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Part 1

During lunch break, the Ayanokōji Group decided to take advantage of the free time to hold a discussion at the cafe. 
“Ah jeez, this totally sucks doesn’t it? Forcing someone to drop out is like, what’s the school even thinking?” 
Haruka let out an exasperated sigh as she poked a straw into her drink. 
Keisei was the first to respond. 
“I agree. The most unforgivable thing for me is the fact that my classmates have to fight against one another. It’s a complete 180 from how the exams we’ve had so far have required cooperation. It’s absolutely baffling.” 
“I get you. Up until now, no matter what kind of exam it’s been, we’ve only had to go against the other classes.” 
Akito spoke up in agreement as well. 
“Just because there hasn’t been a single expulsion… it’s like the school’s deliberately trying to get at us, isn’t it?” 
Throughout the morning, everyone had been restlessly passing the time in one way or another, unable to calm down. 
It was only natural, given that many students were dissatisfied with the unreasonable additional exam the school had announced. It was possible that the other cliques of students were talking about it as well. 
“I wonder if there’s really no secret trick to the exam. Yukimuu, you’re a smart cookie. Surely you’ve thought of something?” 
“No… I don’t think so? Horikita’s initial proposal of fixing the vote by spreading the votes out equally is the only strategy I can think of. But, based on what Chabashira-sensei told us, it’s probably impossible. Although the additional exam is a little selfish, we can’t just ignore the rules set by the school.” 
It was no surprise that Keisei couldn’t come up with a solution. 
No matter how you look at it, the way out of this exam had been sealed off. 
“I also figured the school didn’t want there to be any dropouts. At least, that’s what I used to think, but now it looks like that isn’t the case.” 
“…You’re saying that the school really wants to see people get expelled…” 
Having still held onto a glimmer of hope, Haruka’s expression turned grim. 
“That’s why it’d be better not to be optimistic this time. There’ll probably be a harsh outcome waiting for us.” 
A harsh outcome. In other words, an expulsion from our class. 
It was the inevitable future that was waiting for us. 
“…It’s possible that one of us will disappear this weekend.” 
Not having said a word for quite some time, Airi shook her head anxiously. 
Her demeanor made it seem like she was unwilling to imagine such a future. 
“Keisei. Instead of silently waiting for the exam, there must be something we can do, right?” 
Akito asked, hoping to hear something to dispel his anxiety. 
As if on cue, Keisei nodded once and looked at each of us in quick succession.  
“As Akito says, we have to be doing something to avoid expulsion. So, I have a suggestion. Why don’t we come together and vote for each other?” 
“By vote for each other, you mean using our praise votes on each other?” 
“Yeah, I don’t think any of us will rack up enough praise votes to take first place. But just in case, it would be better for us to work together so all of us can avoid coming in last.” 
With the five of us working together, we’d each be able to get three praise votes. 
The important point is that it’d also be negating three censure votes. 
“B-but is that okay? Aren’t we expected to vote for the student who contributed the most to the class…? Sensei also told us it would be a waste of time to try and control the votes like this…” 
The ever-honest Airi spoke somewhat uneasily. 
“To some extent, voting in groups like this is unavoidable. Chabashira-sensei and the other students should all be aware of this already. Furthermore, even if we don’t do it, there’s bound to be several other groups that will. After all, it’s possible to use the same strategy to concentrate censure votes on one person. In fact, the five of us alone have the capability of casting five censure votes for a single person.” 
“Five votes… that’s… a heavy number for this exam. If you made a big enough group, it wouldn’t be that difficult to put in ten or twenty, would it?” 
“That’s exactly right. In short, those with a better standing in class will have an easier time with the exam.” 
Indeed, this was one of the key points of the exam. 
For any given student, the higher their social status within their class, the more favorable their voting trend will be. Highly influential students could also enjoy the advantage of being able to put together a group and attack specific students. 
“I also agree with using our group to cover for each other. It’s not like I want any of us to go missing.” 
I seconded that opinion. 
“M-me too.” 
