an English translation of the novel

Page 24-27

We looked at each other. If they used bats, then the town’s reply might come before the night was even over.

“…by the way, some colonies have recently started using falcons instead of pigeons, which is against the rules of the original pact. And although using bats is supposed to be safer, I’ve heard that some colonies have started training horned owls to capture the bats…” Squealer seemed determined to continue talking for the rest of the night.

“Hey, Squealer,” I said as neutrally as possible. “We kind of want to take a walk around there.”

“Where are you going?” Squealer looked surprised. “It’s already three hours past sundown. It’s dangerous to go far.”

Three hours past sundown was approximately ten o’clock.

“It’s fine. After all, the Ground Spiders have been exterminated, right?” Satoru’s jovial tone was much more natural than mine.

“But if anything were to happen, we’d be entirely responsible. I’ll call for some guards right now…”

“No need. The two of us just want a change of scenery. Okay? We’ll be back soon. So there’s no need to tell anyone,” Satoru said, taking my hand and pulling me away.

When we turned back, Squealer was still standing in the same spot, watching us go.

“Won’t he think it’s weird?” I whispered.

“We can’t help if he’s a little bit suspicious. Anyway, we have no choice but to run away, right?”

We continued walking slowly away from camp. Pretending to look up at the sky, we peeked behind us. Once we ascertained that no one was looking, we hid in the shadow of the trees. Crouching low, we entered the grove of trees in the middle of the field.

“Do you know which way we should go?”

There was supposed to be a compass in my backpack, but after so much running around, I had no idea where it had disappeared to.

“Yeah, kind of,” Satoru looked up at the orange moon hovering over the treetops. “It’s almost the full moon, so the moon comes out from the east, travels through the southern sky at night, and sets in the west in the morning. Since it’s about ten o’clock right now…”

Satoru’s vague mumbling wasn’t exactly comforting, but since I knew almost nothing about astronomy and had no sense of direction, I had no choice but to listen to his judgment.

We traveled through the wilderness, going eastward as best as we could. Since last night, we had taken so many winding paths that it was impossible to tell how far we were from Kasumiga Bay. And thinking back to when Rijin was leading us to the Temple of Purity, we had been unbelievably tired, but had somehow continued onward, making numerous zig-zags as we went. Yet for some reason, I was convinced that if we just kept going east, we would make it to where the canoes were hidden before sunrise.

After three hours of hurrying through the pathless forest, I was starting to lose stamina. My feet hurt and my head spun. I was starving, but more than that, I was so thirsty that it was almost unbearable. But since we had not prepared any water bottles, I had no choice but to endure it. Anyway, we took a break, choosing an area where the grass was wet with dew.

“We’ve gone pretty far, haven’t we?”

“Yeah. More than halfway there, probably,” Satoru assured me confidently.

I didn’t think he had any basis for his claim, but I also didn’t think there was any good in questioning him, so I accepted his words quietly.

How were Shun, Maria and Mamoru doing at this moment? I glanced unthinkingly behind Satoru as I thought, and jumped.

“What?”

“Nothing. …I just thought that looked like a blowdog,” I pointed at a piece of rotting wood.

Satoru smiled,” It does kind of look like one.”


Page 28-31

“You weren’t scared though.”

“No, you’d never see a blowdog around here to begin with.”

“How come?”

“Saki, you saw the blowdog’s true form, right?”

It was hard to say that I didn’t now that he had asked. “Well, kind of…”

“Kind of?” Satoru laughed. “There’s only one self-destructing animal that lives in the wild. All the other ones have been modified by the queerats to be domestic animals.”

“Isn’t there a possibility?”

“For one thing, it’s impossible. Before humans had cantus, they spent a long time modifying domesticated animals, but this only works for animals with naturally good qualities. For example, mellow animals, or animals with good milk production or those who can be modified to have good meat. Domesticating an explosive animal is extremely unlikely.”

Satoru was being a know-it-all again. I wanted to argue, but my blood sugar was too low from hunger to come up with anything. I surrendered.

