After school, when the students' excitement for the school trip reached its peak, I was invited out by a certain person.
This person wanted to meet me on a bench near Keyaki Mall.
Kei had promised to hang out with Satō and some other girls at the dormitory today so there was no need to worry about her.
Of course, I could’ve ignored the message or asked them to reschedule, but the timing was convenient for me.
I was curious to know how they were doing, so it would be better to meet them. I replied that I would see them soon and decided to head to the appointed place.
Since I arrived 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, I decided to sit on a bench and wait. It was just after school and students were passing by the bench on their way to Keyaki Mall.
I was curious why they chose such a conspicuous place to meet. It could be that they were afraid that I would be wary and refuse to meet them, but this was out of character for them.
The fact that they went to the trouble of contacting me in advance was also at odds with their usual behavior. Was it simply a psychological issue, or was there another force at work?
For a while after that, I watched the crowd of students heading to Keyaki Mall.
The appointed time arrived, but the person didn’t seem to have arrived yet. I decided to continue surfing the web without worrying about it too much.
As I was killing time on my cell phone, I heard a girl's voice from a distance, directed at me. I looked up and found that it was the person who sent me the message, Amasawa Ichika.
Nanase, who was in another class, was also with her.
In contrast to the smiling Amasawa, Nanase seemed slightly surprised. Waving her hand as she approached, she stopped a few dozen centimeters in front of me.
“Sorry to keep you waiting!”
“I see Nanase is with you.”
I couldn’t ignore her since she was right in front of me, so I mentioned it as a formality.
“Yes. Please forgive me for being present without informing you.”
“No, there's no need to apologize. It was a bit unexpected, though.”
I had assumed that today's call would be a one-on-one discussion with Amasawa. That assumption was soon answered by Amasawa's words.
“The reason I was late was because Nanase-chan stopped me.”
Saying this, she pointed her finger at Nanase as the one responsible.
“And she also asked to come along with me. Did you really want to see Ayanokōji-senpai that badly?”
“Oh, is that so?”
Nanase was a bit flustered, but quickly corrected Amasawa's words.
“I was curious about what Amasawa-san was doing, so I followed her, but I didn't know that she was meeting up with Ayanokōji-senpai here.”
“Eh~? Didn't I tell you? I thought I did.”
“Only after we had already approached him.”
“Oh ho, you may be right.”
So that was why she was so flustered when her eyes met mine.
I listened as the two first-year students explained the situation.
I guess Nanase had her own reasons for being here, seeing as how she didn't simply walk away. I put Nanase aside for the moment and turned my attention to Amasawa.
“I heard you were absent from school for a while?”
“You know very well, don't you? I'm sure you were curious about me after all, so you looked into me? If it’s Ayanokōji-senpai, you're welcome to stalk me.”
Amasawa hadn’t been seen at school since the end of the festival and the holidays.
I doubt it was because she was sick.
“I was the one who reported it to Ayanokōji-senpai.”
“Huh~, so that means Nanase-chan is my stalker!” Amasawa deliberately overreacted and raised both hands.
“A girl, huh? Well, this is the age of diversity, right? And Nanase-chan is cute and adorable, right? Maybe it's possible.”
“Please don't twist reality in your favor.”
Nanase calmly told Amasawa, who was in high tension.
“That’s exactly why I approached Amasawa-san today. She had been absent from school ever since Yagami-kun was expelled. It was obvious that it wasn’t a physical issue, but a mental one. It’s natural to distrust her when she suddenly returns to school.”
It’s only normal to keep a close eye on the movements of White Room students who have suddenly resumed attending school.
Yagami Takuya. I considered the possibilities and there is no doubt that he was from the same generation as Amasawa.
As fellow students, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that Amasawa had strong feelings for her ally, Yagami.
“When I found out that you were going to meet Ayanokōji-senpai here, I couldn't turn away,” she said.
“You sound like a knight protecting her senpai.”
“It's not anything that great, but I judged that, with your current state of mind, Amasawa-san, I don't know what you'll do.”
It may seem like a coincidental sequence of events, but Nanase must’ve been making her own speculations. It was hard to imagine Amasawa coming to school solely to attend classes after a vacation.
“So that’s how it is.”
Amasawa was trying to act cheerful up to this point, but I still didn't sense her usual energy.
