Friday, August 17, 2018

Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e Vol. 4 Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The peaceful days suddenly...

                                                                                                           
                                                   
Three days have passed since the the test on the uninhabited island. On the luxurious cruise ship our school provided us with, nothing of note was happening and there a peaceful lull had set in. For students still in the primetime of their youth, having to undergo survival on an island like that, most would lose their rational judgment. At the end of the day, we boys are still little more than beasts and sexually active carnivores. As we watched the girls who were dilly-dallying their time away, we boys collectively began to expect a destined experience with the girls. This is still a luxurious cruise ship where you can lose yourself in a dreamlike world and forget about everything bad. Even if people were to fall in love here it wouldn't be strange at all.

Besides, I've already heard quite a few stories of students hooking up with each other on this cruise and new couples being born every other day. Unfortunately, that sort of encounter is unlikely to happen with me and I continue to spend this time alone in solitude. My situation is the same as it was before the island test. No. Perhaps the environment around me did change? Even though it was against my will, I was still forced to change my original trajectory after entering this school. Initially, I chose to enter this school for a very specific reason. "Contact with the outside until graduation is forbidden". That one school rule was the reason I entered. Right now, a "certain man" is attempting to contact me from the outside. Chabashira-sensei was the one who informed me of this. Furthermore, she's blackmailed me into helping her take the class to A Class by threatening to forcibly expel me if I did not comply. It would've been a stupid story otherwise, but lacking the power to refuse, I was forced to go along with it. I have no way of ascertaining the truth of her claims, so I decided to play it safe by assuming it to be true.

But I will not be blackmailed by her forever. For now, I will gather the necessary information and depending on the circumstances I will have to make the first move. A sweet devil whispers this into the back of my head. "Get them before they get you". That's all I need to do. But that sort of violent thought was only for a moment, I soon return to my normally pacifistic way of thinking. "If only I had the power to punch the Earth's axis out of balance" I thought. If I could only do that, there'd be no need to worry about such trivial things. Saying that, I daydreamed about living in the world of Dragon Ball. The students were uneasy at first after the test ended thinking something more would come. But nothing happened. The cruise was serene, peaceful and enjoyable. Almost as if summer vacations were already upon us. Naturally, the students switched into a festive mood. During this two-week trip it seems the latter week would be nothing but a continuous, luxurious vacation for the students.

The students were especially relaxed since the island test had just ended. And it's not exactly a bad thing. The fact that students were able to stay calm during the test itself is the reason we were able to get good results. "Hmm? Have you been in your room this whole time?". My fellow male student, Hirata Yousuke, was the one who called out to me. "There's no reason for me to go out, I don't have anyone to spend time with anyways" I reply to him. "That's not true, there's Sudou and Horikita as well" he tells me. Indeed, Sudou and Horikita are people I can technically categorize as "friends". But just because you are categorized as a "friend" there is still a hierarchy. And if you are at the bottom of that hierarchy, the treatment between friends will still be different. Sometimes when people go out, they'll only invite you once out of 10 outings. I am that sort of person, existing only to be invited once in 10 outings.

"I think Ayanokouji-kun will be able to make more friends if you were a bit more aggressive" Hirata tells me. This person is a popular man who many students like and support considerably. In particular, girls seem to trust him a lot. He also has a girlfriend like Karuizawa. For a man as lucky and happy as Hirata, he will never understand the suffering of a loner like me. "Ayanokouji-kun's way of talking is already fine, you just need the trigger to converse" he keeps telling me. I don't need that sort of cruel kindness.

I don't need words from girls like "Eeh...you look like you could be popular". Because if I reply to them with "Then go out with me" they'll just say "That's a bit troublesome". It's because I was unable to form any friends nor have a girlfriend that I was forced to spend time alone like this. Hirata then tells me "I'm planning to go out with Karuizawa-san at 12:30 to have lunch together. Would you like to tag along with us. I'm sure it'll be fun to have you with us". "Is it just Karuizawa?" I ask him. "Not exactly, there are 3 other girls that will be with us. Do you dislike that?" he asks.

If I have to admit the truth, I've been wanting to talk a bit with Karuizawa for a while now. But...there's no need to hurry. Besides with other girls tagging along with us it will be hard to initiate a conversation with her and I definitely won't be able to liven up the lunch. "I'll have to pass, I don't think I'll get along with Karuizawa's group after all" I tell Hirata. With the completion of our 1st semester, the relationships between classmates have already been set in stone. There's no way I can build a new relationship with someone else at this point. I can already imagine Karuizawa's dislike of me.

Hirata sat down near to me, having realized that I did not want to initiate new relationships with people. "I can understood what you would be reluctant, but I want you to depend on me" Hirata finally tells me.

Hirata was ready to help anytime and anywhere with that pleasant face. I thankfully decline his offer with a shake of my head. "Only 10 minutes to go before lunch, I think you should leave me now" I tell Hirata. "There's no need to hurry, besides I think it's fun being with you like this now" Hirata quickly replies. At first glance you may think I'm simply trying to sound strong or making excuses, but I'm actually quite satisfied with my current situation. Of course, when I first came here, I was thinking I'd be able to make 100 friends and went in with that kind of determination. But that momentum quickly died down. Although I was able to make friends with the 3 Idiots, Horikita, Kushida and Sakura. All in all, my social school life isn't doing so bad, I can be convinced of that. But the guy named Hirata was unable to leave a classmate wallow in loneliness like this. He tells me "Then how about we have lunch just the two of us together, will you be happy with that?" he proceeds to ask me.

It was just the two of us right now, with Hirata staring intently at me. It seems he'll be insistent on this to the end. "I'm fine with it, but you need to consider Karuizawa's feelings" I tell Hirata. "Its ok, I can eat with Karuizawa-san whenever I want, but with you Ayanokouji-kun, I have limited opportunities to eat together" Hirata replies. A kind person like Hirata was able to pay no attention to the fact that he was basically asking another man out for lunch. I quickly thought perhaps he swings "that way". Despite his crazy popularity, Hirata was always able to maintain his sense of rationality as a man after all.

"I don't want Karuizawa to hate me later on" I tell him in an attempt to politely decline his invitation. It seems it managed to work by appealing to Hirata's conscience. "Its ok, Karuizawa-san isn't the type to be angry at you for something like that" he replies to me. No, no. Karuizawa's definitely that type of girl I thought. Even if she pretends to be docile in front of Hirata, she's definitely the dominant type when dealing with the other girls. Perhaps she hasn't revealed that side of her to Hirata? I thought.

He almost seemed like a kind teacher trying to mercifully help bad students. "I think I'll cancel the lunch with Karuizawa-san after all" he tells me. He quickly pulls out his mobile and calls Karuizawa. I tried to stop him but Hirata uses his hands to cover my eyes and stop me. "Do you have anything you'd like to eat in particular?" he asks me. I was forced to listen to Hirata cancel the lunch date with Karuizawa. "I can eat anything...I'd just like to avoid heavy foods if possible" I finally told him. The cruise ship has a lot of restaurants. The menu ranges from junk food such as ramen and hamburgers to something like French cuisine. Since it's still daytime I'd like to eat light food if at all possible.

As I thought, Hirata really did cancel his date with Karuizawa for this. I couldn't clearly hear Karuizawa's voice through the call but Hirata forcibly shut her down and cancelled the date anyways. "Are you really fine with this?" I ask him. "Of course. Let's go to the deck. If it's only snacks it'll be easier to eat out there anwyays" he tells me. Hirata opened the door and pulled me out of it. "Thank you for your cooperating during the island test I cannot thank you enough, Ayanokouji-kun. You even helped me look for the culprit" Hirata tells me. "Don't thank me for it. The credit belongs to Horikita. She's the one who found the culprit that stole the underwear" I quickly tell him in response.

"Of course that is true, but I still want to thank Ayanokouji-kun who cooperated with me without reservation" he tells me. Speaking of underwear, there's still something I want to ask him. I looked around to see if there were any people around.

"Did you return Karuizawa's underwear to her yourself?" I ask him. "Yeah after all Ibuki-san was the culprit so she was able to accept it smoothly" he tells me. The underwear I was talking about was the theft incident during the island test where the underwear of one of the girls, Karuizawa Kei, was stolen and things quickly became turbulent. Especially since the underwear was found in one of the men's bags, the relationship between the boys and the girls became strained. But Hirata managed to resolve it by returning the underwear and figuring out the culprit. In either case, all turned out well. It was a delicate situation so was I worried about what could've happened.

I was worried that even if it's Hirata, returning a girl's stolen underwear could've turned out badly. The fact that he was able to smoothly return a girl's underwear to her might mean that he's already climbed the steps to adulthood. From the elevator in the cruise ship to the deck, students seemed to be enjoying their summer vacation in their favourite dresses.

