Homura and Misasagi-senpai’s arrival point was neither the Transport Room nor anywhere else within the club building.
It was on the roof of the club building. Several meters in the air above it, that is.
The first one to greet them was Ameno, who just happened to be on the roof at the time.
After hearing Homura’s shriek and looking out from the door of the astronomical observation dome, Ameno ran over at a trot and spoke in a voice that lacked any urgency or tension.
“Welcome back. You guys returned a lot earlier than planned. But why here?”
Homura stood up while rubbing her butt.
The club president was on her knees in a sunken state beside her.
“W-We’re back, Ame-chan… Call sensei. I-It’s an emergency.”
“Ye~s. I’m sending her a wake-up call right now. Please wait a little bit.”
Ameno tilted her head in puzzlement.
“…Only you and the club president, Homura-san? Where’s Takumi-san?”
Ameno looked around the rooftop restlessly and then leaned over the railing to look down at the schoolyard.
This late at night, there was no one to be seen on the school grounds. The only illumination to be seen came from the club building.
Neither Homura nor senpai answered Ameno’s question.
“Something happened, huh?”
The sound of running footsteps approached from the staircase, and Fujimori-sensei jumped onto the rooftop. She apparently hadn’t gone to bed yet, this time.
Looking over the exhausted and battered Homura and senpai with several pieces of their equipment missing, Fujimori immediately understood that they had done an emergency withdrawal.
She pursed her lips and looked over the two of them with a tense expression.
“Sensei, Touya-kun was—!”
Homura turned to Fujimori imploringly.
“Well done returning home, Hinooka…… Misasagi?”
Fujimori looked over at the club president, who was still on her knees and hanging her head.
She finally looked up at Fujimori and gave her report with a pained expression.
“Hinooka-san, and I, were the, only ones, to return…”
“Please send out, a rescue request. Touya-kun is, in danger.”
“Understood. Do you know the specific location where he’s been stranded?”
“I know—ah, the camera…”
When she looked over her shoulder, Homura realized that she had lost her bag. It must have fallen off when she ran down the hill.
“Umm~, I think it was near the center of the unmapped territory we were supposed to investigate…”
“All right. Tell me the details while we move.”
Fujimori was also aware that they couldn’t waste even a second of time right now.
The four of them left the club building and headed to the school parking lot, where they then got into Fujimori’s Mini-Cooper.
“Hinooka, contact Koma—club president Kamikoma and tell her we’re going to pick her up. It’s faster if we only have to stop by there briefly.”
Fujimori tossed a terminal into the backseats where Homura and senpai were sitting, and Homura frantically caught it.
“Ameno, call Professor Tanakura at Hiyoshizaka High.”
“Hirosuke-san, right? Well, it’s true that I can act as a hands-free phone using my internal functions, but it’s not exactly pleasant for—”
“Just hurry up and call him.”
“Doing so now.”
Ameno connected the call to the other party while grumbling, “I guess this makes me a true Android phone.”
Meanwhile, the Mini-Cooper dashed through the roadway at night.
Club president Kamikoma’s home was apparently on the way to Hiyoshizaka High.
Homura was worried about senpai beside her, who had been hanging her head without speaking a word since they got in the car.
“…Ah, Koma-senpai? The truth is—”
Homura managed to reach Kamikoma and explained the request to rescue Touya, who had been left behind on Nutella, and Kamikoma understood and agreed to it in a shockingly calm manner.
Fujimori-sensei also contacted the advisor for the Hiyoshizaka club and seemed to have arranged a plan to meet up at their school.
Next, Ameno passed a handheld game console to Homura.
“Hmm? What’s this?”
“That contains a conjectural map of the unmapped territory you went to. We showed it to you before you departed, remember? If you can recall the route you took through it and the spot where you did an emergency withdrawal, please mark it there.”
“All right. I’ll mark everything I can remember. What will we do with the map afterwards?”
“We’ll give the data to the Hiyoshizaka High Exploration Club.”
Homura nodded in understanding, but when she thought of how she might end up entrusting Touya’s rescue to someone else, she felt lonely despite understanding the necessity.
While zooming down the highway, Fujimori looked into her rear-view mirror.
“Misasagi, how are your injuries?”
Hearing those words, Homura was startled as she recalled senpai’s state.
“T-That’s right, senpai. Your injuries… just who on earth treated them?”
Homura looked at the bandages around senpai’s abdomen painfully.
“…I’m, fine. For the, time being, anyway. There’s no sign, of infection, either.”
“When we arrive, go see Tanakura. Wounds from beast claws can be quite troublesome. Even if your body’s resistance increases when you’re on Nutella, there have been cases where investigators became ill after returning here.”
“Sensei, senpai’s injuries aren’t from the wolves. It’s from when she protected me from the explosion.”
“Either way, she has to get herself looked at and treated.”
“Hirosuke-san is a doctor, after all.”
“…Is Hirosuke-san the advisor of the Exploration Club at Hiyoshizaka High?”
