Part 2 Once Horikita had paid our tab, the three of us left the Karaoke parlor together. While it seemed like this was the end of the entire ordeal, H?sen and Nanase followed us from behind. As we walked, Sud? occasionally looked over his shoulder to glare at them menacingly, but didn’t go so far as to voice his complaints since they had the same route back. H?sen, having noticed what Sud? was doing, called out to us somewhat suspiciously. “Hold it!” “There’s no reason for us to wait for you. We’re done talking.” Horikita turned a deaf ear to him, but H?sen didn’t show any signs of backing down. It seemed that Horikita’s all-or-nothing gamble was moving in the right direction. “Aight, I admit it. You were right Horikita. That day, I went out lookin’ to meet up with Class 2-D. After I got here, it didn’t take me all that long to realize that Class D was the wimpiest bunch in the school. Instead of bein’ treated like a joke by the rest of the classes, I figured it’d be fastest to just go’n work with you guys, bein’ fellow D classers an’ all.” Looks like H?sen had indeed been sending signals to Class 2-D back then, just as Horikita had predicted. That said, whether or not his goal had been to form that same cooperative, equal relationship with Horikita was a different matter altogether. “So?” “So? You sure ya don’t wanna continue the discussion? You and I are similar, comrades even. Two leaders who thought’a the same thing.” “As long as you intend to keep making ridiculous demands, nothing is going to change.” “What, you really just gonna go in blind? Takin’ the penalty and lettin’ yer shit get figured out randomly?” “Yep. I’m fully prepared to take the penalty if we have to.” While it was certainly a painful position to be in, it wasn’t anything we wouldn’t be able to overcome. Thanks to the efforts of Kushida and the others, many of those with D and E ratings had already found partners, pretty much guaranteeing their safety. “I see. Then how ‘bout I propose you somethin’ like this?” Horikita hadn’t agreed to reopen negotiations, and yet H?sen began talking all on his own. “I’ll order the chumps from my class to pair up with ya, so fork over the points. Two mill.” Instead of conceding, H?sen forced the discussion back open and jacked up the price even higher. “Two million? Seems you’ve finally gone off the deep end, hmm?” “You’re free to say whatever you want, but this is your only way to guarantee that none of ya flunk out. Most of the guys from the other classes have found partners already. You won’t end up with jack shit by bein’ stingy. Or perhaps you actually want me to flatten you?” At this point, we arrived at the junction of the two paths for the first and second-year dormitories. Horikita came to a stop before turning around to respond to him. “Flatten? And just how do you plan on doing that? By intentionally tanking your scores? You wouldn’t be brave enough to do that. You couldn’t. After all, you have to comply with the rules just like everybody else. That being said, all that my classmates and I need to do is focus on securing at least 501 points no matter what random combinations end up happening.” “Ain’t no need to go with somethin’ so complicated. I’ll flatten ya with this thing right here.” With a fearless grin, H?sen held up his fist. “Rule by violence, huh? People like you are a dime a dozen, it seems.” “I don’t give a fuck what you think ‘bout it. This is how I do things.” “How nice. In that case, it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever see eye-to-eye then.” At that, Horikita began walking once more. It didn’t seem like she had any intention of backing down until the very end. Or, perhaps I should say that she couldn’t afford to show weakness to an opponent like H?sen. If she did, she would never be treated as an equal ever again. “Hold it.” “What now?” “I get it. I’ll think about what you’ve said.” At the last moment possible, H?sen said something I hadn’t expected him to say. “What are you trying to say?” “Try’nna keep the upper hand ‘til the very last minute, shit like that’s only natural in a negotiation, yeah?” By that, H?sen was saying that all of this had just been a part of his strategy to try and force a concession out of Horikita. “Then in other words, you’re agreeing to enter into a completely equal relationship with us?” “Think of it like our discussion goin’ into overtime. There’s prolly people watchin’ here though, so how ‘bout we go someplace else?” It was around 10:00 PM on a Sunday night. While most students should be back home by now, if somebody did show up, they’d definitely be able to overhear our conversation. “Even so, we can’t bring you into the dormitories with us.” Given the curfew, there was no longer anywhere suitable enough to continue the discussion. However, time was running short and neither party wanted to drag this out any longer