“The analysis results on the pieces of mountain dog fur that you picked up came back. It seems to be from a species that bears a strong resemblance to the extinct Hokkaido wolf.”
The day of their next mission.
After the club members had finished their preparations and gathered in the Transport Room, Fujimori explained the lab results to them.
“However, according to a report from a Hiyoshizaka High party who examined the footprints in the area, this breed seems to be far greater in size than the Hokkaido wolf. Our conjecture says that their total head-and-torso length is 1.8 meters; their body weight is one hundred and twenty kilograms. Their build rivals that of the Sumatran tiger. They’re definitely bigger than any wolves found on Earth. It’s a common form of evolutionary adaptation on Nutella.”
Club president Misasagi listened to the information seriously.
“The fact that they move in herds instead of acting independently is especially dangerous. If you end up being targeted as prey, there’s no way any of you could run away. You’ll be forced to confront them in that case.”
Touya put his hands on the handles of his brand new swords he had gotten to replace his old ones. Both swords had been tempered so that their reach fit Touya’s style as a dual-sword user and were properly balanced to correspond with his additional muscle strength on Nutella.
Compared to that, Homura’s self-protection tool was just some tear gas spray, but for her, it was much more reassuring to have than a knife that she didn’t know how to use.
Homura felt eager and ready to go as she looked over the sample of the stuff that Fujimori had handed over to her.
But then, Fujimori spoke curtly to her.
“Now then, Hinooka. You don’t have to participate this time.”
“You can skip the expedition and stay on standby here in the club building.”
Homura couldn’t hide her surprise, feeling as if the rug had been pulled out from under her.
“This mission involves traveling through unknown territory. The goal is to fill in some of the blank spots on this map.”
Fujimori rolled open a handmade map for them to see.
After Fujimori exchanged a look with Ameno, who was standing next to her, a map of the area around the base camp was displayed on the Transport Room’s wall screen.
On the northern area of the map, there was a wedge-shaped grey space. Areas that had already been investigated were displayed in a brighter white hue.
Grainy pictures taken by satellites and three-dimensional topography that was virtually generated based on the surroundings overlaid each other half-transparently in the grey area.
“This area that’s sandwiched by these two mountain ranges hasn’t been explored by anyone yet. It’s covered in fog all year round, and we’ve never managed to get an unobstructed picture of the place with the satellites due to their limited view schedule never matching up at the right time, unfortunately. But there’s definitely a river there, and most likely a lake or a waterfall as well.”
“Isn’t it a bit similar to the valley where our base camp is…?”
When Homura murmured that, Fujimori grinned.
“That’s right. The places where we’ve found ruins previously have all had some commonalities between them. It’s unknown whether or not the land is arable, but a river is necessary to transport the stones to build a castle. Well, in other words, we won’t lose anything even if we get our hopes up a bit.”
Fujimori rolled up the map and placed it against her shoulder like a bamboo sword.
“Traveling through untrodden territory is the basics of basics for an investigator. There’s quite a lot you can learn on this mission, but the difficulty is also greater in return. Very much so—”
“So… you’re saying I’d be a hindrance to the team?”
Fujimori turned to look at Homura straight on.
“No matter who they are, no one ever becomes a hindrance on Nutella. We’re always short on hands. But if even one person lacks in carefulness, it increases the dangers towards the entire group—that’s always the case. This is also Touya’s first experience travelling into unmapped territory.”
Fujimori directed the same look at Touya.
“What I want to confirm with you two is whether or not you’ve got the resolve to face ravenous wolves in a situation where you’ll be pushed to your physical and mental limits.”
Unable to answer immediately, Homura gave a sidelong glance at Touya.
Though there was nervousness in his expression, there was no wavering or doubt. It was a clear expression that gushed with a strong fighting spirit, ready to face any challenge. Somehow, seeing that made Homura irritated.
“Is Ameno-san, still unable to, participate in, expeditions?”
