Epilogue: Blind Spot
The last day of the training camp. In other words, the day has come for our groups to be ranked in this special exam. One week has gone by and in that time, both boys and girls from across all school years making up roughly 36 small groups have gone about their own business. There are groups where members have successfully managed to deepen the relationships between one another and there are also groups that are on the brink of collapse. There are also groups where members indifferently did what needed doing without bothering to deepen relations between each other. At first, nobody in our group thought we’d see eye to eye. However, in the end we did manage to grow closer to one another, significantly bridging the distance that existed between us. Not perfectly, of course.
At best, it’s a makeshift group. Tomorrow, we’ll be enemies again. We were only temporarily allied. However, there’s still a certain sense of loneliness when you remember that our activities together as a group is at an end.
“We’ve done what needed doing for now. No matter what the outcome is, this group has no regrets.”
“I think so too. Thank you for being our leader for a week, Yukimura.”
Ishizaki and Keisei, both of their own volition, extended their hands and exchanged a light handshake.
“No matter what the outcome is, let’s do our best.”
“I’ll be counting on you.”
The others are also complimenting each other and exchanging handshakes. Afterwards, we headed to the classroom our group was assigned to. There’s nothing to criticize as far as our unity goes too. Our biggest concern right now is how Kouenji will act. He’s currently calmly following us. But there’s no telling when we’ll lose control of him.
The 2nd and 3rd years from our group are already here and so we panickedly took our seats. After that, the bell rang and a teacher came in simultaneously to begin explaining the contents of the exam to us. Even though we’re a large group made up of all school years, the exam itself will be held based on the small groups or our school year.
At best, the large groups will only contribute to our overall ranking. No matter how spacious the outdoor school may be, if we’re all doing the same thing simultaneously then it won’t be enough. As expected, there are four topics covered by the exam and nothing out of the blue. ‘Zen’. ‘Speech’. ‘Long-distance relay’. ‘Written exam’. These are the four assessments that will be held. We 1st years will start with Zazen. And then we’ll move onto the written exam. Then the long-distance relay and finally we’ll be giving our speeches.
On the contrary, the 2nd years have a harder start by having the long-distance relay come first. The 3rd years seem to be starting with their speeches.
After breakfast, we headed over to the Zazen dojo. We are exempt from cleaning this morning since the exam will be starting right off the bat. All the 1st year boys are gathered here.
“Now then, let’s start the Zazen assessment. Scoring is based on two criteria. Your actions and manners after entering this dojo and any semblance of unrest during Zazen itself. After Zazen, stand by in your assigned classrooms until you are given instructions for the next assessment. I’ll call each student out by name and we’ll go in that order. Line up and we’ll start the assessment in that order. I’ll start now. Class A, Katsuragi Kouhei. Class D, Ishizaki Daichi—”.
The teacher continues to read out the names. After Katsuragi came Ishizaki, an unexpected order. Chatters came from the students around us.
“Hurry up, Ishizaki. Next. 1st year Class B, Beppu Ryouta.”
Bewildered, Ishizaki panickedly heads over to queue up.
“So we’re not going by the usual order……”
Keisei panicked and quickly prepared himself. I’ll admit this is not what we had imagined. We’ve performed Zazen over and over throughout this week but we all did so in our own small groups.
We sat next to a group member of our choosing back then but this time around, it looks like the school is randomly allocating us. We’ll have to sit next to students who aren’t in our comfort zone. That may seem trivial but right now, when confronted with it out of the blue, that only adds to the list of hurdles. The school’s attempt to shake us up had an effect on a portion of the students right away. A large hand rests itself on the agitated Keisei’s shoulder. It’s Albert’s hand. Having received that concerned warning to keep himself calm, it appears Keisei managed to regain some of his calmness.
“Sorry. If I’m like this on the very first assessment, it’d have an impact on the group’s morale.”
Keisei didn’t think of a leader’s burden as being a negative point, but rather a positive one. Afterwards, Keisei’s name is called out and he obediently headed into the dojo. Ultimately, from our group I was called before Albert as second from last. Many teachers stood around inside the dojo holding boards and pens. Furthermore, perhaps to make absolutely certain, there’s almost a disproportionate amount of cameras set up inside the dojo. I’ve already got the basics of Zazen down in my head so I won’t slip up.
