The new school semester.
Homura had somehow managed to make it to the start of the second semester.
Things had been quite topsy-turvy for a bit as she dragged Touya and Himekawa from Tomakomai Denpa High into helping with her summer homework, but that was all in the past now.
With her head still filled with the relaxed haze of summer vacation and the exhaustion of finishing all her homework in time, practically none of the first day’s lessons managed to enter her brain. Despite this, by the end of the day, Homura was restless, as her body desperately craved sugar so much she couldn’t control herself.
Homura reluctantly declined Kujou’s offer to go home with her and instead headed to the Exploration Club building. Today was the first day that club activities resumed as well. The always attentive Ameno had surely prepared some junk food and rare sweets of questionable taste for their club meeting today.
In the lounge of the club building idolized by other students, I’ll lie down on the floor mat of the night-duty room and spend time decadently as much as I want while waited upon by a beautiful robot girl. Just imagining it filled Homura with enthusiasm and glee.
After Homura thus explained her aspiration for the first day of the second semester, Kujou simply said the following before departing: “If Ameno-san was mass-produced, the number of people like Hinooka-san would increase and the world would probably become a peaceful place—Goodbye.”
World peace…? How’d she reach that idea…? Homura puzzled over Kujou’s parting remark while stepping into the junction that connected buildings across the school grounds. She caught sight of several female upperclassmen grouped together in front of the sports clubs’ building ahead.
She saw a familiar female student surrounded by the female upperclassmen.
“Inari-senpai…But who’s that next to her…?”
Just as she had declared right before the start of summer vacation, Inari had returned to school at the start of the new semester.
Standing next to Inari was a second-year female student with a plump body. She was watching over Inari from a step behind her. Just like Inari, she showed no signs of being intimidated in the face of the upperclassmen surrounding them. In fact, her expression was even more brazen and confident than Inari’s.
A friend of Inari-senpai?
Still, the leading character at the center of this commotion was definitely Inari.
Upon closer inspection, all the upperclassmen there were the club presidents of the school’s various female sports clubs.
Homura had often seen their faces while walking through this hallway and on the blog that the student council secretary Kurama published.
Ah…No. They’re the former club presidents, to be precise.
Before the start of summer vacation, almost all clubs should have finished choosing their new club presidents from the younger members, so all the upperclassmen here should have already retired from their positions.
There were upperclassmen present from the Track-and-Field Club, Gymnastics Club, Swimming Club, Ping-Pong Club, Tennis Club, and even the Volleyball Club and Basketball Club, whose members were a head taller than the others. These were the clubs which gathered the especially lively and active girls within the school.
Seeing these faces, Homura managed to quickly grasp the situation.
T-They’re here to invite Inari-senpai to their clubs…and so many of them at once…?
Indeed. There was no way they could ignore someone with as much all-around sports potential as Inari.
For an instant, Homura felt somewhat proud at seeing Inari’s popularity, but then…
…No, no, no! Isn’t this really bad!?
Homura frantically looked around in search of help, but unfortunately there was no one else around.
“Have you thought about joining a new club, Inari-san?”
“Your condition is good after finishing your rehab, right?”
Inari responded to the passionate questions of the former club presidents with a firm attitude.
“My body is completely fine now. Sorry for worrying you all,” she said with a polite bow of her head, causing her wavy hair to sway. “But I can’t join a club. If a second-year like me joined midway, it would be disrespectful to the other members who have been participating seriously. And most importantly, I’m behind in my studies, so I have to focus on that for a while—Therefore, I don’t intend to join a club for the time being.”
Hearing that, Homura patted her chest in relief. Suddenly, her gaze happened to meet that of the chubby senpai next to Inari. But she showed no particular reaction to Homura.
“I came here because I thought I should give a proper reply to your offers. Though I did receive several messages and phones calls from many of you over the summer—”
When they heard Inari say that last part, the former club presidents exchanged looks and quietly exchanged heated remarks.