When senpai asked that, Ameno bowed her head apologetically.
“That’s the thing… Sorry, president, everyone. The truth is, the results of the dummy test done on me the other day weren’t very good. Even if I can endure the transport process, in the worst case scenario, I might suddenly cease working during the expedition without warning…”
“…That’d be bad,” Touya said.
“So your participation is postponed again, huh?” Homura remarked.
“But~, you know~, I may be bragging a bit here~, but I’m a hybrid model, so my body is somewhat different from the solid-state electronic goods that you guys normally bring to on Nutella~.”
Ameno snuggled up to Misasagi-senpai as if trying to do a sales pitch, but Fujimori grabbed her head and forcefully pulled her away.
“As if they could bring something troublesome that could suddenly become dead weight while climbing and fall down like a rock.”
“Ah, did you just refer to me as a lump of rock?”
Ignoring Ameno’s complaint, Fujimori glanced over at the time indicator on the wall screen.
“…It’s just before noon over on Nutella right now. It’s time for your final answer.”
Fujimori gazed at Touya and Homura.
“Touya… Looks like I don’t even need to bother asking you. How about you, Hinooka?”
“I’ll go. I want to try out the magic I worked so hard to train for.”
Though her movements were jerky and stilted, Homura still nodded.
Ameno also nodded as happily as if Homura’s decision were her own.
“All right then.”
Professor Fujimori picked up the faintly glowing Transport Ring from the tray that jutted out of the wall and handed it over to Misasagi.
“I’m counting on you, Misasagi. If you think it’s dangerous, use the emergency withdrawal without hesitation.”
Senpai nodded firmly.
“Frequently saving is essential, you know,” Ameno added.
“Though it’s problematic if you use it willy-nilly. Touya, Homura, make sure not to get separated from Misasagi.”
“Yes… with the exception of going to the toilet, that is.”
“Even when going to the toilet, if possible.”
Homura immediately grimaced at Fujimori’s words.
Misasagi linked hands with the two of them and prepared for departure.
“May you all stay safe… Ah, please wait a minute. Let me give you guys a farewell ritual for good luck.”
Ameno took out some stones from her pocket and rubbed them together, causing small sparks to scatter in the dimly-lit room.
“…Why are you chinking those rocks?” Fujimori asked
“These are flint stones. You don’t know about them, even though you’re a Modern Japanese teacher?”
“Of course I know about them, they’re used to ward off evil—and they have nothing to do with Modern Japanese. Don’t appropriate Japan’s historic omens when you’re a mere golem girl.”
“Like I said, I was made domestically in Japan, you know?”
Homura and the other two stood in a circle with their hands linked in the center of the Transport Room.
As the exaltation of the transport came over Homura, the sight of Ameno trying to stubbornly retort without learning her lesson and getting knocked over by Fujimori blurred within her narrowing vision.
—When the instant of transport passed and Homura’s consciousness once more pieced together its focus, the first thing she saw was bright and sharp sunlight. She immediately covered her eyes with her arm.
The sensation beneath her feet was definitely the stone floor of the castle’s basement, but she felt warm wind on her cheeks. When she took a step back, she bumped into a wooden pillar right behind her.
“Even though I trained so hard to learn the lighting spell…”
When she timidly opened her eyes, what appeared before here was a sight that was hard to believe.
As if they’d been pummeled again and again by a giant fist, the stacked stones of the walls were shattered in pieces, the pillars were broken, and the roof had collapsed into a huge hole. That was why she could see the sky from the basement.
The Exploration Club equipment that had been stored here was scattered everywhere.
It was a terrible sight, accompanied by a faint burning smell.
With tight lips, Misasagi-senpai looked over the castle that was a mere shadow of its former self.
Touya looked to be feeling queasy after the transport as usual, but he somehow managed to stand up on his own this time.
“A fire… no, a lightning strike…?”
“This isn’t a natural disaster.”
