“‘The exam, in the afternoon, will be, a lot, easier’— My ass!”
Within the woods of the D Rank area were three students running.
Why you ask?
“If you have time to waste talking, then run!”
The answer is a simple ‘because they’re fleeing’. To which the next question then would be ‘from what?’
“Awawa! Hasn’t the number of footsteps increased!?”
And again, the answer is a very simple—from a troop of raybeasts.
If one were only to look at the topic of the afternoon exam, it was indeed a safe topic. It was so textbookish in fact, that the students of 1-D were actually disappointed.
“—I will be grouping you into three, and then you will go around and hunt the raybeasts in an area. The passing line is 15 crystals; size and quality doesn’t matter. The moment you are able to secure 15 crystals, the three members of the group will have passed the exam. You won’t get any points for gathering more than 15 crystals, so don’t waste your effort. Cooperating with the others teams is also strictly prohibited—“
There were probably people who thought gathering 15 crystals was a lot at first. After all, it sounded as if one has to defeat 15 raybeasts to secure 15 crystals. But in truth, one could get several crystals from a single raybeast, so the number of raybeasts that needed to be subjugated was much less than 15.
Moreover, D Rank raybeasts were weak. Even normal people wouldn’t lose to them unless taken by surprise. That’s why even students like them who lacked in many things could easily win a one-on-one fight. But only in a one-on-one fight.
“Increasing? I think they’re multiplying!”
“There’s so many of them in one place, the radar can’t see them all!”
The three members of Group 6 – named so for convenience – were currently being chased by a troop of monkey-type raybeasts.
These monkeys were no bigger than your average monkey, but they had no fur and no skin, only muscles. They were so disgusting that the three members couldn’t even look at them straight without wanting to puke.
The biggest problem of course was their numbers, as there were currently 60 monkeys chasing after them. Already, these monkeys looked like a tsunami on land.
If they could defeat them all, they’d have more crystals than they’d know what to do with, but this was a battle between 3 and 60. They could kill a few of the ones at the lead if they stopped and attacked simultaneously, but they didn’t have any follow up to that.
Strictly speaking, they had no time. These monkey raybeasts had fast legs, and the only reason the three of them were even able to outrun them was because they were using a physical reinforcement spell.
They could indeed stop and defeat the raybeasts at the lead, but they won’t be able to make it out in time before the raybeasts trample them underfoot. Of course, even then the actual damage would be far below than what the giant raybeast could inflict, so they could endure it if they just had an armor to protect themselves with, but…
“That bastard! Did he ban our protectors knowing it would turn out like this!?”
But of course, it’s precisely because they didn’t have that armor that they’ve been running around like this for awhile now.
“—Oh, right. You’re fighting some D Rank weaklings, so we need to give you a handicap. As such, I will be using my authority as your examiner to prohibit the use of your simple exoskeletons and personal weapons. Defeat those D Rank raybeasts using only your foster’s sword, shooter, or skill—“
They hated themselves for thinking it wasn’t much of a handicap. It was a common handicap in classes and they didn’t think much of the D Rank raybeasts. But then again, even if they’d complained, the handicap wouldn’t have been lifted.
“I said if you have time to complain, think of something!”
“Don’t be ridiculous! What are you even supposed to do against that!?”
“How about shooting behind while running to chip away at them!?”
“That’s even more ridiculous! You think we can maintain that at this speed!?”
It wasn’t exactly impossible to shoot behind them while running, but they weren’t used to running so quickly while hastened by their support skill.
If they looked behind them even for a moment, they wouldn’t be able to look at what’s in front of them. During that moment, they could very well trip on a stone or crash into a tree. It might sound stupid, but it’s no laughing matter for them. After all, they were running so quickly they didn’t have the leisure to look anywhere else but straight ahead.
Shooting behind without aiming was also a problem because the place they were running around in was actually an unthinkable location for running – that is, a forest.
Its many trees stood proudly in their way, and they had to use their only weapon to get rid of the obstructions while they ran.Since it wasn’t possible to use their weapons for two things simultaneously, aiming behind them would mean that they wouldn’t be able to remove the obstructing trees in front.
Because of that they’ve been running like this since entering the forest. They couldn’t even complain that they were tired from the morning exam as they were forced to play this game of cat and mice plus obstacle course, not even knowing when it would end.
If they stopped for even a moment, the only fate that awaited them was death in the hands of the cats (monkeys) chasing them. The fear of that and the continuous use of their body since this morning shaved away at their strength.
If they didn’t yell at each other, they wouldn’t be able to keep their sanity. The only reason they were able to maintain this situation was because they were made to fight that absurd monster in the morning. Compared to that the troop of raybeasts chasing after them from behind wasn’t as hopeless.
Even though this situation wasn’t really any different in that they couldn’t think up a plan and one step wrong meant a terrible injury.