“It's a little disturbing, but I thought it was okay.”
“If you're still in school, that means you've given your own answer, right?”
When I asked this, Amasawa's smile quietly receded.
It seems that this wasn't the case, as I could see something wavering in her eyes.
“Why didn't you instruct them to take me with Yagami? You could’ve expelled me along with him if you wanted.”
“You were prioritizing your own enjoyment of this school over expelling me, at least that's how I perceived it. I didn't see the need to have you expelled.”
No, it was initially the same with Yagami as well. Although we never found a chance to discuss it directly, if he had prioritized remaining in school, there would’ve been no need to expel him.
“I haven't given you an answer yet. I'm sure there's no place for me even if I go back anyway… It's just that the time passed while I was thinking about that.”
After saying this, she smiled to herself.
In other words, she hadn't decided whether she was going to stay or move on… Or turn on me.
“But you've still found some kind of direction. That's why you called me here, isn't it?”
“Well, yes. I'm starting to think that if I have the option to stay, I might as well. I can't go back to the White Room, and even if I leave, I don't know where my parents are. I don't want to be forced to find a part-time job in order to live.”
If you're on the streets, you have to do whatever it takes to stay alive. However, as long as you stay in this school and don't drop out, you’re guaranteed to live until graduation. Moreover, the school will eventually buy back your private points.
Even though it won’t be an equivalent exchange, even half the monetary value would provide substantial capital. It would be possible to use it and find a legitimate job down the road.
There was a third option. Amasawa didn’t seem to be considering it, but in fact, there was the possibility of finding her parents and returning to them.
However, if she was formally declared a dropout from the White Room, there was no guarantee regarding how she would be treated.
In other words, whether or not that option is available would be contingent on Amasawa's parents. Firstly, they must be wealthy, famous, or otherwise powerful. If the White Room knows that the child is famous, they’re more likely to treat the child with respect. And secondly, the parents must be in need of a daughter and willing to accept her.
If these two conditions were met, there may be an opportunity to start a normal life.
Still, there was no need to force that option now.
Amasawa, perhaps bothered by our silence, stated in a subdued voice, “I've been thinking about this school for a long time. I've decided to stay. As long as Ayanokōji-senpai doesn't mind…”
“What if I ask you to leave?”
“I'll drop out.”
Would she cling to me, get angry, or even be saddened?
I wondered how she would react, but Amasawa immediately replied as such.
“You have no hesitation. Don't you want to get revenge for Yagami?”
“I don't want to cause you any more trouble.”
That's how prepared she was to come to this place, in her own way.
“Those words don't suit the belligerent Amasawa-san.”
“That's correct. Only Ayanokōji-senpai gets this kind of special treatment. Other than you, I won’t go lightly on any others in the future.”
This must’ve been her sincere intention. Amasawa seemed to value Yagami very highly as a member of the same White Room generation. It was quite possible that anyone involved in Yagami's expulsion would become Amasawa’s target in the future.
“There’s no reason for me to stop you. If you want to stay, you can do whatever you want.”
I don't know how much encouragement it would provide her, but she happily relaxed her cheeks a little.
“My ability isn't close to that of my senpai, so I'm not even considered a threat?”
“That's not what I meant. I'm one of the people who chose to remain at this school, and it's natural for me to want to support you if you make the same choice.”
Whether we were allies or enemies was a trivial matter. Of course, I won't let her be if she interferes with my plans. I would like to think that she understood that very well from Yagami’s case.
“If that's what you truly believe, Amasawa-san, then I’ll support you as well.”
Nanase's expression seemed to suggest that she had yet to completely lower her guard.
“Hey, something's making my eyes water… This, what's this… This is the first time I've ever felt this way.”
“No, no, there aren’t any tears at all, no matter how I look at it.”
“Haha. I'm so moved by all this anyways.”
She acted the same as always, but it seemed like a means to force herself to be inspired.
“You may not want to be asked this, but what kind of person was Yagami?”
“I'm curious too. I don't even know why he kept going around causing unnecessary trouble before trying to expel Ayanokōji-senpai.”
Why did he hurt Shinohara and her group even though he knew it was risky? Why did he expel an unrelated 1st year Class C student?
