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Wednesday, April 6th. Spring is settling down and we have sunny days. I put up with the constant yawning and went out onto the paved road.
It was a little after eight in the morning. The street was still very quiet at that time. Usually, such a situation could be considered abnormal, but, as long as you consider the particularity of this place, you could immediately understand that it was not impossible.
This place was called Four Seasons’ Island, commonly known as Academy Island.
An artificial island built hundreds of kilometers southeast of Tokyo Bay. It was originally a small island built by the business sector to cultivate true elites, but a certain system they introduced has achieved results that surpassed the imagination of the world, and excellent graduates are constantly emerging. As a result, the number of people engaging in the program has increased dramatically, and it has become a metropolis with more than twenty school districts.
In fact, the total population of the island is now approximately one million.
It is said that almost half of them are students. To me, someone who has just arrived on the island, it is simply unimaginable.
“Today is the day before school starts, and only the opening ceremony is scheduled in the afternoon. Actually, people who are out at this time are rare,” I remembered the information recorded in the instruction manual.
I let out a slow sigh.
At that time I should have been sleeping late. Yesterday I went through the admission procedures, and I was planning to spend this day quietly. However, because it had been raining for the last two days, the boat to the island was delayed, so I did not arrive until ten o’clock at night on the 5th. And more time passed until the review of the island was finished.
I really didn’t want to go to school at that moment, so I planned to postpone my schedule one day.
As a transfer student, I also wanted to participate in the afternoon ceremony and other activities, so I had to take care of all the paperwork in the morning.
At that moment, I was on my way to Eimei Private Academy, a high school located in the fourth district of Academy Island.
In fact, I hadn’t finished with the moving procedures, so I stayed one night at the small hotel in the Fourth District. My destination was nearby, however, and I should have been able to find it if I kept walking a little longer. Although I think…I was a little lost.
I didn’t know which way to go.
And this island isn’t to be found on Google Maps. When I entered the island, I was told, “this device is fundamental in Academy Island”. I was told that I could use apps such as maps in the terminal they gave me, but unfortunately, due to my sleepy, dizzy state, I was not careful yesterday, and I do not remember a single thing they taught me.
At this age, I still get lost—just like a child… Ugh, it made me want to cry.
Just when I was down, a figure appeared in my field of vision. It was a student across the street. Looking at her uniform, it seemed to be different from the school I’m going to. Driven by the intrigue of having finally met the first villager (islander?), I decided to cross the road at full speed and talk to the girl.
“Uh? You called me? Are you all right?”
When she heard my voice, she turned around and tilted her head. It’s just that I couldn’t help but fall into a difficult-breathing situation. I think I ran too fast…
I found myself in a very unrealistic situation. In fact, she was a pretty girl. A dazzling red hair fell gracefully over her waist. Plus, she was looking at me with clearest-ruby-like eyes. Those eyes, which seemed to show elegance and inner strength, were nonetheless so pure that they almost felt bewitching.
Her appearance was rather beautiful than pretty. Whether you were a man or a woman, as long as you caught a glimpse of her, you would be fascinated. She had the slender body of a model. Also, the white thighs that were carelessly exposed under the uniform, although not in a miniskirt, were even more sensational.
Uh… have I seen her anywhere? Is there a record of her on the Academy Island’s home page?
For a moment, nostalgia took hold of my heart and made me frown. However, as a matter of fact, my latter thought was the right answer. Being such an eye-catching girl, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she were a tourism ambassadress of this island. Even if she simply had appeared on a news story, she was memorable enough.
“Um, sorry, are you okay? I’ll leave if you don’t need anything.”
“Ah—I’m sorry. No, I’m sorry. I need some help.”
When she turned to me in surprise, I was nervous and couldn’t think normally.
“Actually, I arrived on this island only yesterday, and I’m a little lost. Would you do me a favor and give me directions to the Eimei Academy in District Four?”
“Ah, that’s… Well, there’s no need for formality. You’re in the second grade, just like me.”
“Ah, is that so—eh? No, how did you know something like that?”
“There’s a function in the terminal allowing you to learn this kind of thing. It’s limited to basic information, though… You really don’t know anything? They should have explained to you how to use the terminal when you arrived.”
“Ah… That’s… They did. It’s just that my condition was not good enough to concentrate on the talk… I skipped the introduction course.
“Well, what were you doing…? It seems that now I’ll have to teach you. Anyway, can you get the terminal out?”
Encouraged by her gentle smile, I took the terminal out of my pocket again. I didn’t know how to start it, so the girl immediately took my hand and guided my fingers into the little depression at the top of the screen. By the freshness of her hand, I stopped thinking for a moment.
In the next instant, probably because my fingerprint was confirmed, there was a sound, and the terminal was started.
“Hey, you start the terminal this way. And the rest is almost the same as a smartphone.”
In front of me, she continued by kindly explaining. Although my face didn’t reflect it, my heart was quite moved.
“Look, do you see the blue icon in the lower right corner? That’s the map application. Although the details could be a little different, basically, you just need to think of it as Google Maps limited to the island.”
“I see… Had I known this from the beginning, I wouldn’t have gotten lost.”
“Who told you not to pay attention to the explanation?”
“You don’t need to state the facts.”
As I said it with a wry smile, the girl in front of me smiled immediately. How to put it? She was a good-hearted girl.
“Well. Then I should leave. I have to go shopping. You should take care too.”
Just as I was experiencing this little piece of joy, she opened her lips slightly and said that suddenly, then waved her right hand to say goodbye to me. Her actions were too beautiful, and I couldn’t help but want to stop her. But I desperately swallowed the words I was about to say, and simply thanked her.
In this way, I would part ways with the girl whose name I would not know until the end. It must have been like that.
Suddenly, there was a loud noise, so I did a one-eighty.