“—Come on, are you really this stupid? I mean I guess people do tend to get pigeon-holed when driven into a corner, but…”
It was then that a dumbfounded voice followed by a resigned sigh resounded.
That voice belonged to none other than the man responsible for their predicament.
“You know, there’s three of you, so why not two deal with the trees, while the last guy behind shoots?”
“Ah,” the three students muttered simultaneously.
“You’ve also been moving in a straight line this whole time, right? In that case, you could jump to the sides if you want to flee. You could also break the trees around you and use them to obstruct the monkeys.”
After being told that, the movements of group 6 changed remarkably. They destroyed the trees around and made them fall behind them. The raybeasts behind stopped for a moment, and two of the three students used that opening to move ahead, while the remaining student rained energy bullets at the monkeys from his shooter.
The student knew that they were being chased, so even without aiming properly, most of the bullets still landed on the monkeys.Only a few of those at the lead were taken down, but like this, it was now only a matter of time before they got rid of them all.
And then all they’ll have to do is to trace back their steps and recover the crystals. Most of the crystals will probably have been crushed underfoot, but they just needed 15. Besides, the crushed crystals would just increase the number, so it wasn’t really a bad thing.
Although given how much they’ve exhausted themselves mentally and physically until that call, it was curious whether they could actually pull the plan off.
After group 6 had found a goal, Shinichi turned his attention away from the monitor.
“Once you can see the end, even if the end is still a long way ahead, the marathon becomes much easier. They look so different all of the sudden… Unfortunately for them, it’s not safe until they make it back.”
‘They’ll probably find themselves in another predicament,’ Shinichi smiled with conviction.
After all, the pseudo-monkeys weren’t the only raybeasts in the forest Group 6 was running around in. It was a bit cruel, but even if the exam was already a mess, it was still an exam.
“Hmm, Group 1, don’t fight your enemies one on one just because they also have three on their side. Group 9, if the sword doesn’t work, the normal bullets won’t either. It doesn’t matter how much you fire. Group 4, there’s a group of raybeasts to your 2 o’clock. If you rush in without thinking like you did earlier, I’ll give you a demerit. Group 10, if you can’t figure out what to do, shoot the crystals and move on!”
Shinichi, who was currently acting as the examiner of 1-D, was at the edge of the river. To be more precise, he was at the entrance of the forest, under the tree where he found the fruit from Garesto.
As he rested his back on that tree, he observed the progress of the exam through the many displays projected on the air in front of him. There were 20 of them all in all. Two screens for each group, one with a bird’s eye perspective and another with a different perspective. His foster was also feeding him information about the entire D Rank area, so in total, that was 21 screens.
“Get yourselves together, Group 7. What are you doing running away from an enemy like that? Group 2, keep that ‘ambush’ up, and I’m going to mark you for truancy.”
Shinichi observed the 10 groups through those screens while grading and guiding them. Sometimes he would give them advice or drop a hint and help them find a way through their predicament. Sometimes he would mock them to light a fire in them and get them to try harder.
Surely there’s no one who could look at this and still think that this was an ‘exam’. No matter how you put it, this was undoubtedly ‘training’.
“—You really have no intention of doing it ‘properly’, huh, Icchi?”
A girl fell from the tree and poked fun at that. She hid her mouth with her hand and laughed as she dangled from the tree upside-down. But even though she had sneaked in here without being seen, without making a sound, and without revealing her presence…
“It’s fine, no? It’s not like there’s anything to test this guys on when they just entered school two months ago. So it’s more efficient to just have them gain combat experience instead of giving them a normal test. By the way, you’re in the way.”
He treated her normally, shifting only the position of the monitor, so he could keep observing the class of 1-D.
For a few seconds, the laughing girl froze, and then yelled.
“…I went out of my way to make my entrance like this and you’re ignoring me!?”
She hid herself as well as she could, and yet this was the result. She wanted to surprise him by greeting while dangling off a branch, but he wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed.
“What do you want me to do? Tell you, ‘I thought you were a swindling fox, but it turns out you’re actually the neighborhood’s friendly bat.’ Is that what you wanted, Hina-senpai?”
“Uu, that’s so cruel! Our schedules couldn’t match up recently, so I finished my exam as quickly as I could just so I could meet you, and this is how you treat me!? You’re cold! You’re terrible! I won’t accept this! I’m going to sue!”
Shinichi’s words could also be taken to mean ‘I know your true identity’, which is why she was so taken aback. She calmed herself and put on a play of a crying girl, but Shinichi just smiled, as unreadable as ever. Like this it was suddenly hard to tell which one of them was doing the investigating and which one was being investigated.
“The latter half of what you said doesn’t make sense. But yeah. You’re supposed to be taking care of me, and yet you haven’t shown yourself lately.”
“Ufufu, everyone drives this girl too hard is why.”
