“Touya-kun, some light please1—”
Misasagi-senpai’s voice rang out.
When Homura suddenly regained consciousness, she found that she was no longer holding the hands of the other two and had fallen to her knees on a rough floor made of rock without realizing it.
Her surroundings were pitch-black. They appeared to be in a sealed room where not even a draft of wind could be felt.
She could still feel the sensation of Misasagi-senpai’s hand which had been placed on her back until just now, making her feel strangely unafraid.
Touya replied from somewhere close by, followed by the sound of very low muttering.
Misasagi-senpai held her breath and waited. Right, she had said something about light—
Touya apologized in a feeble voice, and Misasagi-senpai immediately picked up where he’d left off muttering.
“Hi (Hydrogen)… Ox (Oxygen)… Sr (Sulfur)…”
Blue sparks scattered through the air, and a light appeared at senpai’s fingertip.
As the flickering of the light contracted, its intensity increased, until it became as bright as the screen of a cell phone.
Homura and the others were in a small room with a lower ceiling than that of the Transport Room.
It looked like a stone cellar with no windows. Wooden boxes and barrels were systemically piled up along the walls, while empty space was secured in the center of the room. Though there was a slight mouldy smell, it wasn’t strong enough to make Homura scrunch her nose. The air was also quite dry.
After standing up, Homura questioned Misasagi-senpai while coughing.
“…Did we get transported? Have we arrived?”
“Yes. We’re already on the Imaginary Earth, Nutella.”
When she turned to look at senpai, Homura was startled. For an instant, she thought a complete stranger was standing there. Even when she immediately convinced herself that it was a trick of the light, her throbbing heart wouldn’t settle down.
“Touya-kun, can you stand?”
The gentle voice definitely belonged to senpai, but—
Once her eyes got used to the dim lighting, Homura caught sight of Touya and walked over to him.
“Touya-kun, are you all right?”
Touya nodded with faked vigor as senpai looked after him.
“I’m just suffering from transport sickness. I’ll be better after I rest a bit. Are you okay, Hinooka-san?”
“Yes, I seem to be fine already.”
Watching Touya queasily squat on the ground, Homura helped take off the bag on his back and lent her shoulder to help him stand.
“There we go… It’s fine!”
Misasagi-senpai stood up first and led them towards the stone steps leading above.
“You’re not shocked at all, huh?” said senpai to Homura over her shoulder.
She carefully pushed open the room’s wooden door and began climbing the stairs.
The floor above was also wrapped in darkness but some faint light seeped in from the gaps along the room’s window panes, illuminating the dust in the air.
Misasagi-senpai extinguished the light at her fingertip and went to help support Touya together with Homura.
They sat Touya down on a wooden chair alongside a table within the room.
“Please keep an eye on Touya-kun for a bit.”
Misasagi-senpai swiftly went around the windows and adjoining rooms and confirmed the state of things outside through peepholes.
“Fufu, did I manage to make you indebted to me, Touya-kun?”
“……If you’re going to bring that up, at least call it doing me a favor.”
Senpai returned without incident.
“It’s all right. It’s safe. Let’s get some fresh air in here. Hinooka-san, please take care of the front door—”
“Sure. I just need to release the latch, right?”
Where had her previous anxiousness gone?
Homura went over to the front door in high spirits.
The door latch was just like the kind she imagined seeing in a historical drama, so Homura was able to immediately figure out how to open it.
The latch was completely covered in dust, even though Misasagi-senpai and Touya’s last visit to Nutella should only have been three weeks ago.
While coughing again, Homura pushed open the front door.
A refreshing wind blew in, carrying sunlight and the smell of trees.
After taking a few steps outside while squinting at the sudden brightness, Homura was then overwhelmed by the sight that spread out before her.
It was a stone castle standing on a mountain slope.
They were using a restored section of a collapsed and abandoned castle.
The room that Homura was in, which she had thought to be the first floor’s entranceway, was in fact a terrace that slightly jutted out from the mountain.
