an English translation of the novel

Page 345-348

I continued forward carefully, lantern raised high. It was just as humid in here as the previous cave, and water dripped down the walls and ceiling, flowing under my feet in little rivulets. It was difficult to see and I thought I would slip if I lost my concentration for even a second.

“Are you okay?” Inui asked over his shoulder as he pushed ahead with a nimbleness that belied his age.

“Yes. …I could do without all this water though,” I grumbled.

“But because of all the moisture, the ‘shadow’…the mites don’t come here.”

Although mites usually preferred humidity, the walls here were so wet that they had difficulty moving. The black widow mites were small enough that the surface tension of the water was enough to trap them, so I really shouldn’t complain about it being wet.

The four of us had split up according to Kiroumaru’s plan. Inui and I were on our way to the beach to retrieve the boat, and Satoru and Kiroumaru were leaving a fake scent trail.

Satoru had asked me to go get the boat because he said his injury was preventing him from traveling long distances, but his real intention was obvious: he wanted to take on the more dangerous task. Even with Kiroumaru around, it was risky putting yourself right in the enemy’s path. Just one misstep and it would be the end.

I knew all this, but accepted Satoru’s suggestions anyway.

Everyone was going to survive. I had to believe that.

“Inui, we’ll be fine, right?” I asked, hoping to be comforted.

But his answer was not what I expected.

“To be honest, I don’t know. Everything here has been beyond my imagination.”

“I see…”

An oppressive mood fell over us.

“But I’ll make sure you survive no matter what, Watanabe-san. I will do my utmost to that end.”

“Thank you. It’s reassuring to hear that from you. You’re the only survivor from our fierce Wildlife Protection officers after all.”

I regretted this immediately after I said it.

“Survivor?” Inui smiled slightly.

“Sorry, that’s not what I meant.”

“No, no, I just never considered myself a survivor. To me it seems more like I escaped death.”

“But…”

“That’s how it is. The comrades I lost were closer to me than my family. Surviving them was mere chance…nothing more. I’m like a ghost. I want to avenge my friends; that’s all that keeps me bound to this life.”

I felt like I had recently heard the same words from someone else.

“The fiend will pay for this,” Inui said, his usually placid expression replaced with one of fury. “Please promise me that you will stop the fiend even if I fall before our mission is complete.”

“I promise.”

Stop… Although we were psychologically restrained from using language stronger than that against humans, I knew what he meant.

“This is what the queerats mean when they call us the gods of death. I guess I can imagine what the people who were hunted back then felt like.”

“Me too… I suddenly feel like this world has become a nightmare. That nothing that has happened so far is real. Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up and someone will tell me not to worry, that everything was just a dream…” I was too choked up to continue.


Page 349-352

“I know, I can’t say I don’t feel the same way. But the reality is that we’ll need to prepare if we are to wake up tomorrow at all.” Inui sighed deeply. “There is something I must say about Kiroumaru.”

“Kiroumaru?” I had not expected this topic.

“To be completely honest, I don’t know how much we can trust him.”

“But…didn’t he save you? And without him, where would we be now…?”

“Of course, I’m not denying that.”

Inui came to a stop.

“Watanabe-san, under what circumstances do you think people let down their guard?”

I thought for a moment. “When everything is going smoothly, I guess? When you’re feeling safe, you tend to lower your defenses.”

“It’s true that people easily become complacent under those circumstances. But a cautious person would actually be even more alert.”

“Then when?”

“In my experience, it’s when people think the situation is at its worst. I have never met someone who, in the midst of abject despair, thought that things would get even worse. People want to grasp onto every sliver of hope they can find, and easily overlook signs of further danger.”

“You mean we’re currently in that situation?”

“Well, you wouldn’t expect that, with things as they are now, someone would betray us, right?”

“You mean Kiroumaru is a traitor?”

“I have to consider the possibility.”

“Why? Because he’s not human? Or do you have some concrete reason?”

“I have two.”

Inui held the lantern aloft and began walking again. I followed behind.

“First, it’s already suspicious that he’s been here before. What did he come for?”

“That…wasn’t it because he needed to survey the area? They were fighting with other colonies, so it would be advantageous to find out if the area is of any use to them, or something…”

“Would he really sacrifice a third of his troops for that? A leader like Kiroumaru would usually abort his mission once there was a single loss of life.”

“Then why do you think he came here?”

“I don’t know. But if it wasn’t something he wanted to hide, don’t you think he would have explained it to us?”

I had to admit that this had crossed my mind briefly at one point, but had believed that it just wasn’t possible. If Kiroumaru really turned out to be a traitor, we’ be done for. Now I wasn’t sure what to do.

