Y1 Vol 1 Chapter 7 | Classroom of the Elite

On May 1, the morning bell rang for our very first day of class. Soon afterward, Chiyabashira-sensei strode into the room, holding a rolled-up poster. Her expression today was even more stern than usual. Had she started menopause, I wondered? If I made that joke out loud, I think she would have swung an iron bat at my face with full force.

“Hey, sensei, did you start menopause or something?”

Unbelievably, Ike actually let that joke fly. Honestly, it was more shocking that I’d thought the same thing as Ike.

“All right, your morning homeroom is about to begin. Before we get started, does anyone have any questions? If so, now is the time to speak.” Chiyabashira-sensei completely ignored Ike’s sexual harassment. She appeared totally convinced that the students had questions they wanted answered. Immediately, several students raised their hands.

“Um, I checked my point balance this morning, but I didn’t see any deposits. Points are given on the first day of every month, aren’t they? I couldn’t buy juice this morning.”

“Hondou, I already explained this before, didn’t I? Points are deposited on the first day of the month. I’ve confirmed that points were wired this month without any issues.”

“Um, but…nothing was deposited into my account, though.”

Hondou and Yamauchi exchanged glances. Ike appeared too shocked to notice them looking at each other. I’d checked my point balance that morning as well, but saw that it had remained unchanged from the day before. No more points had been deposited into my account. I’d simply thought that the points would be wired later.

“Are you kids really that dumb?”

Was she angry or delighted? I was getting an ominous vibe from Chiyabashira-sensei.

“Dumb? What?”

As Hondou stupidly repeated her words, Chiyabashira-sensei looked at him sharply.

“Sit down, Hondou. I’ll explain once more,” she said. “S-Sae-chan-sensei?”

Hondou, taken aback by her unusually strict tone, slumped in his seat.

“Points were deposited. That much I know for certain. There is absolutely no chance that we forgot about anyone in this class.

To think so is ludicrous. Understood?”

“Well, even if I tell you that we understand, we haven’t received any points…”

Hondou, still perplexed, began to look dissatisfied.

Supposing that what Chiyabashira-sensei said was true and that points had been wired to us, then that meant…

Had there been a discrepancy, then? Did that mean that zero points had been deposited into our accounts? My vague doubts quickly grew.

“Ha ha ha! I see. So, it’s like that then, teacher? I think I’ve solved the mystery,” Kouenji boomed, laughing.

He propped his feet up on his desk and smugly pointed toward Hondou.

“It’s simple. We’re in Class D, so we didn’t receive a single point.”

“Huh? What are you talking about? They said that we’d get 100,000 points every month—”

“I don’t remember hearing that, though. Do you?” Chuckling, Kouenji boldly pointed at Chiyabashira-sensei.

“While he certainly has an attitude problem, Kouenji is exactly right. For crying out loud, barely anyone seems to have noticed the hint I gave you. How deplorable.”

In response to this sudden turn of events, the classroom exploded in an uproar.

“Sensei, may I please ask you a question? I’m afraid I still don’t understand.” Hirata raised his hand. He appeared to ask on behalf of his classmates rather than out of selfish concern. Just as I’d expect of the de facto class leader. Even now, he took the initiative.

“Can you please tell us why we didn’t receive any points?

We won’t completely understand otherwise.” That was certainly true.

“A total of ninety-eight absences and late arrivals. Three hundred ninety-one incidences of talking or using a cell phone in class. That is quite a few infractions over one month. In this school, your class’s results are reflected in the points that you receive. As a result, you wasted all of the 100,000 points that you should have received. That’s what happened.”

“I should have explained this all to you on the day of the entrance ceremony. This school measures its students’ true abilities. This time, you were evaluated as being worth nothing. That’s all.”

Chiyabashira-sensei spoke in a robotic fashion, devoid of any emotion. The doubts I’d had since coming to this school were finally confirmed, though, in the worst way possible. Even though we’d started with the huge advantage of 100,000 points, Class D had lost it in just a single month.

I heard a pencil moving against paper. Horikita seemed to be tallying the number of absences, tardy arrivals, and instances of talking in class down in her notebook, perhaps trying to make sense of the situation.

“Chiyabashira-sensei. I do not recall hearing you explain that to us before—”

“What? Are you incapable of understanding something unless it’s explained in detail?”

“Of course. There was never any talk about reducing our points. Had that been explained beforehand, I’m sure we would have avoided being late or talking during class.”

“That is a rather bizarre argument, Hirata. It is certainly true that I don’t recall explaining the rules of point distribution.

However, didn’t you all learn in elementary school not to be late or talk in class? Was that not taught throughout your elementary and junior high schools?”

“Well, that’s—”

“I’m sure that in nine years of compulsory education, you learned that being late and talking in class are bad things. And now you say that you can’t understand this because I haven’t explained it to you? I’m afraid your reasoning is flimsy. If you had simply acted properly, then your points would not have dropped all the way to zero. This comes down to you taking personal responsibility.”

There was no way for anyone to refute her perfectly sound argument. Everyone knew that bad behavior didn’t pay.

“Having just entered your first year of high school, did you honestly think you’d receive 100,000 points every month with no strings attached? At a school established by the Japanese government for the express purposes of training gifted people?

That’s unthinkable. Try using some common sense. Why would you leave it to chance?”

Although Hirata appeared to be frustrated, he looked the teacher straight in the eye. “Well then, could you at least explain in detail how points are added or deducted? We can keep that in mind for future reference.”

“I cannot tell you. We cannot disclose the methods behind our student evaluation. It’s the same as any other organization. When you enter a company, it is the company’s choice whether or not to tell you how it evaluates its employees. However, I’m not cruel, and I’m not trying to be cold. In fact, this situation is so pathetic that I will give you one bit of guidance.”

For the first time, I saw a faint sliver of a smile on Chiyabashira-sensei’s lips.

