an English translation of the novel

Page 363-364

To be honest, I have absolutely no sense of direction.

Some time ago, when Satoru and I were wandering through the queerat nest, I remember saying that I wasn’t good at remembering the twists and turns of the tunnels. It’s actually a lot worse than that. The truth is that I wouldn’t even be able to get from one place to another in my own town if it weren’t for the street signs on the canals.

“…hmm, is this the right direction?”

Unlike me, Satoru has the navigational abilities of a homing pigeon, but since we were following a different path from the previous trip, he often stopped to make sure we were going the right way.

“It’s right. I think,” I agreed.

It’s not like I could actually tell, so I couldn’t respond in any other way. But that seemed to annoy Satoru.

“Saki…you’re not even really thinking about it, are you?”

“That’s not true.”

“You sure about that?”

“I told you I thought about it.”

Satoru shook his head disbelievingly and continued climbing the hill, grumbling to himself. I followed in his tracks.

I felt pretty optimistic about the situation. I thought that as soon as we arrived at Maria’s snow hut, our mission would be half completed. Plus, joining up with Satoru was an accomplishment too.

“Huh? I thought we passed through here before?”

As we crested a snowy peak and left the bamboo forest, a familiar scenery appeared before us.

“Did we get it wrong? We did leave skii tracks in the area last time.”

Satoru looked disappointedly at the powdery snow all around us. In just one day, enough snow had piled up to erase our tracks.

“No, it’s the right place. I’m positive!”

I was confident, but Satoru said slowly, “Why do you say that?”

Page 365-366

“Because I remember it.”

“Really? Because you didn’t remember anything on the way here.”

“Well, that was the path…” I didn’t really want to admit that, but I needed to convince him I was confident. “I remember the place. See? Like those trees.” I pointed to the rowan trees growing off to the side. “You don’t see those around here often, right? That’s why I remembered them.”

“Are you sure?” he asked doubtfully.

“And that rock too. It looks like a snake coiling around itself. It’s easy to recognize.”

“Actually it looks more like a pile of shit,” Satoru said. But he seemed to believe me anyway. “If this is the place, then we’re getting close.”

We started along the slope. Even without any trails to follow, I gradually started recognizing my surroundings. Excited to be on the right track, we sped up.

The hill became steeper. We were now much higher up, and the valley on our left looked like in infinite drop. The snow continued to fall and we were forced to slow down as visibility decreased.

“Where’s that flat rock? The place where Mamoru’s sled fell.” Satoru asked.

“I have no idea. I can’t see it at all,” I answered honestly.

There was nothing memorable on the hill, and the falling snow made everything look different. It wasn’t light, powdered snow either, but big wet flakes that stuck to everything.

Page 367-368

We stopped.

“It’s dangerous to keep going like this. We might end up falling from that rock too,” Satoru said as he rubbed his numb fingers together.

“We should be okay if we go slowly.”

“That’ll take too long. And no matter how slowly we go, if we fall, we fall.”

We looked at one another. Each of us hoped that the other had a secret plan, but of course it wasn’t that easy. To make things worse, the snow was coming down harder and thicker than before, and the wind was picking up. The bare hill provided no shelter and we suddenly realized how cold it was. Skiing up the hill, though largely cantus-assisted, had kept us warm. But I hadn’t eaten since morning, and all the energy I had burned made me lightheaded.

“The important thing is to just avoid the rock, right? Even without taking the exact same route, we’ll still be able to find the next part of the path.”

I could still clearly remember the animal trail in the bushes higher up on the hill.

“Sure, but how are you going to do that?”

“Make a path with our cantus?”

“I see…yeah. That’ll work.”

I wonder if our judgement had been impaired by fatigue and anxiety. The plan was just as reckless as Mamoru hauling a child’s sled up a steep hill. We cleared a path in front of us using the image of a giant shovel. The path that cut through the snow looked much safer than the slippery road we had been using.

“Alright, let’s go.”

We went single-file along the narrow path. The cleared path was only about forty or fifty meters, so when we reached the end, we had to stop and remove more snow.

Then, there was an unpleasant creaking sound.

“Shit. An avalanche…!”

We stood, petrified. Come to think of it, we had cleared a horizontal path right in the middle of a steep hill. I’d have been surprised if there wasn’t an avalanche.

Page 369-370

“A roof!”

“Split it!”

We shouted over each other. A terrifying torrent of snow was rushing toward us with the intent of burying us alive, but was diverted by two invisible wedges right above our heads to either side. The snow fell to the bottom of the valley in a glistening shower.

It was over in less than a minute, but felt like an eternity.

The avalanche stopped before we even realized it. Most of the snow on the hill had fallen off and only small dustings of snow continued to trickle down every now and then.

“Saki, are you okay?”

“Yeah, you?”

“Totally fine.”

Both of us had used the image of a gabled roof. Instead of trying to stop the entire mass of the snow coming toward us, diverting its path was a better alternative. Luckily, our cantus did not touch, and the two of us were uninjured. Still, it took us a while to calm down and stop shaking.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…yeah right. Look.” He pointed at the top of the hill.

Now that all the snow was gone, all that was left was the rough, frozen snow from yesterday. If we had caused an avalanche right at the beginning, we would have been able to travel more safely. But there’s no point dwelling on the past.

Soon, we found the place where Mamoru’s sled had fallen. We took the faint animal trail in the bushes up the hill.

“Almost there.”

There were no footprints to follow, but Satoru knew where he was going. At the thought of being reunited with Maria, I sped up unconsciously.

“Huh?” Satoru stopped without warning and I almost crashed into him.

“Don’t stop all of a sudden like that!”

Page 371-372

“I don’t see the snow hut.”

“No way…”

I looked around at the sparse forest. I thought this was the place, but I wasn’t completely sure. It might be just a little farther ahead…

Me eyes fell upon two pine trees about thirty meters ahead.

“Over there! It was between those trees.”

We searched the area carefully. There was no trace of the hut, but something looked off. There were clumps of snow stuck high up on the trunk.

“Someone destroyed the hut and leveled the snow.” Satoru rubbed his chin, a sign that he was deep in thought. “A queerat couldn’t have done it. There was a lot of snow; I don’t think it could have managed to pulverize all of it and spread it around. Either Maria or Mamoru did it with cantus.”

I felt slightly relieved. At least they had been fine when they left here.

“But which way did they go?” I looked around again. There were no footsteps or sled tracks.

“No idea. It looks like they made sure that no one would be able to follow them.”

“You think they went to the trouble of erasing all their tracks?”

“The queerat probably did. Maria can fly quite well even when carrying Mamoru.”

I was at a loss for words. I had thought everything would be fine once we made our way here. Now I realized how ridiculously naive I had been.

“…I don’t suppose they went back home?” I asked hopefully.

Satoru shot me down immediately. “If they did, they wouldn’t have had to erase their tracks.”

What were we supposed to do? I was about to cry, but managed to hold it back because Satoru was with me.

“We have to look for them.” Even as I said that, I was painfully aware that we didn’t really have a plan.