Chapter 5: Class D and Class D
Thursday; The weekend would soon be upon us. I brought Horikita along with me to the library after classes were done for the day.
This was because we had arranged to hold a discussion with the Class 1-D students that Nanase would be bringing along with her today.
On the way to the library, Horikita and I spoke with each other about the special exam.
“Have you taken a look at today’s OAA update yet?”
“17 more pairs were finalized, bringing the total up to 73.”
While the number of new pairs wasn’t all that unexpected, there was one thing that made this update distinctly different from the previous two.
Two students from Class 1-D had decided on a partner.
Slight traces of activity could be seen within the class that had laid dormant over the past three days.
“I’m a little annoyed. I thought H?sen-kun would wait and see how the situation developed for a little while longer. I tried to make some light conversations with several Class 1-D students during lunch today, but they all just brushed me off by saying they didn’t know anything about the two students who were involved.”
“There’s a fine line between them actually not knowing anything and them having a gag order in place.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if they had been instructed not to leak any information nor partner up with someone unless they receive a substantial number of points.
“That’s true. Either way, it’s good that we’ve decided to meet with Nanase-san after this. If it’s her, we might be able to ask her about it too.”
Horikita had only ever made contact with Nanase once, and they had never really had a proper conversation with each other.
Nevertheless, Nanase, the girl who had been together with H?sen, stood out as a student who seemed easy to communicate with.
I had personally felt a strong impression of honesty back when I had spoken with her.
Somehow, she had a straightforward, upright personality that reminded me of Ichinose.
We arrived at the library and set foot inside.
“Oh my. It seems the library has some rare visitors.”
The first person to greet us was not Nanase, but rather, Class 2-C’s Shiina Hiyori.
As expected of a bookworm, it seemed she had made her way here as soon as school was out for the day.
“It might be just a little noisy today. We’re here to have a discussion with some first-year students about the special exam.”
“I see. Well, I think the seats at the far end of the room should be good for that. That way, you won’t be too much of a nuisance to the other library patrons, so it should be alright for you to talk a bit. If someone tries to approach you, you’ll be able to notice right away.”
We opted to take the advice that Hiyori had considerately offered to us.
“Are things going well in Class C?”
“Yes. There’s a lot going on right now.”
Because our classes were direct competitors, it was difficult for her to let us know about the internal affairs of her class.
We parted ways with Hiyori after exchanging a few more simple words and decided to go take a seat since we had arrived before Nanase. Although I was vaguely concerned about Hiyori’s situation, I went along with Horikita to the seats at the far end of the room.
“Nanase-san aside, now that we’re getting involved with Class 1-D, the question is whether or not H?sen-kun will show up.”
“That’s right. Whether or not he comes with her will make all the difference.”
Since there weren’t any prior restrictions on who could come, there was no guarantee that H?sen wouldn’t tag along with her.
In which case, we would have to negotiate a big deal under rather turbulent conditions.
“Can I ask you something before we get to the full-blown discussion? Have you been studying?”
“Well, somewhat. Is there something wrong with that?”
“As I’ve got the advantage of choosing the subject we’ll compete in, I’ve just been wondering if you’ve been taking enough time to study.”
“Why? Are you trying to show humanity to your enemy or something?”
“No way. I’m not so kind that I’d give up my own advantage. This is a competition I must win.”
Although she says this, she still seemed to care about whether I was studying properly or not.
In other words, she was worried that I’d end up making excuses if I lost our bet, saying that I had been too busy with the special exam to study.
“I could say the same to you, given that you’ve spent all your time trying to put Class 2-D in order recently.”
“I’m just as diligent with my studies as always, so there are no problems on my end.”
It seemed she was pretty confident in her daily study routine.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to lose.”
“It’s fine if that’s the case, but…”
She didn’t exactly trust me so she didn’t really think I was taking our bet very seriously.
There was one more thing I wanted to ask her in relation to that. Horikita had many different shoes to fill. On top of working to organize the class, she had to both study for herself, and tutor others. I wasn’t sure if she could keep this pace until the day of the exam. However, just as I was about to ask her about it, Nanase arrived at the library alone. She noticed the two of us immediately, bowing her head before she approached. It seemed that H?sen wouldn’t be showing up for the initial discussion.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting, Senpai.”