After swiftly running through the rubble, senpai cautiously observed their surroundings from the top of the small crumbled tower. Her Elven silver hair fluttered in the wind.
There were several animal footprints engraved on the dirt that had been blown out of the ground and scattered everywhere.
Senpai’s expression became even more rigid.
“This is similar to leftover traces of magic…”
Homura and Touya gave up on the rubble-covered stone steps and helped each other to climb through the destroyed walls until they at last made it outside.
“The base camp… our home… that we all made together is…”
Senpai was shocked by this hideous scene as she looked it over again.
Homura and Touya also noticed the animal footprints.
“Senpai… could this be…”
Senpai silently nodded.
“…The aforementioned wolves.”
Homura felt her own heart clench at the sight of senpai’s sorrowful expression, which made her look as if she could collapse to her knees at any moment.
“Were they looking for food here…? This is way too much,” Touya said bitterly.
“Doesn’t it look like they overturned the place as some kind of prank…? Like how crows fish through collected garbage,” Homura conjectured.
“A prank? Do they have some kind of grudge against us? Damn it.”
“…They tracked us back here… and a while ago too.”
According to President Misasagi’s analysis, the animal footprints were two or three days old. She gave the same estimation for the time of the base camp’s destruction. There hadn’t been any rain here for the past few days, so the footprints appeared to have been well preserved.
The only piece of fortune within misfortune here was that they hadn’t transported to Nutella in that dangerous moment while it was all happening.
Homura was given a small analog camera and put in charge of taking pictures to record the scene. It was a camera equipped with a specialized black-and-white photo film that could take pictures even on Nutella.
First, she focused on the animal footprints, and then took pictures of the destroyed castle from different angles.
Handmade furniture crushed by the rubble, cracked wooden casks that had leaked their contents, hand-knitted wool tapestries charred black, paper packages of preserved food covered in dust, including those with goldfish-and-cat stamps on them and even the ones labeled super spicy by Touya. The only section that had safely escaped the collapse of the castle was the armory, which lay in the deepest part of the castle.
As she watched the remains of all that senpai and her fellow club members had accomplished, Homura’s eyes became watery. It was just so sad and wretched.
“—Let’s dig out what still seems usable. And we have to secure a place protected from the rain now while we can as well.”
Homura was surprised by the club president’s words.
“We’re not… going back to Earth?”
“Maybe if we were in the middle of a forest or if it was nighttime, but—”
Senpai shook her head.
“This isn’t enough of a reason to go back. It’s true that… it’s sad that it’s become like this, but we can just rebuild it again. I’d like to ask for both of your help at that time too, Hinooka-san, Touya-kun.”
“…Yes. Of course.”
“I’ll do whatever’s needed.”
Touya’s words at the end lacked his usual energetic tone, filled with discreetness.
“But, senpai…? Would wild animals be able to do something so extreme like this? Doesn’t this reflect some clear animosity?”
“…Perhaps so. Though rare, there are some animals that can use magic. They’re highly intelligent and have even been regarded as sacred. The wolves that came here might be such a species…”
Senpai leaned over the ground beside the castle walls and looked at the footprints.
“…If Inari-san were here, she would have been able to figure out more, but…”
Homura didn’t miss that sudden murmur by senpai.
“Then…! Then, let’s go get Inari-san and come again another time with her! The idea of just going out to investigate as things are is giving me a bad feeling, somehow.”
“…We can’t rely on someone who’s quit the club. Sorry, just forget I said anything,” senpai said with a smile to deter Homura from going any further on the subject.
Touya just remained silent and watched as the two of them talked.
“By the looks of it, we have enough food left for the course of our investigation. We can draw out some new water later. If an item looks like it’s been run over by a tornado, just give up on it and move on to the next.”
When they were told that by senpai, who should be feeling the most pained inside out of all of them, Homura and Touya couldn’t say anything in response.
If they considered the situation from senpai’s position—
It was true that, if they put off the mission to another time, the equipment left in this torn up camp would wear away from the weather and be damaged by animals, decreasing the items that could still be used even further. They’d also been told that the rainy season was fast approaching.
