Chapter 5: Raising the Curtains
At last this day is finally here. The dawn of the sports festival which is shaping up to be a long day. Wearing jerseys, the entire student body marched in as one just as rehearsed.
But even if it's called a march, most of the students were just walking normally. They only showed enough seriousness to not disrupt discipline.
"I'll show off my good side to Kikyo-chan!".
Ike, who was walking behind me, excitedly voiced his expectations. I wonder how he's intending on showing off when he's one of those people who are not especially good at sports. I could see that it was almost unmistakably a fruitless effort without any secret strategy behind it.
In the opening ceremony, 3rd year Class A's Fujimaki was the one who gave the opening declaration. By the way, on the outskirts of the school grounds, there weren't many but I could see the figures of spectators scattered here and there. They are probably adults who work on-campus. In regards to them, it doesn't seem like the school has set any restrictions. Occasionally, I could see smiles and hands waving.
On the other hand, the teachers were watching over the students with nary a smile on their faces while adults who appear to be medical staff could also be seen.
Furthermore, a cottage that could fit roughly 20 people was built and installed inside was a cooler, a water dispenser and the such. Just like the uninhabited island, the preparations were flawless. By the way, the competing Red Team and White Team were provided with tents installed on opposite sides of the track as though sandwiching it between them.
As such, it has been made so that there could be no possible contact other than during the contests.
"But even so they're very thoroughly prepared. Ultimately, even cameras meant to help with judgement calls have been set up".
For the 100 meter dash that'll be coming up first, a camera was pointed towards a point that appears to be the goal.
"So that means misjudgements and ambiguous results will definitely be avoided".
It appears even if it's by an hairbreadth, they intend on deciding victory and defeat like it's a horserace. That is precisely why contests that are difficult to score like cheerleading and the such are not included in this sports festival.
"The 100 meter dash, which group were you in again?".
"The seventh group".
I answered while looking at the simplistic programme table (the paper on which the order and time of the contests are written).
"It'll be for the better if a formidable opponent does not show up. For the sake of the class, I'll slightly be cheering you on".
"I'll try my best to not place bottom".
After voicing my unambitious goal, we 1st year boys headed out to the grounds for the contest.
Contests such as the 100 meter dash are all held in order starting from the 1st years. Starting from the 1st year boys and ending with the 3rd year girls is the entirety of the event. Then with the break sandwiched in between, it'll switch over and start again with the 1st year girls and end with the 3rd year boys. The contest was about to begin using the printouts each class had submitted beforehand as a basis to decide the pairings.
Since the actual day of the event began, it became clear who would be running in which order from the other classes.
From each class, the selected two making up a total of eight people lined up as one. My turn, as I had told Horikita earlier, was seventh. In total, the 1st year boys formed up into 10 groups.
It was now Sudou's turn, as he would be running in the first group. All the students of Class D watched while holding our breath. The outcome of the sports festival will depend greatly on Sudou. First of all this first event, we'll use Sudou's debut in the race to crush the opponents. The plan is to get everyone pumped up with that same vigor. If Sudou finishes with disappointing results here, there is the possibility that it will have lasting effects.
"From what I can see it doesn't seem like there's anyone worth their salt here. There are many fatties and garish guys here. It's guaranteed Sudou'll place 1st".
I couldn't see any notable students in our school year from the other classes. Like Ike said, it's probably guaranteed already.
"On the contrary, depending on how you look at it, it could also be seen as a loss".
Ideally speaking, for someone with physical abilities like Sudou's, it would have been better if someone fast had been competing.
"But this alone is something that can't be helped, it's up to luck after all".
There was something about the figure of Sudou, in a crouching stance at the starting line, that inspires absolute confidence. Even if he happened to tumble mid-race he could still turn it all around, he gave off the feeling of having such a composure to his surroundings.
Then, as the signal rang out, Sudou rose up perfectly simultaneously and shot forth. Sudou, who had passed a person from the very start, outraced all the other boys as though shaking them off and left them in the dust.
He reached the goal with an overwhelming gap with no one being able to keep up with him. There's nothing more to say about that. As the entire student body watched, as the first runner in the first contest, Sudou seized 1st place as expected.
At the same time, the Professor who had been selected too, properly managed to secure last place as expected but......
Not even giving us time to bask in the afterglow, the signal for the next group to start came. The signals came at 20 second intervals. Approximately 4 minutes would be required for all the 1st year boys to finish running. Since this will be repeated by boys and girls for all the school years, the 100 meter dash would be completed in about 30 minutes according to calculations.
"As expected of Sudou-kun I guess".
Hirata, who's paired up with me, praised him as though he were impressed.
"Yeah. It feels like the other classes have been taken aback too".
He didn't simply take 1st place but also unmistakably left a strong impact. We, the seventh group up, like Sudou and the Professor, also have our roles properly cut out for us.
Hirata, who belongs to the soccer club and is a fast runner, will have a high rank. And as for me, I'd take a rank that's higher even if it's just by one, in other words, it can't be helped even if I lose. Then also there's the matter of standing out and remaining inconspicuous. There are several students from other classes we should be keeping an eye on but amongst the ones I know, those who give off a strong presence like Ryuuen and Katsuragi and the athletic ones like Kanzaki and Shibata, I wonder what group they're in.
The third group shuffled up to the starting point.
"Ohh, baldie....no, I mean Katsuragi is on the first course".
Ike points at his head. The skinhead bathing in the rays of the sun glowed blindingly. Beside Katsuragi, a man I'm familiar with was staring at the goal point with a calm expression.
He's Kanzaki of Class B. So Katsuragi and Kanzaki will be competing against each other, huh?
Meanwhile, the man who's first on the list of those to watch out for, Kouenji of Class D, is also part of the third group but.....
There's no sign of Kouenji on the fifth course he had been assigned to. However, the school did not bother searching for the missing Kouenji and instead treating it as absence, they ended up starting the match right away.
The third group was a free-for-all but it appears as far as speed goes, Kanzaki surpassed them all.
Katsuragi too was by no means slow but it was simply beyond him, and without much fuss, the race ended. Kanzaki took 1st place and Katsuragi took 3rd place. As the race steadily progressed, Hirata realized something.
"Ayanokouji-kun, look there".
What Hirata had noticed was in the direction of the cottage. As I strained my eyes to look, inside it I could see Kouenji who was arranging his hair. He's already finished running, surely that's not the case. But even so, he's way too quick to withdraw.
"He's not participating, it seems".
Up until the opening ceremony he had been honestly obedient or so it seemed but ultimately, it appears he won't be participating in the contests.
Kouenji will probably make the excuse that his feet hurt or that he's not feeling well to wriggle his way out of it.
Since the thought that he would place bottom if he skipped out on all the contests did not even enter his mind, the liability he'd be lies heavy on the class as well as the Red Team.
Class A too, despite having a legitimate reason, also similarly has someone who will be skipping out on all events in the form of Sakayanagi. Assuming Class C and Class B has no absentees then the Red Team will simply have to fill in the hole left by those two people. Quite a handicap.
The contest progresses smoothly.
One after another the groups get finished up and in no time, our turn as the seventh group came. I entered the fourth course and beside me, Hirata entered the fifth course.
Other than us, the other members included Class A's Yahiko but the rest are boys I'm not familiar with. The first ever sports festival of my life. I started off with a starting dash that was neither fast nor slow. Hirata, who ran beside me, slowly but surely passed me by and joined up with the top runners. On the other hand, in front of me were the backs of four people, hence I took 5th place.
Perhaps it's because there wasn't that overwhelming of a gap between speeds, we all ran in a crowded state. Then, without changing up the order, I finished in 5th place. As for Hirata, by a narrow margin, he shone in 1st place.
"Fuu. Good job".
Hirata, who had reached the goal before anyone else, lightly sighed and gave me such words of appreciation.
"Sorry, for being a burden".
"No such thing. It was a good match, everyone was fast too".
Hirata did not blame me, even after my disappointing results, and greeted me with a smile. I hurriedly got off the track and returned to the tent. Because the next group up will be starting one after another and I'll only be getting in the way.
The 1st year boys, after having finished with their 100 meter dash, returned to their seats and focused on the girls' race as though devouring them.
There's also the outcome of the matches, but they probably just wanted to see the running figures of the girls and couldn't help it.
I couldn't see Sudou, who should have returned to his seat.
"I don't know. Toilet probably, right? More importantly, let's see those swaying breasts, you know, the breasts".
Ike was upbeat, but I immediately had a bad feeling about Sudou's absence. He seems like the type to cheer Horikita on here, but that I cannot see him is strange.
"...it can't be".
I looked towards the cottage.
As though my premonition had been realized, I saw Sudou drawing closer to Kouenji.
"This isn't looking good. I'd better stop them".
Hirata, who noticed that too almost simultaneously, panicked too and headed towards the cottage. It appears things have already heated up there and Sudou, gripping his fist tight, confronted Kouenji.
"You bastard, being absent and all, don't fuck around with me!".
As I opened the door, I could hear Sudou's intimidating voice from inside.
Sudou had closed the distance to the point where even now, it seemed as though he was about to take a swing, but it almost seems as though Kouenji has not even noticed his existence yet.
He's looking bold as he admired his reflection in the glass of the window. But that attitude of his only ended up adding fuel to the fire and stoking Sudou's anger.
"Looks like you won't understand unless I beat you up, Kouenji".
"That's no good, Sudou-kun. If the teachers found out---".
Hirata, of course, stops him but he's not the kind of man to be deterred by something like this.
"Shut up. This problem is our class's internal affair, right? Doesn't matter even if I beat him up. It's only if this guy doesn't go crying to the teachers about it though".
"As usual, you are an unsavory man. I came here because I wanted to quietly spend time alone though. As you can see, today I'm feeling ill. I declined so I wouldn't be a bother".
"Don't lie to me! Leaving aside practice, you're skipping out even on the actual event!".
It's understandable to want to shout out like that. No matter how you look at it, Kouenji's the picture of health itself.
Before Hirata, who was at a distance, could panickedly draw near, Sudou could no longer stand it and raised his fist. He probably intended on punching Kouenji once to open his eyes. However, the man who was beyond expectations and normal standards, Kouenji, caught the powerful punch in the palm of his hand.
'Pan'. And a dry sound like that reverberated within the cottage. Kouenji starts talking without looking at Sudou's face.
"Stop it. Someone like you cannot beat me".
It didn't seem as though Sudou had been holding back on a fellow classmate. It was a fist swung with all his might.
And it had been blocked all too easily. Sudou probably felt Kouenji's high potential anew. But rather than be frightened by it, Sudou appears to have gotten serious.
"Then bring it on. I'll break that pride of yours".
"Good grief. Both you and her, it sounds like you both want to tell me I'm unreliable".
"Her? Who're you talking about?".
"That Cool Girl that you're so passionate about. She's been emphasizing it quite a bit until today, to make sure I participate seriously in the sports festival".
"Horikita, you mean.....?".
Apparently, Horikita had foreseen the possibility of Kouenji being a no-show from the start. Well, I suppose it's natural to have misgivings about him seeing how he retired straight away back on the uninhabited island.
Even so, I didn't know she had been working on Kouenji behind my back.
"In any case, leave. I am not feeling well".
To prevent it from happening again, Hirata got in between Sudou and Kouenji and tried to arbitrate.
"I think it's better to calm down a bit. Kouenji-kun's attitude is also a problem but since he's saying he's not feeling well, he should have the right to rest. Besides, no matter who it may be against, violence is bad".
"That's definitely a lie. He said the same thing back on the uninhabited island, didn't he?".
"A baseless accusation. It's just that my bad health doesn't show up well in my attitude".
"You planning on skipping the rest of the contests? Huh?".
"Of course, I will participate if I make a recovery. If I make a recovery, that is".
Sudou could no longer hold in his anger but it's also a fact that he cannot afford to be hung up on Kouenji forever.
"The next contest is going to be starting soon, Sudou-kun. If you're absent as our leader, it'll affect our morale too".
Hirata switched over to a different approach to convince Sudou.
".....I get it. I just have to go back right? Go back".
As if accompanying him, Hirata left the cottage together with Sudou. I also followed soon afterwards. Grumpily returning to Class D's tent, Sudou sat down on a pipe chair.
"Shit! Next time I'll seriously send that bastard flying! Shit!".
His anger, rather than abate, only welled up and scattered out". A wise man keeps away from danger, and people back away from Sudou one after another. Sudou unleashed his wrath on anyone approaching him by snapping at them.
But Ike, who was engrossed in the girls' race, did not notice Sudou's anger and cheerfully approached him. When I realized it, it seems the girls' 100 meter dash has also reached its climax, as the last group had just entered the course.
"What have you been doing, Ken? You just came back? Your favorite girl's match is about to start".
He slapped Sudou on his back. In that instant, his hand was grabbed and he himself was caught in a forceful headlock.
"Gyaa! What the hell!".
"It hurts, it hurts, it hurts! I give up, I give up!".
I have nothing to say about this except that it's misfortunate and pitiful. Anyways, after having attacked Ike in anger and as Horikita's race approached, it seems Sudou's regained a bit of calm.
Horikita enters the course as the last round of the 1st year girls was at hand.
"At least there's healing in watching Suzune I guess.....".
If he can be healed by watching that, then by all means I'll have him heal up.
As I watched Sudou in turn, Sakura breathlessly came back to my side.
She must have been running at her best as she's repeatedly breathing in and out seemingly in extreme pain.
"W-Were you watching me, Ayanokouji-kun?".
She looked up at me with sparkling eyes from behind her glasses. Unfortunately, Sakura's contest had ended while I had been chasing Sudou into the cottage and so I don't know how it went. But if I tell her I hadn't been watching then Sakura will probably become severely depressed.
"You did well".
I said so briefly yet I put my feelings into those words. One thing certain from the facts I understand right now is that Sakura gave it her all in the race.