“Then what’s a blowdog?”

“Ancient biology books talk about a self-destructing animal just like the blowdog. What do you think it is?”

“Umm…” I was quickly losing interest in the topic. It could be whatever it wanted to be. A tiger globefish or a black-spotted pond frog. I was starting to worry about the other three people.

“Ants,” Satoru said triumphantly. “There’s one type of ant in Malaysia that tears itself apart when an enemy approaches and releases a volatile substance into the air. It supposedly warns the nest that an enemy is nearby.”

I was now going from hungry to dizzy. If we kept sitting here, I probably wouldn’t be able to stand up again.

“Anyway, that’s what it is. If normal animals blew themselves up one by one in order to repel an enemy, they’d wipe themselves out because they wouldn’t have any offspring. But it’s different for social animals like ants. Since an individual has no reproductive powers, it’s beneficial for them to sacrifice themselves to protect the nest and queen. If you think about it that way, blowdogs don’t exist outside of the ones that are mutated Ground Spiders…”

Satoru didn’t seem hungry, tired, or worried at all about the other three. It was too much trouble to shut him up. As I slowly closed my eyes, I heard a faint noise.

“…so, the Ground Spider queen is able to freely produce a number of different mutants like the leaf fighters and the frog-looking guys. Out of all these, the blowdog looks like a totally different species; its small head probably means it has limited intelligence about the same as a dog. In other words, in order to make them explode willingly and be unconditionally loyal, they must not be very smart…”

I heard it again. From behind. Sounds of dried twigs and grass being stepped on. Who…or what was there?

I put my finger in front of my lips and Satoru shut up immediately.

Behind me. A sound. I mouthed some words without making any noise.

Satoru hesitated, then stood up decisively and said loudly, “Who’s over there!”

It was kind of a desperate ploy, but there was nothing else we could do. We had no weapons at the moment. If we ran, we’d be caught immediately. We had to pretend that we could still use our cantus.

“Gods, how far are you planning to go?” Squealer emerged from the shadows.

Our plan to attack the enemy while he was unprepared was ruined. I didn’t think he would track us all the way here.

“Even though the Ground Spiders have been exterminated, it’s still dangerous to walk around in the middle of the night.”

“Why? Why did you follow us all the way here?”

Squealer cocked his head at my question. If he were human, he might’ve shrugged his shoulders. “If anything happened to the gods, I wouldn’t be able to explain.”

“We left by ourselves, isn’t that fine?”


Page 32-35

“No, it’s not alright. Our colony would be crushed. And the Giant Hornet colony would not come out unscathed either. Going by past examples, General Kiroumaru would have to commit seppuku.”

“What’s seppuku?”

“Committing suicide by cutting your stomach open with a sword. It’s used as the ultimate apology.”

I was stunned. Our dictionaries did not have such a strange term, and we could never have imagined that people of the past would perform such actions.

“I see. I never imagined we would cause so much trouble,” Satoru said meekly. “But that’s only in a really unlikely scenario, isn’t it? Like if we had an accident and died or something.”

“Yes, but in order to prevent that unlikely possibility, I must protect the two gods no matter what.”

Was he telling the truth, I thought as I looked at the ugly, naked rat.

“Is there anyone else following us?”

“No, just me.”

“That’s strange. If you’re going to protect us, wouldn’t you bring soldiers?”

“That…it was too sudden, so I didn’t have time.”

Satoru’s question addressed both our suspicions of whether Squealer was under orders from Kiroumaru to keep an eye on us. Acting of his own will could be his plan to steal all the credit. Just two days ago, I doubt we would have been this paranoid.

“Anyway, are you thirsty?”

Squealer held out the gourd hanging by his waist. It sloshed with what sounded like water. We glanced at each other, but the temptation was too much to resist, so I took the gourd and uncorked it. We gulped down the lukewarm water. Instantly, my blood starting to circulate again, and I felt as if I were coming back from death. I passed the gourd to Satoru and he drank as well.