“Hey! Didn’t we promise that we wouldn’t steal a march on each other!?”
“In the first place, why is the Tea Ceremony Club even here?”
“It’s fine, isn’t it!? We’re always willing to welcome new members even from second year students.”
A tall senpai from the volleyball club spoke up then.
“But Inari-san, your grades weren’t all that good from the start, right? I asked the teacher in charge of my club about it. In that case, wouldn’t it be far better to aim for a university recommendation by working hard to reach a national tournament in a sports club?”
That comment apparently hit the bull’s eye, as Inari flinched a little.
“Ah, well, it’s true that my grades are at the bottom end of my year’s mid-ranks! Actually, I’m practically in the middle of the top of the bottom ranks, but still!”
“Aren’t your grades in everything besides English and phys-ed catastrophic?” remarked the senpai from the tennis club.
“You’ve already researched that far!?”
“Fufufufu.” The third-year girls mercilessly drew closer to Inari.
The former club presidents sidled up to her while licking their lips like serpents encircling their prey. In Homura’s eyes, the small-statured Inari looked like a baby fox trembling while cornered against the wall.
Naturally, this wasn’t something that Homura could ignore as someone else’s problem.
This is bad…At this rate, senpai will be swallowed whole… Uuh, no one’s coming to the rescue…
Giving up on reinforcements, Homura approached the group from the side.
“U-Umm, dear senpais…” The former club presidents simultaneously turned around to look at her. “Pardon me for interrupting you all at the climax of your scouting, but…”
“Homura? That you?” Inari belatedly noticed her presence as well.
“Yes. Despite my inexperience, I would also like to participate as a representative of the Exploration Club, but… umm, we the Exploration Club were the first ones to mark Inari-senpai with our spit… so I assert that we have priority, I guess…?”
Homura weakly made her appeal as she licked her finger and placed it on her head.
However, the former club presidents merely faced her with narrowed eyes, as if they were looking at an unfortunate child.
Inari was also gradually starting to frown as she looked at Homura.
In the end, everyone ignored Homura and went back to their forceful attempts to invite Inari to their clubs.
It was then that the girl next to Inari spoke up.
“Technically, the Exploration Club is part of the university recommendation system too, you know.”
Everyone including Inari froze up in surprise at those words. Even Homura, a member of the Exploration Club, widened her eyes upon hearing that for the first time.
“The jurisdiction over the Exploration Club will be changing over to the Nutella Development Bureau of the Cabinet Office starting next year, so the treatment for members taking university exams will be greatly improved. It will have a recommendation quota for public universities as well as private ones, so it’d be much more advantageous to join them than any of the sports clubs.
Inari turned in surprise to look at the chubby senpai, who nodded nonchalantly.
—Nyacchi-senpai? Who is she, and how does she know that?”
Even Homura hadn’t known about this shocking information. This was the first time she had heard of the “Nutella Development Bureau” outside of when it was announced at the SA. The full implications of its establishment hadn’t really clicked with her back then.
Nyacchi-senpai pressed Inari further.
“Well, though I say recommendation, your grades are really at rock bottom right now, especially in terms of your attendance rate. First, you have to work hard on regular exams and get back your knack for studying.”
Even after being refused by Inari and receiving unexpected information from Nyacchi-senpai, the former club presidents still showed no sign of giving up. One of them spoke up.
“At least answer this. Inari-san, do you intend to return to the Exploration Club?’
The moment Inari was asked that, Homura heard a familiar voice approaching from down the hallway. This was the worst possible timing. What kind of bad luck was this—?
The long-awaited reinforcements were the student council president Rokujizou and the president of the Exploration Club, Misasagi Mayo-senpai.
Misasagi and Inari’s gazes met for an instant.
And then Inari turned back to the former club presidents to answer the question.
“…No way. I’d never go back to the Exploration Club even upon threat of death.”