than they had to. “Wherever is fine. Behind the dorm, someplace else, don’t matter to me. Won’t take long.” H?sen was brimming with confidence, so Horikita didn’t have much of a reason to turn him down. After all, despite having pushed him away at first, having H?sen chase after her like this was exactly what she had been hoping for. “…Fine. I’ll give you ten minutes.” “Over there then.” H?sen led us to the first-year dorms which had belonged to the third-year students last year. And then, we circled around the front of the building and headed over to the back. It was a dark, quiet area that didn’t serve any particular use other than being a place to dispose of trash, so it seemed safe to assume that we wouldn’t run into anybody given how late it was. “Then let’s continue this, shall we? Our conditions haven’t changed at all. You’re fine with that, right?” “Well…” As a gesture to highlight his consideration, H?sen crossed his arms for a moment. Shortly thereafter, he uncrossed his arms and extended his right hand with three fingers raised into the air. “Three mill. You fork over that much, an’ I’ll save all your retarded classmates right away.” Everybody present, myself included, was absolutely stunned at his ridiculous proposal. “What the heck are you even saying?” It was wholly, completely dumbfounding. Even Horikita couldn’t help but sigh a few times. H?sen was supposed to be trying to salvage the discussion, not jacking up the price even further. It seemed as though he had gone beyond the realm of common sense at this point. “Are you fuckin’ deaf, bitch? I said you fork over three mill, and we’ll work shit out.” “What, are you fuckin’ with us? Suzune’s already told ya that we ain’t handin’ over a single point!” “I ain’t jokin’. After all, I went through all the effort of givin’ you lot another chance here, didn’t I?” He spoke as though he was the one who had arranged all of this in the first place. “I tried to give you another chance, but it seems like that was a lapse of judgment after all…” The chance that H?sen might make a forthright decision had been a lasting glimmer of hope, but in the end, that faith had been misplaced. “Stop right there! You really think you can just leave?” H?sen lightly slammed his fist against the wall beside him, putting his intimidating attitude on full display. “Oh, so just because we’re behind the dorms, you want to solve this with one of your signature violent outbursts, is that it? Do you really think you’re going to get away with that?” “At the very least, I’ll get to beat the livin’ shit outta you fuckheads. How’s that?” “Fine, do as you please.” Shaking her head, Horikita began to make her exit. She probably didn’t think that H?sen would actually make things physical. However? Nanase, who had been standing off to the side, turned and looked away. Almost as though she had foreseen what was going to happen next. H?sen made his move. “Suzune!!” Sud? frantically shouted out as he rushed toward her and pulled her back. H?sen’s foot swiftly swept through the very same spot where Horikita had been standing only moments before. And then, just like that, the huge first-year proceeded to charge straight at her. “?! What the?!” At this point, Horikita finally realized that H?sen was serious, but her body was frozen and wouldn’t move as she wanted it to. To protect her, Sud? forced himself between the two of them, catching the blow with his body. “Guh!” “Hahaha! Let’s see just how much you can take!” “Bring it on! I won’t show any mercy to a bastard who raises his hand against Suzune!” Laughing happily, H?sen launched an attack on Sud?. And, having reached the limit of his patience long ago, Sud? responded in full. “Wha, what the hell is this guy thinking…!?” It was understandable that Horikita would feel shaken by the commencement of an all-out brawl before her very eyes. No matter how unmonitored this location truly was, it would still be quite problematic if they were caught. It might not be enough for an outright expulsion, but suspension surely wouldn’t be off the table. “Horikita-senpai, could it be that, perhaps this school is a little different from how it was before?” Nanase, who had been watching this inexplicable turn of events go down with a somewhat cold look on her face, asked Horikita a question. “Just as you upperclassmen are more familiar with the events of last year, we first-year students have a greater understanding of the current systems in place.” “What do you mean…?” “Shortly after enrollment, several first-years representatives were called to the student council room to receive a personal explanation from President Nagumo. He said that, from this year onward, the students would be allowed certain freedoms in order to make the school into more of a meritocracy.” “Are you telling me that fighting is one of those freedoms?” “I wouldn’t say