Since the scoring system is mostly based on giving out demerits, I’ll first make sure to get a perfect score. I’ve already concluded that there’s no reason to hold back in Zazen and so I decided that I’ll definitely be getting a perfect score here. A slight distance away, Kouenji is also performing Zazen. There’s not a single mistake to be found in his posture. A truly beautiful posture. He continued to display that perfect, faultless posture. This man was never once serious during training but I suppose that’s to be expected.
We keep our eyes closed during the actual assessment so I wasn’t able to see the details but it appears he’ll be able to pull it off without any problems.
After Zazen, everyone starts leaving the room without making any small talk. Of course, we’re probably still being assessed until we’re outside the dojo itself. While being watched by the teachers, students leave the room and head over to their assigned classrooms as instructed. Once everyone in our group assembled in the classroom, Keisei sat down as though in relief.
“Leg felt numb through the whole thing……”
“Did you manage to endure it?”
Maybe Ishizaki’s the same too because while rubbing his leg, he asked Keisei.
“Somehow. But maybe I got a few demerits.”
“Well, no use crying over spilt milk. Nothing you can do now that it’s over. You think so too, right Ayanokouji?”
Saying that, Hashimoto looked at me.
“That’s right. Next up is the written exam, Keisei’s specialty. It’ll be better to focus on that instead.”
What he heard from Nagumo last night must still be on Hashimoto’s mind. But that doesn’t mean he’s just going to directly ask me about it or anything. Because Hashimoto doesn’t even know what part of me the older Horikita considers special in the first place.
Aside from us, two more 1st year small groups linked up. One of them is the group led by Akito that Ryuuen is a member of. I could tell Ishizaki and Albert turning to look at Ryuuen. But rather than look at us, Ryuuen simply took a seat alone. Not talking to anyone else. Alone. He’s part of the group but at the same time, he isn’t. He’s giving off the feeling of being completely isolated.
“That’s just strange, isn’t it?”
Beside me, Hashimoto whispers as though talking to himself. It would be so easy to just ignore him but I suppose I’ll humor him a bit.
“I’m talking about Ishizaki and Albert’s eyes. They’re looking at someone they hate but I just don’t feel that from them. It’s almost like they’re pets thrown away by their master, looking at him with sorrowful eyes.”
“I don’t quite understand. Didn’t Ishizaki and the others start the fight after being fed up with the tyranny?”
“That’s true but……just maybe, there’s something else behind Ryuuen’s fall?”
Hashimoto doesn’t have a single shred of evidence linking me to Ryuuen. However, taking into consideration Nagumo’s interest in Ryuuen, it’s not strange that his thoughts would forcibly lead him there.
“Don’t know……I’m not familiar with the affairs of other classes.”
“I see. Sorry about bringing up a strange topic.”
Not too long afterwards, after the 10 minute break ended, we moved onto the written portion of the exam. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about it. The things we learned during the training camp are the things we are tested on. As long as I get the essentials down, I could definitely get a perfect score but for a struggling student, 50~70 percent would be about right. I wonder what I should do…
While everyone else is giving it their all in this exam, I tried to figure out just how many points I should lose. I don’t think they’ll announce individual results but it’s not very desirable to keep letting the school see me get perfect scores either. There are already far too many students trying to sound me out recently. I’m not lying when I say I want to hold myself back from getting a high score. And then I reached a conclusion. I decided to deliberately get a question that seems difficult wrong. This means it’ll be difficult for me to get any higher than 95 percent. After I finished writing down all the exams, I felt like looking out the window. But it would be troublesome if they think I’m cheating so I chose to silently close my eyes and wait for the end.
After the test is over, the groups once again assembled and we score ourselves. Well, it’s not like anything will change just because we have to score ourselves but I cannot help but wonder whether I got that question right or wrong. I suppose changing your thoughts does help to a certain degree. We’re missing one person though since Kouenji left the classroom as soon as the test ended. As usual, Ishizaki seems to have missed out on many questions. Looks like I was right to insure against it. Still, the written exam itself was rather easy overall so every group should have scored highly. And from what I could see of the other students back at the dojo, there isn’t a significant gap forming in both ‘Zazen’ and the ‘Written exam’ portions. Everyone seemed to be performing Zazen relatively well.
Since both the ‘Speech’ and ‘Zazen’ portions involve simply regurgitating what we’ve already learned, it’s unlikely to give rise to any differences in points as long as they’re properly done. That means the ‘Long-distance relay’ portion will have the most influence on the group rankings in this exam. If the scores directly translate to the rankings then the top group would have to have 100 percent but……number one=100 percent might be too straightforward. Our times will also have an impact. For instance, you’ll still be able to gain additional points even if you’re in sixth place so long as your time’s good. It all depends on how fast you finish and how high a rank you get. When I went outside, I spotted many vans parked. Looks like they’ll be using these vans to take each student to where they’re supposed to receive the baton.