Homura didn’t know if she would have been able to make the decision to continue the investigation after acknowledging that there was such a clear threat present. It felt like this wasn’t a case where the lone judgement of their director Fujimori would be enough to proceed either.
While examining the remaining intact stone walls, senpai spoke to the both of them.
“Even if we encounter the wolves, please try not to hurt them. Try to avoid it unless it’s absolutely necessary. They’re different from the rabbits and deer we use for food. They’re animals with a strong sense of territory. If we don’t show them that we’re harmless, it will harm any further relations with them.”
“So we have to endure without fighting back, huh…”
Touya wore a vexed expression. Homura shook her head at the absurdity of it.
“Hurt them… that’s impossible anyways! Just look at this place; it’s like the ruins of an explosion!”
They took out a spare tent and spread the fabric out diagonally, using a wall in place of a support post, and then moved all the salvageable goods beneath it.
“Hinooka-san, please help Touya-kun for a bit. I’m going to check on the armory.”
Saying that, senpai went off deeper into the castle.
“Ye~s… Ah, actually, I’ll go too!”
“Hey, don’t slack off!”
“I’m taking a toilet break.”
While senpai continued walking with a wry smile, Homura chased after her at a small trot.
The armory was dark and gloomy, with its high walls blocking direct sunlight, and the most that peaked through was the slight, reflected light from the Bagel shining in the sky. The room had no traces of being torn apart at all.
“Did the wolves sense that this room was dangerous or something?”
“…I wonder. We don’t come in here that much, so there might not be any human scent lingering for them to track here.”
Senpai tilted her head in puzzlement at the surprising intactness of the armory.
While wrinkling her nose at the smell of metal and rust-preventing oil, Homura looked over the armory.
“Wouldn’t it be better to clean this place up and use it as a new bedroom?”
“That’s a good idea.”
“The ventilation seems a bit bad, but at least it has a roof. Ugh… but then it’d mean sleeping co-ed…”
“It’ll be fine if it’s Touya-kun.”
“Not that again, senpai. You’re too defenseless.”
Senpai found her favored bow hanging on the wall of the armory and picked it up. The bow had been carefully stored. Senpai unfolded the collapsible parts and checked the condition of the bowstring.
Meanwhile, Homura looked over weapons and personal tools that she couldn’t properly distinguish in the darkness with a disinterested attitude.
“Even Touya-kun has his own personally customized swords. Maybe I should learn how to use a bow. Though a sword is also tempting…”
She picked up a sword from among those that were set leaning on a wooden stand.
Just then, a yellow diamond-shaped stone rolled up to Homura’s feet.
A soft light came out of the stone and floated up into the air. The stone, left behind on the ground, quickly turned black.
The shadows of the scabbards piled up against the wall shifted in accordance to the light’s ascent.
Senpai also noticed that something had happened and looked over at Homura.
“Senpai, did you use illumination magic—?”
When Homura turned around to ask, she found threads of flames behind her, which quickly coalesced together until they grew into a fireball.
Throwing aside her bow, senpai ran towards Homura.
But Homura, while she could sense the increasing heat from the fireball on her cheek, could only stand there wide-eyed, frozen in place.
“What… is this…”
Misasagi grabbed Homura’s arm and pulled her away, while tearing off the leather strap of the canteen at her waist and then throwing it into the air.
As it soared through the air, the metal canteen suddenly swelled and then ruptured open.
A pale stream of water came out from the crack and expanded into a shield that covered the two of them.
As Touya was carrying a wooden box so big that it was twice his weight along his hip, he staggered at the tremor that he suddenly felt through the ground.
Following the sound of stone walls collapsing, an odd noise rang out.
From the black smoke that was now rising up from the other side of the wall, a single plume of white smoke rose up into the sky. That sharp, flute-like sound wasn’t anything that Touya had ever heard or learned about before.