that. Although, from what H?sen-kun has confirmed, the President has stated that a certain amount of in-fighting amongst students is unavoidable, and therefore promised that it wouldn’t be judged as harshly as it was in the past.” Compared to Horikita’s older brother Manabu, Nagumo had a more tolerant mindset when it came to fighting. Since the student council acted as an arbitrator in disputes between students, if it were true that they were now tolerant of a certain amount of fighting, then it would certainly be difficult for this to lead to proper recourse. As the conversation between Horikita and Nanase progressed, the fight between Sud? and H?sen had already started to tilt in one direction. “Oraa!” Even when compared to Sud?’s naturally high strength and quick reflexes, H?sen’s were on yet another level as he proceeded to slam Sud? up against the wall. H?sen then went on to grab Sud? by the collar with both hands and forced him upward, causing both his legs to lift up into the air. “B-bastard!” Having lost his ground in more ways than one, Sud? put forward a desperate show of resistance, but given his position, there wasn’t much he could do. With his target completely immobilized, H?sen began applying pressure on his hold, as if trying to cram him into the wall itself. “Kh! S-son of a bitch!” Sud? latched onto H?sen’s arms and, despite his limited space, struck a blow with his knee, causing H?sen to stagger slightly. He then took advantage of the opportunity to free himself from H?sen’s grasp, only for H?sen to land a direct kick moments later. While Sud? had prepared himself to withstand the blow, the sheer force of it sent him smashing into the wall behind. The two had appeared to be an equal match for one another before the fight began, but after seeing the way it had been progressing, the difference between them was considerable. Given his tendency to constantly make enemies out of others, Sud? had most likely been involved in several fights before this. His athletic skill and physique had been honed throughout years of playing basketball, so he had probably never met somebody who could match up to him before. H?sen, however, was even more exceptional. Compared to Sud?, H?sen had probably taken part in an inconceivable number of fights and braved his way through countless other dangerous situations. The difference in experience was as clear as day. His large build and strong arms felt out-of-place given that there was only a one year age gap between them. And yet, despite his massive size, he was still remarkably quick on his feet. His natural talent was certainly a sight to behold. This was the reason why even Ry?en of all people had restrained himself from fighting him. Ry?en knew that he simply wasn’t an opponent that could be beaten in straightforward hand-to-hand combat. But even so, Sud? wouldn’t go down that easily. After all, his sheer strength went nearly unparalleled out of everyone in our school year. However, that simply meant that he’d be H?sen’s punching bag until he did. H?sen proceeded to unleash an unrelenting barrage of punches down on Sud?. Even though Sud? wanted to seize any opportunity he could to strike back, he already had his hands full with parrying H?sen’s attacks. Every time he tried to shift onto the offensive, even if only slightly, another blow would come and instantly pierce through his defenses. “None of us have anything to gain from doing things like this!” Horikita shouted out, but H?sen wasn’t listening. At this point, it’d be impossible to stop H?sen with words alone. Her voice did, however, reach Sud?, who glanced in her direction for a split second. Horikita’s voice, the voice of the girl that he had to protect, somehow ignited a flame within him. “Graaaah!!!” With the resolve to sacrifice himself if need be, he lunged at H?sen and pushed him away from the wall, trying what he could to knock over his opponent. “Oho. So you wanna try’n come at me with raw power, eh?” H?sen took the impact of Sud?’s large frame head-on, sneering as he grabbed hold of Sud?’s body and lifted him up again. “W-woaah!?” He then spun around in a half-circle before dropping Sud? back down and pushing him away with his left hand, effectively swapping places with him. “Was bein’ up against the wall too much for ya? This should be enough of a handicap, so fuckin’ man up and come at me!” “Stop fucking with me!” Sud? roared out, his engine running at full-throttle. He readied himself to charge at H?sen, fully committed to taking the upper hand, but before he could? “Oi Sud?, take a look at Horikita’s face. She’s glarin’ at you somethin’ fierce, ah?” As he spoke, H?sen unclenched his fists and pointed at Horikita, who was standing behind Sud?. Just as their fight was reaching its peak, H?sen dropped his guard. At this point, Sud? suddenly realized that he had lost his cool and had gotten