an English translation of the novel

Page 293-295

Rijin had been so close to the explosion that his body was now an unrecognizable mess. Since we couldn’t use our cantus to bury him, we simply covered him with dirt. That simple task made me want to throw up.

“Saki, look at this,” Shun pulled out something that had been deeply embedded into the ground and held it out.

“What is it?” I hesitated, not taking the object from him.

He held it up for me to get a better look. It looked like a disc surrounded by six sharp, feather-like spikes sticking out in alternate directions.

“Looks like a water wheel propeller.”

“It’s probably part of the blowdog’s spine.”

“Its spine?”

Satoru came and took it from Shun, turning it over in his hands.

“It’s hard as stone. And heavy too. If you got hit with this you’d probably die.”

“They’re shaped like this so that when the blowdog dies they’ll come flying out.”

“Flying out for what?”

“To kill its opponent.”

As I looked around, I saw many more of them sticking out of the ground. Goosebumps stood out on my arms. {The blowdog could do this much damage.}

Satoru brought the bone to his nose and sniffed it.

“What are you doing?” I imagined the smell of blood and grimaced.

“It smells kinda like fireworks.”

“Oh? I get it,” Shun said, seemingly to himself. “Blowdogs probably have sulfur and saltpeter stored in their bodies so they can make gunpowder. Just inflating themselves to the point of bursting wouldn’t create such a powerful explosion… some of its bones act as flint to create the spark that sets everything off.”

“W-wait. Are there really animals that have evolved to become suicide bombers?”

It wasn’t unusual for animals to try to appear larger in order to intimidate its enemies, but isn’t blowing yourself up when the enemy ignores your warnings extremely counterproductive?

“Yeah. Shun, you even said so before we came here. If blowdogs kept blowing themselves up, they’d become extinct in no time.”

“That’s what I thought. But I just remembered that there was an animal a lot like the blowdog in one of the ancient biology books I read,” he said.

“There are more of them?” Satoru and I said in unison.

“Yeah, and by analogy, I have a rough idea of what blowdogs really are.”

“What?”


Page 296-298

“Oh really? So is it a balloon, or a dog?” Satoru joked.

That was our reaction to shock–to lose our heads just a little bit.

“Stop talking about stupid things!” Maria finally exploded. “Do you even understand the situation we’re in? We’ve been abandoned in the middle of nowhere, and on top of that, none of us can use our cantus…”

We stopped smiling.

“You’re right,” Shun said, after a heavy silence. “In any case, let’s head back the way we came. We’ll have to sleep out in the open tonight.”

“Hey…!” Satoru said nervously, grabbing Shun by the arm. He jerked his chin toward the crater.

Following his gaze, we froze.

A group of silhouettes stood forty or fifty meters ahead, watching us silently. Queerats.

“…what do we do?” Maria’s voice shook.

“Isn’t it obvious? We march up and attack,” Satoru replied.

“Attack? How are we supposed to do that without cantus?” I shot back.

“They don’t know that. If we run, it’ll expose our weakness and they’ll come after us.”

“But if we go, we’ll be captured,” Mamoru said in a thin voice.

“Exactly! We have to run,” Maria said.

As I looked at the queerats, I was filled with conviction.

“They definitely don’t want to fight. They just want us to leave.”

“How do you know? If that was the case, they should have left first,” Satoru said stubbornly.

“Their burrows are over there.”

That’s why this group was here defending their burrows in the face of death. The blowdog must also have been…

“Okay, let’s all back away slowly,” Shun said. He only ever took charge when it was absolutely necessary.”Be quiet, don’t provoke them. We’re done for if they think we’re afraid.”

He didn’t need to say any more. We retreated as quietly as possible. Soon it became dark, and every time I heard the crunch of rocks being stepped on, I was filled with fear.

The queerats watched closely as we backed down the hill, but showed no signs of pursuing us.

“I guess Saki was right. They don’t want to fight,” Maria said, sounding relieved.


Page 299-301

“It’s too early to say that for sure,” Satoru said gloomily. “They might be waiting for us to let our guard down before attacking.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” I snapped. “Do you enjoy the fact that they’re afraid of us?”

“Fine, should I say something stupidly optimistic then?” Satoru retorted.

“…Satoru’s probably right,” Shun said unexpectedly.

“Why?”

“Saki’s right that they don’t want to fight over there. Maybe because that’s where their nests are. But once we get far enough away, who knows what they’ll do.”

“But…what’s the point in attacking?”

