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.
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.
“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?”