himself wrapped up in a full-on brawl. Worried about how angry Horikita must be with him for breaking his promise, he turned his back on the formidable enemy standing in front of him. Of course, it wasn’t like Horikita was pleased with Sud? fighting like this. However, her expression was not one of anger, but one of worry and distress over not knowing what she needed to do. She could only scream out to him, begging for him to turn back around. Only watch as he let show this one fatal moment of carelessness. By the time he realized that he had screwed up, it was already too late. With a fiendish grin on his face, H?sen smashed his fist straight into Sud?’s cheek while his back was turned. A scathing blow that had seemingly come out of nowhere. Although Sud? was more than capable of taking a punch, he had probably never experienced a blow like this before. If he had been an ordinary student without any neck training, then this punch might have had very serious consequences. He flew backward with such force that he slid across the ground after he landed, unable to so much as even attempt to cushion the fall. “Guh?!?” Sud? cried out with an almost inaudible voice, nearly fainting from the onset of pain. Even though he had been winning without the use of underhanded tricks, H?sen had deliberately chosen to end it by setting up this simple trap instead. He had wanted to hurt him, not only physically, but mentally as well. It didn’t seem like Sud? had lost consciousness though, as he was writhing about on the ground in pure agony. After witnessing everything I had seen today, I found myself re-evaluating just what kind of person H?sen Kazuomi truly was. What was he thinking? What was he feeling? What had driven him to come to today’s negotiations in the first place? Horikita was right when she said that he sounded like he wanted to join up with our class back when we first met him. Furthermore, he had even admitted earlier that he saw the value in having the two D Classes work together. Up until just recently, he had been making full use of his advantageous position in order to pressure us, and that hadn’t exactly been that bad of an approach to take. However, once he saw just how unwilling to bend Horikita truly was, he probably figured out that his approach wasn’t going to work. He had realized that, if nothing changed, Horikita would give up on trying to work together. But even then, instead of looking to compromise, he chose to dial up the aggression even further, eventually leading to some insanely belligerent behavior. He had dumped water on Horikita earlier, and now he had gone so far as to force a serious confrontation with Sud?. Just how could he maintain such a cocky, violent attitude when there were suspension and expulsion on the line? I had been wondering this very question for a long time now. Did he really just think he could decide everything with violence alone? That didn’t seem right either. It didn’t seem reasonable to think he was that stupid. In which case, what was he after? What in the world was H?sen getting out of forcing a fight like this? “Aight, seems that your trusty bodyguard’s eatin’ the dirt. Who’s next?” H?sen began to approach, alternating his gaze between Horikita and me as he did. Despite the fact that he had only just been fighting Sud?, his breathing wasn’t labored in the slightest.
“Do… Do you really think we will submit to violence?” “If not, then I’mma beat the shit outta you, get you to cry a bit n’ have you write out a couple of them binding agreements. An’ if you say no to that, then I’mma keep comin’ back, chasin’ you fuckheads down ‘til you’re dead on the floor.” No matter how tolerant the student council may be when it comes to fighting, there would still be problems if it went too far. Besides, if he forced her to sign some sort of written agreement under these circumstances, there was no way that it would hold up later on. It was also possible for us to pretend to obey him in order to get out of this, but Horikita probably wouldn’t do that. After all, yielding to H?sen’s way of doing things simply wasn’t an option. “…So be it. I’ll be the one to stop you then.” Horikita steeled her resolve and took up a fighting stance. “Ooh, interesting. If you wanna throw down, then I’d be glad to take ya up on that.” H?sen probably didn’t expect Horikita to have any fighting or martial arts experience whatsoever. But he wasn’t an opponent who would fall for a cheap trick like this either, something that Horikita still hadn’t managed to understand just yet. All of a sudden, without any prior warning, H?sen lurched out his arm. Horikita nimbly slipped past his reach and proceeded to go for a knockout blow with a strike aimed at his jaw. She had bet everything on settling this with a single, instantaneous strike. “Oh?” However, before the strike could make contact, H?sen grabbed