Carefully, one step at a time, we descended into the earth. I felt that I would slip on the limestone if I wasn’t careful.
I assumed that it would be cooler inside the cave, but as we went deeper I started sweating. Not only was it hotter, the humidity was close to a hundred percent.
“Why is it so hot?” I asked.
“Because of the bats,” Kiroumaru answered shortly before hurrying on.
There was a complex network of wind blowing through the caves that Kiroumaru sniffed at carefully before choosing a path. Satoru carried the fake false minoshiro in his backpack, with only its head sticking out point us in the general direction and tell us how far away we were. It didn’t have any information on what path to take, so we had to rely on Kiroumaru.
Slowly, the path leveled out. Although we were far from the entrance, small cracks here and there let in enough light to see by.
“It will get even hotter from here. Please bear with it.”
I could hear a muted commotion up ahead. At the same time, a wave of heat and a stench that reminded me of a pigsty washed over me. Kiroumaru pointed up at a hole about meter wide where all the noise seemed to be coming from.
He scurried up the steep wall. The rocks were already slippery to begin with, but the moisture made them even more difficult to climb. Even going up four or five meters was no small feat.
Kiroumaru stopped outside the hole and peered inside.
“It’s completely dark inside. It would be easier if we had a light,” he said, turning back toward us.”
I retrieved a lamp from my knapsack. It wasn’t very bright, but could burn any sort of plant based oil for up to fifteen hours. Another convenient point was that it did not require cantus except when lighting it.
A high-pitched racket reached my ears. It was like the sound of bells or the cackling of a horde of goblins. Looking through the hole, I saw a space many times larger than the one we were in. But as I continued following Kiroumaru, the heat and smell became even more unbearable.
“Watch your feet,” Kiroumaru warned, his one eye glinting unpleasantly in the lamplight.
I pointed the lamp down and screamed. The entire floor was wriggling. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was crawling with insects. There were maggots, parasitic worms, millipedes, cockroaches, and spiders larger than any I’d ever seen before. All were moving through some sort of mud that covered every surface. From the stink rising from it, I realized that it was a thick buildup of guano. The heat too came from the fermentation of feces.
“I can’t walk through that!” I wailed.
Kiroumaru and Inui continued forward unflinchingly.
“We have to, Saki.” Satoru took my hand.
But the physical repulsion was too strong. I couldn’t take a single step.
“What if there are poisonous bugs? What if they accidentally bite us…?”
I turned the lamp upward to see if there were insects on the ceiling as well.
The ceiling was over ten meters high, and packed full of roosting bats. The high-pitched sound was coming from them. I felt the blood drain from my face.
“No way. I can’t. If the bats swoop down on us, we’re done for.”
“Do the bats here pose a threat to humans?” Satoru asked the fake false minoshiro.