an English translation of the novel

Page 173-174

{The haythatcher sets up its convincing fake nest and eggs, and waits for birds to fall into its trap. It periodically patrols its nests, looking for new tributes.}

I thought back to the model of the haythatcher skeleton I one saw in our science class. In order to crush eggs, its precaudal vertebrae are thicker than to other snakes’, almost like a row of molars. It reuses the crushed eggshells as material for its own eggs. Because of the large amounts of calcium in its body, the eggs it lays are hard, like bird eggs, so baby haythatchers need beaks in order to break out.

But I never knew it used the Devil’s Hand as a defense against rat snakes and rosary snakes until today. Maybe I was asleep when the teacher taught us that.

This may be made up in hindsight, but I seem to remember feeling slightly uncomfortable at that time. It was a real-life example of the adaptation and natural selection mentioned in the textbook. In order to survive, even something like the Devil’s Hand could be evolved.

But as we set off up the Tone River again, all my questions and misgivings were blown away by the relaxing breeze.

 

As the day drew to an end, we steered our canoes toward the bank and went ashore. There were still faint traces of the group before us left on the sand.

The first task was to set up the tents. We dug holes for the bamboo tentpoles, and tied the canvas to them with leather strips. It was surprisingly tiring work. The easiest way was to have one person float the poles and canvas, and another person position them properly.

Next was food preparation. We had over three hundred kilos of supplies in our canoes, so food was plentiful. We gathered dried twigs and kindling nearby and lit a fire with our cantus. In a pot, we put purified water, rice, vegetables, meat, tofu skin and other foods to make rice gruel. Even though the only seasonings we had were miso and salt, everyone had worked up an appetite and we devoured the whole pot in the blink of an eye.


Page 175-177

The sun had set while we were eating, and now we sat chatting around the campfire.

That scene is still burned vividly into my mind. I was tired after a whole day of activity and smoke from the fire was making my eyes water. Since this was our first big adventure outside the Holy Barrier, we were all more spirited than usual. As the sky faded from pale to deep blue, the fire lit up our faces with a red glow.

To tell the truth, I can’t remember the first half our conversations. I remember our daytime conversations perfectly well, but the more interesting topics we discussed that night continue to elude me. It’s as if those memories had been washed away.

At the time, I was wholly concentrated on the boy on the other side of the fire.

“…you’ve never seen it before, right Saki?” Satoru said all of a sudden.

What was he talking about that I’ve never seen before? Anyway, I’ll just give some noncommittal answer.

“Oh, who knows.”

“Huh? So you have?”

I didn’t have any choice but to shake my head.

“See, there’s no way,” Satoru said assertively.

I wanted to refute him, but since I didn’t know what he was talking about, there was nothing I could do.

“That…that’s it!” Satoru suddenly became very excited for some reason. “Just the other day, Shun and I saw it for the first time, right?”

Across the flames, I saw Shun nod. I couldn’t remember when the two of them had become so close.

“It must be something important, to be so heavily guarded.”

“Seems like it. Anyway, I don’t think any of us happened to see it when we were at Harmony School,” Shun said in his calm voice, smiling slightly. “There’s a wall right behind the door, so even if you open it, you still can’t see the inner courtyard. And the teachers are always really careful about opening and closing the door.”

Does this mean they actually went into the courtyard? I was surprised at their daring. The inner courtyard was a square surrounded by buildings on all sides, like the one in Harmony School, and while students were not explicitly forbidden to enter, there were no windows looking into it and people usually don’t get the urge to enter anyway.

“But twice I happened to get a glance while the Sun Prince was opening the door. And the image of bolts on the inside is burned into my mind.”

What would locks look like a thousand years from now? I can’t imagine. They used to just be pieces of metal with notches on them, and gradually became as sophisticated as the gears of a watch. But in our time, there are very few places that need locks, so their designs have become increasingly simple again.

On the inside of the door were a dozen small bolts, arranged radially. You couldn’t see where they were from the outside, so the only way to unlock the door was to have a picture with all the locations drawn on it or recall it from memory, and unlock them with your cantus.

“…and then, I kept an eye out while Shun unbolted the door. We slipped inside and shut the door. Holding our breaths, we went toward the second wall,” Satoru paused for dramatic effect, looking around at us.


Page 178-180

“What was there?” asked Maria.

“Guess,” Satoru smiled.

“Not more graves like in the courtyard at Harmony School?” I said.

Mamoru’s eyes went wide, not having heard that story before. “What? There are graves there?”

“No, it was just a story I heard.”

“Stop trying to be all mysterious already. What was there?”

“…pretty much the same as what I saw at Harmony School,” Shun answered. “There are some plants, but most of the courtyard is empty. At the far end is a row of five brick storerooms with heavy wooden doors.”

“Did you look inside?” Maria asked.

“We were going to, but turned back,” Satoru said.

“Why?”

“There was a really gross smell coming from them, so we didn’t want to open them.”

Since Satoru was always telling really exaggerated stories with tons of superfluous detail, hearing him say something vague like this actually made us more interested.