The school also announced the incident as Yagami's misconduct, and many people became aware of it. Even someone like Nanase, she must still have many things to worry about.
She pretended to think for a moment but soon began talking.
“I think he was scared. Yagami was afraid of fighting Ayanokōji-senpai. But I'm sure he kept those feelings of fear so deep in his heart that he was unaware of them.”
This was Amasawa’s analysis, who knew Yagami better than anyone else. I didn’t need to gouge her to ask for more details. I'm sure that was the right conclusion.
“In order to escape his fear, he strayed far from his goal without even realizing it…”
This ultimately resulted in him digging his own grave.
“It may take a little more time for me to get back to my normal self. But I'm sure I'll be… Fine again soon.”
There was no need to rush anyways. It hasn't even been a year since Amasawa started school. From now on, she should take her time and consider the path she should take.
“I just wanted to tell you that. Well, I'm going home for today. What about you, Nanase? Do you want to go home with me?”
Nanase shook her head in response to the invitation.
“I'm sorry, but I'm going to talk with senpai for a bit. That's fine, right?”
“I see. Then I'll let you borrow him for today.”
I'm not hers, but this was simply her putting on a brave face.
Amasawa walked toward the dormitory without trying to stay for too long. Nanase and I watched her in silence until she was out of sight, Nanase's profile remaining stern.
“What did you think of her remarks, attitude, and gestures?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m still a little worried about whether or not there’ll be any problems with Amasawa-san's behavior in the future.”
It seemed that the reason she wanted to continue talking was because she was concerned about this.
“You don't trust her?”
“It's not that I don't want to trust Amasawa-san. But I still think we can't let our guard down.”
She was showing a mild expression, but there was no doubt that she didn’t trust her.
“I won't let my guard down. I'm just going to act the same as usual.”
The reason I was at this school was to live my life as a student. I wasn't going to be swayed by adversaries, near or far.
“Then… It’s unnecessary for me to…”
“I appreciate the sentiment. There's nothing better than having even one more ally on your side.”
Nanase continued, though she seemed to be satisfied with my way of thinking to some extent.
“Once again, at the risk of sounding persistent–Ayanokōji-senpai's ability, and the possibility of Amasawa-san's conversion–while understanding those things, please still be careful. It’s an undeniable fact that Amasawa-san’s a student of the White Room. We don’t know what tactics she’ll use.”
It was a strong request from Nanase to be prepared for any possibility.
“I want Ayanokōji-senpai to remain at this school and graduate.”
I won't say it's irrelevant, but Nanase seemed to be more concerned about me than I was myself.
“If you have any trouble, no matter how trivial, please consult me anytime.”
“I understand what you mean. I'll keep it in mind.”
Nanase must’ve finally been satisfied after this exchange.
“Well then, I'm finished here.”
Perhaps thinking that she would be a nuisance, Nanase turned away and headed back to the dormitory.
I was repeatedly told to be on guard against Amasawa, but there was one thing that caught my attention. I decided to push a little further to confirm it.
“I forgot to mention that we're going on a school trip this week.”
“Oh, that's right. Senpai, please enjoy yourself to the fullest. School trips are the best part of school life, you know.”
“That's the plan.”
I still felt uncomfortable. Whether she knew about the school trip or not, there was something she should’ve said to me. But Nanase didn’t even show a pretense of it in this situation.
It was as if she had completely forgotten about it.
“Is there anything you want as a souvenir?”
I stopped Nanase and dug deeper into the school trip.
“Speaking of which, where are you going?”
“Oh, that sounds great, Hokkaido. Mhh… maybe butter?”
“I don't think butter by itself would be a good souvenir.”
If that's what she wanted most, I wouldn't refuse, but it didn't seem to be the case.
“Oh, then I'd like a chocolate-coated potato. They're famous, aren't they?”
“I'm not sure…”
The conversation seemed to be a bit of strange for both of us.
“Chocolate potatoes, I'll look into it later. If I find them over there, I'll buy them.”
Nanase was about to leave again, but I stopped her, my tone firm.
“Nanase, can I ask you something?”
“Yes? What is it?”
The matter of Amasawa and the school trip. Even if ordinary students couldn't determine a connection between the two, Nanase could. No, it would be strange if she couldn't.
