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.
“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.”
“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.