I kicked the wet ground and ran after Ibuki . One bothersome problem was the weather . Depending on the weather, there might be the possibility of getting stuck somewhere or getting involved into an accident . It was also a concern the fact that the sun would go down sooner than I expected and it’d be difficult to push forward without a flashlight .
The passing shower became stronger and the wind was also starting to blow more violently . The weather was just one of the bad circumstances . There was no advantages here . Visibility could only be maintained for a few meters due to the pouring rain . And even if it looked like I lost my way, thanks to the rain, the footprints of two people remained on the muddy ground, so it was easy to follow them .
Those footprints suddenly vanished . No, they weren’t interrupted, rather they continued in the deeper forest . This implied that the path changed sharply and the persons intentionally bought themselves into the forest, they didn’t go astray . Using the flashlight, when I aimed the light deeper in the forest, the two pairs of footsteps gradually were entering deeper and deeper . There was no reason why those people would put their feet in a dangerous forest like that .
Just to be sure, I tried to illuminate the regular route leading to the beach, but there were no footprints there and the ground was clean . With my hand, I cleared away the dripping rain from my bangs . Then I followed the footprints and went into the forest .
Naturally, the visibility soon got worse . It was safe to say it seemed night already . The ominous atmosphere floated around the dark forest but I pushed forward relying only on the footprints .
It happened about 30 meters after . In a moment, I felt a light entering brightly in my field of vision .
Immediately, I turned off the flashlight and concealed my breath . Staring fixedly at the direction of that brightness, I could see the light again . It was a flashlight . It was like it was sending off a signal . Ibuki and Horikita? No . Both of them wouldn’t have anything to make a light . I quietly turned my feet towards that light and shortened the distance .
Hearing voices of people making small noises in the rain, I concealed myself . It didn’t matter who was there and what they were talking about . The problem was that I discovered them . Grasping the situation was secondary .
And then, shortly after, the light of the electric torch went far off . It seemed to be over . Just to be sure, I approached cautiously . And then, there………
Near a big tree, there was Horikita’s figure, covered in mud, who lost consciousness and she really looked like she was dying .
A keycard was dropped to the ground near her hand that had no force left . On her injured body, traces of excavated soil . Looking at the situation, it was confirmed that Horikita has been found out as the class leader by none other than Ibuki . After picking up the keycard, I hoisted Horikita up in my arms .
“Um… . ”
I felt a sense of discomfort when I held her in my arms . I sighed faintly and Horikita, slowly but surely, opened her eyes very weakly .
“Did you come to your senses?”
Whether she could understand the situation, she uttered another faint comment .
“……my head… . hurts……”
“You have a high fever . It’s better for you not to strain to talk”
“I see… . I, to Ibuki…… . . but, why are you here?”
Even if I told her to sleep, Horikita would concern herself with this and that problem while her fever was still rising . Then, she started to understand the situation little by little .
“As expected… . . it was Ibuki who stole my card”
“I can’t be any more stupid than Sudo-kun and others . And I’m usually the one who exposes the disgraceful behaviours”
She closed her eyes lamenting a situation I couldn’t do anything about .
“It’s not a trial where you should keep hiding for 24 hours . You can be open to attack”
I intended to follow-up with something else but it seemed like it made Horikita sad . She was too injured and in a state of total heartbreak .
“It could have been avoided if I knew how to rely on someone”
If you seriously wanted to protect the leader’s identity, you would have to rely on trustworthy people from the bottom of your heart . Doing so, people would have protected the existence of the card on a 24-hours basis . But Horikita had no friends who could have done it .
She looked miserable and she was coughing a little .
“When I was losing consciousness, I felt like I heard Ryuuen’s voice… . . That’s odd, he should be retired since long ago… . ”
“You were losing consciousness . Maybe you saw him in your dream”
“If it was really a dream, it would be even worse”
I wonder if she really heard Ryuuen’s voice . Even if she fell asleep and lost consciousness, her brain probably allowed her to wake her up by herself after she heard something . It’s no wonder that she unknowingly picked up Ryuuen’s voice .
