an English translation of the novel

Page 383-384

“So we’re…”

“Yeah, we’re lost.”

If I could see Satoru’s face right now, I’m sure it would be full of misery and unspilled tears.

 

We wandered aimlessly through the dark tunnels. Although in reality we were probably only there for about half an hour, the stress of walking through near-absolute darkness in addition to being in an extremely cramped space made it seem like an eternity. Although we were lightly dressed and the air was cold enough to raise goosebumps, I was drenched in sweat.

With vulgar words that we rarely used, we cursed our bad luck, complained to the gods, and cried uncontrollably, but we never let go of each other, and continued to walk.

Then gradually, our minds fell into disarray.

For me, the first sign was auditory hallucinations.

I heard a disembodied voice call “Saki, Saki.”

“Did you say something?” I would ask Satoru, and sometimes an annoying voice would answer from above my head, “No.”

“Saki. Saki.”

I heard it clearly this time.

“Saki. Where are you? Hurry and come back.”

My father’s voice.

“Dad. Dad!” I shouted. “Help. I’m lost.”

“Saki. Listen. Never go outside the Holy Barrier. There’s a strong force inside the barrier so it’s safe, but the moment you take a step outside, there’s no cantus to protect you.”

“I know. But I can’t go back. I can’t find the way back.”

“Saki. Saki. Be careful of the queerats. They worship people with cantus as gods and will obey them unfailingly. But we don’t know how they’ll behave toward children without cantus. That’s why we have to keep them away from children as much as possible.”


Page 385-386

“…Dad.”

“Hey, what are you saying? Get a hold of yourself.”

Compared to my hallucination, Satoru’s voice sounded far away and unreal.

“It is said that when the fifth emperor, the Emperor of Delight, came into power, the public’s cheers went on for three hundred years. The first to stop applauding were burned as sacrifices and their charred corpses were used to decorate the palace. Because of this, the citizens nicknamed him the Emperor of Eternal Screams.”

“Dad. Help.”

“The thirteenth empress, Airin, was called the Queen of Sorrow…every morning, the people who had displeased her…took great joy in the most brutal…fasting in order not to throw up…thirty-third, Emperor of Magnanimity, called Wolf King…devoured corpses…his son, the thirty-fourth, Emperor of Pure Virtue, Heretic King…strangled his father to death when he was twelve…feared assassination, killed his younger brother and cousins, all children…their bodies fed to worms and roaches…sixty-fourth, Empress of Holy Beneficence was called Owl Queen…kidnapped a pregnant woman every full moon, swallowed the fetus whole, pellets of human bones as far as the eye can see…”

My father’s distorted voice suddenly became strangely monotonous.

“Listen. An ethologist from the ancient civilization, Konrad Lorenz discovered that animals with strong killing instincts like wolves and ravens have an innate mechanism that causes them to avoid conflict with their own species. Physically weak species like rats and humans don’t have as strong of a mechanism, so they fight to the point of massacre.”

“Dad. Stop.”

“Ioki realized that by sacrificing one of his bases, his troops would be able to sever the enemy’s lines. But there was one problem. The base that had to be sacrificed was his own. As he predicted, his group was surrounded by the enemy. Ioki and six of his comrades fought bravely until the end, but they were all slaughtered, the bodies mutilated to the point that they were indistinguishable from ground hamburger meat.

“You idiot. Snap out of it!” Satoru hit my shoulder.


Page 387-389

“I’m okay,” I said, but the voice persisted.

On top of that, I started seeing things.

“Did you obtain permission from your school to come this far?” the monk said mockingly. “You have violated the very foundations of the Code of Ethics, the last of the Ten Precepts, ‘Do not desecrate the Three Jewels’. You have fallen for the words of a demon and questioned the teachings of Buddha. So I will seal you in these human shapes for all of eternity. You will spend the rest of your lives trapped in them…”

“Saki! Saki!”

I was being shaken so hard that I thought I might have whiplash. Slowly, I returned to reality.

“Satoru…”

“What have you been muttering to yourself? I thought you’d gone nuts.”

“I think I have,” I whispered.

That was probably the real danger. If we didn’t have each other, we might really go crazy.

We wandered the tunnels for a long time. In that time, we didn’t meet a single queerat, but now that I think about it, they might have detected our presence long before we arrived and left to let us pass.