There is a unique element to Academy Island: almost sixty percent of the population is made up of students. Compared to Japan, it has very little car traffic. However, it is not completely zero. The work vehicles used in construction can be seen every day. That was written in the guide.
That was a truck.
In the center of my field of vision, in the direction the redheaded girl was heading, a large truck was accelerating.
Of course, we were both walking on the sidewalk, but the fact that it had been raining on the island the day before yesterday and yesterday crossed my mind.
After all, the rain delayed the boat for a long time and the roads were now riddled with puddles. At that moment, the big truck—symbol of reincarnation in another world (at least in light novels)—was about to pass by us, and it was clear what would happen next—
So I rushed over and grabbed her from behind to get her out of the danger zone in the least brutal way possible.
However… given the result, I was totally unnecessary. Because the moment I reached out my hand she was ready to change direction to the right to avoid the splash of the truck. And I gripped her hand from behind when she was unstable.
Two little screams overlapped. They were accompanied by the loud sound of splashing water and, finally, the sound of the rumbling of the truck’s engine as it drove away.
I opened my eyes, shaking. An unexpectedly exciting landscape appeared before me.
I had grabbed the red-haired girl by the wrist and pushed her onto the asphalt. Her whole body was soaked with water; her long hair stuck to her cheeks and neck; her white thighs, under her skirt, emphasized their existence; the white shirt that could be seen behind her uniform was also completely wet. Even if you say it politely, it was a terrible situation.
The girl tried to speak, not understanding what had happened. But, at such a short distance, she couldn’t but blush. What happened was probably too sudden, and her brain froze at first. But now the shame was finally reaching her heart.
And what I was thinking in my heart now was, ‘How…? What do I do? Oh, well! If I don’t explain it clearly…!’
…On the surface, I was merely solemnly looking at her, but my heart was already on edge.
For the moment, should I tell her that I tried to save her? No, it was very simple. A basic apology could have been counterproductive.
Then I should have to be a gentleman and lend her my clothes—that was not right! By doing so, I would have raised the question of what to do with her wet clothes. If I had said, ‘I’ll wash them and give them back to you,’ it would have become a scandal. So, what was I supposed to do?
“…Hey! How long do you plan to keep gaping like that!?”
When I was immersed in my thoughts, the girl, blushing, brusquely pushed me away… As a matter of fact, I had to get up from the beginning, whatever happened. Am I too addicted to thinking? Did I stay too much in my thoughts?
“Ha ha…” I laughed a little at myself, and the girl embraced her body for a moment and took a deep breath. After a few seconds, the previous friendly attitude was like a fake, and her light ruby eyes pierced me sharply as if they were about to shoot me.
“Answer me, was this an accident? Or was it all part of your plan?”
“Eh? No, no. What plan? What are you talking about? This was a total accident.”
“Are you sure? …Who knows. I mean, you don’t seem to be nervous at all. Looking back, it was a little strange from the beginning. Not only do you not know how to use the terminal that everyone should know how to use, but you’re also a student in District Four. And that district has conflicts with District Three… And, by the way, wasn’t that construction truck from District Four? If the truck were directly under your command, it would make sense.”
The girl put her right hand to her mouth and sank in thought… To be honest, I didn’t know where the truck came from or who it belonged to. But—but it seems that she had established a rather strange equation in her mind!?
“Oh, it’s not what you’re thinking!”
“Shut up, I don’t want to hear any excuses. I’m clever now… Your plan was to humiliate me, to violate me—you were going to take me by force. But better you know that this is not going to happen.
“Do you understand…? If a duel is what you want, I will accept it here and now.
“If you are really a student in Academy Island, come at me from the front and with your head up…!!!”
It seemed that she didn’t want to hear my reasons at all, and she was simply shouting at me in a very angry way. I was a little overwhelmed by her aura, but one word she said that I had never heard of awakened my memory in silence.
‘Duel’ is one of the many special systems that make of this academic island an elite training center. But before explaining what a duel is, it is necessary to understand another element.
… There is an evaluation called ‘star’ on Academy Island.
A performance evaluation, an absolute benchmark, a symbol of intellectual level… The understanding of this varies from person to person, but the point is that it is similar to a title. The target of the assessment are all high school students on the island; the number is about 150,000. They are divided into seven classes: from one to seven stars, corresponding to the equation “number of stars = level”, with different benefits to each.
Yes, that is, the island treats you differently depending on the number of stars. For example, even if you enter an arbitrary store on the island, there are restrictions on the services available determined by the level (stars). Students with many stars have priority for better transportation. The amount of (electronic) money paid to you at the beginning of each month is also determined by the number of stars.
In other words, simply changing the number of stars will greatly affect your standard of living, which is a very important element. This is the general understanding of stars by the people of Academy Island. (Quoted from the Four Seasons’ Island Enrollment Handbook).
Therefore—for this reason—students on this academic island have an immeasurable obsession with the stars. After all, rather than appearance, mind or talents, the number of stars is what determines one’s value. Adding a star will get you into the upper class; conversely, if you lose a star, you will fall into the same position as the guys who have been despised.
This is a venturous system that does not hesitate to forcibly foster a sense of competence, class consciousness, and self-motivation.
World opinion on this is mixed (some against, some in favor), but the rise of outstanding Academy Island graduates is also due to this star system. This fact is beyond doubt.
There are three conventional ways to get stars.
First, each student will be rewarded according to their grades and other assessments at the time of admission or promotion.
Second, they are paid as rewards at large-scale events that are held on an irregular basis.
The last one is the most important, convenient, and fast, and the frequency of occurrence is much higher than the two previous methods: we are talking about duels.
It is a game of star hunting in which students compete for those of others.
The value of stars at Academy Island is very high, so the importance of dueling has increased as well.
Knowing this, she deliberately said, ‘If a duel is what you want, I will accept it here and now’. She seems to be quite confident…at least confident enough not to consider the possibility of defeat.
