Walking along the river running through the bottom of the valley felt much better than creeping along the precipitous mountain paths. Thanks to this we made good progress, but we were still under enormous pressure.
In the mountain, we never knew what was going to pop up in front of us, and it took considerable courage just to keep walking forward. But in the valley, our backs were exposed and there was nowhere to hide. It was unexpectedly frightening.
Moonlight barely reached the bottom of the valley. The river was black as ink, only the sound of rushing water could be heard. It drilled into my consciousness, until I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the river or from my own mind. The sound changed until it was like the war cries of an infinite fleet of queerats, or the roar of some other beast.
Satoru and I kept turning to check behind us to make sure there was nothing there. But far from assuaging our fears, the invisible river seemed to beckon us to the underworld.
“What’s this river called?” Satoru’s voice came from far away.
“The gods have not given it a name. We call it ⱯΞ☆ξЭ…in Japanese it would mean, let’s see, “the forgotten river”.
“Why is it called that?” I asked. My voice was strangely hoarse, as if it were someone else talking.
“I’m not completely sure,” Squealer said, sounding as though he was somewhere deep underground. “But there are a lot of rivers that empty into Kasumiga Bay, like the Sakura River, and other larger and safer rivers. So it may just mean that the river has been forgotten.”
“Hopefully Kiroumaru forgets about it too,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
“You can hope, but a great commander like him would never forget.” Squealer’s response was unexpectedly bitter. “The forgotten river is full of shoals and stones, so usually no one travels on it at night. That’s one reason I chose this path. However, although this is a path General Kiroumaru doesn’t often travel, he has won many battles here. For example the battle against the Army Ant colony, the Fall of Greenwall.
“Army Ant? There’s such a colony?” Satoru asked.
“They don’t exist anymore. Five years ago, they lost against the Giant Hornet colony and were completely wiped out.”
It was pointless to tell us about this now, but hearing him talk seemed to help us stay focused.
“The Army Ant colony was over eighteen thousand strong, and praised as having the largest army. They excelled at siege warfare, and on this occasion had surrounded the Giant Hornets and set up camp. Near the end stage of the battle, the Army Ant general, Quikur, dispatched all but the queen’s bodyguards.”
Judging by his interest in wars, Squealer undoubtedly spent a lot of time reading historical records. He spoke animatedly.
“The Army Ant colony was stationed only a few kilometers away from the Giant Hornets. They could only move aboveground at this distance, and since their army was so big, the front line was already halfway there before the rear troops even left camp. Quikur decided to wait at the foot of the mountain for the rest of the soldiers to catch up. He assumed that the smaller Giant Hornet troops were hiding underground and dismissed the possibility of being attacked from the cliff that we locals call Greenwall. General Kiroumaru led his elite team secretly up the mountain and plotted an ambush. The enemy was right below the cliff that everyone assumed was too steep to climb. However, General Kiroumaru saw a gecko climbing across the bare rock, and said what would later become a famous quote, ‘Geckos have four legs, we also have four legs. If a gecko can climb this mountain, there is no reason we cannot.'”