeah NOT helping

Natsuke Taiki: I wonder what else about him is… killer.

Obara Rintarou: DUDE SERIOUSLY NOT HELPING

Natsuke Taiki: Apparently, he likes to beat up people from other volleyball teams. Just for the fun of it. Didn’t that happen last week?

Obara Rintarou:

Obara Rintarou: i-

Obara Rintarou: should i call the police

***

Nekomata Yasufumi and Naoi Manabu were the coaches of Nekoma Volleyball Club. They loved being able to watch their own team form and improve, guiding them to do better and better, which was why practice matches against Karasuno were always so entertaining. From both teams, everyone would give it their all, and would strive to keep improving. Even Kenma seemed to get into it a little bit.

Ukai and Nekomata nodded at each other. They both had one thing on their mind: The Dumpster Showdown. It was exhilarating just thinking about it; this could be the year it finally happened.

The Nekoma coaches analyzed Karasuno’s team.

They were still unrefined and raw, but they were improving at a speed that was as fast as that deviant quick attack. Their sheer determination and tenacity was startling to behold. Karasuno had a demon and its iron club. But they had so much more than that too.

Karasuno had overwhelming offensive power and a foundation that wouldn’t lead them astray. They had a drive that Nekomata thought very few could match.

A whistle blew as Nekoma took the set, but the point difference was getting smaller and smaller. Nekomata and Naoi smiled at each other.

“Miyagi better prepare themselves for what’s about to come,” Naoi said.

Nekomata nodded. “No one can prepare for this -- for something so unpredictable.”

They couldn’t wait for The Dumpster Showdown.

***

Most of the first years knew who Kageyama Tobio was.

And how could they not? The rumors surrounding him were tempting, daring people to engage with them, and the gossip that students would chatter in the hallways picked up with each passing day. He was a star setter on the volleyball team, one of the best in the country, and he had nowhere to go but up. Alone, his athletic talents were enough to be envious about, but that wasn’t the only thing people talked about.

His attractive looks certainly garnered him a lot of attention, though it seemed to go unnoticed. Other students were quick to observe his midnight blue eyes and sharp features, his soft hair and tall frame. He’s so handsome and refined, the girls would say as he walked past them, and everyone around them would agree.

But the most notable thing about Kageyama was the way he carried himself. He moved with confidence, his head held high and his shoulders broad. He stared at people with a glance made of frost -- almost as cold as his attitude. His scowl was frightening and his silence carried more weight than any words ever could.

The only thing more chilling about Kageyama was the smile that he would rarely wear. It was another rumor amongst the first years at Karasuno High School. That smile of his is so scary, they’d say, it makes his beautiful face look even more intimidating.

It was difficult to approach the setter. He just looked so mature and smart, so elegant and dignified.

Like a king.

***

They were doomed from the start.

As the point gap began to widen and the audience dissipated in boredom, this fact became more and more obvious to Kazuma Chaya.

Tokonami Volleyball Club was basically the definition of a small-time team; they were half-dedicated and they had fun and they were okay, but they weren’t good -- and certainly not great. There was a wall that they couldn’t push past, a summit they couldn’t reach. Their captain, Hikaru Komaki, would always try to keep their spirits up; maybe a few pats on the shoulder during an afternoon practice of bad serves or a thumbs up when their nerves got the best of them. Hayato Ikejiri carried the same sentiment, but he was usually quieter about it.

They were a small-time team. It was hard to be anything less than quiet.

It was hard to stick to it.

Kazuma squared his shoulders, trying to exude the confidence that a third year should carry. The palm of his right hand stung from hitting so many missed spikes and his forearms were bright red from all of his failed receives. Kazuma’s breath came in short gasps.

How many points was Karasuno leading by?

He wiped the sweat off his brow, his chest heaving as the other team took another point from them. Kazuma knew he should be focusing on the game in front of him, but he could hear the commentary from the stands -- they were whispers in his ear.

I don’t remember Karasuno being this good, they murmured, or maybe Tokonami is just that bad.