While I was thinking silently, Horikita apologized .
“Why are you apologizing to me?”
“That’s because…there’s no else I can apologize to, except you”
Hmm yeah . It’s something that makes me think hard .
“If you think that’s bad, in the future try to make some reliable friends . Start from there”
“That’s difficult… . . nobody is willing to be my ally”
I laughed when I felt the signs of such a resigned masochism .
“It’s no use even if you laugh, it’s pitiful to make fun of someone”
“No, it’s not that . I think, deep inside you, you’re starting to feel that you need allies”
“Nobody said that… . . ”
The usual Horikita, now, would be insulting the other party but this time, there was another meaning to her words . The meaning included in her words was that of «exchanging and changing» oneself . Otherwise she wouldn’t have said «Nobody who is willing to be my ally» .
Still, it was not easy . Until now, nobody had any difficulties if he could change steadily and skillfully the way he was moving forward . Horikita’s vacant eyes seemed to be looking at someone else through me, rather than at me .
“Such a thing… . . I understood it since long ago”
You should not live alone in this world . Both school and society consist of a huge amount of people .
“Don’t talk . You’re sick”
I can persuade her to be quite but Horikita didn’t stop her repentance . However, for Horikita, there are no alternatives other than rely on nobody . And even if she saw a new one, she couldn’t choose it .
“With my own strength, I will rise to A class . I will surely recover from this failure”
Without strength, she grabbed my sleeve and made an impassionate appeal .
“I’m ready to be cursed by all the classes… . I failed to that extent”
“According to this school’s system, if you fight by yourself you can’t go up to A class . We need classmates’ cooperation at any cost . It’s inevitable”
She had no strength to keep her eyes open . So her eyes, in the end, shut . Horikita’s faint grasp on my sleeve, actually, made me feel strong .
“It’s impossible to admit . Regardless of how hard it is…… . . in the end…I am alone”
“Ahh Shut up . Stop talking . There’s no persuasive or convincing power in a sick person’s words”
I embraced Horikita a little strongly .
“You can’t bear heavy responsibilities . You’re not that strong . Sorry to tell you”
“You’re telling me to give up? I have a dream that my brother will recognize my dream to be in A class”
“I didn’t say that . You don’t have to give up”
I looked down to Horikita suffering and groaning a little in my chest and added these words .
“If you can’t fight by yourself, it’s better to fight with another . I will give you a hand”
“Why…… . ? You’re not the kind of person…who says such things…”
“Then, why not?”
It’s better for me to be intentionally vague . Shortly after, Horikita used up all of her strength and lost consciousness again . What I have to do now is carrying this out without being noticed by anyone . The easy choice would be to retire, but I don’t know which one is the emergency button on the wristwatch . If the helicopter is dispatched for an emergency, the sound will echo all around .
“I confused the road…it’s dangerous, dangerous . . ”
I was proceeding with the prayer to exit from the path but, unfortunately, I got out on a steep cliff .
Another step forward and I would have fallen . I tried to make light below . It seemed to be about 10 meters . Unfortunately, it looked like I was walking in the wrong direction . Anyway, should I retreat back to the original route? I tried to invert my direction slowly as to not to put a burden on Horikita, but right after ―――
Unluckily, the soil under my footing collapsed and I lost my balance .
If I were alone, I would have grabbed a tree branch and I would have stepped on it, but both of my hands were blocked with Horikita .
I fell . It was inevitable .
I curled up my body to protect Horikita but I tumbled down the steep slope at loss for what to do . For several seconds, I had the sense that I was flying . I can’t remember clearly what happened after I fell .
Should I say that it’s fortunate that it didn’t hurt Horikita somehow? I looked up to the sloped but with my state of still holding Horikita in my arms, it’s very unlikely for me to crawl up .