Homura’s heart hurt when she heard Inari declare that once more.
Inari looked at Homura through a gap between club presidents and continued speaking.
“I want to be a journalist in the future. So I’m seriously planning on going on to university. I won’t say that club activities will definitely be a hindrance to that, but it’s not what I feel that I should be doing right now. You can’t become a good journalist on passion alone. I have to obtain a good basic education in order to have a wide field of view.”
Homura couldn’t tell whether or not Inari’s words reached Misasagi’s ears.
Misasagi and Rokujizou kept heading towards the Exploration Club building without paying any mind to Inari and Homura. The former club presidents watched their backs from behind with tense expressions.
“Then, I’ll be excusing myself now.”
Inari bowed her head to the former club presidents and then turned to leave in the company of Nycchi-senpai.
“See ya, Homura. And don’t look so down.”
“…Yes…See you tomorrow.”
Homura saw off Inari. She then turned to resume heading to the club building, but without noticing it, she had been surrounded by the former club presidents who’d remained behind.
Eh? Eh? What? Homura immediately became on edge.
Just as she was about to try and escape, the former president of the Basketball Club grabbed her shoulder firmly.
“U-Umm, I’m not really a target for drafting, so—”
As Homura began to fear that she was going to be invited to their clubs too, she was hit by a completely unexpected question.
“By the way, Hinooka-san. Is it true you killed a Nutellan in battle?”
More questions came at her in quick succession.
“It was posted on an Exploration Club watcher blog. It said that the Seiran High Exploration Club were the ones to make first contact. So, is it true?”
“I heard there’s going to be an all-out war with Nutella soon, but is that for real?”
“No, the Nutellan is apparently an ancestor of Misasagi Mayo-sama.”
“No, what’s with the ‘sama’ there?”
“They attacked from the basement of your club building, right? Isn’t that bad? Can you win?”
“Touya-kun can take care of the enemy with his sword skills, right?”
Homura desperately shook her head.
“T-Those kinds of rumors are going around? No, I hadn’t heard any of that. In the first place, none of it is true! We only encountered one Nutellan. It was announced in the news, remember? Please confirm the facts from trustworthy information sources!”
Eventually, Homura was freed from the former club presidents.
While keenly feeling the need for journalists that were knowledgeable about the facts on Nutella, Homura passed through the front entrance of the club building. Next to her was Fujimori-sensei, who had joined up with her earlier.
“You really saved me back there, sensei.”
“You really had me in suspense there. Why do you always run your mouth off like that?”
“It’s fine~. By the way, thanks for the cake.”
“D-Don’t change the subject!”
They were heading straight to the usual lounge. Waiting there were Misasagi-senpai, Touya and Ameno. The only unusual presence there was student council president Rokujizou.
“Sorry for intruding like this~” Rokujizou breezily replied while making what looked like passes at sexual harassment on Ameno.
What worried Homura, though, was Misasagi, who looked slightly depressed as she sat next to Rokujizou. Homura was only able to tell because she had finally gotten used to perceiving the subtleties of Misasagi’s expressions.
“Good work during the SA, everyone.”
Today marked the resumption of club activities.
Fujimori-sensei was the first to speak. Meanwhile, President Rokujizou remained seated where she was.
The president had her arms wrapped around Ameno while resting her head on top of the robot girl’s lap in the same mischievous posture as when Homura had first entered. Ameno seemed troubled by it, but no one showed any sign of stopping the president, so she just sat there blinking her eyes with a confused expression.
Only Homura glared at the president with narrowed eyes, clearly thinking ‘Hey, I wanted to get a lap pillow from Ameno…’ while swiftly popping Alfort chocolates into her mouth from the prepared plate on the table. Due to that distraction, she didn’t pay attention to main points of the conversation as usual…
First, Fujimori-sensei spoke about their next mission.