"T-Thank you! This is the first time I wasn't in last place".
She said so with a smile. Sakura had decisively been the slowest one in both classes and in practice but apparently it seems like she's beaten someone. Furthermore, judging from the looks of it, it doesn't seem like her opponent simply fell or something either.
"Be careful not to push yourself. If you get in over your head, you might fall and hurt yourself".
Smiling again while breathing heavily, Sakura looked out at the next girls race from beside me. I also focused on the other girls who would be running against Horikita.
On the third course was Ibuki Mio, a student from Class C.
For Horikita to be in the same group as Ibuki, who views her as a rival. What a strange coincidence. Horikita did not even look at her but it seems a spark's already been lit in Ibuki.
Even from afar, I could see her resolve to not lose against Horikita no matter what.
"I wonder if Ibuki-chan's good at sports?".
"Hell if I know. There's no mistaking though that Horikita's going to be the winner".
There's no way the other boys could have known but Ibuki is highly athletic. I only have the bare minimum knowledge but I cannot say with certainty who's going to win between them.
At the same time as the starting signal, seven girls shot forth. Between the two I had been paying attention to, the one who had the better start was Ibuki. There had been a slight delay in Horikita's reaction and she lagged behind.
But she immediately accelerates, and with a beautiful form she catches up to Ibuki. On the other hand, Ibuki had succeeded in gaining a headstart but perhaps she got curious about Horikita, who ran beside her, as she became distracted looking back. Due to that, their distance lessened and perfectly seizing the middle position and without being shaken off or leaving, she kept that position and continued.
Then, nearing endgame, I could see Ibuki's expression stiffening. As they lined up side-by-side, almost indistinctly Horikita took the lead. It was by a narrow margin, but giving off a feeling of self-confidence, Horikita ended up taking 1st place.
"Is this bad.....?".
That whispered premonition of Sudou's turned out to have hit the mark. It was truly bit by bit, but the distance between Horikita, who had the lead, and Ibuki, slowly decreased.
In response to Horikita, who tried to shake her off, Ibuki drew ever closer.
The one who cut through the goal tape first was Horikita.
After the big match that no one would've considered strange even if it required a video to make the call, the audience went into a slight uproar.
Beside Horikita, who was catching her breath, Ibuki kicked the ground in frustration. But I feel like if she hadn't been so worried about Horikita, then then ranking may have been different.
A slight gap in her awareness was the cause of victory.
"But even so, it was a match the two of them dominated".
Sudou, who was watching Horikita after she had finished running, also felt the same way. Leaving aside her evenly matched race against Ibuki, the other 4 girls excluding Class D honestly were of a pretty low level.
After the completion of the 100 meter dash for the 1st years, we report our results to each other.
The ones who boasted high athletic abilities like Sudou or Horikita as well as Hirata, managed to secure 1st place. However, on the other hand, I could see that the main body of the class that were expected to win had ranked badly and had an unsatisfying start.
"Keep it together, you lot. Especially you, the only pride of yours is your speed right?".
"E-Even if you say that, that Shibata guy's really good".
"It can't be helped. Because Shibata-kun's faster than me".
As a matter of fact, during club practice, there were several instances in which he seemed faster than even Hirata after all.
Despite our good start, from now on the calculations will become more and more complicated. There are no notebooks nor phones here. Even if we verbally convey the results of the contests to a certain extent, it'll be difficult to grasp all of it. We don't know the circumstances of the other classes in detail either.
I approached Horikita, who had returned, and called out to her.
"That was close".
"...that's right. I was surprised. Ibuki-san was faster than I had expected".
Perhaps she noticed Ibuki approaching, Horikita breathed a sigh of relief.
"I understand you've been reaching out to Kouenji".
"Who told you......? It seems to have been meaningless from the start though".
For just a brief moment, Horikita looked at Kouenji, who's elegantly spending time inside the cottage.
"I had misgivings about him skipping out but ultimately it ended up that way".
"In a certain sense, more than anyone else, he's the one most disinterested in Class A".
As long as he isn't expelled, he will enjoy the rest of his time here. As long as he's decided on that, there's no moving him to action.
But it seems a feeling of being unconvinced had started to sprout inside of Horikita.
"If I were like Kushida-san, a person well liked by the class, I wonder if I could've moved him into action?".
"I wonder. I don't think he's the type to comply with Kushida or Hirata's persuasion though".
Then again, the two of them wouldn't try to forcibly persuade Kouenji in the first place. As for why, even if it's only self-proclaimed, they wouldn't call someone who claims to be sick a liar.
"To think you'd say something like 'if I were like Kushida'".
"I never hated her or anything in the first place".
After a natural conversation like that, Horikita realized she had made a verbal slip and sealed her lips tight.
"Pretend you didn't hear that just now".
Saying that, she ended the conversation. Then she turned to look at the 3rd year contests that will be starting soon.
For her, Class D is something to worry about but in the same vein, the existence of her brother is also probably a similar worry. Of course, it's not like her brother, who's the student council president, is affected in any way by his sister's feelings.
Horikita's brother, who started as part of the second group, naturally took 1st place.
"He's as fast as I imagined him to be".
"It's because nii-san is perfect. No matter what he does, he's always number one".
Rather than a boast, it sounded more like it was a matter of fact. As all the school years finished with their 100 meter dashes, the total count began.
Before the next contest begins, the first points for the Red Team and the White Team will be announced.
Red Team: 2011 points. White Team: 1891 points.
The contests have just begun but the Red Team was slightly dominant.
The second contest up is a hurdle. It's basically an event that's the same as the 100 meter dash in the sense that it rests purely on one's speed. But then again, that's not all there is to it. It's because it'll be a severe mistake if we don't overcome it with certainty yet without rushing it. In regards to this contest, there are two rules attached.
'Knock down the hurdle'. 'Touch the hurdle'. These two time penalties are added onto it as well.
It's 0.5 seconds if the hurdle is knocked down. It's 0.3 seconds if the hurdle is touched. That time will be added for us.
Due to this, just quickly skipping over everything isn't enough to win. One must leap over them with certainty.
But since it also means you obviously won't be able to win if you take too long either, the important thing here is just how much you've grasped the hang of it during the practice period. There are 10 hurdles in total placed at intervals of 10 meters. In the case that you're able to knock them all down then that means a total of 5 seconds would be added to your time. It's pretty much a despairing order.
In this event, it's been decided that Sudou will be participating as part of the last group.
"If you guys are dead last then I'll slap you".
The unathletic students trembled at the intense pressure coming from Sudou, who was watching them with arms crossed.
"What kind of tyranny is this!?".
"Ehh, is Sotomura-kun present? In case of absence, he'll be disqualified".
I could hear those words coming from the referee at the starting line.
"I-I have a stomach ache.....would it be fine if I were to be absent?".
The Professor, who could only barely overcome the hurdles back during practice, tried to escape as though frightened.
"Huh? It's fine if you knock down all the hurdles so show some backbone and stay your course".
"Kopu!? I-I-I have it!".
At a distance where their faces were almost touching, he glared at the Professor who then went onto the course. There's a great difference between coming in dead last and being disqualified. Since in the case of disqualification you won't even be able to acquire a point, participation is essential.
"Damn, he's useless. He does whatever he wants as a habit that's why he's fat".
But as expected, the Professor could not overcome the hurdles and ultimately, he ended up knocking them over by hand and came in at last place.
"Even so, that Shibata guy's pretty good".
In ascertaining the abilities of the other classes, Sudou said that as though advising caution. It's still only the second event but even in the hurdle race he still took 1st place without difficulty.
Right now, he'd be Sudou's rival. Furthermore, like Ichinose, he appears to possess leadership qualities that let him rally his surroundings.
"If we meet directly face-to-face, I'll win".
If this keeps up, then Sudou's goal of being 1st across the entire school year will only grow ever distant. Especially since there's no telling what the outcome will be for the team competitions.
It's cause for anxiety.
"Next up is the fourth group, please prepare yourselves".
Having been called out by the referee, I entered the same course from before. On the second course I could see the figure of Kanzaki.
"We're up against each other right away it seems".
".....go easy on me".
"I've heard that you're quite fast from Ichinose".
I don't know where Ichinose got that idea from.....but looking back I can think of one instance. I suppose she saw me running back when Sakura got caught up in that incident. It's not like I was running at my top speed but from my form and such, it's very likely that she guessed my physical ability as well. Besides that, back when I entertained myself by playing with Ichinose at the pool she had been observing me. It can't be helped that she'd mark me during all the exams and incidents up until now.
"That's misinformation. Didn't you see my rank in the 100 meter dash earlier? It's 5th place, you know".
"That is indeed the result, but it didn't seem to me like you were taking it seriously".
"There's no advantage in holding back one's ability at this sports festival, right? You'd only lose out that way".
"The probability of it is low but it's not like doing so is completely meaningless from a strategic point of view".
It looks like Ichinose and Class B have conducted reconnaissance, observed and then made their guess. For an existence like mine, even if I took first place it's not only my rank but the process leading up to it that they'd take into account.
"Besides, even amongst the same school year, you're a pretty calm man. That type of person is scary after all".
"Well, please think of it as you wish".
We were still in the middle of our conversation but since a boy from Class C got between us, our conversation was cut short. Except for Kanzaki, it doesn't seem like there are any prominent faces in the fourth group.
It'll be an error if my rank rises by even a bit.
At the same time as the starting signal, I started running at about the same pace as before.
As expected, Kanzaki overtook a person but since there's only that one student running in front of me, I ultimately ended up with a good result of 3rd place.
There are combinations to consider too but for better or for worse, it seems like I can maintain this inconspicuous position.
"...haa, good grief.....I can't keep up".
As I returned to our camp after having finished with the race, Yukimura was whispering to himself with a downcast expression. From the looks of it, after having finished with the second contest, he wasn't able to get good results.
"Was it bad?".
"Ayanokouji, huh?.......I want to curse this combination. Seventh group and 7th place....".
So this is what they call a booby prize. He's been driven into considerably bitter circumstances.
"It depends on your mindset. If it's Yukimura, even if you fall to the lower ranks, there won't be any trouble for you on the tests right?".
"I won't get a failing grade. But there's still no change to the fact that my scores will plummet. Besides, this result will be a liability for the class and the team too....".
It seems the man aiming for Class A more than anyone else, also bears responsibility more than anyone else too. It's probably because he disparages students of low academic ability like Sudou and the others with a strong tone usually that he doesn't want to show any weakness now.
It'll be uncouth for me to say anything more and so I slightly took my distance from him.
I focused on the girls' competition. The opening is with Horikita and Sakura, two people I know well. Horikita, who was expecting to win, felt no pressure as she stood at the starting line.
On the other hand, although it sounds bad when I put it into words, Sakura, whose expectation is zero, appeared nervous.
"Horikita-san, it seems like this pairing isn't too good".
"Is that so?".
Hirata, who knew the other classes well, said so after seeing the pairing. The contest will begin soon after.
"In Class C, the ones said to be the fastest are Yajima-san and Kinoshita-san from the track and field club and they're here".
Horikita, in the first 100 meter dash, had been able to dominate the fierce battle against Ibuki but her trials continue on.
"Certainly, it looks like winning's going to be tough".
Horikita snapped forth and sprinted and leaped but the two of Class C went ahead of her.
Then, left without any chances, Horikita finished the contest in 3rd place as a result.
Hirata received that result and turned to face me. It's not an eye contact made in response to Horikita's defeat. It's because he felt a strange sense of unease with the pairings in this race.
The next contest up is 'capture-the-flag'. It's a simple yet rough and slightly dangerous team competition.
"We're definitely winning, you guys. Since that idiot Kouenji isn't here, we've got to be that much more fired up!" Sudou shouts.
He encourages all the boys from both Class D and Class A assembled in front of him.
On the other hand, the ones that Sudou's group will be facing are the boys of Class B led by Kanzaki and Shibata as well as the boys of Class C led by Ryuuen. In particular, there are students in Class C that, while unknown, appear to be strong.
There's Sakazaki and Komiya, who were both involved in the quarrel with Sudou a while back, and there's also the brawny half-Japanese half-black student named Yamada. I've seen him around occasionally at school but I wonder how strong he is. Whether there are plenty of or not enough students in each class, right now there's nothing to do but fight after taking our current forces into account.
The rules of the match dictate that the group that makes two captures wins. During their discussion earlier, Katsuragi and Hirata have decided that their classes will be alternating between offense and defense.
They must have determined that splitting up into offense and defense here is a highly risky move. This way it's easier to understand as well as to cooperate. Class D will go on the offense first while Class A have the role of protecting the flag. If this formation allows us to successfully get a headstart then the plan is to not change roles.
"Well, don't worry about it. Even if I'm alone, I'll beat down our enemies".
"Not the people, we're after the flag though.....?".
I said that to him as I've gotten slightly worried after all.
"I can't guarantee that. I'm pissed off because of Kouenji. Grr".
Perhaps he intends on attacking them as he was frank with his hostility. Sudou gave the middle finger to our opponents.
"I'd better keep my distance.....".
Scared of getting involved, Ike and the others slowly backed away from Sudou. That's wise of them.
The attacking team (mainly Sudou) waited impatiently at the front for the whistle that signalled the start of the match. On the other hand, the defending team consisting of Katsuragi and the others are repeatedly checking their formation and building solid defenses.
Naturally, blatant acts of violence like punching and kicking are prohibited but a certain degree of entanglement would probably be overlooked by the school.
A lot of grabbing and pushing is anticipated.
"Uuu---somehow I'm starting to get nervous. Capture-the-flag is a first for me.....".
"Haven't you played it before at your middle school's sports festival?".
"I wasn't told that it'd be a dangerous competition. Have you played it before, Ayanokouji?".
"No....this is a first for me too".
"What the hell? So it's a first for you too".
