Epilogue: An Intensifying Mystery
The following Monday, Nanase and Horikita got together and successfully ironed out the details of the agreement between our two classes. By Tuesday, all 157 pairs had been formed, and everyone had shifted their focus over to the upcoming written exams. Although K?enji remained uncooperative until the very end, he instantly agreed to partner up with Nanase at her request, surprising both myself and Horikita.
While my left hand had sustained quite the injury, I could confidently say that the results were well worth it. Many students were surprised to see my hand wrapped up in bandages, but thanks to Chabashira and Mashima-sensei, the matter was kept confidential. This allowed the special exam to move forward without anyone else finding out about what happened.
Even though there had been many opportunities to interact with the first-year students over these past two weeks, I still wasn’t able to discern the identity of the White Room student. Given the lack of action throughout the special exam, it made me question whether or not they even existed in the first place. It was safe to assume that I needed to stay wary of all the first-years I had come into close contact with.
Normally, one might think that they could rule out H?sen due to the fact that several students knew about him from back in middle school. However, neither Ry?en nor Akito had actually met him in person before. In other words, there was a chance he was an imposter who had contacted the real H?sen and taken on his identity.
As for Nanase, even though she didn’t appear to bear any ill will toward me at first glance, upon delving deeper there were several factors that couldn’t be overlooked, such as the method she had used to get close to me, her attitude after we left the karaoke parlor, and the reason she had chosen to contact me in the first place.
And then there was Amasawa, who had joined hands with H?sen to try and get me expelled. But even then, it was more than possible that she might’ve just been after the 20 million point bounty on my head.
In any case, I still didn’t have a single shred of evidence to connect any of them to the White Room.
If I showed even the slightest hint of weakness, I could be swallowed whole, and it seemed like this would continue to be the case for a while.
And just like that… May 1st had finally arrived. The day that the results of the special exam were to be announced.
During the 6th and final period of the day, some time was set aside to present our scores.
“I will now present the results of the special exam. While everything will be displayed up here on the blackboard, it will be displayed on your tablets as well so you can check what you want in detail.”
Thanks to our tablets, we could zoom in on the scores we wanted to check without even looking at the board.
I could feel Horikita’s eyes fixated on me. There was no doubt that this special exam had been the most difficult one yet. It was highly unlikely that the two of us would end up getting the same score.
On the day of the exam, Horikita had chosen math as the subject for the two of us to compete over.
Before long, the screen on the blackboard swapped over and the test results were displayed on our tablets.
Most students didn’t care about the scores of others, prioritizing their own scores instead.
I, on the other hand, prioritized checking the performance of our class as a whole.
In terms of expulsions… it seemed like we had successfully managed to avoid losing anyone.
Upon sorting the overall scores in ascending order, the lowest combined score was 579. From the look of it, everyone had gotten through the exam without a hitch. While everyone had undoubtedly tried their best, it wasn’t like the school would have hit us with such an unreasonably difficult special exam right at the start of the year. In fact, Ike, Sat?, and many others had all easily managed to score more than 250 points. This meant that, back when Chabashira showed us that table of estimated scores at the start of the exam she had probably intentionally lowered the values.
As everyone began to see their scores, sighs of relief and joy-filled shouts could be heard throughout the classroom.
With that out of the way, it was time to check Horikita’s score as well. I filtered the results to only show math and had the results displayed in descending order.
As the subject selected for our competition, Horikita had scored an impressive total of 87 points. Given that the next score after hers was Keisei’s with an 84, I couldn’t even imagine the effort she must’ve put into studying. The students after Keisei all had high Academic Ability ratings at or around an A. That said, the 80 point threshold seemed like a huge barrier for most students, no matter the subject. After all, roughly 10% of the exam was based on concepts that went completely beyond the scope of the first-year curriculum, not to mention the difficulty of the exam itself.
As the class was brimming with delight over successfully getting through another exam, a commotion gradually began to arise amongst some of the students.