“Let’s say that you stop being late to class and have no more absences… Even though zero points will be deducted from you this month, that doesn’t mean that your points will increase, either. That means next month you will still receive zero points.

From another perspective, you could say no matter how times you’re late or absent to class, it doesn’t matter. So, you’re not really at a loss, are you?”

“Tch…” Hirata’s expression darkened. Her explanation was so counterproductive that it had the opposite effect; some students seemed incapable of understanding what she meant. The students who thought they could improve their situation by remedying bad behavior had their hopes dashed. That was probably Chiyabashira-sensei’s, or rather, this school’s, intention.

The bell rang, signaling the end of homeroom.

“It looks like we spent too much time yammering. I hope that you understood the gist of it. Well, it’s about time that we switch to our main topic.”

From the tube she carried, she removed a white rolled-up poster and spread it out. She stuck the poster to the blackboard with some magnets. The still-confused students stared blankly at the poster.

“Are these…the results for each class?” Horikita tentatively took a guess. She was probably right. Class A through Class D were listed. To the side was a row of numbers that went up to a maximum of four digits. Class D had zero. Class C had 490. Class B had 650. And at the top was Class A, with a total of 940. In this case, 1000 points would mean 100,000 yen, wouldn’t it? Every class had apparently lost points.

“Isn’t something about this odd?” “Yeah. The numbers look too even.”

Horikita and I had both noticed something strange.

“You’ve all been doing whatever you pleased this past month. The school has no intention of preventing you from doing what you want. Your actions, such as being late or talking during class, only affect the points you receive. The same goes for how you use your points. How you choose to spend is entirely up to you. We have not put any restrictions on point usage.”

“This isn’t fair, though! We can’t enjoy our student lives like this!” shouted Ike, who’d stayed quiet until now.

Yamauchi wailed in incredible agony. He’d already used up all of his points…

“Look here, morons. Every other class got points. The amount of points we gave you for the first month should be plenty for you to live on.”

“B-but, how do the other classes still have points left? That’s weird…”

“I’ve already told you, there’s nothing unfair about it. All of the classes were scored using the same rules. Despite that, they didn’t lose as many as you. That’s the truth.”

“But…why is there such a difference in our point values?” Hirata also seemed to have noticed that the numbers were too tidy.

“Do you finally understand now? Do you see why you were placed in Class D?”

“The reason why we were placed in Class D? Weren’t we simply accepted into this school?”

“Huh? But classes are normally divided up like this, right?” Students exchanged glances.

“In this school, students are sorted by their level of excellence. The superior students are sorted into Class A, the least capable in Class D. It’s the same system you’d find in the major cram schools. In other words, Class D is akin to the last bastion for failures. You are the worst of the worst. You’re defective. This is just the result of you being defective.”

Horikita’s face stiffened. She appeared shocked by this line of reasoning. It certainly made sense to sort the superior students with the other superior students and the failures with the failures.

If you mixed rotten oranges with good ones, the rotten would quickly spoil the good. Inevitably, the superior Horikita would find this revolting.

I, on the other hand, was glad. This meant I couldn’t go any lower.

“However, I have to say, this year’s Class D was the first to ever spend all of their points in a single month. I am impressed by how much you indulged yourselves. Wonderful, just wonderful.”

Chiyabashira-sensei’s false applause echoed throughout the classroom.

“So, does that mean that once we reach zero points, we’ll always stay there?”

“Yes. You will remain at zero until you graduate. But don’t worry, you can still have a room in the dorms and free meals. You won’t die.”

Although we knew that it was possible to get by with the bare minimum, a lot of students weren’t comforted by that fact. After all, we’d lived a life of luxury this past month. To suddenly restrain yourself after that would prove seriously difficult.

“Won’t the other classes make fun of us?”

Sudou kicked the legs of his desk with a loud thwack. After hearing that the classes were divided based on merit, everyone else would probably believe that Class D was full of morons. Despair wasn’t unreasonable.

“What? You’re still worried about your dignity, Sudou? Well then, work to make your class into the best one.”

“Huh?”

“Your class’s points aren’t just linked to the amount of money that you receive each month. They’re also indicative of your class rank.”

In other words…should we get to 500 points, then Class D would be promoted to Class C. This really did sound like a company performance review.

“Now then, I have one more bit of bad news to share with you all.”

She stuck another sheet of paper up on the board. It listed the names of everyone in class. A number stood next to everyone’s name.

“Judging from these, I can see that we’ve quite a few idiots in this class.” As her heels clacked against the floor, she glanced at us. “These are the results of the short test you took a while ago.

Your sensei was so happy after your excellent performance. Come on, what in the world did you all study when you were in junior high?”

With the exception of a few high scores, almost everyone tested below a sixty. Even if you ignored Sudou’s wonderful score of fourteen points, there was Ike, scoring a little above him at twenty-four points. The average score was sixty-five.

“I’m so glad. If this were an actual test, then seven of you would’ve had to drop out.”

“D-drop out? What do you mean?”

“Oh, what, did I not explain this to you? If you fail on a midterm or final exam in this school, then you have to drop out. If we applied that rule to this test, anyone who scored below thirty- two points would be out. You guys really are stupid, aren’t you?”

“Wh-what?!” wailed Ike and the other failures.

There was a red line drawn on the paper, separating the seven people in question from the rest of the class. Among those seven people, Kikuchi had scored highest, with thirty-one points. Anyone with a score equal to or lower than Kikuchi’s had failed.

“Hey, don’t jerk us around, Sae-chan-sensei! Don’t joke about kicking us out!”

“Frankly, I’m also at a loss,” the teacher said. “These are the school rules. You should prepare for the worst.”

“The teacher’s right. There do seem to be a lot of morons here.” Kouenji wore a smug grin while he polished his nails, his legs propped on the desk. too!”

“What the hell, Kouenji? You scored below the red line,

“Pah. Where exactly are you looking, boy? Look again.” “Huh? Kouenji is…huh?”

