an English translation of the novel

Page 285-286

Mamoru ran away from home on a cold day in the middle of February.

When his father went to wake him up after lighting the kilns in the morning, nothing seemed amiss. But when Mamoru didn’t come down for breakfast, he went to check up on him again and found the room empty.

There was a note on left on his desk that simply said, “Please don’t look for me.” This was the message most often left behind by people who have run away, and also the most ridiculous.

“What should we do?” Maria said tearfully, her breath a white puff in the air. Her hat was covered with snow and even her eyelashes had tiny icicles on them.

Maria and Mamoru lived on opposite sides of town, but I knew that they met up everyday to go to school together. Today, she had gotten tired of waiting and gone to his house. When she heard the story from Mamoru’s flustered father, she made him promise not to tell anyone and came straight to me.

“Isn’t it obvious? We look for him.”

I had already untied my canoe from the dock. If Maria had arrived any later, we would have missed each other.

“Let’s go get Satoru and start following Mamoru’s tracks.”

“But wouldn’t it be suspicious if everyone from team one suddenly skipped school?”

Although Ryou was technically in our group, he usually spent all his time with the members of group two. Maria was right. If we all failed to show up, it would raise too many questions and we would be brought in for questioning.

“Alright. Let’s go to school for now. We have independent observation time during third and fourth period, right? We’ll sneak out then.”

Since it was Saturday, we only had classes in the morning.

“But we’ll never be able to make it back before homeroom.”

“Let’s think of an excuse later. Good thing we’ll have the genius bullshitter with us. In any case, we can’t look for Mamoru any earlier than that.”

Page 287-289

It was initially predicted that this winter would be rather mild, but at the end of January, a cold front came rolling in from the mainland and temperatures dropped to record lows. It had snowed so much the previous night that the town was covered in a thick blanket of it. I had no idea where Mamoru could have run off to, but packed my skiis into my canoe just in case.

I arrived at Sage Academy just before class started and managed to slide into my seat without the Sun Prince noticing. He also didn’t seem to suspect anything when Maria said that Mamoru was home sick with the cold.

The topic of class for first period was “Society and Logic.” It was mind-numbingly boring. We tried our best to hide our impatience and prayed for time to pass quickly. The instant the chime sounded to end the class, Maria and I cornered Satoru and told him everything.

Second period was math, which always gave me a headache. Now there were at least three more irritated students in the class.

And finally it was the long-awaited independent observation period where we were allowed to go off campus if necessary. As the three of us hurried out of the classroom, we ran into our first obstacle.

“Hey, where are you all going?” Ryou said to Satoru, avoiding my eyes.

“Isn’t it free observation time right now?” Satoru shrugged.

“That’s why I’m asking where you’re going. We’re in the same team, you know.”

“Don’t you usually hang out with team two?” Maria said impatiently.

“But I’m still in team one. And anyway, I used to hang out with you guys a long time ago. I don’t know why we don’t anymore…” Ryou seemed a little confused by the inconsistency in his thoughts.

“Alright, alright. Sorry, we haven’t explained it to you yet,” Satoru clapped him on the back in a friendly way.

There was no intimacy in that gesture, and it was hard to believe they had ever been lovers.

“We already decided on our observation topic earlier, but you weren’t around to hear it. We’re going to be observing the pattern of ice crystals in snowflakes.”

“Snowflakes? Why? That’s kid stuff. I did it one winter break when I was in Friendship School.”

Although Ryou had been friends with us since we were little, he didn’t go to Harmony School with Satoru and me. Instead, he was with Mamoru at Friendship School.

“We’re observing the changes they undergo when we use cantus on them. We’ve already divided up the work. Could you go look behind the school?”

“What exactly are we observing?”

“First, look at the snowflakes through a magnifying glass and sketch their pattern. You need at least a hundred to start. Then divide them into broad categories by shape. Lastly, choose a few patterns and try to copy them onto another patch of snow.”

“But can snowflakes change their shape once they’ve already formed?” Ryou asked doubtfully.

Page 290-291

“Exactly! That’s the whole point of our observation,” Satoru replied quickly. “Most solid things are some kind of crystal, right? So if we can change the shape of a water crystal without melting it, it might be possible to change other things a lot more freely than we can now.”

“Hmm…” Ryou said contemplatively.