Airi followed in agreement. 
“It’s decided then.” 
Keisei nodded in response to the group’s unanimous agreement. 
“Wait, hold up. There’s something I’d like to ask about first.” 
Even though Akito had already agreed with Keisei’s strategy, there still seemed to be something weighing on his mind. 
“Won’t there be people trying to create a bigger group than ours?” 
“Of course that might happen. Rather, there’s a good chance it will.” 
Naturally, Keisei already knew as much and agreed with him. 
If Keisei were to suggest that we should go and form a large group, I would have no other choice but to stop him. It wouldn’t be the best policy for this exam. 
“Then, shouldn’t we be taking measures to reach out to others as soon as possible?” 
“No… Generally speaking, we have to try not to cause any trouble until the end of the exam. We just have to make sure that we absolutely never start anything with anyone in the class, no matter who it is. So let’s give up on the idea of making a large group.” 
“So you’re saying… In order to avoid being targeted by others, we should try not to stand out.” 
If you were to draw unnecessary attention to yourself, you’d be likely to end up as an easy target like Sud? and Kōenji. 
“Besides, we’re obviously not a suitable group for that kind of strategy.” 
“Well, I guess so.” 
Keisei concluded that we should avoid creating a large group. 
I was thankful that the entire group, Haruka included, had reached a consensus. 
It was nice to see that there was no longer any possibility of one of them getting caught up in my strategy and being put at a disadvantage. 
“However, if you’re personally invited into another group, I think it’d be alright for you to accept the invitation. It’d be a valuable way for you to avoid being targeted by censure votes.” 
Even though we had agreed to keep our praise votes within the Ayanokōji Group, that was still only three votes per person. 
It would be all the more profitable for us if we could stay on good terms with the other groups and avoid censure votes. 
“But won’t that be difficult? One of the original reasons we grouped together is because we aren’t able to do that sort of thing.” 
Haruka seemed to be saying that we had created our group precisely because we weren’t able to fit in with any of the other groups. 
Well, I suppose Keisei already understood this when he made the suggestion in the first place. 
Supposing any of us did receive an invitation, it’d be best to follow Keisei’s advice. 
While this was the correct decision, it was also true that it came with a noteworthy amount of risk. 
If you were to foolishly join up with too many different groups and get taken as someone who’s trying to be friends with everybody, you may end up suffering instead. 
You wouldn’t be able to find a group that would be willing to take you in so easily. 
“With just three votes… there’s… no saying for sure that we’ll all be safe, is there? I… I’m no help at all to the class, so… maybe everyone will use their censure votes on me…” 
The idea of becoming the target herself made Airi even more uneasy. 
For this exam, if the entire class were to focus their censure votes on one person, there would be effectively no way for them to defend against it. Hirata or Kushida may be able to get enough praise votes to invalidate most of the censure votes, but… 
No, even that would be unlikely. The main focus of the exam was how many groups you can create to secure your votes. It would be best to assume that the number of students receiving votes based on proper evaluations would be extremely limited. 
“Don’t worry too much, Airi. You’ll worry yourself into the ground if you do.” 
Airi’s face clouded over. Despite the encouragement, she couldn’t help the uneasiness she was feeling. 
There were certainly numerous drawbacks to having a timid personality like hers in an exam like this one.   
“This is totally the worst… like, we have to be hostile to our own classmates and constantly be on our guard from being attacked by them at the same time.” 
“I agree, but since it’s an exam, we don’t have any other choice.” 
“Are you really gonna accept it that easily Kiyopon?” 
“Even if we don’t want to, I don’t think we have any other choice.” 
After saying ‘how mature’ under her breath, Haruka nodded in agreement, seemingly impressed with my response. 
“Oh, by the way, I just noticed a little bit ago, but look at that .” 
Haruka pointed behind Keisei and me. 
As I looked over my shoulder, I saw the figure of a boy from Class D. 
He was clearly at odds with his surroundings, and he stood out because of it. This was probably why Haruka had noticed him. 
