Homura had just finished using the Exploration Club’s shower room.
The instant she returned to the changing room with a towel wrapped around her, she was suddenly hit by intense exhaustion.
After looking at herself in the mirror and letting out a big yawn, she suddenly looked to the side and saw Misasagi-senpai sitting on a bench near the wall.
“…Senpai, are your injuries okay?”
Senpai managed to nod, but Homura couldn’t bear to see her brooding expression.
Though apprehensive, Homura abruptly sat down in the chair next to Misasagi-senpai.
“Ah, right, right. I forgot I was still carrying the Transport Ring… Here, I’ll give it back.”
Misasagi raised her head when Homura tried to give back the ring, but placed her palm over Homura’s fingers and shook her head.
“I no longer, have the right, to take that.”
“Senpai… please don’t say something like that.”
There was no longer any sign of the decisive senpai who had slapped Homura’s cheek before.
“When you slapped me, I was surprised and resented you a little, but now I understand that you were thinking of my safety… You weren’t mistaken, senpai.”
Senpai’s sorrowful expression eased a little at Homura’s words. However—
“…Hinooka-san, please, take this—”
Instead of taking the ring which was the proof of her being the club president, senpai took out something herself, a jewel which emitted a familiar green glow, and held it out to Homura.
“This is… a spirit stone? Why are you giving it to me?”
“Please take care, of Touya-kun.”
“…Eh, wait, senpai?”
“This is, a quasi-third-ranked spirit stone, which I’ve kept on me, ever since I found it, in some ruins. It should, protect you, Hinooka-san.”
“What are you talking about…?”
Homura reflexively drew closer to senpai in a reproachful manner.
“Senpai, for me, having you yourself with us is far more reassuring than any stone or ring—”
At that instant, the door to the changing room was slammed opened, revealing Kamikoma, completely prepared with her rescue equipment.
“Now then, Hinooka Homura of the Seiran High Exploration Club! Sorry to do this when you’ve just finished your bath and you’re taking a breather with an expression of relief after a day’s hard work, but I have another job for you!”
Having that suddenly declared one-sidedly to her despite the fact that she hadn’t even finished changing yet, Homura was greatly startled.
“Huh, ehe? Umm, umm, u-u-umm, I’ve been awake for a whole day and haven’t had a chance to sleep well, so I’m really on the verge of collapsing here—”
“Sorry, but you’ll have to rest over on Nutella. There’s no time.”
Kamikoma crossed her arms, the very image of a demon to Homura.
“I have to put those mud-caked clothes back on?”
“That issue has already been taken care of!”
Ameno appeared from behind Kamikoma and raised her hands with a dramatic flair.
In her hands was a fresh set of Homura’s Exploration Club uniform which had been meticulously prepared. Thus the second demon had appeared.
“Homura-san is the only one who can save Takumi-san! It’s really making me fired up~. It’s a romance that’s crossed beyond space-time~”
“W-What are you saying, Ame-chan!? W-What about contacting our families!?”
As the two demons forcefully captured Homura and changed her clothes, her consciousness gradually faded away.
—Homura woke with a start.
“Hah… so it was… a dream…”
Homura opened her eyes as she felt a rhythmic vibration.
“…No, I guess it wasn’t a dream.”
“That was a long nap you had.”
After Homura grumbled to herself half-awake, Kamikoma called out to her brightly.
Taga was dashing across grasslands beneath the reflected light of the Bagel at night.
Homura and Kamikoma were sitting on each of his shoulders as odd-looking passengers.
Taga was also carrying a huge frame inside a sack on his back.
“I see… Uuuh, I can’t believe I’ve made a complete round trip with barely any break all by myself…”
“Hey, we’re here too, you know.”
“That’s true, but…”
Homura took out and grasped the charm from her chest pocket. Inside it, she could definitely feel the spirit stone that senpai had given her.
But even so, she didn’t feel reassured at all.
Even though the dream she’d witnessed just now had been very extreme, it was pretty much the same as what had happened in reality. Feelings of resentment that she still couldn’t get rid of lurked in her heart.
“Haaah,” Homura sighed.
Setting that aside—she turned her attention to the Hiyoshizaka High Exploration Club members.
Homura couldn’t help but be awed by Taga’s power and stamina as he ran like a land cruiser while easily carrying both Kamikoma and Homura on his shoulders.
As for Kamikoma, she was fiddling with her lute and eagerly playing with its accompanying peg as she was rocked and shaken with Taga’s every movement.
“Taichi, run a bit more smoothly. I can’t tune it properly like this.”
And she even ended up saying things like that.
“Come on, Koma-senpai. You’re asking the unreasonable.”
“It’s not unreasonable. I’ve even cooked on top of the Taichi-car in the past. Things like curry.”
“That way of thinking itself is unreasonable, you know!? Taga-senpai, you say something too!”
However, the man in question simply maintained his reliable running pace while wearing a carefree smile on his hairy face.
“…Well, I’m not one to talk flippantly either when I’m allowed to relax on your shoulders like this, but…”
At the end of her sentence, Homura quietly muttered to herself, “Is Taga-senpai a man of bottomless generosity?”
