Part 2 Although the meeting was over, Ichinose wanted to stay there for a bit longer. After her defeat and the breakdown of our cooperative relationship, she probably wanted to sort out her feelings. So we left the cafe first. Shortly after, we reached the stairs and I was just about to descend. “Wait a second.” I was about to head back, but I was stopped by Horikita, whose voice came from behind. Horikita stopped me and said this. “I need to talk to you about something now, so just listen, and don’t turn this way.” I did what she wanted me to do. In the face of her serious tone, I didn’t turn back, a sign of my consent. “What’s this?” “So everything is suddenly fine again? Don’t you have something to say to me?” An angry voice came from behind. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” As I expressed my confusion to her words, Horikita did not hesitate to get straight to what she meant by that. “You negotiated with Ichinose in order to challenge Class A, didn’t you?” “That is indeed the case.” “If I didn’t match your words during the conversation, wouldn’t it have been troublesome? “But you cooperated flawlessly.” “That’s because- I thought it would create unnecessary trouble if I didn’t. Please explain why you’ve done that.” “Ichinose already said it. Kaneda won the lottery, and decided to choose Class B. Basically, no matter what I did, the end result would not have changed.” “I want to know this: why would you try to challenge Class A without my permission?” “Because I thought our best chance of winning came from opposing Class A” “But wouldn’t fighting against Kaneda or Ryuuen would give us better odds?” “If we were drawn against Class D, the probability of us losing like Class B did would be very high. We only have Sudo and you who can put up a fight against them.” “That’s only because you know the outcome now. No matter what, Class D was the best choice at the time.” Her voice seemed closer now, as she took a step towards me. But she didn’t get too close. “Was anything I said wrong?” “No. Indeed, drawing Class A was the worst outcome. I can’t deny that.” “Let’s put aside the fact that you completely ignored my orders. What was your reason for wanting to fight against class A?” Even though she knew that I acted alone to get us to fight against Class A, she still didn’t know the reason. “What do you think? Why would I go out of my way to set this up, can you guess?” I tried to ask back. Although this was a question which she wouldn’t be able to correctly answer. She didn’t know about my relationship with Sakayagani, and she didn’t know anything about the white room. There was no way she could answer that. “If I go by the data and try to reach an answer through that…then the only answer would be what you said, the “best chance of winning” was against Class A. But what about Class B and D? Why were they ruled out? Well, we can exclude Class B first.” Even if we didn’t deliberately plan out our moves with them, we still had a cooperative relationship with Class B. The probability of Ichinose betraying us and targeting our class in the exam was extremely low. “The problem is Class D. Normally, Class D would be the most obvious pick… But in this case, Class B lost badly against Class D, because they were caught in Ryuuen’s trap. If we were forced into fighting against them, there’s no telling how it would end up.” We might have been evenly matched or even at a disadvantage against Class D. “Everyone thought that Class D would be the easiest opponent. And so because of that, you had some doubts about it.” I’m afraid that this was the limit to her deductive reasoning. “So in other words, did you predicted Ryuen’s sudden return in the final exam?” “Maybe. That’s why I used Class B as a sacrifice.” “If this is true, you should’ve discussed this with me beforehand.” “Sure.” I did not deny it and chose to accept her words. But that wasn’t a good explanation of why I acted without her permission. “But-is that really the reason?” “What?” “During the class vote, you came in first because you received a lot of praise votes from Class A. And then once you got your protection points, you decided to target Class A, without the risk of dropping out if you lost. It’s like… you and Sakayanagi planned this out in advance…” Although what she just said had some accidental truths, she started to notice my relationship with Sakayanagi and the background behind it. “Forget it… this is absurd. Most importantly, there isn’t any evidence backing what I said, just forget what I said.” Saying that… Horikita withdrew her statement. “I want to know what you’re thinking. Are you planning to work to reach Class A?” “I just said it…” “Sure. But I don’t know if you’re telling the truth. From the start