Since there was also an on-board pool nearby both male and female students were boldly wearing swimsuits and swimming in the pool. Since the tension of the test had come undone, this was inevitable. It might have been that the pent-up rebellious desire of the students that was suppressed during the island test finally came free to result in this situation. This was compounded by the fact that you do not need to pay any points for use of the facilities provided by the cruise including food and drinks. Regardless of your points, the above things are all free. Of course, you'd still need to pay to loan swimsuits and other swimming equipment but aside from that, everything else is free.

By the time we reached the restaurant, over half the seats had already been filled. The two of us quickly secured the vacant seats that still remained amongst the crowded restaurant. "To be honest...I have something I'd like to talk to you about" Hirata tells me. While I was looking down at the menu, Hirata's voice apologetically asked me that. "What is it?" I ask him. Of course there was an ulterior motive. That's why he was so insistent on eating with me. I'm not complaining because since he went out of his way to invite me, there must be a reason for it.

"I may not be the best listener but...do you have the short version of it?" I ask him. I'm neither a good speaker nor a good listener so that's the reason I asked for the condensed version of it. "I would like you to be the bridge between me and Horikita-san, I think Horikita-san will be an indispensable person to D Class in the future and I would very much like to work together with her" Hirata tells me. I see, so he needs my help for that. I nodded as Hirata kept talking while apologizing to me. "Even the other day, it was thanks to Horikita-san's efforts that D Class won an unexpected victory. The morale of the class is soaring. I think the number of students who like Horikita-san has also gone up which is a huge change from before" he tells me.

"I suppose that's true" I say. The girl named Horikita Suzune is a D Class student who coincidentally also was my first friend here. But other than that, she's a solitary person with no friends at all. The only skill she has is the ability to be a honors student in the academic sense. But her weakness, in exchange, is that she is bad at interpersonal skills and often has a demanding attititude which causes difficulties when socializing. "Right now, I feel like together me and her and everyone else working together we can climb up together to C Class, B Class and finally A Class" Hirata says optimistically.

If I'd heard this story from anyone else I'd have brushed it aside as a convenient story. But Hirata once brought up the matter of Horikita from the start of the semester. From the start, he must have sensed the potential that Horikita had. I don't sense any ill will from Hirata. I don't mind helping him out in this regard, the task itself is relatively simple. But even if I can bring Hirata and Horikita together. But that alone won't solve the problem.

"But even if you I bridge the gap between you and Horikita, it won't go over that easily, Horikita's just that type of person". Even if I try to mend the relationship between Horikita and Hirata it will only appear to her as unnecessary interference. If she feels that way, she might actually widen the gap between her and the rest of the class in response. Her interactions with Kushida at the start of the first semester is proof of that fact.

"Of course I do understand that fact, Horikita-san will not open herself up to anyone but Ayanokouji-kun. I don't intend on forcing this issue, that is why I would like you to be the bridge that connects my existence to Horikita-san's" he says. And so I'm supposed to tell this to Horikita is what he's saying. That means vice versa, I will also need to relay Horikita's feelings on the matter back to Hirata.

Indeed, if I act as Hirata's medium, Horikita won't have to work together with the rest of the class and we can build an invisible bridge of cooperative relationships. "It's easier said than done, usually I'm the one following Hori...to be more precise, I've never really given Horikita any opinions before. If I started giving my opinions on matters suddenly it would seem strange" I reply to him. "But as of right now I don't have any better ideas. Even if I were to talk to Horikita-san about this right now, I don't have the confidence that I'd be able to convince her to work together with us. This is my last resort" Hirata tells me.

"Isn't it a bit premature to be resorting to last resorts at this point?" I ask him. I certainly understand now his desire to work together with Horikita. But if so, he has no choice but to directly approach Horikita on the matter. I do understand that doing this might be difficult for him, but working together with others as a team is also equally difficult.

Hirata should have been able to realize something as obvious as this. He's the one who cares about this class and thinks about it and cherishes the bonds of friendship among it the most. But there's still one question left regarding him. Back on the island, he seemed almost to be afraid of something and losing sight of himself. I still remember the strange behavior Hirata had back on the island. When the unity of D Class was compromised by the incident, he seemed to have almost been 'empty'. That is not normal behavior.

For now, I order sandwiches and some drinks. Light food overall, easy to eat. Students were swimming in the pool on the deck while others were eating while still in their swimsuits. The mood amongst the students seemed to be a festive one. If Ike and Yamauchi were here, they'd be drooling more at the girls' swimsuits than the meal itself. Hirato, on the other hand, paid no attention to the girls at all but instead was staring at me.

"Yeah, like Ayanokouji-kun said, my plan may have been a poorly thought-out one" he admitted. He's also honest to a fault and able to recognize his own mistakes in rational judgments quickly. That is one of Hirata's strengths. But it seemed his desire to cooperate with Horikita was stronger after all since he didn't show any signs of giving up on persuading me. "It seems I'll have to rethink my approach, Horikita-san is a very serious type of person. How did you manage to get along with her Ayanokouji-kun?" he asks me.

In order to strengthen his relationship with Horikita, it seems like Hirata wants to befriend her first by asking me for advice. I think that's the right attitude to take and if there's something I can do I'd like to lend him a hand. "Let me refute one of your points. It's not like I'm getting along with Horikita well or anything too, it seems like she doesn't even recognize me as a friend" I point out. "But it seems like Horikita only gets along well with you, Ayanokouji-kun". So that makes me special because I'm the only one able to get along with that one person. Or perhaps that's something a man who's easily able to befriend 40 people says. Because of the frustration he feels from not being able to befriend this one particular person.

"Don't be so impatient, we've just finished the first semester you know?" I tell him.

The cohesion of the class is directly correlated to the time spent together. Or in some cases, when they're pitted suddenly in harsh conditions like during the island test. Of course you can force cohesion in the class by acting towards your fellow classmates but that sort of cohesion is very fragile and easily crumbles away.

"I should also add that Horikita is not the type to make friends easily" I said. I said it simply so that Hirata could understand that the fastest. "...that might be true". Perhaps he might have been impatient on that regard but Hirata's face showed a reaction. "I admit I wasn't thinking of her feelings but rather only my own desire for cooperation" Hirata told me with a smile while nodding. I'm sure he understands now. "I'm sorry, I invited you out here only to listen to my selfish request, let's eat shall we?" Hirata tells me.

Perhaps he noticed too, but after a while Hirata also became aware that someone was approaching us and looked at me with an embarrassed face.

"Ah...so you were here after all, Hirata-kun. Let's eat lunch together!". A happy voice called out to us. It was Karuizawa who was approaching us.

"Umm...Karuizawa-san, I'm sure I called you a while ago to tell you about cancelling the lunch, but..." Hirata was stumbling over his words. Karuizawa and her friends pull another table, joins it with our table while Karuizawa quickly pushes me out of the group. The lunch suddenly became rather noisy and I, of course, have trouble socializing. But I don't need to worry. I'm used to situations like this already. In this case I will need to use my special skill "Quickly escape the scene".

I picked up my food and quietly left. My eyes met with Hirata's for a moment, but soon he was surrounded by Karuizawa and the other girls and I could no longer see him.

I guess that's one of the downsides of making too many friends. You lose the time you could spend on yourself by having to spend it on others. Even if Hirata has any personal problems he needs to consult someone on, I'm sure he cannot ask Karuizawa for advice so he'll have to keep them shut up inside.

                                                                  1

Having abandoned Hirata to Karuizawa, I decided to return to my room having no one to hang out with or talk to. I used the stairs instead of the elevator to go back down into the ship to the third floor where my room is. There were wet stains in the corridor, I noticed. It wasn't just my room but the stains stretched through the whole corridor. I walked along the stains, following them and noticed a man walking gracefully through the corridor wearing nothing but swimpants. His entire upper body was naked.

"S-sir! This is a problem for us, if you walk through the corridor while you're wet!" One of the staff, noticing the emergency situation, rushes down to talk to the man. The staff was already carrying a towel in his hands, as if he's always been carrying it for situations like this.

"Ha Ha Ha. It looks like you've found me" the man declares.

"Yes, sir. It's the fourth time I've found you like this. I've told you countless times before but please wipe your body off before returning to the ship. D-doing something like this will greatly inconvenience the other guests" the staff seemed to be saying.

So this is why the staff had prepared the towel in advance, he'd already seen this happen many times before.

"I make it a principle to never wipe my body down" Kouenji said while water droplets dripped from his whole body. Suddenly he stopped walking. "Do you happen to have pen and paper?" he asked the staff. "Huh?...uh I do have a notebook and a pen" the staff quickly replied to him without understanding exactly where he was going with this while awkwardly taking out a pen and his notepad. "Do you know that the signature of a celebrity can unexpectedly have a premium price, sometimes being worth tens of millions abroad?" Kouenji told the staff. "And...what of it?" he asked Kouenji in reply. Once he had finished scribbling something in the notepad with the pen, Kouenji swiftly handed it back to the staff. It was from a distance so I couldn't see properly but it seems like he had written his name 'Kouenji Rokusuke' on the notepad. "W-What is this?" the staff meekly asked him.