“Your next mission on Nutella isn’t to explore unknown territory, but to create a new base camp with assistance from Hiyoshizaka High. You’ll be borrowing land near the princess’ castle to establish it on a lease. Secret negotiations with Princess Iotsumisumaru are also included in your mission.”
…Does the meaning of the word ‘lease’ have some connection with Dad’s sparkling wine? While resisting the urge to ask that out loud, Homura silently listened.
“We got the consensus of each school during the SA conference, but we’ve yet to start on any concrete work plans. Things are going to get busy, so prepare yourselves. Once we’ve solidified our plans, we’ll have to meet with Hiyoshizaka High right away to discuss things.”
“About that—” interjected Touya.
“What is it, Touya?” asked Fujimori.
“Inari-senpai should have experience from making the old base camp with Misasagi-senpai. In that case, I think we should request her help on this.”
“Unfortunately, I haven’t received any notification from Inari that she’ll be returning to the club.”
“…I know. But wouldn’t it be all right if we asked her to cooperate as an outside helper?”
Fujimori crossed her arms.
“You don’t mean bringing Inari along with you to Nutella, right? You’re referring to things like consulting with her on the base’s construction plans and learning from her accounts of past failures in that regard, correct?”
Touya nodded. After letting out a small sigh, Fujimori turned to Misasagi.
“How about it, Misasagi? The decision rests with you.”
“…If Touya-kun, thinks it, is necessary, I don’t, mind.
“If you’re opposed to it as the club president, then I—”
“I have, no reason, to be, opposed, to it. If you, can get, Inari-san’s, approval, please go, ahead.”
Both Homura and Touya could tell that Misasagi’s reply was underlain by a stiff tone. Misasagi still refused to soften her attitude towards Inari.
Homura was actually surprised that she had accepted Touya’s request at all. It appeared her stance was to only oppose bringing along the unwilling to Nutella.
She still refused to explain the fundamental reason for her stance on that, though.
Fujimori resumed the discussion.
“On your next mission, you’ll also be accompanied by an Exploration Club member from a school besides Hiyoshizaka. It’s the vice-president of Nagumo High’s club, Oozore. You guys should remember him from the SA where he served as the assembly moderator.”
Touya and Ameno nodded. Naturally, Homura did as well. Oozore-senpai had saved her when she’d been attacked by a shark in the lagoon on the Nutellan island, after all. The overwhelming display of magic he’d shown then was still fresh in her memory.
Putting on a pseudo Helping Hands comedy skit1 by grabbing Ameno’s hand and raising up in the air, Rokujizou interjected.
“Can I ask something? I know Oozore Misaki myself. He’s the Wizard of Nagumo High. Why is he going all the way out to Seiran High’s designated district?”
“‘To ensure continue fairness and impartiality’, I suppose you could say,” replied Fujimori. “The first discovered Nutellan human, Princess Iotsumisumaru—those requesting to meet with this Nutellan princess aren’t limited to the Exploration Clubs of Japan, but pretty much all investigator organizations throughout the world. First, we have to confirm with Subaru-hime herself whether or not she’ll actually accept these requests to meet.”
“Haha, I see. So it’s inconvenient to have Mayo in charge of the negotiations? Because Mayo’s related by blood to her and therefore might guide Subaru-hime’s intentions?”
“If you want it put bluntly, yes,” affirmed Fujimori with a resigned expression. “This can’t be helped. There are just too many people requesting to meet her. We can’t just do whatever we want here. Since that’s how it is, the most we can do is to show consideration so as to remove as many future problems as possible.”
At that point, Fujimori turned back towards Misasagi with a meek expression.
“But, of course, we’re not leaving you completely outside of things, Misasagi. Rather, we need you to participate in the negotiations too as the person in charge of the on-site base camp. It’s just that the higher-ups can’t possibly gain Subaru-hime’s trust by leaving the decision-making to others.”
“Yes. I, understand,” replied Misasagi with a firm nod.
Seeming a bit relieved upon hearing that, Fujimori’s expression softened.