I was the first to become aware of something unusual.

“Did you hear that just now?”

There was no response. I squeezed Satoru’s hand hard. Still no response.

“Satoru?”

I smacked him lightly on the cheek twice, thrice. Finally, he let out a low moan.

“Wake up! I heard something weird.”

“There’s been a sound this whole time,” Satoru said faintly. “Calling us from below. The voices of the dead.”

I shuddered. Instead of me, Satoru was the one acting insane now. But more importantly, that sound was worrying. After walking through the pitch black tunnel, I felt that I had heightened intuition. My sixth sense was warning me that danger was approaching. This wasn’t the time to be worrying about Satoru’s condition.

Listening carefully, I heard it again. Because of the reverberation in the tunnels, I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. But it was gradually getting louder. I could hear it clearly. The shrill screams and battle cries of the queerats. The sound of something metallic, like a gong. And something indiscernible, like applause or the roar of the ocean.

All these sounds clashed cacophonously; it was the sound of war. My premonition was right.

“Hurry, run! The Ground Spiders are attacking.” I pulled on Satoru’s hand, but he didn’t respond.

Another fork in the path appeared. Which way should I go? Left, right, or back the way we came?

I reached for Satoru’s right hand and pointed the spear forward, but couldn’t see the faint green light at the tip. After checking the spear, I discovered that all the glowworms were dead.

Then I realized that we weren’t in total darkness. The moss around the path glowed dimly. There must be light coming from somewhere. We had been in the tunnel for so long that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was already light outside. If I was right, then the exit should be ahead.


Page 390-391

Peering through the darkness, I saw a faint glimmer of light. I grasped Satoru’s hand tightly and approached carefully. As we walked, the tunnel gradually brightened. But as it did, the sounds of fighting grew louder as well.

If we went out right into the midst of the fight, we’d have no way to protect ourselves.

It was soon as bright as a moonlight night in the tunnel. Light was coming from an uphill path that curved to the right.

I hesitated for a moment then took a step forward. We couldn’t stay here forever. At any rate I wanted to go check that it really was an exit.

In the end, that small hesitation probably saved our lives.

Suddenly, there was a scream, and a queerat came tumbling down the curve.

It shuddered and twitched sporadically. As it tried to come this way, I saw that it was fatally wounded.

At the same time, I smelled something strange. Like rotten eggs. As I looked past the dying queerat, there was a flash of light, and smoke started drifting into the tunnel.

Don’t breathe in the smoke. That was my first instinct.

“This way!”

I wheeled around and dragged Satoru back the way we came as fast as I could.

But as we ran down the path, the smell didn’t abate. On the other hand, it became stronger.

As I started to panic, Satoru finally came around.

“It’s no use trying to run. We’re like mice in a maze,” he laughed.

“We’re not mice,” I snapped.

“Yeah we are,” he muttered completely nonchalantly. “When they’re smoked, mice run to the end of their holes.”


Page 392-393

“Smoke?”

I finally realized the reason for that strange feeling I was having.

“That’s weird. Normal smoke goes up toward the sky, not downward.”

“Isn’t that obvious?”

Seeing that I didn’t understand, Satoru said, with the attitude of an intolerable know-it-all, “They’re attacking the enemies inside the tunnels with poisonous gas that’s heavier than air.”

I gasped. “If you knew, then why didn’t you…!”

Suppressing my irritation, I continued down the tunnel, thinking over the paths we had taken so far. There was one long uphill segment that I had hoped would lead aboveground. But when we were close to the surface, it dipped downward again, as if purposefully trying to disappoint us. If we could make it there, then maybe we could avoid the poisonous gas.

Without light from the glowworms, we ran around the labyrinthine tunnels in a state of near-panic. It would be a miracle if we managed to find the right path.

“This one goes uphill!”

I felt a long incline. Although our legs burned as we ran upward, we gritted our teeth and kept going. The pain was proof that we were still alive.

Eventually, the ground flattened and started sloping gently downward.

“Let’s wait here for a bit.”

Once the nest filled with gas, all we could do was hope that it wouldn’t reach us. If the paths had been straight, it would have been a better idea to keep running, but the tunnels stretched out all around us like a web. The gas could travel around and come back to us, so in this case the best bet was to find higher ground.

We sat down in the darkness.