"Is it not obvious? It is a signature. A signature. Although it is written on such a cheap note, in the future it shall most definitely have tremendous value. I shall give this to you as a present. Accept it gratefully" Kouenji told the staff. It seems Kouenji is not such a bad guy after all, he gave the staff his signature in the hopes that it will be of use to him as a means of expressing his gratitude. But I somehow doubt it will be of much use to the staff, most likely it was just a waste of good paper and ink. "Do not make me look to be a fool, I am the man who will carry Japan's future on his back in the future. As thanks for helping me, I will allow you to work on a much larger luxury ship then. One large enough to make this one look like a commoner's ship" Kouenji declared to the staff. Personally I thought, I'd rather not have the ship be too large and run a Titanic risk of sinking. However, Kouenji seemed to be laughing satisfactorily. The staff seemed to have lost his resolve to stop this man and only stared at the now-wet floor dejectedly.

Rumors have it that classmates actively avoid Kouenji due to this very selfish personality of his. It seems like several of my own classmates have already experienced what this staff boy had just experienced. I'm sure if it's Hirata, he would make sure to call out to Kouenji even if he gets brushed aside like the staff just now. But the man named Kouenji is like poison, and those who interact with him, friend or foe will suffer for it. To avoid such a problem, I simply and quietly walked past the two of them. "Oh. If it isn't Ayanokouji Boy? What a coincidence" Kouenji suddenly calls out my name. Unexpectedly hearing my name being called out like that, I looked back at him to see the staff boy happily smiling that the target of Kouenji's whims had shifted from him to me as if to say 'I'm finally free' to me. Indeed, Kouenji seemed to belong to some violent alien species that would greedily devour all the native species in a river. "Do you have some business with me?" I calmly ask him.

"No, no. No such thing. I am simply calling out to you as a fellow classmate. After all, you do happen to be my roommate" Kouenji replied to me as a matter-of-fact. Then he swiped down his hair and almost like a shotgun, water droplets flew off his hair and landed on my face and my uniform.

Of course, Kouenji seemed to be so absorbed in himself he did not even realize my predicament. "Then I will excuse myself" the staff boy, who was previously watching the spectacle unfold, quickly said and shuffled away, quite clearly not willing to get any more involved in this matter. Of course, I also do not wish to be alone with Kouenji in a situation like this. "What were you talking with Kouenji about?" I asked him swiftly. For a moment, the staff boy seemed to have been slightly angry at being denied a chance to escape Kouenji but dutifully replied to me "It seemed he was wet, so I thought to provide him with a towel...but it seemed I have troubled you both, please excuse me" he told me as he rushed off from the scene.

"I see. So he was making an attempt to take care of me?" Kouenji noted. "Y-yeah, that seems to be it" I quickly told him in response. Somehow it seemed I had managed to get away from Kouenji and made it all the way back towards my room. "Still, what a coincidence. Meeting up with Kouenji on my way back here". Still, even though it was uncomfortable, I suppose it was still going to happen either way considering the troublesome lack of space being packed on this ship together. Desiring to avoid another awkward encounter, I instead opted to turn right instead of left and chose to return to my room some other time. Hirata and Yukimura, who also share the same room as me, should be returning shortly. I instead went to the nearby guide board on which the map of the ship was illustrated in a clear-to-understand manner describing the various escape routes in case of an emergency. As I listlessly walked through the corridors on the second floor area, it seemed there were not many students here at this time. Then the mobile phone in my pocket vibrated. I took it out to see that I had mail. A certain girl had called me out. Since I had nothing better to do at the time I decided to accept and headed out to meet her.

"Hah...hah...hah". By the time I approached the girl who sent me the message, Sakura, I could hear anxious sighs coming out of her mouth. "What's wrong?" I ask her. "Waaah...A-Ayanokouji-kun?". I seemed to have surprised Sakura, since she quickly panicked and called my name with a shocked voice. "Sorry for surprising you" I told her. "N-no...I-I was just being slightly nervous". If she's this nervous about meeting a mere friend like me, her life must be pretty tough I thought. "Ayanokouji-kun, your roommates are Hirata-kun, Yukimura-kun and Kouenji-kun...right?" she asked me. "Yeah, is something the matter?". I was surprised to hear her ask such a thing. "Umm...about that...I was slightly worried about the people I'm sharing my room with..." she trailed off. It seems like Sakura isn't getting along very well with her rommates, since she was never good at socializing in the first place. By looking at her worried expression, I can understand the severity of her problems. "Are you worried that you won't be able to get along well with them?". "I'm not sure. I do feel like I want to be friends with them. But there's a part of me that wants to be alone too. I'm hopeless aren't I?" Sakura tells me.

Her voice trailed off weakly, but unless I know who Sakura is sharing her room with, I cannot give any proper advice at the current stage. "So, who're your roommates?" I ask her. "...it's Shinohara-san, Ichihashi-san and Maezono-san..." she replied with a dejected voice while giving me the names of her roommates. It's a gathering of girls with very strong and distinct personalities unlike Sakura. Speaking of Shinohara, she's a girl who's close friends with my fellow classmate Karuizawa. She's a headstrong girl who frequently quarrels with the boys and doesn't hold back against people she doesn't like. I don't think she'd hold anything against Sakura, but I doubt they'll be raring to make friends either. Ichihashi is usually more mature, but still has a somewhat headstrong attitude at times like Shinohara. I don't know much about Maezono, but she definitely seems to have somewhat of a bad attitude and certainly left a bad impression on me. For Sakura, this must be like being thrown into a den of lions. I wanted to pat her head to cheer her up even a bit. "But why ask me for help in particular?" I asked. "....I thought if it's Ayanokouji-kun...I might be able to get some good advice..." she said.

It seems she's quite dependent on me, but she quickly apologized to me for it. "I-I'm sorry, Ayanokouji-kun must also be busy, sorry for depending on you like this" she said. "No problem, I don't mind being asked for advice, but I have doubts on my ability to help you" I swiftly replied. Sadly, I don't know any one of the girls Sakura just named so I probably won't be of much help to Sakura. While I was thinking of my answer, the door to the room opened. "Oh. It's Ayanokouji-kun and Sakura-san, what are you two doing here?" . It was another one of my classmates, Kushida Kikyou, who came into the guest lounge to greet us. Sakura's previously bright expression quickly darkened and the atmosphere turned awkward.

Although Kushida was clearly not aware of it, the usually antisocial Sakura rejected her presence and withdrew back into herself. Of course, Kushida kept talking without a care in the world.

"It's ok, I'm not going to disturb you two. I was on my way to meet some friends anyways" Kushida told us. "I-I'll be going back then..." Sakura weakly told me. Although Kushida was trying to excuse herself, Sakura got back up and ran back towards her room. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I came at a bad time? Should I not have called out to you?" Kushida tried to apologize to me. I thought there was no need for such apologies, Sakura is naturally bad at socializing like this anyways. "Anyways, I haven't talked to you ever since getting back to the ship, Kushida. You were out with quite a lot of friends after all" I told her. Kushida is the idol of the class. Naturally she's the most popular girl. She was genuinely living up to her words of wanting to be friends with everyone with the exception of a few loners like Sakura. "I'm going out with Class C today, do you want to come with me, Ayanokouji-kun?" Kushida asked me. "Err...can I join?" I asked. "You're coming?" she sounded surprised. This is shaping up to be a bad day indeed I thought. Kushida seemed slightly puzzled by my response. I quickly thought I needed to decline this invitation. "I'm joking, you know I'm not the type to hang out like that" I told her. "Hmm...I was surprised for a bit, Ayanokouji-kun you're very funny" Kushida told me. "R-really?" I asked. I don't think those were her real thoughts, her true thoughts would definitely be a lot scarier than that.

"Then I'll be off" she told me. Just as she said that, both Kushida's and my phones vibrated at the same time. Even in silent mode the tone still rang out clearly, this must be important instructions sent by the school to all students. "I wonder what it is" she muttered.

Despite the various instructions we've received after starting school, this is the first time we were contacted in such a manner. This summer vacation is the first time receiving instructions like this. At the same time, an announcement started over the ship's speakers. "This is an announcement to all students, you will have received a mail to your phones earlier. Check the contents of the mail and follow those instructions closely. If you have not received the mail, please contact your nearest available faculty member. This is a very important announcement so please make sure to not miss it. I repeat---" the voice repeated the message. "...it's the mail we received just now right?". "Probably".

The message from the school arrived to both our phones simultaneously after all. The following was written on the mail in my phone:

"A special examination will be starting soon. Gather at the designated time in the designated rooms. Students who are more than 10 minutes late for the meeting will receive a penalty. Go to room 204 on the second floor by 18:00 today. Since there is only 20 minutes left until then, please wash your hands and keep your phone in silent mode or turn it off entirely."

