At first glance it looked like an empty meadow, but the queerats visible near the base of the big Mongolian oak trees indicated that their nest was there. The entrance was cleverly camouflaged by tall weeds, so it seemed like the queerats were appearing out of thin air.
One queerat, conspicuously larger than all the others, made its way forward sluggishly, pushing aside the smaller queerats. It wore a cloak draped over its leather armor and was unmistakably the highest ranked in the colony. But its most distinguishing feature was its protruding, hammer-shaped head.
Captain Pinecone dropped down on all fours and crawled deferentially towards Hammerhead. The two started discussing something. Hammerhead glared at us with its beady eyes while giving orders to Captain Pinecone.
I was afraid that we were going to be lead down into the pitch black tunnels, but instead we were driven away from the nest, into the woods. There was a giant birdcage, two meters across and one and a half meters tall, made out of the vines of multiflora roses wrapped around the branches of the trees.
There didn’t appear to be an entrance to the cage, but one area was devoid of branches and only had the stems of the roses stretching from top to bottom. The queerats parted the stems with their spears and ushered us inside. When they withdrew their spears, the stems sprang closed again. It would be impossible to get out without being cut to pieces by the thorns. In addition, a sentry was posted outside, watching us darkly.
The cage wasn’t tall enough for us to stand in, so we had no choice but to sit on the cold ground with our backpacks as a cushion. The moonlight was just bright enough for us to barely make out each other’s faces.
“It’s been a rough day, huh,” Satoru said, in a gentler voice than I could ever have imagined him using.
Tears welled up in my eyes and threatened to spill over.
“Seriously, worst day ever. …Satoru, how’s your wound?”
“It’s perfectly fine. The blood’s dried already; it only just nicked the skin,” he said, wiggling his ears.
He was the only one in our class who had that talent. I relaxed and gave a small smile. The blood on his forehead made the cut look serious, but as he said, it wasn’t really a big deal.
“What do we do now?”