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Part 7 
“You’re having a string of bad luck, huh, drawing the Trial card and all. I’m sure you’re drawing attention again.” 
As soon as she entered the class that morning, Horikita approached me as she said that. 
“I, too, was distressed by the same thing this morning.” 
“It would’ve been nice if we could trade cards freely within the class. No student who isn’t confident of winning would want the Trial card, and yet we cannot just give it to a student who is confident of winning.” 
Horikita drew the Half Off card. Although the card was useful when you received a penalty, it was as good as useless for students who were aiming for the top. 
“That being the case, you have no choice but to be in the top 30%, and maybe even get a podium finish, isn’t it?” 
“You’re saying that like it has nothing to do with you. As a classmate, could you worry about me a bit more?” 
“If you really want to rely on me, I’ll certainly lend a hand.” 
Horikita was slowly getting cheeky, or rather more difficult to deal with than before. 
That aggravating gaze that seemed to say “What do you want?” made me not want to rely on her. 
“I’m sorry, but if I find someone who wanted to buy it off me, I might just let him have it.” 
“What you decide to do is up to you. Although, it would be nice if you could easily find a buyer. The Trial card affects not just the person holding the card but their entire group. It’s a dangerous risk to take.” 
She was nice and polite while explaining that, but I felt like she was just being sarcastic. 
“For the record, I’m being sarcastic.” 
“Of course.” 
“This is payback for all the times you’ve teased me so far.” 
“I don’t remember teasing you, though…” 
The Trial card was a troublesome thing to have, but it could also serve as a sort of protective charm. I expect there’ll be fewer students who will thoughtlessly ask to group up with me. In the worst case scenario, I might have to take the uninhabited island survival exam solo with this card. 
“Since it’s you, can I take it as you can handle yourself?” 
I could rely on Horikita, but as she was the leader of the class, there were bound to be other students who couldn’t do without her support. It would be better if I could ease her burden as much as possible. 
“Well, I’ll try my best.” 
After I told her that I would get through this on my own, I took my seat. While I was looking up who had drawn which card, I heard Ike, who had come to class late, raise his voice. 
“Huh? You, er… found someone to group up with?!” 
“Yeah, anything wrong with that?” 
It seems like Shinohara had already decided on a group while Ike was away. 
Her partner must be- 
“But, just a while ago I’d just invited you! Anyway, it’s forbidden to form a group without Horikita’s permission!” 
“Forbidden what, I haven’t officially confirmed yet. Well, I’m going to confirm today though.” 
“And what are you talking about, saying that you invited me. Who’s the one who got all horny and ignored me?” 
“Ah, that wasn’t like that! I even turned them down for you, you know!” 
“Turned someone down? Ah, you’re really pissing me off. You really are a horrible person.” 
“Group… Who did you decide to group up with?” 
“What’s it got to do with you?” 
“Nothing, but I’m just curious, okay?” 
“Class B’s Komiya-san. He invited me just after the special exam started yesterday.” 
So it was Komiya. One of them must’ve brought it up while they were coming to school together. 
“Ah? Komiya? Komiya, he’s that flashy guy on the basketball team, right? Unbelievable!” 
Somewhere inside him, Ike must’ve arrogantly assumed that Shinohara would group with him. 
“He isn’t flashy, and I promised to meet up at the cafe after school to discuss it.” 
After saying that, Shinohara turned away from Ike. To the students in the classroom who were eavesdropping on the conversation, it couldn’t be taken as anything more than an extension of their usual arguments. 
After school, Shinohara left the classroom early, as she had mentioned earlier. 
Ike quietly watched Shinohara leave, but then he left the classroom quickly with a look in his eyes, as if he had made up his mind about something. 
“Is this a good time?” 
Yousuke had seen the whole scene, and after Ike left he approached me. 
Maybe to avoid being overheard, he wanted to talk in the corridor, and I obeyed his wishes. 
“About Ike, I don’t think it’s too good to leave him alone like this.” 
“Yeah. He might be a bit arrogant, but Ike’s knowledge and experience will be of use in the uninhabited island survival exam. It’s possible this incident with Shinohara may prevent him from fulfilling his potential.” 
“Yes. Seeing that, I’m also worried about what will happen if he watches the discussion between Shinohara and Komiya while he’s like that.” 
Yousuke was apprehensive, and I understood his concerns. 