After briefly looking up at the trail of smoke while standing there dumbfounded, Touya came back to his senses and started running towards the armory.
In response to the smoke signal that had been launched, bone-chilling howls answered back from the forest below the castle. Touya felt his hairs stand on end.
While running past the baggage placed alongside the wall, Touya swiftly picked up his personal swords.
Black smoke that had sparks mixed in completely filled the armory.
Pieces of rubble were scattered everywhere, and there were still reverberations left from the explosion’s force.
In the midst of blocks of wood that had once served as weapon racks, now turned to charcoal, and swords and protectors that were scattered everywhere, Homura and Misasagi lay piled on each other on the floor while partially buried by the debris.
Misasagi-senpai carefully lifted herself up and moved her lips to say something.
As Homura lay there in a stupor, hearing finally returned to her ears.
“—Are you hurt?”
“…Senpai, did you shield us with magic…?”
“It’s a specialty spell of mine.”
Misasagi’s smile made Homura forget the pain.
That flash of explosion that she had seen over Misasagi’s shoulder when she had moved to cover Homura—it was still burned into her retinas. That shield of water had briefly turned into a mirror that blocked the light and seemed to withstand it for an instant, before immediately foaming up and being blown away. Hit by the shock wave, the two of them had been thrown to the other end of the room and slammed against the wall.
The smile disappeared from senpai’s face, which now twisted in pain.
Touya shouted as he came running into the armory.
“It’s bad. This was a trap. They’re coming right now… eh…”
“Touya-kun, senpai is—!”
When he saw Misasagi leaning on Homura with her head limp, Touya’s breath caught in his throat.
Touya feebly walked forward and went down to one knee.
With Homura’s help, Touya held half of senpai’s body and raised her up.
There was no response from her. Even with her hair disheveled and sticking to her face, she was still beautiful, looking as if she were just taking a doze.
At the end of her arm that was stretched out limply, her magic ring was glowing.
Looking first at the unconscious senpai and then Homura who looked back at him in sorrow, Touya resolved himself and spoke.
“Hinooka, you activate the Transport Ring in place of senpai. Just do it exactly as you were taught.”
Homura nodded stiffly.
“I-It’s true that’s the only option right now, but senpai said that the transport’s chances of success are halved when a person is unconscious—we’ll have to leave senpai behind if we go.”
The two of them stared at senpai, and then looked at each other, having come to the same answer at the same time.
“Hinooka, you bring senpai to the basement. You should be safe there.”
“Yeah—wait, what about you, Touya-kun!?”
The two of them could clearly hear several howls in the distance.
The two of them supported each of senpai’s shoulders and carried her out of the armory.
Senpai’s unthinkable lightness truly made them viscerally feel the strengthening effects of Nutella on their bodies.
According to what they’d been told, the base camp’s basement was a place with an orbit established to connect with the Transport Room in the club building on Earth, which would minimize the chances of a transport’s failure. If they went there, even the inexperienced Homura and Touya could manage the transport—so was their thinking.
“Senpai! Senpai, wake up!”
Homura desperately called out to her.
She shuddered at the wet sensation that touched her fingers.
Blood, oozing from senpai’s uniform, was trickling down along her arm.
Touya glared ahead with a grim expression—grey shadows had jumped out from the forest one after another and were now running up the gentle meadow slope.
They were majestic beasts whose size far surpassed what Homura had imagined. Long, burly legs that kicked off the ground. Sharp eyes. And there were a roughly fifteen of the beasts—
Even as they hurried towards the basement, Homura and Touya couldn’t take their eyes away from a certain thing.
“There’s someone with them.”
Their eyes were caught on—
—a young girl wearing blue clothing, who was riding upon the back of one of the wolves.
The pack moved in formation with the wolf that the girl rode at the head, and closed the distance between them in the blink of an eye.
Suddenly, the girl kicked off the back of the wolf and rolled through the grass before swiftly righting herself, and then began running towards Homura and the others with leg strength that was in no way inferior to the wolves.