I sighed while thinking about it… I just transferred to the academy, so I didn’t have any chance of winning. Although I know the general content, I didn’t even know how to start a duel. No matter which way I looked at it, there was nothing to do. But…
“Hey, you, can you hear my explanation once this duel is over?”
“Huh? Explanation…? Ah, you thought of a splendid excuse? It doesn’t matter. Anyway, I will win.”
“Well, that’s it.”
As long as she could keep that agreement, it didn’t matter if she beat me.
I accepted her duel, feeling helpless.
…According to the girl, it seems that the request for a duel can only be initiated by the interested party.
I didn’t even know how to initiate the terminal, but I could immediately understand how to make the request for dueling. That’s because there is an icon in the center of the terminal’s home page—the most visible position.
I clicked on the icon and selected the ‘Duel’ application and a message ‘Searching for nearby terminals…’ appeared on the screen. A few seconds later, a terminal was registered. Unknown level, unknown owner, and it seemed impossible to obtain advanced information from opponents with higher level—all the information was unknown, but, based on the coordinates, it must be her terminal.
I followed the terminal’s instructions step by step and successfully completed the application for the duel with the girl.
“Right, I accepted it. Hey, but… Uh.”
She just looked at her terminal and remained silent. And, after a while, she finally raised her head and looked at me in surprise. She seemed anxious for some reason. Then, suddenly, she moved the corners of her mouth and finally opened her lips:
“It shouldn’t be necessary to explain at this point… but, in a duel, the one with lower level decides the content of the game. It is so that the challengers have certain advantages. And, despite this, you… Wow, you’re underestimating me!”
“Are you still going to play dumb? Look, the request you sent is blank. You’re practically saying, ‘anything is fine, I’ll beat you at any game.’ You know, I haven’t encountered such provocation in a long time.”
No, really? I just clicked on the terminal, and the application casually filled itself out?
On the surface, I was immutable and sure of myself, but inside I was desperately looking for excuses. But she seemed convinced that I deliberately left the contents of the duel blank, just to provoke her.
Well, there was nothing to be done, whatever it had to be.
“If that’s what you think, leave it as it is. So, what exactly are you going to choose for the content of the duel?”
“Don’t think so big of you…! Well, wait a bit, I’ll choose the content right away,” she spoke in this insufferable way, and looked away in disgust.
The content of duels on the academic island can be basically anything. There is always a monitoring system in the terminal, so unfair or dangerous elements will be automatically filtered out; for the rest, any element is applicable for a duel.
For this reason, most duels adopt original rules that have been adjusted in one’s favor.
…About three minutes later, the duel she proposed was precisely of this type.
“‘Improved, turn-based edition of staring contest’?”
“Yes… Do you understand? This game is just as its name suggests. It’s an improved version of the staring contest game. In the normal staring game, it’s ‘loses the first one to blink’, but this is ‘loses the first to change expression’. That is, regardless of whether it is happiness, anger, pain, or anything else, whenever a certain emotion appears on the face, it will be judged as defeat. The terminal has an expression monitor that will register the defeat if the previous scale exceeds a certain value. This is approximately the rule.”
“Ah… I see. So, what about the ‘turn-based’ part?”
“That’s just as it sounds. You and I will alternate rounds. For example, if it’s your round now, no matter what expression you wear, you won’t lose. You can try making faces or with a funny trick, as long as you can change my facial expressions… Well, it’s like an offensive turn, in short. We alternate roles every minute.”
In contrast to her irritated aura, this content was quite nice. No, quite interesting. Staring contest (improved version). It was okay to laugh or cry during your turn, you just had to try to make your opponent’s expression change.
“Got it. Then, hurry up and start the duel.”
“Eh… Is it okay? You don’t have to start a skill?”
Another word that I didn’t know popped up.
Anyway, should I ask her first? I think so, but as time went by, the number of passers-by increased, and now in my heart, I just had the feeling of, ‘hurry up and let it all be over’.
So I nodded softly.
“Ah… Never mind, it’s okay.”
As soon as I said it, the redhead had a violent reaction. She was shaking in anger, her ruby eyes staring at me fiercely.
“Hey, hey… Aren’t you going to activate some skill? That will put you at a disadvantage. Do you think you can beat me easily? Without using skills? Hey…”
…Ah, was it wrong to say that?
“Ha ha ha. I get it. That’s enough. That’s enough. So, start the game the way you want to. I definitely want you to regret underestimating me!”
When the girl raised her right hand to proclaim that, the terminal made a slight click sound, the interface changed and the message ‘Duel Started’ appeared. The screen of the terminal in her hand got bigger and projected behind her. What was projected was a wide range of information, such as two avatars representing the players, the remaining time of the round, and the scale of the expression monitor.
“Oh, oh… Looking at it is better than hearing of it. It’s really amazing.”
I couldn’t help but sigh at the performance effects of this digital game. As you would expect from the technology on the academic island, which is much more advanced than that of the outside world. Although I wanted to admire this feature, unfortunately, it was not the time to do such a thing.
Judging by the information displayed on the projection screen, it seemed that I was on the side of the first hit.
“Then it’s your turn. It will automatically shift every minute. There is no notification or reminder. Keep an eye out for the turn change,” the girl whispered quietly with a very natural expression.
After all, she was the person who chose that game. Of course, I was pretty confident about controlling my own emotions, but I didn’t want it to last too long. The game would never end if we resisted each other.
In front of me, who was thinking about what to do, the girl suddenly spoke:
“Well, even though I was the one who set the turns to last a minute… Numerical Manipulation Lvl. 7 (stars): Advantage! Reduce the opponent’s time to a tenth!”
The moment the redheaded girl screamed at the top of her lungs, the information projected from the terminal changed quickly and changed the turn time in the avatars of both of us. The top limit of my remaining time was suddenly reduced to six seconds—hey, six seconds!?