hold of her delicate wrist without so much as batting an eye. “Damn bitch, that was a pretty good move there. But?” H?sen lifted his other hand high up into the air and swung down hard, slapping Horikita across the face. Horikita tried what she could to dodge or protect herself, but in the face of H?sen’s overwhelming speed and power, there was simply nothing she could do but take a direct hit. Her body was blown away as if she had been struck with a fist instead. She tumbled over onto the ground, cushioning herself as she fell. “S-Suzune!” Sud? cried out as he tried his best to get back on his feet, his teeth clenched in pain. But his legs wouldn’t move how he wanted, so he couldn’t stand up properly. “Yo Horikita. Let’s make a fuckin’ deal already.” Horikita looked up at H?sen from where she was on the ground as the first-year student closed in on her, voicing his demands. “Five million points. That much, and all your problems’ll go away. How ‘bout it?” The asking price had skyrocketed even further. So high, in fact, that we couldn’t afford to pay it even if we wanted to. “W-what kind of sick joke is this…? Ayanok?ji-kun… Call someone, call the teachers…” Adult intervention was probably the only way left to contain the situation at this point. Alternatively, if a large number of people were to gather, even H?sen would have no choice but to rein in his fist. “So this is what you’ve been reduced to…? Well, I guess it makes sense. But are you sure you wanna nark on me? Even though none of you did jack shit, what do you fuckers plan on doin’ ‘bout the fact that you two tried throwin’ punches as well? You really wanna get suspended along with me?” Even if we appealed that we had only acted out of self-defense, we would inevitably face some kind of repercussions as well. That being said, we’d still be much better off having a third party intervene than we would letting things continue going like this. “You son of a bitch!!” “Stay down retard!” Back up on his feet, Sud? threw himself at H?sen once again, only to be mercilessly kicked back down to the ground. Afterwhich, the first-year finally set his sights on me. “How long you plan on watchin’ there fucker?” “R-run away… Ayanok?ji… Kun…” “Run away? Don’t even think about it. You pussy out here, an’ I’ll see to it that these two doormats are in for a whole new world of pain!” Even now, I kept thinking. What exactly did H?sen want out of this? Was he really trying to force us to meet demands that had no chance of ever being accepted? No, that was just far too unrealistic. “Horikita. I’ll give ya one last chance.” “…Last?” “If you submit to me right here, right now, an’ fork over the points? I’ll let Ayanok?ji live.” With that, H?sen stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled something out. It had gotten fairly dark outside, so for a moment it was hard to tell what exactly it was, but once he unveiled its pointed edge, a silver shine glimmered in the moonlight. “W-what are you, that…!?” “Somethin’ wrong with your eyes? It’s a knife, plain an’ simple!” From the way the blade sparkled, it was clearly different from one of those retractable toy blades that were often used for party tricks and the like. “If you turn me down again, I’ll stab Ayanok?ji with this.” “Stop fooling around!” “I ain’t fuckin’ with you, tho? I’ll gladly stab this punk if it means gettin’ my hands on the points.” Wielding the knife in his right hand, H?sen slowly turned to face me. “Still, even after all this I still can’t wrap my damn head around it. What makes a punk like you so fuckin’ special?” With his eyes locked on mine, H?sen spoke, his voice laced with exasperation. “Fuck it, maybe I didn’t even need to go an’ do all this risky shit in the first place!” From the way he was talking, it seemed like the ridiculous chain of events that he had orchestrated so far had all been done because he was wary of something. Expecting something. He drew closer to me, one step at a time. However, Nanase, his very own classmate, jammed herself in between the two of us, stopping him in his tracks. “Please don’t go any further! I can’t approve of your methods after all… I can’t!”