“There’s something a bit off with this whole situation, and there’s something unusual going on with Ry?en-kun as well.” 
“Hah. He’s nothing but a self-imposed king who put on airs before being exposed and stripped of everything he had.” 
Keisei’s tone was so cold, it made me wonder if it was because he had a particular hatred for people like Ry?en. 
Though, it was a natural consequence, considering the strategies Ry?en had used and the poor attitude he’s had when interacting with the other classes. 
Of course, there was no way Ry?en would be feeling remorseful about his current situation, nor would he be feeling worried. 
“But, this exam is going to be pretty demanding for Ry?en-kun, right? Or is that not the case?” 
Keisei nodded in response to Haruka’s doubt-filled questions. 
“I think demanding is an understatement. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it hopeless? He had been doing whatever he wanted for so long that there’s no way he’ll be able to avoid amassing censure votes.” 
Akito nodded as well, sharing Keisei’s opinion. Haruka spoke up, adding onto Keisei’s point. 
“It’s kinda pitiful, isn’t it? The fact that he might be forced out of the very class that he used to control.” 
“But, isn’t he too calm for that? For him to be reading a book out in the open, all alone… I’d probably cry if I was in his shoes.” 
Airi spoke up, looking at Haruka questioningly. 
“Really? It’s because he’s given up. Considering the type of exam this is, there’s no reason for friendless people who are hated by those around them to struggle. He probably plans to face the exam as a man until the bitter end, don’tcha think?” 
This conclusion didn’t seem wrong. 
However, the fact of the matter was that, if Ry?en didn’t do anything, there was a high possibility he’d be expelled from the school. 
“Miyatchi, just go and ask him how he’s feeling right now.” 
“I can’t ask him that…” 
Even though he seemed calm and composed, it didn’t change the fact that his fangs were sharp. 
There was no way of knowing what he’d do if you went and carelessly poked fun at him.  
“Stop staring at him so much.” 
Haruka responded to Akito’s warning, lightheartedly surrendering her hands in the air. 
“Getting back on topic, what do you think about what Kōenji said in class?” 
Akito asked Keisei about what had happened earlier this morning. 
Keisei had probably already been thinking about it, as he responded almost immediately. 
“You mean what he said about hidden strength? Well, I think he has a point, but I still think Kōenji is an unnecessary student. That guy is always causing problems for the class. To be honest, it’s kinda scary.” 
If you were to look at it from Keisei’s perspective, who’s averse to taking risks, Kōenji was certainly an unpredictable existence. 
“Besides… this may sound a bit heartless, but if we got rid of Kōenji, there wouldn’t be very severe consequences. Ultimately, he’s one person it would be really easy for me to use a censure vote on. What do you guys think?” 
“Well, that may be true. If we have to choose someone, it would be ideal if it was someone we could vote for without hesitation.” 
“Uh… Even though Kōenji-kun is a strange person, he always gets amazing test scores, doesn’t he? As far as tests go, I think he’s contributing much more to the class than I am…” 
In the midst of her own anxiety, Airi spoke in defense of Kōenji. 
“I always think Keisei-kun and Kōenji-kun are amazing every time the test results come out…” 
“That’s no good Airi. If you can’t make a resolute decision now, you’ll only suffer later on, you know?” 
“I know but…” 
Even so, it seemed that Airi was strongly opposed to having to vote for someone. Haruka spoke up as Airi trailed off. 
“Well, for the time being, I think that Kōenji-kun is a solid vote.” 
“I have no objections to that.” 
Haruka looked to Keisei, asking him for his opinion. 
“For now, sure. Since we’ll have to choose three people anyway, we can make adjustments later on if the situation calls for it.” 
Kōenji had become one of the candidates for the Ayanokōji Group’s censure votes. 
It was only appropriate for there to be various opinions on whether Kōenji was necessary or not. 
Even from my point of view, the man known as Kōenji certainly came with a large amount of risk. 
After all, there could be heavy consequences because of his whimsical nature. 
