Y1 Vol 3 Chapter 2 | The Boundary between Heaven and Hell

The endless summer sea. The infinite blue skies. The perfectly clear air. Here, in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, we didn’t feel the intense midsummer heat, and the gentle sea breeze kissed our bodies. Yes, this really was an oceanic paradise.

“Whoa! This is the beeeeeeesssssst!” shouted Ike Kenji, both hands raised high in the air. His voice echoed across the deck of the luxury liner.

Normally, someone would have grumbled or shouted “shut up” in response. But just for today, no one minded, instead enjoying this moment of bliss. The view from the “special seats” on the deck was exceptionally gorgeous.

“This view is incredible! I’m honestly super moved right now!”A group of girls led by Karuizawa came out from the ship’s cabin. Karuizawa pointed out to the expansive ocean, wearing a radiant smile.

“Seriously, the scenery here is just amazing!”Kushida Kikyou was also present among the group of girls. It looked like the extraordinary view had stolen her breath away.

After overcoming numerous hardships, midterms, and the final exam, we had welcomed summer vacation with open arms. The Advanced Nurturing High School had arranged for an extravagant two-week trip—a cruise on a luxury liner.

“Wow, Ken, you must be happy you didn’t get expelled. I mean, if this were a normal trip, it would’ve been impossible for us to go. Hey, how did it feel to be on the verge of expulsion, since you had the lowest score on the final? Come on, tell me. How did it feel?”Even though Yamauchi Haruki was insulting him, Sudou Ken was far from being in a foul mood. In fact, he howled with laughter in response, sounding more like the baying of a lone wolf than a high schooler.

“With my skills, there was nothing to worry about. Didn’t I tell you I’d prove myself, and it’d be easy?”We had faced oblivion just a short while ago, but this trip completely blew those feelings away. Perhaps the blue seas had washed away our everyday troubles.

“I never dreamed that high schoolers could go on such a luxurious cruise. And it’s for two whole weeks. Two weeks! When my mom and dad hear about this, they’re gonna be so shocked they’ll wet themselves!”As Sudou had bluntly stated, this was certainly no ordinary trip. At our government-sponsored school, there was absolutely no need for us to pay for tuition or other miscellaneous expenses—which, of course, included this trip. We received the best of special treatment. The cruise liner and its facilities were of the highest possible quality. This ship was fully equipped with everything from prestigious restaurants to a theater, and even an upscale spa. On my own, this would probably have cost me about 100,000 yen, even in the off season.

Our trip, which promised the pinnacle of luxury, had finally started today. According to the schedule, we would spend our first week staying at a fancy summer lodge on a deserted island. After that, we would enjoy the cruise ship for another week.

At 5 AM today, the first-year students had boarded buses and departed for Tokyo Bay. The passenger ships departed from the port once the students arrived. After eating breakfast in the lounge, students were permitted to move freely throughout the entirevessel. Best of all, we were able to use any of the ship’s facilities free of charge. For those of us who’d suffered daily due to a lack of points, this ship was heaven-sent.

Suddenly, Kushida turned toward me. I could tell that something was on her mind. With the vast ocean and the endless blue sky behind her, Kushida looked even more radiant than usual. Even though I didn’t want it to, my heart started to pound. Could it be…?”Huh? Come to think of it, I wonder where Horikita-san is? Weren’t you two together?” Kushida asked.

Apparently I wasn’t even allowed to indulge in a mere fantasy. Kushida had Horikita on her mind.

“Who knows? I’m not her keeper.” I didn’t recall seeing her after breakfast.

“She probably doesn’t enjoy traveling, so maybe she’s in her room?” “Probably.”“Around noon, we can go onto the island’s private beach and swimaround as much as we want. I can’t wait!”Apparently, the school owned a small island to the south. Our destination.

“Attention, students. Please assemble on the deck. You will be able to see the island soon. This is a good time to take in some rather significant scenery.”This rather strange announcement issued from the ship’s PA. Kushida and the others didn’t seem to mind, looking forward to what was to come. The island appeared on the horizon a few minutes after several students had gathered. Ike let out a gleeful cry. Other students noticed, and began assembling on the deck. After a crowd had gathered, some particularly domineering boys showed up and began pushing us out of the way in order to get the best position.

“Hey, you’re in the way. Move it, you defects.”One of the boys tried to intimidate me, and shoved my shoulder. In a panic, I quickly grabbed onto the deck’s railing to keep from falling.

The students laughed scornfully.

“Hey, what the hell are you guys doing?!”Sudou immediately responded in kind, trying to intimidate them right back. Kushida, looking worried, came to my side. I suppose men who require girls for backup probably look pretty pathetic.

“You do understand how this school is structured, right? Class D doesn’t get any human rights. Defects like you are just that— defective—so you should submit. We’re all in Class A over here.”The students from Class D departed from the bow of the ship as if we’d been chased out. Sudou looked displeased, but managed to restrain himself. A fistfight didn’t break out, evidence that he was perhaps growing up. Or perhaps he simply understood Class D’s weak position here. Although the situation was unfair, we didn’t need any unnecessary trouble, so it was best to ignore it.

“Oh, hey, you’re all here. Huh? What’s the matter?”Hirata Yousuke, Class D’s leader, called out to me. It was the last day of the first semester. The cabin assignments for the trip were decided. I hadn’t expected to be called over to hang out with Ike and Sudou and the others; their group was already big enough as it was. Just when it seemed like I would be isolated, though, I was saved by the appearance of my hero, Hirata Man. “Hey, Hirata, how far have you gotten with Karuizawa?” Ike asked Hirata, who didn’t seem to be heading over to Karuizawa’s side.

“Why don’t you try and be flirtier with her, since we’re on this long- awaited trip?”“We just kind of take things at our own pace.” Hirata’s cell phone rang. “Oh, sorry, Miyake-kun looks like he’s having trouble. I’ll be going now.”Fiddling with his phone, Hirata returned to the cabins. Popular people were the busiest of all.

“What’s his deal? We’re on a trip, but he’s worried about his classmates?”“Karuizawa is Karuizawa, though. I guess lately she and Hiratahaven’t been very flirty with each other… Do you think that maybe they’ve broken up? If that’s the case, that really sucks. It’ll mean more rivals to get to Kushida-chan!”It was certainly true that Hirata and his girlfriend seemed less close now than when they’d started dating. But they didn’t appear to have had a fight, and the situation hadn’t gotten tense. They seemed to get along well whenever I saw them talking.

“I’ve decided, Haruki. I…will confess my feelings to Kushida-chan onthis trip!” Ike proclaimed.

“A-are you serious? If she rejects you, it’s gonna be crazy awkward, though. You gonna be okay?”“This is just my own selfish reasoning. Kushida-chan is really cute,right? That’s why most of the boys want to ask her out. But she’s just on a whole other level, so no one can get the courage to confess to her. That means she’s not used to being confessed to, right? I think Kushida-chan’s heart could be shaken by my declaration of love. It’s like, you know, not entirely hopeless.” “I see. So, you’ve already made up your mind.” “Yeah!”Normally Yamauchi would have gotten fired up and opposed Ike, but this time he didn’t. Instead, he looked out over the deck as if searching for something.

“What’s the matter?” Ike asked.

“Ah, nothing really,” Yamauchi responded absent-mindedly. In the end, he never brought up the subject of Kushida.

“Hey, hey, Kushida-chan. Can I talk to you for a minute?” Ike asked. “Hmm? What is it?”Ike immediately approached Kushida, who had been looking at the sea. This was obviously a suspicious move.

“So, it’s like this… It’s been about four months since we met, right? So…I was wondering if it might be okay for me to call you by your first name now. I mean, it makes me feel like we’re strangers when I call you by your last name.”“Come to think of it, I guess you and Yamauchi have been callingeach other by your first names for a while now, huh?” Kushida said. “So… I can’t, huh? C-call you Kikyou-chan, I mean?”In response to Ike’s inquiry, Kushida simply smiled.

“Of course it’s okay for you to call me that. Should I call you Kanji-kun, then?”“Whooooaaaaa! Kikyou-chaaaaaaan!” Ike cried out and posed like he was reaching out to heaven, kind of like the guy on the poster for the movie Platoon. Kushida chuckled.

“First names, huh? Hey, speaking of, I wonder what Horikita’s first name is? Huh?” Sudou asked me as if I was the one who’d know. “Tomiko. Horikita Tomiko.”“Tomiko, huh? That’s a cute name. Just like I’d expect. It feels perfect for her.”“Oh, sorry, I was wrong. It’s Suzune.”“Hey, don’t make mistakes like that! Suzune, huh? It feels like Tomiko, but it’s 100 times better.”In the end, even if Horikita’s first name were Sadako or Sam or whatever, he probably would have felt it was perfect.

“I’m going to call her by her first name during our summer vacation, too. Suzune. Suzune…“Well, it seemed the boys wanted to bridge the gap between themselves and the girls. It should be noted that none of the guys called me by my first name, and I didn’t call them by theirs.

“Oh, hey. Let me practice with you, Ayanokouji. Practice sayingSuzune’s name, I mean.”“Practice? What do you mean, practice? That’s not a normal thing to do.”It was pointless to practice saying someone’s name unless you were saying it to the person in question. Sudou glared at me intently. He wasn’t planning to make me his imaginary Horikita, was he? It was probably because he was imagining me as someone of the opposite sex, but the look in his eyes really creeped me out. In my mind,I started breathing heavily.

“Hey, Horikita, do you have a minute? There’s something I want to talk to you about…” Sudou murmured.

“I’m not Horikita.” Disgusted, I averted my eyes. “You freakin’ moron! It’s practice! I don’t wanna do it, either, but I got to practice, you know? It’s like I have to practice basketball if I want to get good. In either case, I need to take my shot.”I really didn’t want to listen to this, but I didn’t have much of achoice. I had to grin and bear it.

“Horikita. Isn’t it weird that we talk to each other like we’restrangers? We’ve known each other for a while now. Other people are calling each other by their first names. Isn’t it time we did, too?”“…“I wanted to hit Sudou on the head, but I tried to endure it like an adult.

“Say something! Why aren’t you practicing?!” “What do you want me to say?”“Answer like how Horikita would. You’ve known her for a long time, so you’d know how she’d answer, right?”We had only known each other for four months, so I wouldn’t necessarily know that. Even so, Sudou had asked me to play his imaginary Horikita. I clenched my fist in a somewhat threatening manner.

“I’m one step ahead on the path to adulthood. You want me to practice this with you instead of Horikita? Feel free to practice by yourself.”Ike jumped in to substitute for me instead. Sudou seemed kind of weird when he started talking.

“Horikita…is it okay for me to call you by your first name now?”“Huh? Well, you’re not exactly a hottie, are you, Sudou-kun? And you don’t seem to have any money, so, like, you’re not my type at all, are you? Or it’s, like, sorry, sorry, but no thanks, you know?!” Despite looking nothing like one, Ike was trying to play the part of a gyaru high school girl. Sudou put him in a chokehold until he writhed in agony on the deck. Those guys always seemed so energetic. I felt exhausted just looking at them. Still, they did look pretty funny.

A little while later, the crowd started getting riled up and making noise. The students’ enthusiasm increased by leaps and bounds as we sailed closer and the island became clearer.

I’d thought that the ship would have gone directly to the island, but for some reason we passed the pier and started circling around. The island, on loan from the government, had a surface area of about 0.5 square kilometers. The highest point of the island reached 230meters. In comparison to Japan’s total area, the island was tiny, but when seen by one hundred-odd people on a cruise ship, it looked unbelievably massive.

Eventually, the boat made a complete pass around the island. The ship continued to circle without changing speed, barely making a splash as it moved almost unnaturally fast through the water.

“Such a mysterious sight! It’s so moving! Don’t you think so,Ayanokouji-kun?” Kushida gushed. “O-oh. Yeah, I guess.”As I looked at Kushida, whose eyes sparkled as she looked at the deserted island, my heart started to pound. Kushida really was cute. I wanted to protect her smile, and her childlike mannerisms.

An announcement came over the PA speakers. “We will disembark in thirty minutes. Please assemble on the deck. All students should have changed into their jerseys. Make sure to check your designated bag and your luggage, and do not forget your cell phone. Please keep all other personal items in your room. There is a possibility that you will not be able to visit the bathroom for some time, so please do so now.”Apparently, the private beach was near. Ike and the others went to change in high spirits. I started heading toward my group’s room, too. There, I put on the jersey that I used for gym class, returned tothe ship’s deck, and waited until we reached the island. As the islanddrew closer and closer, the first-years’ enthusiasm reached its peak.

“We will disembark now, beginning with the students from Class A. Cell phones are prohibited on the island. Please hand your phone to your homeroom teacher as you leave.”Following the loudspeaker’s command, the students went down thestairs in an orderly fashion.

“Come on. Hurry up! Even though we’re wearing thin clothes, we’reall sweating!”There was no place to hide from the sun on the ship’s deck. No surprise that people were complaining. The Class D students waited on standby in the heat. Horikita finally joined us. At first glance, it didn’t appear as though anything had changed, but there was a slight difference—something felt out of place. Even Horikita, normally so meticulous, was concerned about her appearance. Right now, though, her hair was disheveled.

She seemed a bit cold, unconsciously rubbing her arms as we waited to disembark and set foot on the island.

“What were you doing until now?” I asked. “I was just reading a book in my room. For Whom the Bell Tolls. You wouldn’t know it.”Hey, come on now, I thought. That book was arguably one of Ernest Hemingway’s definitive works, an unquestioned masterpiece. I’d long been impressed by Horikita’s hobby of reading such acclaimed books. But I had to wonder what her priorities were, since she was reading while on a luxurious cruise. In such a case, I found it a little suspicious that she would shut herself off in her room to read.

She wasn’t saying anything, and it would be silly to investigatefurther. Best just to drop it.

“I’m anxious about what’s coming, but since we’re prohibited from bringing personal items along there’s nothing I can really do,” she grumbled, seemingly dissatisfied.

Unusual for someone headed to the beach to say.

Disembarking took longer than I thought it would, probably because the teachers guarded the students on both sides as they got off the ship and checked their luggage.

“Hey. Does it seem like they’re being strangely cautious right now? On their guard? I mean, they didn’t even confiscate our cell phones during the final. They’re really cracking down on the personal items.”“It certainly seems that way. I mean, if we’re just playing in the ocean, I can’t imagine they’d need to go this far.”Speaking of unnatural, there was a helicopter parked on the stern of the boat. While it was true that some things were bothering me, I was probably overthinking it. If students did bring their cell phones to the beach, someone’s phone might get wet and break. And they probably didn’t want personal items because they were worried about people polluting the beach with garbage. And if someone suddenly got ill, the helicopter was there for dispatch, right?Soon, it would be our turn to be examined and get off the ramp. I had yet to realize that this place was going to be the boundary between heaven and hell.

2.1As we got off the boat, chatting amiably with one another, our homeroom teacher greeted us with some harsh words.

“I will now start roll call for Class D. When you hear your name, please respond loud and clear.”Our homeroom teacher started taking attendance, clipboard in hand, while simultaneously instructing us to form a line. Chabashira-sensei wore the same kind of jersey as her students. This atmosphere was more akin to training camp than summer vacation. Still, not many of the students seemed tense at all.

“Oh, come on! I want my free time already! The sea is right in frontof me!” Ike muttered, standing directly behind me.