It’s horrifying, the murmurs continued, I’m almost sorry for them, y’know.

Karasuno’s number nine was up to serve. The ball was coming at him so fast, it was like a blur in front of him, and Kazuma hardly had enough time to react, let alone properly receive the ball. He could feel its intensity before it even hit him. The ball ricocheted off his shoulder. A service ace. And then another one. And then another.

His breath hitched in his throat. Hikaru patted him firmly on the back, muttering words of consolation that he didn’t bother listening to. What did any of it matter anyway? Kazuma could sense a shift in the rest of the team as well, could feel the air around them darken as their moods sank into the floorboards of the gym. He could drown in it. And it kept sinking until their break.

Ikejiri’s speech had brought a new life to Tokonami, but Kazuma still knew one thing to be true: they were doomed from the start. There was only so much that motivational phrases could do; they couldn’t make up for missed practices or poor diets or indifferent attitudes.

They didn’t just lose. They had been crushed in the first round.

Karasuno had this look in their eyes. A fight in their stance. They were determination personified. Even as they were celebrating, hugging one another and cheering for themselves and their teammates, Kazuma could see it. They were meant to be nothing -- another no-name team. He hadn’t even heard of Karasuno.

Kazuma wanted to laugh at himself; he actually went into the match thinking that, even as a small-time team, they stood a fighting chance. He glanced around the court, taking in the smell of air salonpas and the brightness of the gym lights. This would probably be the last time he played volleyball.

Across the net, he looked at their opponent, he looked at Karasuno- the winners. The wingless crows.

***

 

“WHAT! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?”

“Man, are… are those crows inside the building?”

“How the absolute hell did they get into the gymnasium and why are they following around that team? Is the air in here getting colder? Why is it so dark?”

“IS ANYONE ELSE SEEING THIS?”

“Should we call someone? Like a janitor maybe? Who exactly is in charge of volleyball tournaments and how do we contact them?”

“How are there so many of them? I’m just… astonished…”

“I will try and call someone.”

“LITERALLY HOW?”

***

Sendai City Gymnasium wasn’t too crowded. For the Interhigh Preliminaries, things really started picking up around the quarter finals. There were a few powerhouse schools like Aoba Johsai and Shiratorizawa Academy that always had heaps of fans and supporters cheering and watching on in amazement.

And a lot of people just liked to join in on Date Tech’s chant.

Oomisaki High School didn’t even make it through the second round, easily being decimated by Seijoh. It was a terrible match up, they could admit it. Besides Shiratorizawa, who in their right minds could beat Aoba Johsai? It wasn’t their fault.

The volleyball team meandered around the halls as they rested. Their coach said they could stay to watch a few matches if they wanted to and anything was better than going back to school.

“Ugh, I’m so bored!” Suzuki Yudai, a second-year and self-proclaimed Best Wing Spiker, whined as he dropped onto the ground to lean his weight against a wall.

Their captain, Tamura Hotaka, shook his head. “It’s important to stretch after a match.”

“Whatever.”

“You should listen to your captain,” another second-year, Ueno Botan, chimed in. “Anyway, it’s either this or studying for your math exam. What do you prefer?”

Suzuki dramatically sighed. “Alright, alright. You don’t have to threaten me.”

“I- that was not a threat.”

“Stretch,” Tamura repeated, elongating the word for extra emphasis. He sounded like such a dad.

Suzuki eventually followed suit, lifting his arms to stretch out the muscles there; they already felt so sore -- it would definitely feel worse tomorrow. His legs would probably feel even worse. “So, what game is up next?”

Tamura paused for a moment. “Uh, Date Tech and Torino? I think they’re about to play their second round.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s Karasuno, not Torino,” Ueno corrected.

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them!” Suzuki laughed. “Nothing good though.”

Tamura lifted his eyebrow. “Really?” The three finished their stretches and began walking through the hallway towards the seating area where the rest of their Oomisaki was.

