About twenty or thirty meters later, the tunnel suddenly opened up. We stood up and looked around, but it was too dark to tell how big the cavern was. The stench of mold and animals reached my nostrils, making my hair stand on end.
“Please wait a moment,” Squealer said from behind us.
Turning around, we saw only his eyes glittering in the darkness. I knew that wild animals had luminous eyes, but I couldn’t shake off the unpleasant feeling I got from seeing them.
Squealer struck a flint and lit a small torch. I was blinded by the light for a second. Once again, I realized how reassuring it was to have light.
I thought we were in a huge hall, but the light revealed it to be no bigger than a six tatami room. There were three horizontal tunnels going in different directions. Squealer led the way with the torch. The queerats walking upright cast strange, wavering shadows on the walls of the room.
“Please watch your head.”
The ceiling gradually lowered as the tunnel widened. The queerats probably usually ran through here on all fours.
As we walked through the dark underground with only the torch for light, a strange, unreal feeling came over me. I couldn’t quite believe I was here.
On the other hand, we became aware of an overwhelmingly realistic presence. It was the smell that had assaulted us earlier. The tunnel was filled with the odor of queerats and as we went deeper, the smell became stronger. It was the smell Squealer and the other soldiers had, but layered with another stench closer to that of decay. Moreover, it was so strong that it was almost choking me.
Next, a complex series of low sounds caught our attention. Listening closely, it sounded like a pair of bellows, with sounds of distant thunder mixed in. Irregular vibrations rumbled through the walls of the tunnel. Like something extremely heavy was crawling around…
I could feel the vibrations under my feet. My body seized up in fear, but I didn’t tell Satoru that I wanted to go back. If I showed weakness in front of Squealer, who knows what might happen later.