Of course, I was already well aware of what had happened. Chabashira was staring at me from up at the podium, along with several other students who had realized what happened. This reaction was understandable though, given that my name was placed just above Horikita in the results for the math test.
“A p-perfect score…!? This… Seriously?”
Nobody in the class had managed to score above a 90 on any given test, no matter the subject.
That is, except for me and my score in math.
Incidentally, I scored around a 70 in each of the other subjects.
Most students probably couldn’t understand why I had scored so phenomenally well on only one of the tests.
These written exams had been several times more difficult than I had anticipated. While there was a relatively high risk of getting a perfect score, I had very deliberately refused to cut any corners with my performance. It would inevitably attract the attention of my classmates and the entire school as a whole, but after considering what Tsukishiro was likely to do in the future, I figured that it wouldn’t be a problem to show a glimpse of this side of myself beforehand.
In fact, from a future perspective, making the first move would probably end up saving me a lot of trouble later on.
Under normal circumstances, Sud? would probably be raising a fuss together with Ike. And while he was surprised, he simply remained seated and quietly stared at me.
Given that he already knew about the actions I had taken so far and the incident that had taken place with H?sen several days ago, it made sense that he would be somewhat less surprised than the other students.
In any case, this past April, things had started to change quite a lot. At this point, the students who were staring at me with strange gazes would probably begin asking questions, and I needed to be prepared to answer them.
Since class was still in session, nobody was able to reach out to talk to me about my scores, but that changed once school was out for the day.
As soon as Chabashira dismissed us, the first person to approach me wasn’t Horikita, but Keisei of the Ayanok?ji Group.
“Kiyotaka, do you have a moment?”
It would be no exaggeration to say that Keisei boasted the highest grades out of anyone in Class D, so he knew well just how difficult it was to get a perfect score. He undoubtedly had his fair share of questions about what had happened.
“I’m sorry, but could you postpone that for now, Yukimura-kun? I’d like to have a few words with him first.”
Before I could respond, Horikita cut in and pushed him away.
“Yeah. Sorry, Keisei. We’ll talk later.”
As I left the classroom together with Horikita, many of my classmates had their eyes locked on me, not just Keisei, Haruka, and Airi.
After walking together in silence for a bit, Horikita eventually stopped and, upon confirming that we were alone, turned around to face me.
“I won’t make any excuses. I did everything I possibly could, and got a score that I’m satisfied with.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a rematch?”
“I couldn’t even understand what those final questions meant, let alone try to solve them. I don’t even know when I’m expected to learn those concepts the usual way.”
“Theory of measurement, Lebesgue integrals… maybe sometime around college, I think?”
I didn’t know very much about that sort of thing, so I couldn’t give her an exact answer.
After all, even if I were to tell her that I learned how to do them as a child, it would be of no help at all.
“…Forget it. It was stupid of me to even ask in the first place.”
As if she had given up on something, Horikita forced out a sigh and stared at me with a clouded look in her eyes.
“It’s frustrating, but I admit defeat. The events of these last couple days have pretty much forced me to recognize your abilities. Dragging my heels any more than this would just be foolishness on my part.”
Horikita had fought admirably, but praising her now seemed like it would probably end up backfiring on me.
“About the conditions you set earlier?”
“Ah, there you are, Ayanok?ji.”
Horikita was interrupted just as she was probably about to start talking about the Student Council.
It was our homeroom teacher, Chabashira, who had apparently come looking for me.
“What do you want from me?”
“How awfully cold. Where would you be if not for my help the other day?”
“Indeed. You were very helpful back then.”
“I’m going home for today. We’ll talk later.”
Naturally, Horikita didn’t seem willing to talk in Chabashira’s presence, so she proceeded to excuse herself.
Once Horikita was out of sight, Chabashira turned to face me.
“I see I’ve interrupted you, but it’s urgent. Acting Director Tsukishiro is asking for you. Come.”
