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“I’d like to propose something. Right now the problem is Ryuuen and which group we’re going to stuff him in and that’s what we’re all fighting over, right? Then in that case, I don’t mind becoming the leader of the group that takes Ryuuen in.” 
The one who said so was Akito, who had been carefully observing the situation from beside me. He continued speaking. However, by requesting that Ryuuen be accepted when no one else is willing to do so, he raised doubts. 
“What are you up to?” 
“That’s simple, I’d like the reward that comes with getting 1st place in exchange. A lot of it.” 
It’s not like there isn’t any opposition towards it but everyone does understand that the act of taking Ryuuen in comes with a high degree of risk. It’s just, I didn’t expect Akito to act with the intent of securing the reward. It looked to me as though he had come up with a reason to take Ryuuen in since no other student wanted to do so. 
“What are you proposing exactly? You sure you aren’t planning on dragging someone else down with you when the time comes for you to take responsibility?” 
“Unless you blatantly sabotage us, I won’t do such a thing. In the first place, the rules won’t let me do that, right?” 
The members of the provisional groups fell silent upon hearing Akito’s well-reasoned argument. And just like that, though there were various complications, the 1st year boys were able to form six groups. And with that, my group was also determined. 
From Class C there’s “Kouenji”, “Keisei” 
and “me.” 
The three of us. From Class B there’s “Sumida”, “Moriyama” 
and “Tokitou.” 
The three of them. From Class A there’s “Yahiko” 
and “Hashimoto.” 
The two of them. And then from Class D there’s “Ishizaki” 
and “Albert.” 
The two of them. 
10 people in total. 
It’s clearly unlike the four groups composed mainly of students from one’s own class. Still, I suppose that other group Akito’s in charge of is the same. However, there’s still a problem with this group I’ve ended up joining. That is the fact that we still have yet to choose our leader. I don’t think we have any leader type students to actively seek out the title of leader in our group. Since there isn’t anyone here to take the initiative and guide us to a consensus, our group was overcome by an atmosphere of being unable to say anything. Either way, we first have to report to the school that we’ve formed our group. We can afford to appoint our leader afterward. As the sixth group, the 10 of us headed over to make our report. 
“We managed to avoid Ryuuen but it’s still doubtful whether or not we’ll get a good average score with this group.” 
Anxious words from Keisei. To be honest, I can’t tell how good the students from classes other than C are. Personally speaking, I’d have liked to avoid being in a group with Ishizaki and Albert but it can’t be helped now. Ishizaki blatantly averted his eyes to avoid having to look at me but the others probably won’t be able to tell anything from just that. They’d only get the impression that he thinks nothing of me. 
“Kouenji’s also going to be a problem.” 
There’s nothing to criticize about his academic and physical abilities as long as he does it seriously but that’s only ‘if he does it seriously’. “Even Kouenji won’t do something that’d lead to a loss, would he? Because if we drag him down with us, it’s over for him after all.” 
I do feel like he’d noncommittally score above the average though. The only thing certain about him is that he isn’t the type to let us factor him into our calculations. 
There’s no predicting what’ll happen if Kouenji doesn’t show signs of being motivated. After giving our report, I realized that the group centered around Class A had stayed behind, despite the fact that they should’ve already gone outside. 
At first, I thought it was so that they could see the formation of the other five groups but apparently that doesn’t seem to be the case. Because 2nd year and 3rd year students also appear to be present. Most importantly, Nagumo Miyabi, the student council president who dominates the 2nd years, is also present. 
He confirmed that the 1st years have all finished forming their groups quickly and then he addressed us. 
“I thought you’d take a bit more time but this is surprisingly fast.” 
It appears the 2nd and 3rd years too, have finished forming their small groups. 
“I have a proposal to make to you 1st years. Why don’t we form the large groups right away?” 
“Nagumo-senpai, isn’t that supposed to take place tonight?” 
“That’s because the school didn’t think you’d be able to form your small groups right away. Coincidentally, all the school years have just finished forming their small groups. It’s best if we get a move on, right?” 
Apparently the teachers hadn’t expected things to turn out this way either. Sensing that steps are being taken to form the large groups, the teachers started to move in a hurry. Since the student council president himself made that proposal, there’s no way the other students would refuse to do so either. 
“Horikita-senpai, you don’t mind, do you?” 
“Sure. That’d be convenient for us too.” 
After that brief back-and-forth, discussions were held with Nagumo at their center. 
“What to do? Don’t you think it’d be interesting to decide things based on something like a draft? Six representatives from amongst the 1st years play rock-paper-scissors and decide the order. Based on that order, they’ll pick the 2nd and 3rd year small groups and just like that, the large groups will form. It’d be quick and impartial.” 
“The 1st years don’t know much. Doesn’t sound that impartial.” 
“It’s impossible to decide impartially. In the end, there is a difference between the amount of information we each possess.” 
A brief, yet important back-and-forth between Nagumo and the older Horikita. There’s no way any 1st year would interrupt. 