We received instructions from the staff to get into the vans. The minimum requirement for each student is to run at least more than 1.2 kilometers.
The baton may be passed to another student every 1.2 kilometers. If due to an accident, the student becomes unable to continue running or is otherwise unable to fulfill the minimum requirements, they will be disqualified. After carefully informing us of those three things, they dropped off Keisei who would be first to run and then we left. That’s because our plan is to have the unathletic students run first. Keisei would go first and then next up would be Class B’s Sumida, Tokitou and then Moriyama. Yahiko is fifth up.
That’s because the opening phase won’t have too many ups and downs plus there’s not much pressure on you to not be overtaken. These five will run the minimum length of 1.2 kilometers each. 6 kilometers in total. And then the baton will pass to Hashimoto and we’ll have him give it his all in running 3.6 kilometers including the turnaround point. Then Albert will take the baton and run 1.2 kilometers before passing it to Ishizaki, who will then run 3.6 kilometers. I would’ve been fine with taking over after Albert but Keisei insisted that linking up with a fellow classmate would make the transition go smoother. Kouenji will only be running 1.2 kilometers and so I’ll pass the baton over to him last after running 2.4 kilometers myself.
That’s the conclusion Keisei ultimately reached. The reason he placed Kouenji last is to tempt him into the mood by baiting him with the goal plus to assuage any anxiety about him not carrying the baton. In the case that he holds back, we may be hit with a demerit if they’re unable to determine who ran slowly. Ishizaki then got off the van and now there’s only me, the teacher driving the van and Kouenji left.
Since there’s the turnaround point to consider, it wouldn’t have been strange for them to drop us off first but it looks like they’re dropping us off in the exact order in which we’re running.
All that’s left now is for me to stand by 3.6 kilometers away from the goal. The van starts moving back in the direction we came from.
“Ayanokouji Boy, let me ask you this directly. If we get 1st place in the long-distance relay, what will the result be overall?”
“…there’s no way I’d know that even if you ask me. In the first place, the results of the exam will depend on the average score of our large group. It all hinges on how well our seniors can perform, right?”
No matter how hard we try, if the rest of them aren’t carrying their weight then it’ll be difficult for us to secure first place.
“So you won’t say there’s a possibility of us being in first place, even as a lie?”
“You’re not the type of man I could cheer up by saying that, right?”
“I wonder about that. How about giving me 1.2 kilometers of your distance? If I run with everything I’ve got then there’s a very high chance the rest of the group will win.”
After getting up, Kouenji whispered that into my ear.
“What’s gotten into you?”
“Just a whim. I’m saying that this whim of mine may help you out. Not a bad deal, right?”
“In other words, you’re saying you’ll take responsibility for 2.4 kilometers and give us results?”
“No need to be so formal. It’s just a whim of mine after all.”
“I see. Sorry but I refuse. I don’t intend to just up and change Keisei’s strategy on my own.”
“Fu. Fu. Fu. Really? That’s unfortunate.”
Kouenji said that and then returned to his seat.
I don’t know what he’s up to but I have no intention of taking any risks. If he’s helping us on a whim then that means he could hold back during the run itself on another whim. The only thing Kouenji’s promised to do is to run the minimum distance required. In other words, he may hold back once he’s running the extra 1.2 kilometers. The proof lies in how he brushed me aside when I asked whether or not he’d take responsibility. Besides, if some sort of trouble occurs because of a call I made then that may draw attention to me.
“It looks like you’re sharper than I thought. But at the same time, you’re also a boring man.”
If this evaluation of me leads him to treat me the same way he treats the other students, then that’s something to be grateful for. I got off the van and waited 3.6 kilometers away from the goal for Ishizaki.
Of course, there are also other boys at this spot and Hirata’s the one who called my name.
“You’re not the anchor?”
“Yeah. Kouenji will take over after me. What about you? Going with Sudou?”
“Yeah. After all, he looks like he’s itching to run. But with 15 people, things don’t always go your way.”
Currently, for the last 1.2 kilometers, Sudou’s rivalry with Kouenji is probably reaching its peak.
“I personally would’ve preferred having more people. It would’ve been a little easier.”