“I screwed up”
However, now it’s not the time to be stuck here . This time I will carry the still unconscious Horikita on my back and I’ll go forward with a single lightstick in the forest .
Rain came without mercy hitting my body and robbing away my physical strength . The heat that came from Horikita on my back is not usual . If she’s exposed to the rain any longer, it could be dangerous .
But, here, deep in the forest, there were no caves or other man-made shelters that people could use, so, there was no other choice but to rely on the power of nature .
Fortunately, the trees here were overgrown, and depending on the place, our bodies may stay relatively dry .
I looked around for big trees and then I moved us right under them . Of course, it was better than being directly under the rain, for the rich foliage prevented a lot of rain .
Gently, I left Horikita to lay down on the ground .
Her jersey most probably will get dirty, but this is something that we have to put up with at a time like this . I sat there putting Horikita’s head on my lap .
Here, there was some relief as the surrounding area is cool, however, the humidity was so high that it felt damp and hot .
Horikita’s condition wasn’t good . I feòt her trembling as she curled her body from the cold .
I embraced Horikita holding her close to my chest as much as possible, hoping that the burden would be eased a little bit and just waited quietly for the time to pass .
How much time had already passed, I wondered .
Horikita finally woke up being her usual fierce self but she seemed to be absent-minded or maybe she was unable to understand the gravity of the situation in which we were .
“How… Did you?… I… . ”
I wondered if she was temporarily confused, it looked like she didn’t remember what happened a little while ago .
I explained what happened . However, I was a bit doubtful whether she understood it all clearly .
“That’s what happened… I remembered everything, now”
“I don’t know how good this is . Since I can remember my mistake, I feel the worst”
If she could talk in such a self-deprecating manner, then, I was relieved for the time being .
“It’s almost six o’clock, Horikita . You might think that it is harsh, but you should retire . I guess your body is at its limit already”
She barely have come this far by pretending to be alright, but from now on this will no longer possible .
“I can’t do that . We can’t afford to lose 30 points, because of me… Wasn’t I, the one who confronted Karuizawa and the others who used our points, carelessly? It will make me look like a total fool…”
The penalty related to poor physical condition was severe . Speaking of the possible lost points alone, there were more than Karuizawa personally used .
She laid her arm bitterly over her own eyes, so that she could conceal the tears from her eyes .
“It’s not only that… The key card was stolen from me, too . You clearly understand what that means…?”
“D class will lose another 50 points . ”
Horikita nodded her head slightly . Then, D class would have just a few points left .
“Go back alone and leave me here . If we do this, at least for now, I will be the only one absent from the evening’s roll call . ”
“And, what are you planning to do?”
“By tomorrow morning… . I will somehow return alone to the camp . If I manage to surpass my bad condition during morning roll call, then for sure we will be able to do something about retirement, too”
So we could pass this through with a minus 5 points . That was the target .
“This situation isn’t so easy, you’re pretty weak right now, and the teacher in charge isn’t naive enough so that you get through this with a fake performance . Above all, it is impossible for you to get back on your own . ”
“Still, I have no other choice… So that some points remain in D class”
Aside from the key card case, there was still a possibility that we could protect some points in relation to roll calls and retirement . That was certainly not a small number .
Although Horikita was weak, I felt that behind her words, there was still some kind of an indomitable fighting spirit . She could stand all the strain on her own, but it seemed to be unbearable for her to involve others . Without saying a word, I rose up steadily, putting her head to rest on the base of the big tree . She really meant to set me free from this situation .
“I will leave you alone without hesitation, but if things go on like this, our classmates will blame you”
“… Yeah . That’s correct judgment . It was my responsibility and it’s all my fault . ”
Horikita praised my cold decision as being accurate . But she was just feeling ashamed of herself for growing weak . She embraced her trembling body to endure the cold .
It is hard when you are not dependent on others .