“The truth is, I’m just relieved that Tenryuu isn’t the one accompanying you guys,” Fujimori wearily admitted as her shoulders slumped.
“I get the feeling that Representative Tenryuu and Subaru-hime might unexpectedly get along well, though,” commented Touya.
“Eh, why?” asked Homura.
“No, it’s just a feeling. Don’t you feel the same?”
“No, not at all,” said Homura with a shake of her head.
Next to them, Ameno spoke up to Fujimori.
“Why isn’t Representative Tenryuu coming himself? He’s the official representative of Japan’s Exploration Clubs, isn’t he?”
“Nagumo High’s Exploration Club has its own mission coming up. He’s leading the mission as their club president.”
“I see, so it’s a matter of the right person in the right place,” said Ameno with a nod.
“…That’s not it. It’s a harsh, life-risking mission. It’s his duty to take charge of it as the club president. ‘Right person in the right place’ only applies to routine work where you know what needs to be done beforehand.”
Hearing Fujimori’s answer after that hesitant pause, Ameno recoiled in shock. Behind her, Rokujizou spoke up next.
“Then Oozore Misaki is like a diplomat that’s been given complete discretionary authority?”
“His task and responsibilities aren’t that huge. He’s just taking charge of the preliminary investigation.”
“Seems like coordinating everything is going to be a real pain,” said Homura.
“Pretty much. More importantly, though…I just hope that they’ll exclude that idiot Saho from the list of participating members from Hiyoshizaka high,” murmured Fujimori with a frown.
Touya smiled while leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed behind his head,
“Oozore-senpai, huh? Working with him makes me feel a bit nervous, but it sounds fun in its own way. Hinooka, you should use this rare opportunity to learn magic directly from the Wizard.”
“I’m more than just a ‘bit nervous’, you know… But you might be right. I should prepare myself for lessons from him.”
How rare. How admirable of you, Homura!
“Umm, by~ the~ way~” Homura suddenly raised her hand. “Why is Rokujizou-senpai here today?”
The president, who’d been resting her chin on Ameno’s shoulder, raised her head and blurted “Oh, me?” in surprise.
“Fufu. The truth is, I’m thinking of joining the Exploration Club.”
Homura and Touya were startled by the unexpected declaration.
“You want to join the Exploration Club, Takara-san!?”
Ameno also turned to look at her with wide eyes.
Rokujizou restrained the robot girl’s head with a grin.
“Sorry, just kidding. I am technically the student council president, so I want to know what kind of effect the activities of the Exploration Club will have on the students of this school.”
Fujimori nodded in agreement, apparently already informed of this.
“That’s right. That’s why Rokujizou comes to check up on things here during important moments each semester. Though I have to admit, you’re the first student council in this school’s history to show this much interest in the Exploration Club.”
“Wahaha. There’s no way I could miss the chance to see the few rare scenes where Mayo glitters within school.”
Rokujizou met Misasagi’s eyes for a moment and shrugged in jest.
Then, she returned her gaze to Homura, who somehow seemed dissatisfied.
“Ah, please don’t misunderstand. When I say the ‘students of this school’, I don’t mean just the students outside the Exploration Club. You guys are included in that as well—Mayo, Homura, the kendo boy—” Rokujizou pointed to each of them in turn. “And you too, Ameno-chan,” she added at the end while giving the robot girl a tight hug.
“President, that posture ruins your big and cool declaration.”
Touya reproached her in reaction to being called ‘boy’, but Rokujizou ignored it as she continued speaking.
“When you get overzealous about Exploration Club activities, you tend to forget the obvious facts, right? Remember, you guys are also students of Seiran High.”
“S-Sorry. You’re right,” said Homura.
Rokujizou’s words resembled those someone else had told her before. That’s right, school life was also naturally a part of their reality.
“By the way, Ameno-chan is much heavier than she looks,” remarked Rokujizou.
