“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.”
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.”