The weather was still stormy, and there was no sign that the rain or wind will end, soon .
“Can you really come back alone tomorrow morning?”
“Yeah… I’ll be ok”
“… . Horikita, do you really think that it’s alright not to retire in this situation?”
I blurted out unnecessary words .
“Of course I won’t… I do not have the option of retiring”
It was quite convenient to keep fighting with an indomitable fighting spirit, but then again, it had no meaning if you lost in the end .
“Hey . Why do you think we are driven to the corner, in despair?”
“My negligence brought mismanagement . That’s all”
“That’s not right . Not right at all”
Horikita Suzune fought as hard as she could . And tried to finish the test without failing .
“… . Please, go… . Because I think of you as a friend, this is my request… . ”
Horikita said this and suddenly pressed her lips .
“I am going to make it right . As, if it didn’t happen at all”
“No . I think this is the worst part of it”
“It’s alright . I… alone!… . ”
And when she suddenly stood up she shut her eyes again in pain . After all, it was a burden for Horikita .
“Please, go… . ”
When she finished her sentence, Horikita lost consciousness, again .
I gently picked her up, shifted my position to make her feel even a little comfortable, and then, when I stood up, I looked up at the unquenchable darkness and I let out a sigh .
“It would have been much easier, if you had retired by your own will”
This stubborn princess will not resign from the exams until the very end .
Splendid . Yes, I think it’s splendid . Your ideas and actions were almost right .
But, unfortunately, Horikita, there’s one thing that’s definitely wrong . Only now, this moment, let me tell you in all honesty .
I have never thought of you as a friend or an ally . I’ve never cared about you as a classmate . In this world, winning is everything . The process to do so, does not matter . I do not care what the cost is . I am totally fine as long as in the end, I have my victory .
You, Hirata and everyone else are only the tools for that .
It’s not my fault that Horikita was driven to this point . I just complied with it . So, don’t blame yourself, Horikita . What I mean is that you were useful to me .
I walked down the muddy road, while lighting up the flashlight . My shoes were already covered with mud, and the inside of them was flooded .
I don’t mind it anymore .
The first thing to do was to grasp an understanding of my location . When I went down the slope, without a doubt I drifted far from the base camp of class D . But I was sure if I turned the other way back, the distance to the shore should be way shorter . I can go through the woods that I’ve been walking for several days, relying on the map in my head .
“It was close, after all”
Eventually, I reached the beach . The ship was afloat and its lights were reflected in the sea .
Then, it took me a couple of minutes to return to the previous place and pick up Horikita who had been lying on the ground, without any strength left . Her beautiful face stained with mud . Although I lifted her up in my arms, there was no sign of her, regaining consciousness .
I took hold of Horikita and started walking towards the shore, instead of the base camp direction . I continued walking, the time was around 7 in the afternoon, when I barely managed to get there in time . The tents set up by the teachers were now folded so as not to be blown by the wind .
I went up the ramp on the pier and reached the deck of the ship . Then one of the teachers noticed my presence and ran up to me .
“You are prohibited from entering here . You will be disqualified”
“I have an emergency case . She got a high fever and now she is unconscious . Please, allow her to rest at once . ”
As soon as I explained the situation, the teacher skipped the instructions and brought a stretcher . I laid Horikita down .
“Is she ok with retiring?”
“That’s without a question . However, let me confirm something, please . Because it is not 8 o’clock yet, her roll call has no effect, right?”
It was fifty-eight minutes past seven, it’s almost certain that we are safe .
I must win the teacher’s promise, here .
“… Certainly . She is at the very limit, but you are out . ”
“I understand . One more thing . This key card, I have to return it . ”
I handed over the key-card from my pocket to the teacher .
“Well, then, I am going back to the exam”
I couldn’t stay here . I was going down at the beach again, in the rain . With this, class D would lose 30 points with Horikita’s retirement and I would end up losing 5 more points with my absence during roll call .