Starting from the bottom of the page, Sudou scanned upward, and there he found Kouenji Rokosuke’s name. Unbelievably, Kouenji had tied for the top spot, scoring ninety points. That meant he’d been able to solve one of those super difficult problems.

“I never thought that Sudou was an idiot like me!” cried Ike, a mixture of wonder and sarcasm in his voice.

“Oh, one more thing. This school, which operates under government supervision, boasts a high rate of advancement into elite education and workforce placement. That is a well-known fact. It’s very likely that most of you have chosen a college or future workplace.”

Well, naturally. This school boasted the highest rates of advancement in the whole country. There were rumors that it was possible to get into a highly competitive school or company just by graduating. Rumors even suggested that graduation from this school was like receiving a recommendation to Tokyo University, the most prestigious of Japan’s institutes of higher learning.

“However, nothing comes easy in this world. Mediocre people such as yourselves would have to be naive to think that you could easily get into the college or workplace of your choice.”

Chiyabashira-sensei’s words carried throughout the room.

“In other words, you’re saying that if we want to get into the company or college of our choice, we must, at minimum, surpass Class C?” Hirata asked.

“You’re wrong. To make your dreams of a bright future come true, your only option is to overtake Class A. This school guarantees nothing for any other students.”

“Th-that’s…absurd! We didn’t hear anything about that!”

A bespectacled student named Yukimura stood up. He’d tied with Kouenji for the top score, indicating that there were no issues with his academic abilities.

“How disgraceful. There’s nothing more pitiful than men losing their cool.” As if prompted by Yukimura’s words, Kouenji let out a sigh.

“Don’t you feel dissatisfied being in Class D, Kouenji?” Yukimura asked.

“Dissatisfied? Why would I feel dissatisfied? I don’t understand.”

“Because the school says we’re so low that we’re basically delinquents and failures. We’ve been told that there’s no guarantee whatsoever that we’ll advance into higher education or get a job!”

“Pah. Utter nonsense. That’s so marvelously stupid that I can’t even find the words.” Kouenji didn’t even stop polishing his nails or turn to face Yukimura as he spoke. “The school simply hasn’t seen my potential yet. I pride myself on being great, and I value, respect, and regard myself more highly than anyone. So, the school arbitrarily placing me into Class D means nothing. Say, for instance, that I dropped out of school—I would be perfectly fine.

After all, I am 100 percent positive that the school would come crying to take me back.”

That certainly sounded like something Kouenji would say.

Was it being macho? Or narcissism? It’s true that if you didn’t care about the school’s classification of students, then it really wasn’t a big deal. If you considered Kouenji’s impressive intellect and physical ability, it was difficult to imagine that all of the students in Class A could be better than him. Perhaps he’d been assigned to Class D because of his personality rather than his ability.

“Besides, I don’t care in the slightest if the school does or doesn’t assist me to higher education or the workforce. It’s been decided that I will lead the Kouenji conglomerate group. Whether I’m in Class D or Class A is a trivial matter.”

It was true that for a man whose future was already decided, getting into Class A was far from a necessity. Yukimura, at a loss for words, simply sat back down.

“It looks like your bubbles have been burst. If you had simply understood the harsh reality of the situation from the start, then this long homeroom period might have meant something. Your midterm exams are in three weeks. Please think things over, and be careful not to drop out. I have confidence that you can find a way to avoid getting red marks on your report cards. If at all possible, challenge yourself to act in a way befitting a skilled individual.”

Chiyabashira-sensei exited the room, closing the door with some force for added emphasis. The students marked in red were left dejected. Even the normally proud Sudou clicked his tongue and hung his head in shame.

7.1

“If we don’t get any more points, what I am gonna do?” “I used up all of my points yesterday…”

During the break, the classroom erupted into an uproar…or rather, chaos.

“Forget about the points. What the hell about this class? Why was I put into Class D?!” Yukimura cried resentfully. A thin layer of sweat covered his forehead.

“Wait, does this mean that we can’t get into college now?

Why did we even go to this school? Does Sae-chan-sensei hate us or something?”

None of the other students could hide their confusion.

“I understand that you’re all confused right now, but everyone needs to calm down.” Hirata, sensing the classroom tipping toward crisis, stood and attempted to rein everyone in.

“How are we supposed to calm down? Aren’t you frustrated that she called us a bunch of failures?!” Yukimura said.

“Even if I was, isn’t it better for us to band together so we can turn things around?” Hirata asked.

“Turn things around? I don’t even agree with how we were sorted in the first place!”

“I understand. However, sitting here whining won’t help us right now.”

“What did you say?” Yukimura quickly went to Hirata and forcefully grasped his collar.

“Calm down, you two, okay? I’m sure that the teacher talked to us harshly so we’d be inspired to do better, right?”

That was Kushida. She slipped between the two and separated them, gently taking Yukimura’s balled fist. Just as anyone would expect, Yukimura didn’t try to hurt her and reflexively took half a step back.

“Besides, it’s only been one month since we started here, right? Like Hirata-kun said, it’s better if we all do our best together. Do you think that I’m wrong about that?”

“N-no, it’s… Well, I certainly wouldn’t say you’re wrong, but…”

Yukimura’s anger had almost completely vanished. Kushida looked at everyone in class, and it was almost as if her eyes reflected a sincere wish for us to work together.

“Yeah, it’s better for us to band together. Right? There’s no need for you to fight, Yukimura. Hirata.”

“I’m sorry. I lost my cool,” Yukimura said.

“It’s all right. I should have chosen my words a little more carefully.”

Kushida Kikyou’s presence brought everyone together. I took out my cell phone and snapped a picture of the paper with the class point totals. Horikita, taking notice, looked at me with a puzzled expression.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I haven’t been able to figure out how points are calculated yet. You’ve also been taking notes, haven’t you?”

If I could figure out how many points were deducted by being late or talking in class, it’d be easier to come up with countermeasures.