Still, he certainly possesses talent far greater than that. If he were to tackle exams and problems head-on, he’d be able to accomplish pretty much anything. Even if I haven’t seen just how capable he is yet, he was certainly capable enough to make me think this way.  
“I don’t hate him or anything… but it’s hard to say whether Kōenji’s good for the class or not.” 
This also seemed to be the reason why Akito had accepted the decision to vote for him. 
His presence is pronounced above the rest, or rather, his existence itself seems hard to measure, even after taking rumors into consideration. 
“In addition there’s… Ike-kun, Yamauchi-kun, and Sud?-kun, right? They all seem like solid choices for censure votes as well, don’t they?” 
“Mhm. Those four, Kōenji included, all seem like the likely candidates for expulsion right now. However, I can’t imagine that they’ll all just sit back and wait for the day of the vote. They all probably form large groups to collect praise votes and try their best to take measures to avoid getting more censure votes.” 
“We’re by no means safe either.” 
That was exactly right. The exam had already begun. A battle to make allies and establish a common enemy. 
“Given the conversation we’ve been having, It’s hard for me to imagine everyone in the class having been comrades until just this morning.” 
Akito let out a frustrated sigh as he imagined the things to come. 
As if something had occurred to her, Haruka once again looked at Ry?en. 
“There are still several candidates to choose from. Maybe it’d be better if everyone had the chance to avoid expulsion, don’t you think?” 
It was precisely because she understood the current state of Class C that Haruka was aware of the difficulties Ry?en faced in Class D. 
No matter who you were, you wouldn’t stand a chance if you were targeted by everyone. 
“Miyatchi, Yukimuu. Hypothetically speaking, what would you two do if you were in Ry?en-kun’s shoes?” 
“I wouldn’t do anything. It’d be pointless to struggle if the entire class was against me. I’d probably give up.” 
Akito would’ve quickly thrown in the towel. 
Keisei pondered over her question seriously for a while before finally shaking his head. 
“It’s impossible.” 
“Impossible? What if you, like, threatened the entire class or something like that?” 
“That would only be counterproductive.” 
There were probably several students who expected Ryuuen to do just that. 
Those who felt threatened would be able to cast their censure votes for Ry?en without reservation. 
“Then what about gathering praise votes by prostrating yourself to the other classes?” 
“If Ry?en asked you, would you vote for him?” 

“Eh~? I don’t think so…” 
“That’s how it is.” 
Keisei spoke in agreement, having Haruka prove his point for him. 
“Most people would come to the same conclusion you just did. After all, everyone already knows Ry?en’s usual behavior. There shouldn’t be that many weirdos out there who’d consider helping that guy.” 
“Then, how about a little bit of bribery or buying the votes from your classmates?” 
“Even if we assumed that Ry?en has a large amount of points saved up, it doesn’t seem like he’d be able to buy enough votes. Oddly enough, not only has he made too many enemies, but he’s also given off the impression of being a troublesome opponent. I doubt that any of his classmates would be willing to sell him a praise vote for a little bit of money.” 
“Then, doesn’t he still totally have a chance with the other classes?” 
“No, not really. From the perspective of outsiders like us, wouldn’t it be easier to compete against Class D with Ry?en out of the picture?” 
“Aah… Maybe you’re right. It was scary when we didn’t know what he was going to do next.” 
This was exactly why Ry?en was in trouble. If it was the case that he was merely a burden holding Class D back, he’d be able to collect praise votes from the other classes and prevent his expulsion. However, because Ry?en is recognized as a troublesome existence by other classes as well, many of them would want to see him leave the school. There were very few advantages for any of the classes to deliberately allow such a potential threat to stick around. 
There may be some Class D students thinking about the distant future, or blindly believing that Ry?en would become the savior of the class, but there’s no doubt that these students would be in the minority. 
Even if Ry?en formed contracts with several other students promising to cast praise votes for each other, it would be difficult to prove whether or not they’ve actually carried out their contractual obligations. Because the vote will be carried out anonymously, as long as you receive a single praise vote, anyone would be able to lie and claim that they voted for you. Even if Ry?en wanted to start a dispute over improper conduct, it’d be too late. He would’ve already been expelled. 
