“Yeah. You’re right…no, actually, it’s fine! We can just say the Ground Spiders took them from us when we were captured. That way, Shun and them can say that they were captured too.”
As expected of someone who was always up to no good. I complied, throwing the rest of my charm overboard. Come to think about it, there would have been no way to explain why only the glass disc had been thrown away instead of the entire charm. Without anything to weigh it down, my sachet floated on the water until it drifted out of sight.
As it disappeared, the queerat ship was arriving at its destination, our canoes in tow.
A Giant Hornet soldier disembarked and untied the ropes. The ropes were simply looped through a ring on the end of the canoes but you couldn’t undo them from our side.
A remarkably large queerat appeared at the stern of the warship. Kiroumaru had arrived. Although his shoulder and back had been hurt in yesterday’s explosion and were covered in bandages, he still moved around briskly, apparently unaffected by the injuries.
“How do you feel?”
“The trip was quite pleasant, thanks to you,” I said.
Kiroumaru’s wolf-like smiled reached all the way to his ears.
“Look over there. where the sun’s light dances on the water. That is the northern boundary of the Tone River. …I apologize, but we cannot get any closer. ”
“Don’t worry. We can make it on our own from here.”
Thanks to the queerats towing us with their warship, we were able to cross the huge lake in around three hours. It would have been impossible to make it before sundown if we had to row ourselves.
But I wondered why they couldn’t go any farther. Satoru looked a little dubious as well, but said nothing.
“Gods. Gods,” Squealer appeared behind Kiroumaru. “This is where we truly part. I will pray for your safe journey.”
I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. Of course, he appeared to be worried about us. But I suspected that he had been on Kiroumaru’s orders all along. First to lead us through the forest, and then to disclose our location.
“…you too. Take care. It’ll be great if you can rebuild your colony,” I squashed my suspicions and tried to reply sincerely.
As we set off, I heard Kiroumaru’s voice behind me.
“I have a request.”
“What is it?” Satoru asked.
“Once you return, please do not divulge that I towed your canoes.”
“Why?” It was an honest question.
“I can’t say, but if this were revealed then I would be sentenced to death,” Kiroumaru said, his eyes glinting with a seriousness he had not shown even in battle.
“I understand. I’ll keep it a secret,” Satoru said quietly.
I didn’t know whether it was because we had rested and regained our strength, or due to the swift currents, but the canoes traveled steadily down the river. When we looked back, the warship was already a speck in the distance.
“Kiroumaru risked his life to help us,” I said more to myself than to Satoru.
“Yeah. I’m sure he received orders from the Committee to restrain us,” he sounded rather proud that his theory had been correct. “That’s definitely also the reason he turned back where he did. The ship’s sails are visible from far away, so if there happened to be someone watching, they would know that he had his ignored orders and helped us.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Satoru smiled as if mocking me for not understanding something so simple. “Because we saved him yesterday. If I hadn’t dealt with the blowdogs, Kiroumaru would be as dead as Rijin right now.”