“…Eh, that’s…well…it’s true, but…”
It took a moment for Ameno to fully process and blush at Rokujizou’s unexpected comment.
“Err, I’ve already been equipped with Nutella-use battery cells in preparation for the mission…so it’s true that I’m heavier than usual…”
Ameno huddled upon herself apologetically on top of the president’s lap.
“Ah, President Rokujizou, that’s robot harassment.”
“Yeah, robot harassment.”
Even Rokujizou couldn’t help yielding when both Homura and Touya reproached her like that. “Sorry,” she said while bowing her head.
“What the heck is robot harassment?” asked Fujimori with a dubious expression.
“It’s exactly what it sounds like. You should be careful not to do it either, Mori-chan,” said Homura.
“Right!?” Ameno fervently agreed.
“You got who’s harassing who backwards there. Besides, there’s no way I’d ever do anything towards a golem that could be misunderstood like that.”
“There you go again, Chiayu-san! I keep telling you not to call me a golem! And don’t just register me as ‘Class: Thief’ without my permission either! Geez!”
After the meeting concluded for the time being, Homura went up to the rooftop of the club building.
The afternoon wind had begun to stir up on the rooftop with its prominent silver astronomical observation dome, where the heat of the summer sun still lingered.
During the meeting, it had been proposed that they spread out shock absorbent mats on the rooftop while the members were out on missions, in light of what happened during their emergency withdrawal last time.
Laying out the mats was assigned to the standby group who would remain in the club building, but a certain person who clearly lacked enthusiasm in the proposal had spouted off quibbling arguments like “Too troublesome”, “There’s no way you’d be able to specify your return destination in that case anyway”, “By that logic, we’d have to lay out cushions all over the school”, and “More importantly, you should be careful of everyday traffic accidents instead”.
That person who’d spouted off those complaints was standing on the rooftop ahead of Homura.
Homura walked up next to her, who was currently gazing absentmindedly at the activity grounds of other clubs.
“Make sure to invite me to the wedding ceremony, okay?”
“……Ceremony, you say…?”
Fujimori leaned even further over the handrail at those words, looking almost on the verge of falling over.
“Who’d you hear that from? Is tailing people a bad hobby of you two?”
“Now, now. It was just a coincidence that we ran into you there.”
Fujimori sourly glared at Homura’s clear and composed face.
“…Ameno said something about you two going out on a date that day, but is that true?”
“That was just Ameno-chan joking around. You should know how impossible that is, sensei.”
“Well, true enough.”
“So, what strange turn of events made you to suddenly go to a marriage interview? And what were the final results of it?”
As Homura stubbornly pressed her teacher for answers, Fujimori gloomily looked back at her.
“Strange turn of events, huh? —Well, the final result was ‘Luck wasn’t with me this time’, I guess you could say.”
“So the marriage interview ended in failure, huh…?”
“The guy had no intention of considering the idea from the start. The moment we were alone together, he bluntly said ‘I have no plans of marrying anyone’.”
“Eeh, that’s so rude!” exclaimed Homura with an indignant pout.
“Well…I felt the exact same way, so I can’t say he was completely in the wrong there.”
Thank goodness. Homura was surprised to realize that part of her felt relieved at hearing that.
“Were you perhaps introduced to him through Akado-san? And you couldn’t refuse when she begged you to meet him?”
“That obvious, huh—Yeah, I promised her a while back. She really is a terrible person. When I went to visit her at the hospital, she asked me to listen to a single request of hers if the operation was successful.”
“Y-Yeah, that’s not the kind of thing you can just refuse,” said Homura with a sympathetic smile.
“That old matchmaker…I mean, Akado Tsuwako-san said she wanted to introduce me to an old friend of hers. I got really panicked when I realized how swiftly she set it all up. Well, I somehow managed to fulfill my obligation to her… I had no intention of taking the interview seriously myself, but when the time finally came, I ended up wanting to dress myself up even if just for appearances’ sake, and I got really depressed when I was actually rejected point-blank like that.”