Furthermore, before any of this, there was still the issue of finding someone willing to form a contract with Ry?en in the first place. 
“So it’s a complete checkmate…” 
“He’s doing all he can to put up a calm front. After all, desperately struggling just because you don’t want to be expelled would be unsightly.” 
“Yeah… That’d be pretty shameful for someone who used to act like he owned the place, wouldn’t it?” 
It was a pity, but Ry?en’s expulsion was pretty much set in stone. 
Of course, if he actually had a reason to struggle, the situation would be a bit different, but… 
We wouldn’t find the answers, no matter how much we discussed it here. 
What he thought about all this was something known by him alone. 
“Then, how about we try to find out?” 
Someone spoke up from over my shoulder, the sound of their voice ringing out close to my ear. It was Horikita. 
She had a plastic bag in hand with a sandwich lunch peeking out of it. 
“What do you mean by ‘try to find out’?” 
Akito questioned her, feeling something out of place with her choice of words. 
No, it was more like he had felt something unsettling. 
“What he thinks about all of this, what he plans on doing next. We have no choice but to ask him to find out.” 
“Stop it. Just let sleeping dogs lie.” 
Nobody wanted to volunteer to approach Ry?en. 
“That’s fine then.” 
“There’s no reason for any of us, you included, to get involved with Ry?en right now. He has nothing to do with this exam.” 
“That is true, isn’t it? He’s certainly of no concern to the class, but he may prove useful to me.” 
Horikita said this before pausing for a moment. 
Shortly after seeing that I had no intention of joining her, she left to see him on her own. 
“May prove useful to me? What even…?” 
Keisei and Akito didn’t understand, as they both tilted their heads to the side in confusion. 
“Hey, isn’t this a bit problematic? Isn’t Horikita-san in danger?” 
“I think so too… Kiyotaka-kun?” 
Haruka and Airi spoke up as they passed the situation off onto me. 
“…I suppose. I’ll go check it out for a bit.” 
I didn’t think anything would happen, but it’d probably be better if she had someone with her, just in case. 
For better or worse, Horikita wasn’t one to mince her words. 
I stopped Akito from coming along and left to catch up with her. 
“What do you plan on talking about with Ry?en?” 
“I just thought he may be able to provide me with some useful information.” 
Useful information? I couldn’t understand what she expected to find out from him. 
But seeing that she was taking action, she probably had a reason behind it. 
“Did Sakura-san and the others ask you to watch over me?” 
“Something like that.” 
“Oh really.” 
Throughout our short exchanges, Horikita’s pace didn’t change. 
Before long, we had reached where Ry?en was seated. 
He should’ve already noticed our presence, but his gaze was fixed on the book he held in his hand. Based on the page he was reading, it appeared to be some sort of literary novel. 

“You’re awfully composed, Ry?en-kun.” 
“I was wondering who it was, but it was just Suzune and her mindless little follower.” 
He suddenly closed the book, the seal on the cover showing that it had been borrowed from the library. 
It went without saying, but the ‘mindless little follower’ he spoke of was, of course, referring to me. He only looked at me for an instant before averting his gaze and facing Horikita. 
“And what sort of business do you have with me?” 
I was curious why Horikita was even taking the risk of trying to reach out to Ry?en in the first place. 
“I’ll be blunt. This new special exam. What are you going to do?” 
“It’s not like I have a lot of choices. I’m not going to do anything.” 
“In other words… you’re saying you’ve obediently resigned yourself to drop out of school?” 
If things stayed as they were, Ry?en’s expulsion would be inevitable. 
“I make for a good target for the whole lot. In an exam like this one where someone has to be expelled, nobody wants to attract the resentment of the poor sap who gets kicked out, but in my case, that just ain’t how it works.” 
Having discerned that the conversation wasn’t worth his time, Ry?en re-opened his book and continued reading. 