“Wouldn’t it be difficult to figure out those details at this stage? Besides, I don’t think you can resolve this simply by investigating. Everyone in our class arrived late and talked too often.”

As Horikita had said, it certainly was difficult to conclude anything based on the current information. Also, Horikita’s usually cool, composed attitude was gone. She seemed rather impatient.

“Are you trying to get into college, too?” I wondered. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, when we learned about the differences between A and D, you looked shocked.”

“But so was almost everyone in this class, more or less. If they’d told us at the start, that would’ve been one thing, but to explain it at this stage? Unthinkable.”

Well, she was right about that. There was probably a lot of discontented grumbling coming from Class C and B students as well. After all, the school treated every class except for A like leftovers. Trying to get to the top was probably our best option.

“I think that before we even start talking about A or D or whatever, we should secure points.”

“Points are just a byproduct of our performance, though. Not having points won’t hinder our lives here at school. We have free options at almost every turn, right?” Horikita said.

If you thought about it that way, it’d be a relief for the students who’d lost all of their points.

“‘Won’t hinder our lives here at school,’ huh?”

If you wanted to simply get by, this wouldn’t be a problem.

However, there were many things you could only obtain with points. Entertainment, for example. If the lack of entertainment options wasn’t a problem, then it’d be fine, but…

“About how many points did you spend last month, Ayanokouji-kun?”

“Hm? Oh, my points? I spent about 20,000, approximately.”

This was tragic for the students who’d used up their points. Like Yamauchi, who was ranting and raving at his desk. Ike had also spent almost all of his points.

“While unfortunate, they’ve simply reaped what they’ve sown,” Horikita said.

It was certainly true that indiscriminately spending all 100,000 points in a single month was a slight problem.

“They baited us into spending all our points over the course of this one month, and we fell for it.”

One hundred thousand points per month. Even though everyone had thought it too good to be true, we’d been too happy to care.

“Attention, everyone. Before class begins, I want you to listen seriously for a moment. Especially you, Sudou-kun.” The class was still in an uproar, but Hirata claimed everyone’s attention when he stood at the teacher’s podium.

“Tch, what is it?” Sudou grumbled.

“We didn’t get any points this month. This is a serious problem, and one that will have an enormous impact on our daily lives moving forward. It’s impossible for us to make it to graduation with zero points, right?”

“You’re absolutely right!” shouted one of the female students, her voice full of despair.

Hirata gave a kind nod in response, sympathizing with her.

“Of course. Therefore, we must earn points next month. To do that, we all need to cooperate with each other. So, please, take care not to be late to class or to talk during the lecture. Also, the use of cell phones during class is prohibited, of course.”

“Huh? And why do you get to tell us what to do? Besides, that’s supposing our points will increase. If they don’t change at all, then it’s useless.”

“As long as we continue talking during class and being late, our points won’t increase for sure. Although we can’t go below zero points, disruption will, without a doubt, count as strikes against us.”

“I’m still not convinced. Besides, even if we get serious and work hard in class, our points won’t necessarily go up.” Sudou snorted and crossed his arms in defiance. Kushida took notice of this and commented on it.

“Well, the teacher did say that the being late and talking in class were obviously bad, right?”

“Yeah, I agree with Kushida-san. It’s only natural to avoid doing those things.”

“That’s just your own selfish interpretation. Besides, you don’t know how to increase our points. Try talking to me after you figure that out.”

“I don’t think that there’s anything particularly wrong with what you said, Sudou-kun. I apologize if I made you feel uncomfortable.” Hirata bowed his head politely toward the disgruntled Sudou. “However, Sudou-kun, it’s a fact that unless we all cooperate, we won’t get any more points.”

“Do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t involve me in it. Understand?” Sudou snapped.

As if being in the room made him feel uncomfortable, he left immediately. I had to wonder: Would he return when class started? Or did he not intend to return at all?

“Sudou-kun really can’t read the room. He’s the one who was late to class the most. Couldn’t we still get some points even without Sudou-kun?”

“Yeah. He really is the worst. Why is he in our class?”

Hmm. Until now, everyone had been enjoying their lives of luxury to the absolute fullest. No one had previously complained about Sudou. Hirata stepped down from the podium and, strangely, stopped right in front of my desk.

“Horikita-san, Ayanokouji-kun, do you have a moment? I want to speak with you about how we can increase our points. I’d like you to join me. Can you?”

“Why do you want us?” I asked.

“I want to hear everyone’s voices. However, if I ask for everyone to weigh in, I think more than half of the class probably won’t take it seriously.”

So, he wanted to ask us individually? I doubted I’d be able to come up with any particularly useful ideas, but I supposed it couldn’t hurt to talk. Just as I was thinking that…

“I’m sorry, can you ask someone else? I’m not particularly good at discussing things with others,” said Horikita.

“We wouldn’t force you to speak up. If you could help think of something, that would be good. Simply being there would be enough,” Hirata said.

“I’m sorry, but I have no interest in something meaningless.”

“This is the first trial we’re facing together as a united Class D. So then—”

“I refuse. I won’t participate.” Her words were stern, yet composed. While she’d considered Hirata’s position, she refused him once again.

“I…I see. I’m sorry. If you change your mind, I’d love for you to join us.”

Horikita had already stopped looking at Hirata, who withdrew dejectedly.

“What about you, Ayanokouji-kun?” he asked.

Honestly, I’d be glad to participate. I’d thought that most of the class would be involved. However, if Horikita was the only one absent, then she might be treated the same as Sudou.

“Ah…I’ll pass. I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry for bothering you. If you change your mind, please let me know.”

Hirata probably understood what I was thinking. I hadn’t rejected him strongly. After the discussion ended, Horikita began preparing for the next class.

“Hirata’s a great guy. He’s able to get everyone to take action just like that. People can easily get depressed in these situations.”

“That’s one perspective, yes. If we could easily solve this by talking, then that’d be fine. However, if an unintelligent student tries to lead the discussion, the group will fall further into chaos, to the point where there’s no hope of salvaging anything. Besides, I can’t meekly accept my current situation.”