Most of the students wanted to run off onto the sandy beach. Soon enough, a tall teacher stepped onto a prepared white platform. It was Mashima-sensei, Class A’s homeroom teacher. He normally taught English, and was well-known for having a stubborn disposition. At first glance, he could easily be mistaken for one of those bodybuilder types. He was built like a professional wrestler, but was actually quite intelligent. He’d even taught special courses in the past.

“First, I would like to say that I’m happy you’ve arrived safely. However, it’s unfortunate that one of you was unable to participate due to illness.”“Oh wow, someone couldn’t come on the trip because he was sick? Poor guy,” said Ike quietly, so the teachers wouldn’t hear. He certainly had a point.

If this were some kind of dinky field trip, that’d be one thing, but such a luxurious vacation was another story altogether. I wondered if that kid would regret not coming after hearing friends talk about it. Even in poor health, I think he should’ve pushed himself and participated. Oddly enough, the teachers themselves looked rather grim. Well, while this was a vacation for us students, maybe the teachers supervising us had to think of it as a job.

No. Somehow, it seemed more than that. While Mashima-sensei surveyed the students in silence, I could see that adults in uniform had started setting up some kind of special tent nearby. I also saw a computer and other equipment on a long table. This increasingly business-like setup didn’t match the natural splendor around us at all, and many of the students looked perplexed.

Mashima-sensei uttered a few cruel words, as if waiting for the atmosphere to change. “Well then. We shall commence the current academic year’s first special test.”“Huh? Special test? What do you mean?”Almost everyone in our class asked some variation on that question. We’d all thought this was just a class trip, only to be hit by this surprise attack. Our summer vacation was a product of the school’s goodwill, but that had been an illusion. We plummeted from relief into stark tension.

“The test commences now and lasts for one week, concluding onAugust 7th at the year’s end. This test will determine if you can live on a deserted island together as a group. In addition, I should warn you that this special test is both practical and realistic, designed based on real-world corporate training.”“Living on a deserted island. Does that mean we’re not staying on the boat, but the island?”Some students from Class B and C voiced their obvious concerns.

“You are correct. During the test, you will not be allowed to board the ship without a suitably justifiable reason. It will be necessary for you to fend for yourselves on this island while you are here, from creating a place to sleep to preparing food to eat. Once the test starts, each class will receive two tents, and two flashlights. You will be provided with one box of matches. There is no limit to the amount of sunscreen you can have. Each student will be provided with one toothbrush. As a special case, girls will be allowed to have as many feminine sanitary products as they’d like, without any restrictions. Please ask your respective homeroom teachers for those. That is all.”With that, the teachers began distributing the items.

“Huh?! So we have to live like survivors on a deserted island?! I don’t want to hear this kind of insanity! This isn’t an anime or a manga or something! We can’t all sleep together in just two tents! And what are we supposed to do about food in the first place? This is unbelievable!”Ike fussed loud enough for everyone to hear. Developing skills of self-sufficiency on a deserted island—hunting wild animals, washing in the river, building bedding from tree branches—it certainly was like something you’d see in a movie or read about in a book. No one could’ve imagined that the school would put us through a test like this.

Mashima-sensei gave no sign that this was some kind of joke. If anything, he appeared surprised by what Ike had said.

“You may say this is unbelievable, but that’s because you’ve lived a short, superficial life. There is an actual, prominent company that holds training sessions on uninhabited islands.”“Huh? B-but this…this isn’t special at all. Is it? Isn’t it too much to askfor us to start living on a deserted island with no warning? No way!This is unreal!”“Keeping on like that would be shameful, Ike, so stop talking. What Mashima-sensei just said is only part of it. There are many companies in the world with many different training activities. There are workplaces where there aren’t any chairs in the office, and companies that decide salaries with dice rolls. The world is wider and deeper than you even know.”Chabashira-sensei, as if unable to overlook Ike running his mouth, chided him. She continued, “In other words, you are ill-equipped to distinguish between what is reality and what isn’t.”Many of the students appeared unconvinced and wore dissatisfied looks.

“I assume you’re all thinking something like, ‘What does this test mean?’ Or perhaps some of you doubt the existence of such training programs. However, students who remain at such a base level of thought are unlikely to become anyone promising in the future.

What is your basis for determining this to be ‘unbelievable’ or ‘ridiculous’? You’re just students. In my opinion, you’re all equally worthless. What kind of insignificant person determines that they can criticize a leading company? That’s bizarre. Were you a president in charge of one such notable business, then you might have some right to deny our claims. However, there shouldn’t be any grounds for someone of your station to be able to do that.”As we listened, we did certainly determine that parts sounded unreasonable or unrealistic. But, just like Mashima-sensei said, we had no basis to oppose their claims. Those who found this beyond the realm of their understanding could call it “bizarre” or”unbelievable,” but for someone who did understand the point, well,it would be absurd to think otherwise.

“But, teacher, isn’t this supposed to be our summer vacation? Wewere brought here under the pretext of going on a relaxing trip. Don’t you think that bringing us here and then springing this corporate training on us could be considered unfair?” Some of the students in our class began to protest along these lines.

“I see. I suppose that you’re not wrong about that. I can understand why you would be discontented.”Mashima-sensei’s response showed that he recognized the soundness of such an argument, unlike Ike’s complaints. There were students who were dissatisfied with the current situation, and those who were dissatisfied with the process as a whole.

“However, please do not worry. It would make sense for you to have complaints if you were being forced into a harsh situation. However, even though we’re calling it a special test, there’s no need to think about it in such unhappy terms. In the coming week, you can go swimming, or hold a barbecue. It wouldn’t be a bad time for you to occasionally have a campfire and chat with friends, either. The theme of this special exam is ‘freedom’, after all.”“Huh? Huh? The theme is freedom? We can have a barbecue? Hmm? And this is still called a test? I’m so confused…“Even though this was a test, we were free to play. The contradiction confused the students, and our doubts only increased.

“As a major part of this special test, we’ve decided to distribute 300 points to each class. By using your points well, you might be able to enjoy this week’s special test just as you would a normal trip. We’ve also prepared a manual just for that purpose.”Mashima-sensei received a booklet that looked to be a few dozen pages thick from another teacher.

“This manual lists all of the ways you can obtain points. It also explains where to get drinking water and food, as well as essential necessities. If you wanted to have a barbecue, it explains how to prepare the equipment and ingredients. We also have numerous tools for you to be able to enjoy playing in the ocean to the fullest.” Gradually, the students’ grim expressions grew calmer. “So, we can do whatever we want with the 300 points?”“That’s right. It’s possible to arrange for anything using your points. Of course, it’s necessary for you to use them in a systematic way, but with a solid plan, you can spend your week without any difficulties.”If we could really get through the week by using the points we had, then this would be more like a vacation than a test. It might end up feeling like a real summer vacation.

“B-but, teacher. You said this was a test, right? So shouldn’t there be some kind of difficulty to it?”“No, there’s nothing difficult. It won’t even have any adverse effects on your second semester. I guarantee it.”“So it’s really okay for us to just have fun for one week?”“That’s right. You’re all free to do what you want. Of course, there are some bare minimum rules that you need to abide by as a group, but there shouldn’t be anything difficult about that.”If that were true, then did that mean there really was no risk? In that case, we should ask if he could explain the purpose of this test. Was it linked to some kind of exchange between grade levels? I couldn’t understand the school’s true intentions, but Mashima-sensei’s next statement clarified everything.

“When this special test period is over, each class’ remaining points will be added to their total class points. Your point totals will reflect this change once summer vacation is over.”As he spoke, a gust of wind blew across the beach and kicked up a cloud of dust.

Mashima-sensei’s words were the greatest shock of the day. In previous examinations, they’d measured things like our academic abilities. Naturally, this was advantageous for students with a fundamentally high level of academic ability. Each time, we in Class D were forced into situations where we’d lose class points. However, the rules were completely different this time. This test was designed in a way that didn’t create too much of a gap between Classes A and D.

“So if we can endure this for one week, then starting next month we could see a huge increase in our allowance?!” Ike asked.

That’s right… This wasn’t a competition to test our scholarly abilities, but our endurance. If we managed to curb our basic desires, we might get closer to being the top class.

“Each class will receive one copy of the manual. If the manual is lost, you may have another copy. However, it will consume points, so please be very careful. Also, the student who was marked absent from this trip was from Class A. According to the rules of this special test, should any student have to leave due to illness, there will be a thirty-point penalty to the class as a whole. Therefore, Class A will be starting with 270 points.”Even though it didn’t affect our class, the penalty was still merciless. The students from Class A were visibly trembling. The other classes also appeared shocked. As soon as Mashima-sensei had finished speaking, he told us to disperse. Another teacher’s voice came over the loudspeaker, telling us that each class would receive supplementary instructions from our respective homeroom teachers. We then gathered around Chabashira-sensei. The four classes had congregated in order to keep some distance from each other.

“Thirty thousand points next month, thirty thousand points nextmonth, thirty thousand points next month. Let’s do it!”Ike and the others struck victorious poses. The girls happily discussed what things they would buy. Class D’s dearest wish was to increase our points. We just had to spend one week without any luxuries. It certainly sounded simple.

“I will now hand out wristwatches to every one of you. You are not to take them off until the end of the test. If you remove your wristwatch without permission, you will be punished. This watch doesn’t just tell time. Its sensors also check your body temperature, your pulse, and even your movements. It’s equipped with a GPS. Also, in the off chance something bad does happen, this watch comes equipped with the means to notify the school. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, please do not hesitate to push that button.”The vendor who supplied the watches had stacked them next to Chabashira-sensei. The time had come for Class D to collect our supplies. We were instructed to take the watches out of their boxes and put them on.

“When you say an emergency, do you mean, like, if a bear shows up?”“Even if that was a joke, the test has already begun. I cannot answer any questions that might possibly influence your results.”“Uh…that’s a kinda freaky answer.”“I don’t think there are any wild animals here. If one of the students were injured, that would be a big problem. They probably gave us these watches solely to manage our well-being. Don’t you agree?We’re on an uninhabited island, after all, and the school has toensure our safety,” Hirata said.

Indeed, the school had gifted us these watches to keep us safe. If we were roaming freely about the island, the teachers wouldn’t be able to monitor our condition with their eyes alone. Plus, it would be difficult to install cameras here, like inside of the school. They most likely intended to monitor our physical condition so they could respond to any unforeseen circumstances. The helicopter back on the ship was probably there in case of just such an emergency. As people received their watches, they placed them on either their right or left arm, according to their preferences.

“Is it okay for us to get in the water wearing these?”“There shouldn’t be any problem. They’re waterproof. However, should they malfunction, immediately report to a test administrator and exchange it for a replacement.”This special test was somewhat eccentric in its design, so it likely wasn’t the first time that the school had run it. Clearly, they had planned for various situations. However, there might have been some oversights.

“Chabashira-sensei. I understand that we’re going to be spending one week on this island, but is it possible to get by without using any points?”“Hmm. Well, the school isn’t involved in the test process at all. That means that you must prepare your own food and water. Thinking of solutions to resolve the issue is part of the test. I don’t know of any way of doing so without points.”The girls looked visibly more perplexed than the boys. The fact that abed wasn’t guaranteed probably made them feel uneasy.

“Don’t worry. If we can catch fish and pick fruit in the forest, then we’ll be fine. We can also use leaves and trees to make tents andstuff. And even if you start not feeling great, do your best!” Ike said, seemingly without any worry at all. He was determined to preserve the 300 points.

Even if Ike would be fine living like that, our class comprised more than thirty students. Obtaining what everyone needed probably wouldn’t be that easy.

“I’m sorry, Ike, but I don’t think things will go as you’ve planned. Open your manual.” Hirata did as Chabashira-sensei instructed.

“First, I’d like you to read the last page, where the penalties are listed. This is very important information that encapsulates the difficulties of this special test. It will determine whether you live or die.”On the last page, a line read, “These penalties will be applied to anyone who falls under the following conditions.”“Anyone deemed unable to continue the test due to significant deterioration in health or serious injury will be penalized by thirty points. That student will then retire.”“In the event a student has polluted the environment, he or she will be penalized twenty points.”“In the event students are absent during the 8 AM or 8 PM roll call, fivepoints will be taken for each student absent.”However, the most serious punishment was detailed in the fourth entry on the list. “In the event a student is found guilty of an act of violence toward another class, robbing another class, or causingdamage to another class’ property, etc., the offending student’s class will immediately be disqualified, and the individual will forfeit all of his or her private points.”It looked like Class A was subject to these same penalties. The fourth rule was totally reasonable, written to prevent students from engaging in harmful behavior, while the other three rules wereclearly there so individual students wouldn’t behave carelessly. Because we had roll call in the morning and at night, it was impossible to sleep your time away at camp. It was also meant to suppress rather barbaric behavior, like a student littering everywhere.

Essentially, it was a contest of restraint.

“You are free to behave as you wish. However, if ten students fall into poor health, then all your efforts will be for nothing. Once a student has retired from the test, he or she cannot come back.”The students who had thought it possible to get through the test by relying on their own endurance now looked perplexed. It would be impossible not to spend a single point, but that was true of every class. However, whether you actively participated or resigned yourself to your fate in this test, endurance alone would not win the day here.

How would we use our points effectively, save them, and get through the week?Gradually, the shape of this very literal “special test” became clearer.

“In other words, using at least some points is unavoidable?” asked a girl named Shinohara, who’d been following along in the conversation.

“I disagree with the idea of compromising right away. I think that we ought to persevere for as long as we can.”“I understand how you feel, but it’ll be bad if our health suffers.”“Come on, Hirata, don’t be so discouraging! This is a test of ourpatience, right?”The more we understood the rules, the less we could agree on a course of action. Our opinions were divided. At any rate, there were a wide variety of items for purchase in the manual: essential equipment for surviving, like tents and cookware; machines and tools, like digital cameras and wireless transceivers/walkie-talkies; items for amusement, like umbrellas, floaties, stuff for a barbecue, and fireworks; and food and water, the bare essentials.

We could prepare for anything with our points. Apparently anyone could request something, and just report to their homeroom teacher in order to use points to purchase it.

“Chabashira-sensei, can I ask you something? In the event that someone were to retire after we had already used all 300 points, what would happen?” asked Horikita, her hand raised.

“In that case, all that would increase is the number of people forced to retire. Your points can’t be changed any more after reachingzero.”“So, in other words, we can’t get into negative points during the test?”Chabashira-sensei answered in the affirmative. Mashima-sensei had said that there wouldn’t be any negative effects from this test. It looked like that was true. Chabashira-sensei continued talking, occasionally glancing at her wristwatch to check the time.

“Each one of the supplied tents is large enough to accommodate eight people. The tents weigh close to fifteen kilos, so please be careful when carrying them. Also, the school will not step in to help should your supplied items become lost or damaged. In the event that you need a new tent, remember to use your points.”“May I ask something? Where will roll call be held?”“Each class will be accompanied by their respective homeroomteachers until the test is over. If you’ve decided where you want your base camp to be, report it. Once the base is set up, I will hold roll call there. Make sure that you think long and hard about it, because you can’t change your base camp location without a justifiable reason once you’ve decided. The other classes are subject to the sameconditions. There are no exceptions.” Did that mean that Chabashira-sensei was going to spend a week together with Class D, as our supervisor? Of course, she probably wasn’t going to help us.