“We only just got here ourselves.”
Greetings were shared as Horikita motioned for Nanase to take the seat on the other side of the table. The discussion had begun.
“I’ll reintroduce myself… I’m Horikita Suzune. Thank you for taking the time to hold this discussion with us today.”
“I? No, that’s not right… I am known as Nanase Tsubasa. I haven’t done anything worthy of your thanks. Rather, I should be the one expressing my thanks to the two of you.” (TLN: The first ‘I’ Nanase uses here is Boku, whereas the second and all future pronouns she uses for herself in this part is Watashi. I have no idea how to translate it so I’m just doing this to explain it as it’s an important detail later.)
They were fellow Class D students, both having started from the very bottom.
As soon as she heard Nanase’s polite introduction and response, Horikita cut to the chase.
“This might seem rather intrusive, but could I ask you about something?”
“First of all, as a baseline premise, I’d like to hear about Class 1-D’s policy moving forward. Only today did two students in your class finally decide on their partners. However, the direction of the remaining 38 students is still up in the air. You’re one of them, aren’t you Nanase-san?”
While it wasn’t known if it was H?sen or another Class 1-D student, it was clear that somebody was giving the class instructions.
“You’re correct. I thought that you’d inquire about that. You asked Kajiwara-kun this very same question earlier today, right?”
Kajiwara was the name of one of the many students in Class 1-D. Apparently, Nanase had already found out that Horikita had attempted to contact several Class 1-D students during lunch today. In which case, it seemed reasonable to assume that Nanase also knew that we had contacted Shiratori and his friends on the first day of the exam.
“I’m surprised. It seems you guys do a great job reporting, communicating, and discussing things.”
“Many students have already begun taking action in accordance with H?sen-kun’s orders.”
Instead of being ambiguous, Nanase readily confirmed that H?sen was the one in charge.
“Is it because of his aggressive attitude? No… I think there’s more to it than that. What on earth did he do?”
Nanase pondered for a moment before finally opening her mouth to speak.
“I’m immensely sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t provide you with any specifics. It’s a strategy that H?sen-kun has come up with in order to unify the class. Although I don’t know if his strategy is correct or not, leaking the information to an outsider would be an act of betrayal.”
“Oh well. You’ve made the correct choice.”
In response to Horikita’s words, Nanase lightly bowed her head in appreciation. Just because we were her upperclassmen didn’t mean she had to tell us everything. Just as she had expressed in her conversation with me yesterday, Nanase possessed the resolution expected of a student devoted to her class.
“Then, let’s get down to business. I’d like to know if our class can collaborate with Class 1-D, just like the two people who finalized their partners yesterday.”
“I believe you’ve heard this from Shiratori-kun already, but our doors are always open to you. As long as you present us with at least a fixed number of private points, we’ll accept the partnership without the slightest bit of hesitation.”
Sure enough, our conversation with Shiratori and his friends had managed to reach H?sen’s ears.
From this, I could hazard a guess that the two Class 1-D students in question had been bought for a large number of private points.
“But what I’m asking for today is completely different from settling an agreement with points.”
“I understand that. I heard a little about it from Ayanok?ji-senpai before, but you’re looking to establish a cooperative relationship where our classes help cover for the more academically incapable students, correct?”
“That’s right. The fact that you’ve come here despite knowing that, already leads me to believe that we have room to negotiate, right?”
“There is? or at least that’s what I’d like to think.”
With that, Nanase’s expression clouded over before she continued.
“H?sen-kun’s way of thinking is thoroughly rooted in the mindset of individualism, and he enforces that on those around him. At this rate, the students with low Academic Ability ratings won’t be able to find partners and will end up getting left behind. While it’s not a very big problem that they’ll lose out on three months of private points, I fear that they’ll be branded as losers who weren’t able to find themselves a partner. Well, no, that might not be that big of an issue either… What really gets to me is the thought that this individualistic mindset might never go away, preventing us from being able to unite as a class in the future.”
After hearing what Nanase had to say, Horikita vocalized her predictions on what she thought might happen to Class 1-D moving forward.
“Yeah. If nobody is ever willing to help the class as a whole, the ongoing individualist battle would naturally accelerate. The weaker students would have no choice but to fend for themselves. And, as soon as that becomes the expected standard, nobody will be willing to help each other, even if somebody asks for it. The class wouldn’t be in any position to do something if confronted with an exam that requires cohesion.”