“You can’t accept what now? What do you mean?”

Horikita didn’t answer my question. She fell completely silent.

7.2

Class had ended for the day. Hirata stood at the podium, using the blackboard to prepare for our big discussion. Because of Hirata’s powerful charisma, almost everyone in our class had shown, with the exception of a few like Horikita and Sudou.

When I looked around, I noticed that they’d already left the room. I decided to leave before the discussion got into full swing, as well.

“Ayanokouji!”

Yamauchi suddenly appeared from under my desk, his expression deathlike.

“Whoa! Wh-what? What’s wrong?”

“Hey, buy this from me for 20,000 points. I can’t buy anything!” he cried.

Yamauchi placed the game console he’d purchased the other day on my desk. Frankly, I didn’t even want the thing.

“But if you sell that to me, who am I supposed to play with?” I asked.

“How the heck should I know? Come on, it’s good, right? It’s special, so it’s a good deal.”

“I’ll buy it from you for 1,000 points.” “Ayanokouji! Come on, you’re my only hope!” “Why am I the only one? I can’t afford it, anyway.”

Yamauchi looked at me all teary-eyed, which grossed me out. I looked the other way. He must have realized I wasn’t biting, so he immediately switched to a new target.

“Professor! Your best buddy has a favor to ask! Buy this game system for 22,000 points!”

He was trying to get the Professor to buy it and had shamelessly increased the price.

“Things must be really tough for the people who used up their points,” remarked Kushida as she observed Yamauchi.

“What about you, Kushida? Do you have enough points?

Girls have a lot of necessities, after all.”

“I’m okay. For now, anyway. I’ve used up about half of my points. I kind of lost control the first month and overspent, so it’ll be a little difficult to hold myself back. What about you, Ayanokouji-kun? Are you okay?”

“It’s got to be hard not to spend money when you’re so popular. I’ve barely used any of my points, to be honest. I haven’t really needed to buy anything.”

“Because you don’t have friends?” she asked. “Hey…”

“Ah, sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to offend,” Kushida apologized with a giggle. She was too cute when she did that.

“Hey, Kushida-san, do you have a minute?” Karuizawa asked.

“What’s up, Karuizawa-san?”

“Honestly, I’ve spent way too many points, and I’m seriously running low. Some of the other girls in class have lent me a few points, but I was wondering if you could help me out, too. We’re friends, right? I only need, like, 2,000 points from you.”

Karuizawa didn’t seem all that earnest, laughing breezily while she hit up Kushida. In such a case, rejection should be the knee-jerk reaction.

“Okay, sure.”

Sure?! I repeated silently, but it wasn’t my business. This was a problem for the friends in question. Kushida had decided to help Karuizawa without even a hint of reluctance.

“Thank you! This is really what friends are for, huh? By the way, here’s my number. Okay, see you later. Ah, Inogashira-san! Hey, to tell you the truth, I used up too many of my points…”

Karuizawa turned away just like that and went in pursuit of her next target.

“Are you sure? You know you probably won’t get those points back, right?” I asked.

“I can’t just ignore a friend in need. Karuizawa-san has a lot of friends, too, so I think it’s probably hard for her not to have any points.”

“I think using up 100,000 points is kind of her own fault, though.”

“Wait, how do you transfer points?” Kushida asked.

“Karuizawa gave you her phone number, didn’t she? You should be able to do it with your cell phone.”

“This school really does take great care of its students. It even has a way to help students like Karuizawa-san.”

True, transferring points was a lifesaver for Karuizawa, but was it really necessary to give her the money? If anything, it seemed a recipe for disaster.

The loudspeaker came alive with a soothing sound effect, and a robotic voice issued an announcement.

“Ayanokouji-kun, from first-year Class D. Please come see Chiyabashira-sensei in the faculty office.”

“Looks like the teacher wants to see you.”

“Yeah… Sorry, Kushida, Gotta go “

I was sure I hadn’t done anything to get me called to the office. Exiting the classroom, I could feel my classmates’ stares drilling a hole into the back of my head. Timid as a rabbit, I found the faculty office and entered. I looked all around, but I didn’t find Chiyabashira-sensei anywhere. Baffled, I called out to a teacher inspecting her appearance in a mirror.

“Excuse me, is Chiyabashira-sensei here?”

“Hmm? Sae-chan? Oh, she was just here a moment ago.”

The teacher had wavy, shoulder-length hair, which made her look mature. The way she said Chiyabashira-sensei’s name made them sound close. They were near in age and probably friends.

“She must have stepped away for a minute. Do you want to wait here?”

“No, thank you. I’ll wait in the hall.”

I didn’t like being in the faculty office. I hated attention, so the hall would do just as well. However, the young teacher unexpectedly followed me.

“I’m Hoshinomiya Chie, in charge of Class B. Sae and I have been best friends since high school. That’s why we call each other Sae-chan and Chie-chan.”

That information seemed kind of superfluous.

“Hey, why did Sae-chan call you? Huh? Huh? Why?” she asked.

“No idea.”

“I don’t understand. You were called to the office without a reason? Hmm? What’s your name?”

An onslaught of questions. She scanned me from top to bottom, as if sizing me up.

“My name Ayanokouji” I said

“Ayanokouji-kun, huh? Oh, wow, that’s a cool name. You’re pretty popular, aren’t you?”

What was with this overly friendly teacher? She acted more like a student. If this were an all-boy school, she would have immediately captured every student’s heart.

“Hey, do you already have a girlfriend?” she asked. “No… I’m, uh, not especially popular.”

I tried to seem reluctant, but Hoshinomiya-sensei kept pushing herself onto me. She grabbed my arms with slender, delicate hands.

“Hmm? How unexpected. If we were in the same class, I’d never leave you alone. Perhaps because you’re so innocent? Or do you like playing hard to get?”

