an English translation of the novel

Page 46-49

We stopped abruptly. Fear and confusion washed over me in a wave.

There were three silhouettes. Looking in this direction.

False hope had gone to my head. Statistically speaking, there was only ever a fleeting, one in million chance of escape. But hope is like a flame–more prayer than logical thought, stronger than fear–that drives us to action.

Satoru and I looked at each other simultaneously, and nodded.

Slowly, we walked forward. Any path we could take would bring us closer to escape. This particular path would be to expose our weakness–the fact we couldn’t use our cantus. Right now, all that mattered was to see who our enemy was.

As these thoughts ran through my head, I took one step, and another.

Looking at the black shadows, the desire to run away flared inside me once again, and my knees shook. Was I walking into the jaws of destruction?

No, it can’t be. That, those shadows…I definitely recognize them. I’m positive. I kept telling myself this. But they stood without moving and I couldn’t make out their identities.

A little closer and I would be able to tell. Just then, golden light spilled over the mountain ridge, blinding me with its rays.

The three figures were swallowed by the light.

I froze. But then.

“Saki! Satoru!”

I heard a shout. A voice I instantly recognized that I’d been longing to hear. Shun. Satoru dashed forward.

“Shun! Maria! Mamoru!”

I ran forward in a daze. Stumbling toward the light.

The five of us hugged and clapped each other on the shoulders, laughing and crying deliriously like idiots. In that instant, all the pain we had experienced, and all the suffering that was to come seemed a universe away. We reveled in the miracle that we were all unharmed and reunited.

I wished time could stop at that moment.

If time had frozen then, our group of five wouldn’t have lost so many members…

 

“So, anyway, let’s get to the canoes!” Shun was the first to get a hold of himself. “We can take our time to tell our stories then.”

His words made me swallow the mountain of questions I was just about to ask.

Maria was startled by something behind me.

“What’s over there?”

I patted her gently on the arm. “Oh, that’s Squealer. He showed us the way here.”

“Honored to meet you. I’m Squealer, from the Robber Fly colony.”

The three were astonished at his fluent speech.

“The Robber Flies lost many of their soldiers while fighting the Ground Spiders and were one of the forces behind the Ground Spider’s defeat,” Satoru explained.

They looked surprised.

“The Ground Spiders are gone? Really?” Mamoru asked, his eyes wide.

“Yeah. The Giant Hornet army came and wiped them out. But we’ll talk about this later. There’s no time. Right now, we need to get to the canoes as soon as possible.”

“W-wait.”

Even Shun appeared to be having trouble wrapping his head around the situation. “If the Ground Spiders are gone, then isn’t there no need to run anymore?”

“No. I’ll explain later,” I urged them forward.

“Then what in the world are we running from?” Maria asked, glancing at Squealer as he lead the way forward.


Page 50-53

“The Giant Hornet colony. From General Kiroumaru,” Satoru answered.

“Huh? B-but, the Giant Hornets are loyal to humans, aren’t they?” Mamoru asked with a dubious expression on his face.

“That’s why they’re dangerous,” Satoru said, then fell silent abruptly.

Squealer was within earshot. We needed to be careful not to let slip exactly why we were going to be eliminated.

“I’ll explain everything later. Just trust me.”

The three of them looked skeptical, but nodded wordlessly. We had unwavering trust in each other. This was the first time I found that fact so reassuring.

Soon, we rounded a bend in the river. As Squealer had said, our field of view widened considerably. Just a little farther, the valley would end in a flat plain. And another kilometer after that, we might be able to see the lake of Kasumiga Bay, its water glittering in the sunlight.

Our spirits rose considerably, but it was too early for that. Ahead, Squealer suddenly stopped and cocked his head, listening carefully. We soon realized why.

From the valley behind us came a strange birdcall.

Kyokyokyokyokyokyokyokyo…

The nightjar.

My earlier assumption was proven correct. That was no wild bird. It was a spy sent by Kiroumaru to follow us.

“Run!” Satoru shouted.

Although there’s no point in criticism after the fact, I still wonder whether the decision Satoru made at that moment was the correct one. Kasumiga Bay was still quite a distance away, and even if we got there we would need additional time to find the canoes we had hidden among the reeds. Plus, running away would make us look guilty (thus giving our pursuers even more reason to come after us), and it may as well be an announcement to the world that we couldn’t use our cantus.

But since we had already started running, there was no time to stop and discuss this. We fled down the valley to the plains, running until I thought my lungs would burst.

“Wait, a minute. I can’t, run anymore!”

Embarrassingly, I was the first to stop. I was never a distance runner to begin with, and after all things I had gone through in the previous days, I was completely exhausted. Five humans and one queerat stopped, panting wildly.

“Just a bit more. I kind of remember this area. The shore should be behind those trees,” Shun pointed to a grove two or three hundred meters ahead.

“Let’s keep moving. Even if you can’t run, just keep walking,” Satoru said, taking my backpack from me.