A slope to come and go from the castle jutted out from either side of the terrace, extending down to the base of the mountain and further on to a sea of trees that stretched far off to the horizon.
Before her eyes was an unbroken view of an open and spacious valley. A river meandering through the valley looked as if it were flowing gently downward from her perspective.
The horizon felt as if it was much, much higher and farther away than she estimated, even creating the illusion that she was standing pitched forward, on the verge of falling. The glitter of what she thought were clouds stretching off into the distance was in fact the ridgelines of many snowy mountains towering next to one another. The sight continued on as far as Homura’s vision could see.
Homura gazed at this striking natural silver curtain while gripping the terrace’s handrail.
“Hey, don’t go out on your own…”
Touya also came out onto the terrace while shaking his head.
With her eyes wide open, Homura turned around in a daze.
“……This is amazing.”
Grinning, Touya pointed at the sky.
“It really is.”
Looking up at the sky, Homura was left in mute amazement.
A giant white wall rose high up into the distant sky.
It was a pure white skyscraper that drew a very gentle arc across the sky from one side of the horizon to the other, boldly filling up the canvas of the blue sky.
It was the most magnificent sight that Homura had ever seen until now, including the things she had imagined in her mind.
Completely numbed emotionally, Homura sank to the ground as if dizzy.
“Nutella also has several moons, but that Bagel is what stands out the most.”
“Bagel? Is it… an aurora!? A moon!?”
“They’re rings. Nutella’s planetary rings. It’s the same kind of celestial body as Saturn’s rings. Their diameter is three hundred million meters.”
“T-That’s quite substantial…”
“Some people call it the [Round Table]. I prefer the name Bagel myself, though.”
“…Huh? Touya-kun, your glasses?”
Having taken off his glasses without Homura realizing it, Touya showed her his glasses which he had stored away in their case.
“It seems that when I come here, my eyesight improves. I don’t need glasses here. How about you?”
“…Hee, my eyes were good from the start.”
“If you feel any changes in your body, tell us right away.”
Misasagi-senpai had come out as well.
Homura drew back in surprise once again.
Now that Homura could see her again under the sunlight, she realized that Misasagi-senpai’s appearance was no longer the same as the one in her memories.
The colors of her eyes and skin were completely different. Her physique seemed to have also subtly changed.
What stood out the most was her silver hair with a faint bluish tinge.
“Humans who come to Nutella secrete special hormones due to the effects of being reconstructed in transport and of the Bagel’s reflected light, causing their physical constitution to greatly change. I’m the type whose outer appearance changes and am classified as an Elf.”
“E-Elf… To think the beautiful senpai would be perfected even further…”
“I was also shocked the first time I saw her.”
The way Misasagi-senpai acted embarrassed as her two underclassmen stared at her was truly just like her. Her reaction stood out all the more when combined with her gestures and appearance.
“Touya-kun is… normal… Completely human, huh?” Homura remarked.
“You too, by the looks of it!”
“Once we’re done organizing our baggage, we’ll check Hinooka’s physical condition. That is one of the objectives of this mission.”
“I-I-I’m fine. Nothing about me has changed at all!”
“We have to check, since there are even some people who grow a tail, you know?”
“A tail!?” Homura panicked as she hurriedly pressed down her skirt.
“We’ll also need a sample of blood from you.”
“Am I a guinea pig!?”
After heating water that Touya drew from a nearby stream, they had a simple meal.
It consisted of vegetable soup and dried biscuits. All the ingredients had been taken from the food stocks stored in the cellar.
Touya’s physical condition recovered before long as well.
The old castle had been used as the Exploration Club’s base camp for a long time, having been modified for functional habitation and use. The tools stored here consisted half of items taken from Earth and the other half of items handmade here by the Exploration Club. Bedrooms were apparently prepared further inside as well, but they didn’t use them much.
They had taken out a handmade table and set it up on the terrace.
While enjoying the savory soup that smelled of fruits and the picturesque view spread out before her, Homura asked a question.
“Were those crackling sparks I saw in the cellar [magic]?”
