an English translation of the novel

Page 296-297

The snow that had stopped for about an hour started falling lightly again. We hurried after the tracks. Satoru and I skied on either side of the sled tracks while Maria followed behind us, jumping lightly every forty or fifty meters. It was easier to do this than levitate continually.

“Wait!” Maria shouted.

We stopped.

“What?” I retraced my steps slowly.

Maria stood four or five meters away from the tracks, staring at the snow.

“Look. What do you make of this?” she pointed at a set of footprints.

It was the right length, but too narrow to be a print left by a human, bear, or monkey. If I had to guess I would say that it looked like a rabbit’s track. But it was too long, and there was only one print, whereas rabbits jumped with both feet at the same time. These tracks alternated left and right like human steps.

“It might be queerats…” Satoru sounded out of breath as he peeked over my shoulder.

“What would they be doing here?”

“How should I know? Maybe they’re hunting?”

“Hunting?” I got an unpleasant feeling in my chest as I looked back at the footprints. “That’s not good.”

“Why?”

“Look carefully. They’re parallel to the sled tracks the whole way, right?”

No matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t shake the idea that they were following Mamoru.

 

The two sets of tracks led us farther and farther out into the middle of nowhere. It was difficult to make out tracks over the layer of fresh snow. Eventually, we approached the bottom of a steep slope, more a hill than a snowdrift.

“That’s an impressive slope to take on with a children’s sled,” Satoru said, sounding amazed.


Page 298-299

“Never expected a guy like him to be so fearless.”

Or, if he were being chased by something even scarier, he might go up the hill without a second thought.

We followed the sled tracks up, but the wind had blown all the powdered snow off the face of the hill, leaving only packed, frozen snow that made our skis slide sideways and almost made us fall over. If it weren’t for having cantus, I’d have fallen head over heels to the bottom of the hill in an instant.

The slope arced endlessly before us. The valley below grew deeper. It seemed like Mamoru wanted to keep climbing, but the trees growing halfway up the hill blocked his way. If he had continued, he would have run into the rocks jutting out of the snow higher up. Having gone as far as he could go, he would have had no choice but to turn back, but even with the help of his cantus, steering a heavy sled down a steep hill was a challenge. Mamoru was trapped in a sticky situation. He could only keep going.

“Hey, I can’t see the sled tracks anymore. Can you?” I stopped and shouted to them.

Satoru shook his head. “No. Even though the sled was heavy enough to leave tracks in the ice up til now…”

“I’ll go higher to look,” Maria said and leapt up into the air, rising like a balloon.

“You can still faintly see the tracks leading up to here,” I traced the lines in the ice, doing my best not to slip and fall down the hill.

I felt a strange texture against my fingertips. Stone. Since most of it was still covered, it was hard to tell that there was a flat expanse of rock about the size of three tatamis underneath the ice.

I cleared area with my cantus and saw a thin metallic line scratched into the stone.

“Satoru, look!”

He turned deftly and stopped beside me.

“Maybe this was made by the sled…!”


Page 300-301

Maria descended toward us. “I can’t see any tracks from up there. And there’s probably no use climbing higher either.”

“Maria! This is bad!”

As she listened to my explanation, her face, white from the cold, began to flush. “So you mean Mamoru slipped and…all the way to the bottom?”

We all looked down into the valley. Somehow, we had managed to come so far that the bottom was now over a hundred meters below us. A fall from this height was most likely fatal, no matter how skilled you were at cantus.

“Anyway, let’s go down a little and look. Even if he did fall, it doesn’t mean he went all the way to the bottom.”

At Satoru’s words, we descended the slope.

Thirty, forty meters down, the ground suddenly felt different beneath our feet.

“A snowdrift!”

There was a hollow in the ground and soft snow had piled into it.

“Looks like there’s still hope. It could have acted as a cushion and stopped the sled.”

“But there aren’t any tracks continuing from here,” Maria said, and started swiping frantically at the snow with her cantus as if she had lost all control.

“Careful. It’s tricky for you to multitask with your cantus, let me do it,” I said, stopping her.

With one gust, I sent the snow flying up around us. Satoru backed away from the flurries whipping into the air.

Although I had grandly offered to help Maria, the truth was that it was difficult, almost reckless of me to be standing on the slippery slope without the aid of my cantus. After a few seconds, I really needed to use my cantus to support myself again.

Just then, Maria shouted, and I stopped the wind.

“There! Buried over there!” she shrieked.

She was pointing at the metal runners of the sled sticking out of the snow.

“I’ll dig it out! Don’t do anything.”


Page 302-303

Satoru visualized a giant scoop and started shoveling large amounts of snow and dumping it down the cliff. When the sled was mostly uncovered, we switched to digging with our hands. When all the annoying snow was cleared away, we turned the sled right side up, scattering the luggage that had been piled on it. But Mamoru was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is he?” Maria asked half-hysterically. “If he’s not here, then did he fall all the way down? We have to go help him!”

I stayed silent, not knowing how to respond. If Mamoru had time to use his cantus, he would have broken his fall here. If he had continued falling from here, he must have been unconscious the whole way down. In that case there was only a slim chance of survival.

“No, wait…” Satoru said calmly. “Don’t you think it’s weird? Why was the sled buried so perfectly?”

At his tone of voice, a spark of hope kindled inside me.

“Because the snow covered it?” I said.

He shook his head slowly. “It hasn’t been snowing that much. If it did, we wouldn’t have been able to follow his tracks this far.”

“Then the impact of the falling sled must have driven it into the snowdrift.”

“Even if that had happened, the snow wouldn’t have covered it so completely.”

“What are you guys talking about? Mamoru isn’t here. Who gives a damn what happened to the sled!”

“It’s important. …it means he might be okay,” Satoru said.

We fell silent at his words.

“Really?” “Why?” Maria and I asked simultaneously.

“I can only think of one reason the sled was buried here,” he said contemplatively. “It was done on purpose so no one would find it.”

“Mamoru hid it?” Maria asked, sounding hopeful.

“Or the queerats that were chasing him…”


Page 304-305

 

Where would the queerats have taken him after burying the sled? I tried to look for a possible route they could have gone by.

After walking parallel to the slope for a while, I went up a gentle incline and through some bushes. There I discovered a small path running to the top of the slope.

“It looks like an animal trail.”

But there were queerat footprints on the path, along with what looked like something heavy that had been dragged along.

“What did they do to Mamoru…” Maria trailed off, as if imagining the worst.

“I think he lost consciousness and the queerats brought him with them in order to help him,” Satoru said.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

He pointed at the ground, “Look, they were avoiding the tree roots. If they had been carrying a dead body, they wouldn’t have been worried about him hitting the roots.”

Even though that explanation was not entirely convincing, it gave us a bit of encouragement.

After following the path all the way up, the footsteps suddenly vanished. After some searching, we discovered what appeared to be the remains of tracks that had been carefully smoothed over.

Twenty meters later, the footprints, as well as the marks of whatever was being dragged, reappeared. I felt that we were nearing our goal and grew a little nervous.

The tracks continued about a hundred meters into a sparse forest.

“Hey, that…!” Satoru pointed ahead.

Although it was hidden in shadow, I could see a wall of snow built up between two thick pine trees.

We crept closer and saw it was a dome-shaped structure about two meters tall.