an English translation of the novel

Page 373-374

“I know…but we should rest a little first. Let’s build a fire and make lunch. It’s no good trying to do anything when you’re half-starving.” Satoru brushed away the snow on a fallen log, sat down, and opened his backpack.

Feeling just slightly relieved, I sat down beside him

 

Having to retrace our path back to the boats felt like a colossal waste of energy. But I couldn’t complain. There wasn’t a lot of time left.

The sky had grown darker as the cloud covered sun moved slowly west. It was probably just after three in the afternoon. The snow had mostly stopped; only the occasional flake fell here and there.

Our speedboats flew up the dark grey river.

Compared to two years ago, our steering skills had improved dramatically. That, plus the fact that the boats had been engineered for speed meant we traveled at a blistering pace. We passed through the Holy Barrier at some point, but since the rope didn’t extend out onto the water, I’m not sure when exactly we did.

Our landing point wasn’t clear, but we managed to do alright based on Satoru’s sense of direction. There was a map in the boat, but we didn’t have the time to study it, so we pressed on ahead.

Satoru slowed the boat and shouted across to me. “I think this is the right spot!”

“Are we going ashore?”

He pointed ahead to a wide bank with a snow-covered plain extending all the way north from it. This wouldn’t be a bad starting point.

We moored the boats and went ashore. Since we had been using cantus the entire time, my head felt hot and stuffy. I wanted to stop and rest, but there wasn’t time. We strapped on our skis and started moving immediately. We went up a hill and soon crested the ridge. From there we descended a gentle slope, letting gravity pull us down. Once we were on level ground, we shuffled forward using only our legs.


Page 375-376

My head felt better after a while, but now the physical exertion made it hard to breathe. I gasped and wheezed desperately for air.

“Wait a sec…” I managed to call out as I stopped.

Satoru slowly turned around and came back toward me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just let me rest for a bit.”

I collapsed onto the powdery snow and waited for my breathing to return to normal. The wind felt good against my burning face, but soon my sweat made me clammy and uncomfortable. Wisps of steam rose from my body as I dried it with cantus.

“Try to stay hydrated,” Satoru said, handing me a cup of tea from his bottle.

“Thanks.”

I looked up at Satoru as I drank. For the first time I saw how kind and reliable he was.

“What are you staring at?”

“I was just thinking about how nice you are.”

He turned away abruptly.

“…hey, do you think we’ll find them?”

“We will,” he said firmly, looking back at me. “That’s our only chance of saving them, right?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s why we’ve come all the way…what’s wrong?”

I had frozen with the tea halfway to my mouth.

“Don’t turn around. About a hundred meters behind you…there’s something on the hill.”

“What?”

“A queerat, I think.”

All I could see was a dark shadow so I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t a bear or a monkey and it was too small to be human. I couldn’t think of any other creatures that would be in this area.


Page 377-378

Satoru used one of his special cantus techniques to create a floating mirror about thirty centimeters square and aimed it carefully at the hill far behind him.

“There it is,” he said in a flat, quiet voice.

“Can we catch it?”

“It’s too far away. We’d have to get closer.”

Just then, the sun came out from behind the clouds and its light glinted off the mirror. The dark shadow vanished.

“It noticed us.” Satoru clicked his tongue in frustration.

“We have to chase it.”

We flew over the snow. The short break had restored my strength for the time being.

There was no way we’d catch it skiing as leisurely as we had been earlier. We put all our cantus into making the skis go faster.

We crossed the open field in an instant and were barreling up the hill.

“Which colony is it from?”

“Who knows? But it isn’t Squonk, is it?”

It couldn’t have gone that far in such a short amount of time.

The queerat was nowhere to be seen when we got to the top of the hill. We hurriedly scanned the ground for tracks.

“There!”

At the other end of the hill was a line of small footprints.

“This way,” I said and immediately set off following the trail.

“Wait!” Satoru shouted.

“Huh?” The second I turned, the ground dropped out from under me.

I felt myself floating gently, falling through the snow.

Satoru’s voice came from far away.

Then everything went dark.


Page 379-380

 

I opened my eyes.

Above me was a ceiling made of woven bamboo. Light came from a paper lamp, making the shadows on the ceiling waver. I was in a small room, lying on top of a thin futon. There was a small hearth right next to me, on top of which was a bubbling iron kettle.

“Saki.”

Satoru’s voice. I turned toward it.

“What happened?”

Satoru smiled with what seemed to be relief. “You stepped through a cornice.”

“A what?”

“An overhang of snow that collects on the edge of a mountain. From the top it looks like normal ground, but it’s really just snow so if you walk onto it, you fall through.”

“Did I fall all the way to the bottom?”

“No, I managed to stop you just before you hit. So you shouldn’t have any injuries. I was worried because you didn’t wake up though.”

I moved my arms and legs slowly. Everything seemed to work. After the surge of fear, all I felt was weariness. I wanted to sleep.

“What is this place?”

“Take a guess. You’ll be surprised. It’s the place we’ve been looking for. ”

“No way…seriously? The Robber Fly colony?”

“Yeah. It’s a small place, but this is the colony’s guesthouse.”

Satoru explained that the queerat we had been chasing was a soldier of the Robber Fly colony. When it saw me fall, it had hurried back to report the incident. The colony had sent out a rescue team and brought me back.

“So you’ve met Squealer already?”

“Yeah. But he’s been promoted and has a different name now.”


Page 381-382

I heard a voice outside the room.

“Thank goodness you’ve awoken.”

“Squealer!”

Appearance-wise Squealer looked no different from other queerats, but his voice was unmistakable. Two years ago he had been wearing shabby armor, but he now had on a comfortable bear fur robe.

“It has been a long time, gods.”

“It really has. Have you been doing well in the meantime?”

“Yes, thank you. …lately the chances to show devotion to the gods have been plentiful, and I was honored to be bestowed with a most noble name,” he said, puffing out his chest a little.

“What is it?”

“I am now Yakomaru. It’s written with the characters for ‘wild fox’.”

It seemed that Squealer…Yakomaru really had been promoted. Since he was more of a strategist than a warrior, it was fitting that his name had the word ‘fox’ in it, in contrast with Kiroumaru’s ‘wolf’.

“In the past two years, the Robber Fly colony has made great strides towards recovery. Once, our very existence had hung in the balance, but we have merged with a few neighboring colonies and our numbers now reach eighteen thousand. This was possible only because of the favor of the gods…”

“I’d love to hear about the colony later, but we have an emergency right now,” Satoru said, interrupting the beginning of what sounded to be a long-winded speech. “We need your assistance.”

“Certainly,” Yakomaru agreed without even listening to the request. “Leave everything to your servant Yakomaru. I will always lay down my life to aid the two that I am most indebted to.”

He sounded almost too willing, but at the time that was the reassurance we wanted to hear.

“Where’s the Goat Moth colony?” I cut straight to the point.