an English translation of the novel

Page 169-170

After that, I don’t really remember how I calmed Maria down. In any case, I had to say something to make her feel that Shun wasn’t in grave danger. I’m not as good at lying as Satoru is, but I can do a good enough job if I have to, so I promised Maria that we would go look for Shun the next morning and somehow convinced her to go home.

I knew I would feel much braver if the two of us were together, but I couldn’t put my friend’s life in danger.

After she left, I dressed hurriedly. I put a windbreaker on over my sweater, and clipped my hair up with a barrette. Since I did a lot of outdoor activities, I already had a pack prepared with things like medicine, a compass, and other emergency supplies. I stuffed it into by backpack, and at the last minute remembered to bring the charm Shun had given me.

I snuck quietly out of the window  and onto the roof. Unlike Maria, I didn’t know how to levitate yet, so I muttered my mantra and jumped as hard as I could. The instant my cantus kicked in, the rush of air that hit me was as heavy as water. It was like falling in a dream. I lost my balance and landed badly on my foot, but luckily didn’t hurt myself.

There was no time to waste. I got up and made my way swiftly to the back of the house, untied the canoe from the dock and set off down the dark canal as quietly as possible. When I was a good distance away, I set the canoe going at full speed.

I wasn’t sure if I would make it in time. It was dark, and I was going so fast that if I made the slightest mistake, I would crash and sink.

Still, I didn’t hesitate. I would save Shun no matter what. I have to make it in time. The whole of my being was concentrated on it.

As I sped along the dark waterway, I was enveloped in a strange sense of deja vu.

It was the first day of summer camp, when Shun and I were night canoeing. Shun had stilled the surface of the river and turned it into a mirror reflecting the starry sky above.

Page 171-172

Shun had propelled Hakuren 4 on the waves through the infinite fragments of shining stars.

The flow of the water and the banks of the river on either side were a blur in the darkness. I couldn’t tell how fast we were going. Just like how I felt now.

The boat I was using now was also called Hakuren 4. We technically weren’t allowed to register boats with identical names, but I couldn’t think of anything else to call it.

I arrived at the junction leading to Pinewind in no time. I stopped. Earlier this afternoon, there had been quite a few boats docked here, but now that it was the dead of night, only one remained. There was a lit brazier on the boat, but no sign of anyone.

This time around, I didn’t have the time to take a detour through the forest. I had to go through the junction. I started forward slowly. I concentrated as hard as I could on muffling the sound of the waves. Hakuren 4 glided forward into the circle of light and under the rope blocking the way.

If someone came out from the boat now, that would be the end. I held my breath until I thought Hakuren 4 had gone far enough to be hidden in the darkness.

The watchman on the boat probably thought that no one would dare break the rules and enter Pinewind. Otherwise, it would never have been this easy to sneak in.

I continued onward quietly and soon passed under the second Holy Barrier. There was no patrol here.

The moonlight illuminated two large pines in front of me. This should be the center of town. Peering through the darkness, I could see the silhouettes of houses along the river, but none had lights in the windows. Pinewind had turned into no-man’s land.

I turned and followed a narrow canal north.

I didn’t know exactly where Shun lived now, but had a general idea. His home was already on the northern outskirts of Pinewind. If he was going to move to a small bungalow even more isolated from people, there was a good chance that it would be way in the north, near the Holy Barrier. I could keep going in that direction by following the compass, but the question was, how far would I have to go?

Page 173-174

The narrow canal ended five hundred meters ahead. The dock was already full of boats so I tied up Hakuren 4 to a wooden pile and hopped over the other boats to get ashore. One of them sported a fancy torch that caught my eye. Instead of the usual round log, it was made of strips of bamboo tied together and stuffed with straw, cloth, and magnesium wires for fuel. I lit it with my cantus and it flared to life, illuminating everything around me in dazzling light.

I wasn’t familiar with the geography of Pinewind and didn’t know where exactly I was now, but turned and headed north.

As I walked, the torch revealed what appeared to be a long-abandoned ghost town. Pinewind had been evacuated not too long ago, yet the streets were filled with trash and bits of wood, and the buildings were rotting away.

But the creepy vibe of the town was interrupted with an even more unsettling feeling.

The light of the torch was so strong that everything outside its circle of illumination was pitch black. I had no idea what I was walking into. On the other hand, anyone could see me coming from miles away.

