an English translation of the novel

Page 430-431

From the same tunnel came a number of black-clad forms.

Queerat soldiers. They were naked; each wore a leather bag of some sort and held a blowgun made to be used in small spaces like these tunnels.

They seemed to catch our scent. They quickly spread out and put the blowguns to their mouths. Only one in four held a torch, though I don’t know whether it was because they had good night vision or because they didn’t need to rely on sight at all.

Then another figure appeared. It was too dark to make out the face, but I guessed it was either Yakomaru or the fiend.

It came toward us, showing no sign of fear. The only thing that distinguished it from the other soldiers was the hooded cloak it wore despite the heat and humidity. It walked forward, looking around at its surroundings.

The soldiers appeared to have found the tunnel Kiroumaru disappeared into. They turned their attention back to us. The hooded figure bent forward slightly and the light illuminated its hair. In the firelight, it was blood-red…

The fiend.

Satoru and I snapped the necks of the two soldiers nearest us. They dropped without even having time to scream. The other two didn’t seem to comprehend exactly what had happened, but fled down the nearest tunnel in panic anyway.

Now only the hooded figure was left. It slowly raised its head to look at us.

We turned and ran down the tunnel.

I wasn’t sure if the fiend had gotten a good look at us. But in any case, two soldiers killed by cantus ought to be enough of a provocation.

The fiend should be coming after us. We stopped around a bend about twenty meters into the tunnel. I lit a small bundle of roots, held my breath, and waited.


Page 432-433

From the tunnel entrance came a shadow of a figure holding a torch. The hooded silhouette of a little god of death.

That was the signal to begin our race against death. We took off at full speed.

There was no time to spare even a glance backwards. We just kept running as fast as we could.

The fiend had the luxury of setting its own pace, but all we could do was run for our lives without even being able to think about how we could conserve stamina. Once it matched our pace, all it had to do was speed up at any time, and we would be done for if we took even a second to look back.

As we had planned, I ran ahead with Satoru following close behind. Although my legs felt weak with fear, I pushed myself harder, feet slapping the ground as I flew around the bends.

I kept running. Don’t think. Any thought that came to my head was trampled under my feet. If I tripped over a pebble or a crack in the floor, our lives would come to a very quick end.

I thought my heart would burst as the fiend slowly gained on us.

We at least had to keep one bend between us and the fiend so that it wouldn’t be able to see us.

The fiend wouldn’t attack recklessly with cantus, since it might end up burying itself alive if it brought the entire tunnel down. Even if that didn’t happen, it might accidentally block the path between us.

As I thought about the breeze blowing our scent toward the fiend, the ground beneath me suddenly felt soft and insubstantial. Even now, I still don’t know how I managed to keep my balance and keep going.

“Saki! Saki! It’s okay. Slow down!” Satoru shouted. “It’s taking its time.”

Of course. It had nothing to worry about. All it needed to do was wait for us to wear ourselves out.


Page 434-435

I slowed my breakneck pace. The fiend’s torchlight stopped just beyond the bend and did not come closer. But I could still hear quiet steps. They were the quick, even steps of someone walking briskly, but not running.

We slowed down as well, alternating between a quick walk and running, trying to catch our breath. I was already breathing hard from the run earlier.

There were still the sounds of metal against rock coming from behind. More than before. I wonder what messages they were sending. We had no idea at the time.

“This is alright, let’s keep this pace,” Satoru said, struggling to force himself to breath normally. “They’re probably trying to intimidate us. But if we can enlarge the gap between us, that would be good. Anyway, the scariest part is over.”

“…is this alright?”

“Yeah. Try to get your breathing back to normal before we reach Screen rock. You go on ahead. I’ll stay as long as I can to keep an eye on it. If it starts speeding up, I’ll shout.”

“Okay.”

The vague feeling of unease returned. But I followed Satoru’s instructions anyway, telling myself it was just my imagination. Everything was going according to plan.

Now that I had time to think, all sorts of stuff started flooding my mind.

Was Kiroumaru in league with the enemy? Was everything part of Yakomaru’s plan? I tried not to think about it. The dice had been cast. Everything would be decided in a few minutes. There was no use worrying about it now.

Strangely enough, the next thing that came to mind was a creation myth we had learned at Harmony School long ago.


Page 436-437

 

After Izanami died from the burn wounds she received during childbirth, Izanagi wanted to see his wife so terribly that he made his way to the underworld. Even though Izanami told him never to look upon her, he could not help but do so. What he saw was a terrible, rotting corpse filled with maggots.

Izanagi was so frightened that he fled back to the world above. Embarrassed, Izanami sent the hag of the underworld to chase after him.

 

Of course, I didn’t just happen to remember this story as I was running for my life. I saw it almost like a vision, lighting up the tunnel in vivid colors. It was possible that my mind was so full of fear that it reawakened my memory of this story.

Chased by the hag, Izanagi barely got away by using his hair comb as a distraction.

But we were a good distance away from the fiend now. So…

It’s strange.

A voice spoke.

Shun… Is it Shun, I asked myself.

It’s strange. Don’t you think so?

The quiet voice persisted.

Strange? What is?

Don’t you hear it?

Again, I heard the metallic banging of the enemies communicating through the rock. It wasn’t just coming from one place. The message was being sent from multiple locations simultaneously. But what about it?

Careful. It’s a trap.

I could clearly recognize Shun’s voice now.

Stop, Saki.

“Stop? Why? We can’t!” I cried aloud without realizing it.

Haven’t you noticed? The fiend hasn’t been coming after you.

I slowed, sped up again, then stopped.

“Saki! What are you doing? Hurry and go!” Satoru shouted from behind.


Page 438-439

“Satoru, it’s a trap!”

“What are you talking about? Are you seeing things? You’ve been muttering to yourself this whole time.”

He pushed me from behind.

“Wait. The fiend isn’t chasing us at all, why?”

Satoru looked behind him, surprised.

“It’s probably walking. If we stay here, it’s going to catch up soon!”

“But do you hear any footsteps? All I’ve been hearing is the sound of rain and the enemy sending messages through the rocks.”

“You’re right. …but still, we can’t go anywhere but forward. There’s only one exit to the tunnel.”

“But, wait. What if it…”

I shoved Satoru with all my strength. And saved both of our lives by a hair.

The part of the tunnel we had just about to walk toward suddenly collapsed with a deafening rumble.

Boulders and water came crashing down and were swept right at us.

“Run!”

We turned and started running the way we had come. But wouldn’t the fiend be waiting? We had been driven into a corner. Satoru lifted the cross from his neck and gripped it tightly. If the fiend killed him, it was going down as well.

Forty, fifty meters back into the tunnel and the fiend was still nowhere to be seen.

“Where did it go?” Satoru stopped and whispered, his voice shaking.

I turned and looked down the tunnel. Rubble seemed to have stopped falling. Thanks to the moisture in the air, the dust had already begun to settle. A faint light came in from above; it appeared the collapse reached all the way up to the surface.

“Let’s go back.”

“Which back?”