“Hey, teacher. I’m sorry to interrupt you when you’re talking, but that juice from earlier went right through me. Where’s the toilet?”Sudou appeared before us, like he hadn’t heard the announcement.

“The toilet, huh? I was about to get to that point. If you want to use the bathroom, use this.”Chabashira-sensei grabbed one of the cardboard boxes from the stacked pile. She peeled off the packing tape and took out some collapsed cardboard.

“Huh? What’s that?” Sudou asked.

“It’s a basic toilet. Each class will be supplied with one. Please handleit carefully.”Sudou wasn’t the only one perplexed by this. The girls were shocked. “Don’t tell me we have to use that?!” Shinohara, from Karuizawa’sgroup, raised her voice in horrified surprise. The girl seemed like an extension of Karuizawa herself, rather than a simple group member.

“Both the boys and girls will use it. But do not worry, it comes with a single button tent that you can use when you want to change. That way, no one will be able to see you.”“That’s not the problem! Th-that’s just a cardboard box! This isabsolutely impossible!”“It might be a cardboard box, but it’s an especially well-made one. It can even be used in a disaster. I’ll show you how to use it, so please commit this to memory.” While the girls booed her, Chabashira-sensei assembled the toilet. It seemed she was familiar with setting it up. Then she put a blue vinyl bag on it, and placed what looked to be a white sheet inside.

“This sheet is made of water-absorbing polymer. It covers and solidifies waste. It’ll make the waste invisible, and also suppress the smell. After you finish using it, stack another sheet on top. Byrepeating this process, it’s possible to get around five uses with one vinyl bag. These vinyl bags and sheets will be supplied to you in unlimited amounts. You can even change them after every use, if you want.”The girls listened silently to Chabashira-sensei’s explanation. If a disaster did occur, it wouldn’t matter whether you were a boy or a girl, or if it was just a cardboard box. But it was probably pretty difficult to imagine this idyllic island as a disaster area.

“There’s just no way I can do this! Absolutely no way!”Starting with Shinohara, nearly all of the girls rejected the idea.

Ike, who’d been silent, pouted and said, “Come on, just deal with it.

This isn’t the time to fight, Shinohara.”“Don’t screw around! It probably doesn’t matter to you boys. There’sno way I can go to the bathroom in a cardboard box.”“The decision is yours. However, you are not permitted to relieveyourselves in the forest, the sea, or rivers. Do not forget that.”Even when giving that warning, our teacher sounded uninterested.

“But, but I definitely can’t do it in a cardboard box! Besides, the guys are going to be close, right? That’s gross!”Shinohara, still unaccepting of the situation, directed her anger at the boys, especially Ike.

“What the heck? I don’t get why you’re treating us like perverts,” Ikesaid.

“It’s true though, isn’t it? You do seem to be really perverted.” “Huh? Jeez, that hurts! I’m a super gentleman!”“Don’t make me laugh. A gentleman? Get real. You’re by far the top contender for biggest pervert.”Sparks flew as Ike and Shinohara got into a heated argument.

“Anyway, it’s impossible for me,” she said.

Shinohara and half of the girls seemed like unwilling to listen to reason.

“Well then, what are you going to do? It’d be impossible for you to not use the bathroom for one whole week, right?”“That’s—“Our teacher, who had calmly watched Ike and Shinohara argue like it wasn’t her problem, suddenly looked behind us with a disgusted expression.

“Yoo-hoo!”We heard a piercing voice. Its owner rushed at her target, capturing our homeroom teacher and hugging her tightly from behind.

“What are you doing?” Chabashira-sensei grunted.

“What, I can’t be friendly? I honestly wanted to see what you’d do,” said Hoshinomiya-sensei, Class B’s homeroom instructor. She gently caressed Chabashira-sensei’s arms. “Whenever I touch your hair, Sae-chan, it’s always so smooth!”

“Don’t you understand the school’s rules at all? Eavesdropping on other classes when they are giving information is inexcusable.”“Aw, I’m just an unimportant teacher, though. Even if I did hear something, I’d never tell. But doesn’t this feel like fate? I can’t believe that we both came to this island together.”Fate? Chabashira-sensei ignored the hidden meaning in Hoshinomiya-sensei’s words.

“Shut up. Just hurry on back to Class B.”“Ah! Isn’t that Ayanokouji-kun? It’s been so long!”Unlike the other teachers, who occasionally popped into class, I didn’t normally get many opportunities to interact with Hoshinomiya-sensei. I gave her a slight bow.

“Summer is the season of love. If you want to confess your feelings to a girl you like, perhaps it’d be more effective while standing before the beautiful ocean?”“The ocean may be beautiful, but I can’t afford to do that during class.”Tears streamed down her cheeks. Since everyone was staring at us, Ireally wished she’d disentangle herself from my romantic life. “You need to be more carefree!”“Hey. Should I report you to the school authorities for behavioral problems? Besides, I don’t have any more time.” Chabashira-sensei said.

“Ooh, don’t glare at me like that. Fine, fine, I get it. See you later!”Hoshinomiya-sensei walked away with a sad look on her face. Chabashira-sensei immediately started on a new topic.

“Well then, allow me to explain some additional rules.” “A-additional rules? There’s more?”“Soon you will be permitted to roam about freely, but there are several designated ‘spots’ on the island. In these spots, there iswhat’s referred to as right of exclusive possession, and only the class that occupies that spot may exercise those rights. The class that obtains those rights is entirely free to determine how they wish to exercise them. However, rights of exclusive possession are only valid for a period of eight hours after being invoked, after which they are automatically revoked. That means that another class can acquire those rights at that time. Also, you gain one bonus point if you occupy a spot once. However, that point is provisional, and cannot be used during the testing period. Therefore, bonus points are calculated and added to your total after the test has ended. Because the school is constantly monitoring you, there is no room for fraud. Please be aware of that fact.”“Huh? Huh? Well…wait, isn’t that super important, though?! Getting to add a point is awesome! Leave everything to us!”“Let’s go looking right away!” Ike said to Yamauchi and the others,his eyes shining.

The manual went into the bonus point in great detail. Apparently, there was some kind of apparatus installed near each spot, one which showed rights of exclusive possession. It was unclear how many spots were on the island, but they were clearly important.

However…“I can understand your impatience, but be aware of the risks. After you take those risks into account, then you have to consider what to do. Everything is written in the manual.”A specialized key card is required to occupy a spot.

You can earn one point by occupying a spot each time. Occupied spots can be used freely.

You will receive a fifty-point penalty if you use a spot occupied by another class without permission.

Only a designated leader can use the key card.

It is impossible to change the leader without suitable justification.

The manual outlined those rules. While Chabashira-sensei explained, I noticed details such as how the rights of exclusive possession were reset every eight hours; how if a space wasn’t occupied, you could take it immediately; how it was okay for the same class to occupy the same space repeatedly, etc. So if one class successfully managed to repeatedly hold onto three spots for eight hours at a time, that class could obtain fifty points or more by the end of the test. However, there were big risks associated.

With the rules established thus far, it looked like a simple matter of the early bird getting the worm. It seemed like a good system, if you were able to forcibly occupy spots over and over again.

But that was impossible. The final rule detailed why.

On the seventh day, the last day of the test, you had the right toguess at the identity of the other class’ leader during roll call. If you managed to get it right, then you could obtain fifty points for each correct guess. Conversely, the other class would have to pay fifty points as compensation. If you moved to acquire a spot without caution, and your leader was discovered, then you could lose a great number of points. So, high risk, high reward.

However, the guesses couldn’t be hazarded without risk. If you happened to be mistaken, you would suffer a fifty-point penalty for being incorrect. In addition, a class whose leader had been found out would lose all of the bonus points they’d saved up until then. This rule made it so if you didn’t have much confidence, you would be hesitant to join the battle to occupy spots.

“One person must be chosen as the leader, no exceptions. However, you are free not to participate. Please tell me once you’ve selected someone. At that time, I will provide you with a key card stampedwith the leader’s name. You have until roll call today. In the event that you do not decide by then, we will decide for you. That is all.”In other words, the leader’s identity would be discovered if you only managed to glance at the card. With that, Chabashira-sensei seemingly finished with her explanation. The die was cast. Hirata immediately started taking action.

“We’ll have time later to think about who should be the leader. First, where will our base camp be? Do we camp somewhere around here, on the beach? Or do we go into the forest? We need to thinkcarefully about our spot.”The manual included a simple map of the island, with only its size and the shape drawn. Things like the total area of the forest and the topography were completely unknown. It was more like a blank sheet of paper.

“It looks like we need to fill in the necessary parts ourselves.” Aballpoint pen had been given to us as well, for that exact purpose.

“It’s good to have a spot near the boat where lots of teachers are,right?”“No, I’m not too sure. There may not be anything here.”If there was no water, then there was no food. Building a base in this location could possibly mean being as far away as possible from convenient resources. On top of that, the sunlight would be intense during the day, making the environment harsh. On the other hand, there would also be risks if we went too far into the forest.

“More importantly, I need to use the bathroom. I can’t hold it anymore.” Sudou grabbed the simple toilet that Chabashira-sensei had made. We assembled the one-button tent and set it up a short distance away. Shinohara and the others observed the situation while huddled tightly together. Chabashira-sensei retreated. She probably meant to imply, “I’m not getting involved anymore. Do whatever you want.”“Hey, Hirata-kun. Isn’t it better to decide ahead of time what we should do about the toilet?”The toilet was definitely going to become an issue before long. Thegirls’ opinions were reasonable.

“Well, we can talk about a decision, but in the end don’t we just have to grin and bear it?”“No, there could be another way.”Hirata looked at the manual, and then looked back up.

“It says that temporary toilets can be purchased and installed using our points.”Shinohara and the other immediately gathered around the manual. The functions of the temporary toilets appeared impeccable. The reference pictures made it look like a flushable toilet you’d see at home. If that were the case, then the girls would be well on boardwith it. However, the problem was that we needed to spend twenty points per toilet. It was difficult to judge whether that was expensive or cheap.

“We absolutely need it! I mean, I really don’t like that we have to spend points… But if we don’t, it’s just impossible!”A lot of girls, triggered by Shinohara’s remarks, agreed. For the girls, having a toilet might outweigh having food or water. They didn’t intend to budge on this issue.

“W-wait a minute here, you guys! Twenty points?! Just for a toilet?!” Ike reacted with horror. His desire to be economical and save points was all-consuming. Also, some of the guys could put up with using a cardboard toilet. They probably wanted to refrain from making unnecessary purchases as much as possible.

“Yes, as a toilet, that one’s good. But we already have this one!Right? We still have a lot of time left to use our points. It’s bad for us to splurge now!”“You don’t get to decide that. Hirata-kun is going to consider all of our opinions and decide. Right, Hirata-kun?” Shinohara ignored Ike and pleaded with Hirata to buy a temporary toilet.

“I see. At the very least, having a toilet for the girls would be—"”You’re free to consider everyone’s opinions, but that doesn’t mean you get to make decisions,” said Ike, frantically trying to stop Hirata, who appeared to be about to buy the toilet.

“Ah, shut up already! Karuizawa-san, say something, will you? We need a toilet!” Shinohara begged Karuizawa, the girls’ representative.

“Really? Well, I suppose it’ll be tough, but I really want class points. I guess I’ll just grin and bear it.” An unexpected response fromKaruizawa, who seemed like she would’ve been first to complain. “The school has already prepared for our needs. I can endure it. If we take baths in the river and use what we have here, don’t you thinkeverything will be fine?” “But…Karuizawa-san!”If Karuizawa said as much, then even the strong-willed Shinohara couldn’t oppose her openly. Many of the girls followed Karuizawa, after all. However, Yukimura suddenly joined the fight.

“It’s not as though I don’t understand the girls’ desire to have a temporary toilet. However, I’m not convinced that we ought to arbitrarily spend our points, whether it’s for boys or girls. I suppose ifyou want the toilet, then I’d like to at least make a decision after collecting a majority vote.”He slid his glasses up his nose, voicing his disagreement in a rather aggressive tone.

“I’m just making a natural request for a girl, that’s all. It doesn’tinvolve boys at all.”“A natural request? Doesn’t involve boys? I can’t understand that. Isn’t that simply a form of discrimination?”“Discrimination? Ah, this is giving me a headache. Hirata-kun, please make them leave me alone.” Shinohara, unable to give up on the toilet matter, frantically pleaded for help.

“This test is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bridge our point gap with the other classes. We can’t use valuable points on things like temporary toilets. I have no intention of being in Class D forever. I don’t agree with Shinohara-san, who’s making arbitrary requests based on her personal wishes. I would like for us to uniformly decide upon a clear policy.”“Huh? Are you trying to say that I’m not considering anything?” sheasked.

“Even money can move based purely on instinct. I hate that womenargue so emotionally.”“Huh? That doesn’t mean that I want to use our pointsindiscriminately. What I’m saying is that we should have at least the bare minimum. Do you not understand that?”“Both of you calm down. Yukimura-kun, I understand what you mean to say, but if you speak so belligerently we’re not going to resolve anything, are we? Let’s do this calmly.” “Calmly? Don’t you agree that we should, under no circumstances, use our points arbitrarily?” Yukimura asked.

“Well…“Hirata was caught in an increasingly fraught situation. He didn’t know what to do, yet frantically tried to mediate while doing his best not to show mounting concern.

“Class D has no leadership, which worries me. Besides, Hirata’s apushover. He can’t even make one decision, can he?”I stood a short distance away, watching the situation unfold. Horikita stood next to me. After realizing that it was unlikely any progress would be made, she sighed heavily.

“It looks like this test is going to be more complex and challengingthan we thought…“Horikita, oddly enough, looked perplexed.

“It’s a chance for us to get a lot of points. Are you okay, Horikita?”When I looked at her in profile, she appeared a little annoyed rather than conflicted.

“I wonder. At this stage, I’m not optimistic enough to say it’ll be easy. I’m the same as the others. I’ve never lived in such an environment before, so I can’t really make any predictions. I realize now that this test is more complicated than we thought, and our position more precarious. I do want to increase our points, but I can’t come up with a good solution. What an unpleasant test.”One group wanted to use points, one group didn’t want to use points, and one group wanted to use points only when necessary. Those were three fully split groups right there. Furthermore, there were some minor differences even within those separate factions.

This week would not be easy in a class of more than thirty people. The manual seemed to represent every difficulty we would face in uniting as a class, while simultaneously laying out our freedom. From a little further away, Chabashira-sensei watched our confrontationwith cold eyes. She wasn’t going to appraise her students, though. After all, Class D was a collection of failures; we existed solely to fail. Was that the focus of this exercise?”Horikita, what do you think?”“Like Yukimura-kun says, I would like to get by without using unnecessary points. However, I’m not confident that I can make it through the week without satisfactory equipment. That’s just my honest opinion. However, I think that we ought to challenge ourselves, see how much we can endure. What do you say?”“I think the same. There’s too much we don’t know,” I replied.

“Hey, look. Did Class A and Class B perhaps already decide whatthey’re doing?”We turned toward a girl’s flustered voice. Although only a few minutes had passed, several students had gathered together and were heading into the forest. They were probably looking for the best place to set up base camp. It was almost symbolic of their superiority. Meanwhile, Classes C and D still lacked cohesion. We couldn’t even get off to a satisfactory start.

“Ah, damn it! This isn’t the time for a long, leisurely chat about toilets! I intend to do anything to protect our points. I’ll go look for camp areas and spots. Yukimura, Shinohara, and the rest of you, don’t start spending any points.”“Got it. We don’t intend to.”You couldn’t call Ike and Yukimura the best of friends, but apparentlythey could cooperate with a shared goal.