So it's going to be a 'special test'. This is not going to be like the paper examinations we received nor a physical fitness test. Just like the island test, this is something normal schools wouldn't do. Only our school would test us in such a way. Nothing else about the exam was written. Is it something we can infer from the mail or is the exam itself still unknown. Either way, there's only one way to find out. The gathering point seems to be room 204 at 18:00. There's only 20 minutes in between. "Can I see your mail?" Kushida asks me. I show it to her. She shows me her message too, but despite the basic structure being the same, the gathering point for her was two rooms down from mine and the gathering time was 20:40 instead of 18:00. "I wonder why they'd give us such strange instructions?" she wonders. "....no clue". The only certain thing in my mind was a bad feeling I had about this.

I never expected our cruise to have this sort of exam set up, but it seems to be reality indeed. Giving us free reign to pursue movie theaters, party venues and buffet restaurants all of our own volition. I tried looking back on all that to attempt to guess the contents of this mysterious examination, unfortunately, I was unable to gather any clue. I quickly send a message via mail to Horikita and she replied to me almost instantly. "Did you receive a mail from the school just now?". "I did". "I was appointed to meet at 18:00. What about you?". "Mine's at 20:40. It looks like our gathering times are assigned differently". "I see. At 20:40 huh?" I said. The same meeting time as Kushida. I briefly wondered if they were going to split up the boys and the girls. But that can't be, I was told in my mail that the exam starts at 18:00. "I'm curious about this difference in starting times, this could give rise to a feeling of unfairness between the students of different groups". "I can't say for sure at this point". We sent messages back and forth but soon a message arrived from Horikita. "There are things I'd like to discuss further but there's no time it seems. Since your gathering time is earlier. Please make sure to report back to me" she said simply. "Got it" I replied to her. I then shut my cell phone off.

"Ayanokouji-kun?". While I was focused on chatting with Horikita, Kushida was staring at me as if to ask me what's wrong. I thought briefly whether I should tell Kushida about the same meeting time as Horikita, but it would be a bother to do so. I decided to wait and see how things played out. It should not be too late even if I acted after getting more information.

                                                                 2

I received a mail from the school giving me the designated meeting point and location. 5 minutes before the designated time I arrived at my destination. Room 204 on the second floor. Students in the corridor were all shuffling into their respectively assigned rooms. I could not identify each and every one of them, but students passed by me back and forth and went into their assigned rooms. "Students from other classes, huh?" I wondered out aloud. I thought of waiting outside the room at first but thinking again, I thought the meeting might have already started inside without me and so I hurried towards the room. I gave a knock and received a quick reply. "Enter". Apparently I'd been given permission to enter, I then stepped into the room. There I saw the homeroom teacher for Class A Mashima-sensei sitting on a chair. There were two male students sitting before Mashima-sensei as well. Both were from Class D and people I recognized. "Ahh. So one of the remaining 2 from our group is Ayanokouji-dono. Kopo!". The student that let out this declaration ending with this strange onomatopoeia was none other than Sotomura. A geek-type boy from our class who is as otaku as he looks like. A person familiar with machinery and history as well as other bits and pieces of trivia although he unexpectedly is bad at communication.

"Isn't this strange, Ayanokouji?" the one who asked me that question was the one sitting next to Yukimura named Sotomura. Sotomura and Yukimura. I never really noticed the relationship between them. Looking back I wondered how their particular friendship started. "What are you doing? Have a seat" we were instructed to sit by Mashima-sensei. As such, I sat silently beside Yukimura who himself sat beside Sotomura. The strange thing that slightly worried me was that there was another chair right beside me that was still empty. It seems to be that we were being put into groups of four students from the same class with one teacher supervising us. "There's one more person who will be joining us, we will quietly wait for them to arrive first" Mashima-sensei told us. Judging from the tone he told us this with, this person being late is not much of a problem even if we have to wait. Of course, to ensure fairness for all students, it makes sense to give us the explanation for the exam when all members of the group are gathered.

Regardless of whether it is a written exam or surviving on an uninhabited island this remains the same. However, this exam seems as though it will be taking place in this small room. What is the meaning of this, I wondered. Or perhaps I'm just worrying too much about this. In either case, I'll be getting my answers as soon as the last member of our group arrives. Sitting down in the chair, I thought there was no need for further conversation until then. Waiting for our last member, a heavy silence fell upon us. The scheduled time is already here so personally I'd like for our last member to show up as quickly as possible. The ticking of the clock was the only sound that filled the room. Soon the clock hand struck 18:00 and Mashima-sensei looked at the clock only once before a knock was heard on the door. Like in my case, the teacher told the person to enter. "Excuse me" a voice was heard as the last member of our group joined us at last. It was Karuizawa Kei who came into the room and sat down in the chair next to me.

"Eeeh...why are Yukimura-kun and the others here?" Karuizawa asked. That's what I'd like to know too. I was feeling slightly embarrassed at this point. Sotomura wasn't thinking about the situation at all but Yukimura seemed slightly strange. "I thought the mail told the students to all be punctual, you're late" Mashima-sensei reprimanded Karuizawa. "Sorry" Karuizawa shortly replied to him. Karuizawa seemed to be dissatisfied by Mashima-sensei's words and our existence in general. My eyes met Karuizawa's for a moment and she quickly lifted her chair and placed some distance between us. Even if it's just 1mm of increased distance between us, I felt slightly depressed she hated the idea of being close to me. "Sotomura, Yukimura, Ayanokouji and Karuizawa. I will now explain the contents of the special exam" Mashima-sensei told us. I was able to somewhat guess this would be the case from the mail we received, but I was slightly curious as to what the exam itself would be.

But the team makeup of 4 students and 1 teacher was still confounding me. I had a troublesome feeling regarding this exam. "Ok, wait a minute. I don't understand what the meaning of this is, what do you mean by explaining the exam? The exam's already over right? And what are these people doing here? Isn't this strange" Karuizawa immediately shot off a barrage of questions towards Mashima-sensei. I wondered if she can't just keep quiet for a while. I thought to myself if she even bothered to read the mail properly before coming here. "I'm not going to be answering any more questions at this stage, so listen quietly" Mashima-sensei instantly responded to Karuizawa like that while glaring at her sternly. Obviously, the faculty teachers had no intention of answering such questions at this point. Mashima-sensei is seen as being a cold and strict teacher by the students, it seems this is also true of him now. Chabashira-sensei was the lenient type of teacher who taught with calmness. On the other hand, it seems like Mashima-sensei is always decisive and flat in his tone.

"In this special exam, all the 1st year students will be divided up into groups based on their zodiac signs and the entirety of the examination will be conducted in groups of students sharing the same zodiac sign like the four of you here. The purpose of the test is to assess your 'thinking ability'." Mashima-sensei explained to us. So according to the zodiac signs, huh? So 12 groups will be formed of all the 1st year students. So Class D itself will be split into 3 groups and added to the mix of the other classes to form the required 12 groups for each zodiac sign? I thought that. And what did they mean by 'thinking ability'? If I interpret it literally it would mean it would be testing our ability to think.

"What do you mean by 'thinking ability'?" Karuizawa who was just asked to stay quiet started asking questions again. It must have been on reflex but it looks like she won't listen to Mashima-sensei's words. "I've already told you I won't be answering questions" Mashima-sensei sternly told her again. Even Karuizawa seemed to now understand the gravity of the situation as she fell quiet. Of course I gazed at her and she seemed to have a dissatisfied expression on her face. But I chose to keep quiet and listen. Yukimura and Sotomura must also be taking the situation quite seriously as they were also listening to Mashima-sensei intently.

"There are three required attributes that people who function well in society are required to master: Action, Thinking and Teamwork. These skills are necessary for you all to become successful adults. The last test on the island emphasized teamwork quite heavily, however, this one will emphasize your thinking. The ability to critically think, analyze the situation at hand and resolve the problem given will be tested in this exam. The ability to work creatively with imagination and work determinedly towards resolving the problem, such traits will become vital for this task." Mashima-sensei explained the overall gist of the exam to us. Of course, I still had several questions regarding this exam I'd like to ask him. Many aspects of the exam are still unexplained and unclear to me. "Therefore this exam will be conducted with 12 groups split up according to their zodiac signs and the exam will occur under those conditions" Mashima-sensei continued. "Are there any questions?" he finally said. "I don't understand at all, explain it in a clearer way. I get the fact that we're split up into 12 groups but why the hell am I with these guys? Where's Hirata-kun? Where are the other girls? I still don't get the exam anyways" Karuizawa said again.