“What about you, 1st years? If you have any complaints about this method then please speak up.” 
Nagumo said so, knowing they can’t talk back to him. 
“We have no complaints.” 
Class A’s Matoba, representing the 1st years, answered with that. 
“I see. Then let’s get started right away.” 
Nagumo gave a smile and joined up with the small group he probably formed himself. And then, the 2nd years and 3rd years split themselves up into six groups to make it easier to understand. Leaders from each of the five 1st year groups then stepped forward to discuss. Watching them, Nagumo’s expression turned gentle almost as though he were looking at a child. 
“Now all that’s left is that group over there.” 
Since our group has yet to choose a leader, no one took the initiative to go and play rock-paper-scissors. I lightly pushed Keisei’s back while ensuring I wouldn’t be noticed. For a moment, he made a skeptical face but Keisei resignedly raised his hand. The six representatives of the small groups assembled and forming a circle, they started playing rock-paper-scissors. 
As a result, Keisei became fourth in line to select a senior student group. First in line is the Class A group led by Matoba. Second in line is the Class C group led by Hirata. Third in line is the Class D group led by Kaneda. 
“You can discuss amongst yourselves which group you want to pick.” 
The groups to aim for when picking would either be the Nagumo Group that Nagumo, leader of the 2nd years’ Class A and student council president, belongs to or the 3rd year group centered around the older Horikita. 
However, if you’re someone like Hirata, who’s acquainted with a lot of people from outside his own school year, you may be able to discern capable groups that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise discern at first glance. Matoba’s group, first in line, chose the 3rd year group that Horikita Manabu belongs to without any hesitation. And with that done, Hirata, second in line, carefully observed the 11 remaining groups one by one. His choice wasn’t the other group you’d aim for but rather, a 3rd year group whose members I’m not familiar with. 
“Oi, Hirata. Are this really ok? Isn’t that student council president’s group better?” 
It’s understandable that Ike would interrupt like that. 
“Yeah. I think this is fine. Talented people have their appeal but the problems they bring with them would be proportionately large too. Besides, the seniors from the group I chose aren’t half bad either.” 
He confidently replied with that and nodded. If that’s Hirata’s decision then Ike too, didn’t go any further. This is probably the level of trust he’s accumulated until this point. Then next up is the Class D group. 
Kaneda consulted his classmates, or more like, he informed them of which group he’s aiming to pick. There didn’t seem to be any objections since he immediately picked. 
“I’d like Gouda-senpai’s group from the 2nd years.” 

Once again, Nagumo’s group wasn’t chosen and another group ended up being picked. 
“I wonder why they’re avoiding Nagumo.” 
I muttered that simple question and from beside me, Akito answered. 
“That’s because other than Nagumo-senpai, the other members are of a questionable sort.” 
“Is that so?” 
“Well it’s not like they’re all questionable but there are a lot of Class Cs and Class Ds there. The group with a lot of 2nd year Class As is the one Kaneda picked.” 
In other words, it’s not like Kaneda avoided Nagumo for no reason at all. On the contrary, it would mean he chose strong and reliable allies. But what’s curious is why Nagumo didn’t form a Class A majority group. Of course, I do know that Nagumo controls the entirety of the 2nd years but still, bringing his class together in one group should be far safer for this exam. 
And then Keisei, fourth in line, got his turn. 
“Are you okay with me picking?” 
Keisei asks the group a simple question. 
“I don’t really mind. There’s no telling either way.” 
Ishizaki and Class D by extension, seem to be fine with leaving it up to Keisei. Class A too, didn’t really have any opinion in particular. Class B, yet to voice their opinion, decided after thinking it over. 
“Please choose Nagumo-senpai’s group.” 
Their members seem to be mainly Class Cs and Class Ds but their high evaluation probably comes from the student council president himself being a part of it. Having received their opinion, Keisei picked the group Nagumo’s in charge of. Afterwards, the discussion continued and the second round of selections ended. Eventually, six large groups were successfully formed. 
“Horikita-senpai, we coincidentally happen to be in different large groups. Shall we have a little competition?” 
Horikita gave a sharp look at Nagumo, who proposed that. On the other hand, I could hear exasperated sighs coming from the surrounding 3rd years. Prior to the special exam, Fujimaki of the 3rd years stepped forward as though to complain. I recognized him from the sports festival a while back as a considerably articulate student. 
“Nagumo. How many times has it been? Cut it out already.” 
“What do you mean by how many times, Fujimaki-senpai?” 
“You’ve been challenging Horikita just like this but until now you’ve never really done anything. But this time around, it’s a large scale special exam that involves the 1st years too. We cannot afford to let you act as though this is your personal playground.” 
“Why is that? There’s no such thing as a 1st year or a 3rd year in this school, it’s not really strange no matter who challenges who. It’s not considered taboo in the special exam’s rule book either.” 
Rather than cower before Fujimaki, who possesses a large physique, Nagumo continued to provoke them. 