That was why, in order to avoid that, Nanase was willing to single-handedly take part in negotiations with Horikita.
“You’re not afraid of H?sen-kun, Nanase-san?”
An immediate, unfazed response. And then, Nanase turned and set her sights on me for the first time since we started the discussion. She had that same look in her eyes that I had seen only twice before. I was reminded of what I had heard yesterday, when she had said ‘I will never yield to violence.’ Although I wasn’t without concerns about her identity, Nanase may very well be the only person capable of bringing Class 1-D over to our side.
If we had truly met through a chance encounter, then I was honestly grateful for her.
“Then, let me ask you more of an in-depth question here. How many students are struggling to find partners right now in Class 1-D? Please tell me to the extent you know you can answer, Academic Ability ratings aside.”
While the OAA app would tell you which students hadn’t found a partner yet, it didn’t say anything about whether or not a given student was likely to find a partner.
For that, you had no choice but to ask somebody personally involved with the class in order to find out.
“At this point, I believe that approximately fifteen students would find it difficult to search for a partner on their own.”
“Fifteen… That’s more than I expected.”
However, many Class 2-D students hadn’t decided on a partner yet either.
As long as they coordinated properly, there should be enough room for our classes to work together.
“Nanase-san. If you’ll allow for it, I’d like to come to an agreement with you and your class.”
“An agreement, is it?”
“I’m hoping that you and I can decide on a combination of fifteen sets of partners and get this over with all at once. It wouldn’t matter what Academic Ability rating they might have. And, naturally, there wouldn’t be any points involved either. It would be an equal, collaborative relationship based on helping those who need to be helped.”
In other words, a relationship based on an understanding of mutual concessions and compromises.
As we would be giving and taking from each other, private points and feelings wouldn’t need to get involved.
The chances of somebody being expelled would go down a lot with the establishment of this agreement alone.
However, things weren’t that simple, and both Horikita and Nanase were aware of that as well.
“This is on the premise that we can make that agreement in the first place, but there is no guarantee that we will be able to save those in Horikita-senpai’s class with Academic Ability in the vicinity of an E rating. The majority of the students in my class who are struggling to find partners have Academic Ability ratings of C or D.”
If, for example, the maximum Academic Ability rating they were willing to put forward was a C+, there would still be huge risks associated with pairing them up with someone who has an E rating from our class. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that, for us, the disadvantages would be far more prevalent.
“That’s why I’ll need you to do your best to make sure it doesn’t turn out like that.”
“Yes, I know. Even if that’s the case, I still don’t believe we will come to an agreement very easily.”
Nanase spoke her thoughts without denying anything.
“H?sen-kun would never allow us to help you out for free. Especially not now.”
Class 2-A had managed to maintain a high number of class points ever since enrollment and had an ample amount of funds saved up as a result. Class 2-C, despite coughing up a large number of points to save Ry?en late last year, had the luxury of a steady supply of funds due to their contract with Katsuragi and Class A. The Class 2-C students probably had a certain amount of points saved up as well.
Given that the two classes were contending for students with such a huge number of points on the table, it was only natural for the first-years to sell themselves to the highest bidder.
You could say that H?sen’s plan, the policy he had put in place, was the best way to handle this exam.
However, while asking prices were high across the board, there was no doubt that Class 1-D was asking for much higher prices than all the other first-year classes.
This was evident by the low number of Class 1-D students who had already finalized their partners.
“Even though it would benefit everyone in his class? There shouldn’t be any downsides in it for him.”
The downside was that the students who weren’t able to join with a partner wouldn’t receive the private points they would’ve gotten otherwise. Though, this was probably implied by this point.
“I understand what you’re trying to say, Horikita-senpai. I can also get behind the vast majority of what you’ve outlined for me so far.”
It looked like, personally, Nanase was impressed with Horikita’s proposition.
“It’s just… I still don’t think H?sen-kun will allow it.”
There was a short silence. I could vaguely guess what she happened to be thinking about, so I spoke up.