Touya’s fingers moved for the handles of his swords.
“Go, go on ahead!” Touya shouted.
As Homura was left to carry senpai on her own and involuntarily stood petrified in place, not knowing what to do, Touya gave her a push to keep moving before turning around to face the wolves.
Even while running towards the old castle, the blue-clothed girl skillfully slipped her arms into her sleeves without breaking her balance.
The instant she stopped and braced her bare feet on the ground, she swung her arms in a wide arc.
With a vigorous shout, she threw something from her hands.
Two yellow lights flew through the air towards Touya, leaving two faint tracks in their wake.
The wolves immediately stopped where they were all at once.
Homura widened her eyes and shouted at Touya.
Touya perceived the meaning of those words and the danger approaching him.
With no time to pull his long sword out, he brought it forward with the sheath still attached in a defensive stance and stared straight ahead.
Instead of avoiding the lights, he ran forward to meet them. With flowing movements, he used the sword to deflect one aside, while the other one was sent shooting high up back in the direction it came.
Touya shouted that without taking his eyes away from the enemy.
Homura immediately flopped to the ground, covering senpai as she did so.
The stones, their trajectory having greatly diverged from their impact target, became fireballs and exploded in mid-air one after another.
Homura was once again hit by a shock wave that seemed to crush her lungs.
The girl, having huddled on the ground while holding down her head, cautiously raised her head back up.
The wolves were also lying face down.
The girl got up into a crouch and reached for a pouch hanging from her waist, but it seemed to be empty, so she discarded it to the ground.
“Go at them, I’m all out!”
It was at that instant—
The girl raised her head in shock at that piercing fighting yell.
Touya was right before her.
He stepped into range boldly and swung the sheathed sword horizontally with one hand, seeming to graze the side of her face.
But he only managed to hit her hair ornament.
The girl dodged the sword by a literal hair’s breadth and jumped backwards, her agility too fast for even Touya’s eyes to keep up with.
The girl alighted on the ground on all fours and glared at Touya while taking a low stance that was two swords’ lengths away from him.
The girl growled, almost like a beast herself.
Touya persistently tried to chase after her without a moment’s pause, but he was blocked by the wolves snarling and cutting around towards him.
“You plunged in too far, Touya-kun…! What is he even thinking…!?”
While dragging along senpai by supporting her with her shoulder, Homura walked up to the slope of rubble that led down into the basement.
When Homura tried to adjust her stance and wrap her arm around senpai’s back, senpai groaned in pain.
Even tears fell from her eyes, Homura desperately lifted up senpai in her arms and moved down on her butt to slide down the slope without minding getting dirty.
The furious howls of the wolves and Touya’s menacing yells, which reached Homura’s ears no matter how far away she got, made her heart freeze.
After setting senpai down on the floor in the basement, Homura looked back.
The one who appeared from beyond the wall and nimbly jumped over it was not Touya, but that girl. She rested her hands and feet on the broken wall and looked down at Homura and Misasagi.
“—That one’s… injured, huh?”
When she noticed the blood which dyed senpai’s clothing, the girl’s face, the very picture of innocence, clouded over.
Not caring that she was facing an unknown enemy, Homura shouted back angrily with an expression that threatened to break into tears.
“…Kuh… It’s your fault!”
The girl was overwhelmed by Homura’s anger.
“Well, it’s true that I was an idiot for falling for the trap, but… What’s with you guys, suddenly attacking us out of nowhere!? You did all this to our camp!”
After despondently ducking back her head, the girl shook her head like a dog and once more turned to glare at Homura.
“…S-Shut up, you damn thief!”
Cursing at Homura, the girl put strength in her legs and bent forward in preparation to leap straight down at Homura.
Homura shouldered senpai over her back and took out the knife on her waist.
She pointed the knife straight at the girl and began to chant.
Making a suspicious face, the girl saw the small flame that appeared at the tip of the knife and realized what Homura was doing.
