an English translation of the novel

Page 306-307

“It’s a snow hut!” Maria suppressed a shout.

It was a snow hut like the ones we had built as kids. From the footprints on its surface, it had probably been built in the same way–first by packing the snow into a solid dome, then digging out the inside. With the pine trees supporting it on either side, it looked more durable than the ones we usually made.

“What do we do?” Satoru asked nervously.

“Let’s go in from the front.”

There was no time to discuss this. I approached the hut decisively. Maria and Satoru automatically spread out on either side of me. I didn’t think that the queerats would attack humans, but in this formation we could easily back each other up as well as avoid being attacked all at the same time.

“Is anyone there?” I asked, standing in front of the hut.

No answer. I went around to the back and saw a small opening like those you see in tea rooms. It was covered by a screen made of twigs tied together.

I peeked in through the screen.

“Satoru! Maria! He’s here!” I shouted.

They rushed over and looked into the hut.

The interior was rather large. Mamoru lay in the middle, wrapped in a woolen blanket. It was hard to see his face, but his hair was unmistakeable. His chest rose and fell slightly and he appeared to be asleep.

“I’m so relieved…” Maria covered her face and started to cry.

Mamoru’s eyes slowly opened. “Hey. You guys came.”

“Don’t give me that. We were worried sick,” Satoru said sharply, but he couldn’t help smiling.

“What in the world happened? Did you really fall down the cliff? I asked.

Page 308-309

Mamoru knitted his brows, looking like he was trying hard to remember.

“I see. So I did fall. I can’t really remember what happened. Every time I try, my mind gets all hazy like I have a concussion. I also hurt my leg and couldn’t walk, so Squonk had to dig me out of the snow and bring me here.”

“Who?” Maria asked, still smiling tearily.

“Squonk. Though I don’t know how to actually pronounce his name. …oh yeah, you’ve all met him a long time ago.”

“We did? When?”

There was a rustling sound behind us as the screen was pulled aside.

Startled, we turned and saw a queerat carrying a bunch of packages on his back. He seemed extremely surprised to see us.

Satoru picked up the queerat with his cantus and he dropped the packages, squealing in fright. He was wrapped in layers of clothing, including a papery thermal garment that rustled as he moved. On top of it all was a thin, dirty cape that looked incredibly familiar.

“Could he be from that time…”

“You know him?” Maria sounded surprised.

“Yeah, you were all there too. Remember how right after I entered Sage Academy, we rescued a couple queerats that fell into the canal?”

Slowly, the full memory returned to me. If I’m not mistaken, he should have the “Goat” character tattooed on its forehead… Satoru and Maria appeared to remember too.

“Put him down. Squonk saved my life,” Mamoru said.

Satoru lowered him to the ground.

“Kikikikiki… Gods. Thak you,” he bowed low to us.

“No, we should be thanking you for saving Mamoru.”

“It is nothing. Kakakakakak…ka, a god was in trouble, naturally I psssssh…should help.”

Page 310-311

Squonk’s speech was punctuated with squeaks and grunts and difficult to understand compared to Squealer and Kiroumaru. But it was a great improvement from when we had rescued him from the canal.

“I’m grateful for your help, Squonk, but why were you following Mamoru?” Satoru sounded almost accusatory.

“I happened to be passing by and saw the tracks in the snow. I wondered if they belonged to some other grrrr…colony. I decided to go look,” Squonk said with some difficulty, drooling as he talked.

“Hm, but why were you there in the first place?” I asked

Maria interrupted before he could answer. “Does it matter? He saved Mamoru. Why are you two complaining?”

“I’m not,” I said hurriedly.

If I had pressed Squonk more at that time, maybe the outcome would have been different. But given the fact that the queerats were so good at lying that even Satoru paled in comparison, I don’t think the conclusion would have changed much.

Still, I think it would have been a good idea to ask why Squonk was inside the Holy Barrier. At the time, we were stricly forbidden from going outside the Holy Barrier. If I had known that the queerats could travel freely in and out, it would have heightened my sense of danger.

Later, when I learned the reason they could enter and leave the barrier without consequence, what surprised me was that despite having culture, queerats were still considered wild animals.

“More importantly, Mamoru, explain yourself,” Maria turned on him.


“‘Sorry’ isn’t an explanation. Why did you go off on your own?”

He sat up, looking like he was about to cry. “Because…I had no choice. I didn’t want to die!”

“What do you mean?” Maria frowned.

Page 312-313

“I’m different from you guys. My cantus is fairly weak, and I have no real talents. I felt left behind.”

“That’s not true,” I said, but he ignored me.

“The Sun Prince has these cold eyes when he looks at me too. I’m already on the list of people to be disposed of. Like X, or the girl who used to be in our team. Like Saki’s sister.”

I looked accusingly at Maria.

“I didn’t tell him,” she said hurriedly.

“I know. You guys have been keeping secrets from me. Like the mirror. You didn’t want me to hear about it, right?”

“You were eavesdropping?” I asked. Everyone ignored me.

“…being disposed, the list, you’re thinking too much. It’s not going to happen,” Maria said soothingly.

“A copycat came.”

Everyone went silent at his words.

“Huh? What are you talking about? I mean…” Maria trailed off, seeing the look on Mamoru’s face.

“I saw it twice. The first was four days ago at night. I was coming home after dark and felt something tailing me. I went around a corner where there was a brazier then turned around quickly.”

“Was it there?” Satoru whispered.

“I didn’t see the actual thing. But I knew something was hiding around the corner. …the fire cast its shadow on the road. It wasn’t clear, but it was the shape of something huge.”

We swallowed, hanging on to his every word.

“I panicked and sparked the brazier. There was a blinding fireball and all the wood was burned up in an instant. But the shadow already disappeared. I ran all the way home in the dark.”

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“…but are you sure you didn’t just imagine it?” Maria tried to soften her words with a smile.

“Yeah, if it really was a tainted…a copycat, it would have attacked you,” I agreed.

“No, I’m not so sure of that.” In one sentence, Satoru ruined our efforts to comfort Mamoru. “There are a lot of tales about copycats, but there’s one disturbing detail they all share. They practice tailing you first before they attack.”

Mamoru nodded, “I didn’t feel that it was going to attack me then. …but yesterday it was different.”

“Yesterday? You don’t mean…” Maria seemed to remember something.

“Yesterday after school. I was the only one who stayed behind for supplementary classes. When I was about to leave, the Sun Prince asked me to put some leftover printouts away in the storage room…”

“The one in the hallway leading to the inner yard?”

I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

“Yeah. So I did. There weren’t that many; I think he was just looking for an excuse. I went inside the room, and when I was walking back, I felt something behind me.” Tears began to fall from his face. “There aren’t any windows there, so it was pitch black. I started walking faster. I knew I couldn’t look behind me. I knew that if I did, it would be the end. Then I heard it. Footsteps. They were almost silent, but the floor vibrated from their weight,” he sobbed. “When I stopped, so did the footsteps. I was too scared to move, then I heard what sounded like an animal breathing. It smelled like it too. I thought I was done for. I was going to be killed by a copycat. Then I think my cantus burst out of me unconsciously. The air gusted like a tornado and I heard a terrible cry behind me. I turned around…and saw it.”