In the middle of this stale conversation, the signal that marks the match's start rang. And Sudou charged in ahead of everyone else.
The more proactive members followed after him.
"This is bad, let's go Ayanokouji! I'd rather not get killed by Sudou for lazing off after!".
Ike, Yamauchi and I, the ones not suited for conflict, followed slowly behind the more proactive group. Much like us, the BC coalition has also divided its classes up cleanly between offense and defense.
It may be an obvious thing to do given that cooperation between them is more difficult than it is for the DA coalition. In the first round, it seems like it's going to be Class B defending the flag on their side.
The folks from Class B wait up ahead.
By the way, it's forbidden for an attacking team to interact with another attacking team.
At the very most, the rule is that the attacking team must necessarily attack the defending team.
"Anyone who wants to die, bring it on!".
Saying something outrageously dangerous like that, Sudou tore into the opponent's defending team. Then, with a height and power that makes it hard to believe he's a 1st year high school student, he tears away at the students around the flag one by one.
"Stop---! Stop Sudou---!".
A portion of the defending team surrounds Sudou, accompanied by those screams from Class B.
"Hey you guys, follow quickly! I'll clear the way for you!".
Sudou shouts out to the advancing group following from behind him without looking back. However, things aren't that simple. The situation gradually became chaotic, almost like a battlefield, and clouds of dust rose up.
I relied on the Class B students to overcome that situation without being useful nor a hindrance.
"Shit, just how many's going to charge at me!".
Three or four male students pushed back at Sudou with their bodies and even his strength was surpassed.
On the other hand, the advancing group too, on the brink of being able to break through, was suddenly cut off. The problem with Class D is that despite having the penetrative offensive power of Sudou, there is almost no one else with that kind of strength. In contrast, Class B had many students who possessed above average strength. Especially the unaggressive ones like me and the Professor, without contributing to the offense, inevitably end up becoming a liability to it instead.
"This is bad, Ken! It's Class A! That half, Yamada or what's his name, is going on a rampage!".
As he turned back towards that voice, the Red Team's flag that Class A had been protecting was now slightly slanted. Since Class C is full of violent people like Sudou...no, students who are almost like fighters, it was an easy task for them to penetrate through our defenses.
If we have a scuffle against each other, it's clear who has the advantage and who's at a disadvantage.
Besides, if Ryuuen had ordered them to attack us, it would probably become a desperate struggle. We need to do something but Sudou, who's the vital one, is also being obstructed by four of five people and can't do a thing. We were completely locked down. Of course, it's already rather impressive that we're facing off against that many people though. Sudou desperately tries to make a move towards the flag, but cruelly enough, the whistle rang.
Ultimately the White Team easily ended up completing one capture.
"Ahh, shit! What the hell are you guys doing!? Put your backs into it!".
Glaring at the cruelly toppled flag, Sudou turns his wrath towards the Class D that could not mount an offense.
"Even if you say that....those guys are pretty strong you know? Oww....I've got a graze".
"It's just a flesh wound, right? Bear with it, you've been snapping at them and kneeing them, you're useless!".
I understand the feeling but both of those are a step away from being foul play and disqualification.
"It can't be helped that they won one round. Next time let's protect it properly ourselves".
Gently patting Sudou's shoulder and once he had calmed down, Hirata sets the fallen flag back up.
"Tch...we're definitely going to protect it, you guys get it!?".
"W-We get it---. We'll do what we can---".
"Not just what you can, we're definitely protecting it. No matter if it's for an hour or two hours!".
If there's something else Class D is lacking in, it would have to be unity and motivation. Those two. This includes me too, but aside from a few students, the rest don't have any kind of ambition.
In regards to that, Class B from earlier who were on the defense had both high unity and motivation and as such, were formidable enemies.
"Ayanokouji, don't let that flag fall even if you die! Because you're still 2nd in the class after all!".
For the record, since I'm next up in strength after Sudou, I'll have to protect the flag alongside him.
I can't carelessly slack off now that I'm being watched by Sudou, who himself was stoutly defending the flag.
"Don't mess with me, I won't let them have an easy consecutive win. I'm going to beat that bastard Ryuuen down".
Speaking of which, during the first round earlier, Ryuuen who had been part of the attacking team, only played the role of an observer. It's because they were already dominating without even needing him to join in. Sudou probably couldn't stand that fact.
"Come out, C. Come out, C".
Sudou continuously whispers that but honestly, it'll prove difficult if the power centric Class C were to assemble and come after us. I think it'll be easier on us if it's Class B attacking us.
As both sides complete their preparations, the start of the second round is at hand. Now then---
"They're here, they're here. They've come!".
Apparently things didn't go the way I had hoped and it ended up going Sudou's way. Building up to an attack, strong students from Class C glared at us. Then the leader who brought that class together as one, Ryuuen, also laughed boldly from the rear.
Almost like he's a tactician commanding the battlefield and along with the signal to start the match, he gave them the order to charge.
It was most likely a simple instruction.
Beneath the words 'topple it' were the soldiers frightened by his tyranny into taking offensive action. Students with huge bodies similar to Sudou's, looking like they're the sports club type, came charging in.
They attacked us like an advancing wall without rushing it.
Screams rose up from the Class D students all over the place. The defending students making up the outer wall are slowly diminishing in numbers.
"Stand up! Grab their legs and pull them down!".
Sudou's unreasonable words of encouragement were drowned out by the angry bellows of our opponents.
Class C repeatedly used elbow strikes that almost wandered into foul play territory and in no time, they broke through to the inner wall. Katsuragi and the others from Class A have also advanced to the point that they could almost touch the flag but I wonder if they'll make it in time.
I could hear a voice of agony from Sudou, who was supporting the flag just in front of me. The half named Yamada had made his way up close to Sudou. His physique far surpasses Sudou's.
The flag we were protecting is now slightly slanted.
"Who the hell punched me in my stomach!?".
Apparently, during the chaos, someone had attacked Sudou directly. Furthermore, it wasn't just once or twice as voices of pain and anger become mixed. But for Sudou, who has to hold the flag with both his hands, he was left unable to do anything about it. All he could do was to turtle up and bear with it.
"It hurts, I said it hurts you bastard!".
Just by fighting with his voice alone, Class C showed no signs of ceasing their actions. Sudou kneels down in pain. But even so, I'd like to praise that fighting spirit of his that still tried to protect the flag.
Someone then stepped barefoot onto Sudou's back. Then, as though asserting his dominance, he crushed Sudou's back underfoot with all his strength.
Even in the midst of all this jostling during the match, it was a fiendish blow that capitalized on his blind spot. It goes without saying that the one responsible for it was Ryuuen.
"You. Bastard! Guh!".
He was once again stepped on without any hesitation to the point I had thought his spine had been broken.
As Sudou collapsed from that blow, now having lost its support, the flag collapsed after kicking up a cloud of sand.
In the blink of an eye, the outcome was decided.
While collapsed on the ground, Sudou glared up at the man who had stepped on him, Ryuuen.
"Hah, hah. You bastard...that was foul play!".
"Hmm? So you were there? I didn't notice".
Saying that without a trace of fear, he pulled the flag up. Sudou tried to chase after him but it seems his back is still hurting quite a bit as he wasn't able to stand back up.
The DA coalition suffered a great defeat.
"Is your back ok?".
Greater than his pain was the anger at having been the victim of an unreasonable foul play attack that he could not hold back.
"That pompous bastard, if I run into him again I'll punch his lights out.....!".
"You'll end up causing another uproar. Do you want to go through that again?".
By that, I mean the incident where Sudou got into a fight with Class C and almost got disposed of. Furthermore, if it's Sudou who initiates it then this time he will receive punishment for it.
"So it's fine when he does it and it's not when I do!? Look at the marks on my back!".
"I get what you're trying to say but it'll just be seen as an action that naturally happened over the course of the match".
Ryuuen and Sudou, they're both trying to do the same thing but there is an overwhelming difference in their technique.
This time, it was an action that took place while students were all mixed up during the contest and clouds of sand were being kicked up everywhere. Either way, he picked a good time and method to attack.
"Ahh this is pissing me off! To think I was planning on winning every contest!".
From the irritation he felt towards Ryuuen, he turned towards the disappointing Class D and Class A and blatantly voiced his displeasure.
Since Class A also heard it, a few of them returned the glare.
Some of them tried to retort but Katsuragi reined them in and things didn't come to that.
"Sorry for being useless.....".
"Me too. It's also because we couldn't protect it properly. Let's try hard next time".
Only Katsuragi and Hirata calmly accepted the outcome and for now we decided to disband and return to our own camps.
The 1st year boys, with no time to rest, prepared for the next contest: tug-of-war. Meanwhile, the ball-toss game for the 1st year girls was also steadily ongoing. The exhausting team competitions continued. I didn't pay much attention to it at first but this is quite an arduous order of doing things.
"Just now, how big of a gap do you think formed.....?".
"I don't know. It's just begun, there's no use in thinking about it".
"That's true but.....a loss is a loss, they're a step ahead of us right?".
Perhaps he couldn't stand the fact that he lost since Sudou was fidgeting while he watched the girls' match.
"It'll be good if the girls can win at least.....".
It's unclear since looking at it from a distance, the outcome of the ball-toss game is difficult to discern. I think it's just that contested since it seems to be quite a close match.
Soon after, as the match ended, the teacher in charge counted up the points one after another while throwing the balls.
"54 in total, the Red Team wins".
Thanks to the girls, the disappointing results of the boys' capture-the-flag match was cancelled out.
The relief we felt at that announcement was transient, as the referee called out to us and began explaining tug-of-war to us.
"Alright, let's go.....!".
"Is your back alright, Ken?".
"My body's tougher than others after all. Besides, there's nothing I can do even if it hurts anyways".
Even as we were worried about him, Sudou stood up with vigor. The rules for tug-of-war are extremely simple and about the same as capture-the-flag.
"If we can make a comeback in tug-of-war, then we can overturn the team competitions. Besides, if it's tug-of-war then there'll be no contact during the match so the other side will also be forced to compete using their strength alone. It shouldn't turn into an absurd fight".
Hirata, who always fretted over Sudou and his surroundings, called out to him like that. Sudou nodded in response.
"I guess so.....that's why we can't lose".
It's purely strength vs. strength. Wits vs. wits. Now then, which side will prove superior? As the four classes gathered in the middle of the ground split up into two, they were divided between the left and the right camps. As Katsuragi came over to Hirata, he quietly whispered to him.
"Just like we discussed, we'll use our strategy to beat them in a single stroke. Got it?".
"Yeah. I understand. Everyone get in position".
Under the leadership of those two, the DA coalition has been thinking up a strategy like it did during capture-the-flag. As Hirata gave the instruction, Class D simultaneously scattered and took up our positions.
The strategy itself is extremely simple and consists of just 'lining up based on our heights'. By doing so it allows us to uniformly and orderly apply our strength properly to the rope.
Of course this will be noted by the opposing team as well but even if the BC coalition attempts to imitate us, they wouldn't be able to line up in order of height in such a short time.
However, a problem emerged for the DA coalition before any of that. Contrary to Class D, who were attempting to line up as such, almost half of the boys in Class A made no move at all.
"Hey, Katsuragi-kun. I'd rather you not arrogantly take charge forever---".
Such a voice could be heard and without even having to look.
".....what do you mean, Hashimoto".
The student named Hashimoto took a step forward. He's a tall, aloof man with his long hair swept behind the back of his head. He had a meek expression on his face but his eyes were those of someone mocking his opponent.
"It's exactly what it sounds like. Isn't it your fault that Class A is currently stalling? Can you say with certainty that this strategy will allow us to win?".
A student has appeared to directly oppose the leader, Katsuragi.
From Katsuragi's heightened state of alert, I doubt this student named Hashimoto is acting alone. But---the timing is strange. While our allies focused on Katsuragi and Hashimoto, I looked back towards our camp and searched for Sakayanagi.
Sakayanagi, who had been there observing us from the start as a visitor, had a small smile of enjoyment on her face. Even from a distance, she should be able to see that the boys were quarrelling.
But the fact that she's still smiling despite that could only mean one thing.
It's that the one who created this situation is not Hashimoto, it's Sakayanagi. I had wondered what kind of trap she would be setting but to think it wasn't for the other classes, but rather, for Class A.
I wonder if it means she's only intending on crushing Katsuragi, her opposition. But this is far too inefficient. This is eerie in a different sense from Ryuuen.
"So what's it going to be, Katsuragi-kun? Can we really win with this strategy?".
Despite the betrayal of his comrades, without being thrown into disarray from it, Katsuragi answered that.
"We're agitating even the students from Class D. We should proceed with the contest calmly".
"That's not an answer---".
Katsuragi tried to calm them down but about half of the students following Hashimoto's lead did not obey.
"Katsuragi-san's telling you lot to do it, so hurry it up! Don't give us this shameful act!".
In the midst of that, Yahiko from the Katsuragi faction raised his voice towards the Sakayanagi faction and forcibly handed the rope to one of the boys.
"I have no intention of refuting the doubts you feel towards my leadership. But if we lose here due to our meaningless squabbling, before things like cooperation and skill come up, the blame will fall on Sakayanagi, you don't mind that then?".
"You don't see anything, do you, Katsuragi-kun?".
Hashimoto sniggers. As the teacher acting the role of the referee approached us, as though to warn us for our lateness, Hashimoto gripped the rope as though he had arrived at the designated position.
"Then, shall we? It'd peeve me if we make them think we're lacking in unity as you said".
For now, Class A's civil war seems to have simmered down and so we also get into position.
"They're a savage bunch, those Class A guys".
"I'm really worried. They may be just a bunch of nerds".
Even to Sudou, who had just been watching, the abnormality of Class A's conflict had been highlighted. Either way, our two classes intermingled and lined up in order of our heights.
Then finally, Sudou, who had absolute confidence in his strength, was placed furthest back.