of the school year up to now, you’ve always seemed reluctant to want to work to that objective.” “People can change. Even you changed, and it makes me feel like I’ve misread you from the very start.” As a matter of fact, I had already started to think about moving to the upper classes. But it wasn’t unreasonable to suspect that I was untrustworthy. Especially to Horikita, as I wasn’t always cooperative with her. From other’s perspectives, it’s no surprise if they feel uneasy about my existence. “Yes, people will grow… and perceptions will change.” Although she was still slightly dissatisfied with the answer, Horikita still somehow convinced herself. However, the conversation did not end there. “Our class is growing, and it will continue getting stronger. But that’s still not enough to reach Class A. “What are you trying to say?” “So far, you’ve been half-heartedly participating, in both athletics and academics. You’ve been just an average student who isn’t a burden, but also hasn’t contributed anything.” These words hurt to hear. However, on the surface, it did seem like I haven’t contributed at all. “Will you free yourself from these restrictions? From today onwards, I hope that you will do everything you possibly can do. Only then can you prove to me that you truly want to reach Class A.” This isn’t the same as a threat or a request. This was to probe out what my thoughts were. Of course, the fact that she said that in such a thorny way was understandable. “I refuse.” “As expected.” Instead of being surprised, she laughed bitterly. “You’re all talk, you don’t actually want to help me reach Class A.” “At least that’s the case for now.” I retaliated against Horikita and reversed the flow of the conversation. Horikita will soon understand what I meant by that. “What? For now?”
Previously, she thought I would have never cooperated with her. However, I think that the me right now would be able to cooperate to a certain extent. “There’s a reason I’m conservative with this. If I suddenly went all out right after the break, there’ll be rumours within the class, no… the entire year. I wanted to avoid this situation if possible.” “I acknowledge that you truly are an excellent student, but even for a self-evaluation, you speak highly of yourself. In terms of academics alone, even students in our own class such as Yukimura and I, as well as students in the other classes such as Ichinose and Sakayanagi, are on the same level. There are others as well, specialising with their own subjects. Can you compete with those people?” Horikita said this with disbelief, she didn’t think I could compare to those people. “Although suddenly showing a huge difference in your ability would garner negative attention, as long as your grades are stably in the top 10 to 20 per cent, you’ll slowly be accepted as one of the excellent students. After all, it’s not unheard of for students to suddenly achieve outstanding results in a short period of time.” After considering it, Horikita reached that conclusion. If her evaluation was correct, maybe we could stop here. But if that wasn’t the case, this conversation would not end just yet. “Sorry, Horikita. I don’t think anyone in the year is on the same level as me.” Apart from the students who hadn’t reached their full potential yet, or hadn’t seriously used their abilities. “…You’re really going to say something like that! Unbelievable!!” Horikita didn’t agree with my claim and retorted. “Although my brother acknowledges you, that doesn’t prove anything. You still haven’t shown the true extent of your abilities yet.” “Couldn’t you see it throughout the year?” “Can you prove that you’re the best in terms of academics? How about the things outside of academics?. If you want others to recognise your bold claims, you’ll need to be able to overcome everything. Even though you consider chess to be one of your best talents, you still lost against Sakayanagi. I admit it was an extremely high-level battle, but you still lost. And you still dare claim that you have no equal.” “You can think about it as much as you like, Horikita. I could also be bluffing right now.” “At the end, you’re still running away from this again. You’re nothing more than a swindler.” “Feel free to call me that, if it makes you happy.” Faced with that response, Horikita stayed silent. If what is needed to satisfy her was for her to stop being so angry, I’ll stop the conversation here. And as I was about to take a step down the staircase- “-Let me test you.” She spoke with an unyielding tone. “Test what?” “Your true strength. Although I know that you’re smart as well as physically capable to an extent, you’re still a mystery. I still don’t know your true abilities.” Did she want to measure me with her own