Chapter 1: The Calm Before the Storm
It was finally the first of March, a few days after the end-of-term exams.
Monday, the day where everyone was anxiously waiting for the results to be announced.
After all, in the case of a failing grade, the only option left was expulsion.
“Sensei, are you gonna announce the results now!?”
Unable to sit still any longer, Ike practically fell out of his seat as he waited for the homeroom teacher, Chabashira, to respond.
“Calm yourself. You’ll know in a couple of minutes.”
Chabashira, with practiced movements, spread out a large piece of paper she brought in on the blackboard.
This school would usually release our grades digitally, like on our cell phones or on the online forums. However, when it comes to the exams where expulsion was at stake, the teachers would display the results to us like this.
“Are you feeling confident, Ike?”
“O-oh well, yeah, I studied pretty hard, but…”
“You studied hard, huh? Yet you’re still so uneasy?”
Chabashira must have found his reply more amusing than surprising, as she gave off a slight smile.
For Ike, who usually gets low scores, it was only natural that he would feel anxious no matter how much he studied.
“Sud?, you always seem to be in the running for the lowest score, so how are you feeling?”
It wouldn’t be surprising for Sud? to be the most anxious student in the classroom.
Considering the previous tests, it was no exaggeration to say that Sud?’s scores were some of the lowest in almost every subject. Chabashira was probably expecting a reply similar to Ike’s, but his response was something far more unexpected.
“…I’m confident at the very least. I absolutely won’t get a failing grade.”
Despite the fact that physical prowess was Sud?’s only redeeming quality, his expression and tone of voice still managed to hold a distinct air of confidence.
Of course, I suppose he would still be anxious about the results, just like Ike.
However, thanks to the effort he’s put in to overcome that anxiety and the experience he’s accumulated, he’s been able to establish confidence.
This was what Horikita’s repeated study sessions had burned into his head. It was different compared to what he was capable of back when his entire strategy for academics consisted of superficially cramming the information the night before. Little by little the seeds of knowledge had begun to grow.
As the teacher who guided Sud?’s studies, Horikita’s face remained unclouded.
Well, she did seem somewhat displeased with how Sud? was getting ahead of himself.
“Hmm… It’s pretty interesting to see how you kids have grown. There’s no way to figure out just what you’ll accomplish next, and you’ve all easily surpassed my expectations. Now, I suppose I’ll announce the results of your end-of-term exams.”
Chabashira began posting test results onto the paper on the blackboard.
And after this, she would draw a red line across the results.
Anyone whose name falls below that line would be forcibly expelled from the school.
“The results this time-”
With a red pen in hand, Chabashira pressed the tip against the paper and drew a horizontal line.
The red line of fate.
And the number of students whose names fell below it was… zero.
In other words…
“Everyone successfully passed the exam. These have been your best results so far.”
Chabashira revealed that everyone in Class C passed.
Ike was the first to cry out.
It seemed like he was pretty afraid to hear the results. After all, Ike had the lowest score in the class.
“Well, that wasn’t too hard. Hahahaha… That was close!”
Ike spoke, his attention concentrated on his name and the red line directly under it.
“I only studied a little bit the day before and I still managed to pass.”
Yamauchi said as much, yet his name was listed right above Ike’s.
“Don’t lie Haruki, you were studying every day in desperation, weren’t you?”
“Is that so? Wahahaha!”
At any rate, both Ike and Yamauchi had successfully managed to pass the exam, so nobody had any complaints.
Chabashira watched over such a scene with a gentle gaze.
Nevertheless, the results were surprising.
Ike came in last, with Yamauchi coming up right behind him. They were followed by Hond?, Sat?, and Inogashira.
Sud?’s name was right above Inogashira’s.
Considering Sudou’s results so far, it could be said that he’s seen some substantial improvement.
“Sud?. This past year, you managed to improve your grades better than anyone. You seemed confident that you’d pass as well. I’m looking forward to seeing how you’ll succeed in the future.”
Chabashira appeared to share my feelings on the matter.
“Heh. It’s nothing special.”
Despite saying that, he looked pleased with how well he did.
On the other side of things, the students taking the positions at the top were pretty much the same as usual.