“Hey, isn’t this too unfair!?”
“…? What are you talking about? It’s not unfair at all. It’s better to say that this is the norm. Isn’t this the purpose of skills in general…? Although I don’t know why you don’t set up your skill”.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to set it up, I just didn’t know how to set it up. I was silent without saying anything.
Shortly after a faint sound was heard, it was her turn. Of course, she didn’t have just six seconds, but a full minute. What a great injustice!
If she had more time than I did, there was no way of knowing what would happen, but it was only the first rounds…
“Too naive! Creation: Thin Blade!”
As soon as the girl’s voice sounded, an unimaginable situation unfolded in front of me. The terminal in her hand gently vibrated, flexed, and shifted in shape. And a few seconds later, the terminal no longer looked like a smartphone, but became a thin sword.
“You, you… What is that—how can you do that!?
“Of course…it’s the skills. The skills registered beforehand can also change the shape of the terminal. Well, this skill is difficult to initiate, but… Oh, why aren’t you running away?”
“Yes. It’s time for you to realize that this won’t be as easy as you thought.”
When she finished speaking, the girl with the sword in both hands broke into my tranquility with a smile. ‘Why?’ This question came to mind for a moment, but it was actually very simple: as long as she were able to change my expression to some extent, she would make me lose, and it didn’t matter if the expression was one of horror or dismay. That sword had no lethal power (I hope so), but just seeing its sharp edge, I could no longer keep my mind at ease.
My reaction was to avoid the approaching sword and begin to think quickly. Although I didn’t know how sophisticated the terminal’s facial expression monitor was, I had been told that I could be out of the game with just a sigh. Also, the time I could relax was only six seconds after every turn for her.
This—what kind of horror game is this!? Damn it…!
At this point, I had had enough to realize that there was nothing I could do about it.
The redheaded girl that I accidentally provoked seemed to be an incredible swordswoman, much more familiar with duels than I was, and from the beginning I feared that she was quite famous. The fact that all the people who passed by had stopped from the beginning was proof. Among the crowd, there were also people who expressed a mixture of admiration and respect for her. With the role of the bad guy in this classic scene, the situation could not be worse for me.
…Well, I would have to give up as soon as possible.
With how furious she had become at the thought that I didn’t take her seriously and the crowd growing by the minute, if I continued to play this, I think it would have only become my public humiliation spectacle.
A certain unexpected event that unfolded there made my thinking stop.
The siege from the girl stopped all of a sudden. Clearly there were almost twenty seconds left in the round, but she walked away from me for some reason and lowered her head slightly, looking around as if she were afraid of something. After a period of time when nothing happened, it was my round again.
I made use of the time to regulate my breathing… But the anomaly didn’t stop there.
“Um… Uh, uh…”
In terms of the face, she remained calm, but the girl began to get restless as she panted… Indeed, no matter how you looked at her, her demeanor was very strange, as if she were trying to hide something. Her ears, seen through her wet hair, were already completely red.
“…Uh…so, it’s my turn!”
Under the influence of ‘Numerical Manipulation’, my round lasted an instant, but I didn’t feel the anxiety I had before. Because her movements had obviously become slow. After she stopped swinging her sword, she put her right hand on her chest as if covering her body.
Ah… I see, could it be that…?
After analyzing up to that point, I finally realized ‘it’ and raised my head.
She probably got anxious about the appearance of her clothes, which were totally soaked. At first, since I was the only one here, she got mad and proposed a duel. But as time went by, her shame grew when she saw that more people were coming.
In fact, it has only been a few minutes since the puddle incident, and it was difficult to judge whether her clothes were decent to the eyes of others.
Rounds continued to alternate, the audience continued to grow, and the feeling of shame increased as well.
But then, after the end of her fourth round…
She lowered her head and her shoulders were shaking non-stop—suddenly, she sank her sword into the ground as if it were unbearable and then she squatted, her face red as a tomato, with her sword to block the view of the public.
“I’ve had enough!!” Her painful voice reverberated all over the place.
Just by looking at her face, you could see her shame… It was to be expected that this would meet the condition of the terminal’s facial expression monitor to determine the outcome.
…🔊: “Beep. It has been confirmed that Saionji Sarasa’s expression changed. The final condition of the duel has been fulfilled. From now on, ownership of stars will be transferred from Saionji Sarasa to Shinohara Hiroto,” an inorganic voice came from our terminals; it seemed that the duel, which was neither long nor short, was over. Was Saionji Sarasa the girl’s name? Why did I feel that I had heard a surname like that elsewhere? But, more importantly…
I won…? Won’t this increase her resentment towards me? Why did I win? You idiot! It shouldn’t have ended like this…
Due to the outcome of this shocking duel, I could not clear my mind.
To be honest, the outcome of my victory in the duel was unexpected. I was even thinking of different ways to declare my defeat.
The audience, which had been silent and scared until now, suddenly became noisy.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait!”
“False? Is it false? Did Saionji really lose!?”
“This…this…! This kind of thing is impossible…! No, Sarasa-sama really lost to that kind of person!? No!”
“Are you blind? She lost. Although I feel incredibly annoyed, that’s what just happened. What a shock…! I didn’t expect the Empress to be defeated at the beginning of the new semester. Who could have imagined this story? Who is this guy!? Who is he!? Is he the hidden trump card of the Fourth District?”
“Huh?” I couldn’t keep up with their growing enthusiasm, tilting my head in confusion. Judging by the intermittent information, she seemed to be a high-ranking person? But still, why was the atmosphere so fervent?
In other words, if the commotion is left to continue, I fear it will be overwhelming. Anyway, this is a misunderstanding, and the result is something that happened by accident. That’s a good reason why this game doesn’t count.
Nodding slightly, I walked over to the girl who was still squatting.
