an English translation of the novel

Page 325-326

The next morning, I returned to the village alone as a light dusting of snow fell from the sky.

Even though I used my cantus to propel the skis, I had to travel such a long distance that my legs were weak with fatigue. Thoughts of what Maria and Mamoru would do next, as well as all the unknown threats in their future weighed heavily on my mind.

I finally arrived at the dock in Oakgrove and found the place deserted. Even on Sundays there were usually a couple of people hanging around, but I thought nothing of it and simply felt lucky that there was no one to see me.

I untied Hakuren 4 and headed for home. I had used so much of my cantus to get here that I could no longer concentrate fully and my eyes were bleary with tiredness. The canoe drifted from side to side and bumped into the edges of the canal.

Even as I left Oakgrove and made my way back to Waterwheel, I didn’t come across a single person.

I finally began to feel that things were not quite right.

Nothing moved along the banks. It was as if Kamisu 66 had been completely abandoned.

The gentle drift of snow became hard, wet flurries. It piled on the prow of the canoe.

I was shocked when my house finally came into view. My parents were standing together by the dock, without even an umbrella to keep off the snow, which had piled up on shoulders and heads.

“Sorry,” I said to them as I turned to dock the canoe. “I couldn’t come home yesterday…”

They smiled faintly at me.

Finally, my mother spoke. “Are you hungry?”

I shook my head.

“I know you must be tired, but the Board of Education asked for you. Come with me,” my father said gravely.

Page 327-328

“Can’t you let her rest for a bit?” my mother pleaded.

“No…I can’t. It’s an emergency, especially since they’ve asked you to come on such short notice.”

“It’s okay, I’m not that tired,” I tried to sound energetic.

“Alright, let’s go in dad’s canoe. Saki, you can rest for a bit until we get there.”

My father’s canoe, the one he used outside of work, was twice the size of Hakuren 4.

My mother wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and I closed my eyes, but my heart was thumping too quickly for me to fall asleep.

There was someone waiting for us when we arrived in Hayring. It was the same middle-aged lady who had greeted us after we came back from summer camp two years ago, but this time she didn’t meet my eye.

I followed my parents onto the snowy street.

The office of the Board of Education was next to the library where my mother worked. It was surrounded by a wall of bamboo that prevented you from seeing the inside.

We entered through a side door, and although it was still snowing, the courtyard had been cleared and kept dry with cantus. The path was paved with stepping stones and it was about thirty meters to the entrance hall.

Inside, a narrow hallway stretched on indefinitely. Although the outside of it was quite different, the inside was similar to the Ethics Committee’s building.

“Only your daughter may proceed from here.” the middle-aged lady said to my parents.

“As her father, and as the mayor, I’d like to represent her on her behalf. I’ve brought a petition.”

“You are not allowed to accompany her,” she ignored my father’s words.

“As the person entrusted to manage the town’s library, I must do my duty to record this event. Will you make an exception?”

Page 329-330

“I’m very sorry, but there are no exceptions.”

My mother tried to use her position as leverage, but this too was met with stubborn refusal. The two of them were defeated.

“Saki, I don’t think I have to tell you, but please answer all questions as truthfully as you can,” my mother put her hands on my shoulders and looked earnestly into my eyes.

“I know…it’ll be okay,” I answered.

I understood what she really meant. Choose the truth carefully. From here on out, a wrong answer could mean death.

I was taken into a large western-styled room with a dark, shining wooden floor. The windows were small and high on the wall, giving everything a classic Rembrandt look. In the center was a table like those used at banquets, and about ten people stood on one side. The head of the Board of Education, Hiromi Torigai, stood in the center. The people on either side must also be members of the committee.

“Saki Watanabe? Please sit over there.”

It wasn’t Hiromi who spoke, but a large woman on her left. Obediently, I sat down in the only chair available.

“I am the vice-chairman of the Board of Education, Masayo Komatsuzaki. There are a few things I would like to ask you. Please answer all questions truthfully. Do not lie or withhold information. Do you understand?”

Her tone was as kind as any schoolteacher’s, but her eyes stared stonily at me. I felt the pressure of her authority and answered “yes” without any unnecessary words.

“You learned that a boy in your team, Mamoru Itou, had run away from home yesterday in the early hours of the morning. Is this correct?”

“Yes,” I said faintly.

“When did you learn about it?”

I knew it was pointless to hide it, so I answered honestly, “Before school.”

“How did you know about it?”

Page 331-332

“Maria Akizuki told me.”

“And what did you do after finding out?”

“We went to school first, and later looked for him when we had the chance.”

“Why did you not inform your parents or your teachers?”

This was a good point. I thought for a moment.

“Because we hoped to bring him back before it became a bigger issue.”

“I see. But it could be construed as an attempt to hide it from us. You disagreed with the Board of Education’s decision and acted out against it, right? On those grounds, you…”

Hiromi whispered something in Masayo’s ear. She answered, “I understand.”

“…on to the next question. You went searching for Mamoru Itou during independent observation period. Who went with you?”

“Maria Akizuki and Satoru Asahina.”

“I see. So the three of you went looking for Mamoru Itou. Did you find him?”

I was confused. Satoru had come back the day before and should have been questioned already. What had he said?

“What’s wrong? It might be your first time here, but this is an official court of inquiry. You must tell the truth.”

Masayo’s voice was severe and a wave of uncertainty went through the room. Hiromi spoke.

“Satoru Asahina has already testified that you found Mamoru Itou. That Mamoru had fallen off his sled and hurt his leg. He said he left you and Maria to nurse him and came back first.”

Satoru hadn’t mentioned the queerat.

“Chairman…” Masayo looked disapprovingly at Hiromi.

“It’s fine. This court was formed to establish the truth. Trying to trick her into contradicting herself is not the goal.” She continued so quietly that it was hard to hear. “So, was Satoru Asahina telling the truth?”

Page 333-334


I felt slightly relieved realizing that Hiromi was not as hard-hearted as I had thought.

“Then what happened after? Why were you the only one to return? We were expecting you and Maria Akizuki to bring Mamoru Itou back safely,” Masayo said.

I looked over the faces of the assembled committee members. How was I supposed to dispel their suspicions? A lie might make everything worse. There was nothing to do but tell just enough of the truth to prevent any inconsistencies.

“I tried to persuade Mamoru to come back with us. But he refused. So I had no choice but to come back alone. Since we couldn’t leave him alone, Maria stayed too.”

“So Maria Akizuki is still trying to convince Mamoru Itou?”


I glanced away when I answered.

“So what did you plan to do once you came back? Were you going to come clean to your parents, your teacher, and the Board of Education?”

“I…don’t know.”

“You don’t know? What did you…?”

As Masayo grew visibly angry, Hiromi cut in.

“It’s reasonable that you were confused. Anyone would be at a loss in this situation. …but you know what to do now, right? All you have to do is answer questions honestly. Leave everything else to us. Okay?”

“I understand.”

“But why did Mamoru Itou refuse to return? Did you ask him?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“What was his reason?”