“Wait a minute, Ike-kun. It’s dangerous to go into the forest without a plan.” “Will staying here and worrying solve anything? It won’t.”The desire to go and the desire to stay clashed. However, Hiratawasn’t persuasive enough to stop Ike and the others.

“I’ll come back once I find a spot we can use. Then, after everyone moves there, we can talk. A simple plan, right?”Did Sudou and Yamauchi also intend to search for spots? They gathered around an impatient Ike.

“Are you going too, Ayanokouji?” Sudou asked looking me in the eye.

I casually shook my head.

“I don’t want you three to ever do anything alone. If you get lost, it’ll be trouble.” Hirata seemed to realize that he couldn’t stop this.

“We get it. All right, we’ll look for lots of stuff!”Just as I’d thought, with no shade to block out the sunlight, it got really hot. While we’d spent time sitting here discussing things, we had all grown dehydrated.

“It’d be really tough to try building our campsite here.”The intense heat made some of our classmates started whining. Hirata also seemed to realize just how difficult camping on the beach would be. If this were a genuine camp with an umbrella, a beach tent, and plenty of options for swimming in the ocean and protecting ourselves from the sun, that’d be one thing. But our current situation made that difficult.

“For the time being, how about we find a place in the shade? We can talk while we move.” Hirata took the initiative and started carrying the tent. The other guys followed suit.

“By the way. Did Sudou-kun tidy up the toilet properly?” One of the girls looked anxious as she pointed to the toilet. It was true that Sudou had been empty-handed when he exited after going in to do his business. So at the very least, the inside was…We left the toilet under the scorching sun. The inside of the tentwould’ve been like a steam bath.

2.2We walked from the beach toward a gigantic forest. One of the boys looked visibly shaken.

“Is it really okay for us to go in there? We might get really lost. I can’t see into it at all.”That was precisely why we had the roll call rule and the emergency button installed on our wristwatches. We had to cooperate. If we didn’t work together, then we’d probably end up panicking and spending our points like they grew on trees.

“Wow, Karuizawa-san. Hirata-kun is really amazing, isn’t he? He takes on everything that comes his way, even if he dislikes it.”“Oh yeah. The other guys are pathetic, so it’s good to just leaveeverything to Hirata-kun, right?”Hirata, still carrying the tent, walked ahead of Karuizawa’s group, who looked at him with admiration. Incidentally, I was helping carry the luggage, too. I also carried the simple toilet made out of foldedcardboard. I’d determined that if I didn’t help now, extra work might come my way later. For the time being, I wanted to preemptively give the impression that I was helping.

Horikita, who was isolated from the other girls, calmly followed the group from the back. She would occasionally act as though she were going to stop, but then immediately started walking again. I slowed down a little bit until I was walking side by side with her.

“Not in a good mood?” I asked.

“To be honest, I’m depressed. These kinds of things just aren’t for me. Life on an island seems primitive, and worst of all, I can’t be alone.” Enthusiastically joining in a group effort was far beyond Horikita’scapabilities. I thought it would’ve been good to make an effort to fit in, but it would’ve been pointless to say that to her. I relented.

“You know, what you said to me before might end up being true.”Horikita wore a look of slight amusement.

“This test will likely fall outside of my academic abilities. I’d determined that Ike-kun and Sudou-kun would be hindrances, but they took the initiative to go out searching. I wasn’t able to do anything, because I kept debating what action to take. If they’d started moving quicker, they probably would’ve been able to find something useful.”“Maybe. More importantly though, are you okay?” “What do you mean?”She glared. I quickly said “Nothing,” and averted my gaze. While talking with Horikita, I felt someone watching my back. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Sakura, who was walking way in the back. When she noticed that I’d turned around, she got flustered and looked away.

“What’s the matter?” Horikita asked.

“Oh, nothing.” Maybe I was being too nosy. I turned back around. “I wonder what the other classes will do. I’ve been curious abouttheir movements. If Classes A and B intend to obtain as many pointsas possible, then we’ll need to prepare as well. We can’t let thedifference between us widen.” Horikita wore a serious expression on her face. In that respect, she had extraordinary resolve. Currently, we were separated from the other classes by a wide margin based solely on our academic abilities. For Horikita, who aimed to reach Class A, this was a fight she absolutely could not afford to lose.

“Aiming for the top is tough,” I said.

“I thought what Chabashira-sensei said back then was a joke, but areyou really not at all interested in moving up?” Horikita asked.

Chabashira-sensei had probably said something about that back when she encountered Horikita and me in the guidance room.

“It’s not particularly weird or anything, is it? It’s not like Ike and the others are gunning for Class A or anything. If we got an increase in our allowance each month, that’d make me happy. If I’m lucky,maybe we can even reach Class A.”I couldn’t speak to others’ true intentions, like Hirata and Karuizawa. “People who come to this school do so to make use of the privilegesit offers.” Rather than dissatisfied, Horikita appeared puzzled. At the time of our enrollment, access to elite universities and job opportunities were supposed to be guaranteed. Many students expected it.

“Why did you choose this school?” she asked me.

“Well, can’t I just say the same thing? To shamelessly make use of the privileges the school offered me.”“I see.” This time she sounded blatantly dissatisfied, and regarded me with a sharp side-eye. I thought that Horikita had enrolled here to be at the same school as her older brother. She wasn’t aiming for Class A for her own sake, but rather, sought her older brother’s approval. Her ambition differed from most others.

“It doesn’t feel good to have someone pry into your past,” she said, forestalling me. I’d intended to dig deeper, but it looked like she’d immediately understood my true intentions. I’m trying to understand my past, or should I say this person’s past, by thoroughly analyzing and breaking down people.

“I’ll tell you this: Chabashira-sensei leaked the information. Don’t misunderstand me. All right? Besides, we’re still not friends. Don’t forget that.”“Don’t worry. I’m not really thinking about friendship, anyway.”Shortly after, Hirata and the others stopped.

“If we stop here, there’s foliage blocking the sunlight, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll have to worry about anyone hearing us.”Some of the boys began teaming up, and it wasn’t long before theyhad their own opinions that clashed with Hirata’s.

“We ought to be moving, too, not leaving everything to Ike and the others. Don’t you think? If another class captures one of the main spots, the point difference will widen.”“Yeah, you’re right. We do need to get moving right away, but it’s not a good idea to neglect our problems and scatter. First of all, we need to resolve the toilet question.”“That’s why I’m saying we should just use the toilet that they gaveus.” Yukimura glared at the girls’ group.

“I’ve thought it over, and I believe we should install one toilet first,”Hirata said forcefully. Apparently, he was done being pushed around.

“You don’t just get to decide. Ike also had an opinion.”“Installing a toilet might be a necessary expense. To begin with, we have one simple toilet that our class, which has thirty or more students, isn’t used to. I have to wonder if we can really take turns effectively without any trouble?”“That’s… If we use it well…"”It’s unrealistic. We have to consider the worst-case scenario. If everyone took three minutes to use the restroom, then it would take an hour and a half or more for everyone to go. Can that possiblywork?”“That’s pointless. Not everyone would need to use the toilet at the same time. The school provided us with just one toilet because it was realistic. We should be able to effectively take turns, right?”“I don’t think so. From the beginning, I thought using only one toilet would be impossible. If you reason it out, I think it’s less about refraining from spending any points, and more that we need to spend our points effectively. You should know that, Yukimura-kun. The other classes have most likely come to the same conclusion.”No matter how we used our points, this was a critical junction for determining whether we’d win or lose. All of the supplies we’d been given seemed insufficient. By giving us a tent that only about half our class could use and a small flashlight, the teachers seemed to be suggesting that we would need to use points.

“That’s all just speculation on your part. Besides, if the other classesdid install the toilets, we’d be twenty points ahead just by doing without them. So that’s precisely why we shouldn’t install one.”“You’re right about that, but it’s unlikely that putting up with a faulty toilet will work out in our favor. It’ll add unnecessary stress and anxiety. I’m also worried about sanitation. Objectively, we should install at least one toilet.”It looked like after taking time to calm down, Hirata had come to asolid conclusion. It wasn’t just to provoke arguments; he wasconvinced that he’d get their approval eventually. “I think this’ll grant the girls peace of mind.”Not even Yukimura could deny Hirata’s impeccable reasoning. Hirata understood wanting to preserve our points, but he’d also deduced the downsides of a single toilet. Truth be told, our classmates had been given so much information in one go that they’d overlooked obvious things. Yukimura, who couldn’t bear being stared at insilence, broke.

“Fine. In that case, let’s install one toilet.”In the end, Yukimura had been beaten. Shinohara, Karuizawa’sgroup, and even Horikita all looked relieved.

“Teacher. If we wish to install a temporary toilet, can we decide where to have it installed?”“As long as it’s not on impossible terrain, it can be put anywhere. It’s also possible to have it moved after installation, but it would take some time. It weighs about 100 or more kilos, thus requiring quite a bit of labor.”With one problem resolved, Hirata sighed in relief.

“Next. We’ve already heard some opinions, but I think we need to search around and decide where our base camp will be. Where we settle will impact how we consume our points,” said Hirata, obviously trying to head another argument off at the pass.

We recruited volunteers, but barely got anyone to help. We ended up with only two guys. Most people weren’t willing to enter such a sprawling forest. That was only natural.

“I wonder if anyone among us has expert survival skills?” said Hirata, holding onto a sliver of hope. According to manga clichés, there was always that one person you could depend upon in times like these.

Hirata checked our classmates, but everyone seemed reluctant to step forward. Just then, the Professor, who thus far had silently watched, raised his hand.

“Since childhood, my father trained me in a particular set of skills. Hetaught me to survive, even alone in the jungle…is precisely how I would describe the type of character needed for this situation.” Everybody booed. The Professor got flustered and apologized, but it was too late. We all hated him.

“Um, if you don’t mind, I’ll go.”Kushida volunteered herself. Suddenly the boys’ eyes lit up, even though they’d refused to participate before. The formerly reluctant fellows stepped forward and volunteered, saying, “Me too, me too!” Some were probably motivated by goodwill for Kushida, while others might’ve been embarrassed that a girl had taken the initiative before them.

I raised my hand as Hirata started counting people.

“Okay, so eleven people, huh? If we had one more participant, wecould make four teams,” Horikita said. “Are you going, too?” I asked.

“I have to hang back. But it’s unusual to see you be so proactive.” “Well, without a role to fill in the class, you’ll get cut off.”Just then, someone raised a rather shy hand. When Hirata saw her, he smiled in relief.

“Thank you, Sakura-san. That makes twelve. Let’s go in four teams of three people. It’s 1:30 right now Regardless of results, I wanteveryone to meet back here by 3:00.”With that, the twelve volunteers began to form up into teams according to their preferences. In the blink of an eye, I became one of the leftovers.

“N-nice to see you again, Ayanokouji-kun,” said Sakura, who’d also been overlooked. And then…“The sun certainly is refreshing. My body needs energy.” Kouenji Rokusuke. That guy was actually going to join our search party. Fortunately, I’d been paired with a free spirit and a quiet girl. With these two, I’d be able to move without any difficulty.

2.3The forest’s verdant, overgrown foliage surrounded us. The further in we went, the thicker it became. It was preferable to the scorching beach, but the damp heat was agonizing. I grabbed the neckline of my shirt and fanned myself to cool down. It was as steamy as water over hot stones.

As I thought about it, all I could think was how hot it was. It was waytoo hot. Would talking be enough to distract myself from it?”Kouenji?”“Ah, so beautiful. As I stand here amongst such vast nature, with anair of composure, I really am too beautiful. The pinnacle of beauty!”It was no use. I couldn’t hold a proper conversation with him. Therewas really only one person I could talk to.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” I asked. “Huh?!”Sakura, who was walking a bit behind me, jumped in surprise.

Perhaps she hadn’t expected anyone to talk to her.

“You raised your hand when Hirata said he wanted one more person, didn’t you? There are lots of things you can do now.”“Well, I don’t think that’s particularly amazing or anything. It’s really not. Even now, I’m still a little confused.”Rather than calling her meek, I’d say that Sakura was pensive and bad at talking with others. She was probably pretty passive when it came to things like being on a group trip. I’d thought that she would move away from me, but we continued to walk side by side. Hiking from the beach to the forest had put a serious drain on our stamina. Not only was the footing unstable, but the path was on a bit of an incline.

“So why did you raise your hand to do something as difficult as exploring the forest?”“Well, that’s… I felt kind of uncomfortable when everyone else in the crowd got so fired up…"”Well, I don’t know how you feel, but even with a small number of people, this won’t be easy.”Now I was definitely in this conversation, even if it became unpleasant.

“But Ayanokouji-kun, you raised your hand, so…” Sakura raised her head in surprise, growing flustered and making frantic gestures. “Th- that’s not what I mean! It’s just that since there isn’t anyone I can talk to, that’s why… That’s what I mean!”With this feverish denial, she hurried forward.

“H-hey, watch ou—"”Wh— Aah!”As she turned around to look at me, Sakura’s foot caught on the roots of a large tree. Panicked, I tried to grab her, but didn’t make it in time.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Oh, ouch…“Fortunately, she’d landed on her butt and hands. It didn’t look likeanything serious.

“You’ll get hurt if you’re not careful in the forest. Here, take my hand.”“Th-thank you.” Sakura sheepishly reached for me, but then noticed that her hands were dirty and quickly withdrew. I didn’t particularly care that her hands were dirty, though, so I grabbed her and helped pull her up.

“S-sorry.”“You don’t need to apologize.”I brushed the dirt off Sakura’s hands. This was probably the first time any of us had set foot in such a wild forest. I thought we’d be fine so long as we walked in one direction, but I was wrong. First of all, walking in a straight line was impossible. There were natural obstacles we couldn’t cross, which forcefully changed our path and veered us right or left.

If we kept going like this, we’d probably get lost. I had to make sure not to lose sight of Kouenji, who’d been pushing forward relentlessly. Meanwhile, Sakura kept silent and absentmindedly stared at the palm of her right hand.

“Hey, Sakura, come on. Hurry up a bit.” “Huh?! A-ah, o-okay.”At my words, Sakura panicked and rushed forward. She was probably going to trip again.

“Ah, Kouenji-kun sure walks fast, doesn’t he?”Kouenji ventured further and further into the forest without once considering a girl’s pace. I honestly admired his stamina and his strong legs.

“In the first place, I can’t believe he’d…” “What’s the matter?”“No, I…“What in the world was he up to? Was it a coincidence? No, Kouenji walked without hesitation. Even if our team was free to choose the base camp’s location, you’d expect him to be looking around as you went. Kouenji walked straight ahead, almost as if he had another purpose.

More than anything else, his progress surprised me. It was possible that Kouenji wasn’t simply pushing ahead recklessly. Maybe he had a goal in mind. However, the problem was that Sakura, in trying to keep up with Kouenji, was running out of breath.

“Kouenji. Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to rush forward like this? We’ll get lost.”I was feeling anxious about both my teammates. Kouenji remained with his back to us and started fixing his hair.

“I am a perfect human being. I would never foolishly lose my way in aforest. If any problem occurs, it would most likely be because youtwo lost sight of me. When that happens, you should give up.”Just as I’d expected, he was the sort of guy to declare that he wasn’t interested in anyone other than himself. Was he really this inconsiderate, given our circumstances?”By the way, I’d like to ask you ordinary people something. Don’t you think this is truly beautiful?” Kouenji flashed an audacious smile, showing us his white teeth.