True enough, it was hard to imagine Fujimori’s cute appearance that day from her current jeans outfit.
“—So, what is it you really want to ask me?”
Clearly, Fujimori had realized that Homura was just stalling for the real question she wanted to ask. In deference to her teacher’s frankness, Homura immediately withdrew from her gossip mode and cut to the chase.
“It’s about Inari-senpai.”
“Hmm? …If that’s what this is about, should you call Touya here too?”
“N-No, it’s fine. He’s still all pumped up about the talk of the new base camp downstairs, after all.”
Homura could vaguely tell that she shouldn’t let him hear this conversation with the way he currently was.
If Fujimori gave her a satisfactory answer, that might merely increase Touya Takumi’s worries, after all.
“Umm…If it’s fine for President Rokujizou to come to the club building, wouldn’t it be fine to bring Inari-senpai here too? She naturally has the qualifications to do so.”
“Inari doesn’t want to, though.”
“Then we just have to bring her forcefully.”
“So you’re going to try asking her this time? …That’d be a difficult feat. I had to really pull out all the stops to make her come to the SA. Her presence was a big help there.”
Homura had been surprised when Inari suddenly appeared at the SA. She had deferred from asking just what kind of transaction had gone on between her and Fujimori-sensei to bring that about, but it was surely the result of a sense of trust and debt between the two of them from the year and a half they spent together in the club2.
Though hesitant, Homura still expressed her thoughts.
“I’ve always thought that Inari-senpai quit the Exploration Club because of some personal discord with Misasagi-senpai. That the incident where they were stranded on Nutella in the past was the trigger for it. But now… after having seen Inari-senpai interact with the other senpais at the SA, I get the feeling that she harbors some kind of quiet anger towards the Exploration Club itself…But I don’t know what the source of that anger is.”
“You’ll understand eventually.”
“That’ll be too late! So please answer me this, at least. You might be a teacher, but I’m asking you as my senpai in the Exploration Club as well.”
For a while, Fujimori simply stared at Homura in silence.
“Wh…What is it?”
“No, I was just thinking how nice it would be if you were that serious and diligent when it came to writing essays and book reports too. You really have no confidence when it comes to writing. It’s because you just use obvious template essays that they end up being boring.”
“It’s fine. Besides, when you ask me like that, I can’t refuse.”
After letting out a small sigh, Fujimori resumed speaking.
“Back when you saw the presentations of the other schools at the SA, you said this: ‘It was refreshing and interesting seeing the hard work of various different people.’”
“Inari’s fox ears heard their presentations like this—‘Get it? Don’t do this. Don’t do that. You know what’ll happen if you break the promises we made, right?’”
Homura lowered her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t…really get it.”
“In other words, those presentations didn’t encompass the full efforts of the Exploration Club members. ‘We worked harder than what we showed there. We’ve advanced much further ahead, but we made do with just this. We compromised because we feel conscious of the eyes of our teachers and the officials—’ That’s how it sounded to her. Inari dislikes that pressure to conform to expectations.”
“It didn’t seem that way at all to me… I just thought it was all so amazing. Everyone seemed to be doing their best and having fun. That’s how it sounded to me. Is it because I have the ears of an ordinary person?”
Homura raised her palms against her head and gestured to make fake fox ears.
The sight of that made Fujimori burst out laughing.
“It’s only natural that you and Inari have different perspectives, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But…Inari might have grown a bit too close to being an adult.”
“Even if there are inconveniences on Nutella, you can’t blame others for it. Things like rashness, unreasonableness, procrastination and obstinacy all comes around back to you. You have to take responsibility for your own actions. Nutella teaches you that right away—and that pretty much makes you an adult in all but name. That’s the kind of place Nutella is. But the adults of this country don’t acknowledge that. They still treat you all as minors. Because they’re afraid.”