Coming in first was Keisei, and second place was held by K?enji. Keisei had been getting good grades from the start, and with how diligent he is with his studies, it was only natural that he’d outrank the rest of the class. However, K?enji was still as much of a mystery as ever. He was never studying, and he didn’t interact with anyone else, either. If he utilized the full extent of his abilities, then he just may have the potential to surpass even Keisei. Because of all the small fluctuations in K?enji’s test results so far, it’s possible that, depending on the exam, he’s slacking off when he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. Horikita was ranked third. She usually trailed a bit behind in English, but this time she scored much higher. She had probably gotten a lot better thanks to the time she spent tutoring Sud?.
“Sensei, how did the other classes do?”
“They’ve all pulled through just like you did. In terms of the average score per class, Class C came in 3rd.”
There was no reason to ask which class came in first, second, and fourth respectively.
“As I thought, it seems we’ll have to aim higher if we want to overtake the upper classes.”
Without a hint of complacency, Horikita started writing down everyone’s scores.
The students at the top were just short of perfect scores, so further improvement wasn’t an option. In fact, the only option they had left was to focus on improving the scores of the students at the bottom.
“Good job with Sud?. I’m impressed.”
“It’s the result of his own hard work after all. All I did was thoroughly break down each of his weaknesses until he started to see success.”
Just like Horikita, Sud?’s weakest subject was English, yet he was still seeing quite a bit of improvement with his scores.
This improvement clearly showed that the two of them had focused their efforts on English during their studies.
“I wonder if he’s capable of bumping up his score a bit higher next time. Of course, it all depends on whether or not he can continue to concentrate.”
That was a pointless thing to worry about. After all, as long as Horikita was around, Sud? would continue to give it his all.
He was probably beginning to get the hang of studying by now.
He might even be able to squeeze into the upper half of the class soon.
“It looks like Ike-kun and Yamauchi-kun still have a bit of space between their scores and the red line. It was probably the right decision for us to routinely hold study sessions. If a certain you-know-who next to me would actually put in the smallest amount of effort, our class’s average score might go up a little bit more, now wouldn’t it?”
“This is my limit.”
As usual, my scores were neither good nor bad. This time, I came in at 18th place.
“I’m not going to accept that. One day I’m going to make you take this seriously.”
“I’ll try my hardest in order to live up to your expectations.”
In any case, it was great that everyone was able to overcome the exam this time as well.
The students who had just barely managed to pass the exams were all clearly relieved that they were over. Ike and Yamauchi had even already begun joking around with each other.
Chabashira watched over her homeroom class with a tender gaze.
“I have to hand it to you guys. It may be a simple thing to say, but well done.”
It was usually pretty rare for Chabashira to praise her own class, but it seemed like it had been occurring more often recently. She probably had a hunch that everyone would pass the end-of-term exams in the first place.
“We did it!”
“Nevertheless Ike, you’re getting a bit too excited. Special exams aside, at an academic level, it’s only natural for you to pass an exam like this one. And besides, this exam wasn’t nearly as difficult as other national-level exams.”
Compared to the written exams we had taken so far, the difficulty of this particular exam was definitely higher.
However, the school sets the difficulty of the exams close to the student’s current skill level. It seems like it’s all for the purpose of maintaining appearances.
“Well, it can’t be helped, but now that the good news is out of the way…”
Chabashira cut into the cheerful atmosphere that had been filling the classroom, immediately replacing it with something much heavier.
It was the usual display.
“Most of you were probably already aware of this, but just because you’ve finished this end-of-term exam doesn’t mean that testing has finished for the year. There will be a particularly important special exam soon, and as in previous years, it’s scheduled to begin on March 8th.”
Chabashira explained what we should expect moving forward.
Speaking of March 8th, that’s next Monday, isn’t it?
We had just finished with the end-of-term exam, so a final special exam taking place so soon afterward wasn’t unreasonable by any means. After all, it was the last thing left on the school’s schedule for the year.
Furthermore, third-year students would apparently have to take yet another exam in tandem with the one next week.
“Everyone. This next special exam will be the last one this year. Let’s all work together and try our best. If we do, our class should be able to aim for class A without anyone being expelled.”
