an English translation of the novel

Page 158-160

“You mean Shun Aonuma?” father asked quietly.

“Yeah. He suddenly stopped coming to Sage Academy.” My voice cracked a little.

“It’s forbidden to talk about these things. You know that too, don’t you?” mother smiled chidingly.

“Yeah…but,” I looked downward, on the verge of tears.

“Saki…Sacchan,” father weakened as he saw my tears.

Sacchan was a nickname he hadn’t used since I was four or five.

“Dear,” mother said worriedly.

“It’s okay. Saki, listen. You will have to face many hardships in life. One of them is parting with your dear friends.”

“What happened to Shun?” I shouted, interrupting him.

Father frowned, “He’s missing.”

“Why?”

“A few days ago, there was a big accident in Pinewind. Shun Aonuma and his parents have been missing ever since.”

“An accident? What was it? No one told me anything about it. Why has…”

“Saki! Enough,” mother said severely.

“But”

“We’re worried about you. Okay? Don’t talk back, and listen to us. You have to stop prying into things that don’t concern you.”

I nodded reluctantly and stood up.

“Saki, please,” my mother said tearfully as I was about to leave the dining room. “I can’t lose another… No, I don’t want to lose you. Please do as we say.”

“All right. I’m tired, I’m going to bed.”

“Goodnight, Saki,” father said. He put his arms around mother, who was pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Goodnight.”

As I climbed the stairs, all I heard were my mother’s words. “I can’t lose another… No, I don’t want to lose you.” And something else I had heard long ago. A pained voice shouting,  “I don’t want to lose another child!”


Page 160-162

 

I lay in bed with a million thoughts running through my head, unable to fall asleep.

I’ve always wondered whether I had an older sister. The first time the thought crossed my mind was when I was around ten years old. My mother had accidentally left me unsupervised at the library, and I came upon an old dictionary (class three material). In Harmony School, we had talked about how our names reflected our parents’ wishes and expectations, so I wanted to know what my name meant.

“Sa” had three definitions, ‘dawn’, ‘early’, and ‘young’, but I didn’t know which one mine was. Since I was still a kid I thought it was obvious that I was ‘young’. Next I looked up “ki”. ‘Very young’, ‘time’, ‘little’… Just when I thought that the two words meant exactly the same thing, I noticed the last definition.

‘Youngest child’.

Of course, this wasn’t definitive proof that I was the “youngest child”. But my mother was more sensitive to the meaning of words than anyone else. I got the feeling that if I were the oldest child, I wouldn’t have had “ki” in my name.

As I thought about this, dim memories from my childhood began to resurface. I think I was two or three at that time. There was a person who always took care of me wherever I went. That person was older than me, but much younger than my mother. My parents called me Sacchan and that person Yocchan.

That’s right. My sister’s name was Yoshimi.

There was no evidence that this wasn’t just a false memory created by autosuggestion, but after hearing my mother cry that she didn’t want to lose another child, the idea that I once had a sister was becoming more and more convincing.

If this was the truth, then why was my sister no longer here? Had she really been eliminated? And did it have some connection with what was going on with Shun?

I couldn’t come up with any conclusions. I was trapped in a cycle of convoluted thoughts.

Then I heard something hit the window.

My head jerked up. Moonlight shone in through the open curtains and I saw someone floating outside of the second-floor window.

For a second I thought I was having a paranormal experience and felt my legs go weak with fear. Then the light fell on a head of red hair and I realized it was Maria.

“What’s wrong?” I opened the window.

“Sorry. I dropped by the park but there was no one there. I got a good scolding when I got home earlier.”


Page 163-164

It would be bad if my parents saw her.

“Hurry, come in,” I gestured at Maria. “Why did it take so long? You were only going around to interview people, right?”

Maria clung tightly to me.

“Maria?”

“I was so scared! We were so close to being killed too!”

“What do you mean? Explain properly.”

Maria was trembling, but managed to collect herself. She sat down next to me on the bed and started talking.