I started forward, leading the way.

“What was that thing that sounded like a bird cry?” Maria asked.

“A nightjar. Spying for the Giant Hornet colony.”

Maria looked like she doubted what I said.

“It’s true. They have good night vision so they’re used for night reconnaissance.”

She seemed to accept Squealer’s explanation. I thought it was kind of terrible of her to believe that ugly creature over her best friend.

“But it’s already bright out,” Mamoru looked up at the sky.

Under our feet, blue dayflowers were starting to bloom, still wet with the morning dew.

“They use different birds during the day, right?” Satoru asked Squealer.

The woods were starting to come alive with various birdcalls.

“Correct. I’ve heard they use crows during the day because they’re more intelligent.”

As if to interrupt us, a crow cawed loudly.

“Where did it come from?” Satoru looked around wildly.

“There! On that tree.”

Maria had the best vision out of all of us. A hundred meters ahead was an ominous black shape perched on a withered tree.


Page 54-57

“Are you sure? Is the crow really watching us?” Shun whispered doubtfully.

Upon closer inspection, the crow didn’t seem to be paying particular attention to us.

“Anyway, let’s just hurry. If we can get to the canoes before Kiroumaru shows up, we’ll be okay.”

Satoru hurried to walk next to me.

Traveling through a grove of oak and chestnut trees, we heard the faint sound of splashing water. The breeze changed directions and we smelled the unique odor of the lake coming from the east. We rushed recklessly onward.

Finally we arrived on the shores of Kasumiga Lake. A sea of reeds rustled gently on the water’s edge.

“Here!” Shun pointed at the area where the canoes were hidden and dashed forward.

We made to follow, but at that moment, a large shadow cut across the sky.

I looked up and saw a crow. Was it the one from before? It soared lazily four or five meters above us and landed on a pine branch. It looked over and crowed provocatively. It didn’t seem to know how scary people could be.

It was a shame I couldn’t use my cantus. I wanted to chuck a rock at its head. We waded through the reeds ankle-deep in the mud, looking for the canoes.

They were nowhere to be seen. I was pretty sure this was the right place. After searching fruitlessly for five minutes, I started getting impatient. The crow was still sitting on the tree, watching our every move and letting out ear-grating caws.

“Weird. It couldn’t possibly have been washed away…”

Even Shun was starting to doubt himself. Then, help came from the most unexpected person.

“Found it!”

Mamoru’s voice had never sounded so promising to me before. We extracted ourselves from the mud and ran in the direction of that jubilant voice.

The canoes appeared to have pulled free of their moorings and been blown around by the wind. If it hadn’t been for the anchors sunk into the mud, they might have drifted away altogether.

We promptly raised anchor. As when we arrived, Satoru and I were in Sakuramasu 2. Maria and Mamoru were in Hakuren 4 and Shun was in Kamuruchi 7.

“Well, then. I will be departing,” Squealer stood on the shore to watch us leave.

“Thank you. We couldn’t have come this far without you,” I thanked him sincerely.

At least, my feelings at that moment were real.

“I wish you a safe journey.”

Squealer stood respectfully as the canoes moved slowly away from the banks.

“Let’s go,” Satoru said.

I turned around and put my paddle in the water.

This time, no one could use their cantus, so we had no choice but to manually row our way across the bay.

We started rowing clumsily. Once we reached the Tone River we could just ride the current downstream. But to get there we had to rely on our own strength.

Unfortunately, we made the mistake of overworking ourselves early on. There was still quite a distance to go, but we were all exhausted. My arms were painfully sore and my palms were blistered. It wasn’t yet noon, but we were already burned from the unrelenting sun. The water I splashed on my face to cool myself evaporated within five minutes.

“Heeey, let’s stop a bit,” Shun called, looking worriedly back at us.

Although he was rowing by himself, he was still a lot faster than the rest of us.

“I’m doing fine,” Satoru yelled back.

“We have a long head start. We should take a break while we can.”

Even though I was impatient to get out of here, it was true that we hadn’t had a good rest since yesterday. We decided to take Shun’s advice and take a break.


Page 58-61

By a stroke of luck, the clouds came out and drifted across the sun so we could look up a the blue sky as we lay back to nap on the canoe.

The rhythm of the waves lulled me half to sleep. But after narrowly escaping from the jaws of death part of me was still too wound up for me to fall asleep completely.

What were we going to do from now on?

We had learned the forbidden truths. If Satoru’s theory was right, we were now targets for “removal”. Was there any way to escape this fate?

I felt something slipping down my chest under my shirt. Reflexively, I held it down with my right hand.

I pulled it out and stared at it. It was a charm on a purple string. “Protection against karma demons” was embroidered in a complicated design on the front. This past spring, everyone from Sage academy had gone to visit the shrine and received a protective charm.