The girl who immediately raised her head, taking a threatening attitude, had a very pale face. The shame she had shown so far disappeared without a trace, and she looked at me with piercing eyes. Remorse, anger, self-loathing and other emotions mixed in her face. Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried to speak.
The meaning and reason behind this were difficult to understand. But, at least, this was definitely not the expression someone would show by losing a star. But I could not really take the initiative to ask why she was in such an alarming state.
“…Get out of the way,” the girl who had been looking at me angrily finally spoke up. She stood up silently, then turned around, taking ghostly, aimless steps.
What…? What do I do…? What do I do…?
The situation seemed, without a doubt, my fault, but I didn’t know what to do. What happened? What happened? Why was she crying? The chaos and hesitation caused a mess in my mind… Could someone tell me the reason behind her attitude…?
As if someone had read my mind, a black car stopped in front of me. An old gentleman in a black suit got out of the car with a soft smile.
He held his right hand in front of his chest, bowed his head deeply, and said in a slightly hoarse, pleasant voice:
“You’re Shinohara Hiroto sama, I presume? The school principal has been waiting for a long time. I will take you there, please get in the car.”
Ten minutes after getting into the deacon-looking old man’s car, I was driven to the site. Of course, I was still in school.
Eimei Private Academy: is a huge school located in District Four of Academy Island, composed of elementary, middle and high schools as well as universities. It has a total of almost twenty thousand students. The ranking system, which grants various rights, has also remained at the top. According to the Four Seasons’ Island manual, the school style of this academy is relatively relaxed, but at the same time it is an elite group with persistence in duels.
And I was in the center of the Eimei Academy: the Principal’s room.
I was taken to this room, where a beautiful woman was sitting on a soft yet imposing couch. Suddenly she sighed deeply.
“Really… Really… Oh, my goodness. You’re giving me a lot of trouble on the first day…
Hearing these depressing words, I slowly raised my head. No matter how you looked at her, she was not in a good mood. But, even so, I could not ignore her.
The current Principal of the Eimei Private Academy and the Director of the Fourth District of Academy Island is this woman: Ichinose Natsume.
There was only one word to describe the woman in front of me reading through a pile of documents: mature. This black-haired beauty was wearing an office suit. She wore a short tight skirt, but crossed her legs indifferently—she was both beautiful and playful.
However, if I were to give my first impression of her, I’m afraid it was none of the above.
How should I put it? This person is very fierce, and I can feel a strong aura of sadism from her body. If humans were to be divided into two categories—predators and prey—then they would inevitably place her in the first category.
Actually, this was not the first time I had met Principal Ichinose. This person seemed to be hiding some purpose when she invited me last month, when I was still studying at a local school, to come to Academy Island. I also saw her several times during the subsequent entrance exams and the issuance of the island’s permit.
So this person was really the first one I had to visit today and the only one I could trust, since I had no other acquaintances on this island.
“Hey… By ‘problems’ you mean the duel of now?”
“Yes. So, first I want to hear your reasons. Why did you do that?”
“Oh, the truth is that there is no particular reason, it just turned out that way… But will this really become a big problem? Duels on Academy Island are rather common, aren’t they?”
“You’re right, but that’s said of normal duels. Unfortunately, this duel is not the case.”
As if there were something in the words, the school Principal deliberately raised the corners of her mouth.
“Listen carefully. Right now, you incurred a terrible taboo. This is not a momentary commotion, but an important event that will shake the whole island.”
“Eh? No, no. How is this possible?”
“I’m serious. Come and have a look.”
Principal Ichinose took a document off the glass table and threw it at me. Feeling perplexed, I moved my eyes to look. Look… Huh?
“Of course it’s true… Let’s understand the situation a little. You got lost on your way to this academy in the morning and then you met a girl. You were so miserable that you made her fall into a puddle. You were fascinated to do some ‘seemingly accidental’ sexual harassment practices on her, then you forced her to have a duel, and finally you won… Those are the reports I received.”
“It feels like the details have been maliciously modified, but the result is completely the same.”
“If the result is the same, then there’s no point in dwelling on it. Well? As I said before, winning the duel is not a problem in itself. The practice of challenging others to win stars is very welcome in this academy. But… the opponent you chose this time is something ‘special’.”
Her sour voice echoed in my ears, and I looked at the information again.
This information contained photos of the girl who had just confronted me, as well as a shocking and surprising profile.
“Second year high school student belonging to Sakura Academy in district three. Her entrance exam score is the highest in history. Last year, she was the only seven-stars king’s landing in the first grade. Many people gave her the title of ‘Empress’, either out of fear or out of respect. Since she enrolled in school, she has never lost a single star and has won every battle so far. She is the absolute queen in the literal sense of the words. This is the girl named Saionji Sarasa.”
“And not only that… By the way, don’t you even react when you hear her last name? Saionji’s family is descended from the founder of Academy Island, and his grandfather, Saionji Masamune, the head of the island, is the current president of the world famous Saionji Group.”
“That…that guy…has something to do with me?”
“Yes, that’s the case. And next is the biggest problem… the head of the island, Saionji Masamune, is known for his very severe character. For better or worse, he is a man of great pride. He will definitely do something to save his granddaughter’s appearances.”
“So you don’t understand… Listen, although I think you are aware too, you are a nobody. I opened the back door for you so that you could barely pass the entrance exam, and you pay me back by getting a meager star. So you’re a terrible student! Better said, a scumbag! And now, in view of all the people… you beat up Miss Saionji and made her cry without mercy! You even had the nerve to steal her stars! Ha ha ha! If I inform him about this honestly, something terrible will happen. You will definitely suffer from his anger.”
She mocked with pleasure for some reason and calmly shifted her leg. And I couldn’t even say a decent line in my defense… Is he really that scary?”
“So… you’ll kick me out of school instantly?”
“Kick you out? …How could that be possible? I would do no such thing.”