Hirata’s encouraging words seemed to spread amongst the class, with many students speaking up to show their support.
Chabashira watched over the scene, revealing a vaguely relieved smile.
“The way things have been going recently, I’m starting to think that all of you might just be able to graduate together two years from now.”
With these parting words, Chabashira dismissed class earlier than usual.
“Having sensei give us a compliment like that feels out of this world, doesn’t it?”
Ike and Yamauchi began laughing cheerfully.
“But don’t get too cocky. Your last exam is only a week away, and by no means will it be easy.”
Chabashira spoke up again just before walking out of the classroom, leaving us with this one last reminder.
There was only a little time left for us as first-year students.
I used the time between classes to take a quick bathroom break.
On the way back to class, I happened across two familiar upperclassmen in the midst of a deep conversation.
The first was the current student council president, 2nd-year student Nagumo Miyabi. He was accompanied by his predecessor, 3rd-year student, Horikita Manabu.
It was probably by sheer coincidence, but Nagumo spotted me immediately.
The moment he waved at me, it seemed like I had lost the opportunity to pretend I hadn’t noticed and head back to class.
“Yo Ayanok?ji. Did you manage to pass the end-of-term exam?”
In contrast to Nagumo’s direct question, the elder Horikita just calmly looked in my direction.
He had engaged me with a meaningless conversation.
It was too much of a coincidence for this selection of people to have gathered here by chance alone.
“Are you the one who called her here, Nagumo?”
“It’s only natural for me to reach out to the younger sister of my senpai. I’ll be leading the younger generations as the student council president next year, after all.”
Somehow, Nagumo seemed to have orchestrated everything in order to get both of the siblings to show up here.
I seemed to be the only person who was present by mere coincidence.
Nagumo bluntly called out to the younger Horikita.
“…The one who sent me this email… Was it you, president Nagumo?”
“Well, not exactly, but close enough. You’re Horikita-senpai’s little sister, right?”
“Yes… my name is Horikita Suzune.”
Due to her older brothers presence, Horikita was reserved with her response.
“I didn’t expect my predecessor’s little sister to get placed in Class D after enrollment. I was surprised.”
“What’s your goal here Nagumo?”
Without so much as a glance at his sister, the elder Horikita pressed him for an answer.
After all, Nagumo probably had a reason for why he called them here in the first place.
However, Nagumo simply shook his head, as if to claim he had no ulterior motives.
“I just wanted to meet with you and your little sister.”
His objective here was probably to evaluate her.
Coming to the same conclusion, the elder Horikita took the initiative.
“I’ll say this now just so we’re clear, but you had better not be thinking that you can use my sister to force a concession from me.”
“Concession? Certainly not! Do you really think that I’d ever make a move on her? Such a cute underclassman and moreover my senpai’s precious little sister?”
“For the sake of getting what you want, I think you’d do anything.”
Nagumo didn’t affirm the elder Horikita’s cold words, but he didn’t deny them either.
“Even so, you don’t have to be so distant do you? If only you had told me about your sister earlier. If you had, I would’ve been able to invite her to the student council much sooner.”
Hearing something unexpected, both siblings were surprised.
“If it’s my senpai’s little sister, I can have her take over as the student council president after I graduate. The fact that she’s the sister of a man who’s done so much for our school makes her more than qualified enough.”
“Don’t use blood relationships as a means to evaluate somebody’s capabilities. My sister has nothing to do with how well I performed as president.”
“…That’s right. I am not fit to be a member of the student council.”
Horikita rejected Nagumo’s invitation to join the student council. She just didn’t have the self-confidence to be a part of it, given how her older brother had also dismissed the idea.
After all, when I had alluded to her about joining the student council in the past, her reaction had been just as negative.
Nagumo seemed to see something in Horikita’s humble attitude.
“This meeting is just for introductions. I’ll invite you again another day.”
Whether or not Horikita actually wanted to join the student council was another matter. It was as if Nagumo was declaring that he would be actively involved with Horikita moving forward. By doing something so disruptive, he was probably searching for her brother’s weak points.
“…Well then, um, I’m-”
Horikita attempted to get out of the conversation. Rather than wanting to get away from Nagumo, Horikita seemed as though she wanted to get away from her brother.