She at least refrained from addressing Mashima-sensei bluntly and added the honorifics in at the end, no matter how half-heartedly. However, I believe Karuizawa's complaints have some merit to them. The contents of the exam are still largely a mystery and a lot of the information we were given is mostly ambiguous and can be interpreted in multiple different ways. If our class is indeed split up into 3 groups there should be at least 12 to 15 people in this room and not just 4. Perhaps it's because of the size of this room and there are more groups than just 12? I wondered silently. No. There should have been rooms in this ship large enough to contain that many students, but this small room was chosen in particular. That means even though we were divided according to our zodiac signs, there must be more groups than just 12?

"Firstly, the four people here will henceforth be considered part of the same group for the remainder of the exam. There are other rooms with other students too, receiving the same explanation you are receiving now. Some of them might later also become part of your team" Mashima-sensei continued explaining. Students that could later be on the same team as us? There are only four of us in this room right now. Perhaps the remaining members are divided into several other rooms much like this one and...the purpose of the exam is to form allies between different groups of students? I wondered while Mashima-sensei continued the explanation.

"If that's the case, why don't you gather all the members here and explain it all at once. Also, why are these three guys in the same team as me? Why do I have to team up with these three disgusting boys? Honestly I really dislike the whole situation. I would much prefer to be with Hirata-kun" Karuizawa went on describing her selfish desires but it seems Yukimura's patience with her has run out. "Shut up for a while and listen will you? It seems the exam has already started. If you say selfish things like this and our team receives a negative evaluation, will you take responsibility for it? Even back on the island, you were the weak link in the chain holding the class back. Don't hold back the class anymore than this" Yukimura coldly lectured Karuizawa on this.

"Huh? When the hell did I hold the class back, huh? You're really pissing me off" Karuizawa retorted to Yukimura. The sight of the two of them arguing overwhelmed me and Sotomura and we both fell quiet. "Both of you calm down, firstly Yukimura, your concerns are unfounded. The exam has not yet started in earnest and as such, nothing negative will happen to our team. Besides, this exam is not concerned with your attitude in the first place so you won't be scored in that aspect" I intervened quickly. "See? Now you understand, don't you?" Karuizawa looked at Yukimura proudly as if it was her victory. On the other hand, Yukimura looks at me with disappointment for choosing Karuizawa's side. But Yukimura, I had no choice but to intervene you know, I thought silently. "However, Karuizawa, you also need to change your attitude towards teachers, you know? If you keep this up, it could be a stain on your academic records and you do understand that's not a good thing right?" I gently chide Karuizawa. This time Yukimura picks his nose while laughing at Karuizawa. Mashima-sensei was staring at us like we were a bunch of elementary school children arguing with each other.

"Look here, the fact that the 4 of you are in a group cannot be rescinded no matter what. So if you want to get good results for yourselves, make sure to get along here" Mashima-sensei scolds us. "Ahh...this sucks. I can't deal with these three guys. I wanted Hirata-kun!" Karuizawa complains again. "Heh, but if the three of us work together and combine our wits we might be able to become just as good as Hirata-dono and form an ideal team for you" Sotomura says. "Huh? Disgusting. Even if there are 100 or 200 copies of you guys you all still won't be as good as one hair from Hirata-kun" Karuizawa sharply retorts. I don't particularly care what Karuizawa thinks about us but saying something like that in front of me is still hurtful, I thought. But since Karuizawa is also sticking with Hirata I guess it can't be helped once she's separated from him like this. "I'll just call Hirata-kun and talk to him for now" Karuizawa then says.

Karuizawa gave us a glance while sighing in disgust. I thought to myself that she was going to be a troublesome partner. Most likely Yukimura must have thought the same thing as me. "If there are no more questions I will continue with my explanation" Mashima-sensei asserted. "Yeah, yeah. I understand that. But why are the four of us the only ones getting this explanation? You said there will be more members later on, why not just give the explanation then? If this is some sort of trick or harassment of students then I seriously want you to stop it" Karuizawa fired back at him quickly. "You don't need to be concerned about the small number of our group if that's what you're worried about, this is neither a trick nor harassment. It's not just one class divided up into groups but 3 to 5 people from each class being divided up into groups. We run the risk of confusing the students if the exam itself is not explained like this in advance" Mashima-sensei explained. So that's the reason this small number was gathered in this room, I thought.

The other three don't seem to have understood Mashima-sensei's explanation and were mulling it over in silence. Naturally, it's not like I could understand it instantly either. The ticking sound of the clock once again filled the now-silent room. "W-wait a minute. What do you mean we might be teaming up with groups from other classes? This is getting harder and harder to understand. Aren't other classes supposed to be the enemy?" Karuizawa asked in confusion. "I agree with Karuizawa, sensei. So far we've only been competing against the other classes. It's hard to accept that we're supposed to abandon all that and team up with them all of a sudden". I can understand Karuizawa and the others' concerns but it's not like we students have the right to choose, the rules are determined by the school after all. "Don't think that way, Yukimura, your high school life has just started. Don't always think about competing and be more thoughtful of the future" Mashima-sensei chided Yukimura who said that. "I-I'm sorry" he replied. "Right now you don't need to think about 'understanding' but simply to 'think'. The group you are assigned to is the zodiac sign (Rabbit). Here's the list of all the members assigned to this zodiac. You will be required to return the list when you leave the room so feel free to memorize the list if you wish" Mashima-sensei explained further.

The postcard sized piece of paper was passed around between the four of us. The name of the group (Rabbit) was written as well as the names of all 14 students assigned to this zodiac. And just like Mashima-sensei said, aside from the four of us, the remaining students of this zodiac group belonged to classes A, B and C. The list was as followed:

A-Class: Takemoto Shigeru, Machida Kouji, Morishige Takuro
B-Class: Ichinose Honami, Hamaguchi Tetsuya, Beppu Ryouta
C-Class: Ibuki Mio, Manabe Shiho, Yabu Nanami, Yamashita Saki
D-Class: Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, Karuizawa Kei, Sotomura Hideo, Yukimura Teruhiko

In our group there were several names I recognized from other classes. Ichinose from Class B and Ibuki from Class C. It seems we've all been assigned to the (Rabbit) zodiac group. Of course I cannot imagine what the exam will instruct us to do next, but I do somewhat share Karuizawa and Yukimura's concerns that we will not be able to work together after all that time spent competing. I peeked at Karuizawa who was sitting next to me and saw that she was also just as confused. Perhaps she was feeling misfortunate that she ended up in the same group as Ibuki. "Don't worry, all those questions you're probably having right now, I will answer them now. I believe you will be able to understand once I have explained all that. Most likely" Mashima-sensei continued. Most likely, huh? Perhaps he had doubts about Karuizawa's ability to understand after all the complaints she'd fired at him. But he dutifully explains the reasons for this unusual grouping anyways.

"In this exam we will be completely ignoring any differences between classes A to D from the start. If you can do so too it will definitely be an easier path to clearing this exam." he explained. "Ignore any differences...what do you mean?" Karuizawa asked again. "Please just shut up for a moment, I can't concentrate on the explanation with you blabbering like that" Yukimura scolded her with an exasperated tone. "From this point onwards, you guys no longer belong to Class D but rather to the (Rabbit) group. Whether you pass or fail no longer matter on your class but on the entire 'group' as a whole now." Mashima-sensei continued. I think I'm starting to understand what this is about although I'm not certain about the bigger picture yet.

"There are four outcomes in this exam, no more and no less. Explanations regarding this have also been printed onto paper for your perusual, however, you may not take them out of this room nor photograph them. So memorize them here if you wish to" Mashima-sensei instructed. A slightly crumpled paper was paraded before us, it seems other students have already seen this paper before us as we looked through the paper. The basic rules of the exam were as follows:

Explanation of the Special Examination of Different Groups

In this test, the cornerstone will be a "target" student that is chosen from each group. By using your critical thinking skills, you will achieve one of the four possible outcomes by the end of the exam.

-8am on the day the exam starts, you will need to mail the other groups of the fact that you have chosen a "target" student from amongst you.
-The exam itself will mostly take place between 4pm and 9pm tomorrow (students will be free to act as they wish during the day).
-For one hour each day, twice, you will need to gather together with your assigned groups and talk.
-Content of the talk will be left up to the discretion of each group.
-At the end of the exam, you will need to identify the "target" students of other groups. This will be done between 9:30 and 10:00PM. Only one answer can be submitted from each group.
-The answers must be sent to faculty members through a certain address that will be provided to your mobile phones.
-The "target" student cannot be the one to send the answers.
-You must only answer the identity of the "target" student of the group you are assigned. Any other answer will be marked as invalid.
-Details of the results of the exam will be mailed to students by 11:00PM of the same day.

Of course those were the basic rules we would need to follow for this exam. There are more detailed rules and explanations provided on the paper as well as prohibited items being listed. There seemed to be more rules and regulations than the ones we were given for the uninhabited island test. And the following are the four possible results we could get:

-Result 1: If the answers of the "target" student as well as the other group members are all correct, they will all receive private points (including members other than the "target" student themselves).
-Result 2: If there are incorrect answers or unanswered questions by people other than the "target" student, only the "target" student will receive 500,000 private points.