“The only thing I know for sure is that H?sen isn’t just collecting points for himself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I originally thought H?sen was demanding a huge number of points for partnerships because he wanted to horde all of the points for himself. But if that were the case, he’d be actively looking to help his classmates with low Academic Ability ratings. In the most extreme scenario, he’d be reaching out to those students, telling them to just hand over the points they’d get and he’d find them a partner.”
“That’s indeed true… Three month’s worth of private points is nothing to sneeze at. I’d rather give half of the points to H?sen-kun and save myself instead of failing the exam and not getting any points at all.”
Judging from his actions so far and what I could gather from conversations with Nanase, that wasn’t what he was doing at all.
“It’s just as Ayanok?ji-senpai has speculated. H?sen-kun has not received any compensation from our classmates.”
He was controlling the class, imposing rules.
And then, when someone breaks those rules, they’d be completely ostracized by H?sen and the students who followed him.
Therefore, they wouldn’t dare find a partner without H?sen’s permission. They couldn’t.
The Class 1-D students didn’t show up at the meet-and-greet because they knew it’d be useless to attend from the very beginning.
“Couldn’t you use your influence to control even a couple of the academically capable students in your class?”
Horikita wasn’t asking for anything in return for her proposal. It was merely an act of mutual cooperation between classes.
Compared to the second-year students, the first-year students didn’t have as much of an emotional attachment to their class and friends.
It was just too unreasonable to expect them to have bonded within the first week or two after enrollment.
“I’ve tried asking several of them, but none have said that they’d be willing to consider it.”
“So compensation is still an absolute requirement?”
“If we only need a couple of people, couldn’t we just make an agreement using points?”
I asked Horikita the question. If our goal was to take first place overall like Class 2-A and 2-C, we’d need an enormous sum of points to recruit such a large number of capable students. However, since our goal is just to prevent expulsions, we only needed to recruit a couple students, so the monetary cost would be reduced accordingly.
“Yes… If we really end up with no other options, that’s what we’ll have to do. But a relationship built upon private points can only be further maintained with more private points. I want a relationship that goes beyond that.”
After responding to me, Horikita turned and looked straight at Nanase.
“What do you mean by that, Horikita-senpai?”
“Right now, the first-years and second-years are on different playing fields. First-years like you are at the advantage because you don’t have to bear the risks of expulsion. However, that dynamic surely won’t last forever. Sooner or later, the day will come when you have to face the risk of expulsion as well. If you’ve never done anything more than establish relationships that revolve around points, what are you going to do when the time comes and Class 1-D doesn’t have enough?”
While some students would probably be saved, chances are that there would also be those who would not.
“That’s why I want to work with you as equals without creating a hierarchical relationship based on points. And, I want to build up trust. A special relationship of trust that comes from being in different school years.”
With this, Horikita was advocating that, when a Class 1-D student was in trouble, they’ll be able to consult with us on an equal footing. In short, it was similar to the trust-focused strategy Ichinose was implementing.
It was a bit chilly that night. I stood in my kitchen, cooking with the large quantity of leftover ingredients from yesterday’s shopping spree. Of course, this time I was using recipes and videos as references for what I was doing.
I was making the dish that I had made for Amasawa before, wanting to try it for myself.
The name of the dish, tom yum goong, was a combination of three different Thai words, meaning ‘boiled’, ‘mixed’, and ‘shrimp’ respectively.
“It’s got a unique taste, but it isn’t bad.”
The way its spicy yet sour flavor spread through my mouth and its distinct aroma pierced my nose made it seem like it’d be an addictive dish for certain types of people.
After cleaning up, I turned on the ventilation fan above my stove, looking to let out the smell that had filled the room. I eventually noticed my phone vibrating on my bed, the sound drowned out by the noise of the fan. I thought about just calling back later, but it never stopped ringing, so I picked up.
[You took like, forever to pick up.]
This was the first time Kei had been the one to contact me in a few days now. The last time was back when the special exam had just begun.
The first thing out of her mouth was a complaint.
[You’re the one who told me to call around this time. Get a grip, would ya?]
“My bad. So, did you find out about that thing I asked you to look into this morning?”
[I’m only calling cuz I did my research properly, so don’t you think you aren’t, like, being grateful enough?]
“I’m very grateful. So…?”
[It doesn’t seem like you’re grateful at all… Well, whatever. According to the store person, only one of ‘em has been sold since April. They told me that they like, pretty much never sell that model compared to the other similar ones they’ve got, and that they’re lucky to sell even one or two of ‘em a year. But the thing is, apparently one of the new students tried buying one too.]