“The third-years aren’t going to be here for very much longer, you know. Don’t you think it’d be nice to be spoiled a little?”
“I’m sorry. If you’ll excuse me.”
Horikita, judging that any further conversation would be uncomfortable for her brother, quickly hurried back to the classroom. Given Horikita’s reactions, anyone would’ve been able to see how bad a relationship the two siblings had with one another.
“It seems the two of you have a wonderful relationship, don’t you Horikita-senpai?”
“Are you satisfied, Nagumo?”
No matter what scheme Nagumo was up to, the elder Horikita didn’t seem concerned.
“I would cherish the time I have left with my little sister if I were you.”
Even though Nagumo was partially trying to get a reaction from him, it was true that Horikita had come to this school to follow after her brother, and yet she had only been able to meet with him a couple of times so far.
“Anyways senpai. Please, do your best to instill a feeling of presence in the student body by graduating as a member of Class A. If you just so happened to demote down to Class B before graduation, even you won’t be able to laugh it off, if you know what I mean?”
If that were to happen, he would probably be thought of as a failure. One who betrayed the expectations of the school and the students around him.
He was probably under quite a bit of pressure… No, he isn’t the type of man who would be concerned about such a thing.
The elder Horikita sensed that the conversation had reached its conclusion and left without saying another word.
“Good grief. Of course this isn’t enough to get him to take me seriously.”
It seemed that Nagumo intended to obsess over his predecessor until the bitter end.
“Is it really so important for you to compete with the former president like this?”
During the training camp a while back, in order to deal with the elder Horikita, Nagumo had opted for a shameless strategy that dragged in the rest of the third-years as well.
“Of course. Taking down Horikita-senpai is the only objective I have left at this school.”
After all, there are effectively no opportunities for second and third years to face off against each other.
Yet, it seemed that he intended to make it happen regardless of what forcible means he had to come up with.
“Well, what I do will depend on the details of the exam and Horikita-senpai himself.”
It seemed that no matter how many enemies he makes, Nagumo intended to make things clear with the elder Horikita before graduation. Despite claiming otherwise, Nagumo would surely be deeply involved no matter what the details of the exam turned out to be.
After all, there was almost no time left for him to settle things with his senpai.
“Will there be any problems with next week’s special exam on your end, president Nagumo? I wouldn’t expect the second-years to have it easy either.”
“Well, I wonder. Just carry on, hoping for my inevitable failure.”
As the break was about to end, Nagumo wrapped up the conversation and took his leave.
Shortly after I returned to the classroom, my neighbor Horikita looked over at me.
“President Nagumo and my brother… what were they talking about?”
“If you were interested, you should’ve stayed until the end.”
Well, it was a difficult conversation for her. She becomes docile and meek like a lamb when she’s in front of her brother, after all.
“It’s unusual that you stuck around and listened to their conversation in the first place. You’ve sure become someone who’s attracting attention from all sorts of people, haven’t you? I wonder if it’s thanks to that relay race you had with my brother at the athletics festival?”
Her words were beautifully laced with a sarcastic irony. To be fair, it’s not like I’m able to predict the future.
Everything doesn’t always go the way I expect it to.
“It doesn’t seem like there were many chances for you to get closer to your brother this past year.”
Horikita’s mood got worse as soon as I brought up her circumstances with her older brother.
That being the case, it would’ve been better if I didn’t get unexpectedly dragged into Nagumo’s conversation.
Her concern about what had been discussed earlier with Nagumo was written all over her face.
“Don’t you want to try and face him at least once before he graduates?”
“You don’t understand anything. There’s no way that my brother would look after me. Going out of my way to approach him when I know I would be treated cruelly is just plain stupid.”
So you enrolled in the same school, satisfied with just watching over him instead?
“If my brother’s interested in anyone… it’s unpleasant, but he’s only interested in you.”
I was about to tell her that she was wrong, but I ended up stopping myself.
At the moment, Horikita wouldn’t believe me even if I were to go into the details.
More than anything, it would be meaningless if she didn’t have the courage to face him herself.
“Really? Well, maybe you’re right.”
I responded, cutting the conversation short.
While I think Horikita still had complaints, she didn’t say anything else.