But before I could read any further into the rules, I noticed Karuizawa and Sotomura nodding their heads as if they've understood the contents of the exam. And Mashima-sensei who stood watching all this continued the explanation with a flat, unchanging tone.

"For instance, let's just say Yukimura, you were chosen as the "target" student of this group. That means you must be the "target" student only since only one "target" is allowed for this exam. Now, supposing Yukimura is chosen as the "target" that means the (Rabbit) group's "target" name will be written down as Yukimura. Once the choosing is complete, simply share this with the other members of your assigned group. And between 9:30 and 10:00 PM of the end of the exam everyone in the group simply needs to mail the answer "Yukimura" to the faculty. If this is done, the first outcome condition will be satisfied and everyone in the group will receive 500,000 private points as compensation. In addition, the "target" student will receive 1 million private points for successfully guiding the group to this outcome." Mashima-sensei continued his explanation.

"1-1 million? Woah...". "D-does that mean everyone gets 500,000 points and if you're chosen as the "target" you get even more...". This amount of points is something anyone in any class would want for themselves. Since the "target" student in this case will be receiving twice as much in compensation as points, they will suddenly shoot up to the top of the class in points.

"Now for the 2nd possible outcome. In the case that the identity of (Rabbit) group's "target" were to be uncovered incorrectly by the end of the exam and the faculty were to be notified of this. Only the "target" will be receiving the points of 500,000 while the rest will go without points." Mashima-sensei explained further to us. It's strange that the exam was structured this way, the way they put it, there is not much difference between outcome 1 and outcome 2. In either case, the "target" will still be receiving a tremendous amount of points. There's no reason why anyone would deliberately sabotage their group and go for outcome 2 unless they wish to deny points to other classes and secure the points for their own class. "The position of "target" certainly is an enviable one. I'd say it's even unfair to the other members. No matter the outcome we get, they'll still have points and in the first one they even get a million points!" it seems Karuizawa wants to be chosen as the "target" student for a chance to get more points.

Of course I don't blame her. It's only natural to want to be the "target" given its privileged status. But it's too early to say yet, there are still 2 other possible outcomes yet to be revealed and there must be some trick hidden in those outcomes for such points to be awarded to the "target". "Sensei, what are the 3rd and 4th possible outcomes. You still haven't explained it to us". "Did you understand the first two outcomes? If so, I can proceed to explain the remaining outcomes" Mashima-sensei said. "Yes...I've got it. Please tell us the remaining outcomes". Mashima then told us "The remaining outcomes are printed on the back of the paper, but be sure to wait before turning the paper over". My hands froze just before we turned the paper to the other side. Mashima-sensei simply stared at us with his sharp eyes as we gradually started to understand the rules of this exam. It seems from the moment we read the instructions, the exam had already begun. "W-wait a minute, I'm not following". Although Mashima-sensei did make the rules clear to us, it seems Karuizawa is still unable to understand the instructions. Her academic abilities were not as bad as Sudou and Ike but since Karuizawa doesn't put much effort into it, it seems her ability to process information is exceptionally bad.

"Very well, I shall explain slightly more. Have you ever played the the Jinrou game before?" Mashima-sensei asked us. "Jinrou game? It was trendy for a little while so I have played it before. It's pretty interesting". I was slightly puzzled when he first mentioned the name to us. "D-don't tell me, Ayanokouji-kun. You've never heard of the Jinrou game before? Unbelievable" Karuizawa told me. Even if you think that it can't be helped, in the first place, the very concept of "games" was not something I was familiar with, neither was the concept of "playing with others". I'm not....

However, Karuizawa also seemingly realized this and instead just looked me with sad, understanding eyes. "I don't know how to put it, but not having friends is terrible, isn't it?" Karuizawa said. Instead, Karuizawa offered to explain the Jinrou game to me.

"Friends gather together and are split up into two categories: villagers and wolves. And the last survivor's group is the one that wins the game. Did you follow?" Karuizawa asks me. No! I'm not following at all, I think internally. I'm sure I'd be a god or a Buddha if I could understand it from that brief explanation. Mashima-sensei then began to explain in more detail. It goes like this:

It was an American who first invented this game called the Jinrou game. No restrictions on the number of players in the game although there is a restriction on the minimum amount of players required for the game itself. The game itself has players divided into two roles: villagers and wolves and each player must play one of these roles. There may be additional roles added but the gist of the game is that the last survivor's group wins whether it's the villagers or the wolves. Wolves mix in with the villagers and pretend to be one of them. The game itself takes around roughly two hours and in that time, the villagers need to identify which one of them is a disguised wolf and execute the suspect. On the other hand, at "night", the disguised wolf can 'devour' the villager. By doing this, each side can reduce the number of players on the other side. When the last survivor is the only one remaining, victory and defeat will be decided.

But I was wondering why this exam would be compared to such a game. With the currently established rules, "wolves" and "villagers" are being forced to cooperate with each other instead to aim for the most desirable first outcome. To put it simply, there is still a trick hidden in this exam that neither "wolf" nor "villager" knows of yet.

"Of course, you already know there can only be one "target" in the group. Once the identity of the "target" is revealed the third and fourth outcomes become possible for the group". "And that...is what's written on the other side of this paper...is it ok to turn it over now?". Mashima-sensei simply nods when Karuizawa asks that and together, we turn the paper over to the other side. The remaining two possible outcomes were written there. For these two remaining outcomes, the answer will be accepted by the faculty at any time during the exam period in the 24 hours. We will also still be accepting answers for these remaining outcomes 30 minutes after the end of the exam. But if there is still a mistake in the answer during these periods a penalty will apply.

-Result 3: In the case that someone other than the "target" answers the question before waiting for the allocated time and answers correctly, the class the answerer belongs to will receive 50 points each and the answerer themselves will receive 500,000 points for themselves. On the other hand, classes whose "target" have been identified will receive a penalty of -50 points for their whole class. Once this has been achieved, the test will be over for the group. However, if a member that belongs to the class of the "target" answers correctly, the previous result will be made invalid and the examination for that group will continue.

-Result 4: In the case that someone other than the "target" answers the question before waiting for the allocated time and answers incorrectly, the class the answerer belongs to will receive a penalty of -50 points each but the "target" will still receive 50,000 private points. At the same time, the class which the target belongs also obtains 50 class points. If the answer is given incorrectly, the group's exam will end. However, if a member belonging to the class of the "target" is the one who answered incorrectly, the answer will be considered invalid and will not be accepted.

I see, so the remaining outcomes paint a more detailed picture of the exam. If only outcomes 1 and 2 were possible, the "targets" will share their answers with everyone in the group and there would be nothing to do but cooperate. However, by adding the option to "betray" one's own group, the dynamics of the exam were changed in a single stroke. If the "target" were to reveal his identity to everyone in their group, they will inevitably be preyed upon by "traitors" instantly. Since there are now more outcomes than the first one available, no one will wait that long. The traitors will immediately aim to secure points only for themselves. And the "target" themselves, in an attempt to sabotage the other classes' chances for points and increase their own class's chances, will deliberately hide their identity and try to pass off others as the "target" student. Of course, that means everybody gets less points for not 'cooperating' but in return, they will gain the chance to have the other classes penalized.

"Naturally, the school will take into consideration issues of privacy and even at the end of the exam, we will only release the results for each group and each student. The names of the "target" and the person who uncovers their identity will not be disclosed. It is possible to issue you a temporary ID if you wish. However, there need not be fear about having one's identity revealed after the exam. Of course, if you do not wish to hide your name, you can proudly display the received points too" Mashima-sensei said. I understand now, there is also the possibility that the "target" can just keep silent about their identity without revealing it to anyone else in the group and secure a lot of points that way, or share their identity with the rest of the group and aim for the best outcome. For instance, even if Yukimura were the "target", I could theoretically pass off Sotomura or Karuizawa as the "target" to the members from the other classes and mislead them that way. That means the outcome will depend on the amount of 'goodwill' between the members. Quite a bit of investigating and misdirection will be required.

It makes sense now to compare this to the Jinrou game. But the advantage of the "wolves" cannot be said as absolute. After all, the "villagers" also have the option to mercilessly slay their targets. In fact, there is even the possibility of infighting breaking out between the "villagers" in this case. I go over the rules again in my head silently. The school has established 12 groups based on the number of zodiac signs, allocating all the 1st year students to their respective groups consisting of a certain number of people. And each group contains a mixture of students from all classes being forced to cooperate as "friends". The number of people might vary slightly depending on the group but roughly 14 people are placed into each group it seems. And in each group, there will only be one student marked as the "target" and said "target" will be informed that they are the target and they are the answer. So in other words, even if the "target" does not actively participate at all in the game their profit from this is also guaranteed. Therefore, if the rest of the members are unable to correctly identify the "target", they are the ones who will be unable to answer correctly. In other words, that is the basic gist of the exam we are currently undergoing.