On the other hand, since the BC coalition are not cooperating, they ended up dividing their forces up cleanly on basis of their class. Class B is taking charge of the rope up front but compared to the DA coalition that's lined up in order of height in descending order from the front, they've adopted the complete opposite strategy. But since Class C is lining up randomly, starting from their center, it fell apart. At the end of the line, for what it's worth, well-built students were holding the rope but...I can't shake the feeling that it's backasswards.
"Heh, for Class B to put the big ones in the front, they just don't get it".
"No, that's not always the case. When pulling the rope, it's advantageous if it's from an elevated position".
Since cooperation between the two classes is impossible, Class B is instead aiming to secure their advantage when it comes to holding the rope.
"Even so, it doesn't change the fact that we still have the high ground. Let's go, you guys!".
Sudou shouts that out and along with the signal that heralds the match's start, we each pulled on the rope.
Then, with a shout that seemed like routine, the DA coalition that has achieved basic cooperation with one another pulled on the rope with vigor. At first it seemed as though we had reached an equilibrium but after a few seconds, the flow changed to favor us in one go.
"Oraoraoraora! Easy, easy!".
Before long, along with the signal, the DA coalition's victory was conveyed.
"Alright! Did you see that!? Serves them right!".
Sudou repeatedly roars. As a result of the outcome, Class B confronts Class C with blatant discontent.
"Hey---it'll be real bad if we don't cooperate you know? Those guys are really strong".
Representing his class, Shibata calls out to Ryuuen but Ryuuen didn't even bother with him.
"Alright you lot, it's time to rearrange. Line up starting with the smallest one in front".
Ryuuen gave orders to the chaotic Class C and had them line up with the shortest student at the front and gradually adjusted it so that the heights increased. Precisely in the shape of a bow.
It appears they have no intention of taking Class B's opinion into account, only doing as they please.
After Shibata shook his head in exasperation, he encouraged his comrades in Class B and grasped the rope.
"This one's in the bag. With an arrangement like that, they can't possibly win".
"We can't say that for sure. Everyone, don't let your guard down. The next round won't go the way it did before".
Katsuragi advises the other students, including Sudou.
"Why though? It was easy. It's not like they're lining up in order of decreasing height like we are".
Ike grips the rope even as he frivolously makes light of the situation. Katsuragi tried to continue speaking, but the interval ended and preparations were underway to resume the match.
And so, the second round began.
The DA coalition tugs on the rope just as they did in the first round. However, facing a resistance that was clearly different from before, they start to lose their bearings bit by bit.
Even as they pulled and pulled, their position didn't change and feelings of anxiety began to close in.
"Hey, you lot better persevere. If we simply lose then I'll have you lynched".
Along with that carefree warning from Ryuuen, an intense force was applied to the rope and our side was dragged in.
It can't possibly be that their strength surged from just that one command alone.
It means that there's something about the bow-like shape that Ryuuen arranged them in that affects the transfer of force.
"Guuh! It hurts, it hurts!".
Screams rose up from Ike and the others who were holding the rope from the rear.
I also happen to be pulling without letting up but just as expected, the resistance is completely different from before. It was pretty much an evenly matched bout of tug-of-war.
I wonder if it was a difference in cognition that brought about the conclusion of the match.
The DA coalition, pulled in bit by bit, ended up being defeated.
Just because they dominated the first round, there were harsh words coming from students who believed that the cause of their defeat in the second round came from within.
"Why the hell is it different from before!? Is someone holding back?".
They tried to look for the offender among each other. Seeing the situation, Katsuragi immediately followed up.
"Calm down. The cause of our defeat is likely just because the other side took up the right formation. Of course, it's also a fact that there are students among us who took the second round for granted as well. They should get it now. That even if the opponent's teamwork is in tatters, they are still capable of putting up a fight. Focus, recover and along with that, please check your positions once again. Then also, when pulling on the rope, remember to do it at an angle".
Katsuragi realigns everyone again after handing out accurate advice as well as reprimands. He's doing the best he can in what little time he has. On the other hand, as for the opposing team, although they weren't able to achieve cooperation between the two classes, each class is individually united. There's Class B that's surely focusing on the tug-of-war and Class C, that's on standby behind them. But if Ryuuen gives his order, then those students will also certainly be roused.
"Al~right, you guys did pretty well yourselves. We just have to do the same thing again one more time. Let's teach those pieces of trash who think they're going to win who's the boss".
I suppose I should say it's impressive that without having any specific tug-of-war techniques conveyed to us, as a class we're still able to properly produce results.
When both sides were ready, the third and final match commenced.
The shouting resumed for the third time.
"Heave-ho! Heave-ho! Pull!".
Just like the second round, the result wasn't decided right away. The white flag swayed at the center line without moving.
"Keep at it, you guys. We're definitely winning this tug-of-war!".
As though acting in unison from Sudou's shout from the rear, everyone worked together to pull on the rope.
No matter how strong the other side is, victory or defeat isn't decided purely by strength alone when it comes to tug-of-war. The white flag began to lean slightly towards the DA coalition's side.
"Don't let up! One more pull! Puuuullll!".
It was Sudou's all out last ditch effort. That put an end to it in an unexpected manner. It should have been a close fight but the resistance we faced up until now loosened up to an unbelievable extent and everyone's bodies fell backwards. The match ended with us being unable to stop our own momentum and falling one after another.
Not quite understanding what had happened, starting with Sudou, most of the students began to show their anger while still collapsed. Judging from the results, it's clear that the situation was caused by our opponents letting go of the rope.
"What the hell are you doing? Are you fucking around?".
Perhaps this situation was also unexpected for Class B, as a few of their students had also fallen.
Eventually, attention was directed at the class where no one had fallen.....attention was directed towards Ryuuen and his group.
"I decided to give it a rest since I thought we couldn't win".
It appears near the end, Ryuuen and the rest of Class C all let go of the rope at once.
"Good for you, picking up such a trashy win. It was quite fun seeing you all groveling".
Even as he lost the match, Ryuuen laughed while looking like he enjoyed the match more than anyone else.
If you look at this situation alone, you wouldn't be able to tell which one's the winner here.
As Sudou, who had been at the line's rear end, stood up, he tried to charge at them since he had already been angered by the capture-the-flag incident. However Katsuragi, who had been in front of him, panickedly grabbed his arms to stop him.
"Stop it, Sudou. This is also part of Ryuuen's strategy, his aim is to provoke us and make us waste our stamina. Besides, by instigating violence, he may be aiming to win via foul play".
"Certainly, what they did was unsportsmanlike but it's not in violation of the rules".
Katsuragi is skillfully controlling the out-of-control Sudou.
So he's not in Class A for nothing. Perhaps he had judged that further provocation wouldn't yield him any results, since Ryuuen turned his back on us.
"Alright get up, you lot".
Class C got back up right away. Class B also probably wanted to complain.
"It appears we were lucky. Because we don't have to work together with Class C".
Katsuragi said so as though he were relieved and patted Sudou on his shoulder.
"We won, but I don't feel refreshed at all, shit".
I can understand the grumbling Sudou's feelings. We finally won in the team competition but due to Ryuuen's cunning trick, it put a damper on that.
Despite wanting to celebrate, a gloomy feeling hangs above us. Even though they lost, it's not like they didn't gain anything from their fall. The tug-of-war ended and we returned to our own tents.
On the way back, Katsuragi came over to Hirata and quietly whispered an apology to him.
"Sorry about earlier. It's my fault for being unable to control my class".
"You don't have to worry about it. I think we too, let our guard down during the second round. Right?".
Hirata sought the same opinion from me and so I nodded.
"Class A also surprisingly has it tough, huh?".
It seems he doesn't want to go into detail about it, since Katsuragi didn't deny it but also did not speak further on it. The only thing certain is that he appears to be in quite a difficult spot.
Meanwhile, Sudou and the others shifted their mind to the next contest.
"Next up is the obstacle course race. I'll knock out anyone who gets disappointing results".
"Ugeh. Why do we have to be hit~?".
"It's because I'm the leader. That means I need to kick the common people's asses. It's really difficult".
I don't think anyone wants such a leader but you just can't strongly repel Sudou like that.
"I'll be asking this just in case for reference but.....up to what place would you consider disappointing?".
"Isn't it obvious? I won't accept anything other than victory".
"Hah, hah....I did my best and I'm still only 6th place! I-Is Ken done with his match? Fuu".
Ike breathes heavily as he fell on his knees. He probably dreads the prospect of Sudou coming back.
"I don't reckon he'll get something like 4th place will he.......?".
It's not like I don't understand the desire to wish for something like that. If Sudou doesn't win, then surely he wouldn't punish the rest too. Sudou, whose results they're curious about, will have his turn in the final obstacle course race.
"What place did you get, Ayanokouji? Is it the death penalty for you?".
"I barely scraped 3rd place".
"Geh. Seriously? Saved by the lineup---".
Going along with Sudou's farce all the time.....in the first place getting punished seems like it'd be troublesome. I tried putting in just a little effort.
"It looks like Sudou-kun'll be going up against Shibata-kun".
"Ahh, looks like it".
Near Sudou, Shibata was waiting around while performing warm-up exercises. A formidable opponent has come forth.
"Haaaaah!? That Ken, he's up against Nomura and Suzuki again. That's unfair!".
However, at the same time, Ike was vexed after seeing Sudou's opponents in the contest other than Shibata and that lucky lineup.
Certainly, it's lucky to consecutively encounter those two from Class C who are said to be unathletic. Other than those guys, the students from Class A are neither good nor bad and with this, Sudou's victory is all but assured.
I understand why he'd lament it but Shibata is something else entirely.
If it's Shibata, who's said to be the fastest runner in Class B, he's sure to put up a fight for 1st place. In the two contests leading up to this, he's taken 1st place in both.
"Which one do you think's going to win?".
I asked for Hirata's opinion, since he knew Shibata well.
"I'm not sure. I know quite well that Shibata-kun's fast so I don't think he'll be going down easily. If it's a purely straightforward match then I have a feeling it might be Shibata-kun but...Sudou-kun was able to overcome the obstacles without much difficulty during practice after all. It's shaping up to be a really good match".
From Hirata's perspective, he's unable to tell which one of them would win since he knew both of them well.
Sudou himself believes there's no way he could possibly lose. It'd be good if his pride doesn't affect his run. But leaving aside my worries, the person himself awaited the start signal.
Once the runners in front finished with their race, the curtains rose on the final race.
Both Sudou and Shibata had a near simultaneous good start and they headed in the direction of the first obstacle: the balance beam. Sudou, though tall and possessing a large physique, was nevertheless able to cross over the narrow balance beam faster than anyone else could. His movement showed off his incredible sense of balance. Shibata came in at second place.
Despite his slight lateness, he also safely crossed the balance beam.
Sprinting a short distance immediately after, they crawled through the net that had been placed on the ground. Sudou, who advanced like a wild beast, only looking ahead of him. And Shibata, who seemed to be having fun chasing after him. The last obstacle was a sack, or to put it in a trendier way, it's to place both your legs in the sack and hop. Here, Sudou overcomes it once again with a nimbleness unbefitting of his physique but Shibata, hot on his tail, closes the distance between them.
"This is today's closest match".
Both seem to be evenly matched and both were trying to up their tactics. Shibata's followed him this far without either catching up or being shaken off. Sudou, who realized that existence, started to rush for the first time.
He probably heard hopping sounds behind him.
However, the lead he had created at the start still remained and with a difference of about a meter, he cut the tape and took 1st place. I suppose going all out had its effect on him, since even from a distance, I could tell that Sudou was breathing hard.
Sudou and Shibata were both evenly matched when it comes to speed. No, just like Hirata said, if it comes down to speed alone then Shibata may have been the superior one. Depending on the contest and the timing, I guess Sudou isn't invincible either.
In any case, Sudou has impressively secured 1st place three times consecutively. He's unmistakably one of our school year's best.
Sudou, who dazzlingly returned, began to act bullishly towards Ike, who shrank back.
"I was watching, Kanji, you were 6th place weren't you!?".
"Y-You almost didn't get 1st place too just now, did you? We're in the same boat!".
They were definitely not in the same boat at all. By saying unnecessary things like that, Ike got pinioned.
"I took 1st place. Well, that Shibata guy was pretty fast too though. I beat him".
Dropping Shibata down to 2nd place after he had secured 1st place twice in a row was a good sign for Sudou, who's aiming to be the best amongst our school year.
We didn't even have time to rest as we had to prepare for the three-legged race. On the other hand, the obstacle course race for the girls had turned stormy from the very first round.
Horikita had endeavored earlier to compensate for the results as she separated herself from the Class C duo right away from the start.
"I've seen this earlier before".
"Looks like she's in the same group as Yajima-san and Kinoshita-san again".
Horikita possesses high potential for not just sports but also in her studies and various assorted things. However, it's no easy task to beat someone who specializes in something.
As the match started, Kinoshita darted forward. She made it to the balance beam before anyone else and forcibly created distance between herself and those following behind.
Yajima's in second place. And Horikita following them is how the match started out. Unlike the 100 meter dash or the hurdle race which purely tests only one's speed and stamina, there are various unknowns involved in the form of obstacles and so the gap did not widen as much as you'd think.
After passing the balance beam, the gap had shrunk to the point they were almost lined up beside one another.
"Looks like there's a chance for her, this time".
Nearby, Sudou's also cheering Horikita on and he grips his hands tight as he watches over her. By the time they had crossed through the net, Horikita had taken the lead at last.
However, Kinoshita is also a fast runner. Taking advantage of the distance between obstacles she closes in and shortens the gap. Then she takes second place back for herself.
Yajima's position as first place probably won't be threatened. Horikita sprints at her best to try and steal second place away. Horikita closes in on Kinoshita the moment she lost her balance slightly upon reaching the sacks.
Then, the moment she passed her, she began sprinting with all her might and shook her off.