“And yet you had time to prepare this.”

I wanted to express my gratitude to Squealer, but what came out of my mouth was a scathing comment.

“I took it from the soldiers as I rushed out after you. Taking one of these is no problem. As for the gods’ protection, if another colony were to come along, there would be a lot of trouble.”

Suddenly I realized that when I first took the gourd from Squealer, it had been full. He was undoubtedly thirsty as well after coming all this way.

“Thanks. You drink some too.”

I took the gourd from Satoru and passed it over.

“Thank you.” Squealer held it reverently in his hands and took a small sip.

In that moment, Satoru and I looked at each other and came to an unspoken agreement.

“Squealer, we need your help,” I said.

He looked up immediately. “Of course, anything. Please tell me what I can do.”

“We’re trying to get to the west bank of Kasumiga Bay. Please show us the quickest route.”

“…but why are you in such a hurry? If you wait until tomorrow morning, the Giant Hornet guards will bring you there safely.”

“Because if we wait until tomorrow, our lives will be in danger,” Satoru said bluntly.

Squealer had probably been sold by Kiroumaru’s promise to rebuild the Robber Fly colony, but unless we revealed everything to him right now, there was no chance of him coming to our side.

“What do you mean?”

“Kiroumaru might kill us.”

“That will never happen! As β★ë◎Å…the queerats’, and as the general of the largest colony, he would never think of harming the gods!”

“I can’t explain, but trust us.”

I took Squealer’s hands. He seemed surprised, but didn’t pull away.

“If that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be trying to run away in the middle of the night.”

Squealer thought for a moment, then nodded gravely, “I understand. I will show you the route. However, pursuers will probably use the same path, so we must hurry.”


Page 36-39

 

Walking along the river running through the bottom of the valley felt much better than creeping along the precipitous mountain paths. Thanks to this we made good progress, but we were still under enormous pressure.

In the mountain, we never knew what was going to pop up in front of us, and it took considerable courage just to keep walking forward. But in the valley, our backs were exposed and there was nowhere to hide. It was unexpectedly frightening.

Moonlight barely reached the bottom of the valley. The river was black as ink, only the sound of rushing water could be heard. It drilled into my consciousness, until I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the river or from my own mind. The sound changed until it was like the war cries of an infinite fleet of queerats, or the roar of some other beast.

Satoru and I kept turning to check behind us to make sure there was nothing there. But far from assuaging our fears, the invisible river seemed to beckon us to the underworld.

“What’s this river called?” Satoru’s voice came from far away.

“The gods have not given it a name. We call it ⱯΞ☆ξЭ…in Japanese it would mean, let’s see, “the forgotten river”.

“Why is it called that?” I asked. My voice was strangely hoarse, as if it were someone else talking.

“I’m not completely sure,” Squealer said, sounding as though he was somewhere deep underground. “But there are a lot of rivers that empty into Kasumiga Bay, like the Sakura River, and other larger and safer rivers. So it may just mean that the river has been forgotten.”

“Hopefully Kiroumaru forgets about it too,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.

“You can hope, but a great commander like him would never forget.” Squealer’s response was unexpectedly bitter. “The forgotten river is full of shoals and stones, so usually no one travels on it at night. That’s one reason I chose this path. However, although this is a path General Kiroumaru doesn’t often travel, he has won many battles here. For example the battle against the Army Ant colony, the Fall of Greenwall.

“Army Ant? There’s such a colony?” Satoru asked.

“They don’t exist anymore. Five years ago, they lost against the Giant Hornet colony and were completely wiped out.”

It was pointless to tell us about this now, but hearing him talk seemed to help us stay focused.

“The Army Ant colony was over eighteen thousand strong, and praised as having the largest army. They excelled at siege warfare, and on this occasion had surrounded the Giant Hornets and set up camp. Near the end stage of the battle, the Army Ant general, Quikur, dispatched all but the queen’s bodyguards.”