“Well. I do think that the forest…well, nature…is quite mysterious, or rather beautiful.” I tried telling him what I thought, more or less.

However, Kouenji sighed in disappointment.

“What on earth are you talking about? That’s not what I meant. I mean how I, with my perfect physical beauty, shine in such a place. Do you not understand?”So he wanted me to compliment him on his self-proclaimed “perfect physical beauty.” I see.

“He’s probably acting a little messed up because of the heat. It’s best you don’t pay him any mind, Sakura.”“Y-yeah. Kouenji-kun has been acting pretty funny from the start, soit’s okay.”Wow. That may have been the truth, but it was unexpectedly harsh. Anyway, Kouenji, seemingly satisfied with his own beauty, started walking again. From that point onward, I decided not to get my hopes up with regards to our third teammate.

“There’s no need to worry. Even if something happened in a forestlike this, there won’t be a problem.”“What do you mean by that, Kouenji?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t call this a natural forest. The probability of getting lost during the day is extremely low. It’s precisely for that reason that I’m a little curious.”With those mysterious words, Kouenji continued quickly forward, seemingly having lost interest in us. He was so fast that Sakuracouldn’t keep up with him. “Hey!” I called.

“U-um, I’ll be okay. I’ll do my best to follow.”Even though she was all sweaty, Sakura tried to give a small fist pump. She still looked uncertain, like she was going to trip and fall, but I supposed that she’d hardened her resolve to do her best.

Kouenji, clearly taking no notice of Sakura’s efforts, got further and further ahead. I’d thought he’d keep going until we passed through the forest, but he suddenly stopped. Turning, he flashed another audacious smile while stroking his hair.

“May I ask you common folk another question?”Before we could reply, Kouenji continued.

“What do you think of this place? What do you see when you look around?”“Huh? Wh-what does he mean? Ayanokouji-kun?”In the face of Kouenji’s sharp gaze, Sakura hid behind my back. What did I think about this place? I tried scanning my surroundings. While I did so, Sakura also looked around. However, nothing seemed especially notable. It was just forest. What in the world was he trying to get at?”Good. I understand. Please, do not worry. Common folk are simple, after all.”When Kouenji realized that he wasn’t going to get the answer hewanted, he walked quickly forward into the forest again.

“What? Did something change?” “No…“If you honestly believed everything Kouenji said to you, you’d go mad. He was the sort of man who would play any number of games. However, it was possible we were missing something. In any case, we didn’t have the time to search at our leisure.

“Sakura, do you have a handkerchief with you?” “Oh, yeah. This okay?”Just as I’d expect of a girl, she seemed to be prepared.

“If it’s all right with you, could I borrow it? It might get a little dirty, though.”“Sure, that’s perfectly fine,” replied Sakura, without any hint ofobjection. She handed me her handkerchief.

I tied it to a nearby tree branch, one that didn’t seem like it wouldbreak easily. It would act as a sort of marker for us later on.

“Ah, we’re going to lose sight of Kouenji-kun. Let’s hurry, Ayanokouji- kun.”Sakura was flustered, and increasingly exhausted. It seemed likely she was about to trip and fall. After all, she was probably close to her physical limits. Even if she forced herself onward, she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

“Sorry, but this is a bit too physically demanding. Do you mind if we slow down?”With that, I slowed my pace. That way, Sakura wouldn’t feel like the problem. She probably saw through my ploy, but I didn’t mind. Itwasn’t as though she could call me out on it. By this point, we’d lost sight of Kouenji. Far ahead, I could occasionally make out the rustle of grass and the footsteps on the earth.

“Wow, he’s a man of many talents. Kouenji, I mean.”He possessed a brilliant mind and outstanding physical ability, which he’d perfectly adapted to the forest without hesitation. If only he had a personality like Hirata’s, he would be a perfect superhuman.

“…“Sakura seemed to have been silently looking over at something for some time. I was curious, but she didn’t bring it up, and the two of us continued our search.

“It would be great if we secured some drinking water. Or maybe aplace where we could take shelter.”Since I had nothing to do, I tried making light conversation. If we managed to secure a spot that made it possible to save points, our lives would get much easier.

“Oh yeah. I suppose that two tents probably won’t be enough… But I can’t find anything.” No matter how much I tried or how far we walked, I couldn’t seem tofind even one man-made object. Well, while I say we walked far,we’d only really covered a fraction of one percent of the island. The school probably wouldn’t be kind enough to go easy on us. After tromping through wild terrain, a pathway appeared before us.

“This is a path, isn’t it?” “Looks like it.”In the middle of a forest on an uninhabited island, someone hadcreated a path. It wasn’t paved or anything, of course, but trees had been chopped down and the path was well-trod. If the school had prepared this, then perhaps a spot lay further ahead. Sakura and I pressed onward.

“Wow. Amazing!”Soon we arrived at what appeared to be a large hole in the mountainside: an entrance into a cave. At first glance it appeared to be a natural cave, but upon closer inspection the inside appeared properly reinforced. Perhaps the hole itself had been created by human hands.

“Could this possibly be…a spot?” “Maybe.”Since ancient times, caves have provided outstanding dwellings for people. If this place had been designated as a spot, there should have been proof. I tried to approach the cave to check, but then saw some guy coming out of it. I immediately grabbed Sakura’s arm and pulled her to hide in the shade. I felt bad, but I didn’t understand the situation. Hopefully she’d forgive me.

The person stopped at the entrance, and quietly looked to the southwest. He stood there for a minute or two. He’d wasted absolutely no time in securing this spot. It seemed like he’d gone straight to this cave without any hesitation. That aside, the man was tightly holding onto what looked to be some kind of card. Then, we heard a voice coming from inside the cave. Panicked, I hid my face.

“In a cave this size, we should have enough room for two tents,Katsuragi-san. We sure were lucky. We secured a spot really quickly.”I listened carefully, trying to grasp the situation.

“Luck? What are you talking about? I figured that there was a cave here even before we landed. Finding it was inevitable. Be mindful of what you say and do. We don’t know if anyone is out there listening to us. As the leader, I have a responsibility. Be sure you don’t make even the slightest mistake.”“S-sorry. But when you say ‘since before we landed’, what do you mean?”“Before the ship docked at the pier, it had already taken a trip around the island as a detour for some reason. That was probably a deliberate move by the school to give the students some hints. From the ship’s deck, I noticed a path that cut through the forest. All I had to do was take the shortest route from the pier after we’d landed to the path.”“B-but it might’ve been just a chance for us to enjoy the scenery.”“That was far too long of a roundabout for sightseeing. Besides, theannouncement was strange, too.”“I didn’t notice anything at all, and yet… Katsuragi-san, you managed to see the school’s true intentions. Because of that, you understood there was a cave here. Just as we’d expect from you!”“Let’s go to the next one, Yahiko. It’s pointless to linger here after we’ve claimed the spot. There’s a path to two other places that I noticed from the ship. There should be some kind of facility up ahead.” “Y-yeah! If we leave it like this, Sakayanagi will have no choice but tobe quiet!”“If you only look straight ahead, you might overlook things.”“You say that, but isn’t it enough just to be cautious of Class B? I mean, Class D is just an assortment of failures, right? They’re defective. Considering the point difference, it’s probably fine to ignore them, right?”I’d heard talk like that on the ship earlier—that Class D was basically beyond Class A’s consideration. They treated us like pebbles in their path.

“That’s enough chit-chat. Let’s go, Yahiko.”I waited until I could no longer hear their voices or footsteps, and then waited two minutes more.

“Did they go?” Sakura whispered.

I peeked out to check, but I didn’t see them. As I caught my breath, I noticed that my hands had grown comparatively warmer. I must’ve kept hold of Sakura’s hands after I grabbed her in a panic.

“Sorry, Sakura. Sakura?” “Whaa?!”Sakura was all right, though for some reason she seemed almost comatose.

“A-are you okay?”“I-I-I-I’m o-o-okay…“Her face turned so red I was afraid steam was going to start rising from her body. She sat weakly right down. Perhaps I’d held onto her more forcefully than I thought.

“Ah, ah, ah… I-I thought I was going to die. My heart stopped…” Hopefully that was an exaggeration. Sakura’s breathing stabilized asshe adjusted her glasses.

“Those two guys seemed like they were from Class A, based on what they were saying.”I worried about abandoning this place. With no one here keeping watch, this spot could be intercepted. After waiting for Sakura’s strength to return, we approached the cave entrance once again. Those two had left without any hesitation…Inside the cave, some kind of terminal device with a monitor wasembedded into the wall. The words “Class A” were displayed on the screen, along with a countdown timer that showed seven hours and 55 minutes remaining. Was this the proof that they owned this spot? We couldn’t do anything to interfere until the countdown reached zero, and we couldn’t force our way in.

That’s why those two had left this place without worry. But thatwasn’t the only problem. As long as the rights of ownership weren’t snatched by another class, Class A would keep acquiring one point every eight hours. Although they’d lost thirty points because of one student’s illness, they were earning it back. Besides, that Katsuragiguy seemed to have determined there were a few other facilities. If a spot happened to have food and water, could they widen the gap between the other classes?”He said he’d noticed something even before we landed on theisland…“They’d memorized the island’s topography and used that to find a spot. Brilliant. I supposed that Class A students saw the world differently. However, that way of thinking led to some depressing conclusions.

“H-hey, Ayanokouji-kun. Could that person from before havebeen…the leader?” She was right. This incident had proved to be a fatal mistake. Class A had to use their key card in order to maintain rights of exclusive ownership to the cave. They had clearly made their leader known to us. Of course, he probably hadn’t considered that someone from another class could be watching him, but that had been careless of them. I considered investigating the entire cave, but there was no sign of anyone hiding.

“Wh-wh-what should we do? We just found out an incredible secret!” said Sakura. She sounded impatient, perhaps because she was excited to have delivered a huge blow to Class A.

“I’ll report it to Hirata later.”Sakura appeared relieved. She had poor communication skills, and bytaking that responsibility, I’d helped her.

2.4Things started to move when we returned to Hirata and the others, who hadn’t achieved any results. The Idiot Trio seemed to be in surprisingly high spirits, and were speaking rather enthusiastically to Hirata about something.

“A river, a river! What an incredible feeling! And there was some kind of mechanism installed around there! It could be a gadget to get right of possession, or whatever! It’s only a ten-minute walk from here, so let’s hurry!”It seemed like Ike and his group had made some headway, andwanted to stand guard so another class wouldn’t snatch the spot.

“This is huge. If we can secure the river, our situation might take a turn for the better.”It seemed we’d decided on the base camp’s location. Of course, it would depend on the terrain and environment, but this likely was going to be our first step forward.

“But there are two teams that still haven’t returned. Someone should wait for them, right?”It was a little before three o’clock. If they hadn’t returned by the appointed time, there was a good chance they were lost in the forest.

“I’m sorry, Hirata. Kouenji isn’t back yet, either. We got split up.”“Ah, Kouenji-kun actually came back a little while ago. He left to go swimming.”So he hadn’t gotten lost, but had instead slipped away. I should haveexpected it.

“Split up? Didn’t you take the lead?” Horikita asked with a sigh, aseveryone began moving toward the river.

“I can’t control that guy. You know that.”Had he been trying to start trouble? Kouenji had run off at a quick pace, suggesting that he was already familiar with the forest.

“I see. You can’t really complain about his abilities, though the same can’t be said of his personality.”“Just like you.”“Did you say something?” she growled. “N-nope, I didn’t say anything.”Our class was rife with personality issues, myself included. Poor Hirata.

“What?”Horikita suddenly turned and looked behind her, staring sharply at Sakura.

“Eh?!”“Were you looking at me just now?” Horikita asked. “I-I-I-I wasn’t looking at anything!”Sakura, flustered, ran off to put some distance between us.

“Don’t scare her like that. You can be a monster, Horikita.”“So I should freely let her poke around and misconstrue things?” “There! We found the spot! It’s amazing!”We finally arrived at Ike’s chosen land. Inside the cave, themechanism had been embedded into the wall, but here at the river’s edge, the equipment was installed on an unnaturally placed boulder. Hirata and his team started setting up the tents and other necessities for camp near the river.

“Okay. The water is beautiful, and there’s shade that blocks the sunlight. The terrain is level. This might be the ideal place for our base camp here. Amazing, Ike-kun!” Hirata said.

“Heh heh heh, I know, right?”The river was about ten meters wide, and the water flowed gently. It was amazing. Deep forests and sandy roads surrounded the river, but this place looked as if it had been maintained. I doubted this location was so naturally perfect. Our school had likely set it up for this purpose.

“So how do we show that this is ours now?”The river was pretty wide, and flowed downstream for quite a ways. At first glance, our flat piece of land was surrounded on all sides by the trees. There may not have been another favorable location like this, but it did seem like this was a natural entranceway to the area. Perhaps following the river might lead you here. Or was use of the river a privilege only given to those occupying this space?I was a little concerned as I walked along the river toward the forest. Horikita tagged along for some reason.

“The school seems to know about this area, too. It looks like we’re the only ones who can use the river.”In the middle of the path, a signboard was affixed to a tree. A message read that the river was a designated spot, and that unauthorized use was prohibited. After casually looking about, we returned to the others.

“So if we make this spot our base camp, the problem is whether ornot we can occupy it.”“We already decided that this would be it! If we don’t choose this spot, what’ll we do?” “We have other choices. If we claim this place, there are obvious merits; we can monopolize the river, for one. Also, we can gain some points by holding this area. However, that requires us to update it once every eight hours, and since the designated leader is the only one who can handle that operation, it’ll be serious trouble if he or she is seen. We still don’t know if someone might be watching.”We were surrounded by forest on all sides. We couldn’t notice a spyin the brushwood.

“Hmm, so if we stay hidden and protected, it’ll be fine, right? We can keep the area surrounded.”Although there were risks, Ike was correct. If we made our base camp in this area, there was no way to pin us down. If students from another class took this place, it would become impossible to use the river. Both guys and girls agreed with Ike on this. I think that Hirata had wanted to agree anyway, but being a font of neutrality, he’d wanted to collect a lot of opinions.

It was true that obtaining the rights of exclusive possession was something of a double-edged sword, with both risks and rewards. However, as with Class A occupying the cave, it was possible for the class to act together to protect ourselves. It went without saying that Classes B and C would most likely have done the same thing. In other words, it was an acceptable risk.

“Okay. Well, the next question is, who will be the leader?”More than whether we’d take possession, the leader was key. A mistake here could prove fatal. While everyone wanted to avoid a role with such important responsibilities, Kushida asked everyone to form a circle.

“I thought a lot of things over. I have to say, Hirata-san and Karuizawa-san just stand out too much, like it or not. However, a leader’s no good unless that person has a sense of responsibility, right? I think that Horikita-san meets that criteria. But, what do youthink?”Horikita looked like she hadn’t expected such a recommendation, but her expression didn’t change. I’d wondered if she were perhaps the least risky choice, since she was so desperate to reach Class A. That was crucial. I calmly observed everyone’s reactions.

“I agree with Kushida-san. That is to say, I also think that Horikita-san would be a good leader. So long as Horikita-san is okay with it, then I think it’d be good for her to take over. What do you think?” Hirata said.