“—A…fraid? Why? Of what?”
Homura was shocked to hear that high-schoolers like her were feared by adults.
“They have to protect their official stance. ‘We adults have guided and supported you all plenty.’ When young investigators feel uneasy or lost on matters, they solemnly interject and decide things based on their own experiences. Though they try to share the burden, in the end, they abandon the investigators and say ‘Whatever happens after this is your mistakes’…even though the investigators know that without being told.”
Mistakes… That was the phrase used in the concluding speech of the SA presentations.
Back then, Councillor Misasagi had said, ‘We’ll eventually have to face mistakes.’
But what had left a greater impression on Homura at the time were Inari and the person she had harshly flared up against on the SA stage.
When the mood of the audience had turned sour over the issue of Subaru-hime, Representative Tenryuu had tried to appease everyone, but Inari had pressed him and asked ‘Are you just a cheap signboard?’.
Back then, Tenryuu had flinched for appearance’s sake, but he had somehow seemed happy as he looked at the angry Inari.
Representative Tenryuu and Inari-senpai, huh… Which one of them is more of an adult, I wonder?
Homura still didn’t know the answer to that.
“Though I talk so self-importantly, I’m pretty much the same. I’m a director, after all. I created this setup along with everyone else. I do feel responsible for it.”
“You’re really acting like it’s completely someone else’s problem.”
“It is. I have my own troubles, you know?”
“Troubles, huh…?” Fujimori glared at her out of the corner of her eye, but Homura ignored it with a cool expression.
Fujimori-sensei, one of Japan’s first investigators, had her own troubles as well.
But Homura could neither sympathize with her nor imagine the hardships she had tasted. Even just dealing with the one-year-older Inari-senpai was too much for her at the moment.
Fujimori returned her gaze to the school grounds below.
Homura rested her chin on her hands over the handrail next to her and murmured quietly.
“‘Chieko says that there is no sky in Tokyo3.’”
Fujimori faintly nodded at those casual words and gazed up at the sky.
“…Yeah. Inari might have become unable to see even this everyday sky.”
In that case—
What about Misasagi Mayo? thought Homura.
She seems so close yet far away… What does she think of the current Exploration Club? The sky that Misasagi Mayo has seen in her thick and close-packed eighteen years of life is surely different from the one we see.
She’s our senpai at school, but also a hard worker who has zealously trained since childhood, the daughter of a Diet member promoting the pioneering of Nutella, and also Representative Tenryuu’s fiancée—
Even so, Homura didn’t want to think of Misasagi as a person living in a different world from her. She felt a small yet unwavering certainty that they both lived in the same reality.
Homura recalled how senpai had saved her when she slipped and fell down the cliff.
That incident had only lasted several minutes, but it was an unforgettable experience for Homura. Misasagi had hugged her and tried to calm her down, but it was obvious that her heartbeat had been pounding even harder than Homura’s back then.
Senpai was scared too back then—
Just noticing that had relieved Homura’s unease more than anything else could.
“All right,” said Homura while enthusiastically raising her arms. “So, how about we have a competition to see whether your marriage hunting succeeds or Touya-kun and I bring back Inari-senpai to the Exploration Club first?”
“I’m not doing any competition. Well, regarding Inari, there are some things you guys can do precisely because I couldn’t. I’m counting on you guys.”
After that final remark, Fujimori headed back downstairs ahead of Homura.
Now alone on the rooftop, Homura raised her arms up high once more and even threw some strange kicks through the empty air to pump herself up.
Chapter 14 END
(1) Helping Hands: a comedy skit with two comedians on stage, where one hides beneath a coat hung over both of them to use their hands as if they belonged to the person in front of them.
(2) See the chapter end image of Vol 2-1 Chapter 5 to see the truth of what happened for a laugh.
(3) This is a quote from a Japanese poem previously mentioned in the first chapter of Vol 1-1. Check that chapter to understand the meaning behind this phrase.