an English translation of the novel

Page 402-403

The sky was just beginning to brighten when I awoke.

The guest house was made of bamboo posts covered by animal skin, more like a tent than an actual house, so once the sun came up, light started filtering in through the skin.

Satoru was already up and getting dressed.

“‘Morning,” I said.

Satoru nodded. “Can you be ready soon? It looks like they’re all prepared to go. I’ve been hearing them moving around for a while now.”

Sure enough, a large number of queerats were bustling around busily outside.

“Okay.”

I rushed around getting ready. It took less than two minutes for me to put on my winter clothes, lace up my boots, and check my backpack to make sure everything was there.

I stepped outside to clear skies and the sun just barely peeking over the horizon.

Looking down, I saw a queerat taking down what looked like dried food hanging from a nearby tree. It was white, about a meter long, too big to be a fish. I looked closer and saw that it was a dried minoshiro.

Satoru and I glanced at each other.

“I can’t believe they eat minoshiro.”

Minoshiro are considered sacred creatures in Kamisu 66, and it gave me an unspeakably ominous feeling to see them being used as food.

“…minoshiro should be hibernating now. The queerats probably dug them out intentionally to turn them into jerky.”

Satoru looked like he had swallowed something sour. I decided not to tell him that the unknown dried thing we had for dinner last night might have been minoshiro.


Page 404-405

I saw Yakomaru coming towards us.

“Good morning, gods. We will be departing soon, but would you like to have breakfast first?”

The thought of having to eat minoshiro jerky made me lose my appetite.

“What about you guys?”

“We can eat while we travel. It’s just military rations, so it doesn’t taste too good.”

“That’s fine, we’ll do the same.”

“As you wish.”

Yakomaru was wearing a hooded fur coat and riveted leather armor. His bureaucratic air from two years ago was still present, but now he looked much more like a general. He blew a whistle that hung around his neck and two hundred queerats lined up in formation.

“Hey, is it really necessary to send out this many soldiers?” Satoru asked, frowning.

“There might be unexpected dangers on the road. We are prepared to do anything to protect the gods,” Yakomaru said reverently.

We joined him in the middle of the formation. Apparently being in the rear was just as dangerous as being at the very front. Muscular guards bearing large shields surrounded us on all sides.

Most of the snow around the colony had been cleared away and bits of frost crunched under our feet as we walked. As we made our way onto the snowy plains, Satoru and I put on our skis. The soldiers also wore shoes that resembled simple skis, and their short legs worked rapidly to propel them forward. Since we were able to move so much faster with cantus, Satoru was starting to get annoyed at their slow pace.

“Cant we go any faster? If you tell us where it is, we can go on ahead.”

“I’m very sorry. We cannot move as swiftly as the gods. But the Goat Moth colony is not much farther, so please bear with us. If you went ahead, I would not be able to reach you in time should anything happen.”


Page 406-407

So we had no choice but to follow their pace. As we moved slowly over the plain, the queerats distributed their food rations. They were round, like pills or sweet dumplings, and a little bit sweet. They appeared to be made of rice flour, with honey, dried plums, and nuts rolled together. As Yakomaru said, it wasn’t anything delicious, but at least there wasn’t minoshiro in it.

As we left the plain, we started climbing a series of hills. I wondered why the area was so hilly, but it was impossible to see what was buried under the snow. All I could tell was that the hills were made of a different type of dirt. Even the plants growing on it were different from the norm.

A strange image floated through my mind.

It was the remnants of a battle between cantus users, where one side had attempted to annihilate the other in one stroke. They had fired an gigantic boulder and its impact had caused more destruction than even the nuclear weapons of the ancient civilization. It was like what had wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, a meteor over ten kilometers in diameter.

I was being ridiculous. Common sense told me something like that was impossible. Of course, in theory, cantus was an unlimited amount of energy. But in reality, there are a lot of restrictions that control how that energy could be activated. In order to affect something, you needed to have a perfect image of how that object would be changed. So with something as large and complex as a meteor strike, the mind was its own limiter. It was as impossible as trying to create a realistic image of the earth being split in half.