With everyone’s eyes fixed on her, it didn’t appear that Horikita wasgoing to refuse.

“You don’t want to do it though, right? Don’t make her do it. I can do it in her place.”Sudou stepped forward, seemingly to protect Horikita’s wishes. However, Horikita then calmly accepted the decision, almost as if Sudou’s remarks had triggered her to do so.

“I understand. I accept.”Personally, I was relieved that someone like Sudou or Ike wasn’t the leader. Hirata immediately went over to Chabashira-sensei to pass on Horikita’s name. Before long, he returned with a card and entrusted it to Horikita. Taking into consideration the possibility that we were being watched, we had everyone touch the device without it activating. This was to camouflage the leader, so a spy wouldn’t know who he or she was.

“Okay, so we’ve resolved the problems of bathing and drinking water! Right?” Ike’s eyes sparked brilliantly as he dreamed of saving points.

“Huh? Drink from the river? Are you insane?” Apparently Ike intended to use this as an all-purpose river. However, Shinohara and the other girls did not appear to agree, glancing at the river in disgust.

“Well, it’d be great for swimming, but…to drink from?”“What the heck? It’s perfectly fine. The water’s clean and pure, right?” Ike said.

“Well, yeah. It certainly seems like you can drink it, but…” Shinohara tugged on Hirata’s sleeve, asking her champion to defendthem against Ike’s frugality.

“Hey, Hirata-kun. Is it really okay? It’s not normal to drink from a river, is it?”Several uneasy girls gathered around Hirata to ask his advice. They shook their heads, as if signaling that such a thing was impossible.

“I don’t think we can drink from that.”Ike, visibly frustrated, had had enough. “Really? Look how inviting the water is. How it flows. It’s like perfectly natural spring water!”Even though the water didn’t look muddy or cloudy, the girls were not the only ones to hesitate. The boys also looked unsure.

“What the heck, you guys? What’s wrong with you? There’s no reason not to use the river after going through all the trouble of finding it.”“Then you drink it, as an experiment.” “Huh? Well, fine, whatever…“Pressured, Ike scooped up some water with his hands and drank.

“Ah! Whew, that’s ice cold. It feels great! It’s damn good!”“Okay, that’s a major turn off. No way, no way! There’s no way I’m drinking that. Gross!” “Huh?! You’re the one who told me to drink it, Shinohara!” “No way! Ugh, I hate barbarians like you most of all, god!” “What the hell?”The two of them exchanged glares hot enough to send sparks flying.

“I’ve heard that hatred is close to love. Could that be true with thesetwo?”“That…really doesn’t seem to be the case here.”With the toilet resolved, the next issue was drinking water. Even withthe river, it didn’t appear as though everything had been settled.

“For the time being, let’s table the water issue. It’s only going to be painful if you fight,” said Hirata, apparently desperate for peace.

Our problems would likely grow if we delayed things, but no one was really going to object to Hirata. Or so I thought, until a certain guy butted into the conversation.

“Shinohara, don’t complain. We gotta cooperate on this test.” That came from our class’ number one problem child, Sudou, whochided Shinohara in an unusually calm tone.

“Oh, don’t make me laugh. Cooperate? That’s funny coming fromyou, Sudou-kun.”Shinohara laughed, seizing at her stomach as if it hurt. It was only natural she’d poke fun at Sudou. Since Sudou had started at our school, he’d repeatedly caused problems for our class. He was far from being a model of cooperativeness, though in a different way from Horikita. It seemed that Sudou himself was aware of this.

“I know I’ve caused trouble for the class. That’s what I’m saying. Ifyou keep antagonizing people with trivial crap, eventually it’s gonna come back to bite you, er, you know where.” “What? You’re saying that because you don’t want to use any points,Sudou-kun.”“No one said anything about that. Kanji, calm down a little. If someone suddenly told you to drink from the river, you’d put up some resistance, right? I would. Hey, if we boil the water, it’ll become sterilized, right? So right now, why don’t we try that?”“Boiling? This isn’t some kind of chemistry experiment. Stop coming up with such unexpectedly thoughtful suggestions!”Shinohara was being rather aggressive toward Sudou, as if she were prepared to fight against anyone who displeased her. Hirata once again tried to calm everyone down as the fight got heated.

“Let’s try breaking apart for a bit. We still have some time. It’s not necessary to decide things in a panic.”Calmed by those words, Shinohara fell silent and withdrew. Shortly afterward, Hirata went over to Chabashira-sensei to request the temporary toilet. Ike, unable to contain his anger at Shinohara, just kept biting his lip in frustration.

“Damn it! What the hell is Shinohara’s deal? It’s like she won’t even try.”Upset, Ike skipped a pebble across the river. He got five or six good skips before it effortlessly hit the other bank. For an accident, it was still beautiful. If I tried to do that, it probably wouldn’t have gone so well.

“Hey, you’re surprisingly really good at outdoorsy stuff.”“Hmm? Oh, I wouldn’t really say that. It’s just that I used to go camping together with my family back when I was little. I’m not opposed to drinking river water. I can tell if the water source is clean just by looking.”Ike sounded honest rather than boastful.

“Well then, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to tell us about your camping experience from the beginning? If you’d gained people’s trust, things might’ve gone more smoothly.”You had to give an explanation for your actions. Especially since thiswasn’t something that could be observed easily, unlike a test score.

“If I’d been in the Boy Scouts, I’d have legitimate bragging rights. But just going camping isn’t anything to brag about. Even if I saidanything, it would’ve been pointless, anyway.”He’d apparently gotten rather discouraged after being so harshly criticized by the girls. For Ike, who normally only cared about being attractive to the ladies, that had to hurt. However, if he’d onlychanged the way he handled things, the situation might’ve gonedifferently.

But then…Ike said something unusual.

“It seems like it’s everyone’s first time camping out. I thought that everyone had at least a little experience. I guess the stuff I said was probably a little unreasonable.”He’d realized he made a mistake. That was the first time Ike had everexpressed regret.

“Sorry. I gotta think of how to take care of this. I’m gonna go for a swim in the river.”Ike stood and turned his back to me. I thought that was probably fine for now. The heat had likely muddled his head, and searching around had probably tired him out.

“Ayanokouji-kun. Can you follow him?” “Huh? Why?”Horikita stood next to me. After Ike left, she spoke.

“It’s possible that his knowledge will prove useful. He might be instrumental to Class D. In addition to his outdoor knowledge, he seems to know his way around the forest. Also, since Kouenji-kun is basically useless, the class will need Ike to pull them forward.”“You don’t think you can persuade him yourself?”“Me? Persuade him? You think I can?” She sounded nonplussed, almost as if she couldn’t believe I’d asked her such a thing.

Even though she had smugly appealed for me to handle something she couldn’t…she had a point. In truth, Horikita’s interpersonal skills were well below that of an average person.

“I’m relying on you because I know I can’t do it. Can I count on you?” “Well sure, I guess. You don’t have anyone else to rely on but me?”Even if I wasn’t great in this area, I was certainly better than no option at all.

“I suppose it must be relaxing to be unreliable and underachieving. Isn’t it, Ayanokouji-kun?”Amazing that she could so brazenly ask a favor while being so condescending.

“I’ll talk to him, but leave the timing to me.”“Fine. I’m not entirely certain if now is the best time anyway.”We left it at that, with my acceptance and the realization we had nothing left to say to one another. I wondered if this week would show Horikita how difficult it was to live life as a hermit. Alone, she was amazing…but only alone.

In an academic setting, she could quietly continue her race to the top without relying on anyone. But this test proved that there were some things you couldn’t do alone. Horikita now probably felt powerless for the first time. It was probably why she’d come to rely on me so quickly, at this early stage. If you didn’t have any friends, you’d have no one to talk to. Without communication, there could be no cooperation or trust. An academically brilliant girl was less useful than a normal student in a situation like this.

“The school probably factored that into their calculations, too,” Imuttered.

This week would test Horikita Suzune’s limits, and show her at herworst. The school had made her isolated life impossible.

2.5Further away, two tents were set up next to each other. Shinohara and the girls had decided that they would occupy both tents. In other words, that meant that the boys would have to completely rough it by sleeping out in the open. The majority of our classmates had likely never slept outdoors before in their lives. Fortunately, because it was summer, I didn’t think we’d catch a cold, but we were definitely going to have a hard time.

Getting mosquito bites on our arms and legs was bound to become annoying, and once night fell our visibility would get worse. The grass was crawling with all kinds of unfamiliar insects, which was just creepy. Being a city kid myself, I was pretty disgusted, and spending an entire week sleeping rough seemed impossible. That said, people like Ike, who absolutely opposed spending points as much as possible, were moving to take action.

Several boys tried using pulled grass as a substitute for bedsheets, and talked about whether or not they could cut down some trees. It was nice that they were trying to figure things out; I just prayed that they wouldn’t do anything unreasonable. Hirata came over to us after setting up the girls’ tents, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“Excuse me, Ayanokouji-kun? Can I talk to you for a minute? I havesomething I wanted to ask.”He appeared sheepish and apologetic.

“It’s going to get scary tonight with just a flashlight. Whether we use points or not, securing some light is necessary. However, I can’t force you to agree, Ayanokouji-kun.”It was certainly true that I’d rather not go through the night without any source of illumination. It’d make going to the toilet a nightmare.

When I asked what we should do, Hirata thought about it, and then answered.

“We could make a bonfire. I was hoping you’d collect branches.”Apparently I’d been singled out as the most qualified guy for thistask, somehow.

“Well. I’ll pick up ones that look good.”“Thank you! Ah, but, it’s dangerous to do it alone. I think you should invite someone else to come along.”Fair point. I set out to look for a partner. Horikita was standing completely still, gazing up at the sky. She must have noticed that I was looking at her, because she came over.

“You’re normally incredibly uncooperative, but you’re being rather generous by going along with his favor,” she said.

“Didn’t you just ask me for a favor, too? Besides, this is just something to help Hirata. The work isn’t really a big deal or anything. Just picking up branches.”Some of the students voluntarily acted to help the class. One’s position within the caste system changed depending on whether or not you took initiative.

“For someone like Hirata, who’s positioned as the center of the class, to rely upon you is kind of pathetic.”“Class D’s real leaders are Hirata and Karuizawa, for better or worse.

No one else has their ability to rally others. No one else is asqualified.”Horikita appeared quite serious. She certainly had the competence and skills to rally the class. However, her charisma and leadership were sorely lacking, to the extent that I didn’t even think those two qualities existed within her. Kushida probably couldn’t stand all the harsh words that erupted when the class got into an argument, but she said she’d do her best. Even now, she was probably off somewhere putting forth all her effort into whatever she was doing.

“So how about working as Hirata’s assistant? For yourself, rather than for the class.”“Me, his assistant? Don’t joke around. I’d rather dance with a mongoose.”“Dance with a mongoose?”Whatever that expression meant, it was probably an insult to Hirata. No, not probably. It was definitely an insult.

“I’m joking. Well, his differences from a mongoose aside, there’s nothing I can do to help. If there were a clear enemy and a goal, I might be of use. Besides, I’m still unsure whether or not we should use points, or even to what extent we should use them.”With that, we quietly split up. Horikita went into the tent. For the time being, I needed a congenial partner who would go with me. Hunting through the available guys, I saw Sudou just staring up at the sky while standing by the river’s edge. He helped Ike earlier. Maybe he’d become a reliable guy. He’d probably help a friend in need.

“Hey, Sudou. I’m going to collect branches for a bonfire. Want tocome?”“Huh? If it’s a hassle, I think I’ll pass.”He looked as if he had no intention of helping. But since I wasn’tgoing to find anyone else, I persisted.

“Probably won’t be a hassle. I’m just going to collect them fromnearby.”“That sounds exactly like a hassle. Sorry. I’m gonna go swimming.” Sudou stood, grabbed the bag next to him, and headed for the water.

“Well. Guess that’s that.”I saw Yamauchi chatting up some girls near the tents, and decided to try again.

“Hey, I’m going to get some branches for a bonfire. Could you help me?”“Eh, sounds like work. Look, I found a good spot with Kanji, right? We’re pretty beat. Sorry, but I gotta pass.”“I see. Got it.”There was nothing I could say to that. Well, I was in trouble. All of my possibilities had been shot down. Horikita wasn’t exactly in any state to help right now, and Kushida was off somewhere with the girls’ team.

“Guess I’m alone in the end, huh?”Yamauchi continued happily chatting with the girls, and didn’t show any support. Just as I resolved to head into the forest by myself, Sakura stepped forward, like she’d been waiting for her chance.

“Um… I-Is it okay if I…go with you?”Apparently she’d been listening to my conversation.

“Huh? Oh, I’m really grateful, but are you sure? I mean, you lookpretty tired. Maybe it would be better for you to rest.”Sakura had already searched the woods with me. I didn’t want toforce her.

“I’m okay. Besides, if I stay here, well…it’ll be…a little uncomfortable.”She glanced at the other girls. If Sakura was anything like me, she probably had a really hard time engaging with others.

“Okay, let’s go.” Because Kouenji wasn’t with us, I could match Sakura’s pace. “Hey!”Just as we were heading into the forest, Yamauchi called out and rushed toward us.

“I’ll help you after all!”Apparently he’d changed his mind. “Uh. Are you sure?”“Hey, come on now. I mean, you gotta help a friend in need. Right, Sakura?”“Uh… Y-yeah.”Sakura shied away behind my back and nodded. She hadn’t really ever talked with Yamauchi before. Maybe this’d be a good friend- making opportunity for her.

2.6We decided to collect branches from nearby so we didn’t stray too far from base camp. After a short walk, the three of us spread out to pick up branches.

“H-hey, Ayanokouji. I got something that I want you to keep just between us,” Yamauchi whispered. He was standing close to me, a few branches in hand.

“I think…I’m gonna go for Sakura.” “Huh?”“I mean, don’t you think Kushida-chan’s out of my league? Her communication skills are top-notch. I’m thinking of giving up on her as my main target. Compared to Kushida, it’s like, Sakura’s just not good with people, or like, she doesn’t know how to deal with guys, you know? To be perfectly honest, I was thinking about seeing howfar I could go on this trip. I think she might fall for a guy who’s gentle and attentive. I mean, until I at least get a kiss or something. Yeah, seriously. I think Sakura’s fine. No, Sakura’s great.”“Great? You haven’t hung around Sakura before now. Isn’t this really sudden?”“Nah, man. Like, I actually regret not seeing it before, you know? She’s plain, so she didn’t catch my eye at first, but she’s actually super cute. And an idol? Plus, her boobs are incredible. Even when she changes into jerseys, you can still see ‘em. I can’t help noticing.”He started rubbing his hands together and chuckling.

Apparently this explained his sudden interest in helping. Sakura was being treated as a backup plan after he gave up on his favorite, Kushida. I couldn’t imagine Sakura would be pleased to hear that. I’d hoped that maybe Yamauchi had come to like Sakura for real.

“So please, help me out. For example, leave me alone with Sakura for a while.”“I wouldn’t say that counts as helping you…"”What? Wait, you’re not after Sakura too, are you? Those boobies!”Why did so many guys look at things in such simplistic, nasty way? It’s not that I didn’t understand his desires. I mean, woman’s breasts were attractive, and there was a biological explanation for why guys liked them. Normally, I wouldn’t mind helping him out. But Sakurawasn’t like Kushida. She was unused to dealing with guys. It would’ve been a different story if he’d wanted to become her friend, but Icouldn’t leave her alone with some guy who only wanted to get into her pants. Besides, if Yamauchi got carried away, Sakura wouldn’t know how to resist.