“Ah? Cool, I won’t get kicked out. So, I can feel relieved for the moment…”
“No, no. I don’t think this is the time to be relieved.” The school Principal sighed and continued, even though I was unable to understand: “Actually, the committee is now discussing how to deal with you.”
“Ah, the committee is the collective body of school district directors. As long as Saionji Masamune, the formal chairman of the committee, does not intervene specifically, it can be said that the board is the only superior leadership agency on the island. As a result, as long as these people can be silenced, whatever happens, problems can be solved, so leave this matter to me for now.”
The Principal smiled, stood up, and walked gracefully to the table by the wall. There was a desktop computer on the table; from my position you could see that there were many video calls interfaces on the screen—a web conference.
The school principal put her index finger to her lips to tell me to keep silent and then turned on the microphone.
“Oh, I kept you waiting for a long time. Here is District Four.”
🔊: “Too slow. You’re too slow. What the hell have you done with the criminal?”
🔊: “That’s right. The problems occurred at the beginning of the new semester. I think we need to take care of this quickly.”
🔊: “Anyway, the kid is unknown. The students still don’t know the name of the person who defeated the Empress.”
“Well, of course that’s the case. After all, that student is a transfer student. The formal procedures have not yet been completed. Even if they search the island’s database, they cannot find his information.”
🔊: “Transfer student…? Speaking of transfers, I had heard that a transfer student was arriving yesterday.”
🔊: “So who the hell is the kid? Don’t hide anything and quickly clear this up.”
🔊: “If President’s mood becomes uncontrollable, no one will be safe. You know that too, right?”
“I know, of course I know. Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything… In short, the student at the center of this problem is called Shinohara Hiroto. I’ll leave out the details. As for the duel with Saionji Sarasa, he won fairly.”
🔊: “Ah… So, are the rumors true?”
🔊: “Since he just arrived on the island, his level must be very low, right? If the heiress of Saionji house is defeated by a mere stranger, there will be big problems.”
🔊: “Information about the ‘fall’ of the Empress has spread… We should almost decide how to act now, right?”
“That’s right. But, in fact, I have good news for you,” the school principal said this with a warlike smile, and suddenly extended her right hand to cover the camera attached to the PC with her index finger and turned off the microphone at the same time, temporarily cutting off contact with the committee.
Then she turned to me with the same belligerent smile as before.
“Shinohara, let me give you two alternatives.”
“Exactly. Both can solve this to some extent, and there’s no problem in which one you choose. However, the result of this choice will greatly impact your future life, so you should at least give yourself the right to choose wisely. And with responsibility, of course.”
“It’s okay, I understand. So, please.”
“Well, that’s a good answer. So, the first one is to put all the blame on you.”
“…Huh? No, that’s not a way to avoid this situation…”
“That’s right, and that’s because you need to work on responsible methods. For example—I know: make up that you are closely connected with the underground organizations around the Eighth District. Shinohara Hiroto will be considered a member of an organization to defeat the Saionji family. The key is illegality. Of course, you will be investigated by the police, and the duel will be considered invalid.
“Although it seems like I’m saying something cruel, I think this is the easiest way out between the two options.”
“Um… What about the second one?”
“You’ll have to become a seven-stars.”
“What?” I couldn’t help but make a dumbfounded voice at the Principal’s proposed plan, which was far beyond my expectations.
“To become a seven-stars? I can’t understand this at all.”
“Hmm. Did you hear what was said at the meeting just now? This incident is bad, in short, because it damaged the image of the Saionji family. The inner relationship may be a little diffuse, but the main problem is that you are a nobody. If she loses to an opponent of her own category, the president has no reason to take sanctions. So, become a worthy rival of the Empress, and no one will be able to question your actions.”
“Wait, wait. I understand, but…I mean, can you do this kind of thing? Seven stars is the strongest level a person can reach in their entire life on Academy Island. I am afraid that others will strongly oppose such an irregular artificial creation of a seven-stars.”
“No, you’re right… It’s better to say you made a mistake.”
I responded quickly, but Principal opened her mouth again.
“The Academy Island Star Hunting System is very robust. Originally, to prevent foul play, it has been configured with such high security that even the authority of the committee cannot be used. In other words, the level is determined at the entrance exam stage. If you get a single star, you’ll remain in that no matter what you try. There is no point in looking for a way to go around the circle; if you want to get more stars, you can only win plenty of duels.”
“So, the point is that I can’t become a seven-stars overnight, right?”
“I said ‘originally’, right? This is a special case, you understand? You won a duel against Saionji before. You should have won a star from her, right?”
“Ah. True, I did.”
That’s right. Duels on Academy Island move a star from the loser to the winner.
Following the Principal’s instructions, I tried to read the terminal’s personal information screen. There were several types of information on it, including name, age, gender, school I belong to, and my star level information. The latter told me that I had a star. Before the duel, I was a zero-stars. But…
“Hmm…? Ah, what happened to this star…does it have a glitch?” I said, puzzled, and let the Principal look at the interface of my terminal… The star I won from the girl named Saionji was shining red for some reason. It was the same as her ruby eyes—a beautiful color, but not the color that stars should have.
In response to this question, the director slowly shook her head with a bold smile.
“No, it’s not a mistake. That is a different star from the countless ordinary stars. The island has confirmed the existence of more than a dozen special stars, the colored stars (unique stars).”
“Well, to put it simply, they are ‘special stars’. The count is the same as for ordinary stars, but the colored stars have something like special codes… But, in any case, let’s leave that topic aside for now. What is important is not the general characteristics of colored stars, but the special effects that the Red Star has. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘red’?
“Red? Oh… Tomato sauce.”
“Thank you for your surprisingly cute and boring answer, but it’s totally wrong. The effect of the Red Star is to be able to tell a lie. Isn’t it an ingrained idea that bright red is related to lying?”