There was no need to tell me about the identity of the person who bought one recently. I was far more interested in the new student who tried to buy one.
“Tried buying one, huh…? So they didn’t buy one, then?”
There was no physical way this new first-year student wouldn’t have been able to buy it unless they had done something absurd like spending all of their points immediately after they first came to the school.
And, given this year’s batch of new students, I didn’t think they’d do something that foolish.
[I tried asking the clerk about that too, just in case. Apparently, just as the first-year was about to pay for it at the register, somebody else showed up and stopped them from going through with the sale. Anywho, the clerk told me the student who tried to buy one looked…]
As Kei described the student’s appearance, I began to sort out the situation in my head.
It was a little… no, considerably different from what I had in mind at first.
I never would’ve expected that ‘that person’ would be involved in all of this.
“Did the clerk say anything about the person who stopped the first-year from buying it?”
[Nope, they didn’t know much about that. They just said they were pretty sure it was a girl.]
Students have to present their student ID card to make purchases, so while the clerk knew the name of the person who tried to buy the item, they didn’t know anything about the person who stopped the sale.
[Is my information useful?]
“Yeah. It might be much more useful than I thought it’d be.”
[Hehe, I’m like, super talented, after all. Make sure you thank me properly, kay? But like, why’d you have me look into something like this? I seriously don’t get it at all.]
I had hoped that having her ask around would help explain the mysterious behavior, but this development was far beyond anything I had imagined.
In fact, because it was so far off from what I had imagined, it made me wonder if any of this was even relevant at all.
“Come to think of it, I heard that you’ve already found a partner for the special exam.”
[Ah, yep. Shimazaki-san from Class 1-B, was it? Feels like I’ve been saved thanks to Kushida-san.]
Now that our main business had been dealt with, I changed the topic ever so slightly.
“I don’t think you’ve got a bad partner, but Kei, have you been studying properly?”
[Well, uh, how do I put it…? Like, I was thinkin’ it’d be fine if I like, just put it off ‘til later, you know?]
I knew it. I hadn’t heard anything about her attending one of the study sessions yet.
“This exam isn’t something you can get through all on your own. Your rating is a D+. If you aren’t careful with your grades, you might end up suffering later.”
[I know I know, I just can’t get myself interested, and like… even if I went to a study group, it’s not like you’d be there or anything.]
“So what, you’d study diligently as long as I’m around?”
[…Uh, yeah? I’d work hard in front of my boyfriend.]
I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but since she said so, the solution was obvious.
“Then let’s see… How about you come over to my room at around 6:00 tomorrow?”
Considering that we’d be meeting with Nanase after school tomorrow, that seemed like a fair enough time to schedule things.
[I can come hang out at your place!?]
“You’ll be here to study, not to hang out.”
Don’t ‘eh’ me.
“I’ll help you study. That should at least get you motivated, right?”
To start out, I’d evaluate the full extent of her abilities.
And if it turns out that she needs to participate in additional study sessions, then I’d urge her to do so.
[You’re worried cuz you’d be real sad if your girlfriend were to get expelled, huh~?]
She suddenly asked, noteworthy traces of excitement in her voice, almost as if she thought she had the upper hand now. I was tempted to tease her a little bit in response, but I figured that she’d feel more motivated to study if I just went along with her and agreed.
“Well, naturally? If the girlfriend which I had only just started dating got herself expelled, it’d be no laughing matter.”
[I-I see~ That’s true isn’t it! Well then, I guess I have no other choice. I actually had all sorts of things planned for tomorrow, but I’ll make a special appearance, just for you.]
While it wasn’t very straightforward, it was a small price to pay to get her to push forward with her studies.
[What should I bring with me?]
“I have everything you’d need in my room already. Just don’t be late and that should be fine.”
“Well then, I’ll be hanging up now.”
[Wha!? Hold up! Wait! We’ve, like, only talked about the special exam and studying so far, though!]
Apparently, she wanted to chat about something completely unrelated to any of that.
“I guess you’re right about that.”
[Hrmph, you seriously…]
While we didn’t talk about anything related to the exam or studying after that, she continued to chew me out nonetheless.