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“I’ve always wondered about that. Why would Maria’s child, of all people, be a fiend?” I licked my lips, trying to sort out the thoughts in my head. “The chance of giving birth to a fiend are extremely small. And for the first child the queerats capture to be a fiend, that probability is astronomically low.”

“…but couldn’t they have done something to the child? Like give him their psychotropic drug?”

“That’s probably what everyone would assume. But this was Yakomaru’s first time raising a human child. Do you think that a drug that had never been tested on humans before would have let Yakomaru manipulate him exactly the way he wanted to?”

“There are many types of drugs that we use,” Kiroumaru cut in. “Our ancestors, the naked mole rats, consumed a substance extracted from their queens’ urine to control their workers. Although our queen still possesses the ability to produce the substance, our mental capacities are far beyond mole rats, and it is impossible to fully control soldiers without adding other drugs such as marijuana to eradicate their fear. …but you are right that since we are different species, it is hard to imagine that our drugs would be able to turn off attack inhibition and create a fiend on demand.”

“Then, if he’s not a fiend, then what is he?” Satoru sounded bewildered.

The wound on his head was still bleeding, and looked extremely painful.

“…I mean, no matter how I think about it, he has to be a fiend. You’ve seen what he’s done!”

“That’s exactly what has blinded us this entire time.”

As I said that, the logic of the situation fell into place.

“Letting us see the child kill humans without batting an eye was designed to be an emotional attack that would overwhelm our rational side and cause us to leap to conclusions. Only once we decided that he was a fiend could we feel marginally safer.”

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“Safer? What are you talking about? How would knowing he’s a fiend make you safer?”

“Raman-Klogius syndrome is at least something we know exists. Humans are more afraid of the unknown than anything else.”

Satoru crossed his arms and thought.

“I have good reasons for saying he’s not a fiend. Fiends completely lose the ability to think rationally, and simply kill everything around them. If the child really is a fiend, how come he hasn’t hurt Yakomaru?”

“…couldn’t they control him with drugs?”

“That’s impossible. You can’t tame a fiend. If it were possible, we would have done it ages ago and prevented all the attacks in the past, or at least brought the casualties down to a minimum. Also, if his mind is being influenced by drugs, you couldn’t be sure that he’d be able to attack and kill people.”

“Well then why doesn’t he have attack inhibition and death feedback?” Satoru asked.

“He probably does.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What’s the simplest answer? The child has been separated since he was born and raised by queerats. So it would view itself as a queerat, not as a human.”

“That might be true, but how…”.

Realization dawned on his face.

“Maybe, you mean, the fiend…the child’s attack inhibition works on queerats instead of humans?”


The swirl of thoughts in my head turned into firm conviction. The child thought of himself as a queerat, and therefore could not kill “his own kind”. To him, humans were a different species.

“But still, why would it kill people so viciously and indiscriminately?”

“Well, we kill them without a second thought as well, don’t we?”

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“Huh?” Satoru said, looking shocked. “But they’re queerats.”

He became aware that Kiroumaru was still listening.

“…I see. You’re right. I never realized that’s what we were doing.”

Kiroumaru’s eye widened. “I should have realized something was wrong earlier. When my elite troops were annihilated, he didn’t kill them directly with cantus, but only took their weapons away. We were completely helpless and I thought that he was just having fun playing with us… but right after, when I encountered the fiend as I ran away, he didn’t attack me even though there were only twenty or thirty meters between us. There’s no way he didn’t notice me.” He let out a groan of frustration. “And earlier too. When the two of you were face to face with the fiend, I managed to intervene just by throwing a rock. Since killing you two is critical to their plan, I never expected that he would let you run away. Even getting rid of one of you would have been a minor victory, but again, the fiend just let us go. He wasn’t choosing to not attack, he physically couldn’t do it because I was there!”

“Wait, so if he’s alone, then Kiroumaru can attack…?” Satoru’s voice shook.

“Yes. He can’t do anything to Kiroumaru. It would be easy to kill him, or capture him alive.”

“Shit!” {A crack appeared in the wall next to Satoru.} “We had victory in our hands this entire time! But we let it slip away. Why didn’t we think more carefully earlier?”

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“Calm down, it’s not too late yet,” I said as calmly as I could. “We still figured it out, even if it was at the last possible moment.”

“We should have figured it out before the fiend…before he passed by through the main tunnel. He’s joined up with Yakomaru by now. Even if Kiroumaru goes in now, he’ll still be killed,” Satoru sighed.

But there was still another way. It was a slim chance, but not impossible. It was the only thing we could gamble on.

Still, I couldn’t help but hesitate doing something so cruel. If the positions were reversed, Yakomaru definitely wouldn’t hold back for a second. But part of me still resisted the plan. Whether it was humans or queerats, we were all living things with beating hearts and warm blood running through our bodies. As intelligent beings, we were capable of happiness, sadness, anger, contemplation… We weren’t pawns to be thrown away for the sake of some greater game. After spending so much time with Kiroumaru, I felt this even more strongly.

Seeing that child reminded me so much of Maria and Mamoru I thought my heart would be ripped to shreds.

Yet he had attacked the village, destroyed our homes, and killed thousands of innocent people. An irresistible wave of hatred and desire for revenge washed over me.

But he wasn’t a fiend.

He was innocent. His parents had been killed by queerats, then the queerats had raised him and commanded him to kill. He believed himself to be a queerat, so he didn’t question it, and none of it weighed on his conscience. To him, humans were devils that enslaved them and had the power to kill them on a whim.

And not just that. He couldn’t go against the queerats because of attack control and death feedback, but the queerats could punish him however they wished.

In short, he was literally their slave.

What kind of life had he lived? My heart hurt thinking about the way the queerats must have treated him after Maria and Mamoru died.

And what would happen if we died here?

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The surviving people in the towns would have no choice but to flee far away to escape being killed. With the child, Yakomaru would be able to fend off attacks from other districts. And in a decade, all the infants he had kidnapped would be old enough to use cantus. Then he would be unstoppable. Queerats would take over Japan.

There was no time to think of alternative plans.

I had to do it.

I’m sure Tomiko would have come to the same conclusion.

“Saki,” Satoru said, looking up. “You said that what you did to the fiend earlier would only work once, right?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “You need to know where the enemy is in relation to you first.”


Quietly, we crept back toward the main tunnel until we were four or five meters away from where it crossed the path we were on.

It was silent in the tunnel.

At my gesture, Satoru made a tiny mirror from the water vapor in the air, and slowly moved it until we could see the enemy.

There. As soon as we saw them, Satoru let the mirror dissipate, and we retreated back down the small tunnel.

Although I only saw it for a split-second, I knew where they all were. Outside the small tunnel, about twenty meters away, a group of five soldiers lay in wait. And five meters behind them was the child.

“The fiend…he didn’t come this way just to meet up with Yakomaru. They’re setting a trap,” Satoru whispered. “If we try to make a run for it, we’re done for.”