“Telling lies?” I couldn’t help but ask her like a parrot.
Principal continued as she changed the posture of her legs wrapped under her tight skirt:
“Well, to be more exact, it’s the effect of making the lie true over the database, probably that’s all. As I said before, the Star Hunting System on Academy Island is basically inviolable, but the owner of the Red Star can change one of many data. For example…you can change your height to 185 cm. Although it’s just data; it will never happen in real life.”
“Why do you think of me as someone who is obsessed with height? I really don’t understand… But could it be said that this effect is used to lie to the system?”
“Yes, it is used for deception. Nothing prevents you from becoming seven-stars by modifying the data. If the terminals cannot be connected directly to each other, it is impossible to investigate the real level of the others. In other words, as long as you modify the data to ‘seven stars’, it will look like that from the outside.”
I felt that things were getting bigger, so I kept looking for arguments to refute.
“If I say ‘I became seven-stars right after I transferred’… in general terms, wouldn’t that be strange? The effect of the Red Star is to lie, but when others connect things, won’t the lie end up being exposed?”
“That kind of thing won’t happen. The Red Star has transferred to you. You may be investigated, but the system will show what you want to be shown. Your lie will not be detected.”
“Hey, is that so?”
“Well, after all, until Saionji Sarasa became the owner of the Red Star, the Saionji family had kept it hidden for a long time. And don’t worry, she won’t say anything. Because, if she does say something, she will have to accept that she lied too.”
“Really?—Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh? Why do you know all this?”
“Of course it’s because I also owned a special star. Although it was a long time ago, when I was a student.”
“…” I chose to remain silent… ‘Red Star’. The ‘lying’ star that can fool the island’s system. Using this effect, I could become seven stars: the same level as Saionji Sarasa.
“In short… will I be a false seven-stars?”
“That’s right. No matter how much they examine the data, it will only show your seven-stars level. The guys in the rankings won’t be able to find out whether this is true or faux. As long as these people don’t discover the Red Star, your life as a seven-stars on this island will become a fact. Of course, the Saionji family also knows the effect of the Red Star, but in the final analysis your lie is very desirable to them. As long as you do not ruin it by yourself, the other party should not interfere. So, this is the second option. Well… this will be said: ‘A legendary genius scored the highest score in the history of Academy Island on the entrance exam~. He’s also the fastest student ever to earn seven stars’. How about that, does that sound convincing?”
I was standing in front of the Principal’s tempting gaze. I was silent and thinking.
…I was given two choices. As the Principal said, this was, in fact, a major point of divergence.
If I chose the first, it was possible that this matter would end without problems, but, as a price, I could not return to Academy Island; that is, I would have to say goodbye to my life here forever.
And the second was to make the island fear my lie.
There are over two hundred thousand students on Academy Island who participate in star hunting. Clearly, a fake would be a bad thing and would earn me the hatred of the students. On the other hand, I won a duel, so maybe they wouldn’t dig too deep.
But…if the lie was exposed, the sanctions I would face would definitely be more serious than any others.
“But, still, even if you want to solve this without telling lies, you still have important goals to achieve, don’t you? Didn’t you come here for a specific goal? Of course, the choice is yours. However, if you give up here, you may never see her again.”
“Does that mean I was caught in your trap?”
“You think so? I never predicted that all this would happen, but, after all, I brag about being a calculating woman. Lies, accidents, problems and everything you can cause, I’ll use it to my advantage,” Principal smiled slightly and said it half as a joke. But, in fact, there was no joke in her words.
Yes…I had a purpose, a reason to leave normal high school life and come to this island. I have a person I must meet again.
Everything is under the Principal’s control, although I am very upset with this feeling of being her pawn…
Well. Still, it doesn’t matter. The Principal has her purpose and I have my purpose. If Principal wants to use me, I’ll use the Principal too—no, I’ll just make the most of the situation. At least for now, the fact that I could stay on the island seemed to be of interest to the Principal. Let me make the most of this.
…Fortunately, I am very good at acting.
To hold onto this peaceful school life until the end, I would have to completely deceive everyone on the island.
So I took a deep breath. The Principal, seeming to have predicted my response a long time ago, lifted her legs sensually with joy. That was not something a teacher had to do. So, I responded with all my strength:
“I understand, I’ll be the greatest liar in history!”
NT: Chronologically, the prologue occurs here.
🔊: “Ha ha ha ha ha! You’re amazing! Ha ha ha ha!”
After the opening ceremony held in the District One activity room, I quickly fled the scene, and now I am heading to District Four while using the terminal to talk to the principal… But she is only making fun of me.
🔊: “Ha ha ha… Oh, you are really something! I didn’t expect you to act so conspicuously.”
“I really don’t know if you’re bragging about me or making fun of me.”
🔊: “Of course I’m congratulating you! Isn’t this cheering you up from the bottom of my heart? The person who turned you into a seven-stars was me, and I was the one who succeeded in getting the recognition from the council, but in just a few hours you created a great image! It’s really amazing! Your performance is perfect!”
“I’m very grateful for the compliment…”
🔊: “Are you being sarcastic? Ah, well, I don’t care. I have something to tell you. After I sent you to the ceremony site, I made some minor adjustments. There are some things I have to inform you about, but it’s a little dangerous to tell you on the phone. Let’s wait until you return to the dormitory.”
“I see…Hey, where do I live? Moving procedures were originally scheduled for today.”
🔊: “Ah~. Then, you don’t have to worry about that. I’ve prepared a dormitory for you and sent the coordinate information to your terminal. Use the map application so you won’t get lost.
“Then, goodbye…” The director cuts off the call after leaving this message.
With a short sigh, I stretch my finger towards the screen to operate the terminal. Before opening the maps application, a notification appears at the top of the terminal screen. It seems to be the notification of the latest news from “STOC”, the island’s SNS.