“Give it up for now. I’ll help you when you get to know Sakura better. Besides, I’d like to go back and start the bonfire while it’s still early.

All right?”Yamauchi slumped his shoulders in disappointment, but his spirits recovered immediately.

“Jeez, you’re stiff. Well, fine. You have Horikita anyway, Ayanokouji. You don’t have to worry, right?”Since when did I have Horikita?”Come on, just start picking up branches. I’ll head over here.”With that, he shoved his branches at me. I dropped a few, and they rolled across the ground. Honestly, I still felt a little bad for Sakura. Between our hike today and this foraging expedition, she was probably sick of spending so much time with me, but she wasn’t the type to voice such a thing. In the end, Sakura seemed wary of both Yamauchi and me, working in almost total silence.

“Isn’t this enough? This is probably good,” Yamauchi said.

It was certainly true that we had enough for a full day. We finished up and headed back to the camp site.

“Hey, hey, Sakura. Do you want me to help you carry that? It’s gotta be tough for a girl. You might hurt yourself.”Yamauchi must’ve planned to ask her that from the very beginning, even though she was carrying only about half the amount I was. I supposed he wanted to play the role of a caring and attentive guy. I wondered if Yamauchi’s kindness would stand out, especially in comparison to me.

“I-I’m fine… Ayanokouji-kun is carrying a lot, though. I’d like you to help him.”“Oooh! Sakura, you’re so kind! Jeez, aren’t you being greedy,Ayanokouji, carrying that much by yourself? Here, I’ll take half, hand ‘em over.”With that, he grabbed about half of the amount he’d thrust toward me earlier. Despite Sakura’s refusal, it looked like this was part of his strategy to win her with kindness. Yamauchi, looking satisfied, walked off in high spirits. As we walked, something appeared on the path ahead.

A lone girl sat with her back up against a large tree. She wasn’t a Class D student. When she noticed us, she looked up and then quickly averted her eyes. Since she was from another class, it’d befine for us to leave her alone, but the state she was in suggested that this was no trivial matter.

There was a red, swollen mark on her cheek. Someone had hit her pretty hard. When Yamauchi started to pass the girl, I grabbed him by the shoulder.

“What?”“Oh, uh…sorry. It’s nothing.”I was going to say something, but he finally noticed the girl. “Hey. What’s the matter? Are you okay?” Yamauchi called. “Just leave me alone. It’s nothing.”“Doesn’t look that way. Who did this to you? Should I call a teacher?”Considering the swelling, it was easy to see that she was in a fair amount of pain.

“Just a class dispute. Don’t worry about it,” answered the girl, laughing in self-deprecation. Her voice was low and even, but it was clear she wasn’t feeling well. She seemed rather shaken.

“So, what are you going to do? We just can’t leave you here.”This was not our school campus. We were surrounded by jungle on all sides. In a couple hours, the sun would begin to set. If she were out here alone in the dark, it could be disastrous.

“We’re Class D students. Why not come to our base camp?”Yamauchi turned to Sakura and me for approval. We nodded in agreement.

“Huh? What are you saying? There’s no way I could do something like that.”“Well, I mean, wouldn’t you say it’s only natural to help someone in trouble?”She seemed to not want to listen to us. She turned away and fell silent. In most situations it would’ve been easy to leave her, but we couldn’t leave an injured girl in a place like this.

“I’m from Class C. In other words, I’m your enemy. You understand that, right?”That wasn’t any reason not to help.

“But we just can’t leave you. Right?”Both Sakura and I nodded. Still, the girl didn’t seem to want to move. Since we were students at the same school, it seemed natural and right for us to help each other. Whether or not it was the right thing to do in this special test was another question entirely.

“We can’t leave you, so we’re going to stay here until you move.”Yamauchi was resolved. In that case, we had to wait on standby. The girl didn’t want to speak to us; she probably thought we wanted to trick her.

“Besides, the forest is all humid and muggy. The heat’s really intense. Sakura, you’re hot, aren’t you?”“Well, I’m actually… I’m okay.”Though standing here could be quite boring, this was a dream come true from Yamauchi’s point of view. He could spend time together with Sakura until this other girl gave in. Yamauchi spent his time meaningfully, peppering both the girl and Sakura with a ton of questions. After about ten minutes, the girl lost her patience.

“You guys are really stupid. You’re not acting logically. You aren’t thinking about your own class.”“Well, it’s just that we can’t leave a girl alone when she’s in trouble.”Yamauchi gave a thumbs-up. Sakura’s impression of him was probably improving, though she didn’t seem to pay attention toYamauchi’s great efforts. She just gazed at the forest and the sky. For a shy girl like Sakura, this unexpected situation was likely uncomfortable.

“But is that really okay? To tell me where your base camp is, and moreover, to guide me there?”“Huh? Is that wrong?”Yamauchi didn’t understand what the girl was saying.

“I can’t believe what an incredible idiot you are! Seriously, I can’t believe it,” said the girl, looking shocked.

Yamauchi was taken aback. If you knew the location of someone’s campsite, you could start to get a read on how they planned to conduct themselves throughout the test. You could get into their heads and anticipate their strategies. In Class D’s case, announcing our spot was a reason to be concerned. But I spoke up.

“Don’t worry. I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” I said.

“Right? Yeah, there shouldn’t be a problem. My name’s Yamauchi Haruki. Nice to meet you!”“Well, you seem like you’re a good guy. But you’re an idiot.” The girl appeared shocked by Yamauchi’s self-introduction. “I’m…Ibuki,” she said in a clear voice.

She lightly caressed her red, swollen cheek. It must’ve been painful. She didn’t look us in the eyes as she spoke. Maybe she wasn’t good at social contact or something. I noticed a small amount of dirt under Ibuki’s nails. If you looked to where she’d been sitting, you could see disturbances in the soil.

“Whoa, so do girls, like, slap each other across the cheek when they fight or something?”“That’s not your concern. Leave me alone.”Despite her words, it wasn’t like we could do that, considering her obvious pain. She seemed to be dealing with it, but her agony occasionally registered on her face as she stroked her cheek. Ibuki slung a bag over her shoulder, wincing at her burden. Upon seeing that, Yamauchi’s eyes lit up.

“Well, at least let me take your bag for you. Huh? Huh?”Yamauchi wanted to display his manliness in front of Sakura by any means necessary, so he once again thrust his branches over to me to hold. How gentlemanly.

“It’s fine. H-hey, it’s fine. Knock it off!”She flatly refused to let Yamauchi carry her bag, perhaps because she didn’t want to rely on us. She let go of the bag, which fell and struck a tree, making a dull thud sound. The awkwardness increased as Yamauchi frantically apologized.

“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do anything bad. I apologize.”“It’s fine. It’s just that I still don’t trust you guys. You understand?”Ibuki, with nothing further to say, fell silent. Yamauchi gave up and started walking. If he wasn’t going to carry the bag, then he could’ve carried those branches. They poked me thoroughly on the way back to base camp.

2.7We gathered up the branches and returned to camp. Being from a different class, Ibuki didn’t want to cause any trouble, so she sat further away. It would’ve been impossible for her to blend in, so we appreciated her honesty. If she stayed within our sight, she probably wouldn’t cause trouble. Hirata was gone, unfortunately. That meant Yamauchi, Sakura, and I had to get the bonfire going. We wouldn’t be able to get a fire going in the dark, so we had to hurry.

“Leave it to me. I’ll show you an easy way.”Yamauchi produced a matchbox he’d received from Hirata, and crouched before the stacked branches. He took one match, and quickly scratched the tip against the rough strip. We heard repeated scratching sounds, like “tch”, but the match didn’t light.

“Damn, this is pretty hard…“Sakura stood next to him and watched. Yamauchi tried to look cool, but for someone unused to matches, it probably wasn’t easy. Still, he struck the match over and over, until suddenly it lit.

“Oh, oh, there! Got it!”Finally. In a panic, Yamauchi brought the match down to the bundle of sticks. But only light smoke came out, and after waiting a really long time it didn’t seem that the fire was going to start.

“Huh?”“Maybe we need to carefully get the fire onto the branches themselves? Right now it seems impossible.”“Okay, I’ll try that next time. Ah, jeez, that one failed too. Are these matches defective or something?”We were having such a hard time lighting a fire with one match, wewondered whether we’d be able to light a bonfire at all. Yamauchi was getting increasingly frustrated, and began striking the matches more forcefully against the strip. As a result, he broke several.

“If I keep messing up, we’re gonna be in trouble.”Three broken matchsticks lay at Yamauchi’s feet. He tried to regainhis composure.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry. It’s going to be all right. We still have more.”He opened the matchbox and showed it to me. It looked light, but there were about twenty or more in there. However, at this rate we might run out before the week was through.

“All right! This time I got it for sure!”He carefully lit the match and slowly brought it toward the branch. Though it seemed like the fire was desperately trying its best, it didn’t develop as desired. It ended up only smoldering a little, causing more smoke.

“What the hell?! What am I doing wrong? I’m going to go ask the teacher.”Yamauchi had wanted to look cool in front of Sakura, but that was over with now. He started frantically searching for Chabashira- sensei. He should have thought this through before trying it, obviously. I crouched down and jostled the branches.

“Why won’t the fire start?”Sakura crouched next to me, looking at the burned branches with a puzzled expression.

“I thought since they’re wood they’d burn easily, but I guess fire is weaker than I initially imagined,” I said.

She didn’t seem to understand what I meant by that, so she tiltedher head slightly quizzically.

“Well, when you see bonfires in movies, you typically see these large branches, right? That’s why we picked these up. But maybe you can’t start a fire with large branches?”I separated the branches, snapped off a thin one, and showed it to her.

“I feel like next time, we should line up branches of this size. Also, a lot of the branches are damp.”Trying to set a fire with damp wood was the mark of an amateur.

Even if Yamauchi had used dozens of matches, the fire likelywouldn’t have spread.

“It’s going to require a little work on our end, but I think we should head back into the forest to get dry, thin branches, and leaves that’ll burn easy.”“Huh? What are you guys doing over there?”Ike, who’d gone for a swim, had returned just as we ran through our trial and error.

“We’re in the middle of trying to start the bonfire. It’s not going so well, though. We’re having a tough time.”“A bonfire? Wait, these thick branches aren’t going to catch on fire. You need to start with smaller branches, you know? The branches you got here are way too big. Also, a bunch of ‘em are damp, too.

This is no good at all!”“Ah, but, Ayanokouji-kun…“I interrupted Sakura as she attempted to speak up for me.

“I see. If you don’t mind, could you tell us what to do?”“Jeez, guess I don’t got a choice, huh? Okay, time for a brief lecture. Wait a second, I’ll go collect some good things from around here.” Ike set down his swimsuit bag and went into the forest. He returned soon after. He’d picked up a bunch of branches of different sizes, from thin to medium thickness. Also, he’d collected a bundle of dead leaves.

“I got some good branches. I think we’ll be able to manage with these.”With that, he picked up the matchbook that Yamauchi had set down, and quickly set fire to the dead leaves. As the leaves kindled, he started adding some small twigs. Then, watching the fire carefully, he gradually added in thicker branches. In the blink of an eye, the flame turned into a typical bonfire.

“And that should do it.”“That’s amazing. I’m really impressed. Someone with real camping experience is on another level.”“It’s just the basics. Starting a bonfire, I mean. Once you know how, anyone can do it.”Since so few students in Class D had that kind of experience, Ike was becoming crucial to our success.

“Ah, damn it! The teacher didn’t tell me a damn thing. Whoa! Hey, how’d the bonfire get going?!”Yamauchi had returned, and was astonished to see such a splendid bonfire. Perhaps he felt frustrated that he hadn’t been able to show off, because he started complaining. I decided to leave the bonfire issues to Ike and Yamauchi, and left.

“H-hey, Ayanokouji-kun… Even though you’d figured it out, was that okay? To not tell them?” Sakura asked.

“I didn’t know whether I was correct or not, so it wouldn’t have mattered. Besides, building up Ike and displaying his usefulness will be more helpful to the class.” Maybe I was rambling, but I just said what I was thinking. Sakura gave me a certain look, like she was moved by my words. For some reason, I felt stupidly embarrassed.

“Sorry. I’m a little tired, so I’m going to rest. Thank you, Sakura.”I went a short distance from the campsite. Chabashira-sensei, who was preparing a personal tent for herself nearby, stared in my direction. I pretended not to notice.

2.8Once five o’clock arrived, Kushida and her group returned. Hirata had apparently joined up with Kushida’s group. Since this was the return of our class’ central figures, nearly half the class began togather together. Apparently, they’d gone out searching for food. We could see they’d been successful. From a distance, I saw little red fruits, like strawberries, and maybe tomatoes. They also seemed to have grapes and kiwis.

“Is this… Can we eat these, I wonder? I mean, that looks like fruit,but…“The students didn’t seem too confident. “Even so, I’m really thirsty… I’m hungry, too.” “I’m getting thirsty, too…“When evening came, it was understandable that the students would start saying those kinds of things. I was one of them. As dinnertime drew near, our food and water problems were highlighted.

“Oh hey, this is bog bilberry! Did you find these, Kikyou-chan? That’s amazing, y’know!”Ike came over, checking out the fruit and telling us what was what.

“Kanji-kun, do you know what this is?”“Yeah. It’s a fruit, a bog bilberry. I’ve eaten ‘em before when I went camping in the mountains. As you can tell, they look and taste like blueberries. It’s the akebia quinata. It’s sweet and tasty. Oh wow, this really takes me back, man.”He was being genuine, not trying to appear cool. Everyone watched Ike with interest as he smiled, enjoying the nostalgic fruit. Shinohara bombarded Ike with questions, and he answered her directly.

“Ah. Let’s see. Ah, that feels better than I thought.”Despite countless disturbances, at least we were organized with this one small thing. Even though it was only a small amount, the fact that we’d found food was a relief.

“Looks like you were able to get the bonfire going. Thanks,Ayanokouji-kun.”“You should be thanking Ike, not me.”The smoke billowed, large enough to make a good smoke signal. Ikeexplained, “If you can see the smoke, you’ll be able to find the campsite even if you get lost, right?”“Yeah, that’s how we returned to the camp so quickly. It’s all thanks to you, Kanji-kun!”This also meant we ran the risk of other classes finding us, though.

Kushida and several others realized this, and nodded inunderstanding. I would’ve thought that so much attention and respect would’ve given Ike a big head, but he wasn’t looking for praise from Kushida. Instead, he looked at Shinohara.

“Hey, Shinohara. I spent some time thinking about how I acted today, about the toilet and stuff and how stubborn I was. I was pushy because I wanted to save points. I’m sorry.”“Wh-why are you apologizing to me all of the sudden?”“I just remembered the first time I went camping. The toilet was awful, and of course there were bugs crawling around everywhere. Just about everything was dirty. I remember going to my parents, complaining how much I hated going to the bathroom and telling them I wanted to go home. I’m sure it’s even worse for a girl…“Ike was amazing. He’d grasped the situation himself and handled things calmly. He had the potential to go far, unlike an ordinary person like me. It definitely took courage to say what he’d said. The courage and the apology came slowly, but Shinohara responded apologetically as well.