She spread out her arms in an attempt to block his path. “Outta the way, Nanase. Your ass is only here to keep ‘em from escapin’, so know your fuckin’ place.” “I made the decision to lend you my strength until the very end, telling myself that it was for the good of the class. No matter how deplorable your strategy was, I thought I’d be willing to accept it. But I see now that I was mistaken.” With her feet firmly planted between H?sen and I, she shifted her gaze over to Horikita. “Horikita-senpai, working together with H?sen-kun has been impossible from the very beginning. You were inspired to cooperate with us after hearing him mention Class 2-D back when we came to meet with you in front of the second-year classrooms, but… That was just a ploy to get things to progress to this point. Even if you pay the outrageous fee he’s been asking of you, you’d still be subjected to this same fate.” Naturally, Horikita’s distress compiled even further upon hearing Nanase lay out such a shocking revelation. No matter how hard she tried to negotiate, H?sen never would’ve accepted anyway. And this wasn’t her fault either. None of us could’ve predicted that things would turn out like this. All things considered, this incomprehensible series of events probably came down to an imbalance of information. H?sen and Nanase had been given intel that we hadn’t. That being the case, there was no way we could’ve had a proper negotiation in the first place. “All your yammering is pissin’ me off. You’re the one who asked me to deal with this shit to begin with. Our class’ll rake in shitloads of money if we take out this Ayanok?ji guy. Just think of the advantage it’d give us.” “That is true. However, I just can’t figure out the reason why we need to target him like this.” “That shit ain’t got nothing to do with me. If you’re gonna get in my way, then you can fuck off as well!” H?sen readied a wide swing and swept Nanase aside with the palm of his hand, just as he had done to Horikita earlier. As I stood alone, watching this scene play out in front of me, I arrived at one, single conclusion. And with it, everything fit into place. “Prepare yourself, Ayanok?ji!” He came at me, lethal weapon in hand. Naturally, everybody present was fully expecting him to try and stab me with it. Laughing, he raised the knife up above his head. I could feel my mind begin to clear as I lowered my stance. “Ayanok?ji-kun?!” While most people would’ve tried to escape, I rushed at him instead. And as I did, everyone watching must’ve thought that I’d gone mad. After all, running head-first into an opponent with a knife wasn’t really a mark of sanity. Especially when said opponent was somebody as formidable as H?sen. H?sen’s smile widened even further as I did so. He probably thought that I was a fool for jumping at him. But I wasn’t trying to prevent myself from being stabbed at all. As I drew closer, H?sen swung his arm, bringing the knife down, slicing through the air. The target of that knife, what its blade sought? was not my body. It was his very own. I used my left hand to stop the descending blade from reaching its desired target. I wasn’t trying to grab H?sen’s hand or avoid it, but instead let the blade pierce through my palm. https://confusedtls.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/ln_2nd_vol_01-12.jpg “Wha?!?” This was clearly not what H?sen had expected of me. It would’ve been nearly impossible to predict my actions beforehand. After all, who would’ve thought that someone would deliberately let themself be stabbed? The arm driving the blade froze to a halt, and with it, H?sen’s smile vanished as well. “You… Ayanok?ji!” He was confused. Anyone in their right mind would’ve been after seeing what I had done to myself. In most cases, my actions here would be seen as hazardous, self-destructive even. Fresh, bright blood soon began spurting out from the wound on my palm. “That knife, or to be more accurate, that petty knife, it’s the one I bought, isn’t it?” “The fuck are you on about…?” “You were going to stab yourself in the thigh with my own knife. After that, you’d raise a fuss to the school about your injury, and use that as evidence to get me expelled. That was your plan, wasn’t it?” From the way he gripped the knife in his hand, it was obvious that it wasn’t meant to stab an opponent. He had faced the blade upward to make it look like someone else had stabbed him. Furthermore, he had taken hold of the handle in reverse, so as to allow himself to drive the blade into his leg more effectively. “Ha! So even though you managed to piece it all together, you still came an’ got stabbed yourself? You outta your mind?” H?sen looked a bit shaken as he let out a dry laugh. “This was the best way to completely shut you down. Besides, I don’t think we’re that different. After all, you came here fully prepared to sustain a major wound as well.” Even if they knew that it was the correct course of action, most people wouldn’t be willing to follow through with such a dangerous act of self-harm like this. This was the primary reason why he would’ve been able to stab himself and frame me for it. “It seems like there’s some sort of pseudo-special exam in effect that was only given to a limited number of you first-years. And based on your conversation with Nanase, it sounds like the premise of that exam is to have me expelled. So to that end, you began to spin up a plan. It’d start with you luring us out here and forcing us into a fight. Then, after smacking Sud? and Horikita around a bit, you’d say that I pulled out a knife that I carried