an English translation of the novel

Page 422-423

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.

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.


Page 424-425

While the Robber Fly colony may symbolize the bottom of the food chain in name, their penchant for overthrowing their superiors make them more predators, like the great birdcatcher, than prey.

 

After somehow following the trail to the Goat Moth colony, further clues as to Maria’s whereabouts stopped abruptly.

Despite Yakomaru’s promise to put forth every effort in the search, we had no idea exactly how much we could rely on him, and there was no way he would be able to do it in time. My promise to Tomiko, to find and bring Maria and Mamoru back by tomorrow, was looking more and more hopeless.

Satoru and I discussed for a while, and came up with an alternative plan.

“As you wish! Leave it all your servant Yakomaru.”

There was no choice but to follow Maria’s instructions in the letter and report to the town that they were dead. When I asked Yakomaru to corroborate with our story, he promised to do so without a second of hesitation. I had thought for sure that he would disapprove of lying to the Ethics Committee, but he agreed so readily it made me suspicious.

“I think the best story will be to say that they were swept away by an avalanche. Since no one knows where they were buried, it’ll be difficult to find the bodies.”

True, that was the most plausible story. For someone with cantus to fall to their death was unusual, but saying that Maria had fallen trying to save Mamoru as he fell from his sled would probably work.

“It might take a bit of time, but I believe we will be able to produce some bones. If those are presented to the committee, it might help the story.”

We started.

“What do you mean, bones? Where are you thinking of getting them?” Satoru asked, his tone severe.

Yakomaru went pale and stammered, “…no, that is not what I meant! You misunderstand! Of course, procuring a god’s bones would be impossible. Forgive me for saying so, but some of our bones are visually similar to yours. An exceptionally tall queerat is about the same height as a young god. So, if we carefully scrape those bones against rocks…”


Page 426-427

“Enough! I get it. I’ll leave you to deal with it,” I said quickly to shut him up.

Listening to Yakomaru made me feel like we were really going to desecrate their corpses.

“As you wish. Please leave everything to me.”

I didn’t know whether Yakomaru understood my feelings or not, but he bowed respectfully.

Our two-day trip up the river had been for naught. I couldn’t help but sigh. We refused Yakomaru’s offer to stay another night at with the colony and set out for our return. To the place where the snow huts had been. According to Squonk’s story, that would have been the place where Maria parted with him.

We strapped on our skis and pointed in the direction where we had left the speedboats.

Judging from the sun’s position, it was just past noon. But I didn’t feel hungry at all. And it wasn’t because running on adrenaline. Even though I could feel impatience burning inside my chest, my emotions were as cold as the snowy hills around me.

There was no way to find out where Maria and Mamoru had gone. And even if I did know, I couldn’t go after her.

I was like an athlete in a competition against an opponent with an overwhelming lead. Even if victory was impossible, I would continue my futile struggle until the match was over.

What, or who, in the world was I trying to deceive? Was I trying to preserve, for my own sake, the image of myself as someone who would never abandon a dear friend? Or was it simply because Satoru was there?

I looked ahead at Satoru. He seemed so calm, but I had no way of knowing how he really felt. Was he, like me, trying desperately to avoid the looming pit of despair? Or was he thinking about something else entirely?

When I noticed it was just the two of us skiing side by side, I realized what I had truly been afraid of.

Excluding my parents, Sage Academy was my entire world. And within it, the only people I could call my true friends were those in team one. One by one, those friends had disappeared until only Satoru and I were left.


Page 428-429

No, I thought wildly, I don’t want to lose any more friends.

I don’t want to lose anyone else I love.

Satoru’s figure blurred and became someone else’s.

Without thinking, I stretched out my hand. For a second, a familiar figure that had been sealed in the graveyard of my mind appeared before my eyes. But it was nothing more than an illusion, and vanished as quickly as it had come.

I was forced back into cold, hard reality. In this world, it was just the two of us.

Perhaps Maria was feeling just as lonely. No, I couldn’t even come close to how she felt. She had thrown away everything and run.

Unlike yesterday, today the sky was clear and the sun reflected so brightly off the snow I could barely see. But despite the cheery weather, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of gloom that covered me like a cloud.

Thanks to Satoru’s uncanny sense of direction, we soon found the speedboats. As I took off my skis, Satoru pushed the boats out onto the water.

“I’ll steer, so you can rest a bit,” he said, turning toward me.

“Why? Aren’t you tired?” I asked, but only out of habit.

“It’s fine.” He pushed me away gently.

With that, I lost all will to resist and collapsed against the boat after muttering a quick, “Thanks.”

I dozed off almost instantly. It was as if I were falling through the boat and into the hands of the kappa waiting to take me to the bottom of the river.

I dreamt. At first, they were only incoherent nightmares caused by my stress and fatigue, but soon, strange monsters started appearing from the depth of my subconscious.

There were demons waving long, insect antennae, circling blindly around and around on the ground. A group of one-eyed goblins flew overhead, trailing dust from their moth-like wings.


Page 430-431

The souls of the damned shamble along, chained to each other. Large cow sacs clung to their abdomen and controlled them so thoroughly that even though they wanted to escape, they could only stare and moan.

Half-transparent, pink minoshiro twisted their bodies seductively. Their feelers were erect penises, and the clitorises at their base opened and closed like sea anemones.

On the other side, the god of death, appearing as the shadow of a giant cat, glided past on silent feet.

Queerats sniffed their air with their ugly snouts. Their faces were completely smooth and featureless, but in exchange, the folds of their skin held numerous eyes that swiveled about unceasingly and flashed razor-sharp teeth.

But scariest were the fiends, children whose faces were gradually covered with sprays of blood, their eyes rolling back until only the whites were showing in the ecstasy of slaughter.

The monstrous creatures seethed and writhed. And there he was, at the far end of it all.

Half hidden in shadow, the figure of a boy. Everything from his feet to his torso, and most of his neck was visible, but his face was hidden in darkness.

The faceless boy. I tried desperately to call out to him, but his name just wouldn’t come.

He seemed to recognize me, but said nothing. Last time, I could hear him but not see him. This time, it was the opposite.

But I could understand the message he was trying to send–anxiety and concern.

“How can I find Maria?”

The faceless boy shook his head slightly.

“I don’t understand. What should I do?”

He didn’t respond.

“Tell me, please. What in the world should I do?”

He didn’t say a word, and I couldn’t see his lips, but somehow, I knew what he said.

Bewildered, I stood rooted to the spot. I couldn’t understand why he would say something like that. Then his next words hit me like a bolt of lightning.