Judging by his interest in wars, Squealer undoubtedly spent a lot of time reading historical records. He spoke animatedly.

“The Army Ant colony was stationed only a few kilometers away from the Giant Hornets. They could only move aboveground at this distance, and since their army was so big, the front line was already halfway there before the rear troops even left camp. Quikur decided to wait at the foot of the mountain for the rest of the soldiers to catch up. He assumed that the smaller Giant Hornet troops were hiding underground and dismissed the possibility of being attacked from the cliff that we locals call Greenwall. General Kiroumaru led his elite team secretly up the mountain and plotted an ambush. The enemy was right below the cliff that everyone assumed was too steep to climb. However, General Kiroumaru saw a gecko climbing across the bare rock, and said what would later become a famous quote, ‘Geckos have four legs, we also have four legs. If a gecko can climb this mountain, there is no reason we cannot.'”


Page 40-43

It was so absurd that I assumed Squealer was joking. But later, when I looked up the records of the queerat wars and learned that he had been telling the truth, I was speechless with shock.

“Through this, General Kiroumaru suddenly came into the spotlight. The first name the gods gave him was Kidoumaru, not with the characters 奇道丸, but 詭道丸.1“, Squealer explained the two characters carefully.

“I get it. In short, it means that there’s nowhere to run when Kiroumaru is chasing you, right?” I hid my question behind a joke.

“Yes. If General Kiroumaru has seriously decided to pursue you, there’s probably nothing you can do about it.”

A short silence followed.

After seeing Kiroumaru order the devastation of the Ground Spiders, it was obvious that he was a fearsome strategist. If he caught up with us, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

Everything depended on when Kiroumaru would start coming after us. There was a time gap from when the Ethics Committee sent their order to dispose of us by bat to the time the pursuers set out. If we were lucky, we could get to the canoes by that time. The only problem was that Kiroumaru might autonomously decide to come after us before the Committee’s reply arrived if he found out we had run away.

It was possible he was chasing after us this very instant.

We unconsciously sped up. But there was a limit to how quickly we could go since the rocks by the river were slippery and dangerous.

Thirty minutes later, as we hurried along, dripping in sweat, Squealer came to a halt.

“What is it?”

Squealer put his hand to his lips and made a ‘shh’ sound. This strange gesture was seen even in ancient books, its meaning transcending time and place so that it was still understandable now. But I was surprised that it could even transcend species.

“Do you hear that?” Squealer asked quietly.

I listened carefully.

I heard it. A bird’s cry. Although it was the middle of the night, it called as it wheeled through the sky.

Kyokyokyokyokyokyokyokyo…

It sounded more like a giant insect than a bird, and the sound filled me with unease. Following Squealer’s example, we stood still as rocks. The strange bird flew along the river’s path, circling above us over and over.

Satoru was the first to speak. “So what? It’s just a bird.”

“In the middle of the night though?”

“Maybe it’s a nightjar. They’re nocturnal like owls.”

Was it really that simple?

“But why is it intentionally coming lower and lower?”

As expected, Satoru had no idea how nightjars behaved. He thought for a moment.

“Even though it’s called a nightjar, it’s probably not a predatory bird like owls and eats insects. It’s catching insects by the river.”

Squealer, who had been silent until now, cleared his throat. “…this could be just a wild nightjar. But I strongly believe that it isn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“General Kiroumaru tends to use birds as scouts. I’ve heard he uses nightjars because they have good night vision.”

I was surprised. Now that I looked at it, the bird did seem like it was looking for something.

“Really? It’s kind of hard to believe,” Satoru said suspiciously. “How would a bird report that it had found something?”

“I’m not clear on the details either. But honeybees are able to transmit information about where flower are, so I’m sure it can be done with the right training.”

If Squealer’s theory was right, then Kiroumaru might be nearby already.

1詭 means ‘deceptive’, 奇 has connotations of ‘strange, mysterious, magical’, and 道 means ‘way, method’