“Yeah, these wingless fuckers have really sucked for a while,” Suzuki began explaining. “People say that they’re the fallen champions just cause they went to nationals or something once. But honestly, we could take them with our hands tied behind our backs.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say.”

The three were hit with a feeling of horror -- like ice dripping down their spines. They slowly turned to look behind them, to glimpse the source of the chilling voice. Two boys in all black stood in front of them, tall and mean and intimidating. One had a shaved head and a wide, cruel grin, and the other wore glasses and had a cold smirk painted on his face. The aura around them darkened.

Karasuno High School.

“Aw, are you too scared to speak?” The taller one cooed. “That’s so pathetic, I almost want to laugh.”

“Crow caught your tongue?” The second boy laughed, evilly.

Everything was a blur after that because Suzuki was pretty sure that he passed out from fear. He vaguely recalled an angry boy, probably their captain, coming to take them away, but he seemed even more terrifying. Before he knew it, he was already sitting in the bleachers right between Tamura and Ueno.

“This is why you don’t say things like that,” Tamura whispered harshly, but his tone wavered. It sounded breathy in a way that Suzuki wasn’t used to.

“Can I go home now?” He asked.

***

Direct Messages

Obara Rintarou, Natsuke Taiki

11:28 A.M.

Obara Rintarou: DUDE

Obara Rintarou: DUDE DUDE DUDE

Natsuke Taiki: Shouldn’t you be in class right now?

Obara Rintarou: i am in class

Natsuke Taiki: I- okay. What is it?

Obara Rintarou: did you hear that karasuno went FULL SETS against AOBA JOHSAI ?? isn’t that WILD

Natsuke Taiki: That’s the team with the guy you’re scared of, right?

Obara Rintarou: okay that is NOT the reason i texted you

Natsuke Taiki: Why do you even text me?

Obara Rintarou: anyway it’s weirder NOT to be scared im pretty sure the entire team is made up of criminals

Natsuke Taiki: That is not true. I talked to one of them once. If I recall correctly, Suga was his name. He was really nice.

Obara Rintarou: you TALKED to one of them ?? FOR WHAT ???? GANG INITIATION

Natsuke Taiki: No.

***

As the Interhigh Preliminaries ended, Miyagi’s high school volleyball scene had two thoughts in mind: Shiratorizawa Academy was absolutely unstoppable and Karasuno High was completely unpredictable.

No one had expected much of them. They were fallen champions after all.

But they were on the rise, and they were rising at an astonishing speed.

They had an insane amount of talent and mental capability, and so many tricks up their sleeves that no one could foresee. Watching them play was shocking.

There was one thing just as alarming as their demonstration of ability- how much could they improve before the Spring Playoffs were upon them?

***

Shimizu Kiyoko was so beautiful, it was almost unbelievable. Her hair was as silky as the most sparkling rivers and her eyes were as radiant as the sun. Simply being able to glimpse even a moment of her beauty could probably end every misfortune in the world.

“Hey, should I go talk to her?”

“No. Bad idea. Terrible idea.”

“But-”

“For your own sake… no.”

***

The sun was beginning to sink from its perch in the sky, clouds dancing languidly before it. The temperature was still burning with the heat this season’s tide brought. The humidity thickening as the five volleyball teams kept practicing in Shinzen’s gym. They would probably play a few more matches before the coaches decided it was too dark to continue.

“Who are we playing next?” Konoha Akinori asked, his voice still breathless from the game they had finished playing. He happily ignored the members of Ubugawa glaring daggers in their backs as they did their flying receives.

Komi Haruki put his water bottle down. “Uh- yeah I’m not gonna lie, I’ve lost track.”

“We’re playing Karasuno next,” Akaashi Keiji answered, glancing back to look at the team of crows. Hinata and Tsukishima caught his eyes -- they seemed to be doing well this round. Good.

Konoha groaned loudly, catching the rest of Fukuroudani’s attention. “Listen, it’s not anything big. Karasuno is just the hardest team here to play. They’re always trying out new things and they’ve always got something up their sleeve.”