She caressed my cheeks. I had no idea what to do. She’d probably stop if I licked her fingers, but I had a feeling that’d get me expelled.

“What are you doing, Hoshinomiya?”

Chiyabashira-sensei appeared out of nowhere. With a loud thud, she smacked Hoshinomiya-sensei on the head with her clipboard. Hoshinomiya-sensei crouched and gripped her skull in apparent pain.

“Ouch! What was that for?” she cried.

“For getting involved with one of my students.”

“I was only keeping him company while he waited for you, Sae-chan.”

“It would have been better if you just left him alone. Thanks for waiting, Ayanokouji. Let’s go into the office.”

“The guidance office?” I asked. “Did I do something wrong?

“A good answer. Come.”

While I wondered what this was all about, I followed Chiyabashira-sensei. Hoshinomiya-sensei remained by my side, smiling widely. Chiyabashira-sensei noticed and turned, her face much like a demon’s.

“You stay,” she ordered.

“Come on, don’t be so cold! It won’t be the end of the world if I listen, right? Besides Sae-chan, you’re definitely not the type to give one-on-one guidance. Pulling a new student like Ayanokouji- kun into the guidance room out of nowhere… Are you after something, I wonder?”

Grinning, Hoshinomiya-sensei scooted behind me and placed her hands on my shoulders. I sensed a storm brewing.

“So, Sae-chan, are you looking to be dominated by a younger man?”

Dominated by a younger man? What did that mean?

“Don’t say such stupid things. That wouldn’t be possible.” “Hee, you’re certainly right. It wouldn’t be possible for you,

Sae-chan,” Hoshinomiya-sensei muttered, her words laced with a double meaning.

“Why are you following us? This is a Class D matter.”

“Huh? I can’t go to the guidance room? That’s not okay?

Come on, I can give advice, too.”

As Hoshinomiya-sensei continued to follow, a female student came up to us, a beautiful girl with light-pink hair. I’d never seen her before.

“Hoshinomiya-sensei, do you have a moment? The student council wishes to discuss something with you.” She glanced at me, but quickly returned her attention to Hoshinomiya-sensei.

“All right, you have someone who needs you. Get to it.” Slap! Chiyabashira-sensei smacked Hoshinomiya-sensei on the butt with her clipboard.

“Aw! She’ll get mad at me if I hang around any longer. See you later, Ayanokouji-kun! All right, Ichinose-san. Let’s go to the faculty office.”

With that, she turned on her heel and left with the beautiful Ichinose.

Chiyabashira-sensei lightly scratched her head while she watched Hoshinomiya-sensei leave. Soon after, we entered the guidance room, which stood beside the faculty office.

“So. Why did you call me here?” I asked.

“Well, about that… Before we begin, please come here.”

She briefly glanced at a clock hanging on the wall, which gave the time as nine o’clock, and opened the door. Inside was a small office kitchenette. She placed a kettle on top of a stove.

“I’m going to make tea. Is roasted green okay?” she asked. I picked up the container with the tea powder.

“Don’t make any unnecessary moves. Shut up and get in here. Understand? Don’t make a sound and stay until I tell you it’s okay to come out. If you don’t do as I say, you’ll be expelled,” she said.

“Huh? What do you mean by—”

She closed the door to the kitchenette without explanation, leaving me in there. What in the world was she scheming? I did as I was told and waited. Soon after, I heard the outer door to the guidance room open.

“Ah, come in. So, what did you want to talk to me about, Horikita?” I heard Chiyabashira-sensei say.

Apparently Horikita was in need of guidance.

“I will be frank. Why was I sorted into Class D?” “That’s quite frank.”

“Today, you told us that the school sorted superior students into Class A. You said that Class D was filled with the leftovers, the last bastion of delinquents.”

“That’s true. You must consider yourself to be a superior person.”

I wondered how Horikita would respond. I’d bet she’d confidently object.

“I solved nearly every problem on the entrance examination.

I made no substantial mistakes on the interview, either. At the very least, I shouldn’t have been sorted into Class D.”

Looks like I would have won that bet. Horikita was definitely the type to think herself superior. She wasn’t excessively self- conscious, either. She’d tied for first place on the test, as shown in the morning’s results.

“You solved nearly all of the problems on the entrance examination, hmm? Normally I couldn’t show the examination results to individual students, but I’ll make an exception in this case. I just so happen to have your answer sheet here.”

“You’re incredibly prepared. It’s…almost as if you knew I’d come here to protest.”

“I’m an instructor. I understand the mind of a student, at least to some degree, Horikita Suzune. Just as you said, you did well on the entrance examination. You had the third-highest test score among the first-year students and were close to the highest- and second-highest-scoring students. You did exceedingly well.

And you’re right: We found no particular problems in your interview. On the contrary, we evaluated you quite highly.”

“Thank you very much. So then…why?”

“Before I answer, why are you dissatisfied with Class D?” “Who could be happy with an incorrect evaluation?

Furthermore, the class rankings greatly impact our future prospects. Of course I’m dissatisfied.”

“Incorrect evaluation? Perhaps your self-evaluation is far too high.” Chiyabashira-sensei snickered, or rather, laughed outright. “I acknowledge that your academic ability is excellent. You’re certainly very smart. However, who decided that smart people are categorically superior? We never said that.”

“But…that’s just common sense.”

“Common sense? Didn’t common sense create our current, flawed society? Before, Japan relied solely on test scores to separate the superior and inferior. As a result, the incompetents at the top tried desperately to kick down the truly superior students. In the end, we settled on a system of hereditary succession.”

A system of hereditary succession meant that things like social standing, prestige, and employment were passed down to future generations. At those words, I groaned unintentionally. My chest hurt.

“You’re a capable student. I don’t deny that. However, this school’s goal is to produce superior people. If you believe academics alone place you into a higher class, you are mistaken. That was the very first thing we explained to you. Besides, think rationally. Would we have admitted someone like Sudou if we decided superiority based solely on academic merit?”