“The censure votes will be cast for you. While many students may feel guilty about it, the mental burden on everyone would still be far less than it would be if they voted for somebody else.” 
Ry?en appeared to be seriously considering the idea of leaving the school. 
“If you really intend on leaving the school, I won’t say a word. No, not just me. There are probably many people in Class B and Class A who want you to disappear as well. For better or worse, you went too far. Nobody’s willing to lend you a hand.” 
She outlined the reality of the situation. 
In some cases, words like these would be a powerful blow, even to somebody who already understood the situation. 
But, they wouldn’t mean anything to Ry?en. 
He had already understood everything on his own and accepted all of it from the bottom of his heart. 
“That’s probably right. Class D doesn’t stand a chance after I’m gone. As students from the other classes, it would be the best and most appropriate judgment for you to crush me here.” 
Rather than spinning it in a negative way, he spun it in a positive one instead. 
“That’s an awfully high evaluation of yourself. How typical of you. But even with all that confidence, you’ve fallen to Class D because of your lack of capability as a leader, haven’t you?” 
“Kuku. Certainly.” 
Class D was able to move forward under Ry?en’s dictatorship. 
Now that it had collapsed and they’ve tumbled down to the bottom, they were losing the opportunity to rise back up again. 
However, Ry?en’s plan never had anything to do with the class rankings from the very start. Whether you’re Class A or Class D, as long as you had private points, you’d be able to turn defeat into victory. This was why, even in the face of criticism over being the lowest rank, he had no need for agitation. 
Class A may be the superior class, but superiority in and of itself didn’t have value. 
Ry?en’s strategy was focused on the future. It was an interesting way to fight, but there were many shortcomings. He used force to hold his position, and didn’t seek understanding from his classmates. He looked too far ahead and couldn’t see what was happening around him. These were the reasons that played a part in his defeat and led him to his current situation. 
“It doesn’t seem like we’ll ever be able to understand each other.” 
“So it seems. Satisfied?” 
Even though I’d been listening to Horikita’s conversation this whole time, I still didn’t understand what she wanted to learn from him… 
“Today might be the last time we’ll be able to speak to each other, so is it alright if I ask you a single question?” 
She seemed to be getting to the heart of the matter. 
Was this the question that would lead Horikita to the information she was looking for? 
“You’re in a more desperate situation than anyone else right now. If you put a serious amount of effort into tackling this exam… would you be able to survive and avoid expulsion?” 
She looked at him with a sharp gaze, daring him to look her in the eyes and respond. 
This was the reason why Horikita was talking to Ry?en, even though she had no reason to be concerned with him. 
She wanted to ask Ry?en how he’d be able to overcome the near-certain outcome of being expelled from the school. 
“What a stupid question. Of course I could.” 
Ry?en responded without hesitation. He held the conviction that, as long as he wanted to survive, he would be able to. 
The look he had in his eyes didn’t have a shred of uncertainty. 
“That’s what I’d expect from you, even if you’re bluffing. I don’t feel anything but confidence from you.” 
“Are you finally satisfied? Or do you want to hear my secret plan for surviving the exam?” 
“There’s no need. I’m not in the same position you are.” 
“Of course.” 
“Thank you. It feels like I may manage to steel my resolve a bit more thanks to you.” 
“Your resolve?” 
Horikita nodded, clarifying herself. 
“There will definitely be expulsions because of this supplementary exam. It’s an unavoidable fate. So, it’s necessary for us to correctly determine the most suitable person to remove. Do you understand the weight behind what I’m saying?” 
“Your struggling may lead you to being ostracised by the rest of your class.” 
Ry?en smiled as he responded, not giving her question a clear response either way. 
“If that’s how it ends up, then that would just be the full extent of my capabilities.” 
“How lame. So it was all just a bluff?” 
Even though Horikita had been talking to Ry?en calmly, Ry?en had seen through her calm facade. 
No, rather than just seeing through it, it was more like he had broken it down himself. 
