an English translation of the novel

Page 383-384

“About four or five kilometers northwest of here. It’s not affiliated with the Giant Hornet colony, and has been unwilling to join our coalition…one of the few independent colonies.” His eyes flashed. “What would your business with the Goat Moths be?”

Satoru and I looked at each other. We needed Yakomaru’s help, but that meant we had to reveal a certain amount of information.

“We’re looking for our friends…” Satoru said, trying to summarize the situation without giving away more than he had to.

“I understand! And the fastest way would be to located the individual called Squonk. We’ll go to the Goat Moth colony first thing tomorrow.”

“I’d rather go right away…”

“I understand your feelings in the matter, but the snowy paths are dangerous at night. I fear that the Goat Moths might also construe our approach as a raid. There are only four or five hours until sunrise, if you don’t mind waiting.”

I was surprised that it was already so late. I looked over to Satoru, and he nodded, agreeing to postpone our departure until morning.

“We have prepared a simple meal. It’s not much, but I hope you will enjoy it.”

At his signal, two queerats came in bearing lacquered trays.

It reminded me of the rice gruel I had eaten at the Giant Hornet’s camp two years ago. Soft rice, miso soup with burdock, taro and other ingredients, unidentifiable dried foods, and grilled fish. The dried food was tasteless and hard as shoe leather, but everything else was alright.

Yakomaru stayed with us as we ate and pestered us with questions. It was obvious he was only pretending to chat with us in order to glean more information, and that annoyed me. When we finished eating, I decided to make a request.

“When we came here two years ago, it was nighttime too, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, yes. I’m very fond of that memory. Though, to be exact, it wasn’t at this location.”

“That time, we paid a visit to the queen even though it was already very late. I would like to greet the queen now, too.”

Page 385-386

For some reason, Yakomaru looked perplexed. “I see…very well. I suppose the queen would be resting right now, but let us go anyway. If you like, I could show you the colony at the same time. It has changed considerably.”

We left the guest house and followed him into the colony. We were stunned by what we saw.

Two years ago, the queerats had mostly lived underground. The only things close to aboveground structures were small towers that resembled anthills. But now, the collection of dwellings they had looked just like a town.

The most common buildings were shaped like giant mushrooms. Yakomaru explained that the framework was made of wood or bamboo, and then covered with clay or processed manure. Lights glowed in the round windows and doors.

“Since we’re subterranean creatures by nature, all the houses are connected by a network of tunnels.”

There were factories for smelting, weaving, dyeing, and paper-making all crammed together and bustling with night workers. There was even a cement plant in the center of it all. Limestone brought all the way from Mt. Tsukuba was pulverized, mixed with clay and baked at high temperatures. It was then mixed with gypsum and pulverized again to make cement. Sand or gravel was added to make mortar or concrete.

“And this is the first of our buildings made with concrete.” Yakomaru gestured to the center of the colony.

It was a round, flat-topped structure thirty meters in diameter. I could only stare in wonder at this building that was as dignified as any building from the ancient civilization.

“This is assembly hall of the colony,” Yakomaru said proudly. “The sixty representatives of the eighteen thousand of us discuss and decide matters in this building.”

Two years ago, the colony was centered around the queen’s nest. How was it possible to bring about such a drastic change in such a short amount of time?

“What happened to the nest?

Page 387-388

His tone darkened a little at my question. “As you can see, we have moved most of our activities aboveground. As such, restructuring of the nest was also inevitable. In addition, as colonies joined, they each brought their own queen, and it became necessary to consolidate them under one roof…”

“Then let’s go. We have to ask her about tomorrow too.”

“As you will. …but colony matters are decided by the assembly. In this particular case, I, Yakomaru, will act as the representative and take all responsibility of-”

“Whatever,” Satoru snapped. “We just want to say hello.”

Yakomaru looked defeated. “…very well. I will show you the way.”

Just then, the servant that had been sent ahead to check on the queen returned. He made his report in a squeaky voice and Yakomaru dismissed him with a wave of the hand.