methods? “I want to know if your strength is something worth hiding.” “Are you sure you can measure my strength accurately?” “I’m confident I can beat you in the written exams if I get serious.” Indeed, throughout the year, Horikita’s scores had always been better than mine. I also understood that Horikita thought that even though males had the superiority when it came to physical ability, when it comes to strategy and tactics, she could take the advantage. But actually, Horikita fought admirably against Ibuki while under poor health conditions herself. And she also saw me having a tussle with her brother. And based on what she understood from those incidents, she confidently said she could beat me in an exam. “So, how do you want to test me?” “As many as you want. Whether it’s something I’m good at or you’re good at, we’ll use a written test to decide the winner.” She didn’t allow me to turn backwards to face her to avoid any contact other than sound. Just by looking at someone else, you could figure out what they were thinking or feeling. She judged that to be unfavourable in this situation, so she stood behind me. She didn’t want to wage psychological warfare against me, so she was vigilant. “I can accept that, but I have nothing to gain from this, especially if you’re the one choosing the event.” “Is this really a question of loss or gain? I know about your strength that you keep so secret. If you don’t accept my challenge, I will spread your secret around. You’ve been gaining some attention recently, and if I do that, there’s no way you can cover it up, is there?” It’s too weak a threat. As long as she understood that spreading it wouldn’t have any benefit in the future, Horikita wouldn’t do it anyway. However, since Horikita has grown, it may be better for me to compromise with her. Horikita quietly waited for my answer as I thought for a while. “How about this. In our next written exam after April, let’s decide on a subject to compete for the highest score. But if that’s what we’re doing, if I get 100 points, you could just accuse me of desperately cramming for that subject.” And if the scores on the other subjects weren’t very high, this was a perfectly acceptable reason. “Although using this method to measure strength isn’t enough…wouldn’t battling it out in all the subjects in the formal exam be better?” “You can think about that if I lose to you. If we do that, I’ll have to get top scores on all the subjects, so it’s better to narrow it down.” “Fine, I’ll agree with your plan. But how are you going to decide on the subject?” “It’s up to you. You can decide any time you want. In addition to that, you can tell me what subject you choose right before the exam starts, I won’t care.” “I see… so you intend to win even without prior knowledge of the subject, so studying all subjects would be the minimum requirement. This way, even if there is only one subject that mattered, your true strength will be displayed nevertheless.” If it’s like this, Horikita should be able to accept it to a certain extent. “If I win, I’ll judge that your abilities are only at that level, and in the future, I want you to do everything you can and work towards Class A, is this fine?” “Yes. But if I win, you’ll grant me one wish.” “Sure, this is a one-sided agreement anyway. What do you want?” “I don’t know yet. I’ll think about it.” “…Aren’t you being a bit unreasonable here? If I agree, then I might have to accept some strange requests.” “Are you already worried about the consequences when you lose? I thought you were more confident about this.” “Are you seriously saying this…” “There’s no need to force yourself. If you don’t have the self-confidence, you should just ignore the outcome of the battle, it won’t matter anyway, because I’ll win.” If I say that, Horikita could no longer back down. “Fine, if I lose, you can ask anything of me. Happy?” “That’s enough. So it’s settled.” So this was how a clash between Horikita and me in the written exam had been decided to take place after school started. Horikita stepped forward and stood next to me. Then she took another step, went ahead of me and started walking down the stairs. “I’m looking forward to direct confrontation with you.” Of course, Horikita will adopt all possible measures to challenge the exam. Well… I’ll just act as usual. I stood there and watched the determined Horikita’s back until it was no longer visible. “Now, what should I do next?” I planned to go straight home, but I changed my mind slightly. I’m a little worried about Ichinose’s condition. Although she asked us to go back first, what was she thinking about now? Just as I was thinking about this, I saw a man looking at my direction. As if invited by his gaze, I descended the stairs.