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1.4

Excluding some cases, such as Horikita’s class being exposed through an act of betrayal, it’s ostensibly unknown until the day of the event which stall locations each class has and what kind of stand they decided on. However, the bigger the scale of the event, the more preparations must be made in advance for the day of the event.

In fact, each of the classes began steadily working on the places where they were expected to set up their stalls. In the midst of all this, surprising information came to light from the 3rd year Class A, led by Miyabi Nagumo.

Rumors flew that they were going to rent out a large space in the gymnasium and put on an exhibit combining a “haunted house” and a “maze,” as if they had no intention of hiding it from the start.

Perhaps it wasn’t Nagumo’s plan, but the consensus of the class was to let them do what they want. They were handling the festival in a way that made others think that winning was secondary.

Just looking at the props being brought in from afar, one can see that a reasonable amount of money was invested. As if to prove this, the 3rd year Class A finally announced their own pre-opening yesterday. They allowed students who wanted to experience the maze haunted house and began to solicit opinions. I can't help but feel their determination to present a high-quality exhibition to the guests on the day of the festival.

As someone who’s new to the cultural festival, I wanted to experience firsthand what the other classes were going to put on, no matter what form it took.

After school, I went to the gymnasium to participate in the pre-open event. Perhaps because the pre-opening was held over several days, there weren’t many first-year and second-year students in the gym, even on the first day of the event.

The gymnasium, with its dimmed lights, had a slightly frightening atmosphere. Not long after I got to the end of the line, I heard a familiar voice.

“That's great of the president. I can't believe he’s going to show it off to the public so openly.”

“If it's this big, it's not easy to keep it hidden. It was a wise decision to release the information early if it was also for practice.”

I briefly glanced back and saw that the two approaching me were Ichinose and Kanzaki. Apparently, like me, they came to see how things were going and to scout the area.

“Ah...”

As they were about to line up, my presence naturally came into their line of sight. Ichinose was the first to react, bowing her head and averting her eyes.

Kanzaki silently took one look at Ichinose and I and got in line. An awkward silence was setting, and the line didn’t move as fast as I would’ve liked. The third-year students also weren’t able to proceed smoothly, perhaps because it was the first day.

“Yes, that's right. I'm sorry, Kanzaki-kun, but can I leave it to you...?”

It was obviously a random request, but Kanzaki nodded his head in acceptance without question.

“Well, see you later.”

Ichinose, who’s never capable of rudeness, passed on a few words to me as well and left the line. Only Kanzaki and I were left behind, the atmosphere was heavy. Even a student who knew nothing about the situation was likely to realize a bit of the reason. Especially for Kanzaki, the situation would be clearer than daylight.

“How are you doing?”

I tried asking him something but Kanzaki’s face turned grim. 

“Do you think I’m doing good?”

There was no way that Ichinose’s class, which was slowly dropping class points, could be in good shape.

It would’ve sounded like a partial provocation.

I filled in my name and received an explanation of the rules. The rules were basically bare minimum manners.

Cell phone use is forbidden in the exhibition, always put your phone on silent mode. No loud chit-chat. Do not stay inside for no reason. Basically, don't touch the production with your hands.

By the time I finished reading the rules, Kanzaki left the line and turned his back to me. He was probably waiting for Ichinose to come back. I wasn’t sure when she’d be back but I have a feeling it’ll be after I’m long gone. 

After signing the agreement and stepping away from Kanzaki, I stepped inside. The walls of the haunted house are naturally narrow and visibility is quite poor. The light, which seemed to have been bought at a uniform store, was wrapped with tape, perhaps to narrow down the light source, so it doesn’t serve much purpose as a light.

Recently, I’ve often used the Internet to research cultural festivals, but I wonder if it’s possible to produce such high quality displays. I was honestly surprised at the third-year’s advanced technical skills, or rather, the third-year Class A’s.

I ignored the ghosts and began observing more carefully. It's not surprising, but the atmosphere was basically created with decorated ornaments, and most of the important and frightening parts were hand-made.

The monster’s long necks were timed to the incoming guests as the students lurked behind them.

The fallen warrior that jumped out and drew his sword, of course, was done by someone else.

There were several tricks that were clearly still in production, but in the festival, they’ll be completed with improved quality.

Although it may not be as popular with adults, it may be very well-liked by their families, especially the children. If the price is high, people tend to shy away, but if it is desired by children, their purse strings will be loosened. This will be an important factor in further solidifying the policy of the maid café.

We were about halfway down the exhibition when we came to a sign that said, “Take a left.”

Just as I was about to follow the sign, a shadow moved in my field of vision. It seemed to be trying to scare me again with a new trick.

“Whoa! Ah ah ah!?”

I was supposed to be the one screaming, but the ghost jumped out, stumbled on a step in front of me, and fell over. I didn't help them because I thought it might be staged, but when I saw them screaming in agony, I was convinced that it was an unexpected accident.

In this darkness, it was no wonder such an accident happened…

“Ouch, ouch!!!”

It turned out to be Asahina Nazuna, a third-year Class A student.