It wasn’t a good idea to get into dispute with Class B right now. 
“I’d like to go see what’s going on. If you’re okay with it, can you come along? I don’t think Ike-kun likes me very much.” 
If we were to talk about that, well, Ike didn’t like me either. 
That said, it was normal for Yousuke to feel uneasy. 
“Shinohara said she’s going to meet Komiya at the cafe, right?” 
“Yeah. Shall we go and see what’s going on, just in case?” 
I decided to check out the situation at the cafe in Keyaki mall with Yosuke. 
As we were on our way, we also talked a little bit about the composition of the small groups. 
“I wanted to recommend a plan where all of the 2nd years help each other and fight against the 1st and 3rd years, but it doesn’t seem like any of the other classes want to unite at all. It’s like every class is trying to form their ideal group. It isn’t impossible for us to unite to take a course where absolutely no 2nd years get expelled, but there would be no shortage of pain with that.” 
I discussed this with Horikita yesterday, that deliberately withdrawing from the exams would prevent any drop outs. But the grades that implement that plan would have to bear heavy losses no matter what. And to be honest, it’s a bit unrealistic to expect the whole grade to share that burden. 
That’s why, even after an entire day, there were no students making such an idealistic suggestion. 
“It seems like we can only form groups that leave us with no regrets.” 
“You must’ve been invited by quite a few people, Yosuke?” 
Yosuke was popular with both the boys and the girls, and was excellent in every aspect, so there’s no way nobody has invited him yet. 
“For me, I’d like to select 2 people from Class D to form a group. Instead of aiming for the top places, I’d rather fight to not get penalized.” 
It’s the students of Class D that he should protect, not the other classes. That was the logical way of thinking. If the student was strong and popular, it wouldn’t be a problem for the other person when they formed a group, but for the less powerful students, it would be hard for them to ask for help from anyone else. 
“Is Sakura-san alright?” 
Yosuke was worried about Airi, who was a part of my group and was last in terms of ability. 
“As of now, she’s going to form a group with Akito and Haruka.” 
“Miyake-kun has good motor skills, so I feel the group is well balanced.” 
Although Keisei was left out, thanks to his mind, the other classes were trying to scout him for his mind. It would be a formidable group if he could choose students who could cover for his lack of physical ability. 
However, while we were chasing Ike, a problem surfaced. 

There was a person following us. They had tried their best not to be seen while following me before, but this time they seemed to be prepared to be spotted by me. Ike was walking straight towards Keyaki mall. Then it was me and Yosuke, and after that was the person following us. This state of double-stalking continued on like this. Although ignoring them wasn’t hard, if this continued in the future, it would be a bit troublesome. 
As we were approaching Keyaki mall, I stopped in my tracks. 
“Sorry, Yosuke, but can you go on first?” 
“What is it?” 
“I remembered something I have to take care of. I think I’ll be back in around 10 minutes.” 
“Alright, I’ll call you if something happens.” 
Without asking any questions, Yosuke disappeared into Keyaki mall. 
A little while after that, the student who was following us took that as her cue and walked over. 
It was a classmate, Chiaki Matsushita. 
“You don’t seem very surprised. Did you notice from the start?” 
“I just don’t show any surprise in my expression.” 
Was this the first time since spring break that I’ve talked to Matsushita alone like this? 
No, take away the condition of us being alone, and it’ll still be the first time I’ve talked to her since. 
“What were you and Hirata-kun talking about? About Ike-kun? Or about the uninhabited island survival exam?” 
Matsushita, who was standing by my side, raised her head as she judged the situation. 
“Is that any of your business, Matsushita?” 
“It’s not so much about me, as it’s about us. Ayanokouji-kun, you’re an important existence for us to get into Class A.” 
She seems to think highly of me, but what was her objective? 
For how smart she is, she should have known that trying to flatter me wouldn’t work. 
But I don’t think she approached me now for no reason. 
“Don’t be so cautious, I approached you because I just had something to tell you today as soon as possible.” 
“Something you need to tell me?” 
“The Trial card is an item with a very powerful effect. But it’s difficult to use it. If you’ve got any problems, I would like to help you, Ayanokouji-kun. How about it?” 
Setting aside my thoughts and opinions on the matter, she expressed that she was willing to help me out any time because she was on my side. When I didn’t respond, she looked a bit embarrassed. 