The four options available to the group now are:

-Share the identity of the "target" and clear the exam together as one.
-Answer incorrectly and the group loses but the "target" still receives points.
-A traitor uncovers the identity of the "target".
-The traitor disregards the judgment of the "target".

The only difference in those options are the amount of points awarded to each member of the group. The best outcome would be for the identity of the "target" to be shared with all and wait until the end of the exam to answer correctly to receive 500,000 points each with the "target" receiving 1 million points. But the difficulty of aiming for such an outcome is extremely high. There is a possibility of being betrayed from within. Since the members will naturally want points in reward for undertaking this examination, they will betray before they get betrayed themselves.

Then if someone else answers incorrectly only the "target" will win in that case hence the other members will also prioritise finding the "target" in their own group firstly. Most of the students will likely wish to avoid taking risks by cooperating and if they cannot be convinced to work together, will most likely turn traitor within their group. Besides, it will be very difficult to aim for the first outcome if the "target" themselves simply stays silent and avoids having their identity revealed. In either case, the "target" will be receiving 500,000 points almost with a guarantee so it might as well be considered a ticket to heaven. However, there are also downsides to being given this position. Once you have been chosen as the "target" it is up to you to keep silent on this matter or share this information with others. Depending on the circumstances, there may be harassment or jealousy targeted at you from other classes or even your own class due to the preferential treatment given to the "target". There is also the danger of a traitor uncovering the identity of the "target" in which case they will no longer have to wait until the end of the exam to mail their answer to the faculty. That way, the test for the group ends immediately and the traitor gets 50 points for their own class while getting private points for themselves too. That means while sabotaging another class, one can act to contribute to both themselves and their own class. An ideal result for most students.

Of course that is the most disadvantageous position for the group as a whole to be in. In this test, the ability to 'think' is certainly a critical factor but it is understandable considering the risks associated with this exam. There are 12 groups for which 12 different outcomes will be decided. Depending on what happens during this test, a massive difference in points which cannot be bridged can easily occur. In other words, it's possible for Class A to fall down to D and for Class D to rise to A in one stroke if all goes well in this exam. I doubt this will happen here, but the very notion that it is possible in this exam amazed me. This must also be why the rules for this exam are much stricter than the uninhabited island test. "The prohibited items and actions are also listed here thoroughly so look through them too" Mashima-sensei advises.

The forbidden actions are, for instance, stealing the mobiles of other students and use of intimidation to coerce the reveal of information such as the identity of the "target" students. Mailing the answers to the faculty by using another student's mobile without permission will result in the greatest punishment for the student known as "expulsion". These are all strict conditions not present in the uninhabited island test.

Furthermore, in the case any suspicious activity is uncovered, a thorough investigation into the matter will be launched by the school to ensure no violations of the rules occur. Naturally, in the case you lie about the forbidden actions you've taken, the possibility of "expulsion" is always there. It seems everything will be monitored by the school behind the scenes. Once the exam starts, communication between students of different groups will also be forbidden for a certain period of time. To break this rule will be to risk "expulsion". The severity of these rules causes them to be embedded deep in my mind as I memorize them. "You will be meeting at 1pm and 8pm tomorrow for your group discussions. The room you will be meeting in has your group name written on a plate in front of it. Once you have entered that room, you will not be able to leave until the required time for discussion has passed. If an emergency occurs in that time period, contact your homeroom teacher immediately. Make sure you've used the toilet before the meeting time as well." Mashima-sensei says.

"What do you mean we'll have to stay in the room? How long will we be in there?". "As is written in the explanation, the time for discussion will be 1 hour each twice a day. Other than your self-introduction to other members of your group, you may use that time however you like. Once one hour has passed, you may choose to remain in the room or leave at your discretion" Mashima-sensei continues. Does that mean all the contents of the discussion will be left up to the students to decide? "It's an annoying thing but I do understand it at least...waah I'd much prefer a fun test to this" Karuizawa says. "Once the "target" has been decided, the school will not accept any request for changes to this. In addition, any actions such as copying, deletion, transferring or alteration of mails to the faculty are strictly forbidden so keep this in mind" Mashima-sensei concludes.

In other words, altering the mail of one group for the benefit of another is absolutely forbidden. If you reverse this, then it means that the mail sent to the faculty is 100% certified to have been from the actual group. "Oi, Ayanokouji. You've been silent throughout the whole thing, are you sure you've understood it properly?". It was Yukimura who asked me that with an ambiguously worried voice from my left side. "Yeah...I got it mostly. If I have any questions I'll make sure to ask you afterwards" I tell him. "Damn, why is my group filled with such airheads?" Yukimura grumbles. Once that is done our group was told to leave and we stand up to leave the room at the same time. "Reluctantly as it may be, we are already united as one group so it is essential we deepen our unity as a team. The "target" will be announced tomorrow but why don't we stay and have a chat just the four of us?" Yukimura suggests to us. However, Karuizawa completely ignored his words as she took out her mobile and started walking away from us.

"Oi, Karuizawa. You listening to me?" Yukimura asks the departing Karuizawa. I was impressed she was able to ignore him like that, either she has a mind of steel or she has completely disregarded our existence. "Ah...Hirata-kun? There's something I'd like to ask you" it seems Karuizawa wants to complain to Hirata about us. She simply walks away from us and soon disappeared. "Damn, my group really is full of airheads" Yukimura grumbles again. I didn't bother to hide my sigh as I turned away too to return to my room. It seems our enjoyable cruise has ended and the second round of testing has begun. "This is a very troublesome thing indeed, to be teamed up with such a bitch" Sotomura starts spewing venom at Karuizawa once she left. Since Sotomura was in love with the 2D world and considers the girls in there perfect, a real 3D girl like Karuizawa would definitely repulse him. "I have to agree with you though to be honest, it seems like she'll be pulling our legs the whole way" Yukimura says as Sotomura replies "She truly is the bitch among bitches" as if to agree with him.

"In the case that one of us is announced as the "target" tomorrow morning, let's not tell each other straight away. There's no telling who's listening where. The walls have ears. Let's report to each other in a secure location". I agreed with that plan as well. It is indeed a large ship but there's really no telling who has ears where. "Although Karuizawa is gone, I'd still like to discuss the plans for tomorrow with just the three of us. Please stay with me a little longer" Yukimura pleads with us. "I must decline since I will be unable to respond to your expectations. You see, from now on, I have to go back to my room to watch the new Love Love Alive anime" Sotomura says as he instantly disappears from us almost like a ninja. Yukimura dejectedly shakes his head and sighs as if he's given up on us. Now that this is over, I'd better report this to Horikita. I'd like to know if her group received the same instructions as our (Rabbit) group and send her the details in our chat if necessary. Once I receive more information from Horikita, I can then begin to form a strategy.

                                                                3

Once I had returned to my room, I then struggled to sleep. I noticed a noise and looked up although I did not see my roommates Yukimura and Kouneji. However. "Sorry, did I wake you up?". It was Hirata who said that as he organized his luggage neatly while looking at me apologetically. It looked like he was preparing to leave the room since he was putting on his uniform. "No need for apologies, I wasn't sleeping anyways. Just thinking. I was about to go out for a drink anyways since I'm thirsty" I tell him. Of course, I did not mention this to Hirata, but I was on my way to check on Horikita's state. "Might I accompany you? We received the mail from the school and it's almost time anyways" Hirata says to me. The time was close to 20:30 the same time that Horikita's mail instructed her to gather for the meeting.

"It seems a rather unusual exam is about to begin, at least that's how I feel" Hirata tells me. It seems Hirata already knows what the exam will be about after hearing it from a previous student who received the explanation before him. "It's Yukimura-kun. He told me in the cafeteria earlier. About your (Rabbit) group and how everyone was receiving explanations one after the other" Hirata admits. Yukimura doesn't like Hirata very much, but he still told him because it might raise the chances of our class's success even by a little? Either way, if you know the contents of the exam before the explanation it will be easier to gather hints from the explanation itself. In this case, by cooperating with a more popular person like Hirata it can be advantageous to you. "If there's anything you've figured out, Ayanokouji-kun, please do share it with me" Hirata tells me. "I wonder about that, unlike Horikita, you or Yukimura I'm not particularly smart so I haven't been thinking much about this exam at all...in particular" I reply to him. Of course, there was no way I would tell Hirata any more than necessary.

"I was wondering why they would go to all the trouble of separating us into groups to explain the same thing to us separately" Hirata freely tells me. Indeed as Hirata says, it would be far more efficient and less time-consuming to explain to all members of a group gathered at once then separately. The school is using an obviously inefficient method, but it's most likely not just on a whim. There is more likely than not a reason behind this method. Perhaps the 'thinking ability' assessed in this exam is part of that. "I'm planning to ask sensei about it later on though" Hirata admits. I wonder if the gears will turn efficiently in this case. I wonder if Hirata, who nominally represents Class D, will be able to work efficiently with students of other classes considering all the rules we have to abide by in this exam.