“That’s right. He’s a former investigator who was part of the same group as Chiayu-san. He’s also Chiayu-san’s ex-boyfriend.”
Fujimori did a spit take.
Homura grabbed the back of the seat in front of her and leaned forward as she questioned Ameno dubiously.
“…By ex-boyfriend… you mean Mori-chan is a divorcee?”
“He was never my boyfriend or my spouse! Don’t get sidetracked at a time of emergency like this.”
While they chatted like this, the Mini-Cooper arrived at a residential district and stopped in front of Kamikoma’s home.
Kamikoma, illuminated by the car’s headlights, had already finished preparing and was waiting for them at her front door.
“We’re indebted to you for this, Koma.”
“No, no, we’re in the same boat here.”
Kamikoma gallantly climbed into the back seats, carrying a big and sturdy-looking instrument case on her back.
“Thanks for coming. Koma-senpai—is that your saxophone?”
“No, this is a lute. It’s my personal weapon.”
“You want me to open the trunk to put it in?” Fujimori asked.
“Ah, no, I’ll carry it on me. Chiayu-san’s trunk is a complete mess, after all.”
“I can stuff you into the trunk instead, you know.”
“I’m not that curious.”
Smiling wryly, Kamikoma handed the case to Ameno.
After Kamikoma crossed over Homura’s knees and sat in the center of the back seats, the car resumed driving.
Kamikoma worried over the completely depressed Misasagi.
“Mayo, are you okay?”
Misasagi nodded weakly.
“…All right. Then, Homura, can you explain the situation as best as you can?”
“Y-Yes. What happened was—”
During their short drive to Hiyoshizaka High, Homura summarized the series of events starting from when they had received the surprise attack up to when they had to regretfully do an emergency withdrawal.
She explained how their base camp had been thoroughly destroyed and they’d been caught in a trap while the enemy lay in wait.
She explained how they’d suddenly been attacked by wolves, how those wolves had been led by a young girl, and how senpai had been injured and then kidnapped by them.
She explained how she thought that girl might be a missing child who disappeared three years ago.
She explained how they’d taken a completely different route than they’d planned and entered the unmapped area.
She explained how they’d encountered a Nutellan, a hostile witch within the unmapped area.
And she explained how, after being attacked by the witch and running away from her, Homura ended up being forced to leave Touya behind on Nutella and return to Earth with senpai, who had managed to safely escape her capture.
Both Kamikoma and Fujimori-sensei listened closely to Homura’s fast-paced report without interjecting, merely asking the minimum-required questions every once in a while.
After hearing everything, Fujimori faced the steering wheel and let out a large sigh.
“…My comrades and I also got caught up in a lot of trouble and scandals during our investigations back in our time, but what you guys went through is even worse than any of that.”
“That’s right. To sum it up, this is a huge incident that could shake the entire Earth.”
Kamikoma also nodded in agreement.
“Things are going to turn into a big, chaotic mess after this.”
“H-Haa…” Homura vaguely responded with a shrug.
“Is that so?”
Ameno, who didn’t seem to quite get it like Homura, was currently making an enquiry to the police about the details of the missing child incident after learning the girl’s name from Homura.
Kamikoma crossed her arms and spoke.
“Since there’ll be a need to bring back Touya and that missing child with us when we return to Earth… we’re only going to be able to send three people to Nutella.”
“O-Only three? But doesn’t Hiyoshizaka’s Exploration Club have a lot of members—?”
“Sorry, that’s the limit with the amount of magic energy we currently have charged in our Transport Rings. We could bring one more person if we wait another three days, but we don’t have that kind of time.”
After being told that, Homura could only nod meekly in response.
If they waited three days here on Earth, eighteen days would pass on Nutella in the meantime.
“Only three, huh? That’ll make things quite hard… I’ll leave the selection of members to you, Koma,” Fujimori declared.
“Yep. I’ll discuss it with our club’s advisor.”
Fujimori nodded in agreement.
They entered the metropolitan area of Honmachi.
When they arrived at Hiyoshizaka High while gazing sidelong at the relatively small school grounds made of urethane rubber pavement, an eight-seater single-box car had already arrived at the school parking lot.
“Koma-senpai, that car belongs to Professor Tanakura, your club advisor—?”
Suddenly, a giant man big enough to fill three seats by himself got out from the back seat of the temporarily parked single-box car. He was so huge that, the instant he got off, the car trembled from the release of his great weight.
“Huge… so huge!”
When Homura and the others left their car and went to face him, Homura couldn’t help speaking out rudely in awe.
The man had a stern gaze that looked at them from half-lidded eyes. His shaggy sideburns gave him a wild image.
If Homura had met him alone on the sidewalk in the middle of the night, she might have burst into tears.
“This is our club’s vice-president, Taga Taichi. He’s a second-year student.”
The man called Taichi bowed his head slightly.
Facing this giant who stood looming amidst the parking lot at night, Homura managed to greet him despite being taken aback.
“N-Nice to meet you. Umm, I’m Hinooka Homura.”
“Ussu,” Taichi replied in acknowledgement.