If it were something average, I wouldn’t mind at all… But this time I will read it carefully.
The news sent to my terminal show additional titles including ‘morning duel’ and the content of today’s speech: ‘The invincible Empress has finally fallen’!? This text is placed at the top of the page in a large font. The main text enthusiastically describes the fact that someone from the Saionji family was defeated and that a new genius has appeared who managed to get seven stars.
…Speaking of which, I have not apologized to the redheaded girl.
As far as the current situation is concerned, it’s a little difficult to get in touch with her, but during this time I must find a way to…
Just when I’m concentrating on my thoughts… Suddenly someone grabs me and drags me into an alley.
Boom: someone slams my back into the wall.
“Heh heh heh… You really gave a great speech!”
It’s the redheaded girl who has me trapped and is reproaching me.
She is from the great Saionji family. The original seven-stars Empress, always glorious and undefeated. At least until before I arrived.
Just when I was thinking of the devil, she came to me. That’s gratifying, but her expression is sharper than it was a few hours ago.
“…” I can’t help but be silent… Why is she angry? Because I became a seven-stars, her reputation will not be damaged.
“…Hey, are you serious? You’re going to play stupid like that and not talk?”
But Saionji Sarasa no longer expresses her anger; instead, she becomes more and more nervous as time goes by. Taking a closer look at her legs, I realize that they are shaking.
The emotions in her ruby eyes are definitely not from anger…but out of fear.
“What is your purpose? You exploited my weakness, you spoke so conspicuously, yet you didn’t tell others my secret… What do you want to do? Do you want to attract more attention and ruin me completely? Please…”
“I know! —I know I’m saying something very selfish! But there is a reason for this. Anyway, I have to make this lie true… So, please, don’t tell anyone.”
“No, you… What have you been talking about for a while?”
“…Besides, are you still playing dumb!? I know you learned…
“You know that I am not the real Saionji Sarasa.”
“What about that ‘what?’? Anyway, as you know, I came to school in Sarasa’s place a year ago. My name is Akabane Rina. The moment I lost, my lie would be exposed. In such a situation, I have been victorious in every duel for a year, and it should have been so in the next two… But I lost to you this morning…
“That’s why I’m asking you…Hey, how do you plan to use this information? The ‘Saionji Sarasa’ scandal will surely become your best blackmailing trick. I am the heiress of the Saionji family. I know that this is not my actual identity… He-he, but I still have to keep it for now.”
“Yes. Still, you didn’t reveal my secret clearly. So, what is your intention? Are you aiming at the moment that can cause the biggest blow to the Saionji family? Besides, you still act as if you didn’t know about this. Do you want me to give you my body for your silence…” Saionji Sarasa (or rather Akabane Rina) whispers in front of me and asks, trembling. The voice is full of shyness, but she does not intend to run away at all, instead she has raised her head very firmly.
…But there are several fundamentally huge misunderstandings in this dialogue.
“Akabane—no, Saionji. Why do you think I want to expose your secret?”
“‘Why’? …What are you talking about? Of course it’s because you beat me and you want to destroy the Saionji family, right?
“Why do you think that?”
“To be more precise, it’s because you took away my Red Star… Did you know? The Red Star can create lies, but it also has a negative effect. If the star changes owners, the current owner will know the truth of the previous owner’s lies. You should know my lie by now.
Ah… That’s it. It can be explained like this. No wonder she has this kind of reaction. In her opinion, I am an evil and uncomfortable existence, because I know the truth of her lies.
“But, Saionji… that’s just your thinking.”
“I knew nothing about your lie before I heard you confess it. The truth is that I am a transfer student who has just arrived on the island. I didn’t even know how to use the terminal. Although I don’t know what you imagined. This is the first time I’ve heard that the Red Star has negative effects.”
“What…! No, it can’t be! You became seven-stars after beating me; then, you must have had six stars before. That’s not a level that students who just arrived on the island can reach in a day or two!”
“Well, it should have been that way. But I don’t really have seven stars.”
“What!? You’re not a real seven-stars? …But you said so during the ceremony!”
“That is the lie I sowed. I used the effect of the Red Star to create that lie… Do you hear clearly? My true level is one star.”
My words seem to be in a foreign language, and Saionji is stunned… In fact, it is not so easy to accept it. But, as expected, she recovers quickly and, after a few seconds of stiffness, speaks with anger:
“Wait, wait… So what’s the situation? Aren’t you the strongest one on Academy Island, you won the duel by accident and you didn’t know my secret until now?”
“That’s right, precisely.”
“So, could it be that I…” Saionji puts her head down, muttering to herself. Of course this was going to happen. She never imagined that I would use the Red Star to change my level.
We both stay close without saying a word.
After almost a minute, she finally raises her head.
“I’m sorry. I’m going home to clear my head. Can I call you Shinohara? If you have time tomorrow, can I have a proper talk with you? It seems that we both have very complicated situations. I think we do. It’s definitely not good. So don’t go losing the star until then.”
Saionji wipes her tears with the sleeve of her uniform and draws her long red hair away from her face. She walks alone through the alley.
I am still leaning against the wall, looking at her small back in silence… The excess of shocking information has left my mind in a chaotic state. Akabane Rina used the Red Star to change her information in order to impersonate Saionji Sarasa.
Really? This is complicated…
“She is a substitute for the real Saionji Sarasa… I mean, she is not the heiress of the Saionji family. So, even if I defeated her, nothing would happen for me to earn Director Saionji’s rage…? Ah, hadn’t I lied about my star rating to avoid problems with Director Saionji?! Was it a pointless thing to do from the beginning?” I didn’t think about it until now, I can’t help but hold my head in anguish.
If I had known this a few hours earlier, I would never have told such big lies. But that’s it, it’s something that can’t be changed.
Cursing my superficial thinking and the excessive jokes of fate, I walk wearily to my bedroom.