                                                                4

The place where Hirata's meeting would be taking place was not as crowded as when my meeting had occurred. Still there were a few students, some were sitting on the stairs near the elevator, some were playing around with their phones and some were still speculating about the explanation they were due to receive. "I...doubt these all going to be part of my group" Hirata mutters. Even a cursory inspection showed that there were more than 10 people gathered here. They all glanced at each other while playing with their phones sometimes. Unfortunately, I was not acquainted with students from other classes and could not identify most of them. "Who's the one we just passed?". "That's Morimiya-kun from Class A. And the one near the elevator is Tokito-kun of Class C". I see. I make sure to remember the names and faces of the students from the other classes. Of course, this number is still few compared to the crowd I saw earlier this evening. When I came together with Hirata to his meeting location, several male and female students were gathered in front of the door of the meeting room. And so we approached the crowd silently.

"If I'm not wrong, you're also from the 20:40 group are you not?". The one who asked that with a low voice was Katsuragi of Class A. A calm person with a mature attitude that is hard to believe is actually a 1st year student in high school. His physique is pretty good as well. First impressions of him might be more in the range of a college student. There are still quite a few people who favour him as leader of Class A. "If so, does this have something to do with you?" a girl with long black hair answered his inquiry without any hesitation or fear. "No. But I just wanted to talk to you all since starting from tomorrow we'll be cooperating together as part of the same group" the girl that Katsuragi made this statement to was none other than Horikita Suzune. It seems Hirata and Horikita will be in the same group as Katsuragi as well. "You want to talk now? That's funny. The other day you brushed us aside when we came to talk" Horikita spat back at him. On the uninhabited island test, Horikita and Katsuragi met each other just once. At the time, Katsuragi showed little to no interest in Horikita. It seemed to be different now.

There were three other students from Class A with Katsuragi, and listening from a distance without approaching were two girls who seemed to either be from Class B or Class C. "Honestly I've never paid any attention to Class D before. But after the results of the previous exam, it's hard to stay inconspicuous, isn't it?" it seemed Katsuragi's attention has been directed towards our class. Indeed after the uninhabited island test, our class's total points had risen tremendously along with Horikita's popularity with the girls of the class. Also the number of friendship flags raised between Horikita and the other classmates have also increased along with the distrust towards Horikita decreasing at the same time. It seemed the class misunderstood Horikita's cold attitude for her silently supporting the class. Through this misunderstanding, the class began to interpret Horikita's refusal to interact with them in a different way. Also, from the perspective of the other classes Horikita started to look no longer as a student who's merely good at academics but also as a mastermind who acts to support her class while playing the other classes from behind the scenes and it seems thanks to that she's received a fair bit of attention from the other classes as well.

"If one day you rise from Class D to Class C, remember that Class A will show no mercy before crushing you into pieces" Katsuragi warns Horikita. "That's a very petty thing to say, after all, between A and the other classes, the point gap is far too wide to bridge" Horikita counters. "Naturally but caution is required every time a class can potentially rise to a higher position. I would say the same thing to Class B or Class C". It almost sounded like Katsuragi was declaring war against Class D. But it couldn't be helped, after the last test, we would obviously be recognized as a threat. Almost as if in sync, the students around Katsuragi all gathered together to glare at Horikita in an intimidating manner. An ordinary girl would burst out crying after being glared at like that, but Horikita barely showed any reaction at all to this intimidation. Suddenly, the face of the girls around us turned into expressions of adoration as a man silently passed by us.

It was a student from Class B named Kanzaki. Although his hair was rather long for a male student, he does have a straightforward personality and does not engage much in frivolous activities. I don't know much else about Kanzaki in detail but the leader of Class B, Ichinose, seems to trust him. Having met during the island test, Kanzaki seems to be aware of Horikita's intellect and moved towards Katsuragi as if to protect Horikita from him. "You don't need to talk with Katsuragi, after all, the situation is what it is" Kanzaki said to Horikita. "Don't worry, I'm used to people looking down on Class D" Horikita counters his offer to help. "I see, someone from a class like D must be used to getting this treatment, I must admit I shared the same view towards your class as well. But the incident that happened on the island made me revise my view towards your class" Katsuragi made that remark while swiping some dust off his clothes. "But just because you got lucky and won once, I'd like you to not get arrogant and think we're equals now" Katsuragi follows up. "...What is that supposed to mean?" Horikita asks him in response.

"What I'm trying to say is that there is a time in everyone's lives when they get lucky once and manage to close the gap a bit. But don't get in over your head just because of this one lucky incident. The difference between our class points is still a tremendous one" Katsuragi tells her. I see, it seems he's saying the results of one test won't affect the standing of the classes all that much. Of course, Horikita surely knows that as well. Since none of this was her accomplishment in the first place, Horikita was neither happy nor dismayed by his words. But it is vital that the credit goes to her in order to continue hiding my existence. "We've just started our high school life, the difference may be large, but do not forget that it is the school that arbitrarily decided who went to which class and we were distributed to those classes accordingly" Kanzaki interjected in a dignified manner. "Hirata, it looks like you're part of a rather troublesome group" I told him. "It was inevitable the moment we were grouped with Katsuragi-kun and Kanzaki-kun, I think". "No...that's not it" I muttered. "Hmm?".

"Kukuku. It looks like there are quite a lot of weaklings gathered here, let me have some fun here". It was Ryuuen who said that. "Ryuuen, huh?". Katsuragi lost his previously calm expression and even Kanzaki's expression changed to an alert one. "Have you also been allocated to this room? Or did you just happen to be walking by?". "Unfortunately I'm with you" Ryuuen instantly replies to that question while three other students obediently walk behind him.

He almost resembled Katsuragi in that regard but the context was different. It almost seemed like a situation with a king and his servants. The students behind Ryuuen had terrified expressions on their faces and moved quietly with obedient movements. "How about you put on a show for me? Beauty and the Beast could be the title" Ryuuen said as he looked at Horikita and Katsuragi respectively. Now having realized the obvious provocation, Katsuragi returns to his normal, calm self. "I originally thought our group would have students with high academic ability but after seeing you and your lackeys I can see this claerly isn't going to be the case" Katsuragi fires back. "Academic ability? What a bunch of nonsense, having academic ability won't mean anything" Ryuuen retorts.

"Hearing that from you is a shame, academic ability is the most important factor determining your future success in life and your ability to impact the future. It is even said that Japan is built on a society of academics" Katsuragi chides Ryuuen for his earlier remark but it doesn't seem to have fazed Ryuuen at all. I thought to myself that saying something like that to an idiot like Ryuuen would be ineffective. Behind him, his three lackeys obediently nod their heads at their leader's words. "I won't forget this insult". "Huh? Insult? I don't recall having done anything like that, care to refresh my memory?" Ryuuen mocks Katsuragi. "It doesn't matter, since we're in the same group we should have the opportunity to talk at length later" Katsuragi ends the conversation seeing how the explanation for their group was almost about to begin. "Hmm? Hirata-kun? And even Ayanokouji-kun? What are you guys doing here?". It was Kushida who called out to us as she approached the group with a strange expression on her face.

"Could it be that Kushida-san is also in the 20:40 group?" Hirata asks her. "Yeah. I don't understand what's going on but I was told to come here at this hour in the mail...and wow...it seems like an amazing group of people have gathered here" Kushida says as she walked around greeting the gathered students here individually. "Are you ok, Hirata? It looks like it's shaping up to be a hard one" I ask Hirata. "Its ok, I don't mind, no matter who's in my group I'll just have to do my best" Hirata as usual answered in a very positive way. Kushida may not know the circumstances but Hirata is a smart guy. Since I had already received the explanation for this exam earlier, looking at the group of people gathered here I could more or less understand what will be happening. "Ummm...in any case it looks like something difficult's about to start?" Kushida asks. "Yeah it seems like it, you'd better prepare yourself for it" I tell her. "Ahaha...like Hirata-kun said, I'll just also have to do my best here. Also, I never got the chance to talk much with Katsuragi-kun or Ryuuen-kun, I'd like to be friends with the two of them too" Kushida says towards Katsuragi and Ryuuen.

"I'm not going to stay here for this stupid conversation, I'll be going ahead. It's almost time" Horikita simply shook her head and turned her back to us but not before looking coldly at Ryuuen and his group. I'd like to praise Horikita on this. People with a weak will tend to lower their heads and ingratiate themselves into the group and treat themselves as the lower one in the hierarchy. Horikita, on the other hand, without missing a beat, coldly rejected them all and remained the way she always has been. "It looks like I shouldn't have even bothered worrying" I muttered. Of course, I'm not sure how long she can keep up that attitude with the members in her group but it shouldn't be long. That's my intuition. "Good luck then" I threw a sympathetic good luck wish in Hirata's direction and decided to leave the scene.

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