The logical part of my brain told me that keeping the torch was dangerous, but the primal part said that light meant safety. I tried dimming the flames, but it was too difficult to control. I could either put it out entirely, or let it burn at full force.

I looked at the branches littered at my feet. If I gathered these and lit them as I went along, then I would always have a small source of light. Thinking that I should have done this right at the beginning, I put out the torch.

Everything plunged into darkness. Red and green afterimages flickered in front of my eyes.

I lit one of the branches.

A huge black cat stood in front of me.

Actually, huge doesn’t even begin to describe it. As Maria had said, it was at least as big as a lion. Its legs and neck were extremely long, and though its head was comparatively small, about the size of a leopard’s, it was tall enough that its glittering eyes were at the same level as mine.

Page 175-176

The black cat purred contentedly as it came toward me and put its front paws on my shoulders.

Then in an instant, its huge jaws were around my neck.

I heard its teeth crunch. My mind went blank; I couldn’t even remember how to recite my mantra.

So this was a tainted cat… That was the only thought my panicked brain could produce.

I felt its hot breath stirring my hair, and its drool running down my neck. All I could smell was the disgusting stench of ammonia.

Slowly, I became aware that I was still conscious.

The cat was biting down on my neck with tremendous force, but its teeth didn’t penetrate my skin. It was the charm Shun had given me. The thick metal rings in the collar had saved me from decapitation.

The moment I realized this, I instinctively whispered my mantra.

I tried to loosen the jaws clamped around my neck. Apparently, once a tainted cat bites down on something, a special joint in their skull causes their jaws to lock, making them extremely difficult to force open. However, it could never compete with the overwhelming power of cantus. The bone creaked and shattered, its lower jaw hung open uselessly and I was freed.

Backing away quickly, I held up the flaming branch and the light fell upon the cat’s terrible face. It glared and hissed threateningly like a snake. Its long teeth, like those of a saber-toothed tiger from eons ago, dripped with blood.

I visualized a pair of powerful arms floating before me. One hand held the tainted cat by the neck and the other closed around its body and wrung it like a towel. There was a dry snapping sound. The cat shuddered violently and fell still.

For a while, I sat there breathing heavily. I couldn’t stop crying. My neck was hurting, and I discovered that the metal collar had been deformed and wouldn’t unhinge. I tore at it with my cantus and finally got it off.

After a moment, I collected myself and stood up to examine the tainted cat’s corpse. It looked exactly like the copycats that were always the subject of schoolyard legends. About three meters long, slimmer than tigers or lions, with abnormally long limbs. A face like a normal cat’s, except for the fact that the mouth could open many times wider.

Page 177-178

I touched the long fangs arcing out of the wide-open mouth. They were over 15 centimeters long, with elliptical cross-sections, and felt rough like a shark skin. It looked like the teeth were usually folded inside the mouth to keep them hidden. Unlike saber-toothed tigers, the tainted cat had fangs on both the top and bottom jaws that were blunt at the ends. They didn’t kill by impaling prey, but by pressing down on their jugular vein and strangling them.

There was only one reason for this method of killing that I could think of. In order to perpetuate the copycat legends, children needed to be taken without leaving behind blood or any other evidence so that there would never be any proof of murder. No matter how I looked at it, the tainted cats were bred for the sole purpose of killing people.

I threw up. As monstrous as the cat was, I still felt instinctively revolted at killing a warm-blooded animal. But more than that, I was disgusted at the existence of this cursed creature.

After an hour, I finally arrived at the giant pit that used to be Shun’s home. I had to hurry. I was covered in sweat and the tainted cat’s saliva had soaked into my sweater and ran all the way down to my socks. It was cold and extremely nasty, but I didn’t have time to stop and wipe myself off.

Having learned my lesson from my near-death experience earlier, I didn’t carry a torch. If I became too accustomed to the light, I would be left blind if the torch went out. It would be better to let my eyes adapt to the dark as much as it could and make the best of it.

Although I kept following the compass north, the first sign that confirmed I was going the right way came from a moonlit spiderweb. The threads were twisted so that they resembled faces and words. Although I didn’t know at the time, spiderwebs are the most sensitive things in nature and are the first to indicate that things are going wrong.

As I got closer to the Holy Barrier, the trees began to show signs of deformation. Most of them leaned in the same direction, as if they had been bent over from an unceasing wind.