“If he is…” I paused.

There was a strange sound coming from somewhere.

We stopped and listened carefully. Inui pressed his ear to the wall.

It was a deep, rumbling sound coming from far above us.

“What is that sound?”

“Probably one of the tunnels collapsing.”

I gasped. “Then maybe our trap worked.”

“No…it’s not just that, I think. I’ve already heard that sound intermittently about four times now.” Inui thought for a moment, but did not say more.

“Earlier, you said you had two reasons for suspecting Kiroumaru. What’s the other reason?”

“You’ll find out soon.”


Page 353-356

“We’ll know once we arrive at the shore,” Inui said mysteriously.

 

Although we were much faster going back to the ocean, it still took a number of hours to make the trip. At one of the crevasses that led up to the surface, we consulted the fake false minoshiro, which confirmed that we were less than a hundred meters away from where we had hidden the boat.

I was exhausted and the pain in my feet was unbearable, but there was no time to rest. Supporting myself with cantus, I hiked up the steep slope toward the surface. A disturbing sound came from deep beneath the ground, a cacophonous screech like a million cackling demons.

Startled, I froze on the spot.

“Don’t worry, it’s just the bats,” Inui said.

From the far side of the cave, hundreds of thousands of Tokyo giant bats came streaming out amid deafening screeches. They flapped all around our heads, but did not run into us, thanks to their echolocation abilities.

The bat colony flowed out of the cave like one giant organism and disappeared into the sunset. That’s when I realized that it was almost dusk. After entering the tunnels in the morning, I had lost all sense of time. Even though I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, I didn’t feel hungry. I was so focused on forcing myself to keep going that I couldn’t feel hungry even though I was dizzy from low blood sugar.

The sky was quickly deepening from blue to ultramarine. When we finally reached the surface, the curtain of night had already been drawn across the sky.

We looked out from the lip of the crevasse. The bats looked like a swarm of black mosquitoes dancing in the sky. There had to be at least a hundred million of them. It would be impossible for the enemy’s birds to see anything through this. We ducked and ran toward the place where we had hidden the boat.

The boat looked to be undamaged. We quickly hoisted it up with cantus.

As I was about to head toward the shore, Inui stopped me.

“Please wait.”

“Why? If we don’t hurry, we might be discovered.”

“It’s dangerous to go near the shore at night, remember?”

I bit my lip. It had completely slipped my mind.

“I’m so careless…”

I opened Inui’s knapsack and asked the fake false minoshiro, “People and queerats have been attacked near the shore at night. What’s the most dangerous animal here?”

The fake false minoshiro was silent for a moment. I was just starting to worry that it was broken when it started to speak haltingly.

“…is considered to be the giant Bobbit worm…a type of bristle worm. It probably evolved from the Bobbit worm…only within Tokyo Bay…two eyes and antennae…two large pairs of jaws…apex predator…nocturnal…particularly dangerous during mating season.”

It went silent.

“Oh no, it’s broken!”

“It must be out of power. It’s been without sunlight for a while.”

“But how will we get to the underwater tunnel…”

“We’ll figure out how how to get it working again later. Right now we have to think about how we’re going to board the boat safely,” Inui said, turning my attention back to the most pressing matter. “Kiroumaru’s soldiers were probably attacked by the bristle worm.”

I couldn’t remember what that looked like.

“You mean the little earthworm-looking things in the ocean?”

“It’s related to the Bobbit worm, but think of it as a centipede that lives in the sea. If it attacked and killed a number of queerats, it’s safe to assume that it’s not small.”


Page 357-360

Inui suddenly looked grave. “This is my second reason for being suspicious of Kiroumaru. It’s easy to predict that it will be dark by the time we get to the shore. But he didn’t warn us of any of the dangers that would be present at night. What’s more, he didn’t give us any information about the bristle worms.”

“But isn’t it possible that Kiroumaru doesn’t know anything about the creature apart from the fact that it attacked his soldiers?” I countered. “Plus he might have assumed that we’d be able to manage with the fake false minoshiro’s help.”

“…well, perhaps he simply had more pressing matters on his mind,” Inui admitted. “Anyway, let’s go. If the thing really is a bristle worm, we’ll be safer in the boat.”

Following Inui’s instructions, I got in and closed the top. He levitated the boat and set it down gently a short distance out onto the water.

The bottom of the boat touched sand. It rocked gently left and right to the rhythm of the waves.

The window at the front was at exactly water level and I couldn’t see anything. If I hadn’t been warned beforehand, I would never have suspected anything dangerous here.

Inui waded carefully into the water and approached from the left. I waited with bated breath to see if the bristle worm would attack, but nothing happened.

