an English translation of the novel

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.


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.