It was so important that I absolutely had to be told, even if that meant interrupting someone to do so.
Keeping a few steps ahead of me with her eyes fixed forward, Chabashira began to talk.
“Just so you know… According to Mashima-sensei, it seems like Acting Director Tsukishiro didn’t do anything out of the ordinary during the special exam.”
“That makes sense. After all, he took action ahead of time. That is, during the preparatory phase of the exam.”
During the exam itself, he was simply waiting for the results.
“What are the chances that things might get more heavy-handed moving forward?”
“What do you mean?”
“Being stabbed with a knife is no laughing matter, you know. Your father took action, didn’t he?”
“My hand has nothing to do with that.”
I hadn’t told Chabashira the details of what had happened. Of course, the same went for the 20 million point bounty. I didn’t think she had heard about any of it elsewhere either.
“If that’s the case, then it’s fine. I was thinking he might have tried to restrain you and take you out of the school by force.”
“He’d need a certain amount of manpower for that. It’s nothing you need to be worrying about.”
Something like that could work on a small rabbit of sorts, but a human being would be a different story.
“Great. I need you here, I need you to be useful for me. Your perfect score on the math test has made it clear to me just how special you really are after all.”
Getting a perfect score had many downsides and, while few, this was but one of the side effects.
Before long, we arrived at the reception office.
Leaving Chabashira behind, I ventured into the room alone.
“Thank you for coming all the way out here to meet me, Ayanok?ji-kun.”
“Sending my homeroom teacher to come and get me like this… What are you planning? She might suspect something.”
I said nothing of the fact that I had already drawn Chabashira over to my side.
I put on an act, pretending that I was surprised about suddenly being called upon by the Acting Director.
“Well, as the Acting Director, it wouldn’t be proper for me to come to your classroom, now would it?”
He kindly motioned for me to take a seat, but I disregarded it, choosing to stand instead.
Upon noting that, he finally began to talk.
“Now that April has come to a close, have you managed to figure out who the student I sent is? I was just thinking I should ask to find out.”
This seemed to be related to his promise that he would back off if I managed to discover the identity of the White Room student by the end of April.
“Unfortunately, I still don’t have any idea of who it might be.”
“What a concise response. Shouldn’t you at least list off the names of the students who you found reasonably suspicious?”
“I won’t speak of things I’m not certain of. At least, not in this situation.”
“I see. So that child has managed to stay hidden quite well, it seems.”
With a satisfied expression, Tsukishiro nodded, almost as if he were impressed with the enforcer’s performance thus far.
“I haven’t been able to sense their presence at all. They’ve managed to cover their tracks quite beautifully.”
“They’ve worked hard these past several months on a specially-built curriculum tailored to make them into a full-fledged high school student.”
So, he had taken such elaborate measures ahead of time, is it? Well, if not, there would be no point in bringing it up.
“It seems that you, on the other hand, had to go through quite a lot of trouble when you first came here. Between your speech, attitude, way of thinking, and even how you chose to spend your time, you were highly unnatural in all respects.”
Tsukishiro grinned in amusement, as if he’d been watching from close by all along.
It seemed like he was merely teasing me, attempting to emphasize the notion that he was in complete control of the situation.
“The image of what an ordinary high school student should be like was something I had to come up with on my own after all.”
“Anyway, at least you didn’t manage to catch onto their identity. I’m satisfied with that. You can leave now.”
With this, Tsukishiro dismissed me, bringing our discussion to a close. He didn’t seem to have any intention of pressing me about the bandage wrapped around my left hand. However, I stood my ground and continued to speak.
“Acting Director Tsukishiro, could it be that you miscalculated something?”
“And whatever do you mean by that?”
“It’s already May. Didn’t you want to have this settled by the end of April?”
“No no. There’s no need to rush things. I’ve been given a surprisingly long extension.”
“Is that so? I was thinking that you must’ve run into some… unexpected trouble.”