Ignoring Homura’s bafflement, Kamikoma played on her lute a slightly sad melody that suited these grasslands at night.
The melody wasn’t just pleasing to the ears, but also seemed to sink into Homura’s body and gently adjust the rhythm of her breath and heartbeat, making her exhaustion mysteriously lessen.
It appeared that the reason why Homura was able to rest and nap in this absurd position was largely due to Kamikoma’s magic.
Glancing at Kamikoma from the corner of her eye, Homura listened attentively to her lute playing.
“…Koma-senpai, umm, you use dodeca-model magic, right? I heard your class was bard, though.”
“Oui1. As you can see—”
She began to play a different melody on the lute while humming, and pale lights that resembled fireflies flowed out from her fingertips and were carried off by the wind. It appeared to be a type of illumination magic.
“Wow, so pretty… But why don’t you use a saxophone?”
“—A saxophone would also work just as well. As long it can make a melody with a twelve-tone equal temperament based on Pythagorean tuning, any instrument would work. However, the saxophone has major disadvantages when using it for practical application in the Exploration Club.”
“First of all—when I blow the saxophone, I can’t give directions to others.”
“Second, I get really tired if I keep blowing it for a long time.”
“I see. That’s true.”
“Therefore, I gave up on using the saxophone and chose an instrument based on, well, my personal tastes from the various acoustic instruments with moderate sound range.”
“That makes sense.”
Homura fervently nodded in admiration.
Just like with the communication device, the options of usable equipment seemed to be bottle-necked by the battery.
However, Kamikoma was making a sour expression. The melody she was playing also seemed to become more solemn and grave…
“But now I regret having chosen the lute…” Kamikoma spat out reproachfully.
“Isn’t it a bit late for that?”
“But a lute is super bulky and unwieldy, you know? And tuning it is way too much of a pain. Even Goethe complained about it, right? He said that he wasted half of his life on tuning his lute.”
“I… like it.”
Taga, who had been silently sticking to his role as a rally car, suddenly murmured that.
“Hey, what’re you saying, you damn Pajero2?”
Kamikoma hit her junior club member’s head.
“W-Well, perhaps because it takes so much work to take care of it, it’s strangely very compatible with magic, though.”
Kamikoma once more began to play a soothing melody.
From Homura’s point of view, both Kamikoma and Taga were far too calm, making it impossible to tell that they were heading to the castle of a dangerous witch.
Even though, if they tried to not only save Touya, but also bring back that problematic wolf girl, a fierce battle with the witch might be awaiting them in the worst case scenario—
Nevertheless, it was true that Homura felt encouraged by their calmness.
“Senpai is terrible…” Homura murmured with a sigh.
“I mean how she abdicated her responsibility to me… using the excuse that I’m more familiar with the route to get there.”
Taga also glanced at Homura as she waved her legs in dissatisfaction.
“It’s true that I’m also worried about Touya-kun, but she didn’t have to push all responsibility on me one-sidedly like that. The things I’m capable of doing are really limited.”
“…Don’t say it like that.”
As Homura pouted, Kamikoma chided her candidly.
“Unlike Mayo who was unconscious when the wolves came and took her away, you were able to ascertain the surrounding terrain, so I think bringing you as our guide is logical. Well, it’s also because there’s the chance that we might get stranded here ourselves if we make even one misstep on this rescue mission.”
“In that case…!”
“However, she’s not being excluded from this mission just because of her injuries. It would be a bad idea to bring Mayo to Nutella when she’s in that state.”
Still unconvinced, Homura angrily turned away to stare ahead in the direction they were heading.
Kamikoma’s gaze turned soft and mature as she looked at Homura.
“She needs time. Time to heal her wounds. This alone… is something that not even my lute can heal.”
Despite those words, Homura remained absent-minded.
“…Is senpai going to quit at this rate?”
Homura hunched down forlornly. Tears gradually gathered at the corner of her eyes.
“For her to give up being an investigator… that’s too unfair. After she said things like having a persistent fighting spirit… and a heart that never falters…”
Kamikoma played the melody for illumination magic and made the glowing orb that appeared stay fixed above her shoulder. She then strapped her lute to her back and took out a map from her pocket.
She checked and confirmed their route while squinting at the mountains illuminated by the moon and the Bagel.
Then, as she stored the map back away, she finally spoke up.
“…Mori-chan may have said those kinds of things, but she surely believes in Mayo. She’s known Mayo for far longer than I have, since she was little. Mori-chan knows that she’s not the kind of person to give up that easily. Of course, I also believe in Mayo.”
“But senpai ran away.”
Kamikoma stared fixedly at Homura over Taga’s head.
She was making the same serious and solemn expression as the time she’d spoken about Kujou.
“Everyone has some weakness in them. None of us are perfect. We manage to get through it by supporting each other. If you can’t acknowledge and accept that weakness, you’ll eventually end up all alone.”
“It’ll be okay. Mayo will definitely recover and get back on her feet—when that time comes, please be there by her side, Homura. Along with that rascal Touya.”
Chapter 21 END
(1) Oui: French for “yes”. Kamikoma tends to use multilingual phrases like this often.
(2) Pajero: referring to the Mitsubishi car model of that name.