“Yes,” Misasagi-senpai confirmed with a nod.
Touya apologized while hanging his head, but Misasagi-senpai shook her head at his words.
Each time Misasagi-senpai’s hair glittered in the sunlight, Homura couldn’t help feeling her heart thump in shock, still not yet accustomed to her appearance.
“You can also cast magic, Touya-kun? Amazing.”
“Like I said before, I failed to cast it. It’s the most basic of basics. If you can’t cast in an emergency, things can end pretty badly.”
“How nice. I also want to learn how to do it! Please!”
“Of course,” Misasagi-senpai assured her.
“But there are things you have to learn before that, okay?” Touya made sure to add.
“So stingy. What was that chant again… Hydra… Oxy… Surfer…?”
Homura held up her finger high with expectation in her eyes.
But nothing happened. It was the same even when she tried it again.
“—No good, huh? Well, I already guessed that, though.”
“The chant isn’t required. What’s needed is your imagination. The chant is merely to aid that.”
“I see, imagination, huh… Like this… a turtle’s… wave…”
As Homura started shadow training by putting strength into her palms and shooting them forward, Touya gave a look of disbelief, but Misasagi-senpai watched over her kindly.
“I’d be overjoyed if Hinooka-san manages to become a Mage.”
“Yes, I’ll do my best! I’ll definitely become one! I’ll become the greatest Mage in the Exploration Club’s history!”
“Thank goodness that senpai is a Magic Warrior. You can learn both fighting techniques and magic from her.”
Hearing that, Homura’s eyes lit up even more.
“A Magic Warrior!? An Elf Magic Warrior! I see. Ah, I wish I was also an Elf type~. Light-Weight Warriors are so stingy.”
“What’s with this attitude from a completely normal human?”
“There are also people whose bodies gradually change as they spend a long period of time here. I also looked closer to my Earth form here before.”
“Hoh, is that so? Then there’s still hope… Ah, that’s right.”
Suddenly realizing something, Homura took out a bundle wrapped in paper napkins from her breast pocket.
“It’s the pie that senpai made! It’s the last leftovers. There was no way I was going to leave the last one to Mori-chan back home~”
As Misasagi-senpai tried to say something, Touya made her stop with a look.
Homura made puzzled expression just as she stuffed her cheeks.
Homura made an expression as if she were chewing sand.
“Uuu… kuh… ugh…”
Teary-eyed, Homura shot a look of protest at Touya.
“It doesn’t taste good, right? But you brought it without permission. Don’t waste food.”
The anxious-looking senpai held out some water to her/
“Food brought from Earth loses its nutritional value to an extreme degree here, except for certain flavorings. It’s not as bad as poison, but if you eat too much, your stomach will…”
“Ugh, but… it was the pie that senpai worked so hard to make…”
While glaring at Touya reproachfully, Homura slowly ate up the pie.
Homura was still quite interested in their base camp at the old castle, but they immediately began preparing to depart for their mission after eating.
“We’ll have time en route. You can ask the questions you want as we walk.”
“But doesn’t talking while moving use up a lot of concentration and tire you out…?” Touya humbly interjected.
“It’s fine. Our journey this time won’t be taking a rough path. It’s a route that the Exploration Club previously cultivated,” said Misasagi.
Completely ignoring Touya’s worried expression, Homura asked another question in a carefree manner.
“—So, where are we going?”
Touya’s head slumped in dejection. Misasagi-senpai also widened her eyes in disbelief.
“See? This is the kind of person she is.”
“In that case, I’ll have to apply restraint as much as possible…”
“Don’t worry. For some reason, I feel really lively right now! I could walk dozens of kilometers!”
With a thud, Homura draped her body over the backpack Touya was shouldering.
“Touya-kun, my baggage is also included in here, right? I’ll carry my portion myself.”
“…What should we do, senpai?”
Misasagi-senpai allowed it so easily that it was anticlimactic.
“We’ll have you carry it until we reach our first rest spot.”
“Ro~ger~. Come on, hand it over.”