He seemed to have no immunity against Satoru’s made-up stories and swallowed the explanation hook, line, and sinker. There was no way he had ever been close friends with us.

“I see. So you want me to check behind the school?”

“Yeah, please. We’ll be looking in the front. Oh, also, once you start the observation, you can’t stop in the middle. If you do, you’ll have to start all over.”

“Alright,” he said, and left.

“You’re so evil,” I complimented him from the bottom of my heart.

“What? It was the best solution.”

We walked boldly out of the school and to the dock. The wind stung the parts of my ears that weren’t covered by my hat, and it was snowing slightly.

Satoru had to go home and get some tools. Maria and I took Hakuren 4 to Mamoru’s house. The air was colder than the water in the canal, so wisps of steam hovered around us. There were sheets of ice in some places that we had to break through with our cantus, and they knocked against the canoe as we passed. I felt like we were steering an icebreaker through the Arctic Ocean.

“Do you have any ideas why Mamoru ran away?” I asked.

Maria thought for a moment. “I don’t know…he just seemed a little depressed recently.”

I had gotten that feeling as well.

“Why? Did anything happen?”

“No, nothing serious. I think I was the only one who noticed anything.”

Page 292-293

“Let’s hear it.”

“There was an assignment he couldn’t really work out. It should’ve been easy for him. But he’s such a pessimist, once he considers the possibility of failing, it’s hopeless.”

“That’s it?”

Did he run away from home because of that?

“No, I think the Sun Prince gave him an earful. …then I joked that they might send a copycat after him, and he went pale as death and took it really seriously.”

If that was true, then I was also partly responsible. It had probably been a bad idea to talk about the kids that had disappeared from school.

Maria and Tomiko had been right that Mamoru was much weaker than me.

Suddenly I remembered something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link…”

“What?” she asked a little suspiciously.

I said it was nothing, even as I tried to work out the confused thoughts in my mind. Just now, a frightening thought had flashed through my head, but I couldn’t get a good grasp on what exactly it was.

Oakgrove was on the western end of the district. During this season, it was directly in the path of the winds coming off the river, so it was unbearably cold. When we arrived, the frigid air had already completely numbed my face.

I tied Hakuren 4 to a post, hoisted my backpack, and put on my skiis, which looked like a combination of traditional round snow shoes and Telemark skiis.

On the underside of the skiis were thin, angled spikes that helped you brake when you pushed your foot back, making it possible to walk on flat ground. You could also skate by spreading your legs shoulder-width, bending forward, and propelling yourself with your cantus. It was easy to go uphill this way as you could go as fast as you wanted. When going downhill, you simply used them like normal skiis.

Maria wore normal shoes and hovered in the air like a ghost.

Page 294-295

When we arrived, we went around Mamoru’s house looking for footprints. At least now having snow everywhere was helpful.

“Hey, is this it?”

I hadn’t found footprints, but sled tracks. Judging from their width, they appeared to be a child’s sled.

“Mamoru was never great with skiis. He hardly ever used them, in fact.”

“It looks like he dug out the sled he used in Friendship School. Look at how deep the tracks are. He must have brought luggage.”

Running away on a kid sled piled with luggage wasn’t a smart plan, but it seemed like something Mamoru would do.

After a while, I saw Satoru’s canoe coming toward us at breakneck speed.

“Sorry for making you wait. Which way are we going?”

He was already decked out in trekking gear. His skiis were wider than mine, which meant they required more strength to use, but also meant he could walk on still water like a water strider.

We started along the sled tracks. Even though Mamoru had over three hour’s head start, he couldn’t have gone too far because his laden sled shouldn’t be able to go very quickly without losing balance. And if he stopped to figure out where he was going, maybe he would only have two hours on us.

The tracks started from behind the house and ran straight for a while before turning right and up a small hill.

“It looked like he was trying to find a path people don’t usually use,” Satoru said.

“But he didn’t even bother to erase his tracks. That’s just like him,” Maria replied from above us.

“Why didn’t he use a canoe?” I asked.

I had been wondering about this since the beginning. A canoe would have been more familiar to use, faster, and could fit his luggage much more easily.

“He didn’t want to be seen?”

I guess that was the biggest reason. But it might also mean something else. It was easier to go by the canals, but that meant it would also be easier to pursue him. Perhaps Mamoru wanted to go past the Holy Barrier and into the mountains.