“How interesting. And what’s your basis for that?”
“At the very least, I got the impression that you’d been fully prepared to force my expulsion this time around. The only thing that needed to happen was for the White Room student to make contact and partner up with me. However, none of the first-year students ever ended up doing something like that.”
Of course, there were those such as Tsubaki who had wanted to pair up with me, but I wasn’t going to count something as trivial as that.
“In fact, I’m almost tempted to start thinking that there isn’t even a White Room student amongst the first-years at all.”
“But you don’t really think that, do you?”
“It just seemed unconvincing, is all.”
“Well, thanks to the OAA app, I was aware that you were having trouble finding yourself a partner up until about halfway through the exam. However, you are an exceptional person. As such, it was determined that it would be too risky to send in my enforcer only to have you uncover their identity so easily. I thought that it would be wiser to try for another time instead.”
“Or perhaps the White Room student disobeyed your orders and took action of their own accord. When put that way, everything seems to fit together quite nicely.”
“Dear lord. You sure come up with some interesting ideas.”
Amused, Tsukishiro narrowed his eyes; Taking a sip from the cup of tea he had prepared on his desk.
After a brief moment of silence, he put the cup down.
“Very well. It’s a bother to have you seek credibility from my words and the like, but I’ll admit it. It’s true that I had planned on guaranteeing your expulsion this time around. However, that child simply disregarded it.”
While Tsukishiro had denied it at first, he promptly changed his tune and admitted the truth.
“They’re just a child, after all. So if they’re just going through a classic rebellious phase, it’s fairly endearing, but if not… then I might not be able to take this matter so lightly.”
The very student that Tsukishiro had sent to infiltrate the school had gone and disobeyed his orders.
If that really were the case, it would be a heavy situation indeed.
“Do take care, Ayanok?ji-kun. I wasn’t the one who chose to send in someone from the White Room this time. Furthermore, seeing that the enforcer is disregarding my instructions and acting of their own discretion, I fear that the higher-ups may very well be thinking of something suspicious.”
“Did they give up on you? Your performance has been fairly terrible.”
“That may be true. However, the fact that I was told to have you expelled hasn’t changed. Even if I’m being used as a pawn, I’ll simply continue to follow the orders I receive. If I fail and end up getting cast aside, well, that’s that. I’ll simply move on to my next posting.”
I had thought of the White Room student and Tsukishiro as one and the same. But now, with this, there was an emerging possibility that the relationship between them wasn’t quite so cut and dry. That said, if what he was saying was true, then why?
If they worked together to expel me, they’d certainly have a better chance of succeeding.
Or, was this all just a bluff meant to deceive me?
Was the White Room student running wild…? Or was ‘that man’ pulling the strings from behind the scenes?
In terms of probability, I’d say that each of these two options was equally likely.
It was also important for me to keep in mind just how deceptive the man known as Tsukishiro really was.
He didn’t seem hurried, nor was he discomposed in the slightest.
“One last thing… If that child is going so far as to ignore your father’s intentions, then depending on the circumstances, you might even be better off choosing to get expelled yourself. After all, the more unshakable your position as the White Room’s magnum opus may be, the more unfathomable the envy and hatred you’d receive for it. I shudder to even imagine what will become of you before they’re satisfied.”
In the face of Tsukishiro’s serious, and yet comical warning, I simply turned around and walked away, leaving the reception room behind.
Special Exam ? Overall Ranking
1st Place ? Class 2-A ? Average Score: 725
2nd Place ? Class 2-C ? Average Score: 673
3rd Place ? Class 2-D ? Average Score: 640
4th Place ? Class 2-B ? Average Score: 621
Class points as of May 1:
Class 2-A, led by Sakayanagi ? 1169 points
Class 2-B, led by Ry?en ? 565 points
Class 2-C, led by Ichinose ? 539 points
Class 2-D, led by Horikita ? 283 points