Thankfully, the second participant was rejected by a pretty girl so I felt better. However, I was left frightened after the third round. A nerdy guy in a sweater stepped on the platform, but he obviously hadn't paid attention to the rules. He called out a girl's name but she wasn't a participant so his request didn't go through. I had predicted that something like this might happen, so all I could do was shake my head at his negligence. The announcer told him to pick someone else, but even if he did have someone in mind, I bet no one would like to be a second choice, especially not for him. That's why he just stood up there, fidgeting in front of the crowd until the announcer spoke again.
[Okay time's up bud, time for the penalty.]
"There was a time limit?! Wait, more importantly, Zakushi do you remember hearing about a penalty?" I asked the one beside me.
He looked disinterested in this event, but he still answered my question.
"Yes, but it was hidden in the fine print in the official rules on the school website. 'Each participant is given a minute to choose someone or else they will be given a special penalty'. It didn't state what the penalty was though."
'Damn it! What's with these corrupt business practices! Isn't this a school?!'
I felt sorry for the boy on the stage, but I still looked forward to seeing what would happen to him.
Like the rest of us, the boy on stage was also shaken by the mention of a penalty.
"Pe-penalty?! I didn't hear about that!"
[That's too bad. You should have read the rules. Anyways, let's get right into it.]
Without a hint of pity, the announcer went straight into the punishment.
[The penalty is that one secret you have will be exposed on the screen where everyone can see. Oh, and in case you're wondering, this information came from our official sources. But don't worry, I'll at least give you the choice of which secret to expose.]
"What?! There's no wa-"
The boy panicked when he heard the penalty, and so did I. I wanted to believe that the school surely didn't know that much about its students, but then I remembered the contract we had to sign after entering the school, and the cameras and microphones that were all over the school grounds. Although they said the microphones were only at lucky spots, who knew if they were telling the truth.
'Is it too late to transfer? ...Then again, will my parents allow me to?'
I despaired at my reality, but I knew that the boy on stage had it worse than me. He took out his phone and went visibly pale while scrolling, before freezing in place with his eyes wide open. However, he wouldn't be allowed time to drown in misery.
[You have ten seconds to select one or I'll select for you.]
Forced to act, the boy spent a few more seconds hesitating, before eventually finding his resolve and picking one of his options.
[So you picked the most boring one, huh? Oh well, roll the clip.]
Shortly after, the scene on the screen changed. The boy was still the focus, but he was at somewhere near the walls of a building and judging by the angle, the camera was diagonally above him. The video was only a few seconds long, but that was enough time to advertise the sensual cover of the magazine he had in his hands.
The boy ran off in tears but not a single person went after him. Perhaps a large portion of the guys could sympathize with him, but none of them were brave enough to damage their reputation by comforting him, me included.
He would be lucky if he wasn't greeted with an 'ew' every time he walked by a girl.
'Now that I think about it, I hope Kirisaki didn't see that.'
I tried to look for her, but it was to no avail so I decided to trust her fan club to protect her innocence.
'Still, to think they would go this far.'
As I thought about what I just witnessed, I couldn't help feeling nervous as well as angry at the school. However, my eyes were open wide in surprise when I heard Zakushi's comment.
"Looks like they're going easy on us."
"This is going easy?!"
"Of course. You probably shouldn't worry about it, but as long as it didn't happen in a place like the bathroom or changing room, the school knows basically everything that happens inside it. I bet the secrets they showed him weren't even the tip of iceberg."
"And that's legal?"
"Barely, I guess. You know that there's a lot of rich kids at this school, you really think their parents haven't made their lawyers look into it? As soon as we signed that contract on the day of the entrance ceremony, we basically became the school's property."
As I listened to Zakushi, I realized that I hadn't even begun to understand how horrifying this school was, and Zakushi's flat tone made me wonder if this was lukewarm compared to what I would experience if I stayed in this school.
Once again I confirmed it. This school and its headmaster were crazy.
With a sigh I wondered, "Why did I come to a school like this?"
"Why did I come to a school like this?"
I thought I heard Zakushi say the exact same thing as I did, so I swiftly to turned towards him, but he was just looking at the screen with a blank expression.
'Was I wrong?'
I scratched my head as I focused on the platform once more. However, once we went past ten names I was starting to get impatient. I was the one who wanted to run as soon as school was over, but now that I knew that I couldn't run from a confrontation today, I just wanted to get it over with.
With every name, I was reminded of the perilous task that I had undertaken and the stress was starting to get to me.
I got a few laughs from some of the rounds, especially the one where another guy was slapped with the penalty because every name he called didn't belong to a participant. I felt sorry for him, but I couldn't hold myself back as I watched the scene of him awkwardly dancing getting caught in 4K.
Unfortunately, these laughs were like mirages in a desert, distractions from the grim reality. Therefore, I actually felt a little relieved once we reached the eighteenth round and his name was called.
[Next up is, oh, we got a popular one. Daiki Hiroki of class 2-B!]
After my initial relief, my tension built up again once I saw him go up to the platform. For the ones before him, we waited in curiosity to see who they would pick, but as soon as he reached the stage several pairs of eyes landed on me. At this time, I held a tiny hope that he wouldn't waste his time on me, but I knew that was impossible.
"Haruto Akishiro, get up here."
[Hiroki calls for a Mr. Akishiro. Please give me a moment...ah! The lucky fellow who managed to sneak his way into the famous Life Assist Club is named by Hiroki! Could there be a hidden connection between the two of them?]
After receiving a tap on the shoulder from Zakushi, I bravely escaped the audience and made my way to the platform. Along the way, I spotted Amakawa and Arisugawa who glanced in my direction, as well as Kirisaki who gave me a worried look. It felt good to have the support of my club members, but I couldn't help wondering if I was worthy of it.
[Ah! Here he is. Now with Akishiro on the stage, what does Hiroki have to say?]
When I was close enough to the platform to clearly see Hiroki's smirk, a spotlight attacked me. I felt uncomfortable at having this much attention on me, but by not looking at the audience I was able to build up the courage to climb up the platform.
"You made it. I'm glad." Hiroki said.
"Well, it's not like I had much of a choice. I still don't even know how you were able to make this possible."
"Let's just say that I have my connections."
'Tch, could teachers be in on this? Or maybe...'
I fret over who he might have gotten help from while Hiroki chuckled before asking a question, not to me, but to the announcer.
"Hey, it's okay for us to have a little debate here right?"
[Of course. While confessions are the standard, this stage is for any kind of heart-to-heart conversation.]
I narrowed my eyes at Hiroki, wondering what kind of 'debate' he planned on having with me.
After receiving the answer he wanted, Hiroki stared right at me with the cunning eyes of an experienced snake.
"Good. Now then, kid. Let's start off with the question that I'm sure the entire student body wants to hear the answer to. What reason, what quality, what role do you play that makes you useful to the Life Assist Club?"
With his first move, I felt the imminent danger of checkmate.