“Dude, did you not see what Rijin did earlier? How many queerats do you think he killed? They’re not going to be satisfied with just having one of us dead.”

Satoru’s logic was depressingly sound.

“But they probably think we still have cantus, right? They should be trying to avoid more meaningless deaths,” Maria said.

Shun shook his head, “Like Rijin said, they’re a foreign species. They might have been civilized in the beginning, but have lost contact with humans for a long time. Remember, that first scout that was caught? It didn’t seem to know what cantus was.”

“That’s true, but shouldn’t they have learned to fear it by now?” I said quietly, trying to think from their point of view.

“Yeah. That’s why they haven’t attacked us yet. But at best, they only half-believe in our powers.”

“Why?”

“They’re probably thinking that if they had the same powers we did, they would have slaughtered us a long time ago.”

There was a silence so heavy that it was hard to breathe.

“…what’ll they do from now on?” Satoru asked Shun.

“Once we get far enough from the nests, it’s very likely they’ll try to strike back.”

“And what happens when we can’t retaliate?”

Shun’s silence was answer enough.

“So how far away from the nest is far enough?” Maria asked worriedly.

“I don’t know for sure.” Shun looked uphill. “The most dangerous place is probably at the bottom of the hill.”


Page 302-303

As we were walking even more slowly than before, it was well dark before we reached the bottom of the hill.

I was covered in disgusting, cold sweat. My hands were cold as ice, probably due to anxiety.

The queerats stalked us silently, keeping their distance.

According to Shun’s explanations, {making a crucial decision, such as starting a war, involves searching for a suitable focal point. The focal point has to be easily visible, somewhere where nature and awareness converge.}

For example, imagine a hunter with a bow and arrow stalking a deer. The deer runs through the forest, ending up at a riverbank, where chances of the hunter shooting the deer successfully rises. With the change of scenery comes a change in atmosphere; the refraction of light on the surface of the river not only enhances awareness, it also widens the field of vision, so the hunter realizes that he can easily capture the deer. All these factors help to support his actions.

Until now, the queerats’ actions have all been very human-like. That’s why Shun predicted that they would try to use the terrain to their advantage. If their nests were in indeed at the top of the hill, then the spot where the hill and flat ground meet would be a logical boundary.

“What do we do?” I asked Shun. I felt like he was only one we could depend on now.

“We have no choice but to split up when we get to the forest.”

If we stuck together, we’d be an easy target for the queerats. Splitting up would be hard for all of us, but like Shun said, there was nothing else we could do.

“If they start coming at you from a hidden position, just run as fast as you can. It’s all over if they catch you, so try to conserve energy too. Get as far away as you can, then hide. Once you’re sure that the coast is clear, go back to the path we took today. We’ll meet up where the canoes are hidden.”


Page 304-305

The chances of all of us meeting up again seemed rather bleak. To begin with, wasn’t the idea of splitting up based on the thought that some people would be sacrificed while others escaped?

“And before we reach the forest?” Satoru asked, coming up next to Shun.

I understood at once what he was asking.

The edge of the forest was a good fifty meters away from the foot of the hill. There were no trees or rocks to hide behind, so we would be easy targets.

Maria let out a sob. I couldn’t help but realize again the seriousness of the situation we were in. I wrapped my arms around her shaking shoulders and nuzzled my forehead against hers, trying to comfort her.

Before long, the discussion began again in hushed voices.

It was about the enemy’s intentions. Were they going to attack here? Were they just making sure we were really leaving?

If we assume that they were going to attack, we would have to make for the forest as fast as we could. In that instant, we would reveal that we didn’t have cantus. The act of running away would definitely induce them to attack. In that case, the probability of all five of us making it out alive was impossibly small.

On the other hand, if we bet on the chance that they wouldn’t attack, and lost, then no one could save us.

“…no choice but hold out until we’re nearly there to watch their reaction,” Shun’s words had a touch of defiance in them.

“And who gets to determine that?” Satoru said.

“All of our lives are on the line,” Shun sighed.

“Let’s take a vote.”

 

Because of the subtle dips and rises in the ground, the border between the hill and the open field was ambiguous. The deepening darkness blurred the contours of our surroundings, steeping everything in shadows. We crossed the determined focal point and continued on through the open field, not knowing when an arrow would come whistling toward us.

My breathing became quicker, shallower. My pulse pounded in my temples.

Even though I had to be prepared to run at any moment, my legs felt rubbery, unable to exert any strength.