My tears continued to fall long after I had finished the letter.
Inside the envelope was a sketch by Mamoru of Maria and me, smiling together.
As Satoru took the letter and began reading it silently, he put his arm around my shoulder. I tried to stifle my sobs, but the tears just wouldn’t stop. The feeling that I would never see Maria again seemed to be turning into reality.
After the snow hut was destroyed, the only clue we had to go on was Squonk. So that was what we ordered the Robber Fly colony to look for. Even though we didn’t completely trust Yakomaru, the situation was dangerous enough that we needed all the help we could get.
But in the end, we were the ones that had been used. To the cunning queerat, tricking a couple of blindly desperate kids was child’s play.
The robber flies from which the colony gets their name are so called because of the vicious way they trap and suck out the innards of other insects. The characters in the name, 塩屋, come from the white tip at the end of the male fly’s body. Another species with the same characteristic is called the great birdcatcher fly.1 There are no records of this species in the ancient encyclopedias, so they must have appeared only in the past millennium. Even now they are rarely seen, apart from a small area outside the Holy Barrier. Compared to robber flies, they are much larger, between thirteen and eighteen centimeters in length, with long, thin bodies like a dragonfly’s, lined with numerous spiracles for efficient oxygen exchange. Because of this, we used to call them thousand-eyed dragonflies when we were younger.
Great birdcatcher flies tend to lurk behind tree branches, waiting for sparrows, thrushes, white-eyes, Japanese tits, shrikes, starlings and other small birds to pass by before attacking from behind and killing the bird by severing its medulla oblongata with its sword like mouth. Then it would gorge itself on the birds blood until it was so fat it could no longer fly. They have even been known to attack crows.
1 Robber flies are called 虫引虻 (mushihiki abu, literally bugcatcher flies) in Japanese. There is a related subfamily of flies, which in English is still called robber flies, but in Japanese is シオヤアブ (shioya abu), and this is the name of the queerat colony. It’s usually written in katakana, but the book uses the kanji 塩屋虻 (still pronounced shioya abu), because 塩屋 describes the white tip on fly’s body. So when Saki talks about the birdcatcher flies, 塩屋大鳥引 (shioya ootorihiki, literally white-tip big birdcatcher), she’s referring to the bugcatcher naming convention. The name birdcatcher fly is made up, because no such thing exists.