The teacher had told us never to open the charm, but it’s human nature to want to do things the more you’re told not to do them. Out of all the students who had been given a charm I was the quickest to submit to curiosity. I waited impatiently until I was alone, then opened the charm.

The charm wasn’t sewn shut, but simply tied with string so I could easily take out its contents. Inside was a folded piece of white paper and a glass disc. Written on the paper in black in were strange words that looked more like pictures than writing. It gave me a creepy feeling so I quickly folded it again. I looked at the glass disc for a long time.

It was made of clear glass about five centimeters across and looked like a small galaxy. In the background were faint golden threads in woven geometric designs and different images seemed to float up to the surface. I saw small bamboo stalks, that upon closer inspection also had tiny leaves and intricate red fruit. Next to it, pencils, cups, flowers and other familiar items floated by. And under all of these was a “purity mask”.

“Purity masks” are masks made of damp clay and white chalk that children wear during the Demon Chasing festival. It resembles a human face but has no expression or individuality. But this mask was different. As I stared, I somehow saw my own face in it.

Lying in the canoe with my eyes closed, I felt the glass disc through the charm.

I turned quietly and peeked at Satoru. He was using his backpack as a pillow and seemed completely relaxed, rocking with the rhythm of the boat. Judging from his even breathing, he seemed to be dozing.

Although sticking your nose into things you’re not supposed to see is a bad habit, at times it helps to calm me down. I opened the charm and took out the glass disc.

The light reflecting off the glass might attract attention from the others so I cupped the disc in my hand and looked into it.

How should I describe the uneasy feeling I had then?

That is, at first glance it seemed indefinably different. But I had looked at it enough that its composition was branded into my brain. But since I wanted the comfort it provided, I stared at it as if I wanted to eat it.

No. There was something different. It wasn’t just my imagination that made originally perfectly balanced bamboo stalks seem crooked. Rather, it was the geometric designs in the back that were askew.

Then, when I focused on the purity mask, a shiver ran through my body.

It was melting… It was such a tiny change, and the result still looked like me, but the purity mask seemed to be slowly changing into a karma demon’s face.

Instinctively, I threw the disc away from me, into the lake.

Hearing the splash, Satoru raised his head.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing,” I said, forcing a smile. “Shouldn’t we get going?”


Page 62-65

“Yeah.”

Satoru called out a loud signal to the other canoes and we set off again.

What was happening to the face?

The feeling weighed heavily on me. Why was that face melting?

No, was it really melting? Doubt washed over me. Was it my imagination? Just an illusion caused by accumulated mental fatigue?

I suddenly regretted throwing the glass disc into the water. If I could just get another look at it, I’m sure it’d be back to normal.

No, it wouldn’t. The chill I felt when I had seen it wasn’t just my imagination. The face in the glass disc was indeed crumbling.

Then, why was that face, my face, changing? No, wait. That wasn’t my face. The resemblance was just a coincidence since the charms were given out at random.

…but, was that really true? I stopped rowing and thought.

Although it looked unintentional, could the truth be that it had already been decided which charm each child would get? If not, then there was no need for us to line up in seat order and receive the charms one by one. They could have just passed the box around and had us each take one.

“Hey, Saki! Row properly,” Satoru complained.

…given this theory, then the contents of each charm were different. The fact that the purity mask in my charm looked like me was no coincidence. Would the purity mask in every glass disc resemble the student it belonged to?

“Sakiiii”

“Alright, alright. I heard you.”

I stuck my paddle in the water and lost myself in thought again.

Even so, what was it for? Every face was in a student’s likeness. Was there some sort of meaning behind it?

No matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t come up with an answer. All I could think of was that since they had put so much effort into this, then the charm wasn’t just a charm, there must be something else to it.

Ever since we had run into the false minoshiro, my attitude toward the adults has changed completely. I suspected all their instructions to us were secret ways of screening us.

…even the charm could be a tool in controlling us. Saying that it protects against karma demons was just an excuse.

I dipped my handkerchief into the lake and put it on my head. Cold water ran down my forehead and evaporated before it got to my cheeks. I barely noticed, still deep in thought.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask the false minoshiro what the truth about karma demons was. But like the fiends, they seemed to be a real threat.

I began to understand. It was just a feeling, an instinct that I couldn’t put into words yet.

Got it. Could the charm possibly be a karma demon detector? It could warn us if there was danger.

If we were near a karma demon.

Or…

“Saki!”

My train of thought was broken by Satoru’s shout. For a second, I thought he was getting angry with me for how I was rowing but I quickly realized that wasn’t the case.

A shadow flew over my head. I looked up and realized with a jolt that it was the crow from before. It let out a long cry and wheeled around, going back the way it came.

I turned around and scores of boats filled my vision, speeding toward us at full sail. At the center was a huge warship, at least three times longer than our canoe. The gunwhale was filled to the brim with queerat soldiers.

“Saki…” Satoru’s sigh was filled with resignation. “We’ve been caught. Look, there’s Kiroumaru.”