“Are you okay, senpai?”

It's a scary image in a way, reaching out to a ghost that shouldn't be alive.

“Oh, thank you for that.”

Apparently unable to stand on her own, she sat down on the ground. I couldn't just leave her there, so I decided to lend a hand.

“Which way’s the exit?”

“What? The exit? Maybe this way... or... that way..?”

“If you're worried, let's turn around.”

I remember the way to the entrance, so I should be able to get back soon with a little help.

“Don't worry, trust your senpai..!”

She raised her voice in pain. It was because she tried faking a decisive display in vain. It was a very unreliable deception, but it would be better to listen to a senior.

It would be faster than me feeling my way to the exit from scratch. After a bit of hesitation and a few screams of terror from my classmates, I reach the exit with my scared senpai in tow.

I intended to immediately walk away, leaving Asahina in the care of the third-year booth, but due to the pre-opening, there didn't seem to be any students available.

“Don't worry about me. Thank you, Ayanokōji-kun. I'm sure I'll be fine after a little rest.”

I crouched down to check her ankle.

“Woah what are you doing?”

“Let me see.”

“Oh, um, sure…”

It's too early to say it was just a slight twist, but it's starting to swell. If she doesn't get proper treatment, it could have repercussions later.

“I think you should go to the infirmary. Wouldn't it be hard to be out of the lineup at the festival?”

“Yeah, I guess. Yeah, I think I'll do that.”

She tried to stand up and walk alone, but when she realized the pain wouldn’t allow her to do so, she shifted her plan to standing on only her left leg.

However, every time she took a small jump, the impact circulated to her right leg, resulting in a bitter and agonized expression.

“I'll lend you a hand after all.”

“Ugh… but…”

I'm sure her hesitance is partly due to embarrassment, but it seems there are other reasons why she isn’t willing to lend me her hand.

“Are you worried Nagumo might see us?”

“How did you know…?”

“Well, I just had a suspicion.”

“If he saw Ayanokōji-kun getting involved with a Class A student, it would probably stir some trouble for you. I can't let myself trouble you, can I?”

It seems she’s more worried about me than herself.

“There's no need to worry. I'm sure Nagumo, the student council president, doesn't take me seriously anymore.”

“Is that so?”

“I think he realized that he was being overbearing.”

I decided to lend Asahina a hand and take her to the infirmary.


“Thanks, you know.”

She was a bit conspicuously dressed, which was a problem, but I guess that couldn't be helped. I lent her a shoulder and we made it to the infirmary with a few curious stares. The doctor immediately sat her down on the bed to give her some treatment.

Asahina was instructed to wait a little before leaving. As I was about to leave, she called out to me. 

“Speaking of which, Ayanokōji’s class was met with a disaster weren’t you?”

Missing my chance to leave, I turned around and was left with no choice but to speak.

“Are you talking about leaked information regarding the maid café?”

“Yes.”

This morning, that very scheme was carried out by the hands of Ryūen.

The whole school got to know about the maid café event we were secretly working on. Of course, there are more disadvantages to having your idea known at an early stage.

“Ryūen’s class also decided to participate in a maid café.”

Due to the fact we have a competitor, we’ll have to compete for the same customers. 

“We can only hope that, by having two classes competing with similar concepts, there will be no others following the trend.”

“If you have three or four classes with the same exhibit, it's only going to make the competition for customers much worse.”

Chasing after them will only increase the risk. It's not impossible for us to craft a strategy to attain a one-sided victory, but it won't be easy to beat those of us who are devoting a lot of resources to the event. Soon after, the doctor brought bandages and other treatment tools. I ended up observing the treatment process. The treatment was over quickly, and the doctor said that if she waited a few days in a rested state, she should be able to walk without any problems. When it became clear that there would be no issue with the festival, Asahina simultaneously let out the pain and relief she was enduring.

“Oh, thank God. I didn't want to bother the class with something like this.”

“The results won't change the placement of the classes, so it's not something you need to worry about, is it?”

If they got last place at the festival, they wouldn't lose any class points.

“That's not going to happen. But there's nothing better than having lots of class points, you know. There are even quite a few of my classmates that are against Miyabi being hands-off this time.”

Asahina continued with her eyes downcast.

“Students who decide not to win need as many class points as possible, right? Even at the cultural festival, if you placed first, that's more private points you can get before graduation.”

Due to the laws set in place by Nagumo, it’s only natural that they would want as many private points as possible in order to graduate from Class A. 

Meanwhile, Class A can’t completely abandon the rest of the classes. They’ll need to continue to participate just like other students. 

“In case you're wondering, Nagumo is saying that he’s going to let the non-A’s compete and pick one student from the class that takes first place,” she said. 

As a result, the complaints from the three other classes won't be as strong. But even then, they can't be completely suppressed without showing willingness to get as many class points as possible.

The pressure on Class A, which has no interest in winning, comes through with different circumstances. 

“You know what we were talking about earlier, right? How Miyabi wasn’t keeping an eye on you anymore?”