“Anyways, let’s do our best. Because as long as we’re over the borderline, no one will get expelled.”
While we’re waiting, everyone’s free to either chat or remain silent. Since water supply points are located every 1.2 kilometers, it’s also possible to go and grab a drink.
Well, if you guzzle water before running you run the risk of getting a stomach ache though…A single student, completely ignoring those concerns of mine, guzzled water from a bottle.
“Ahh—I’m getting nervous…”
That student whispered before turning around and locking eyes with me. It’s the Professor. He approached me. Maybe he wants someone to talk to.
“So you’re in this position too, Ayanokouji-kun.”
“A-Ayanokouji-kun? In this position…?”
I couldn’t believe my ears at the way the Professor’s talking. The usual Professor would’ve gone with ‘Ayanokouji-dono~ You have been stationed at this location too~’ or something like that.
“Ahh…no, I stopped speaking like that. I was doing it to imitate a character in the first place but after they warned me during Zazen, I thought I’d just quit doing it.”
I couldn’t hide my surprise at the Professor’s ill-suited normal speech. It’s like he’s lost his individuality. He’s giving me the impression of a Student A.
Afterwards, I had a normal back-and-forth conversation with the Professor but to be honest, I can hardly recall any of it. Just changing your manner of speech can change a lot of things so there’s no telling. Anyways, I wonder if Keisei’s successfully passed the baton. No matter how long it takes, the important thing is to stay in the race. This may not sound nice but even if our large group comes in dead last and our group falls below the borderline there’s still absolutely no chance of any harm coming my way. But I do genuinely think it would be best if no one gets expelled. I wonder how many minutes have passed but finally, I could see a student coming over. But he turned out to be from Kanzaki’s group rather than Ishizaki.
One by one, students continued to arrive after that. Ishizaki came in fourth after a close struggle against the runner in third place.
“Hah, haaah. Take it, Ayanokouji! Get 1st place!”
He screamed and handed the baton over to me. Whether or not we can take the lead depends on Kouenji but I just quietly accepted it and started running.
“I’ll kill you if you hold back!”
After handing me the baton, Ishizaki screamed that to me with the last of his strength before collapsing. I suppose it’s natural given that he just ran over 3 kilometers through mountainous terrain.
I decided to slowly bridge the gap between me and the ones in front by running faster than the people around me while not letting it affect my breathing. Rather than me attacking them by going at a fast pace, I allowed their stamina to fail them before overtaking them. By doing so, it’s easier to fool them into thinking they were overtaken because they were slow. Despite the ups and downs, a distance of about 2 kilometers isn’t enough to make me pant. And just like that, I ended up overtaking one runner and ended up coming in third, not too far off from second place. Then I handed the baton over to Kouenji. The baton that passed through nine hands before reaching this point. Its fate now depends on the man before me.
“Now then, let’s work up a little sweat.”
Brushing back his hair, Kouenji accepted the baton and started running with an innocent look on his face. He’s probably not doing his best but he’s more than fast enough. If it’s like this then it should be fine. Of course, that is only if he doesn’t just started walking once he’s out of our sight. Afterwards, despite making us worry, Kouenji successfully reached the goal and ranked second. I don’t know whether he couldn’t keep up with the runner in first place or simply didn’t bother to. Probably the latter.
The speech that will be taking place after this race may yet be a hell above all others for the 1st years. Because they’ll have to speak up after having exhausted themselves here. However, you could say there’s nothing else particularly noteworthy about it. Because despite Kouenji having a flair for the dramatic, I’m sure everyone else will be able to safely overcome this.
Just like that, our long exam day ended. The group, no, the entire student body is exhausted. Our group will definitely rank far higher than what we expected it to rank at the beginning.
As long as the average score favors us, our group will definitely stand more than a good chance. The rest depends on how well Nagumo’s group and the 3rd year group perform.
At the very least we should be above the average. Just like our first day here, all the boys assembled inside the gymnasium. Afterwards, the girls also began assembling. The results of the special exam for both the boys and the girls will probably be announced now.
It’s almost 5 o’clock in the evening. It’ll probably be late night by the time we get back to the school.
“You all did well in the last eight days of this training camp. The contents of the exam are different of course, but this is a special exam that occurs every few years. Overall, you all did better than the students who took this special exam last time. I suppose you could attribute that to all of you having better teamwork.”
The elderly man I haven’t seen before announced all that with a constant smile on his face. Looks like he’s the one in charge of this training camp.