The difference between them was 1 or 2 seconds it seems. Horikita runs at full speed for the remaining 50 meters. By the way, perhaps she was worried about Kinoshita closing in on her from behind, as she flickers her gaze back and forth repeatedly.
That might have caused her to stall as once again, Horikita and Kinoshita lined up beside one another. In the very next moment, both Horikita, who had been attempting to outrun Kinoshita, and Kinoshita who was in pursuit, ran into each other and mutually collapsed.
"Woah!? Hey, something big's happened!".
I couldn't tell from afar which one ran into the other but it looks as though it happened as a result of their struggle.
While the two of them were getting back up, the others passed them by one after another and in one stroke, they fell to the bottom. Perhaps they weren't able to stand back up immediately, since they were both desperately tried to get back on their feet admist the clouds of dust. Although they were somehow able to continue with the contest, that incident had a resounding effect to the very end and Horikita came in at a surprising 7th place. The other one who fell, Kinoshita, ended up placing bottom due to the pain in her leg preventing her from continuing with the contest.
She must have her regrets since she ended up like this after going in expecting to place 1st.
And with this it's 1st place, 3rd place and 7th place huh? As far as this match is concerned, there's no other choice but to write it off as an unfortunate incident but.......
"What's wrong, Ayanokouji-kun?".
"If this 'coincidence' were to occur again, then I may no longer be able to write it off as a mere 'coincidence'".
I brought up the subject I didn't broach earlier on with Hirata.
"As I thought, you think so too? I think the other students are also beginning to gradually realize it too. But for this to happen means---that things are moving in a bad direction, right?".
Unfortunately, his assessment is spot on.
"If there are any students that have caught onto this, can I leave you to care for them?".
"Of course. That's my role after all. But isn't there something we can do.......?".
"It'd be great if there is".
I felt relief seeing Hirata accept the task without a hint of discontent and so I headed over to the girl who seemed dissatisfied.
Horikita had a gloomy expression on her face coming back after her obstacle course race. The situation was clear as day if you look at her walk and posture that conveyed a sense of unease.
"Does it hurt?".
".....just a bit. But not to the extent of affecting the contests. If I rest up a bit I'll be fine".
She put on a tough act like that but from just her sitting down, it looked as though she's having a difficult time. Steeling myself against incurring her wrath, I tried touching the part where I believe the injury lies.
"This isn't going to have any effect, you say?".
"Don't touch me. And also, don't mind me. I'll just have to bear with it".
To be in a position where winning is a duty can be painful at times like this. More so for people like Horikita, who pride themselves on being able to produce results.
"Well I guess if you retire then you won't even be getting any points so I do understand your desire to hang in there".
I had thought she would have glared at me for causing her pain but Horikita began to talk about something entirely different.
"More importantly, what concerns me is that girl. It's almost like that contact was done out of malice".
".....and this means?".
"While she was running behind me, that girl called out my name many times over".
So that's why she turned back to look occasionally during the match.
"Of course I thought it was strange. But soon after I turned back to look, we collided with each other and rest went exactly as you saw it. I would have objected but if this were an ordinary collision then she shouldn't have been calling out my name".
Certainly, there's a high likelihood that this was a surprise attack.
"Honestly, I can't keep up with it.....to think we're still in the middle of all this.....".
Taking the entire school into account, Horikita would be the third person to be injured.
There was a 2nd year who fell during their race and had to withdraw due to their leg injury but in their case, there's nothing in particular to worry about since it was an isolated incident.
"Rather than worry about me, you should be more worried about yourself. Your results are worse than mine right?".
Horikita, who took 1st place, 3rd place and then 7th place now due to the collision, currently stands at 30 points. I'm standing at 27 points. Close as it may be, there's no changing the fact that I'm still losing out.
"I'll do my best. But, don't push yourself too, ok?".
"I intend on participating in the contests even if I have to crawl to do it".
Leaving behind Horikita, who said such words, I made a move to prepare for the next contest: the three-legged race.
"How's Horikita-san doing?".
Hirata, having ascertained the situation from a distance, worriedly called out to me.
"It's pretty serious. It looks like it'll affect the subsequent contests".
"That's a severe turn of events".
While we tied the string, we exchanged such little interactions.
Not too long after, the three-legged race began for the 1st year boys. They started one after another. This sports festival is thoroughly being regulated by the school and the contests progressed without any waste. It was a brilliant performance almost on par with scheduled broadcasts.
Since a three-legged race inevitably means that two people end up forming one team, the number of teams that can run at once are a measly four. Sudou, who's in the group starting ahead of us, bottled up his anger and started.
Sudou's partner is Ike.
Normally, that would be considered backassward and highly risky but through a certain method, that combination makes a turn towards victory.
Screams came pouring out of Ike in the middle of the match. Apparently from the very first step, Sudou's technique burst forth explosively. In a sense, this is the ultimate three-legged race, a surefire way of winning. Sudou, stuck halfway with having to raise Ike up, roared with all his might. In a way, it's close to foul play but just from a glance, it still passes as a three-legged race. He succeeded in securing 1st place while forcibly supporting Ike so as to not let him collapse.
"For how difficult the situation is, Sudou-kun sure is very reliable".
I feel sorry for him that Ike was chosen as his partner but he should be satisfied from having taken 1st place.
"Certainly he's reliable. But if we're talking about winning, then Sudou alone is insufficient".
If I cannot control him, he might as well be a double-edged blade that could end up hurting us.
"Let's follow Sudou-kun".
Along with those words, Hirata started. Fortunately, there were no notable people running in the same group as us.
Since we were compatible as partners as well, similarly to Sudou, we ended up with the ultimate result of 1st place. Now no one should be complaining.
"Kyaa---! Hirata-kun's so cool---!".
However, the cheers from the girls directed at Hirata are painful to listen to.....
Then the girls' three-legged race began and in the second round up, the Horikita/Kushida pair began preparing. The pair consisting of Horikita, who's learned to compromise a bit and Kushida, who's all too willing to compromise. The relationship between them is abysmal but since their interests are aligned towards winning there should be no problem.
Now's the time to demonstrate the results of their practice.
They appeared to be making preparations without so much as initiating conversation with each other. From my perspective, knowing their internal affairs, it's truly a bizarre pair but from Class D's perspective, they're a relieving, safe and capable pair.
They had a promising start as 2nd place. Not a bad start and cheers began to rise up.
Sudou, who had secured 1st place, let it get to his head and in violation of their promise, called her by her first name but his voice didn't necessarily reach Horikita, he's probably safe.
However, they immediately stalled right after and their ranking fell.
Before I realized, the ones running in 1st place were girls from Class A. It was a pair led by a girl who vaguely possesses the same aura as Horikita. At that moment, the Class C pair with Yajima in it that were in 2nd place, began their pursuit.
"Ahh? What is it?".
Sudou, who's busy cheering, didn't so much as look at me before cutting in like that.
"No...I thought Horikita's movements were rigid".
"...now that you mention it, that's right".
Horikita had always pulled her partner along by force during practice but in the actual event, it appeared as though Kushida is taking the lead. As I suspected, the pain in her leg is affecting her.
I had considered that it's because she's paired up with Kushida but it appears she's received a considerable amount of damage from her fall during the obstacle course race.
She seemed as though she were pushing herself to up her pace but her body's simply not capable of keeping up, that's my impression. Rather than shrink, the gap between 1st place and 2nd place began to widen gradually and Class B that's running in last place began to creep up on them. The two of them appeared to have decided to outrun the others by shifting courses. Their aim is to take up positions in front of Class B to obstruct their path forward.
Class B also tried to undauntedly give them the slip but since their speeds were almost equal to one another, it didn't go well.
Shrill cheers also rose up as the intense struggle over 3rd place occurred. By being too focused on obstructing their path, Horikita and Kushida gave an opening for a moment which allowed Class B to turn the situation around.
"Uwoooooo, that's disappointing!".
They ran the best they could but they came in at last place. The victory we had expected has now grown distant.
A 10 minute break took place, and people either headed for the toilet or rehydrated themselves. Saying she'd be heading over to the infirmary to apply a compress, Horikita headed into the school building.
Even if it's just pouring water on a hot stone, it's still better than doing nothing I suppose. I didn't go anywhere, and instead remained in our camp while observing the other classes. As far as groups go, it's possible to pick up various sorts of information on them just by observing from a distance. And it was Class A, as I suspected, that proved it.
The twisted relationship between Katsuragi and Sakayanagi was highlighted. Anyone can see with their naked eye that they're clearly divided between two factions. Perhaps neither side has any intention of getting along with the other, since there's barely any contact between them. It is by no means strange for a class to have two appointed leaders. Even in our class, while having Hirata as the primary one, there's still Karuizawa and Kushida and in this case, even Sudou is leading the class. Of course we are changing it up each time but even so, our class is still united as one. We're not fractured to the point that we'd have internal disputes.
However, I could tell that there's blatant antagonism between Class A. It's something we didn't see in the previous exams, it's something that we cannot tell just from the fluctuations in points alone.
"It's impressive they were able to keep up their internal strife up until now".
After all, the Sakayanagi faction has the greater numbers.
Not too long after, as Hirata came over to me after having returned from the restroom, I decided to call out to him.
"Hey, what kind of student is Sakayanagi?".
"I see you're also curious about her, Ayanokouji-kun".
"One would get curious if they heard that she's a leader surpassing even Katsuragi".
What I don't understand is the mindset of the girl named Sakayanagi, the way she is. During this sports festival, she did not issue a single order and continued to keep her silence yet she conspired to take disruptive action against Katsuragi. Not a conflict with the other classes but rather a conflict within Class A. It's to the extent that she seems willing to lose points as long as it allows her to take out Katsuragi. Of course, it's possible that she's instigating this conflict in order to dominate the class.
But normally considering it, the enemy of your enemy would be your friend. First of all, the sane thing to do would be to establish cooperation in order to not lose to the other classes.
"She's very polite, good with people and also mature. That's why I didn't particularly think it was strange. Students from the other classes probably feel the same way too. But, it seems like it's different within Class A. I've heard rumors that she's aggressive and cruel".
There's probably a side we aren't aware of but we can't just take the words of the ones being attacked at face value either. Because we haven't even talked to her yet. Besides, it's also a fact that messing around is impossible in this sports festival, especially for her. Since her body prohibits her from exercise, she may have no intention of blatantly taking action either.
"I don't think there's any need to be cautious of Class A this time. We're allies after all".
"I guess so".
There's nothing to gain from pulling each other's legs. At the very least, there probably won't be any disruptive acts taken against Class D and I can say with certainty that there haven't been any such acts.
On the other hand, what about Class C? It wouldn't be strange even if they took disruptive action against us. I looked towards the opposing camp. There, as though they were serving a king, male students were clustered around Ryuuen, who was at their center. As of right now, he's the man who fights with strategies most alien.
Even in this sports festival, he's fighting with the intention of closing in on and hurting the other classes mentally and has damaged them that way.
In particular, Sudou has pronouncedly been the recipient of such influence. Besides that, there's all sorts of trickery abound.
Then finally, I wonder how Class B is doing, having to fight against a formidable enemy like Class A while having to work together with Class C, from which a betrayal is possible.
Ichinose and her group, who are always cheerful and optimistic and seek to fight fair-and-square.
At first glance, I felt there have been no deviations from that stance of theirs. From the constant smiles and gestures of various students, I could see that they were enjoying this sports festival from the bottom of their hearts.
After the short break, the order of the contests went in reverse temporarily and the curtains rose on the girls' cavalry battle. The 1st year girls all gathered at the center of the grounds. Of course, it's still a competition between the DA coalition and the BC coalition.
The rules for the cavalry battle are the same for both boys and girls and have a time limit. It's a mechanism set up such that scores are allocated based on the number of enemy horsemen defeated and the number of allied horsemen remaining after a period of 3 minutes. Four horsemen make up one team.
From each class, four horsemen were chosen and it ended up as a 8 vs. 8 match (due to that the surplus students were kept on reserve, treated as emergency substitutes).
One horseman is worth 50 points and each class has one horseman designated as the general and the general horseman is worth 100 points. You can acquire these points even if the opponent is still standing so as long as you can steal away their headband. If we had a peerless warrior it's possible to gain as many as 400 or 500 points in one stroke. By the way, Horikita is one of those in Class D chosen to be the jockey. The ones acting as support underneath her are Ishizaki, Komiya and Kondou. As far as maneuverability goes, they're not too bad.
As for the other jockeys, Karuizawa, Kushida and Mori were chosen.
The problem here is Mori's horse, which is composed of unathletic students. If we're targeted, there is a high possibility that she'd be the first to go down.
By designating that weak horseman as the general, they've adopted the strategy of keeping it out of the fight and protecting it with the remaining three horsemen. Perhaps they're aiming for a counterattack if the enemy attacks them?
Once the start signal is given, the horsemen from Class C and Class B quietly begin to close the distance. Amongst them, as I thought, the one overflowing with motivation was Class C's Ibuki. Ibuki, who happens to be the jockey, issued orders and headed towards Horikita without hesitation. No, it's not just Ibuki.
"O-Oi oi, what the hell's happening!?".
Ike, who had been watching, cried out and beside him, I could see Sudou clench his teeth.
Class C did not attack their other enemy, Class A, at all and did not pay any attention to Class D's general nor the other horsemen either. They only surrounded Horikita's horse. Their objective was all too clear.
Four horsemen attack Horikita. Is their strategy to crush us one after another, or do they think it's fine as long as they defeat Horikita? They're both possible given that Ryuuen is in command.
Outnumbered numerically, the only thing we could count on would be backup from Class A but perhaps they intend to profit from our fight, since Class A only performed feints and showed no signs of openly participating in the fight.
"They're blatantly targeting Horikita aren't they?".
"Shit.....it's probably on Ryuuen's order. That piece of trash!".
