an English translation of the novel

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 As I thought this, the spear was retracted.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.


Page 318-319

Still, we couldn’t help but look at the queerats. What was surprising was that out of the group of twenty or so, only about half of them looked like normal queerats. The other half had striking abnormalities that didn’t appear to be birth defects, but rather a purposely designed variation.

Both the captain and vice-captain were covered in scales, and upon closer inspection, I could see scales on their bodies in between the gaps in their armor in addition to the scales on their face and hands.

In the group of archers were four queerats who had bows twice the size of the other archers’, and each had an arm that was disproportionately large, like a fiddler crab. The larger arm, which held the bow, resembled a long club and seemed rather stiff, while the arm that nocked the arrows was shorter with a muscular upper arm. The forearm tapered toward the hand and the fingers appeared to have pairs of hooks on them.

Two other queerats, with huge eyes like a chameleon and large ears like a bat, constantly monitored our surroundings, swiveling their eyes and ears this way and that.

There were also ones with a single long horn on their heads, or with abnormally long limbs, but I couldn’t imagine what the use of these features were.

“What’s up with these guys? It’s like a monster parade,” Satoru said.

“Well, they are queer rats.”

“I didn’t know that’s what the name meant.”

It really wasn’t funny at all, but somehow this boosted our spirits just a little bit.

As we climbed the hill, the moonlight revealed a path surrounded by the ghostly silhouettes of the trees. But the queerats turned away from the path and slipped through a narrow gap between multiflora rose bushes. We had no choice but to follow, pushing through the thorny branches.

I wonder if these bushes were planted specifically to deter predators from approaching their nest. As I was thinking about this, the winding path suddenly opened up.


Page 320-321

At first glance it looked like an empty meadow, but the queerats visible near the base of the big Mongolian oak trees indicated that their nest was there. The entrance was cleverly camouflaged by tall weeds, so it seemed like the queerats were appearing out of thin air.

One queerat, conspicuously larger than all the others, made its way forward sluggishly, pushing aside the smaller queerats. It wore a cloak draped over its leather armor and was unmistakably the highest ranked in the colony. But its most distinguishing feature was its protruding, hammer-shaped head.

Captain Pinecone dropped down on all fours and crawled deferentially towards Hammerhead. The two started discussing something. Hammerhead glared at us with its beady eyes while giving orders to Captain Pinecone.

I was afraid that we were going to be lead down into the pitch black tunnels, but instead we were driven away from the nest, into the woods. There was a giant birdcage, two meters across and one and a half meters tall, made out of the vines of multiflora roses wrapped around the branches of the trees.

There didn’t appear to be an entrance to the cage, but one area was devoid of branches and only had the stems of the roses stretching from top to bottom. The queerats parted the stems with their spears and ushered us inside. When they withdrew their spears, the stems sprang closed again. It would be impossible to get out without being cut to pieces by the thorns. In addition, a sentry was posted outside, watching us darkly.

The cage wasn’t tall enough for us to stand in, so we had no choice but to sit on the cold ground with our backpacks as a cushion. The moonlight was just bright enough for us to barely make out each other’s faces.

“It’s been a rough day, huh,” Satoru said, in a gentler voice than I could ever have imagined him using.

Tears welled up in my eyes and threatened to spill over.

“Seriously, worst day ever. …Satoru, how’s your wound?”

“It’s perfectly fine. The blood’s dried already; it only just nicked the skin,” he said, wiggling his ears.

He was the only one in our class who had that talent. I relaxed and gave a small smile. The blood on his forehead made the cut look serious, but as he said, it wasn’t really a big deal.

“What do we do now?”


Page 322-323

“Anyway, all we can do now is wait to be rescued. If Shun and them make it out okay, they’ll alert the village.”

How long would we have to wait until the rescuers got here? Just thinking about it was depressing.

We sat pressed against each other in the narrow birdcage.

“It’s still watching us, huh.”

It’s been about an hour since we entered the cage, but the sentry was still glaring suspiciously at us. It met my eyes and turned away, but looked back toward us soon after.

“Ignore it. It’s just a stupid queerat,” Satoru said, putting his arm around my waist.

“But, somehow…hey, what are you doing?” I directed the second half of my sentence toward Satoru.

“Your nerves are probably all frazzled, right? I’ll help you relax,” he said, leaning over me stiffly. The light behind him hid his face in shadows, but I could still see his eyes glittering brightly.

“Okay. I’ll do it. Just lie back,” I put my hand on his chest.

Satoru stopped moving. I felt his heart beating through his T-shirt. I smiled, and slowly pushed him over.

The pale moonlight illuminated his face as I ran the back of my hand gently down his cheek. Satoru closed his eyes, and kept contentedly still, like a pet cat.

When I cupped his face in my hands and kissed his forehead, Satoru buried his face in my chest.

I caressed him gently from his neck to his wrist, to his torso.

Until now, we never had a chance to touch each other like this. But our usual interactions, snapping and teasing each other, were all expressions of love.

Satoru was completely hard now. Until now, I’ve only had experiences with girls, so I didn’t know what to do with a boy. When I touched him through his jeans, I could feel its heat and pulsation through the thick material. What was I supposed to do?