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The black cloud completely obscured my vision. This was the crossroad between life and death.

If we breathed in the powder, it would choke us to death. If we built a wall around us, we’d still be stuck inside the cloud, unable to move. And we wouldn’t have time react to what came next.

I released my hold on the creature and its fifty-ton body hit the ground like a sack of jelly. It lay flattened, undoubtedly dead from massive internal damage. Except it raised its head again and let out another blast of powder. In seconds, it emptied all the black powder stored in its body.

This is what I imagine happened next. The friction caused by expelling so much powder through its tubular beak heated it up hundreds of degrees. Then, either the monster created a spark itself, or a tiny piece of its beak broke off from the heat and flew into the cloud, effectively turning it into a flamethrower.

Whatever the cause, the entire cloud burst into flames. A so-called dust explosion. Whereas chunks of coal will burn slowly, powder or dust combines easily with oxygen in the air and burns explosively.

The blast was over two hundred meters in diameter. No one could have escaped from it, except maybe Shisei Kaburagi.

The second the black cloud surrounded me, my first thought was not to protect myself, but to save Satoru. Satoru seemed to have the same thought about me. I guess we were lucky we had a chance to practice throwing each other when we were escaping from the fiend.

As Satoru was obscured by the cloud, I called up the image of a catapult, hooked his body into it and flung him up into the sky as hard as I could.

At the same time, I felt a burst of speed so intense I almost passed out. When my vision cleared, the ground was already far, far below me.

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Satoru had thrown me into the air at the same time I catapulted him, and I had instinctively protected my ears with cantus to prevent my eardrums from bursting from the rapid change in air pressure. Breathing through my nose, I equalized the pressure in my ears. As I free-fell through the air, my stomach floated weightlessly inside me and made me nauseous. The wind tore at my shirt.

How far up was I? I could see all of Kamisu 66, the surrounding forests and even Mt. Tsukuba all in one glance. But Satoru was nowhere to be seen.

A large area below was shrouded in a mass of black dust, like some nasty mushroom slowly growing larger and larger.

I was about to fall right back into it. I flailed my arms around and tried desperately to make myself float, but had no idea what kind of image I was supposed to conjure up.

The black cloud below started exploding in dazzling flashes of light.

I was lifted up once again by the wind coming off of the blasts. In a few moments, I would be carried far away.

Flying felt neither wonderful nor frightening. Even though I had never been this far off the ground in my life, I knew I could soften my landing to an extent.

The sun shone blindingly down on me and white, cottony clouds drifted lazily across the sky.

That’s when the hallucination started.

The bright sky suddenly turned dark as if light and darkness had been inverted.

The moon illuminated the earth below, and I could see each individual crater on its surface.

Ah, this…

I knew I was seeing something I had physically experienced before.

A memory that had been erased. It felt like it had been reassembled from bits and pieces of other memories.


The moon illuminated ■’s bungalow below.

Everything I could see was full of pits and craters. 

The area around the bungalow was half-buried in dirt, like there had been a landslide. There was a deep rumbling coming from the ground along with the creaks and snaps of trees being pulled up by the roots.

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This frightening apocalyptic scene grew smaller and smaller. I realized that I was flying backwards in a big arc. The wind buffeted my sweater this way and that. It blew away my barrette and my hair trailed out in front of me in the night air.

If I just crashed into something and died, that wouldn’t be too bad. 

With that thought, I closed my eyes.

And opened them again.

■ had saved me with the last of his strength.

I had to live.


I turned to face forward and opened my eyes against the stinging wind. My tears were whipped away behind me.

The vision had lasted just a second. The sky had returned to normal and sun was shining just as brightly as before.

I remembered clearly now. The faceless boy had saved my life once. Just like Satoru had just saved me.

Riding the wind from the explosions, I flew far away from the blast site, falling toward earth at breakneck speed all the while. It seemed like I was headed toward the center of the district.

I finally got a good look of the scenery below.

It was the main street of Hayring, usually the most crowded place in town. What I saw now shocked me. Almost everything had been destroyed, leaving behind mountains of debris and ruined buildings. There wasn’t a single person to be seen.

I was descending too quickly. Gravity was pulling me down faster and faster. I pushed on the ground with cantus and slowed a little.

My next thought was to try a water landing. If I land in a canal, I should be able to avoid major injuries even if I couldn’t slow down completely.

Then I saw that the canals were dry.

The water had been drained…

There was no time to wonder why. I immediately switched gears and called up the image of a pair of wings. I had to keep going, to glide just a bit farther.

A soft place to land, that was all I needed. Something yellow caught my eye. A field of sunflowers. We planted dense fields of them for their oil.

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I struggled to change my trajectory toward the sunflower field. How in the world did Maria make flying look so easy?

The yellow flowers whizzed past below me. Crap. I couldn’t slow down with the image I was using. I switched to the image of a pair of arms and slammed them down into the field. Flowers went flying everywhere.

The moment before impact, I closed my eyes instinctively. Broken stalks grazed my cheeks.

I hit the ground. Despite having the flowers as a cushion, I still had all the air knocked out of me and passed out on the bed of blossoms.


When I came to, I was lying facedown. Slowly, I moved my arms and legs, checking to see if they were still working. My palms were scraped raw but it looked like that was the worst of it.

I listened carefully to the noises around me and quietly stood up.

It was a beautiful summer morning. Birds were singing. Other than that, all was silent.

Where was Satoru? I tried to remember where I catapulted him, but my memory was hazy. I believed that he was okay, but couldn’t help worrying anyway.

My head was spinning from overusing cantus. I probably only passed out for five or ten minutes, not nearly enough time to recover my strength.

If the queerats or that creature showed up now, I would have a hard time protecting myself. Fighting the fiend was completely out of the question. But I didn’t have time to sit around pitying myself. I had to get to town.

I started walking, still keeping an eye on my surroundings.

Leaving the sunflower field, I entered a thicket of trees. After a while, I saw an area where the trees had been torn up. The explosions we had heard on the way here came to mind. No doubt some other monster similar to the creature in the canal had been blowing up the town and the shockwaves had reached all the way here.

But if the blasts were this powerful, the creature must have died along with them. A suicide bomber, in other words. Whereas the blowdog had protected the Ground Spider nest at the cost of its life, this powder-spewing creature had been bred as a decisive assault weapon against human enemies.

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All the queerats were no more than pawns in a greater game. They didn’t mind sacrificing themselves, or rather, they launched their attacks fully intending to die in the process.

This was something I had never imagined. We believed in the omnipotence of our power and underestimated what the queerats were capable of.

But what was driving the queerats to go to such lengths?

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I had stopped paying attention to my surroundings. I was almost out of the thicket when it happened.

A large boulder came flying right at me.

I was so taken by surprise that I couldn’t even block with cantus. I fell back onto my butt. Luckily, its aim was off and the boulder flew over my head.

A second attack came as soon as the first had failed. The few trees that had survived the creature’s blast creaked and groaned as they were pulled out of the ground. No matter how I looked at it, this was a cantus user at work.

Could the fiend have come here? My mind went numb. If it was, I was done for…

I stopped the trees and felt the jarring sensation of two cantus coming into contact. A shimmering rainbow appeared in the air.

“Wha-what…?” came a surprised voice.

I yelled as loud as I could, “Stop! I’m human!”

The trees thudded to the ground. So I was right. Whoever it was had attacked because they mistook me for a queerat.

“Wait, I’m coming out now!”

I emerged from the forest, waving my hands above my head. A person stood about fifty or sixty meters away, looking dumbstruck. A boy, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old. He came running over when he saw me.

“I’m sorry, I thought you were a queerat…”