"Well, it can't be helped. Horikita is well-known as the person who's holding Class D together".
The importance of crushing the head is the same whether it's war or sports. Ryuuen's tactics aren't half bad. Seeing that situation, the first ones to act in her support were Karuizawa and the cavalry under her command. Shinohara dashed there while supporting Karuizawa, who's the center. However, the one who got in their way was Class B's general horseman, Ichinose.
Unlike Class A, Class B is properly following Class C as they take independent action.
Running into one another, it's Karuizawa vs. Ichinose.
The ones who initiated the attack were Karuizawa and the others.
I suppose that's inevitable, given that they need to settle this as quickly as possible to support the targeted Horikita. The three girls supporting Karuizawa aren't particularly athletic. At best, it's a horse built from cooperation between close friends. On the other hand, Ichinose has utilized Class B's most prominent and talented people for her horse. They weren't afraid of Karuizawa's attack and with a movement surpassing hers, they dodged her attack.
However, despite being able to make a direct attack, Ichinose's movements didn't seem as sharp. In response to her attack, Karuizawa was able to react well and return fire.
The coordination vs. maneuverability match, contrary to expectations, showed signs of dragging on.
"This is a really good match!".
As the audience's excitement soared, the situation besides the two struggling horsemen began to change. Cheers burst forth. While I was busy watching Karuizawa and the others, one of the horsemen had their headband stolen away. It was Horikita. She was attacked simultaneously by four horsemen and no longer able to avoid their persistent attacks, she was finally crushed. She fell off her horse quite flashily and is now collapsed on the ground, trying to raise her upper body back up in frustration. However, in a situation like this, not even Sudou would have stood a chance of winning.
The cause of her defeat lies in Class A, who did not rush to aid her right away.
In any case, it's no use crying over spilt milk. Horikita's defeat marked the onset of a melee. Having lost a horseman and having Class B pursue them on top of it, Class D's unity wavered in an instant. Some fell off their horses and others had their headbands stolen away, and aside from Karuizawa, the other two horsemen resisted in vain before they were defeated.
Karuizawa, who had been fighting against Ichinose, momentarily ended up in an 8 vs. 1 scenario before, at the very end, she managed to steal away the headband from a different Class B horseman through a suicidal resolve and succeeded in ending that fight with a mutual kill. Having lost a horseman, Class C and Class B attacked the remaining Class A and wiped them out. As for the opposing team, they ended up losing only two horsemen as casualties.
Biting back her frustration, Horikita returned to our camp. Sudou calls out to her immediately.
"Don't worry about it. It was hopeless anyways, it's the others' fault for being too slow with their support".
"...it doesn't change the fact that I lost. I was swallowed up by that momentum of theirs".
Certainly, Class C gave off the feeling of obstinately aiming to defeat Horikita.
I had thought this earlier as well but if that's the case, no horseman would have stood a chance either way.
"Leave it to me. I'll go on a rampage and make up for this as well".
Sudou coolly said that. Normally words like this wouldn't even reach Horikita, but in her weak state right now, they seem to have resonated within her.
"I'll be expecting that from you".
It was brief, but she responded like that to Sudou.
"Alright, let's go guys!".
Sudou shouts. The boys' cavalry battle begins. I served the role of the horse on the right side. Sudou stands firm in the middle and Miyake's on the left side. Hirata assumed the role of the jockey and the class's strongest horseman was formed.
A peerless warrior capable of attaining victory even if the allied horsemen were to be defeated.
"Oi Hirata. You focus only on not falling down or having your headband stolen away".
"...so we're using 'that' strategy, right?".
"We were thoroughly beaten during capture-the-flag after all. We're going to win without holding back".
I couldn't see his face, but I knew Sudou must have been grinning. They're probably planning on using that tactic we've practiced over and over again during our training.
"But I'd like to make a proposal of my own, would that be fine? I was watching the girls' match earlier and I've thought of a way to win. I've already told Katsuragi-kun about it as well. It'll be bad if we keep being crushed each and every time".
The horsemen of Class D followed Hirata's orders and joined up with the horsemen from Class A at the same time the starting signal for the match rang. By becoming almost indistinguishable from Class A, we'd inevitably end up forming a massive cluster. They did abandon Class D to its fate during the girls' match but surely simply losing isn't what Class A wishes for either.
Looking at the situation unfold, the one who assumed the role of Class C's general, Ryuuen, laughed daringly. If fine details like cooperation cannot be achieved, then use broad orders to direct everyone forcibly. Following Katsuragi's orders, eight horsemen from the DA coalition assault the enemy team.
"Just aim for that shitty Ryuuen's head! Raah! Send him flying!".
In an instant, as the match begins across the entire field, Hirata's horse, Sudou, dashes forward with all his strength.
But a horseman from Class B stands in the way of his rampage in the middle. However...
"Don't get in my way!".
Sudou, without stopping, slammed into the enemy horseman's body with all his might and threw him off balance.
The enemy, whose physique is inferior to Sudou's, could do nothing but collapse, jockey and all.
"How about that, huh!?".
He looks down at them like a wild beast and moves onto his next prey. Normally hitting the body itself would be considered foul play but the school has already confirmed that there's no problem with it rulewise.
The enemy team faltered from that strong impression they received at the very start.
It was a strategy that could not be realized without the physique and personality to go with it. But this aggressive strategy has its drawbacks. Even if we knock down a jockey, it wouldn't count as a stolen headband. Rather, it would be treated as a self-destruct. The 50 points we should have obtained would end up floating away. But even so, if we bet on stealing their headbands, we'd incur a proportionate amount of risk.
That's about right for a Sudou-like strategy. But we cannot let our guard down just yet.
In Class B, there's the manoeuvrable general horseman that Kanzaki and Shibata are a part of and in Class C, there's still the general horseman composed of physically strong power types with Ryuuen as their jockey.
The DA coalition won't stand a chance of winning unless those two are taken care of. It's also eerie how we cannot read Ryuuen's mindset.
"Sudou-kun, let's defeat the ones around us first. Leave Ryuuen-kun for last".
"Huh? Don't say something boring like that! What we should be aiming for is the general's head!".
It's not like I don't understand what Sudou's trying to say through his howls but the wall in front of Ryuuen blocking us is a thick one.
"If we get swept up by our emotions here, that's giving him exactly what he wants. Let's do what's necessary to win in the end".
In front of us, two horsemen from Class C begin their attack. Still holding a grudge from when he was stepped on, Sudou resists his urge to attack Ryuuen.
"I get it, first all we have to do is rout these guys right!?".
To defeat these enemies, focus is needed. Hirata reined him in well.
We fell during capture-the-flag before an overwhelming power but this time, things are going differently. Three horsemen from Class B and Class C combined have already been beaten by Sudou, showing an overwhelming difference in power.
Riding that wave, Katsuragi and the other Class A students succeeded in taking down Shibata and Kanzaki's horse despite losing three of their own.
The only remaining enemy is the general, Ryuuen himself. On the other hand, both Hirata and Katsuragi's horses have survived and Class D has an additional horseman remaining, creating the ideal situation.
"Oraora, it's 3 vs. 1 now though? This one's in the bag!".
Exchanging looks, the two horsemen, Katsuragi and Hirata, surround Ryuuen. The other horseman too, while keeping a slight distance, targets Ryuuen.
From the fact that he was able to steal away a headband, I could guess at the strength of Ryuuen's horse to a certain extent but even so, he would still be overwhelmed by our numerical superiority.
However Ryuuen did not panic. He wasn't perturbed. Rather, he seemed to be enjoying this desperate situation.
There's no negligence and neither did he seem defeated. That sort of feeling. Hirata and Katsuragi, if the two of them attack simultaneously, even if in the worst case scenario that one of them goes down, the other can still steal away Ryuuen's headband.
Then our victory will be assured.
It's precisely because the situation is like this that Ryuuen is able to pierce through the chink in his enemies' hearts.
"I've remembered your name, Sudou. I stepped on you earlier. It seemed painful".
"Keep saying that. I'm going to be beating you down now".
"You sound quite high-and-mighty for a mere horse leg. It feels pretty good looking down on a horse".
"Hah. Just because you're riding on a horse doesn't mean you're all that".
"Heh.....then this is all meaningless unless we go at it one-on-one".
"No, I mean, if you're saying you can't beat me unless it's 2 vs. 1 then it can't be helped. But 'winning' basically only holds meaning if you win one-on-one. Or are you going to put on airs after beating me with a pincer attack?".
"What the hell...!".
"Don't, Sudou-kun. It's a bad idea to rise to his provocations. Let's cooperate with Katsuragi-kun".
".....you don't get it".
"You're the one who's not getting it, Sudou. I understand you've taken care of these guys before but back then, you must have mostly been using cowardly tactics right? The comrades I trust would never be beaten by a frontal attack".
Some of those supporting Ryuuen's body also happen to be members of the basketball club who got into trouble with Sudou.
"Don't fuck around. Those guys are trash who can't even fight well".
"You're acting rather bullish even though you have no proof of that. If you're saying that's not true then face me one-on-one. And if you can beat me then, I'll do anything, even if it's prostrating before you".
"...got it. Don't go forgetting those words, Ryuuen! You heard him, Katsuragi. Don't stick your nose in this!".
"What are you talking about? It's sheer folly to let this chance go. We should use a pincer attack to make sure he goes down".
"If you stick your nose in this, I'll destroy your horse".
Apparently he took Ryuuen's cheap bait. He already has nothing in his mind except a one-on-one. He understands well the fact that Sudou always had a bullish personality and is quick to fight.
"So you're determined to do it one-on-one no matter what then, Sudou-kun?......if we're doing it then let's win".
Hirata already knows Sudou's personality and behavior well. Once he flips his switch, it won't really be turned back off that easily.
Perhaps he had judged that continuing to carelessly try and persuade him otherwise would not be beneficial, as he agreed to the one-on-one.
"Naturally. Hirata, make absolutely sure your headband doesn't get stolen!".
Along with Sudou's forceful signal, the horse proceeds forward. Katsuragi, with a bitter expression, decides to watch the battle unfold. It's because if he interfered, Sudou would attack him even if he happened to be an ally.
Sudou charges forward and performs a body slam. However, the enemy horseman stood firm without being perturbed by it. Their power was equal. At the center of the horse protecting Ryuuen is the half I've been hearing about, Yamada. His strength is amazing. Just as the rumors claim, he's robustly strong.
Sudou clicks his tongue. I wonder if that's his frustration at being unable to overcome them.
Of course, Miyake and I, who supported Hirata from his flanks, could not use as much horsepower as Sudou is using. Suppose Sudou's horsepower is a 10, then the two of us would be a 5.
On the other hand, part of Ryuuen's horse, Yamada, would be a 9 or a 10. The rest of them tough enemies consisting of 7s and 8s.
"Interesting. Hey, bring it on. Or are you going to lose to our Albert in strength?".
Provoking Hirata, Ryuuen beckoned us without even setting any traps beforehand. Up until now, as far as the matches go, Ryuuen's had good fortune with his opponents and in all the individual contests he'd participated in, he's taken 1st place. He's quite athletic.
He observes us after brilliantly dodging Hirata's extended hand.
While supporting Hirata, I looked at the battle against Ryuuen and as far as I can see, we're evenly matched.
It wouldn't be strange no matter which side wins. However, he's only aggressive vocally, as Ryuuen showed no signs of pointlessly attacking us.
He's conserving his stamina and maintaining a ratio of 1 attack for every 3 attacks from Hirata. In short, this battle is just a waypoint for him and he's saving energy for the fight later against Katsuragi and the others, who are currently standing by.
He seems to be absolutely confident that he won't lose. If so, we need to strike at that opening. If we repeatedly attack then an opportunity will present itself to Hirata.
"Not yet, Hirata?".
Sudou said that in a pained voice while receiving most of the attacks coming from the enemy horseman alone.
"Just a little bit more---!".
He extends his arm, mixing a feint into it as well. His arm then bends and finally, managed to grasp Ryuuen's headband. However, what he grasped was only a few centimeters of the tip. He tried his best to pull it further into his hands.
Hirata had indeed grabbed ahold of the headband but he didn't make it as far as stealing it away since the headband slipped out of his hands.
"What are you doing, Hirata!? Take it! I'm using up quite a bit of strength here!".
"Sorry...my hand's a bit slippery!".
While breathing heavily, Sudou once again aims to attack. And Ryuuen fearlessly awaits it.
Compared to Ryuuen, who has yet to launch an offensive resembling an attack, Hirata's only been on the offense so far and he's beginning to breath heavily.
"What's the matter? Is that it?"
"Kuu.....! Sorry, Sudou-kun, fall back for now!".
In accordance with Hirata's shout, we put some distance between us. There's a difference in the consumption of stamina between Ryuuen, whose side hardly moved from that spot and our side that's been performing intense movements. Ryuuen's probably focusing on the upcoming battle against Katsuragi after defeating us.
Sudou, whose knees were trembling, took up his stance again while breathing feebly.
"Make the next one....the last, Hirata. Make sure you absolutely steal it!".
".....I understand. I'll try doing it".
Hirata also calms his breathing and concentrates only on stealing Ryuuen's headband away.
"Give 'em hell!!!".
Mustering up the last of his strength, he performed a body slam on them but the horse did not collapse. Once again, a fight between the jockeys broke out. However, Hirata assumed they would not initiate an attack and defenselessly extended his arm. The results that came of it would be well worth the risk taken.
Straightforwardly and boldly, he reached out. Hirata once again succeeded in grabbing ahold of the headband.
However, once again, the headband slipped out of his hands.
Ryuuen did not overlook that upset, and his hands reached out to grasp Hirata's headband while he's still in a defenseless position. That hand of his, in the form of a counter, deeply gripped the headband. And forcefully. When he pulled back, the headband fell from Hirata's head all too easily. The moment he sensed that we had lost, Sudou collapsed onto his knees and Hirata fell off the horse.