“Tch…”

Despite the fact that this was one of the country’s leading preparatory schools, this place allowed students to enroll for purposes other than academics.

“Furthermore, you may be too hasty in proclaiming that no one would be happy to be incorrectly evaluated. Take Class A, for instance. They are under incredible pressure from the school, and also the target of extreme envy from the lower classes. Competing every day with that kind of pressure bearing down upon you is far more difficult than you might imagine. There are some students who are happy to be incorrectly evaluated at a lower level.”

“You’re joking, right? I can’t understand such a person.”

“Is that so? I think that Class D boasts some of those people.

Strange students who would happily be set at a low level.” It was almost as if she were talking to me.

“You still haven’t given me an explanation. Was I honestly sorted into Class D? Did anything go wrong with the grading?

Please double-check,” Horikita said.

“I’m sorry, but you weren’t sorted by mistake. You are definitely in Class D. You are at that level.”

“Is that so? Then I will ask the school again, at another time.”

Apparently, she wasn’t going to give up. Horikita had merely determined that her homeroom teacher was the wrong person to ask.

“You’ll get the same answer from anyone in a higher position. Besides, there’s no need to be disappointed. As I told you this morning, it’s possible for one class to overtake another. You could conceivably reach Class A before you graduate.”

“I can’t imagine it will be easy, though. Forget overtaking Class A; how in the world could those immature Class D misfits gain more points? I can’t see how it’s possible.” Horikita spoke the truth. The difference in points was overwhelming.

“I don’t know. You alone get to decide how you head down that path. At any rate, Horikita, do you need to be in Class A for any special reason?”

“Well…I suppose that’s enough for now. Excuse me. But know that I’m not yet convinced I was sorted correctly.”

“Understood. I will keep that in mind.”

A chair squeaked against the floor, signaling that the discussion was over.

“Oh, that reminds me. I’ve summoned another person to the guidance room. It’s someone relevant to you.”

“Relevant to me? No, you can’t mean… bro—” “Come on out, Ayanokouji,” the teacher said.

This was a bad time to reveal myself. Maybe I just wouldn’t go.

“If you don’t come out, I’ll have you expelled.”

Jeez. A teacher shouldn’t casually wield expulsion like a weapon.

“How long do you intend to keep me waiting?”

With a sigh, I entered the room. Naturally, Horikita appeared surprised and perplexed.

“Were you listening to our conversation?” she asked me.

“Listening? I know you guys were talking, but I didn’t really hear anything. The walls are surprisingly thick.”

“That’s not true. Voices carry pretty well into the kitchen.” Apparently, Chiyabashira-sensei wanted to drag me into the action.

“Sensei, why would you do this?” Horikita noticed that this had all been planned and was clearly angry.

“Because I deemed it necessary. Now then, Ayanokouji, I’ll explain why I called you here.” Chiyabashira-sensei dismissed Horikita’s concerns and shifted her attention to me.

“Well then, if you’ll excuse me…” Horikita muttered.

“Wait, Horikita. It would be in your best interest to stay and listen. It may provide you with a hint on how to reach Class A.”

Horikita stopped dead in her tracks and sat back down. “Please keep it brief,” she said.

Chiyabashira-sensei chuckled as she glanced over her clipboard. “You’re an interesting student, Ayanokouji.”

“Not at all. I’m certainly not as interesting as a teacher with a strange surname like Chiyabashira.”

“Would you speak like that to every Chiyabashira in the nation? Hmm?”

If you looked all over the country for another person with the surname of Chiyabashira, you probably wouldn’t find one.

“Well, when I read over the entrance exam’s results, your scores piqued my interest. I was shocked.”

On her clipboard, I saw a rather familiar answer sheet.

“Fifty points in Japanese. Fifty points in mathematics. Fifty points in English. Fifty points in social studies. Fifty points in science. You even scored Fifty points on the recent short test. Do you know what this means?”

A stunned Horikita looked over my test paper and then shifted her focus to me. “This is a rather frightening coincidence,” she said.

“Oh? You believe that getting 50s all across the board was a coincidence? He did it intentionally.”

“It’s a coincidence. There’s no evidence that it’s not. Besides, what would I gain by manipulating my scores in the first place? If I were intelligent enough to achieve high marks, I would’ve tried to get perfect scores.”

As I feigned innocence, Chiyabashira-sensei sighed in exasperation.

“You really do seem like an odious student. Listen. Only 3 percent of students solved the fifth math problem successfully.

However, you solved it perfectly, and used a complex formula to do so. However, the tenth problem on the test had a completion rate of 76 percent. Did you make a mistake on it? Is that normal?”

“I don’t know what normal is. It was a coincidence, I tell you. A coincidence.”

“For crying out loud! I respect your frank attitude, but it’ll cause problems for you in the future,” the teacher said.

“I’ll think about that when the time comes.”

Chiyabashira-sensei shot Horikita a glance that seemed to say, What do you think?

“Why do you pretend not to know?” she asked.

“Like I said, it was a coincidence. It’s not like I’m hiding that I’m a genius or anything.”

“I wonder. He may be even more intelligent than you, Horikita.”

Horikita flinched. Please don’t say anything unnecessary, Chiyabashira-sensei.

“I don’t like studying, and I don’t plan to try hard. That’s why I get those scores.”

“A student who chose this school wouldn’t say something like that. However, some students may have different reasons for getting in. You, for example, and Kouenji as well. I think you’re fine with being in either D or A.”

This school wasn’t the only abnormal thing. The teachers were weird, too. Moments earlier, Chiyabashira-sensei had upset Horikita with just her words. It was almost as if the teachers knew every student’s secrets.

“What other reasons do you have?” Horikita asked. “You want me to explain it to you in detail?”

I noticed the sharp gleam in Chiyabashira-sensei’s eyes. It was almost as if she wanted to provoke Horikita.

“No, we’d best stop here. Any more, and I might go mad and destroy all the furniture in here,” I said.