“What gross smell?”

“It’s a really sharp smell…kind of like ammonia.”

“So you mean they were all toilets?”

Satoru didn’t respond to my joke.

“Not just that. I’m not exactly sure, but I thought I could hear voices coming from them too,” Shun said.

“What kind of voices?” I asked, even though I was getting scared.

“I don’t know, but they sounded like animal cries to me.”

This had to be a story they made up to scare us. But even as I thought that, a chill ran up my spine. We didn’t talk about it for the rest of the night.

Since we had to get up early the next day, we should have gone to sleep, but we all wanted a bit more adventure. Out of the blue, Mamoru suggested that we go night-canoeing. Maria agreed at once.

At first, I was a little apprehensive about rowing down the river with only starlight to guide us. It was an instinctive fear of not being able to see what was around me.

But it would be even worse to be the only one left behind, so I decided to join. We drew straws to see who had to stay behind to watch the fire, because if it went out, we would be lost in the darkness.

I forgot to mention that we had named our canoes. Mine and Satoru’s was Sakuramasu 2, Maria and Mamoru’s was Hakuren 4, and Shun’s was Kamuruchi 7.1 We marked the sticks for lots with the sharp end of an acorn and drew. Shun and I were in Hakuren 4 and Maria and Mamoru were in Sakuramasu 2. Unfortunately for him, Satoru was left to perform guard duty.

1 Sakuramasu is is a type of salmon, hakuren means silver carp, and kamuruchi is a type of fish called the northern snakehead.

Page 181-183

“This is bull,” Satoru complained, not knowing when to give up. He always said that the last of the lot was the luckiest, and this is what he gets for it. “You could see the different one if you looked into the can!”

“Sure, but no one looked,” Maria replied calmly.

In reality there was no need to peek at the bottom. If you paid attention, you could tell that the marked and unmarked sticks stood up a little differently.

Satoru sat down next to the fire grumpily as we left the camp.

“Don’t look at the fire,” Shun said.

“Why?”

“No one ever told you? That’s the number one rule to night canoeing. You have to get your eyes adjusted to the dark as soon as possible or you won’t be able to see anything.”

Shun got into the canoe first and turned around to pull me in. My heart soared and I forgot all about being scared of being lost on the dark river.

The canoe slid silently into the night.

Not being able to see anything made us wary of using our canti, so we rowed with the paddles for a while.

Even after my eyes adjusted, it was hard to see. The river reflected only the flickering lights from stars, and everything else was blackness. The only sound came from the small splashes of our oars.

“It feels like I’m in a dream,” I whispered. “Like this, it’s hard to know how fast we’re going.”

“You can tell if you put your hand in the water,” Shun said from behind.

I put down the paddle and slipped my fingers into the water. The water flowed swiftly through my fingers.

From somewhere far up ahead, Maria’s laughter came echoing back. Because of the silence of the night, or the stillness of the water, sound traveled much farther than it did during the day.

Shun stopped rowing and brought the paddle back into the boat.

“What happened?”

“If you keep rowing, there’s always going to be ripples, right…?” He seemed to be looking at the water.

I turned around and saw the campfire. We had traveled quite a distance downriver already.

“Yeah, but it’s a river, so there will always be some waves.”

Shun chanted his mantra. “Ready? I’m gong to flatten the surface.”

A ripple spread out from our boat, and the waves disappeared.

“Wow, that’s amazing.”

It was as if the water had been frozen over. Any imperfection was been smoothed out and the surface looked like polished glass, a giant mirror reflecting every star in the sky.


Page 184-186

“Beautiful. It’s like I’m in space.”

I would remember this night until the day I died.

Hakuren 4 floated not on a river, but the Milky Way.

A voice came traveling on the wind, from far away. Satoru’s voice. I looked back and could barely see the fire.

“Should we head back?” Shun asked.

I shook my head silently.

I wanted to stay here for just a little longer. With Shun, in this perfect world.

Our canoe drifted through the starry sky. I leaned back on my right hand to enjoy the view.

After a while, I felt Shun’s hand, his slender fingers covering my own.

I wished time would stop. Just Shun and I, linked together like this forever.

I don’t know how long we stayed like this. What brought me back to reality was Satoru’s voice coming from far away. It seemed like he was panicking because no one was coming back.

“Let’s go,” Shun said.

This time, I nodded. It would be mean to leave Satoru all by himself for too long.

We swung the boat around. Shun used his cantus to propel us back up the river, and the stars scattered into the waves.

Just as we were hitting a comfortable speed, I was blinded by a feeling of uneasiness.

Exactly how fast were we going right now?

The river and its banks melted into the darkness, leaving me completely unable to recognize anything.

{In a situation where our senses fail, even having the god-like powers of cantus can’t dispel our uneasiness.}

Then, a thought came to me.

If we were to shut ourselves off from our senses, would we still be able to use our canti?

Then, following that.

Why was it that there was nobody who had lost their sense of sight or hearing living in our town?