Compared to his powerful appearance, his quiet and docile expression made quite an impression.
Fujimori-sensei jumped with a start when she heard her name called.
Someone in a white doctor’s coat appeared from the driver’s seat of the other car.
It was Professor Tanakura, a man with a slightly small and plump build.
He walked over to the rest of them, looking worried.
“So Touya-kun’s the one who was stranded?”
“Y-Yeah—but the situation is quite complicated.”
“All right. I’ll listen to the details in the clubroom. I should call over the other club members as well.”
Still wearing her driving glasses, Fujimori hesitantly nodded and pointlessly readjusted her glasses.
Though this should have been Homura’s first time meeting him, she felt like she remembered him from somewhere, and sure enough, he was one of the people within the photo on Fujimori-sensei’s desk.
“Misasagi-kun. And Hinooka-kun. Good job returning safe and sound.”
“N-No, I wasn’t able to do anything on my own.”
She was no match for these people, who had responded to this sudden call to meet late at night without any indication of displeasure. Their virtuousness pierced her heart.
The group of seven people composed of Exploration club members from two different schools walked through the school entrance and headed towards the Exploration Club building within the school grounds.
This was Homura’s first time visiting Hiyoshizaka High. She really wished that she could have come here to play at a more peaceful time.
“I have to contact Touya’s parents.”
“Yeah. And I have to report to head of the local branch.”
As they walked through the school corridor, Fujimori murmured with a bitter expression and Tanakura nodded in agreement.
“Back in our days, such rules and procedures were often ignored, though. And now we’re the ones who see off the young ones,” Tanakura remarked ruefully.
Ignoring the conversation between the teachers, Kamikoma looked back at Homura and Misasagi.
“Go use the showers here, you two.”
“Eh? But we don’t have that kind of leisure—”
“You’re both covered in mud and a complete mess, you know? I say this as someone who was stuck between you two in the car.”
When it was put so frankly, Homura finally grew conscious of her terrible state and became embarrassed.
Hearing that, Tanakura turned to look at them, particularly the bandages around Misasagi’s abdomen, and asked a question.
“Misasagi-kun, did you receive that external wound on Nutella?”
“That’s right, she’s been acting so composed that I forgot about it,” Kamikoma said in realization.
“She can really be a handful that way, geez.”
Fujimori came to a stop at a fork in the corridor which faced the courtyard, and pointed one way while she walked over to escort senpai down the other corridor.
“You all go ahead to the club building. There should be a shower room there.”
Suddenly, Ameno stepped forward and clung to senpai.
“Ah, I’ll escort her, Chiayu-san,” Ameno suggested.
“I see… Then I’ll leave it to you. Misasagi, come over once you’ve finished being treated.”
Nodding, senpai headed to the infirmary in the company of Ameno and Tanakura-sensei.
Homura watched senpai leave, feeling lonely as she did so.
Of course, Misasagi-senpai wasn’t really composed at all. She just hadn’t said anything on the way here.
The other group resumed heading towards the club building.
“Sensei, Mayo is—”
Kamikoma peeked over at Fujimori, who still wore a bitter expression.
“…Is senpai going to be okay?”
Homura asked that question to no one in particular as they arrived at the club building of Hiyoshizaka’s Exploration Club, which had been boldly remodelled from ordinary classrooms. She forgot to even observe Hiyoshizaka’s club building, which she was seeing for the first time.
Fujimori, who would normally crack a friendly joke at a time like this, remained silent.
Kamikoma sat down on an office chair in the standby room and spun the seat around. The giant Taga stood silently behind her like a bodyguard. They were truly a mismatched club president and vice-president.
“…This isn’t the first time that Misasagi has experienced an accident involving an emergency withdrawal.”
Kamikoma began speaking bit by bit.
“It happened during the autumn of last year. Inari was still around back then. They were investigating a certain set of ruins, but Mayo was too absorbed in it. She was impatient to make an achievement and misjudged when to pull out. Back then, the ones who were left behind on Nutella were Mayo and Inari.”
Fujimori remained silent as she listened.
“Inari had a precious familiar1. And she lost that familiar due to Mayo’s mistake.”
“The two of them… were best friends?” Homura asked.
“Yeah,” Kamikoma said with a deep nod. “I still can’t believe that their friendship was broken off. What happened back then left a deep wound in the hearts of both Mayo and Inari that still exists even now.”
Fujimori spoke up with a gloomy tone.
“Misasagi is the kind of person who can endure any pain if she bears it alone. But—”
Fujimori suddenly looked at Homura.
“If something happens to Touya… No, considering the situation, there’s no way he’ll be unharmed. If something happens on Nutella that makes it impossible for Touya to continue as part the Exploration Club…”
If something happens that threatens his life—
“Misasagi can’t endure losing any more comrades. Her fear will take control and make her incapable of making sound decisions anymore. She’ll be finished as an investigator.”
Chapter 19 END
(1) Familiar: a term referring to enchanted animals/spirits (usually small in size) that serve as helpers to mages.