an English translation of the novel

Page 306-308

I turned around quietly and looked at the hill by the weak light of the moon.

The queerats still hadn’t moved. They were still watching us from their vantage point halfway up the hill.

That’s good, just stay there. We’ll be gone soon. No one’s threatening you. You know what’ll happen if you shoot us, right? If you just let us leave, nothing will happen. But if you harm us, we’ll kill all of you. So please. Behave for just a bit longer.

I prayed silently to myself. I turned to face forward again, and stopped.

There were four black silhouettes. One had its hand raised.

“Who’s that?” a low voice asked.

“M-me,” Mamoru gasped. “I think we should make a run for it, right now.”

“What are you talking about? We’re going to be fine. Alright? Just a bit more.”

Mamoru lowered his hand and we all felt slightly relieved. If three hands went up, that would be a majority. Though in reality, even if we didn’t have a majority vote, all it takes is one person to panic and take off running for the entire plan to be ruined. When the queerats start attacking, we’ll all have to run for dear life.

“Saki, you’re walking too fast.”

Shun’s voice pulled me back to reality. Without knowing it, I had broken into a slight jog.

“Oh, sorry.” I slowed down, mentally kicking myself for panicking.

“Just a bit farther,” Satoru said. “Shun, when we reach the last twenty meters, let’s run. It’ll take a couple of seconds for them to start shooting. We’ll definitely make it to the woods by then.”

“…I don’t want to run at all,” Shun said, sounding hesitant. “If we run, they’ll chase after us. Just because we’ll be in the forest doesn’t mean we’ll be out of danger.”

“But we can hide in there. If we don’t run, maybe they’ll…” Mamoru stammered, raising his hand again.

“Hey…behind us! It’s like,” Maria choked out.

I turned around and felt my heart contract painfully in shock. The queerats were descending the hill.

“They’re coming!” Maria screamed, raising her hand. Two votes.

“Wait. Not yet. This doesn’t mean they’re going to attack,” Shun tried to calm them down, but they didn’t lower their hands.

Satoru started raising his hand uncertainly.

“Stop!” I said to him. “We’re almost there. Just…”


Page 309-310

There was a whistling sound. An arrow flew over our heads and embedded itself in the ground near the entrance to the forest.

I knew that signaled the start of battle1. Without waiting for a majority vote, we took off as fast as we could.

It was the first time I had ever run like my life depended on it. But no matter how hard I pumped my legs, I didn’t seem to be moving forward at all. It was like something out of a nightmare.

Even so, the forest gradually drew closer.

Just a little farther.

As I burst into the woods and started weaving through the trees, I realized how fast I had been running.

“Don’t stick together. Spread out and get away!” Shun’s voiced echoed through the trees.

I made a sharp right turn and dashed through the undergrowth until I couldn’t hear anyone else’s voice or footsteps. I was all alone.

The only sound was my own panting. Having run so around so wildly, I had no idea where I was. In any case, I had to keep going until I reached my destination.

Just a while ago I had been with four of my friends. Now I was suddenly alone. The fear of the queerats coming after me, in addition to my uneasiness at being left alone, made my chest tighten painfully. My only companion was the moon, hidden by the trees.

It was hard to breathe. I gasped and wheezed, trying to draw more air into my lungs. My thighs felt heavy, and I was losing sensation below my knees.

I had reached my limit. I wanted to stop and rest.

But if I stopped, I’d probably die.

Just a little more. Keep going for just a little longer.

Right as I thought that, I tripped over something.

I tried to right myself, but my body froze. I was suspended in the air for a moment, then fell heavily to the ground.

I knew I should get up immediately, but my entire body hurt so much I couldn’t move. I somehow managed to turn onto my back, and saw the yellow light of the moon, brighter than I had ever seen it before.

The cold ground sucked all the heat from my body through my shirt and backpack. I lay there, unable to do anything but breathe, my chest rising and falling like bellows.

Am I going to die here? The thought came to me all of a sudden. I was still young; death didn’t seem real.

1 This type of arrow, called kaburaya, has a turnip-shaped whistle made out of wood or bone attached to it and is shot to signal the start of battle.

Page 311-313

“Saki!” a voice called to me from somewhere far away.

Satoru. He was coming closer.

“Saki, are you okay?”

“Satoru…run,” I finally managed to choke out.

“Can you move?”

The voice was right next to me. A face appeared over me, looking into mine. Although I couldn’t see his expression, it was unmistakably Satoru.

“I don’t think so.”

“Don’t give up. Let’s hurry and get out of here,” Satoru pulled me up.

With his help, I somehow managed to get back on my feet.