“The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that we’ve been talking about Amasawa and the school trip for so long.”
Nanase tilted her head, as if to say she still didn’t understand.
“You still don't understand? Think about it.”
I urged her to ponder this issue, and immediately after saying this, Nanase's soft smile hardened for a moment.
“This school has strict security and is a facility that’s protected from the outside world 24 hours a day. In fact, Tsukishiro had to get inside himself to try to expel me from the school. However, when it comes to school trips, the story is very different. Teachers are out of sight, and there’s a greater need to be vigilant than on a deserted island.”
Yes, the risk should be higher than Amasawa, who had been defanged.
“If you’re familiar with those guys, you can imagine that they can even use aggressive methods like forcing me into their car. If you’re so wary of Amasawa, they would be plenty more dangerous. Shouldn’t a ‘Please be careful,’ be in order? Am I wrong?”
She was checking on Amasawa since she came to school, not knowing what kind of action she would take. And when she made contact, Nanase even showed up here to intervene. There was no way that such a meticulous Nanase wouldn’t have sensed the danger of the school trip.
“I can't believe I'm the one worried about Ayanokōji-senpai, the one who eliminated Yagami-kun and Amasawa-san...”
“That's strange. If that were the case, there would be no need for you to stand by Amasawa's side here today. Besides, it contradicts your persistent warnings. Unlike outside, where many adults may come in large numbers, Amasawa is alone. Even though she’s a White Room student, in terms of danger, she's insignificant.”
Nanase was perplexed, but she immediately opened her mouth… However, no words came out.
“Can't you think of an excuse?”
“What are you talking about? You seem to have misunderstood something.”
It could be seen that she was obviously upset just before this, but Nanase was calm now.
“Maybe it's a misunderstanding. Then tell me again your view on the school trip. You were worried about Amasawa, who might be getting desperate, and kept an eye on her, so why didn't you say anything about your concerns regarding the school trip?”
“I'm ashamed to say this, but I think I was naive in regards to identifying the danger. If you think about it, as Ayanokōji-senpai said, the outside world is full of danger…”
Nanase responded by suggesting that it was simply a lack of awareness. Certainly, if that was really the case, then it was hard to blame her for thinking this way.
But I couldn't believe that so easily.
“I've been curious about something ever since I met you. I thought about the relationship between Tsukishiro, the White Room students, and you. You must’ve been given a lot of instructions by Tsukishiro, but why hadn’t you told me anything concrete regarding his plans?”
Tsubasa Nanase had her feelings exploited by Tsukishiro in order to avenge the death of Matsuo Eiichirou.
On the other hand, Tsukishiro never revealed the identity of the White Room students to Nanase.
“I guess it’s because I’m an ordinary person… It's no wonder they don't trust me since I don't have the same abilities as the White Room students.”
“I didn't set my opinion of Tsukishiro so highly at first. That's because I thought there were more efficient ways for him to force me to leave the school. But, as I got to know him, I changed my mind. I thought he could have driven me out of school through other methods.”
There were so many opportunities that I thought he was holding back on purpose.
“As a result, you weren't expelled. Isn't that because Ayanokōji-senpai's ability exceeded that of former Acting Director Tsukishiro?”
“That may be true. If it were only that simple.”
In other words, this sequence of events may not be so simply structured.
“Going back a bit, I believe there’s another reason why you were wary of Amasawa and didn’t warn me of the dangers of the outside world.”
“My lack of awareness is the truth. What else do you think?”
“It's because you couldn't guess what Amasawa would do as of today, right? And you didn't warn me of the danger of the school trip because you knew the White Room had no intention to do anything?”
If it was already predetermined that no trap would be set, it was no wonder Nanase wasn't worried.
“I’m not sure. How can you say I knew that there was no chance of a trap?”
“That's what I'd like to know.”
“After hearing your story, I've become very aware of the risks regarding the school trip. Now I would like to ask you to be more vigilant regarding this rather than Amasawa-san.”
Even though we continued this back-and-forth for a while, Nanase consistently showed her lack of worrying due to her negligence.
“This is just a theory, but would you listen to it?”
“Tsukishiro had no intention of expelling me from school from the very beginning - that's my hypothesis.”
This hypothesis suggested various correlations, even though it overturned the assumptions made up to this point.