“First of all, I’ll be announcing the results. For the boys, all groups are above the average set by the school and so there will be no expellees.”
The moment that was announced, I could hear the boys breathe a sigh of relief.
“I see, so no expellees……“
Patting himself on the chest, Keisei sighed. Ishizaki lightly taps him on the back.
“Never once thought we’d be expelled. Because we were aiming for 1st place after all.”
No matter what your feelings are, the fact that we’ve avoided expulsion is a significant one. However, something about the way that elderly man phrased it seemed off. If there are no expellees among the entire student body then there’d be no reason to say ‘boys’ in particular. In other words—
“As for the boys’ group that placed first, I’ll only be announcing the name of its 3rd year leader. For the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years of that group, your rewards will be handed out to you at a later date.”
After explaining that, the elderly man slowly read the name.
“3rd year, Class C. Ninomiya Kuranosuke-kun’s group placed first.”
That announcement caused a portion of the 3rd years to celebrate. I didn’t know which group it was for a moment, but I immediately realized that it’s the group the older Horikita is in.
It appears the older Horikita has dominated the battle against Nagumo.
“You did it, Horikita. As expected of you.”
Afterwards, groups starting from 2nd place to last place were announced but for the seniors that’s merely a bonus. Fujimaki, paying it no attention, praised the older Horikita.
“Oi, Yukimura. We’re 2nd. We did it!“
“Yeah, that’s a relief. That’s really a relief.”
I don’t know by how much since they didn’t announce the difference in points but Nagumo’s in 2nd place. That means it was close but he lost. Even if he placed 2nd, it still means Nagumo lost so he’d somewhat quiet down. That’s what everyone thought. To be honest, I couldn’t tell whose tactics would triumph in this fight. Why? Because I wasn’t particularly interested in it.
However, Nagumo’s been smiling constantly beside me without showing any sign of being agitated.
This isn’t a man who defiantly made his challenge and lost. I suppose that’s to be expected. Because this man’s been doing something ridiculously ‘wicked’ behind the scenes.
“1st place secured. Congratulations, Horikita-senpai. As expected of you.”
Nagumo raised his voice and congratulated the older Horikita. The older Horikita neither replied nor celebrated, remaining silent for the remainder of the announcement.
No, perhaps he’s starting to feel something off about this.
“You lost, Nagumo.”
The 3rd year Fujimaki, who knows nothing, said that to Nagumo. Perhaps he feels like he’s just humbled an upstart junior.
“Let’s see, the result announcement has just begun.”
“Oh please, the fight’s already over.”
“Sure, it’s over for the ‘boys’”.
“Boys? Girls have nothing to do with this. Nagumo, that was the rule, right?“
“Yes, they have nothing to do with this. Nothing to do with my fight against Horikita-senpai, that is.”
Fujimaki’s expression turned grim upon hearing those cryptic words from Nagumo. He quietly observed Ishikura from the 3rd years’ Class B from beside him.
“Now then…next up I will be announcing the results of the girls’ groups. The group in 1st place is the group led by 3rd year Class C’s Ayase Natsu-san.”
This time around, a portion of the girls start celebrating. The small group that’s a part of the 3rd year Ayase’s large group is the one built around Class C’s Horikita and Kushida. They may have just won quite a lot of points for themselves. But after the joy comes the problem.
“Umm…this is truly unfortunate but there is one small group that has fallen below the average.”
Both the boys and the girls froze up at that announcement. The students who were celebrating also went silent.
Everyone did their best in the special exam and worked hard to ensure they’d be above the average. However, the results can sometimes be cruel. This would mean someone’s definitely going to be expelled.
The question is whether it’s going to be a 1st year or a senior student, or perhaps both. There’s no telling yet. The older Horikita looked at Nagumo as though he just realized something.
As though he’s trying to figure out the reason behind that constant warped smile on his face. But it’s already too late.
“Firstly, I’ll announce the lowest group…it’s the group led by 3rd year Class B’s Ikari Momoko-san.”
The boys all couldn’t tell who was in that group at first. But they could hear screams coming from some of the girls and they start to realize who belongs to that group. The bottom large group has been decided. Now it all rests on which small group fell below the average.
In the worst case scenario, there could be expellees from all three years at once.
“Now, as for the group that fell below the average…“
Silence fell upon the gymnasium almost as though we were in the midst of Zazen. Everyone, wanting to know the results as quickly as possible, focused on that man’s mouth.
“Same as before, 3rd year—”.