with me in case of an emergency and stabbed you with it in a fit of rage, eventually leading to my expulsion. That’s the absurd narrative you were trying to build this time.” Even if the student council was going to be more tolerant, wielding a knife in a fight wouldn’t be excused with just a suspension. It would warrant an expulsion, or it could even end up resulting in criminal charges. “I’d heard you were hot shit, but you seemed pretty fuckin’ wimpy to me, so I didn’t really think all that much of ya. To think you’d come an’ let yourself get stabbed… How’d you know the knife was yours?” “I’ve done some investigating of my own. As of yesterday, I was still the only one to have bought that model of Petty knife. So it’s only natural that I’d put the pieces together upon seeing you pull out the exact same one.” I could’ve easily slipped past the knife and grabbed hold of H?sen’s arm. But doing that wouldn’t have solved the fundamental issue at hand here. All he would’ve had to do is create some distance and start his plan all over again. In order to prevent him from doing that, I had no other choice but to get stabbed myself. H?sen tried to let go of the knife, but I used my own hand to lock his fist in place. “…The hell…? Who the fuck are you…?” Having witnessed my strength firsthand, the composure H?sen had maintained so far was completely blown away. “Now then, what’s next? Even though I’m the owner of the knife, you’re the one who stabbed me with it. Moreover, an investigation will reveal that you tried to buy the same model of knife before. If you can’t find a way to talk your way out of this, you’ll be expelled, H?sen.” While my fingerprints were on the knife’s handle, H?sen’s were as well. And the fact that the knife was now pierced through my palm wasn’t something that could be explained away very easily. His very own strategy had ended up backfiring on him. “So you thought this far ahead…!?” After glowering at me for a moment, H?sen released his grip and took his distance, leaving the knife pierced through my palm. And with that, the tables had completely turned on him. Meanwhile, Horikita and Sud? had slowly gotten back on their feet and were now recovering their strength. “A-are you okay, Ayanok?ji-kun?” “Ayanok?ji…” “Don’t worry about me.” It wasn’t unreasonable for them to be concerned about my condition, but this wasn’t the time to be worrying about that. The most important thing now was to make sure that H?sen wasn’t given another opening. “How much info do you bastards even have…? Wait, Nanase, did you fuckin’ nark to ‘em?” “I didn’t tell them anything.” “I first felt like something was out of place back when Amasawa and I went shopping at the Keyaki Mall together.” Surprised to hear me drop Amasawa’s name, Horikita spoke up herself. “Amasawa-san? Are you saying that she’s mixed up in all this…?” “Yeah. According to the store clerk, just as H?sen was about to finish paying for the knife, she reached out and stopped him from going through with the purchase.” After responding to Horikita, I turned back to H?sen. “You’re the one who came up with this ridiculous strategy, but Amasawa is the one who helped refine it to perfection. After all, if you stabbed yourself with your own knife, it would naturally lead to problems once the school investigated what happened. However, if you could somehow get me to buy the knife instead, then that would have the potential to change everything.” The reason why Amasawa and H?sen had chosen to use this expensive Petty knife because it was the only one that came bundled together with a sheath, making it the most convenient option available. Of course, while there were a variety of other ways to conceal a naked blade, it would’ve been faster and easier to just buy one with a sheath given the added portability. Back when I went shopping with Amasawa, she had managed to locate and pick out this exact knife without searching for it at all, even though that should’ve been the first time she had been in that store. And this was only the first thing that stuck with me. On Friday, she had shown up at my room saying that she had lost her hair tie, but that had been nothing more than an excuse to recover the knife. It’s natural to assume that she had planted it there beforehand or simply lied about leaving it there at all. Furthermore, since there was a possibility that I might notice that it was missing if she recovered it too soon, she waited, delaying her move until the last possible moment. After that, she just needed to get the knife out of my room without getting any fingerprints on it and hand it over to H?sen. If she hadn’t been able to retrieve the knife, then they probably would’ve chosen to postpone the plan. “Tch, I never shouldda trusted that random chick in the first place.” “No, it was thanks to Amasawa that this plan took shape at all. Without her