Hirata's headband was noisily hoisted up.
Immediately after, as though it came from within the field, a warning was issued from the referee.
Sudou, who was going wild, glared at Ryuuen as he stood back up. However, if he keeps standing still like that, I don't know what kind of warning he'll receive. I pushed Sudou's back and headed out.
Ryuuen, as though sneering at him, left behind those words. It's still too early to accept defeat though.
The general horseman, Katsuragi, a survivor from Class A, boldly challenged Ryuuen. Katsuragi, who had assumed the role of the horse's head, issued orders to the jockey, Yahiko, and builds up a thorough defense. Now that Sudou's withdrawn, they were able to link up with the remaining horseman from Class D and a 2 vs. 1 situation is realized.
However, just as I had thought they were able to grab ahold of the headband like Hirata did, a similar scenario unfolded where they were unable to pull it off and ultimately Yahiko's headband, along with Class D's headband, were both stolen away.
Despite only utilizing minimal movements, Ryuuen demonstrated marvelous strength and survived to the very end.
As the signal marking the match's conclusion rang out, he took off his headband and swung it around in a display of triumph. Doing that and thoroughly repeating his acts of provocation are also probably a part of his strategy.
"He's the only one I absolutely didn't want to lose to! Pull yourself together, Hirata!".
Because Ryuuen's the one person he didn't want to lose to, Sudou's frustration is at an all-time high today. It's a situation where it wouldn't be strange even if he went on a rampage and tore the place up.
"Sorry, Sudou-kun. That headband was strangely wet and so I couldn't quite pull it off. I thought it was sweat at first but that feels a bit off.....".
Hirata said that and showed us his hands. When I touched his fingertips, I realized he had some kind of clear and sticky fluid stuck on his fingertips.
"That's not sweat".
"Then that means that bastard......!".
After confirming it by touching it with his own fingers, Sudou approached Ryuuen.
"Oi, that's foul play you bastard! You slathered your headband with something!".
In response to the howling Sudou, Ryuuen fearlessly and boldly replied.
"Ahh? I don't know anything about that. Even if that's so, it's probably just the hair wax. Don't be a sore loser".
He could say it came from his hair when he put on the headband. Perhaps it's because he had been swinging it around after his victory or perhaps it's simply because he'd wiped it on the ground but rather than being drenched, the headband in Ryuuen's hand was only dirtied. It seems the evidence has been erased.
"Sudou, we'll end up causing an uproar here. For now, I think it's better if we returned to our tent".
I could tell that the referee is openly glaring at us. Even if we cause trouble here, we wouldn't be able to prove that Ryuuen had smeared it and as a matter of fact, I do believe he's used hair wax.
If not then it would be a risky move that could result in foul play, something he wouldn't do.
"I know! More importantly, Ayanokouji, you're also at fault here. You need to provide better support more".
Even after returning to our tent, Sudou showed no sign of calming down. I took my distance from him to give him some alone time to cool off.
Karuizawa called out to me and Hirata once we came back from our cavalry battle.
"Hey, Kiyotaka. Isn't this bad?".
"What is? Wait, why did you just call me by my first name?".
"Why you say?.....I've begun to call him Yousuke-kun so I'm doing the same for you too".
Then why are you only dropping honorifics for me? Are you saying I'm even lower than him in your eyes?
I don't even have to think deeply about it.....it's probably just that.
"More importantly, it's about Horikita-san. Isn't she having a hard time for quite a while now? Even during the cavalry battle just now, she was a mess. Even if I try and follow up for her if it's like that, it's just absurd".
Horikita is being tormented by the contests and not just the team competitions but as a whole, her rankings have fallen significantly. The reason for that is an obvious one. Due to her fall during the obstacle course race, her right leg has been injured. One would normally suggest withdrawing but if that were to happen, Class D as a whole would be taking a huge step backwards.
"Well, I don't intend to blame her though. Her opponents are just too much".
Like Karuizawa said, it's not like it's Horikita's fault. Each and every time she keeps running into difficult opponents. No matter what contest it may be, if she keeps having to face students who happen to be the best in their clubs, then naturally winning would prove difficult.
But this is far too biased to write off as a mere coincidence.
"It can't be helped. She's being targeted after all".
"Targeted? So you mean it's not a coincidence that she keeps running into all these amazing people?".
"I can't think of anything but that. You should also know just how athletic she is".
It's not that Horikita is bad, it's just that the opponents she's forced to compete against happen to be superior. However, by consecutively placing bottom, she couldn't help but stand out to both enemies and allies alike.
More so because people have started to take notice of Horikita in particular.
The fact that she was the first one targeted in the cavalry battle only means that they're targeting the root. And in all likelihood, the one who ordered that is---the one conducting himself like a king in the enemy camp, Ryuuen Kakeru. No one but him would do this.
He's progressively prioritizing attacking Horikita over leading Class C to victory.
"It's what you'd call harassment".
"You're saying someone's harassing Horikita-san...? But, how.....".
"By the way, it's not just Horikita. They know everyone's group numbers for the contests. They fed weak opponents to the more athletic ones like Sudou and Onodera and for the unathletic one like Sotomura, Yukimura and Ike, they had them compete against students who are capable of barely winning. Basically, what it means is that we're being toyed with".
Then there's the fact that it's all students from Class C.
"...the class's information slipped out...the list on the participation table was leaked?".
"That's right. All of this was set up in advance and the information was communicated to Ryuuen".
"That sort of thing.....if I recall, Horikita-san's opponents were always---Yajima-san and Kinoshita-san...does this have something to do with the traitor you were talking about earlier?".
I nodded slightly. I made her understand just how bad of a situation this is.
"That sort of thing...how did you find out....? How should I put it, it would be less strange if you told me you're the traitor.....that's not it right?".
Leaving aside the 'who' for now, what's important is that the class's information is being leaked.
Our order of participation in the contests that we agreed on, with Hirata being first on the list, as well as our strategies, all of it is known to Ryuuen. Based on that information, he did two things.
One is to feed weak students to the talented students like Sudou and Hirata. And then he forces unathletic students like Ike and Yamauchi to compete against students who excel in sports beyond the shadow of a doubt in order to rack up wins that way. Of course, we are also taking that into account when coming up with our combinations but since Class C knows everything, they simply wait for us to make our move. That way, there's no mistaking the fact that Class C would produce better results.
The other is his targeting of Horikita. But that has nothing to do with leading his class to victory. He himself, for the sole purpose of crushing Horikita, is sending out powerful pieces to attack and crush her.
As a matter of fact, she's already losing face. If we rank Class D, then Horikita is already sinking to the very bottom of it. These strategies indeed reveal the peculiarities of the man known as Ryuuen Kakeru.
If he truly did not wish for his strategy to be revealed, he could have made sure to switch up the students in detail. However, the fact that he didn't do so would mean that he wishes to shock us by having us catch onto his strategy, it's because his desire to scare us that way is clear.
"So you're not going to help her?".
"That's....something I don't know".
"The participation table for this sports festival has already been confirmed. There's nothing we can do about that".
"So you're saying Class D might lose like this?".
"I suppose so".
"Is there nothing we can do?".
"Rather than consult me, I think this is something you should go over with Hirata".
"That's---that's true but...somehow if it's you, I thought you'd be able to think of something.....".
This sports festival is open for public viewing. Unlike the uninhabited island, there aren't very many blind spots. Since we're being watched by a great many people, both teachers and students will find pulling something off without being noticed a difficult task.
You could say that fighting upfront like Ichinose and Katsuragi, or taking a risk and using cowardly tactics repeatedly like Ryuuen are the only methods one can utilize.
Even in Ryuuen's case, from his movements and attitude, I could tell that he committed foul play only after thorough rehearsals and practice. In short, what it means is that most of the results have already been decided from before the sports festival even began.
"What do you think of Horikita?".
"What......I don't like her. She's conceited and impertinent".
"But you're still worried about her".
"Maybe I saw her as being similar to me".
Targeted, taking concentrated fire and forced into distress. So she's projecting her old, bullied self onto her.
"Right now, Class D is last place right......? Is there any way left to win?".
"Not to worry. So far everything's going as I predicted".
"So you have been putting some thought into it after all. So? How do we win?".
"Win? I don't intend to win in particular. Right now what's truly important is that we do nothing".
Karuizawa opened her mouth agape when I answered like that.
"For this sports festival, just do what you can. By doing that, it'll prove beneficial later".
"What do you mean by---".
As I pondered over how best to escape Karuizawa's interrogation, I suddenly heard an angry bellow.
"I'm seriously going to knock the shit out of that bastard!".
Sudou, who had turned into a demon, walked forcefully towards Class C.
The continuous provocations he received during the team competitions, and Ryuuen's statements that seemed to be targeting Horikita. All of that appeared to have been for the sake of causing Sudou to go on a rampage now.
"I get what you mean, Sudou-kun. But I think we need to stay calm about this. You should know what'll happen if you attack Ryuuen-kun".
Hirata stood in his way to stop him but he forcefully shoved Hirata.
"Shut up! He's the one fucking around here! He's committing foul play!".
"I do think there's a high possibility of it being foul play. But isn't it difficult to prove that?".
The trampling he received during capture-the-flag and letting go during tug-of-war, both of those can be considered foul play but it's still in a gray area and as for the hair wax he used during the cavalry battle, since there's no evidence of it now it's nothing more than mere speculation. At the very least, drawing close to him while being controlled by his rage, Sudou wouldn't be able to solve anything. More likely, he'd have the tables turned on him instead. If he attacks the other classes this publicly, there's the possibility that it wouldn't just end with Sudou being disqualified.
"I'm the leader during the sports festival. Obey me, Hirata, let's gang up on Ryuuen together".
"I'm not denying that you're the leader. Considering this sports festival, there's no doubt that you're the leader. But I want you to look around. Just how many people right now acknowledge you as their leader?".
Sudou looks around.
Starting with Ike and the others, who cowered before his anger, most of the students kept their distance from the irritated Sudou. They're all keeping their distance so as to not incur his wrath. Horikita too, was looking at Sudou's speech and conduct with exasperated eyes.
This is the current state of Class D. It's something we need to accept and improve upon.
"I'm desperately trying for the sake of the class.....".
Sudou squeezed those words out angrily but all the other students except Hirata raised their voices.
"Is that really so? Rather than wanting the class to win, isn't it just that you want to show off? Isn't it just that you want to show us just how amazing you are? At the very least, I think so. You're just being swept along by your emotions, and you decide usefulness and uselessness based on that. You get angry. If the class can win with just that alone we wouldn't even be having trouble. If you're going to throw your weight as leader around, you need to make rational decisions and give accurate advice".
It was Yukimura who cut in like that. Despite suffering from his own results in the sports festival, he's earnestly putting in effort.
"I feel the same way too, Sudou-kun. It's precisely because we're relying on you, Sudou-kun, that I want you to see the bigger picture. And I want you to respond to the feelings of all your comrades".
"You should be able to do that, Sudou-kun. That's why---".
"I'm telling you to shut up!".
Go~. Just as I thought a dull sound like that rang out, Hirata, who had been standing next to him, was shoved from behind and had collapsed onto the ground.
Sudou's eyes were bloodshot and he doesn't even seem to have realized the mistake he made. If someone says too much, they'll probably be the next ones to be beaten. No, he's already trying to beat Yukimura up.
However, by beating Hirata up, Sudou's already bathing in attention regardless of whether it's wanted or not and the teachers are eyeing him as well. Despite it being a class's internal affair, if violence is involved, it won't end with just a warning.
"What's going on?".
Chabashira-sensei, who is responsible for watching over the class, walks over to the collapsed Hirata. Then looking at Sudou's rage and the red mark left on Hirata's cheek from being hit it's more or less easy to grasp what's happening.
"Did you hit him?".
Not even hearing him out, Chabashira-sensei only asks for the truth. Not having felt any gratification, Sudou angrily answered without even denying it.
"....what'll you do if I did?".
Sudou affirms it but on the contrary, Hirata stood up and panickedly corrects her.
"That's not it, sensei. I just fell down on my own".
"I hardly see it that way".
"You're wrong. Because I'm saying so, there should be no problem then".
We cannot afford to have both the fact that Sudou punched and Hirata was punched come to light. Hirata made the right call. After a slight delay, Chabashira-sensei delivers her judgement.
"Certainly you're right. If the victim is saying nothing's wrong then first of all, there's no problem. However, objectively looking at it, there's the possibility that there's some kind of trouble going on between you guys. For now, keep your distance from one another. Then I'll be filing a report to my superiors. As a preventive measure".
"There's no trouble here and I don't want to cause any misunderstandings. I understand".
Thanks to Hirata's calm response, nothing came of it. Hirata took his distance to stay out of Sudou's field of vision.
On the other hand, Sudou was no longer able to suppress his rage and kicked a pipe chair near him with all his strength. Under Chabashira-sensei's watchful eye, beating up Class C is impossible to pull off.
"Do whatever you want. Go ahead and lose, you small fries. This sports festival can eat shit".
For a moment, Sudou looked at Horikita, who had been watching the whole thing but he averted his eyes. Sudou left and started walking back towards the dormitory.
"This is bad, Ayanokouji".
"This has nothing to do with me though".
Kouenji is absent due to ill health. And now Sudou's walked out on us. Rationally speaking, Class D's situation can be summed up as a shamefully terrible one.
"Are you alright, Hirata?".
"Yeah, I really got it good though".
Fortunately, it seems like only the inside of his mouth is a bit cut up and no large and visible external injuries occurred.
"But what do we do.....this is bad".
Leaving aside the chaotic Class D, the cavalry battles for the 2nd years and the 3rd years continued on smoothly. Ultimately, Horikita did not call out to Sudou but rather, her eyes were stolen away by the appearance of the brother she could not approach.