The emphasis on the ‘shown yourself’ while smiling made her heart leap out. She knew that he already knew about the pictures, but she couldn’t understand why he was keeping quiet. It was especially troublesome because it was likely that he was just doing this because it amused him.
But if he really were intentionally saying dangerous just things to get a reaction from her, his reactions were too poor.
“Wow, I got such an uninterested ‘hmm’! You actually just have no interest in me, do you, Icchi!? Cruel, so cruel, even though you embraced me so strongly back then!!”
When she started monologuing about how he was just playing with her, Shinichi finally became dumbfounded.
“When did I ever do that? And besides, there’s plenty of things to be interested in with you. For example—”
“—You’re dangling from a branch, and yet your skirt hasn’t been turned up.”
Shinichi smiled peacefully as he pointed that out to the upside down girl.
Her school uniform’s skirt was short. It should have been turned up since she was dangling from a branch, but in actuality, it’s exactly the same as when she’s standing normally. How is her skirt able to defy gravity?
Myuhi was about to retort with a ‘that’s all!?’, but then she became thoughtful. This was how Shinichi usually was. She couldn’t afford to lose her cool here. If anything, she should use this and reply in kind.
“You want to know what’s going on with my skirt?”
She pinched the hem of her skirt and seductively whispered, but Shinichi’s rejection was curt.
Rejected as though he hadn’t the slightest interest in her, Myuhi pouted in displeasure and asked him in a reproachful voice.
“I’ve been wondering this for a while now, actually, but I suppose you don’t have interest in that sort of stuff?”
“My interest in those matters is indeed a little lacking compared to those of the same generation, but…”
She thought he’d merely be taken aback again or finally become angry from her pestering, but surprisingly, he actually replied normally, and then…
Those eyes of his that never really looked at her properly suddenly turned to her with a serious face unlike his usually clowning self.
“There’s no way I wouldn’t be interested.”
Myuhi was upside down, but when those eyes looked at her, for a moment, time seemed to stop, and in that timeless world, the boy’s fingers gently caressed her cheeks.
“That’s why if ever I want to know the answer, I’ll simply push you down and take it off myself.”
Then as he said those mysterious words – in the sense of whether he was serious or not – he touched her lips. Perhaps it was because she imagined him doing what he said or merely because a boy had touched her lips, but in the next moment, her face flushed red and she became flustered, fluttering her arms and legs vainly as she uttered incomprehensible things.
“Fu, eh, no, that’s, kyaa!?”
She was dangling from a branch, so naturally, if she moves her legs without thinking, she will fall. Fortunately, even though she was flustered, her reflexes still kicked in, and she was able to break her fall in time.
Her back ached a little, but it wasn’t that tall of a fall. The pain wasn’t as bad as she sounded like either. She was really just posing.
“A-Are you okay?”
If anything she was happy to see the boy worried for her, though she wasn’t sure whether this was an unexpected turn of events to be proud of or merely a turn of events so foolish that he couldn’t have even imagined it.
Sure enough when she took Shinichi’s hand and stood back up, he laughed at her.
“Fu fu, you’re a lot more innocent than I thought.”
There was no ridicule in his words. It even seemed as if he found her cute, but for some reason, Myuhi couldn’t let that pass, and she angrily bellowed at him.
“I swear! You keep pulling these stupid stunts, one day you’ll find yourself stabbed by a girl!”
It could be foolish passion or a simple case of sexual harassment. Either way his actions that treaded such dangerous lines were too frequent.
The person-in-question, however, didn’t seem to care, and just said it was fine.
“I’m always paying attention to my back, and I’m good with cutlery.”
“That’s what you mean by ‘it’s fine’!?”
“Besides, I haven’t done it to anyone other than you, Teacher Frire, or Ringlet Curls.”
“I know this is a bit weird coming from me, but those are the three famous people of the school’s top class, you know! Ability-wise, knowledge-wise! Yes, I know it’s weird I’m saying this myself, but still!!”
“Ahahaha, I see… Group 3, come back. Any further and you’ll be entering another group’s area.”
But as if none of that really mattered, Shinichi just chuckled and even gave an order.
She knew he was like this, but seeing how he did things at his pace so much more so than the character she was playing made her dizzy. No matter what crazy stunt she tries to pull off, he always does something crazier. Every time he would throw her into disarray and leave her exhausted.
“Good grief… So, what are you gonna do after you help the D Class kids gather experience?”
“What do you mean?”
That’s why she changed the topic. Though part of it was also curiosity.
Myuhi has seen the P.E. classes of 1-D since Shinichi’s transfer. Frankly, they were even worse than last year’s D Class. When she saw how Shinichi looked at them, she figured he likely shared her sentiments. That’s why she thought for sure Shinichi would just do the minimum required of him if he were made examiner. But unexpectedly, Shinichi actually started training them. She couldn’t understand it. Why would he train these hopeless kids?