“Can you run?”

I shook my head.

“Let’s walk then.”

“No…it’s too late.”

“What are you talking about?”

I looked over Satoru’s shoulder. Satoru turned as well. In the darkness were countless glowing eyes. I could faintly hear them breathing.

“We’re completely surrounded by queerats.”

 

I was sure that we were going to die right there. But fortunately, I was wrong. The two of us were driven forward at spear-point by a group of queerats. They seemed to still be wary of us, and always kept a distance of at least three meters away. Thanks to that, we weren’t tied up or pushed around by them. But their spears were always pointed at us, and a little ways away a group of them had their bows at the ready.

“Did the others escape?” I asked quietly.

“I’m not sure. I lost sight of them soon after we entered the forest.”

I wondered if the queerats were going to forbid us to talk, but they didn’t seem to care. So I figured this was as good a time as any to ask.

“How in the world did you find me?”

“I saw you ahead while I was running.”

Chasing after me defeated the whole point of splitting up, but I didn’t have the heart to criticize him.

“The others probably got away.”

“Yeah. Probably.”

I knew he was just agreeing with me to try to cheer me up, but it worked.

The queerat in the lead signalled us to stop.

Ahead of us was a small clearing. Were they going to kill us here? I closed my eyes. A stick-like object poked me in the chest and my eyes snapped open again.

“Gigigigi….Grrrr!”

A queerat as tall as I was stood in front of me, armored and wielding a long spear. It appeared to be the leader of the group. I rubbed my chest where it had jabbed me. It hadn’t penetrated my shirt and I wasn’t bleeding. Looks like it had poked me with the butt end of the spear, not the point.


Page 314-315

“Saki…!” Satoru rushed toward me, but another queerat stuck out its spear and tripped him.

“I’m fine. Don’t move,” I shouted.

Of course, I didn’t believe that we would be left unharmed if we followed their orders. Rather, at this point I was already halfway resigned to the fact that we were going to be killed.

The queerat in front of me started shouting again in its piercing voice. And for the first time, I got a good look at its face.

Beneath the black helmet glowed cruel, red eyes, and its piglike snout was the same as the queerats we had met at the canal as well as the one Rijin had killed earlier. But there was one clear difference. Its entire face, from forehead to chin, was covered in scales, like a pinecone.

Although scaly mammals, like pangolins, do exist, they are unheard of in rodents. In addition it was strange to see individuals with and individuals without scales in the same species.

The thought disappeared from my mind as I felt something cold and metallic on my cheek. The spear was pointed at me, moonlight glinting off its head.

Was this the end? As I thought this, the spear was retracted. I was going to be skewered.

The pinecone-faced leader let out a battle cry that sounded like a dying pig. I closed my eyes.

A few seconds later, I opened them again.

Nothing happened. Captain Pinecone was moving toward Satoru, who was being held back by a pair of queerats.

Before I had time to react, Captain Pinecone was thrusting his spear toward Satoru’s face. But it suddenly stopped, the point a hair’s breadth away from Satoru. It thrust the spear a second time, a third time.

Satoru tried hard to appear unafraid, but his knees gave out and he slumped against the queerats holding his arms. The next instant, the spear grazed his forehead.

 


Page 316-317

“Satoru!” I started toward him without thinking, only to be stopped by a queerat’s spear.

“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” Satoru said.

His forehead was bleeding. The wound looked painful, but shallow. I sighed, relieved that it wasn’t a serious injury.

The other queerats under Captain Pinecone looked relieved too. But probably not because of Satoru’s wound. It seemed like they hadn’t been absolutely certain that we couldn’t use our cantus. So they did this as a way to be sure before they took us back to their colony.

Once again, we set off through the forest.

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

Satoru shook his head silently. The bleeding hadn’t stopped, so Satoru’s face was covered in dark streaks of blood.

“What’s going to happen to us?”

“We probably won’t be killed immediately,” he said quietly.

“How do you know?”

“They would’ve done it a long time ago.”

“Are you sure that’s not just wishful thinking?”

“Not just that. Before they came into the forest, they shot that whistling arrow, remember? That was probably a warning for us to stop. If they were going to kill us from the start, they wouldn’t have done that.”

“So why did they capture us?”

“Who knows. But, if today was the first time they were exposed to cantus, then despite being scared they’re probably interested in learning more about it, right? We’re the only source of information they have, so they won’t kill us carelessly.”

Satoru’s reasoning was probably right. For the time being, we weren’t in any danger.

 

We left the forest, and started up the hill once again. Our fatigue had peaked a long time ago, but the spears pointed at our backs forced us to keep going.