an English translation of the novel

Page 373-374

“Let’s run away,” Satoru said.

“To where?”

“Anywhere, as long as we get away from this nest,” Satoru stood up and made to look outside the sleeping area. “Saki, do you remember? The path we took here was pretty complicated.”

“Yeah, maybe. My memory is a little hazy, so I’m not too sure…”

I tried to recall the sequence of turns from the queen’s hall to where we were now.

“I can’t. I know we went left in the very beginning, but after that the directions are all mixed up.”

My sense of direction wasn’t the best to begin with. It’s not so bad when I can repeat the same route multiple times, but even then if I have to reverse the directions in my head, I still get confused.

Satoru crossed his arms, trying his hardest to dig out the memory of the way we took.

“There weren’t many splits in the road. The most was a three-forked path. The first split, we took a left, then a right, after that…what was it?”

“There’s one thing I remember. The path sloped a little downward the entire way here. ”

I remember because it felt like we were being led to the underworld.

“Oh really? I see…we didn’t go uphill even once?” Satoru grabbed my hand. “Then let’s just keep going up. If the path starts slanting down, we’ll just go back to the previous intersection and choose the other path.”

“But not all paths that slope up are the right ones, right?” I brought up the obvious flaw in the plan.

“That’s true, but even if it’s not the path we originally took, if it goes up, it’ll eventually reach the surface, right?”


Page 375-376

Is it okay to be that careless? I was starting to have some doubts about Satoru’s judgment. Would it even be possible to retrace our path in the dark? Maybe if we had a rope or something. Even Theseus had Ariadne’s thread to guide him through the Minotaur’s labyrinth

“Hey, can’t we call the queerats and tell them we want to go outside? Because, if we get lost…”

Satoru leaned in close to me. “We can’t explain to them why we want to leave, right? And we can’t predict how they’ll react if they find out we don’t have cantus.”

Listening carefully, I didn’t sense any queerats nearby. It seemed like dawn was the period when their activity was lowest. But the tunnels outside were even darker than the room we were in, like they were submerged in ink. I couldn’t find the courage to step out of the room.

“Hey, isn’t this kind of weird?” I said.

Satoru made an impatient noise. “Nothing’s strange. What’s strange?”

“Why is it brighter inside the room than outside?”

He stopped suddenly, looking surprised. That’s right. It was barely perceptible, but inside the room, I could see movement. But the tunnel leading from the room was pitch black.

“You’re right. …I see. There must be a source of light somewhere!”

We looked around, but didn’t find anything.

Satoru was still holding on to the spear he had taken from the Ground Spiders like it was the most important thing in the world. After ascertaining my position, he started poking around the room with the spear. As he did so, a little pinprick of light glimmered on the spearhead.

“What was that?”

I walked slowly toward the depths of the room. There seemed to be weak light coming from above. I looked up and gasped.


Page 377-378

There was a huge notch cut out of the ceiling, through which I could see the stars shining high in the sky.

“Outside? Does this lead aboveground?”

“No, it doesn’t. …those aren’t stars,” Satoru whispered disbelievingly. “They look like stars, but they’re not twinkling at all. What the hell is it?”

Satoru thrust his spear at the emerald green flecks of light. I thought he couldn’t possibly reach them, but surprisingly, the spear easily touched the ceiling, and the lights quivered.

He drew back the spear slowly. I thought some of the spot of light would come with it, but instead strings of thick liquid dripped from the tip.

Satoru touched it with his finger. “It’s all sticky. Wanna feel it?”

I shook my head.

What was glowing on the ceiling were glowworms that had been domesticated by the queerats.

Evidence of glowworms dating back to ancient times have been found in caves in Australia and New Zealand. Although they’re called worms, they’re more closely related to flies and mosquitoes. The larvae nest on the ceiling, using sticky balls of mucus to trap other insects for food. The light they produce is used to attract prey, but also creates the impression of a galaxy of green stars as it bounces off the balls of mucus.

Glowworms originally did not exist in the Japanese archipelago, but were imported as fishing bait shortly before the collapse of the ancient civilization. A number of them survived and were modified by the queerats to be used as chandeliers in their reception halls.

Satoru stuck the spear in the ceiling again to collect more of the mucus and figure out which part were the insects. Then after a short discussion, I climbed onto his shoulders to collect more. Since I was lighter, I had no choice but to be on top, touching the nasty green glowing bugs.

He took the bugs and stuck them onto the spear (using their own sticky excretions). Maybe it was thanks to the queerats selectively breeding the bugs that they never stopped glowing even when they were handled so roughly.


Page 379-380

“Alright, let’s go,” Satoru said decisively, starting toward the exit.

We shouldered our backpacks, grasped each other’s hands, and guided only by the light of the glowing bugs, stepped out into the darkness.

 

Thinking back on it even now, it was such a strange journey.

The only light came from the faint ghostly glow on the tip of the spear. Beyond that little circle of light, we couldn’t even see our own hands. I tried looking off to the side and waving my hand in front of my face, but all I could make out was a dark shadow. In order to see where we were going, we had to walk side by side. The tunnel was just wide enough for that, and I was even thankful that it was so narrow because now part of us would be constantly touching the walls.

“Are we ascending now?” Satoru said every now and then.

Whenever he asked, I answered with “yeah,” or “I don’t know,” or “who knows?”. No matter how I responded, it’s not like the situation was going to change.

The light sometimes revealed a two or three-way fork in the road. These splits were always easily visible thanks to the luminous moss growing near them.

Although luminous moss glows, it’s not through the same mechanism as the glowworms. In order to achieve photosynthesis in the dark tunnels, they use lens-like cells to store and give off light.

Queerats should be able to run around these tunnels relying only on their sense of touch and smell. But as they became more civilized, they needed a more efficient way to move around, so they started using the natural properties of things around them.

We continued walking silently. Since we didn’t meet a single queerat, I assumed that this was probably their resting period. At first I thought this was fortunate for us, but as time went on, things started looking a little foreboding.

“Hey, haven’t we been walking for a while now?” I asked Satoru.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe this really is the wrong way?”

We stopped. If we were wrong, then where were we? I thought back over the path we took.


Page 381-382

“This doesn’t make sense. I’ve been remembering as we walked, how many, and which turns we took. So I don’t think this is the wrong path…”

“But I still think we went wrong somewhere. It shouldn’t be taking this long.”

“I guess so. Let’s go back and try again.”

We turned around and headed back the way we came. It was depressing to be heading down deeper into the tunnels again, but we didn’t have a choice. However, within a few moments, a surprising scene appeared.

“A fork in the road!” I breathed.

“I don’t believe it. That wasn’t there earlier, was it?”

Since I had been memorizing the path as we walked, I was completely sure of my answer.

“…it wasn’t.”

Satoru started examining the dirt around the path

“Hm…I get it! Damn it,” he growled suddenly, making me jump.

“What’s wrong?”

“I see. That’s possible too. But in such a short amount of time…” he sighed deeply.

“What are you talking about? Hey, what’s going on?”

“The dirt around here is fresh…”

I felt the blood drain from my face as I understood.

Queerats are always building new tunnels and changing the shape of their nests. In other words, there’s no guarantee that the path we took hadn’t changed from the time we arrived in our room until now.

“We thought we were fine since there was no activity going on. But it seems like the tunnel digging goes on despite that. They’re probably preparing the nest for war right now. I’m guessing that right after we had gone through the tunnel, they dug through from somewhere else, creating this split.”

Satoru threw the clod of dirt angrily against the wall.