an English translation of the novel

Page 138-139

“Yeah, he’s right. I think it’s too dangerous,” Maria took Mamoru’s side.

“So you’re just going to abandon Shun?” Satoru asked angrily.

“I didn’t say that. But…” she looked around nervously. “Even now I feel like I’m being watched.”

“There’s no one around. Stop being stupid,” he sneered.

I suddenly thought of something. “Hey, remember when we were running from Kiroumaru? There was this creepy bird following us around all night.”

“You too, Saki? Those were nightjars and crows trained by the queerats.”

“If the queerats could do that, then the Ethics Committee would have even more clever tricks, right?”

“Yeah! I’ve heard stories too. Geniuses like Shisei Kaburagi, Koufuu Hino, and Yuu Tatebe can control genes and create animals from their imagination. I wouldn’t be surprised if that weird bee over there were watching us right now.”

Everyone fell silent. The oppressive mood weighed heavily on us. If they did use surveillance bugs, and we didn’t notice, then we were done for. Plus, where the bug sends its report after it returns to its hideout was a whole other issue.

“…okay. I’m going to look for Shun anyway. You don’t have to help if you don’t want to.”

“I’ll help.” I said immediately.

“Wait! You’re making it sound like we’re not worried about Shun at all. Don’t,” Maria protested. “I’m just saying it’s too obvious if all four of us start snooping around. Right, Mamoru?”

Page 140-141

Mamoru opened his mouth. It looked as if this wasn’t what he meant at all, but in the end, he nodded without saying anything.

“You’re right. Let’s split up and look then.”

We divided ourselves into two groups. Maria and Mamoru went to talk to Shun’s friends from other teams. Satoru and I went directly to his house.

Luckily, there was already a public canoe available when we arrived at the dock. We set off down the web of interconnected canals.

The village of Pinewind is situated in the northernmost region of Kamisu 66, and Shun’s house was on the northern outskirts of the village. It was a huge gabled building supported by a thick pillar a meter in diameter, over which a thirty meter long beam held up the ceiling. I used to play there a lot as a child, and it always gave off a somewhat scary aura I didn’t expect from wooden houses. Once we got older though, we started playing outside and stopped visiting each other’s homes.

The canoe sped nimbly through the waterways, but Satoru suddenly slowed down way before we were even close to the junction leading to Pinewind.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look at that.”

I followed his gaze and saw numerous boats moored near the junction. They were all much bigger than the canoe we were in. An image of “god’s eye”, the town’s seal, along with a red number were drawn on the side of each boat. These were boats used by town officials, and the different Sanskrit words painted on the side showed which division they belonged to. These had the word Hrih, symbolizing Amitabha or the Thousand-Armed goddess, so they were probably from the Department of Health or Environmental Protection.

“Just go past them.”

Our canoe headed straight on the waterway. I glanced at the junction out of the corner of my eye and saw, twenty meters above the water, a black and yellow striped rope. A clear sign that entrance was forbidden.

“What’s going on? Does this mean we can’t enter Pinewind?”

Page 142-143

“It looks like it.”

“But…it can’t be.”

Did it have something to do with Shun? I wanted to ask, but was too scared to open my mouth.

“Guess we’ll just have to walk in.”

“Don’t you think there’ll be guards on the road?”

“Let’s go around, through the forest.”

We disembarked at a dock about a kilometer away and started walking in the opposite direction. On our left was a grassy field and on our right a forest of ferns, camellia, and evergreen trees. We made sure we weren’t being watched, then slipped into the forest.

“I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Yeah, me too.”

The feeling grew stronger with every step. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, as if there were a magnetic field ahead pushing all the particles in our body away from it.

How far had we gone? After a while, the black and yellow stripes came into view. The rope had been extended all the way into the middle of the forest.

“You’re kidding. Who even comes through here?”

“I guess this thing goes around the entire village.”

Satoru folded his arms and stared at the rope. It was tied around the trees in a zigzagging pattern, but didn’t look as if it curved around anywhere.

“Well, we’ll just have to go through here then,” Satoru ducked under the rope that was stretched out at eye-level.

I followed right behind.  My heart was pounding and I knew we seriously breaking the rules but there was no other choice.

“Sh,” Satoru suddenly stopped and gestured for me to be quiet.

I froze.

There was movement in between the trees some thirty meters ahead.

Satoru turned around and mouthed something to me. Qu-ee-rat… It appeared to be a sentry.

We crouched in the shadow of the trees, trying not to breathe. I created a gentle breeze with my cantus to blow our scent away.

Page 144-145

It felt like an eternity, but in reality probably only ten minutes passed. A sharp call echoed through the woods. The queerat sprang to attention and rushed off.

“Alright, let’s go.”

We started forward again. Finally, we came across a dirt road cutting through the evergreen forest. On the other side was a large red pine forest for which the town is named after.

After double checking to make sure that there were no people or queerats around, we darted across the road into the pine forest.

Suddenly, all the little hairs on my body stood up.

Panicking, I looked around wildly. I only saw trees and grass. Nothing out of the ordinary. But something felt completely wrong.

“Just as I thought, there’s something weird going on. Something bad in the air. We shouldn’t stay here for too long,” Satoru said, apparently getting the same vibes as me.

“What do we do?”

“We’ve already come this far, we can’t turn back now, right?” Satoru whispered, though he looked  uncertain.

We went another forty or fifty meters into the pine forest. An unbelievable sight appeared before us. There was another rope stretched out at eye-level. But it wasn’t a simple black and yellow striped one.

“The Holy Barrier! Why?”

It was a pure white rope hung with lots of streamers. Why was the Holy Barrier, which was supposed to protect Kamisu 66 from the outside world, here in Pinewind?

“Did the town’s borders shrink?”

“No, that’s not it,” Satoru said, inspecting the rope. “This is obviously newly made. The old Holy Barrier is probably still where it always has been.”

“Then what is this?”

Page 146-147

“Another barrier inside the town that goes all the way around Pinewind.”

It didn’t make sense no matter how I looked at it. The Holy Barrier was supposed keep bad things out, but now it seemed like it was holding something in.

Satoru sighed deeply, “Anyway, if we want to keep going, we’ll have to cross the barrier.”

I nodded. Going beyond the Holy Barrier was completely different from crossing a simple “entrance prohibited” rope. If we were found out, nothing we could say would help us.

But I already knew that this was the only way to find Shun.

We ducked under the rope, careful not to touch any of the streamers.

At first it seemed that nothing had changed. But as we kept going, abnormalities began to appear.

The usually lush undergrowth in the forest looked as if it had been mown down by a hurricane. Everything was twisted and dying.

I couldn’t read Satoru’s expression. We continued in silence.

The sky was only slightly overcast, and the sun was still high in the sky, but our surroundings grew darker and darker. The trees were blocking out the light, their thick branches seemingly fusing together to form a roof above us. In comparison to the undergrowth, the trees seemed to have grown much more than was normal.

Satoru broke off a branch and lit it with his cantus. Even though it was still broad daylight, we couldn’t see where we were putting our feet without a torch.

After a while, we saw a sliver of light between the trees. We tried to get closer, but were stopped by the roots of the trees. They rose out of the ground like giant snakes, coiling this way and that, over and around, making it impossible to walk through. It looked like an alien world. I was just about to suggest that we cut through with our cantus, but realized that it would leave obvious proof that we had been here. I reluctantly started picking my way through the gaps in the trees.

“Saki,” Satoru turned around, holding the torch aloft. “Look.”