help, everything would’ve fallen apart.” “Whatever. Seems to me like you’ve got the upper hand now. Ain’t that right Sempai? So what now?” On top of everything else that had happened, the blood from my hand had stained H?sen’s clothes. There was no way he could talk his way out of this now. Even if he took back the knife and stabbed himself in the thigh, it simply wasn’t possible for him to come out on top anymore. Of course, even if he tried to do that, I’d just use my full strength to stop him. Chances were that H?sen had already discerned that for himself as well. The important part is what would happen next. “Horikita, Sud?, and I can all promise to keep quiet about what happened tonight. How’s that?” “What are you sayin’? You really gonna throw away your chance to get me kicked outta here?” “In exchange for not doing that, I have two conditions.” “Two?” He probably knew the first without me even having to say it. “The first is that you agree to form an equal, cooperative relationship between our two classes.” “Well it ain’t like I got much of a choice between that an’ expulsion. So what’s the second?” “I want you to partner up with me for this special exam.” From the time I first laid eyes on H?sen, I found myself thinking that if I was in any position to select whoever I wanted, then he’d be my first choice by far. While there were several reasons for this, the biggest was that he didn’t care about attracting attention due to his problematic behavior. If I were in Tsukishiro’s shoes, I probably would’ve instructed my enforcer to avoid standing out as much as possible. I had been considering the option of privately reaching out to him to discuss the idea of working together if Horikita’s discussion ended up falling through. So in that sense, this series of events had turned out to be quite convenient for me. “…Are you serious?” “You’ve only just enrolled here, so I’m sure there are plenty of things you haven’t gotten a chance to do yet. If you get expelled now, it’ll all be over before you can enjoy doing any of them. I don’t know how things went back when you were in middle school, but the rumors saying that you’re an equal match for Ry?en will end up staying that way. And that’s all anybody will remember you for. At least, from what I’ve seen of Ry?en over the past year he’s been here, you can’t even really compare to him as you are right now.” “You motherfucker…!” Obviously, the young man known as H?sen Kazuomi had an unshakable sense of pride. It came from an egotistical, habitual belief that he was one of the strongest people around. Even though he was probably a step above Ry?en in terms of physical strength, the fact that I had said that Ry?en was better was unacceptable for him. But most of all, there was no way he’d manage to tolerate the fact that I had outsmarted him. He had a B+ Academic Ability rating, so if he were to hold back and flunk the exam, he would definitely get expelled. That said, it didn’t seem reasonable to think that he’d choose to sacrifice himself to take revenge on me. While H?sen was about as close to innocent as one could get, the fact of the matter was that there was really no way for me to be 100% certain that he wasn’t from the White Room. In that respect, no matter how much I tried, I wouldn’t be able to clear him from all suspicion. However, after what happened here tonight, things were different. Even if H?sen held back on the exam, the fact that I had been stabbed would still remain. As long as I made it painfully clear that something unusual had gone on behind the scenes, even Tsukishiro wouldn’t be able to force my expulsion immediately. The school would set up an investigation to find out exactly what had happened, and H?sen’s decision to take a zero on the exam would be put up for deliberation. Whatever tricks Tsukishiro might try to pull, I’d stay firm as a rock until expulsion was no longer on the table. “Fuckin’ good shit there, Ayanok?ji-sempai! You’re the first opponent who’s gotten my blood boilin’ like this. Just forcin’ you to surrender won’t be enough for me anymore. I’m gonna beat you to death instead, so I hope you’re lookin’ forward to it.” The faint traces of shakiness that he had shown earlier were a thing of the past. By now, H?sen had already shifted his focus to preparing for his next fight. “I will remain here. There’s something I feel I should explain to Ayanok?ji-senpai.” “Huh? What’re you gonna tell ‘em, Nanase?” “Something that I’ve decided will be useful to Class 1-D as a whole. Ayanok?ji-senpai and Horikita-senpai are already very wary of us. That being the case, wouldn’t it be better if we had them stay vigilant of the other classes as well?” “Suit yourself.” While the details of what she was saying were unclear, H?sen accepted Nanase’s proposal. In the end, H?sen was the first person to leave and head back to the dormitory.