Touya reluctantly divided up the baggage.
It included things like sleeping bags, underclothes, tableware, foldable mats, a medical kit and canteens. There were also survival tools that Homura had no idea what their use was inside.
The baggage was so heavy that it would make her recoil if this was a shopping trip, but it felt strangely light to her.
Nonetheless, the various tools were compact for the most part, and the majority of space was taken up by bundles of preserved foods separated from the rest.
“There are a lot of boxed lunches for just one night’s stay… Are these reserves?”
“Yes, they’re reserves. We’ll be leaving the surplus behind.”
“We’re leaving food behind?”
“Our current destination is the 2nd relay camp. Relay camps are one of the bases that the Exploration Club has set up. When we have surplus, we leave as much equipment behind as possible and stock up.”
“I see. Then does that case you’re carrying also contain preserved foods, senpai?”
Homura looked at the sturdy case that was fastened to Misasagi-senpai’s knapsack.
Just as she was about to reply, Misasagi-senpai suddenly smiled mischievously.
“A state secret, I suppose you could say?”
“Eh~, no way~?”
“It’s something important. I’ll show it to you once we reach the relay camp.”
The Exploration Club members finally finished repacking the baggage.
The final items that Touya and Misasagi-senpai equipped were weapons.
Misasagi-senpai equipped an arrow quiver and a collapsible composite bow, which was even smaller than the ones used in archery, on her back.
On the other hand, Touya attached two separate long and short swords to his waist.
“Oooh… A game… It’s just like a game…”
While circling around the two of them to look them over, Homura spoke out in admiration.
“Like I thought, a dragon or something is going to come out, right…?”
When Homura leaned over and tried to lift up one of the sword’s heavy scabbard without permission, Touya smacked her head.
“Yeah right! At most, a wild boar might come out… right?”
After he said that, Touya’s expression suddenly became uncertain, and he looked over at Misasagi-senpai.
“That’s right. And, considering the season right now, a bear might appear as well.”
Touya stiffened as he placed a hand on the hilt of one of his swords.
Homura held out her hand greedily.
“I’d also like to equip a cool weapon, you know…”
“You planning to carry even more than you already have? You’ll definitely wear yourself out, you know?”
“Eh, wait, senpai?”
Once again, Misasagi-senpai readily consented.
She went back once more to the armory and then returned soon after.
“In that case, take this—a folding knife. Properly speaking, it’s a tool for outdoor use, but it was made to be sturdy, so it can also be used as a weapon.”
Misasagi-senpai handed over a knife, which had its blade folded back into its hilt, over to Homura.
It couldn’t be compared to Touya’s swords, but Homura still felt sufficient feedback from wielding it. It might be even heavier than the biggest knife in the Hinooka family’s kitchen.
Putting in unexpected power into it, Homura timidly unfolded the blade.
“Th… This can fight off a bear?”
“Impossible. Hinooka-san, if you encounter a dangerous wild animal, please abandon all your baggage and run away.”
“Uh, that’s so uncool…”
“I’d also run away at full speed if I encountered a bear, you know,” Touya added in. “Fighting a lump of muscle like that is no joke.”
Misasagi-senpai nodded with a serious face.
“Of course, the first priority is to try not to meet such creatures. But the wild animals on Nutella don’t know humans. If they’re experienced with us, they should run away instinctively, but there are also cases where they approach out of interest. It’s still only been ten years since humans have arrived on Nutella. We still haven’t completely clarified what kinds of dangerous creatures live here.”
Homura looked back at Misasagi-senpai quite meekly.
“…Senpai… So you can talk in long sentences like that… And without stammering either…”
Homura’s head was vigorously smacked from the side.
“You! This concerns your life, you know! Listen at least a little seriously!”
Chapter 10 END
(1) Just in case it isn’t obvious enough in the translation, Misasagi’s speech changes slightly here compared to normal, which occasionally happens throughout the story. Her normal halting way of speaking (emphasized by the commas that appear everywhere in her sentences) disappears and she seems to speak much more smoothly in comparison.