Sarukui Yamato nodded solemnly in agreement. “Yeah, it is really annoying, but it’s also really fun.”

“Even watching them is fun,” Komi added. “We’re only halfway through training camp and they’re already starting to lock down their new plays.”

“They still haven’t used that quick attack Nekoma keeps talking about,” Konoha said, watching as Karasuno scored against Shinzen with a regular quick. “Now, that’ll be something to see.”

Akaashi nodded as he listened to the conversation between his teammates. Until something else caught his attention.

“Bokuto-san, no-”

***

If someone were to ask who the scariest member of the Karasuno Volleyball Club was, their first answer would not be Hinata Shouyou.

For the most part, he was seen as a ball of sunshine, even by those wary of Karasuno. He had a bright smile to match his bright hair, and a kind light inside him that touched everyone he met.

But there were flashes of something else -- something more. Instances where that light shined so brightly, it blinded everything in the room. Moments where his eyes, blown wide and unblinking, gleamed with a ferocity always lurking beneath the surface.

Flashes of something so terrifying, it was indescribable.

***

“Looks like tomorrow it’ll be Johzenji High versus Karasuno. I’m sure it’s gonna be an interesting match. That one team made it really far in the Interhigh Preliminaries.”

“Yeah… it might end up being a quick one.”

“I mean-”

“IT’S BACK! THEY’RE BACK!”

“Uh… what are you going on about, man?”

“All I see is Karasu- oh, my god. The crows.”

“THIS IS LITERALLY CRAZY AND OMINOUS AS FUCK! HOW ARE WE THE ONLY ONES WHO EVER NOTICE THIS? THERE ARE FEATHERS EVERYWHERE!

“On the bright side, at least we’re not inside this time.”

“I’M GOING TO HAVE AN ANEURYSM.”

***

By now, the third-years of Oomisaki had retired, leaving their juniors to take their place. This time, they had made it into the third round, being defeated in two straight sets. It was difficult. But it was also expected.

Again, their coach had let them stay for a while to continue watching the matches. Suzuki and Ueno sat next to each other in the bleachers, Ueno having taken on the role of captain. The match between Karasuno and Aoba Johsai was even more intense than the last one. Each rally was an epic struggle between both teams, each attempting to do anything to get the edge in.

It was heart pounding just watching it. Suzuki didn’t want to admit it to himself, but it was a level of talent and skill that he could never dream of achieving.

The final rally was the most difficult to watch.

And when it ended, the air in the gym was heavy and electric. The atmosphere was so thick with emotions, Suzuki could almost drown in it.

“See, I told you Karasuno would win,” Suzuki said, smugly. “I knew it all along.”

Ueno gave him a look. “You did not.”

***

Direct Messages

Obara Rintarou, Natsuke Taiki

10:04 A.M.

Obara Rintarou: dude, you’re a liar

Natsuke Taiki: ?

Natsuke Taiki: What?

Obara Rintarou: im at the finals right now between shiratorizawa and karasuno

Natsuke Taiki: Okay, and?

Obara Rintarou: the game just started. that suga person you were talking about IS NOT SWEET

Obara Rintarou: HE SEEMS DOWNRIGHT SCARY

Natsuke Taiki: Stop texting me.

***

Karasuno was the dark horse of Miyagi.

No one had expected anything of them. No one had believed they could even make it past the first three rounds. No one expected to see them in the finals.

They were down to the last set.

No one expected them to go full sets.

All eyes were on Karasuno, as they fought and fought against what everyone thought was their inevitable end. From the bleachers, one could see the rush of adrenaline, the determination singing on their expressions, and they kept playing. As they continued to test the limits of their unyielding endurance.

I want to stay on the court the longest.

Karasuno was the dark horse of Miyagi. They were fallen champions who rose from their grave with fire in their eyes. They kept pushing and growing and learning until their chests ached and their legs gave out.

No one expected them to win.

No one was underestimating Karasuno now.