“You’re not scheming anything?”
“Surely not. I genuinely just want them to improve. It makes me feel bad seeing people with talent make no progress despite their efforts.”
In other words, he was doing this purely for his own satisfaction. As for whether that was indeed the case or not, she wasn’t sure. It was probably one of the reasons, but that probably wasn’t all to it. It was also puzzling why there was a tinge of jealousy mixed in when he said that it made him feel bad.
“I see, but the kids from this year’s D Class are probably…”
“I beg to differ. Look, don’t you think they’re drawing some pretty good lines despite being amateurs?”
She couldn’t refute his statement. Instead, she found herself glued at the twenty monitors he pointed at.
First was confusion, the second, shock. The students that had been divided into groups of three were fighting against the raybeasts. Their movements were terrible as usual, and they struggled against D Rank raybeasts because of the difference in numbers and their inexperience, but… This was different.
“I was actually planning on using all three days. Sigh… This is why talented people are such a pain.”
Despite saying that, he didn’t seem troubled at all.
It was different. She had seen them during their P.E. classes. Back then they were ‘just moving’ for the sake of it, but now…
It’s only been roughly a month since Shinichi’s transfer, and though she only knew about these students because they happened to be there when she was watching him, she still saw their lessons up till yesterday, and they hadn’t made any progress at all. Just a group of amateurs that used their weapons without thinking, not knowing how to move their bodies or use their weapons.
But now… ‘Just what was this?’ She wanted to say.
“…What did you do, Icchi?”
That’s why she asked him that with a rare display of shock. But it couldn’t be helped, after all, the class of 1-D had ‘taken shape’ in an impossibly short time.
Even a dramatic increase in status wouldn’t allow one to graduate from being an amateur, as one’s movements still wouldn’t be able to catch up with a C Rank opponent.
But seeing these students now desperately fighting against the raybeasts, it was clear that the crudeness in their movements was gradually being refined. They’ve shaken off their habits of attacking thoughtlessly, and are earnestly watching the movements of the raybeasts in search of an opening.
Well, their movements aren’t actually as refined as that sounds, but compared to the 1-D class that Myuhi knew of, it was still an abnormal progress for a few hours of training.
“All I did was put them in a desperate situation and guided them a little. The rest is up to them to think— No, in their case, they just need to feel and move. There are people in this world that learn fastest when thrown into actual combat. Of course, I never actually expected that all of D Class would be like that,” Shinichi wryly smiled.
Although the students of 1-D still had crude movements, this was without a doubt an important step for them. It was because they didn’t know how to make this step that they couldn’t grow.
“You sure know a lot. Are you planning on becoming a great teacher in the future?”
“It was just a process of elimination. And I’d rather die than do something as troublesome as being a teacher. Something like a demon instructor would be more fitting for me, I say.”
“Fu fu, is there anything more troublesome than doing something like this? Sometimes I really can’t figure out what your standard for troublesome is, Icchi.”
“Isn’t is just a question of long-term and short-term?”
“Ahh, now that you mention it. Wait a moment, why are you talking like it’s someone else’s business!?”
“Who knows?” Shinichi played dumb. Myuhi was already starting to get tired. She was starting to feel like she’s just being toyed with whenever Shinichi bewilders her.
“Uu… Hmm? Ah, by the way, where is that amaryllis that’s always with you?”
“I needed some raybeasts sorted out.”
As he said that, he opened a 22nd monitor to show where ‘she’ was. On the screen could be seen a small figure easily throwing raybeasts several times its size. By throwing them to block certain roads, it was possible to guide the raybeasts that spawned in colonies.
“…Umm, where are you planning on sending those?”
“You’ll find out soon.”
She didn’t reply to him like that because he dodged her question, but because he suddenly distanced himself from the monitors and covered his ears.
In the next moment…
“Kyaa, something like a bear came out!!”
“What is that!? Why are there so many of them!!??”
“A giant earthworm!?”
““Wait, I can’t move anymore… I’m telling you it’s impossible!!”
“Enough already! We’ve already gathered 15 crystals, please stop!!”
“Why are the raybeasts appearing so frequently!?”
“T-there’s a giant cicada, and it’s… flying!! Noooooo!!!”
Myuhi had to hold down her ears when the screaming and yelling suddenly exploded. Their screams were so loud that for a moment she was actually left numb and blinking due to her heightened hearing.
The students completed their objectives, but none of them were able to relax, as an absurd number of raybeasts suddenly took them by surprise, leaving them screaming and running in confusion.
When Myuhi glanced to the side, she saw Shinichi being so proud of himself. If he’d intended this right from the start, then he’s a much craftier villain than she’d given him credit for.
“This demon instructor.”
“It’s my honor.”
Myuhi couldn’t even be bothered to throw a tsukkomi at the giggling Shinichi.