“What about it?”

“At first I thought that was true. But I think that might be false.”

“Why is that?”

“There was never really a clear winner between you and Miyabi, was there?”

“That's true.”

Nagumo and I never went head to head to settle our dispute for good. 

“If that's the case, then I don't think it's over.”

“I don't have the intention to fight him.”

It’s simply a waste of time regarding this entire ordeal.

“I don’t think that even matters. It’s not entirely about you anymore, Ayanokōji-kun. Miyabi could start targeting people close to you.”

Having watched Nagumo by her side for the past three years, Asahina could clearly envision it.

“Like former student council president Horikita, Nagumo likes to compete, doesn't he?”

“Uh, yeah, that's for sure.”

“Has Nagumo ever been clearly beaten by someone or something? Has he ever had a slight setback?”

Although, I'm sure you can guess that by looking at Nagumo's attitude up to now.

“Miyabi’s never stumbled, at least not to my knowledge.”

Nagumo’s classmates have an unshakable trust in him. 

“It would be an unquestionable fact that Student Council President Nagumo is an excellent person. If he wasn’t competent, it would be impossible for him to achieve his OAA or become student council president.”

There are more than a few areas where political maneuvering alone cannot help.

“That guy likes being number one. That's why he fought to be the top of this school. In the end, he even became the student council president, so he's really a man of his word.”

“However, if you asked me whether or not Nagumo is the strongest student, I would immediately deny it.”

“How can that be...? He’s never lost to anyone in particular.” Asahina was surprised by my words.

“I think it's because he’s never had good opponents.” It's not that Nagumo’s weak but there’s no doubt that his opponents were weak. “I think his greatest misfortune was that he didn't have anyone equally as capable, or even more so, willing to compete with him in his year.”

“You mean he didn't have a good... Rival?”

“That's right.”

Unfortunately, by competing only with lower-ranked students, Nagumo was able to attain number one without much effort. Of course, he may have originally started as second or third best, but he soon overtook the others and became the sole runner.

When he glanced back after finishing the race, he saw that no one was chasing him.

All of them either gave up and walked or stopped altogether because they were incapable of beating Nagumo.

At times, there may have been people around him who were as talented as him, such as Kiryūin, but if they didn’t try to catch up and overtake Nagumo, they were no different than weeds and pebbles on the side of the road. The fact that he didn’t experience the extremity and difficulty of competition alongside the frustration of losing from the outset can be seen as the cause of Nagumo’s warped thinking. 

The fact that he’s planning and executing strange revenge tactics against me isn’t out of any sense of defeat or inferiority, but only to bring me to the forefront of the stage.

When he asked for a one-on-one match at the sports festival, he never thought he would lose. Of course, he didn't know everything about me, but even if he had seen my full strength up close, Nagumo wouldn’t have doubted his victory.

Nagumo had never experienced losing, rather, only winning streak after winning streak.

In the true sense of the word, Nagumo Miyabi is a man who has never known defeat.

“I wish we could just stop fighting in this school.”

“Is that so?”

“I just hope nothing will happen to me...”

This cultural festival has blatantly shown the change in Nagumo's behaviour, which was indirectly conveyed to the public. To the masses, it would appear that Nagumo's belligerence and curiosity have simply been suppressed. In reality, this is not true. This is merely the calm before the storm. Nagumo will take action against me or others after this. It may not be enough to expel one or two people. The price for neglecting Nagumo... it wouldn't be unexpected if numerous people get expelled. If we leave a bomb to balloon up to a dangerous level, there's no doubt it’ll have catastrophic consequences.

I recalled Horikita Manabu's words, “Nagumo's methods make a lot of people unhappy.” That is half true. Of course, I don't deny that I played a part in the seniors’ misery, but the original plan was to just mess with Nagumo's emotions and thought process. I wasn’t able to achieve the latter. Students who wouldn’t have originally graduated in Class A due to Nagumo's methods are indeed getting that chance. Not only third-year students, but also first-year and second-year students have received class transfer tickets, albeit on a limited basis. Although there are restrictions on how to use them, they are products that previously didn’t exist. If it had concerned me up until last year, I would’ve watched Nagumo's behavior with more interest.

“I'm starting to get a little interested in Student Council President Nagumo.”

“Did I hear you right?”

“Mhm.”

An interest that I’ve never felt before, not even once, welled up from the depths of my heart.

“I knew you were strange.”

After casting her gaze down at her bandaged leg, Asahina gave a small laugh.

“It may have been a coincidence that we met, but maybe that's why Nagumo wants to fight.”

Looking back at this “coincidence,” it was also a major factor in my making contact with Asahina.

Coincidence.

I was able to formulate a conclusion in my conversation with her.

The coincidences I just mentioned are uncontrollable. However, it does not mean that they are completely uncontrollable.

Coincidences can change the form of the conversation, depending on your point of view and the way you look at it.

Asahina Nazuna, the amulet, the existence of coincidences, and Nagumo Miyabi. This is not bad for a single test case.

Just as success awaits us after a series of failed experiments.




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