“I guess you won’t answer unless I straight up say it.” 
It wasn’t like I was trying to be mean to her, but I didn’t want to be forced into a conversation while it was crowded. It was after school, and we could see a fair number of students showing up in the area around us. Matsushita must’ve been aware of that, too, so without waiting for an answer, she started speaking. 
“You need to stay in the top of the rankings to avoid the penalty, so it’s hard for you to find people who’ll group with you, right? So I just wanted you to rely on me if you’re in trouble.” 
After replying, as if she’d forgotten to say something important, she added:  
“Of course, during the exam, I’ll completely follow your instructions.” 
That seemed to be what she had gone so far as to chase me to say. 
“Although I’m happy that you’re willing to assist me, if we don’t make it to the top 30%, you’ll be penalized. You know the risks, right?” 
“I do. That’s why I think it’s important for me to cooperate with you to help you.” 
I don’t think she didn’t have any good intentions, but the essence of the matter lay somewhere else. 
While suppressing my desire to hurry up and go to Yosuke, I turned to Matsushita who was walking beside me. 
“Did you judge that your odds of survival are the highest if you grouped up with me?” 
Normally, a group who had the trial card would be more likely to get expelled. Nevertheless, Matsushita offered to assist me, despite the danger. Pure goodwill couldn’t explain it. 
“…So I’ve been exposed?” 
Matsushita narrowed her eyes and smiled, raising the white flag early. 
“I don’t think it’d be difficult to stay in the top ranks if it were you. Even if we don’t end up on the podium, we’re bound to reach the top 30%. It would be more dangerous if I put my friends first and make a half-assed group with them.” 
So this was what Matsushita really meant. She weighed me against her other options to form a group and chose me. 
“I thought you’d get snapped up quickly, Ayanokouji-kun.” 
Greet me as soon as possible. It also made understanding the evaluation of the other person’s intentions easier. 
While it’s something to be grateful for, I never intended to come to a conclusion here from the start. 
There was nothing wrong with Matsushita, but the outcome would’ve been the same no matter who it was. 
“I won’t decide on my group, at least for this month.” 
“You mean that you want to wait and watch how things go?”  
“After all, I’d like to see how the other classes move.”  
I told her the most important factor. 
But the part I cared about was different from what ordinary students cared about. 
The special exam on the uninhabited island required a lot of preparation. 
It was absolutely inconceivable that Tsukishiro had nothing to do with it. 
It had been a month and a half since the last special exam, but he hadn’t made any noticeable moves. 
Day by day we were getting farther away from April, which was when he had planned to expel me from this school. 
Because of the White Room Student’s arbitrary actions, the gears were in chaos. 
They probably have done something in this group formation stage, which can be called the prelude to the battle. 
Matsushita didn’t understand the element of danger involved. If she got dragged into this, it wouldn’t end easily for her. 
“It seems like I won’t get a satisfactory answer now. I see, give it some thought.” 
Maybe she never intended to push me on it. Soon, she waved her hand to say goodbye. 
“Ah, right. Here’s my contact information.” 
Seemingly prepared in advance, she handed me a paper with her ID written on it.  
“There, I’ve said what I wanted to say.” 
Having wrapped up the conversation without wasting any time, Matsushita turned around and  began to walk towards the dormitory. 
“Well, it certainly doesn’t feel bad to have another girl’s contact info.” 
It’s unclear if I’ll be able to meet Matsushita’s expectations in the future.  
 After that, I met up with Yosuke at Keyaki mall. 
“What’s the situation?” 
“I don’t think it’ll be as bad as it can be, but…” 
Following Yosuke’s gaze, I spotted Shinohara and Komiya, who were talking and laughing in the cafe.  
A little further away, I also spotted Ike, who had his back to us as he quietly watched them, depressed. 
“What should we do?”  
“First, if Ike doesn’t show any signs of charging in and going berserk, let’s just see how this scene develops. Carelessly calling Ike out might not lead us to a solution.” 
Yosuke nodded his head in agreement. 
“Anyway, I wanted to ask about Komiya first. Why did Komiya invite Shinohara to his group? If we’re not sure about that, we can’t take any action.” 
“I’ll think about who would be the best person for Ike to group up with if he can’t group with Shinohara.” 
“Please do.” 
We then agreed to gather information separate from each other.


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