I heard him climb up to side of the boat and knock on the door. I opened the latch and looked out at Inui.

“At this time, the creature is…”

There was a crackling sound, like something scrambling up the side of the boat. The next instant, Inui vanished, and a thin, black creature started crawling in through the opening. It looked just like a centipede and moved so quickly that its legs were a blur, but its body was so long that I had more that enough time to attack it.

I set fire to it and the creature let out a hair-raising scream that sounded so human I almost thought it was Inui screaming.

The creature fell back into the water with a huge splash. I scrambled up the ladder and looked down.

What I saw was the most horrible monster in the world. Its legs wriggled disgustingly as it wrapped its undulating body around the boat.

Its head popped out from beneath the water and looked right at me. The creature’s face had surprisingly human features; it had no antennae, but was covered in black hair and was glaring at me out of a pair of glittering eyes.

But that was far as its human resemblance went. Apart from two bulging eyes, it had nothing else on its face. Looking along its body, I saw what I assumed was its mouth somewhere around its chest region. Its jaws were like elephant tusks and they clicked ominously open and shut.

I screamed.

The creature rose up like a marionette three meters above the water and lunged at me with its jaws open wide.

The monster’s head suddenly exploded a split second before it clamped down on my head.

It writhed around wildly. There was a second, then a third, explosion. The creature convulsed, then fell back into the water and stopped moving.

“Are you okay?” Inui shouted from the water.

“Yes.”

It took all my energy just to say that one word. I was still paralyzed with fear, and if Inui hadn’t come to the rescue at the last second, I would have been eaten by the monster.

“There might be more of them. We need to get out of here now!”

Inui climbed quickly up the side of the boat and shut the latch as I ducked back inside.

The boat moved forward and slowly began to dive.


Page 361-364

I was covered from head to toe in the juices of the exploded worm. It was sticky and smelled like rotten meat, but there was no time to deal with it now, as we had to get out of the creature’s hunting grounds. Inui had me turn the outer wheels as he searched for the river mouth from the forward window.

The ocean was already completely black. Inui pressed his face right up against the window to prevent the lantern light from reflecting off the glass. I couldn’t help but imagine another one of the worms coming out of nowhere and biting down on the window with its oversized jaws.

Luckily, that didn’t happen. Inui discovered a large cave entrance whose entrance was full of waving seaweed, and I was certain that this was the river mouth.

We entered the river. The darkness was even more concentrated here, as if we were traveling through ink instead of water.

 

I became more and more nervous as we traveled through the tunnel. The boat had a small volume, so we would probably run out of oxygen soon. There had been four of us when we dove in the Tone River, and now there were only two, so theoretically we’d be able to stay under for twice the amount of time. But I didn’t know how much oxygen would be used up by the lantern.

“Watanabe-san. Thank you for saving me earlier,” Inui said.

“You’re the one who saved me.”

“No, I mean before that. When I suddenly jumped back into the ocean to escape the creature, but it moved so quickly that it was already waiting to bite where I was about to land. If you hadn’t set it on fire, I would have been torn in half.”

Without cantus, we wouldn’t have stood a chance against the worm. Once again I thought that this place was pure hell. If it wasn’t for the psychobuster, I would’ve ran from here long ago.

Then I thought that it was a good idea to lead the fiend here. If we were lucky, some nasty monster lurking underground might kill the fiend for us.

I let myself be absorbed in these dark fantasies. It was the only way for me to stay sane. To live in hell, you had to become a demon. I tried not to think about my town, my parents, the people I love. I had to concentrate solely on surviving.

The tunnel looked the same no matter how far we went. It was just gently flowing water. No light, no air.

Maybe our fate was to suffocate here. Sweat began to drip from my forehead, though I wasn’t sure if it was because of the humidity or my own anxiety. All I knew that it was getting harder to breathe, and it wasn’t just because of the stinking worm entrails.

What if we had gone into the wrong tunnel? It was a terrifying thought. But there should only be one underground river in this area.

Or the tunnel might be a dead end where all the water seeped into the water table.

As I turned the wheels of the boat, my mental vision of fantasy and reality began to blur.

I remembered having the same experience before, when I was a child. I was in summer camp, wandering aimlessly around the queerat tunnels.

It appeared that after being in darkness for a long time, even the slightest trigger could put me into a hypnotized state. It was probably because of the ceremony with Head Priest Mushin at the Temple of Purity from a long time ago.

That time too, I had slowly entered a trance and felt my physical body disappearing as my mind floated in a dark void.

I started hearing things.

“Saki. Saki.”

A voice was calling me from somewhere.

“Who is it…?” I whispered.

“Saki, it’s me,” said the familiar voice.