At first, they had wandered around randomly looking for Shun’s friends. Fortunately, Mamoru seemed to have unusual luck in finding things and they managed to run into and question two or three people this way. But they didn’t discover any clues.

They realized something strange. Outside of team one, most of Shun’s friends were from Pinewind, but over half of them were absent from Sage Academy. And the one person they did manage to find refused to say anything at all.

They were about to head to Pinewind when they realized that Satoru and I were already on our way there, so they went back to Sage Academy.

But as usual, there were almost no students that stayed behind after school was over. The two of them were about to go home when they remembered something that Shun and Satoru had been talking about in the past. That story about how there were weird structures in the courtyard that smelled like ammonia and you could hear animals growling inside them.

“…so we decided to check the courtyard. Of course we didn’t believe that Shun was there, but we thought we might be able to find some clues.”

Somehow, Maria and Mamoru managed to get in on nothing but luck.

“But how did you get into the courtyard? Shun and Satoru had to memorize the position of the locks.”

“Did you forget? I can levitate. I went over the wall when no one was looking. Of course, Mamoru can’t, so I had to open the door from the inside for him. Anyway, Shun was right. There were about a dozen little bolts arranged radially…”


Page 165-166

Who cared about the locks.

“Forget that. What happened?” I said impatiently.

“Same as when Shun and Satoru were there, nothing. Apart from the five little brick rooms in the back.”

I remembered what Shun had said back in Harmony School.

“There are wooden doors on the buildings, but they look super sturdy. Probably made of oak, four or five centimeters thick, and there are cast iron bars over it, with these hinges…”

“I don’t really care about the doors. Get to the point and tell me what you saw!” I shouted in irritation.

Maria had great concentration and observational skills, but sucked at summarizing what she saw.

“Sorry. Anyway, we wanted to find out what was inside, but couldn’t open the doors without destroying them.”

“I’m sorry too. I just really wanted to know what you guys found.”

“Yeah, so we put our ears against the door. We heard something.”

“What did it sound like?”

“A low growl. And then footsteps like some big animal walking back and forth. I could tell that whatever it was had noticed us too.”

“Wait a second. Is there that much room in that shed?”

“Uh-uh. I think the building is just an entrance that connects to a basement or a cell underground. The presence of that thing seemed to come from below.”

“Hm. But in the end you still don’t know what was making that noise?”

“Don’t jump to conclusions. We did see it afterwards. Though not its entire body.”

I resisted the urge to snap at her to hurry up and listened quietly.

“Mamoru and I were about to peek into the building when I heard the bolts on the door turning. Someone was coming into the courtyard. There was nowhere to hide so we jumped behind the buildings. Just in time too. The door opened the next second and they came in.”

“Who?”


Page 167-168

“I couldn’t see their faces, but I could tell from their voices that there were three of them. One was probably the Sun Prince. The other two were a man and a woman, and the woman sounded like the one that interviewed us after we came back from summer camp.”

I swallowed. “What did they talk about?”

“I could only hear bits of the conversation, but the man was saying that they needed to hurry and settle this before he was completely demonized. And if they failed, it would be a disaster, and stuff like that. I don’t know what he meant by demonize though.”

Part of me had been prepared for this. Still, it felt like I had been hit over the head with a metal bat. Demonize probably meant turning into a karma demon.

“…and after that?” I forced myself to speak.

“The woman said to send out the tainted cats immediately. And the Sun Prince asked if she meant the black and striped ones that they’ve been using.” Maria’s voice shook. “Then they opened them. The second and fourth rooms. And these big animals came out. I only caught a glimpse of them, but they looked as big as the lions in the old zoos and a lot skinnier.”

“The animals…the tainted cats, didn’t they sense you hiding there?”

“Yeah. But someone immediately restrained the cats with their cantus and transported them elsewhere, so we weren’t discovered. …but, this the most important thing! The Sun Prince let slip where the cats were being sent. He said it’s a pity for such a talented child.”

I already knew who it was.

“I heard it with my own ears! Shun Aonuma.”