“If you did that, Ayanokouji, I would demote you to E Class.”

“Wait, there’s an E Class?”

“Certainly. Of course, the ‘E’ stands for ‘expelled.’ As in, you’d be kicked out of school. Well, I suppose our conversation has ended. Enjoy your lives.”

What incredible sarcasm.

“I’m leaving, too. It’s almost time for the faculty meeting.

I’m going to close the door, so please step outside.”

She pushed us into the hallway. Why had Chiyabashira- sensei called both of us in together? She didn’t seem like the type to do meaningless things.

“Well. Should we head back?” I asked.

Horikita didn’t respond, and I walked away. Probably best if we weren’t together right now.

“Wait.” Horikita called out, but I didn’t stop. If I managed to keep away from her until I got to the dorms, I’d be home free.

“Was your score…really just a coincidence?” she asked.

“I already said so, didn’t I? Or do you have any proof that I got that score on purpose?”

“I don’t, but…I also don’t understand, Ayanokouji-kun. You said that you like to avoid trouble, but you don’t seem to be interested in Class A.”

“You have an extraordinary fixation on Class A.”

“Should I not? I’m simply striving to improve my future prospects.”

“Oh, absolutely. You should. It’s perfectly natural.”

“When I entered this school, I thought graduation was my only goal. But the reality is different. I’m not even at the starting line.”

Horikita sped up and started walking next to me. “So, why are you aiming for Class A?”

“First, I want to ascertain this school’s true motives. Why was I put into Class D? Chiyabashira-sensei said I’d been deemed a Class D student, but why? When I discover the answer, I’ll aim for A. No, I will definitely make it to A.”

“That’s going to be difficult. You’ll have to rehabilitate the problem children. You have Sudou’s continued tardiness and class cutting, everyone else talking in class, and, of course, the test scores. Even if you manage all of that, you’re still at zero points.”

“I know that. I still think the school made a mistake with my placement.”

Anxiety had replaced Horikita’s previously overflowing confidence. Did she really know that was the case? The only conclusion I could draw from today was that “despair” was a two- syllable word. If you followed the fundamental school rules, you could avoid losing points. However, it was still unclear how to turn those losses into gains. Class A had had only had a small number of points subtracted.

Even if we somehow found an efficient way to increase our points, the other classes might also find a way to do the same.

Since we’d started out with such a substantial difference in points, we’d have to compete hard against the other classes in a limited amount of time.

“I can understand your thoughts, but I don’t think the school will continue supervising us so carefully. If they did, there’d be no meaning in competition,” Horikita said.

“I see. I suppose you could think that. So, you’ll try to take care of this situation by yourself?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Don’t act so proud.”

A hand chopped my side. Horikita ignored my pained expression.

“Ow. Look, I understand how you feel, but you can’t solve this by yourself. Think about Sudou. Even if you improve, the rest of the class will drag you down.”

“No. You’re right that no lone individual can solve this problem. We won’t even make it to the starting line without everyone’s help.”

“Well, it sounds like we’ve got a huge problem on our hands.”

“We have three major, immediate issues. Tardiness and talking during class are the first two. Third, we must make sure no one fails the midterm exam.”

“I think we’ll manage those first two issues, but the midterms…”

The short test we’d taken had contained a few difficult questions, but overall it had been pretty easy. Even at that level, some students had failed. Honestly, their chances of passing the midterm exam were slim.

“I need your help, Ayanokouji-kun.” “Help?”

Horikita glared at me.

“What if I refuse? Like how you refused Hirata this morning.”

“Do you want to refuse?” she asked. “What if I said I’d gladly help?”

“I never would’ve thought you’d do it gladly, but I doubt you’d refuse. If you did refuse to work with me, then that would be the end of it. No matter what I said about our future, I’d be powerless if you refused. So, will you help me or not?”

I wanted to say what she’d said before, when she’d silenced Hirata… What was it, again? Well, it wasn’t as though I would just bluntly refuse someone who asked for my help. Then again, if I told her I would help, she’d probably run me into the ground until graduation. I needed the heart of a demon.

“I refuse,” I said.

“I always knew you’d help, Ayanokouji-kun. I’m grateful.” “I didn’t say that! I turned you down!”

“No, I heard the voice inside your head. You said you’d help.”

Terrifying! It was like she could read my thoughts.

“I don’t even know how I could help you, though.” Besides being an exemplary student, Horikita was incredibly quick-witted. She probably didn’t need my skills.

“Don’t worry. I don’t require your brain power, Ayanokouji- kun. Leave the planning to me, and act as I tell you.”

“Huh? What do you mean by act?”

“Doesn’t our lack of points trouble you, Ayanokouji-kun? If you follow my instructions, I promise you we’ll see a point increase. I would never lie.”

“I don’t know what you’re cooking up, but there are other people you could count on. If you made friends, they’d cooperate with you.”

“Unfortunately, no one else in Class D is nearly as easy to manipulate as you.”

“No, there are several people. Hirata, for example. He’s popular and smart, so he’d be perfect. Besides, he’s worried that you’re all alone, Horikita.”

If she reached out to him, they’d probably become good friends.

“He’s no good. Even if he has some talent and ability, I can’t use him. To use an analogy, think about the pieces in shogi. Right now, I don’t need a gold or silver general. I want a pawn.”

So, you just called me a pawn? That’s what you called me?

“So, if a pawn were to cooperate, he could become a gold general?”

“An interesting answer, but you don’t seem like the type to make that effort, Ayanokouji-kun. Besides, haven’t you been thinking, ‘I’ve always been a pawn, I don’t want to advance,’ all along?”

She’d shot me down with precisely the right brand of ammunition. If I were a normal person, my feelings would’ve been hurt.

“Sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m not suitable for this,” I said.

“Well, contact me once you’ve given it some thought. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Horikita wasn’t paying attention to what I’d said in the slightest.

Written on August 15, 2022