“I’m…sorry for earlier, too. For saying that I couldn’t drink from the river. I think I got way too emotional. We won’t be able to keep any of our points if we don’t learn to adjust.”Even though neither of them looked the other straight in the eyes, it seemed they’d made up. Perhaps Class D might end up with points after all. The other students probably took this as a good sign. Hirata, determined not to let this opportunity pass, raised his hand andgathered everyone’s attention.

“Everyone, I have an announcement. This special test is a first for all of us. I understand you’re confused. Also, everyone sees things their own way, so it’s only natural that there’ll be some disputes.

However, I want us all to push forward and trust in each other untilthe very end, without panicking.”Hirata spoke those words clearly. After composing himself, he continued.

“After all, everyone here wants to end up with at least one point, right? Therefore, I tried to come up with a number that we can realistically aim for. By the end of the test, we could have 120 points or more left over. That’s what Class D is fighting for.”“In other words, you plan on using 180 points? I’m not sure I agree, Hirata.”Yukimura glared as if using more than half of our points were an unforgivable crime. Hirata, sensing the potential danger ahead, placed the manual on the ground and explained.

“I’d like you to listen to everything I have to say. First, let’s suppose that we’re going to use points for all our meals. If we try to spend the least amount possible, that means purchasing the nutritious meal and mineral water sets.” The food and drinking water normally cost six points per individual unit, but as a set it only cost ten points. Ten points per meal eaten twice a day came to a daily loss of twenty points. If we ordered one meal tonight and one on the final day of the test, that came to a total of twelve meals. That would be 120 points altogether. If we managed to put up with it on the last day and skip a meal, then the deduction would equal 110 points. If we added the twenty points we spent on a temporary toilet to that, as well as the cost for two tents for theguys, which was also twenty points, then we’d have 150 points. The remaining thirty points had probably been factored in to cover any miscellaneous things we might need, bringing the estimated total to 180 points.

Everyone silently listened to Hirata’s explanation.

“I understand that when you hear we’ll have 120 points remaining, you probably feel that’s not enough. However, we’re dwelling on these 300 points too much. If you look at the results of the midterm and the final exam, then the reason will be easy to understand, I think.”We’d received an increase in class points before vacation. Even Class A, regarded as our superior, didn’t see an addition of more than 100 points. You certainly couldn’t call 120 points a small number. In addition, because we could gain points depending on the number of times we were able to occupy a space, we might end up with more than 120.

“Besides, I’m talking about our lower limit for points. If we can find food and water to make it through the day, we adjust our calculations and save as many as twenty points. If we can find drinking water for the week, we’ll save fifty points or more.”Hirata looked at the river as he spoke. Its value instantly increased in our eyes.

“I see… So if we can endure it, that alone would change things agreat deal…“Anyone else could have come up with this, but Hirata’s tone and presentation sold it. He’d performed flawlessly. First he told us about the lower limit, and then explained that we could end up with nearly 200 points. In that way, he succeeded in motivating everyone to reach a high goal. If we did our best, we could end up with lots of points. More than that, we could greatly increase the number of points we had by making an effort.

“That’s good, right, Hirata? We can earn at least 120 points. If we work hard, we can even earn additional points, right? Then we should definitely try!”Ike, who’d thus far been the most confrontational, shouted in agreement. Sudou and Yamauchi both looked as though they agreed because they didn’t really have another choice. Yukimura still appeared reluctant, but seeing Ike join with Hirata made him fold.

“Ah, that reminds me, Hirata. I wanted to check something,” I said.

Because Yamauchi had forgotten to report on Ibuki, I didn’t have any choice. However, our classmates continued their excited discussion, and I didn’t have any chance to butt in.

“That’s the fate of a popular person, I guess. Well, I’ll try giving it a little time.”I approached Ibuki, who’d been watching from further away.

“Sorry. Can you wait a little longer? I’m going to talk to him about you.”“You don’t need to force yourself. I’d probably end up just getting in the way.”Ibuki pulled up a handful of grass, looking pissed.

“After all, they’ll chase me out anyway. Am I wrong?” “I don’t know. Hirata is an exceptionally good guy.”I couldn’t imagine that Hirata would kick her out if he knew abouther situation.

“Oh, I never introduced myself before. My name’s Ayanokouji.” “So, should I introduce myself once more then?”“Nah. You’re Ibuki, from Class C. I remember.”We faced each other through the introductions, but Ibuki wouldn’tlook me in the eyes.

“For future reference, can everyone here who’s okay with drinking river water please raise your hand?” Ike asked.

The discussion moved on to the next topic, leaving Ibuki and Class C behind. Ike wasn’t forcing anyone to drink the water, but he did want to see what everyone’s opinions were. Of course, he took the initiative and raised his hand in support of the river. Nearly half of the guys raised their hands in apparent agreement. Shinohara looked a little perplexed, but Ike gently told her that she didn’t have to force herself.

“I-I want to do my best, but…I’m a little scared, I think.”“If it’s about what Sudou said about boiling water, it’s really not that bad. If you’re scared of drinking it directly, how about we try it out first?”A few more students agreed. Gradually, a matter that had once been strongly rejected was now edging toward acceptance. Shinohara still appeared fearful, but raised her hand.

“I don’t know if I can drink it, but…I’m up for the challenge.”“I agree. If the first person who tries can drink it, then it should be fine.” Other students looked amenable to that, and then Kushida followed suit and raised her own hand. Perhaps she was trying to influence the group? Soon everyone had their hands raised except for Horikita and me. Everyone stared at us, and we slowly raised our hands as well. However, it was still difficult for people to start drinking from the river. In order to have some emergency supplies, we had decided to buy some water, just in case.

“I have a request, Ike-kun. I want you to lend me your talents from here on out. It looks like you’re the only one with camping experience here. Can you help me out?” Hirata asked.

“W-well, I guess if you ask, I gotta cooperate.” “Thank you!”Hirata practically jumped for joy at Ike’s curt reply. Shinohara, who’d complained the most before, didn’t object. Hirata started gathering opinions about food.

“Well, it’ll be dark soon, so for now all we can do is order food. However, I ask you to think a little about tomorrow onward. There might be various foodstuffs nearby, so I wanted to explore.”“What do you mean, nearby? Do you mean other than whereKushida-san and the others found the fruit?”“Yeah. The river. It’d be great if we can catch and eat fish. It looks like there are quite a few freshwater fish in there. We’d be able to limit our point spending to some extent. Also, catching fish and cooking them over the bonfire sounds really tasty.”“Well, putting aside whether or not they’d be tasty, how do you plan on catching fish?”“I’ll dive in the water. I haven’t done it before, though.”Ike made a swimming motion, but it probably wouldn’t be easy tocatch fish by skin diving.

“Even though it might sound impossible to catch a fish with your bare hands, there are lots of tools,” said Hirata, pointing to an entry in the manual. “Fishing rods.” They had a variety, too.

“It’s one point for fishing rods with bait, and two points for fishingrods with lures.”It wouldn’t be difficult to recover the cost. It might even be a big win for us, if we could earn food for one or two days by spending just one point. And even if we didn’t happen to catch anything, the cost was so minimal that it couldn’t really hurt us. There were no objections.

“Well, I guess it’s decided. Let’s get ourselves a fishing rod and catch some fish! Of course, we’ll go with the cheaper one.”And so we settled on our goal of catching fish from the river and foraging for berries in the forest. If we were successful, we’d decide whether or not to purchase a set of cooking utensils for an additional five points. Also, we decided to spend another twenty points to install one shower. We expected opposition, but our health might worsen if we only used cold water. The guys were only allowed to use the shower in the middle of the night, though. All of the girls seemed to agree that they’d drink water from the river. So, with the opposition convinced, the motion passed.

“By the way… That girl, Ibuki-san from Class C? I’ve seen her before.”A girl named Satou, who had finally noticed the interloper, eyed Ibuki with suspicion. Ibuki continued to quietly sit far away. Apparently there was no need for me to break the ice.

“Well, it sounds like there’s been some kind of trouble in her class…” Yamauchi, a little flustered, explained why Ibuki seemed to have been isolated from her classmates.

“I see. Your judgment was correct. We can’t just leave her.” “But, Hirata-kun… Couldn’t she be a spy? I mean, if she can spot the leader…” Yamauchi asked, hands over his head for attention.

“Ah, that’s right. I suppose it’s possible. I’ll check on it. Is that okay,Yamauchi-kun? Ayanokouji-kun?”Hirata headed over to Ibuki. Had he excluded Sakura because of his pretty-boy thoughtfulness? Sakura seemed relieved to not be noticed.

“Do you have a moment, Ibuki-san? I wanted to talk to you,” Hiratasaid.

“I’m probably just getting in the way. You’ve already taken good care of me.”She quickly stood, as if she wanted to run.

“Wait a minute. I wanted to ask what happened. I want to help.”She stopped at Hirata’s words. After seeing her swollen face, Hirata had likely surmised that the issue wasn’t trivial.

“Nothing will change if I stay. I don’t want to waste time just sitting around.”“This is a test, so of course some students will doubt you. However, you’re hurt. I don’t want to chase you away if you can’t go back to your own class. I think that’s why Yamauchi-kun brought you here. So, tell me about your situation.”“This isn’t something I can just talk about. Besides, I’ve heard all your plans. You’d hate it if more of your strategies were leaked, right?”Ibuki started walking away. Hirata stopped her in her tracks.

“If you really were a spy, you wouldn’t want to be chased out, would you? Am I wrong?”“Enough. I’m just looking for a place to sleep.” As I expected, she wasn’t going to return to Class C. The sun was setting, and it’d be night soon.

“It’s crazy for a girl to sleep alone in the woods.”“Even if it’s crazy, I don’t have a choice. Helping me won’t gain you anything.”“This has nothing to do with losses or gains. We can’t just leave someone in trouble. We all think so.”Her expression cleared, and she turned toward us without hesitation. Something like that was designed to melt even the toughest exterior. Ibuki seemed to believe Hirata, and it gave her confidence.

“I had a fight with a boy in my class. He hit me and chased me away. That’s all.”“That’s horrible. Raising a hand against a girl, I mean.”I hadn’t expected it, either. I’d thought for sure she’d been in a fightwith another girl.

“I won’t say anything more on the subject. I didn’t think you’d takeme in and give me shelter, anyway. See you.”“Wait. I understand that you’re really in trouble. Please give me a little time. If you can do that, I’ll tell the other students about your situation and see if we can find a place for you. Ayanokouji-kun, can you watch Ibuki-san? I’m going to go talk to everyone.”Hirata left us and returned to the group. I wondered if Hirata had left me with her because he trusted me, or at least trusted me more than Yamauchi. I was a little curious.

“He’s seriously a good-natured guy, isn’t he?” Ibuki asked.

“I think everyone here is, more or less. Are there not people like thatin your class?”“Not at all… There isn’t really anyone in Class C like that.” Ibuki sat down, bunched her knees against her chest, and lowered her head. Thanks to Hirata’s persuasiveness, Class D agreed to look after Ibuki. Though some students were strongly opposed, every time Class C held roll call, they’d hemorrhage points. Once everyone saw it as an opportunity, they were finally convinced. Hirata’sintentions had been pure, but the same wasn’t true for others. The incentive of potential profit motivated them to take the chance.

However, maintaining exclusive possession of this place was an extremely delicate issue. We explained to Ibuki, and she promised not to wander near the device. If anyone realized that Horikita was the leader, the damage we’d suffer would be great. After that, we decided to purchase the necessary food and water sets for tonight, along with the guys’ tents. Thanks to Hirata and Ike, the tents were set up smoothly. Just before the sun set, we finished all of our preparations, and the students began eating their meals.

“Hey, Ibuki-san. Eat this.”Kushida approached Ibuki, who’d been quietly sitting some distance away by herself. Kushida offered her one of the nutritious meal seats and a bottle of water.

“What? Why are you giving me this?” “Well, you’re probably hungry, right?”“Food is provided based on class numbers. There shouldn’t be any spare sets left.”“Yeah. But don’t worry, we decided to share everything with our group.”Further away, the four other people from Kushida’s group waved and smiled at Ibuki. In other words, four people had shared three portions of food and water, and the leftover portion went to Ibuki.

“Are you guys stupid? You’re all being way too nice.” “Don’t be shy. Eat up. Let’s talk later, okay? I’ll be waiting in the tent.”With that, Kushida returned to her group. It had seemed easy to help a girl from another class until we had to reduce our own food portions. Then it wasn’t so simple. But Kushida, who wished foreveryone’s happiness, had charity to spare.

“Wow, when you look at them like this, the girls’ groups are kind of remarkable.”Yamauchi, in the middle of eating, pointed to each group individually.

“There’s the Empress Team, led by Karuizawa. Then there’s Kushida- chan’s Friendship Team and Shinohara’s Arrogant Team. Then you have Horikita and Sakura, who are by themselves.”All of the guys huddled relatively close together as they ate, but the girls sat in their individual teams. There was a clear wall between them, like they were groups from other classes. Maybe Kushida’s team was the most neutral of all of them, or just held a lot of influence?”Poor Sakura, all alone. I wonder if I should eat with her,” Yamauchisaid.

“You’re probably better off giving up, don’t you think? You’d just scare her.”“Damn. I want to get to know her better, but she’s way too introverted…“In addition to being shy, Sakura probably found it difficult to deal with pushy types like Yamauchi. Despite being warned, Yamauchi seemed impatient to go over to her.

“What the hell, Haruki? That’s no fair, stalking a lone beautiful woman like that. Come on, let me join in!” Ike, seeing Yamauchi’s glances, misunderstood and approached him.

“I have to say, Sakura’s breasts are really something else. You don’toften see breasts that big on a first-year high school student. Herclothes are just bulging. She’s way too sexy. Her boobs alone makeher even more attractive than Kikyou-chan.”Ike stared intently at Sakura’s breasts, like he wanted to devourthem. Yamauchi blocked Ike’s line of sight. “Hey, what the hell, dude?”“Don’t just look at Sakura like a pervert. Besides, you’re aiming forKushida-san, aren’t you?”“Well, yeah. But it’s all right, isn’t it? I mean, an idol belongs toeveryone, right? Haruki, could you be… Ooh, are you Sakura’s—” “I-It’s not like that. Come on, let’s eat.”Apparently Yamauchi wanted to hide the fact that he was changing targets and going after Sakura. Besides, it was night, with nothing left to do. It was only natural that the flow of the conversation would lead to the opposite sex. I noticed Hirata nearby, distributing food.

“Come to think of it, where’s Kouenji-kun?”Everyone had gathered, but it looked like Kouenji was absent.

“Oh, Kouenji complained about being in poor physical condition and returned to the ship. Of course, that means that you’ve had thirty points deducted. Those are the rules, so there’s nothing to be done. Kouenji has retired, and he’s obligated to stay onboard the ship for one week for medical treatment,” said Chabashira-sensei.

“Whaaaaat?!”Screams sounded throughout the night.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me! Kouenji, you jerk! What the hell were you thinking?!” The normally silent Yukimura shouted and kicked the ground. I knew Kouenji was a free spirit, but I neverimagined he would just up and retire. Maybe he didn’t care about reaching Class A. If it made his life easier, losing thirty points didn’t matter at all.

“Goddamn it! We lost thirty points! This sucks!”Both the boys and girls were furious over Kouenji’s actions, but could do nothing about it. Kouenji’s loud, haughty laughter reverberated in our minds.

Written on August 17, 2022