But… I looked over the hills overlapping each other like a mountain range. Even novice cantus users like us were able to start landslides and throw fairly large rocks. It might not be out of the question for geniuses like Shisei Kaburagi to move entire hills.

“We will arrive soon,” Yakomaru said. “Around the next bend you will see the Goat Moth colony’s stronghold built halfway up the hill.”

What appeared wasn’t so much a hill as a monolith. It was 150 meters tall and 300 meters wide. The rock face was so sheer that no snow accumulated on it, and so smooth that scaling it seemed to be virtually impossible.

“It’s just a wall…I don’t see a stronghold anywhere,” Satoru said, squinting.


Page 408-409

“Over there. Can you see it? There is a hidden cave entrance where that pine tree is growing out from the rock.”

I couldn’t see it even following the direction he was pointing. Nothing moved, and there was only silence around us.

“The Goat Moth colony has dug far and deep into the rock over the years, turning the entire cliff into their stronghold.”

“But where do they go in from?” I still couldn’t see it.

“I don’t know. They must have tunnels extending underground as well, cleverly hiding the entrance. But usually, they drop a rope ladder from the cave entrance up there to get in and out. We can’t see it now because they must have retracted it after learning of our approach. They refuse to communicate with the other colonies, and hide if strangers approach. …but they must know that won’t work this time around.”

Yakomaru called out to a soldiers a the rear of the formation. It wasn’t as strange looking as the Ground Spider mutants, but this soldier had bulging chest muscles, and carried a large tube shaped like a megaphone.

The soldier listened to Yakomaru for a minute, then turned toward the Goat Moth stronghold and started shouting its message. It was so loud I thought my eardrums would burst. Satoru and I clapped our hands over our ears, looking in disbelief as the queerats stood listening as if nothing were wrong.

The shouting continued at such volume that I thought it would start an avalanche. The Goat Moths did not respond.

“Well, it appears we will have to show that we are here in earnest.”

At Yakomaru’s command, the archers formed up and raised their bows.

“Wait, we’re not here to fight!” Satoru objected.

“I agree. But you can clearly see that they are ignoring our summons. In order get these lazy, arrogant creatures to obey, you must scare them into submission.”


Page 410-411

Yakomaru gave the order.

Instantly, dozens of arrows flew toward the pine tree on the cliff in a beautiful arc. Most of them bounced off the cliff, but a few stuck to the tree, and one embedded itself in a crack between the stone.

Still no response. At Yakomaru’s command, the archers lined up to shoot again. This time, they wrapped oil-soaked cloth to the head of the arrows and set them alight.

Dozens of flaming arrows cut through the air.

The pine tree soon started to burn and give off black smoke. Finally, there was movement. I saw a spray of snow. It looked like they were trying to put out the fire from the other side of the tree.

“I’m sure they understand the situation now. I will try to summon them again.”

Yakomaru raised his right hand. The soldier with the megaphone started its earsplitting shriek again. Although I couldn’t understand what it was saying, its tone was surprisingly aggressive. Was this really just a summons?

Finally, the answer came in the form of a volley of arrows.

All around the pine tree, countless arrowslits had opened in the rock, allowing them to send out waves of arrows.

The enemy arrows came from above in a straight line, traveling at considerable speed. Having no shields, Yakomaru’s archers and the megaphone soldier were about to become pincushions.

The next instant, the swarm of arrows were parted by an invisible force and flew away in all directions.

Satoru and I had changed the course of the arrows in the same way we had parted the avalanche. I thought it was impressive how we had sprung into action at the same time. I guess we had known each other for so long that we could almost read each other’s mind.

There followed what seemed to be a confused silence from the Goat Moths. A strong wind could blow arrows off course, but having them suddenly part in different directions mere feet from the target was not something that happened naturally.