“Isn't that strange? How do you explain the existence of Amasawa-san and Yagami-kun? Yagami-kun was specifically working to get Ayanokōji-senpai expelled from the school, and that's only what we know from his conversation with Amasawa-san.”
“If Amasawa and Yagami were seriously trying to expel me because they were not informed of their true purpose by their superiors, then it makes sense.”
“But what about Acting Director Tsukishiro? He was using his influential position to employ a number of forceful methods.”
“If he was serious, I would’ve been expelled.”
Before it became a matter of ability, he would’ve forcibly buried me through numerous other options.
“I understand what you’re thinking, senpai. Perhaps such an intention was really concealed within. But it’s a little disconcerting that I am involved in that series of events. I don't want to be considered an enemy simply because I overlooked the dangers of the school trip.”
“Then, while we're at it, what about the cultural festival? The people involved with the White Room were nearby, but you didn't even show up in front of me. Is this another one of your lapses in perception?”
“Were you simply too busy with your own class project that your concerns became secondary?”
“No, no. Well, of course I was worried. I also occasionally watched over you...”
“Is that right? Are you sure you want to say you were watching over me? If you say that, I'll have to ask you when and where you were watching me.”
Whatever Nanase's position was, I'm sure she understood me well enough.
If she were to utter a false statement, it would inevitably be exposed. I still remember every detail of the day of the festival.
“At the festival, they didn’t try to force me to leave the school, but they urged me to do so voluntarily. That's why you didn't show up.”
Nanase gulped quietly, suppressing her emotions.
“The White Room's people had no intention of expelling me during the cultural festival or the school trip. No, there was no such plan from the beginning. If this hypothesis is correct, your existence appears extremely strange, Nanase.”
“Did Matsuo really commit suicide? And did his son, Eiichiro, die? Your statement, which I thought was coming from a third party, gave more credibility to Matsuo's death–but if you're here with your mind made up from the beginning, then all credibility is lost.”
What she said on the deserted island, where she stood as an enemy and then switched sides, lost its reliability.
“It's all true, Ayanokōji-senpai. But I'm sure that even if you prefaced it with the fact that it’s a hypothesis, I'm sure I won't be able to clear your doubts.”
The only way to find out whether this was true or not was to investigate it through a family register, for example. Of course, if the White Room was involved, even that would be suspect.
“Under that hypothesis, what’s the reason for my coming to this school? It doesn't explain it.”
“No, it can be explained. It’s consistent with the idea that you are an aid to me. You’re to support me while also keeping watch over me. The fact that you had one altercation with me over Matsuo can be considered as a way to get me to let my guard down.”
Those who fought as enemies and turned to allies. Depending on the time and circumstances, trust can be built in a short period of time.
“This is exactly what Amasawa said about being given the role of a knight...”
They gave Nanase the role of pretending to be an enemy, to gauge my capabilities, before assigning her the role of being an ally.
In that role, by intentionally withholding information from the White Room students, she would be able to make serious deductions and offer me genuine help.
“It's just a theory. There’s still a possibility that they’re actually serious about getting me expelled from the school. Besides, I have nothing to lose either way. If this hypothesis is correct, you’re a genuine ally, and even if it isn’t, you’ll still be an ally.”
The concept behind two sides of a coin doesn’t apply here; both sides have the same picture. But let's keep it in the back of our minds. The possibility that she may not be working to get me expelled.
Then what for?
At what point did she start?
Matsuo's life or death, his son's life or death. Whether this was true or false, it didn't affect the situation very much. If everything that has happened up to this point had been turned upside down, then I would like to…
I'm not sure if it was all a foregone conclusion that I would be enrolled in this school.
“No matter what I say here, it’s unlikely that Ayanokōji-senpai will accept it. The only way is to clear myself of doubts over time.”
“I don't know if there’s a way to clear my doubts, but that's the way it's going to be. I'd rather you treat me the same way you've always treated me.”
“Please wait. I'm not satisfied with... That way.” Nanase quickly bowed her head and briskly made her way home.
Nanase was not as physically gifted as the White Room students. The extent of her academic ability wasn't clear, but even when it came to her intuition, she was currently a step behind Amasawa and the others.
However... Tsubasa Nanase still had something to offer. I had a feeling that there was something more to her.