“You’re looking for self-confidence from talking to me, but your resolve doesn’t amount to anything.” 
Ry?en’s words gradually stoked a fire within Horikita. 
“Choosing who to kick out is the only remotely difficult part of the whole thing.” 
“…I can do that. I’ve never shown mercy to anyone who’s held my class back, ever since I enrolled here.” 
“No you can’t.” 
“You… what could you possibly understand about me?” 
“I’ve had plenty of time to keep tabs on you this past year, so I understand you well enough. Putting it in a way even you could understand, I can see the weakness you’re trying to keep hidden.” 
Horikita had no chance of winning this verbal showdown. 
Her half-baked, vague response of ‘It feels like I may manage to steel my resolve a bit more’. 
That moment of hesitation before she said ‘I can do that’. 
Ry?en was instantly able to notice these small details that other people wouldn’t normally be able to. 
Horikita was showing him her weakness without even knowing it. 
Their conversation was completely in Ry?en’s control. 
“Your class has already made you complacent. There’s no way you could be ruthless enough to make a choice at this point. You’d have had to avoid making any lingering attachments to your class from the start like me, or treated your classmates like chess pieces like Sakayanagi.” 
Your class would feel very different after making a lot of close connections with your classmates. 
When Horikita first enrolled here, she always acted without hesitation. She was fully willing to abandon Sud? after he failed his exam. But if you were to ask whether or not she’d be able to abandon him now, it would probably be impossible for her. Her relationship with her classmates had been constantly changing. 
“You sound like you have it all figured out, but you don’t really have a way to save yourself, do you?” 
“And why would you think that?” 
“Did you truly lose to a classmate, or was it done by someone outside of your own class…?” 
Horikita glanced at me for a split second before immediately looking back at Ry?en. 
“Whichever one it is, are you just going to silently accept your loser status and drop out of school?” 
Horikita threw these words into his face as a provocation. 
However, Ry?en accepted all of it without batting an eye. 
“It’s Ishizaki’s reward as the one who defeated me, so I plan on sitting back and accepting it. It’s an opportunity that you, and the rest of Class D, shouldn’t miss out on.” 
Ry?en let a smile show as he spoke and once again turned his attention back to his book. 
“…Oh really? Then, I’ll just have to keep an eye out and make sure my classmates never, ever waste any of their praise votes on you. Of course, even if I didn’t, there’s no way they’d vote for you anyway.” 
Horikita walked away and I followed right after her. Ry?en’s attention was transfixed on his book as we left. 
Horikita spoke up as we walked, her voice simultaneously entirely calm and filled with anger. 
“That guy is the physical embodiment of a liar. It’s not that he’s not struggling to stay enrolled, he’s just putting on airs. It doesn’t matter though. No matter how much he struggles, he’s doomed to drop out of school.” 
“Who knows. He may really have some sort of plan.” 
“Impossible. There’s no way for Ry?en-kun to prevent his expulsion, no matter how you look at it. Even if he apologized to his class and started being an actually decent human being for once, it wouldn’t change how many votes he’d get either way.” 
“Yeah. There’s no way he’d be able to pull it off with a strategy like that.” 
“It would be pointless for him to try and threaten or bribe people too. You guys were saying the same thing earlier as well, right?” 
She was right about that. She must’ve been listening in on our conversation. 
“Or, perhaps you’ve already thought of something? A way for Ry?en-kun to avoid expulsion?” 
“Nope, not at all.” 
I had been trying to think of a solution for a while, but given his situation, I still couldn’t think of anything that would reliably save him. 
I was still missing an essential piece of the puzzle. 
“Then that’s all there is to it.” 
Horikita left the cafe in the same frustrated mood she had entered with. 
I turned around briefly, glancing over at Ry?en. 
I imagined what it would have been like if Ry?en and I had met each other earlier… 
“No, it’s a meaningless delusion. At least, for the time being.” 
There was no reason to think about a student who was about to disappear anymore. 
I stopped thinking about it and decided to return to the Ayanokōji Group.


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