“We’re talking about basic manners here. Even if it’s not expressly written, there are things you should and shouldn’t do. That much is obvious.” 
“I don’t really think that’s the case though. On the contrary, you seniors who seem to only desire infighting within the same school year are the ones hindering the growth of the students enrolled here, isn’t that right?” 
“You may have become the student council president but that doesn’t mean you’ve gained permission to do anything you want. You should be aware that you’re the one abusing his authority.” 
“If that’s what you think then I’ll keep that in mind. In that case, why don’t you be my opponent as well, Fujimaki-senpai? For the record, you are number two in the 3rd years’ Class A.” 
Blatantly assuming a casual attitude, Nagumo arrogantly put his hands in his pocket. It was a cheap provocation but some 3rd years seem to feel humiliated by it. A few students tried stepping forward. However, Horikita kept them in check. 
“I’ve rejected your demands up until now. Do you know why?” 
“Let’s see. Isn’t it because your friends are scared that you might lose to me? But of course, that can’t possibly be it. Out of all the people I’ve seen so far, Horikita-senpai, you’re the best. You’re not afraid of losing and you never even once thought you’d lose in the first place.” 
The 2nd years listening to Nagumo’s words almost seemed as though they were worshipping him. Friend, benefactor, it’s not limited to just those. He’s a rival and a hated enemy yet at the same time, also respected. Anyway, a variety of emotions seem to be directed at Nagumo. 
In the 2 years he’s been here at this school, this man has accomplished things no ordinary person would have been capable of accomplishing and that’s probably why. To what extent those are, not even the 3rd years know. The 1st years have even less insight into that. 
“I’m just like you, Fujimaki-senpai. I don’t desire meaningless conflict either.” 
“The conflict you desire drags others into it way too much.” 
“That’s this school’s modus operandi and I think that’s the real thrill of it…well, that’s just the difference between our opinions though. I mean, I thought I could have had surefire competition with you, senpai, during the sports festival’s relay but regrettably I wasn’t able to realize that. I’m still frustrated about that, you know?” 
“I don’t think this is an exam where a competition between a 2nd year and a 3rd year will bear any fruit.” 
“That’s probably right. Senpai’s just that kind of person. But as for me, I just want a personal battle between the former student council president and the current student council president. You’re about to graduate and leave soon. Before that, I want to see whether or not I’ve surpassed you.” 
Nagumo’s demand is unstoppable, his craving unsatiable. 
“What are you intending to compete with?” 
For a moment, the 3rd years seem surprised. It’s because the older Horikita seemed as though he’d accept Nagumo’s challenge. 
“Which one of us can expel the most students. How does that sound?” 
Both the 1st years and the 3rd years stirred in response to that one word from Nagumo. 
“Stop joking.” 
“I really think it’ll be interesting but I’ll refrain this time. If you want me to make a serious proposal then it’d be which group gets the higher average score. Simple and easy to understand.” 
“I see. If that’s the case then I don’t mind accepting.” 
“Thank you. I knew you’d accept, senpai.” 
“However, this is a personal fight between you and me. Don’t involve others.” 
“Don’t involve others, huh? But judging from the manner of the special exam, I’d say inciting someone to sabotage your enemy’s group is one strategy.” 
“That’s far from the essence of this exam. At most you should only question your own group’s unity. You shouldn’t take advantage of your enemy group’s opening to stir them up, even by mistake.” 
“…that is to say?” 
Ishizaki ended up asking Keisei that. 
“It means nothing other than a fair-and-square meritocratic competition will be acknowledged. If I have to put it simply, it probably means you can’t use dirty strategies like Ryuuen does.” 
“…I see.” 
Leaving aside the conversation between those two, the older Horikita and Nagumo continued their conversation. 
“If you won’t humor the conditions I’ve set, then I have no intention of accepting.” 
What the older Horikita rejected are actions taken to ensnare one’s enemy. 
In all likelihood, his goal here is to block Nagumo off from his forte. 
“So what this means is that in order to win, I can’t attack Horikita-senpai’s pawns. I’m fine with that.” 
I had expected him to be troubled by it but Nagumo surprisingly complied. However, the older Horikita continued. 
“That’s not limited to this group only. I won’t acknowledge any method that causes harm to the other students too. The moment I confirm you’ve meddled somehow I will call off our competition.” 
“As expected of you, senpai. You don’t miss anything. I did consider requesting cooperation from groups other than Horikita-senpai’s and having them attack yours……” 
He said so while boldly laughing. 
“I understand. I seem to be the only one craving for this competition so I’m willing to humor a certain amount of conditions. Fair-and-square, let’s see which one of us can score higher through group unity. Let’s have that be our competition. I’ll say this in advance but there’s no need to set any penalties in case of victory or defeat, right? At most, let this be a fight with just our prides on the line.” 
Regarding that, the older Horikita gave neither affirmation or refutation. In all likelihood, it probably means he’s not even intending to bet his pride on this.


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