The girl yelled as she jumped down off the wall in a flash.
While desperately maintaining her concentration so as not to shatter the pattern she had built up in her mind, Homura squared off against the girl as she landed close by.
The girl had black hair and seemed to be about twelve or thirteen years old. Having lost one of her two hair ornaments, her untied hair hung loosely over her cheek. Even with grass and twigs sticking all over her, her clothing was very high quality with a foreign design on it.
She was definitely the girl that Homura had encountered that night.
As she looked over the girl to gain further confirmation based on what she remembered of that brief chance meeting, Homura started in shock when her gaze turned to one of the girl’s wrists.
The bracelet attached was definitely—
A shadow that seemed to mask the Bagel in the sky above suddenly leaped over Homura.
It was a giant white wolf. Patches of grey fur were on its legs and on the bridge of its nose to its brow.
Not missing the opening Homura gave when she instinctively hunched back, the girl slipped past Homura and jumped at senpai who slept on her back.
The girl slipped her fingers around Misasagi-senpai’s harness belt and lifted her up, while she stretched out other arm to reach out to the shoulder of the white wolf and grab its fur.
Homura abandoned the knife and clung to senpai.
The knife lightly bounced against the stone floor.
The fireball that had formerly been on its tip instantly contracted inwards upon itself, and immediately after, its line of fire became jabbed and disarrayed. Magical energy was immediately lost from the pattern, which had abandoned its rotational formation.
“….! Oh no…”
The flame dimmed and turned into thick smoke, which spread out explosively.
The white wolf cut through the smoke enshrouding the place and jumped. It leapt over the stone wall and reached outside the old castle, while three people rode on its back.
However, Homura couldn’t withstand the impact from landing and was thrown off to the ground.
While putting up the face-down Misasagi in front of her waist, the girl on the wolf turned to look back at Homura for an instant. But then she immediately clicked her tongue at the surroundings and began calling the other wolves.
“Wait! *Cough*… Wait, are you—”
Homura staggered to her feet and called out to the girl while choking on the regurgitated gastric fluid from her stomach.
However, the girl merely stuck out her tongue hatefully and left Homura in the dust behind.
Touya had been continuing to fiercely hold back and repel the fangs and claws coming at him. In his right hand was his now unsheathed long sword and in his left hand was its sheath, which he was using in place of his usual short sword.
The wolves surrounding Touya began to pull away and withdraw one after another.
Though he found it strange, he still turned to run back to Homura.
“—Are you okay? Where’s Misasagi-senpai… Hey, Homura!?”
When he followed the blank gaze of Homura who was standing there dumbfounded, Touya’s facial color changed.
“Senpai was… taken away by them…?”
Homura nodded while gritting her teeth and barely keeping herself from sobbing as tears fell from her eyes.
“Let’s chase after them! We can’t let them get away!”
But even as he said that, the wolves got further and further away, until they disappeared in single file into the forest’s animal trails.
“Hey, do you understand me? I’m saying we have to go save senpai!”
“No, that wasn’t a bracelet… that was a rattle…”
“What are you babbling about at a time like this…? By rattle, you mean one of those baby toys?”
Touya asked her while unable to hide his irritation.
“Yeah. It’s pretty worn out and broken, but I’m sure. I’ve seen it before—”
Homura grabbed Touya’s arm, which was covered in lacerations, and spoke urgently.
“That girl’s from Earth. She’s a missing child that was abducted three years ago.”
Chapter 16 END
(1) Tekerettsunopa: This is a word that has no equivalent in English, so it’s been left in its original Japanese. It comes from the tale “Shinigami” (Grim Reaper/Death), a Japanese oral story believed to be partially based off the German fairy tale “Godfather Death” by the Brothers Grimm. The word itself is nonsense and has no actual meaning, but it is part of a special charm or incantation that was given to a human man by Death in the story, most likely the reason for its usage as a spell chant here.