In the end, even after the cavalry battle ended, Sudou did not return and the final universal participation event, the 200 meter dash, began. The school will continue on with the contest, paying no mind even if one or two students happened to be absent.
That's the rule, that's how it'll be. Beneath us, Ryuuen approached.
"Hirata, what happened with Sudou?".
The absentees will simply be disqualified and will not be able to obtain points. They're following the clear rules to the letter. Perhaps Ryuuen had been observing Class D from a distance, but he spoke as though he were there close by when everything went down.
I wonder if this time he's trying to disrupt Hirata's mental state.
"Something came up and Sudou-kun's taking a break. He'll be back soon".
"Kuku. I don't think you should be saying baseless things like that".
Having his named called for the second race, Ryuuen entered the course.
"More importantly, up until now, Ryuuen-kun's taken 1st place in all the individual competitions right?".
Behind his back, Hirata called out to him while silently displaying his fighting spirit.
"What's wrong with that?".
"In terms of the participants this time, you're likely to take 1st place. It appears Ryuuen-kun's quite lucky".
"Luck's on my side after all".
"I don't know how much longer your luck will last. Just by doing something, the current can change".
"What I mean by that is I know what you're thinking".
Ryuuen laughed scornfully as though saying he had no idea what he's talking about. Hirata then continued.
"The fact that you've obtained the list on Class D's participation table as well as the fact that you know the physical abilities of Class D's students in detail too. And I also understand that you intend to make use of that. We're not idiots. There are a few trump cards we've kept hidden".
"That would have been interesting if it weren't a bluff. By looking at the contests between Class C and Class D so far, you'll inevitably stumble upon something strange. Regardless of whether you knew the truth or not, you should've at least tried to trick us".
"Yeah. That's why I'll say this. Until this day ends, I'll be showing you something interesting".
"Something interesting? Then I'll be waiting in anticipation".
At most, Ryuuen was only half-listening to Hirata's mysterious provocation. Seeing how he took 1st place in the 200 meter dash, the possibility that he was shaken up by it can be considered nil.
"So there's a little over an hour until Sudou's next match huh.......?".
The 200 meter dashes for the 2nd years and the 3rd years followed by a 50 minute afternoon break. If Sudou fails to return by then, it'll be checkmate. If our ace is absent, there's no winning in the Recommended Only Participation events coming in the second half.
There's only one person in this class capable of forcing him into action.
I wonder if that person finally understands what her role is and how vital it is? Having come in at 3rd place during my 200 meter dash, I quietly waited for Horikita to finish up with her contest and return.
"Horikita. Do you understand the gist of Sudou's situation?".
"His leadership was questioned and he came to realize what a disappointment he is before running away".
"...well, roughly speaking".
"Why are you here? Surely you won't ask me to go bring Sudou-kun back".
"If you already know, don't ask. It's almost lunch break, isn't your power needed here?".
"I don't get it. There are other people you could rely on. There's no way I could possibly bring him back, right?".
Is she seriously saying that? Was what I thought but she's probably being serious. She hasn't realized at all yet that Sudou is looking at her as a member of the opposite sex.
"In the first place, I'm not exactly in a position where I can afford to look after others.....".
Horikita, who's currently struggling in her matches, is negatively affecting the class's points. She probably has her hands full with her own problems. It's not like I can't understand those feelings of hers.
In addition to that, there aren't many classmates who are keen to go after Sudou. They've abandoned Sudou after he acted selfishly despite knowing he's capable of significantly impacting the outcome of the sports festival.
The amount of trust Sudou had accumulated becomes concretely visible here.
If it were Hirata or Kushida that had stormed off, the entire class would have been out looking for them. Kouenji is similar to him in that sense. As a matter of fact, aside from Horikita and Sudou, everyone ignores his existence. Nobody's taking the absence of one member seriously despite its importance.
"Then let me ask you this frankly. You cannot take care of your classmates, you cannot take care of yourself, what are you even worth then? You're just a burden".
I was prepared to incur her wrath when I gave her the deepest cut.
"You sure are harsh.....I'm sorry I got injured but I'm also experiencing a lot of misfortune here. Aren't there things you just can't do anything about?"
"Misfortune, eh? So you don't see your injury, as well as Class D's current state, as anything more than a coincidence. Proof that you haven't realized anything".
"Don't mock me. I've also realized more or less the strangeness of it...that the information on the participation table's list had been leaked to Ryuuen-kun. And the fact that the fault lies with a traitor from within the class. But it can't be helped, right? Even if it's someone who would betray the class, I hadn't expected them to act in a way that strangles their own class. That's why I'm not flustered".
"What else have you noticed?".
"Else?...I don't know the details of it, but Ryuuen-kun provoked Sudou-kun?".
"That's right. He attempted to thoroughly crush Sudou, the key player of our class. No matter how much information he's obtained, Sudou's still invincible as far as individual competitions go and he's a powerful presence in the team competitions as well. That's why he repeatedly targeted him mentally to get a rise out of him and succeeded in getting him to withdraw using elements outside the competition itself".
Sudou ceased to be an asset and because of his rampage, Class D's morale has plummeted.
"Yes. That's why we're in this current situation".
"Is there anything else other than that you've noticed?".
"You, it can't be.....you want me to tell you my conjectures? That Ryuuen-kun's the one who set that trap so I would get injured? Certainly I did think of it. That he incited Kinoshita-san to make me fall. But, it's not realistic to blatantly attempt to cause injury under the public eye. Even if they were able to make me fall, I don't think they would intentionally cause an injury to the extent that I would no longer be able to satisfactorily continue on with the competition".
Off the mark.
If I felt like it, I could have offered her evidence that it was indeed intentional. But that's not important.
"How long do you intend on being useless, Horikita?".
I said as such. Unless I take drastic measures like that, the girl known as Horikita Suzune will not open her eyes.
"...what basis do you have to call me useless?".
"I called you useless because you are useless".
"How unpleasant.....I'm confident that in both written exams and physical abilities, I'm superior to those worthless people over there. In the first place, since the information leaked, isn't it already too late? Not just me, but just about anyone would be left unable to do anything in this situation. Would you mind giving some basis?".
"If you're a run-of-the-mill student then that's fine. But that's not the case, right? If you're aiming for Class A and intend to raise your comrades up to the same then it's about time I tell you about the necessity of cultivating a mindset that can see the bigger picture".
"That's why I'm telling you to show your basis!".
Horikita said so with a bit of fierce anger showing. The classmates around us turned to look for a moment to see what's going on.
"'I've realized that the information on the participation table has been leaked', 'Ryuuen provoked Sudou', 'It might have been that the injury was intentionally caused'. Certainly, just like you said, it's a situation where you cannot do anything about it. As for why, it's because you didn't do anything about it. And as long as you don't do anything about it, it'll continue on forever. Do you intend to complain again when Ryuuen pulls something off brilliantly once more? Surely that's not it, right?".
"That's---but, what could possibly be---".
"A situation where you prioritize improving your own rank while Sudou is absent or a situation where your rank plummets while Sudou gets called back and pulls the class along. Which one would be in the best interests of Class D? There's no need to even answer that right? Right now you don't even hold a candle to Sudou. Get a hint already that you're an absolutely useless student. Sudou's methods are clumsy but he's contributed more during this sports festival than anyone else. And he had been eagerly trying to win. Can you afford to leave him be just because he couldn't afford to worry about others? Leave him be as it is? Isn't that the same as allowing your own valuable asset to perish?".
If I say this much, Horikita should be able to understand too. Even as she gets annoyed by it she should become aware of it. What I want her to realize is 'what I ought to do from now on'.
"It's something obvious even an elementary school student should be able to answer right? That this one act would lead to the start of our counterattack".
Ryuuen strategically crushed Sudou. Then all we have to do is strategically call Sudou back. It's a simple matter.
"You're throwing away a chance to get a weapon that belongs to you and you alone".
"A weapon for me alone......?".
"From here on out, if you're aiming for the upper classes there's a limit to what you can do on your own. As a matter of fact, right now you're in a situation where you cannot do anything on your own. You'll surely encounter more and more of such exams. At such a time, the man known as Sudou Ken will definitely become a valuable asset. In order to make use of it, what is it that you ought to be prioritizing right now? Is it to pray that your injuries heal here? That's not it, right?".
Just as I am using Hirata and Karuizawa as weapons, Horikita is also blessed with an opportunity to obtain a weapon of her own. If so, it's foolish to let that go.
"It's up to you to think of the rest. This is the end of the advice I can give you".
That's right, there's nothing else after this. I'm neither going to offer her a strategy to win against Ryuuen nor tell her the way to pull through it. Right now, what Horikita needs is defeat and healing.
The morning half of the sports festival ended with Class D in dire straits, and we entered the lunch break. There were those who had their lunch at the cafeteria, some who ate on the grounds, since we were notified that we could move about freely. Especially during the sports festival where a sense of solidarity could be strongly felt, regardless of whether you're a boy or a girl, there's plenty of opportunity to have lunch together with senior students. More so than usual. Unlike the usual, our classrooms are currently off limits and so the places where we could eat were limited.
If we're talking about the main charms of the sports festival, then lunch would be one of them. There's a huge mound of catered bento boxes piled up on the grounds. It appears today's lunch was not made at the school's cafeteria but rather luxury bentos ordered from the outside. There's only one variety but there's also the fact that it's free so most of the students will likely opt for it.
On the other hand, a portion of the students left the grounds without laying their hands on the bentos. One of them is Horikita. Perhaps my words finally reached her, since there's a high probability she's heading out to look for Sudou.
And Kushida is yet another one. Telling the girls she's close to that she's heading out to look for Sudou, she ran off.
"Guah---I'm beat! Why do I have to do this?".
"Because you lost".
To avoid congestion, Yamauchi headed off to get everyone's portion after losing at rock-paper-scissors.
"I'm starving, let's hurry up and dig in".
Ike and Yamauchi weren't showing much interest towards the fact that Sudou had withdrawn. In the first place, they've been hanging out with Sudou ever since a while after enrollment, so they know his personality well.
Besides, in this case, even if he doesn't participate in the contests, he won't be hounded on the matter. At most, he'll only lose his private points. Of course, it'll be a loss for the Red Team, but subtract that and it may have been better to be rid of Sudou's tyranny.
Most of the girls have witnessed Hirata getting hit. As a result, Sudou's reputation (leaving aside the matter of if he had one to begin with) plummeted and it's probably forfeit.
To see very little change despite losing the ace in this sports festival is also eerie, in a sense.
"For now, let's just find someplace to eat".
As the three of us decided to move elsewhere, Hirata appeared with a few boys and girls in tow.
"Can we tag along too?".
He called out to Ike and Yamauchi like that. Ike and Yamauchi were momentarily startled by that. That's understandable, there's no way they wouldn't feel startled if Hirata approached them despite them not being particularly close. But since the girls would also be sitting alongside them here, during this sports festival, the two of them couldn't find any reason to turn him down.
"Of course that's ok".
When he answered like that, a group of boys and girls numbering about 10 was established.
Then, occupying a suitable spot, we began having our lunch. We enjoyed our lunch for a while but eventually, people finished eating here and there and with that, Hirata and Karuizawa came over.
In a place like this where fellow classmates gather, it wouldn't be odd or unnatural for this trio including me to be formed.
"As expected, it seems Ryuuen-kun's made his move".
Hirata cut in with that admist the ruckus. Karuizawa then opened her mouth and interjected as though she had been waiting for this.
"So? Who's the traitor? You know right, Yousuke-kun?".
Karuizawa asked that but Hirata gently shook his head.
"There are several things I don't understand myself. I wonder if we could clear up those questions?".
"That's right. However, I cannot answer the question of who the traitor is".
"Huh? I don't get it, why?".
"Because if we aggravate the situation now, it'll only cause the class to plunge into further chaos. There'll be problems if we don't deal with the traitor quietly and calmly".
".....I understand. I won't interrogate you on that. But why did you submit the participation table as it is to the school despite knowing a traitor will appear? Couldn't we have sneakily adjusted the participation table on our own? If we had done so, we wouldn't be facing this much adversity. Not even that, we could have turned the tables and gained an advantage beyond even Class C.....".
What I had wanted was for Horikita to discern the presence of the spy and have the ability to deal with it accordingly.
"It seems like someone else's problem. And the traitor might be somewhere around us too right? It may even be that they're among us....is this sort of carefreeness ok?".
Karuizawa looks around. She appears to see even the few students here as suspects. Traitors are certainly troublesome and depending on the circumstances, it may be more convenient to just leave them be. Besides, even if we had used a strategy like what Hirata had suggested, it probably wouldn't have worked on Ryuuen.
Even so, it would be difficult to make them understand even if I told Hirata and the others of this reason.
"I've measured the traitor's moral sense. Something like that".
Saying that, I deceived them.
"I thought I wanted them to reform themselves without needing to pursue them ourselves".
Hirata, who had been listening, intently stared at me.
"All of this is according to Horikita-san's orders, is how it is right, Ayanokouji-kun?".
Hirata, who had already begun harboring his suspicions, may have already reached a point where he no longer trusts me but even so, I need him to believe me even if it's only for appearance's sake.
"Yeah. It's all as Horikita ordered".
Hirata did not interrogate me any further and nodding once, he appeared to have been convinced.
"So where is that Horikita-san and what is she doing right now?".
"She's currently doing something only she can do. Or at least it'd be good if she were".
"Could it be about Sudou-kun?".
Hirata, who possessed a keen intuition, looked around, and confirmed once again that the two of them weren't anywhere to be seen.
"It's not easy to win in the second half without Sudou, right?".
"That's right.....as far as we're concerned, we're dependent on Sudou-kun".
Karuizawa seemed slightly dissatisfied with having to depend on Sudou but she understands that it is a fact. The outcome of this sports festival rests on Horikita's actions.
If my words did not reach her, Sudou won't return and it'll be game over.