“If you will follow me.”

Lantern in hand, Yakomaru led us away from the factories toward the nearest of a row of dirt buildings.

“What’s this…?”I frowned in confusion.

The queen’s dwelling was extremely shabby. It was fairly large, but had only rough dirt walls and a thatched hay roof. It looked like a building for livestock.

An offensive smell greeted us as the heavy doors were opened.

I remembered that the nest had a pungent, animal smell when we last visited. But this was different. It was a more bearable stink, but there was also the tang of disinfectant in it, creating a strangely repulsive scent.

To be more specific, the old nest had a terrifyingly strong scent of life. But this building smelled like a hospital filled with compost from the Lotus Farms–an unnatural, sickly odor.

The building had a long, rectangular shape, with a passage running down the center of its length. It reminded me of a barn. Sturdy wooden enclosures were built along both sides, but it was too dark to see inside them.

Page 389-390

But I felt the presence of a number of giant creatures. They stirred as they caught our scent, but made no other noises, not even a sigh or a groan. Over the rustling sounds, I heard the jingle of chains.

I looked toward Yakomaru in surprise, but his face was outside the circle of lamplight so I couldn’t see his expression.

“Here lives our queen,” he said, stopping in front of  one of the enclosures.

“Your highness, it’s been a long time. I’m Saki, we’ve met before,” I said quietly.

There was no response.

“Please enter.” Yakomaru opened the door and walked in briskly.

We followed timidly.

He shone his lantern on the queen who crouched at the far end of the enclosure.

What looked like a giant hornworm appeared. A wrinkled, pale body with four stubby legs.

There was a quiet puffing sound, like a pair of bellows. It was the regular breathing of someone sleeping.

I felt relieved. She was asleep. Of course, it was past midnight, after all.

Gently, so as not to wake the queen, I touched her abdomen. It moved up and down in a slow, leisurely way characteristic of most giant animals.

“Sleep well.”

As we walked, I ran my hands over her head. On her forehead, I felt a strange joint. The queen did not wake.

“Careful.” Satoru sounded worried. “She might bite even if she’s sleeping.”

“It’s okay. I’ll be able to tell if she’s about to wake up.”

Just as I said that, my hand slipped and poked the queen’s eye. I jumped and jerked my hand back. Her head twitched, but there was no other response.

A feeling of horror welled up inside me. The eye I had just poked…

“Bring the light over here!” I commanded.

Page 391-392

Yakomaru hesitated for an instant, then turned slowly.

The queen’s eyes were open. She hadn’t been asleep. But her pupils were dilated, and there was no gleam of intelligence in her eyes. No, more than that, her eyes were dry–she was probably blind. Her mouth hung open, revealing teeth even bigger than an impure cat’s, and drool soaked the hay she was lying on.

I snatched the lantern from Yakomaru and approached the queen. On the right side of her forehead was a V-shaped surgical scar. The thick sutures rose up like a ridge on her skin.

“What the hell is this?” Satoru demanded.

“We had no other choice,” Yakomaru said dejectedly.

“No other choice? What did you do to your queen?”

As our voices echoed in the barn, the sounds of rustling and clinking chains grew louder.

“I will explain. Let us go outside.”

We left the building. The wind chilled me to the bone, but blew away the stench that clung to our clothes.

“It was not our intent to treat the queen so cruelly. …she is, after all, the mother of the colony.”

“Then why?” I drew closer to him.

As I did so, queerat soldiers appeared out of nowhere and surrounded us. Yakomaru dismissed them with a slight shake of the head.

“Did you not feel it when you last saw her? The queen has not been mentally stable for a while now.”

“Yes, somewhat.”

“In any colony, the queen holds absolute power. Our queen has always been rather tyrannical, but she became more and more violent as her illness worsened. She attacked innocent servants on a whim, injuring and killing them on a regular basis. On top of that, she became increasingly paranoid and executed all the ministers who had been working tirelessly to help us recover from the Ground Spider attack. If we had allowed this to continue, it would only have been a matter of time until our colony became extinct.”