“Edgelands”（さいはての地 ), a short story by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) is part of a fantasy/adventure series, which includes “Rainlands“, of which a translation is published at SelfTaughtJapanese.com. I have the author’s permission to publish the translation of this two-part story, and I will begin by posting the first half of Part I of the original. I would like to thank Locksleyu from SelfTaughtJapanese.com for help with translation checking and proofreading.
They call this place Edgetown—a small mountain village overlooking a vast, blazing wasteland. They say that no one could survive beyond this point, but young Noi could see the faint outline of a mountain in the distance.
Does anyone really know what is on the other side, or is it just that no one has ever dared the perilous journey?
Noi, refusing to accept baseless rumors, waits for nightfall to begin his journey…
“Edgelands”, set in the same universe as “Rainlands”, is a testament to the yearning of a human soul.
Edgelands (Part I a)
by Haruka Asahi
The village at night was completely silent.
Noi, barefoot, walked down a side street, muffling the sound of his feet. It was easy to slip out of the house. Everyone in his family was quick to fall fast asleep. After all, they had to wake before dawn to tend the fields.
The act of walking down the road, aided by the moonlight, made the boy’s heart race unexpectedly. He moderated his pace, now on the verge of breaking into a sprint, as he headed quickly for the outskirts of the village. He ducked into a deep, dark alley where his provisions were hidden in an abandoned hut. He couldn’t avoid making a noise as he retrieved them, causing his heart to jump.
The moon rose in the sky, round and blue. In two more days, it would be full.
The houses became fewer and farther between as he approached the edge of the village. Passing by the one house where Noi could hear a sound—someone up late and hard at work—he winced while taking extra care to hide the sound of his footsteps.
The moment he passed by the final dwelling without attracting anyone’s attention, he stopped for one last time and glanced back at the village he had left behind.
Noi’s village didn’t have a name. No, it actually did have a long, proper name, but no one living in the village used it. Many didn’t even know it has a name.
It was just called Edgetown by the residents, as well as the rare visitor from the outside.
If you went past the southern border of Edgetown and continued even further, straight down the road—if you could even call it a road—you would come out on a hill overlooking a wasteland far below.
That wasteland was the edge of the world. At least that’s what everyone said.
“What’s over there?”
The children raised in Edgetown all asked that question to an adult at least once in their lives.
The adults replied with something like, “Far, far beyond that wasteland is ‘The Land of the Dead’. That’s where the souls of the dead all go.”
But some adults thought that perhaps “The Land of the Dead” is a fabrication.
They said, “There’s nothing. Nothing lies beyond there. The human world ends at this mountain. That’s why they call this place Edgetown.”
Most children obediently believed. Some doubted, but when they were lead by the adults down the southern hill, they were brought face to face with the reality of that place.
The wasteland was a world of blazing heat.
Edgetown was atop a tall mountain. As one descends the slope, the air becomes hotter and drier. The children would start to complain before they reached the bottom. But once there, they understood. Beyond that wasteland was the land of the dead in the true meaning of the word; no one could survive there.
But Noi knew; if you keep on going south, through the wasteland, you would come to a tall mountain.
On a clear day with good visibility, if you stood upon the southern hill and strain your eyes, you could see the faint, blue shadow of a mountain far in the distance at the edge of the wasteland.
Could anyone be living there? Not dead, but living human beings?
Was Edgetown really the edge of the world?
But none of the adults took Noi seriously when he brought this up.
The adults replied, “I don’t see any mountain. Even if there was, how would someone get to such a place anyway? That wasteland isn’t the kind of place a person can pass through and survive.”
That’s how his mother tried to persuade him. Then she sighed as she told him to stop his ridiculous talk and go to work in the fields.
“You just need to get across the lowlands before the sun comes up,” thought Noi.
All the adults laughed when he said that.
They said, “Surely you could get to the bottom if you waited until late at night. But how far do you really think it is to the other side of that wasteland? No matter how fast you go, you won’t make it before dawn.”
He always got that kind of reaction; no one even made an attempt to take what he said seriously. Not his mom, grandma, or little sister. Not even his uncle, one of the village elders respected by the people as the “guiding eye”, took him seriously.
His uncle would argue, “Past this point, there is nowhere for a person to live. Assuming there was, someone would have come here by now. Am I wrong?”
While there was some logic to his uncle’s argument, Noi was not convinced.
The boy thought, “If no one from this village has ever gone over and checked, then how do you know?”
In addition, Noi had something going for him. He was confident he could run faster than anyone, even the adults. From the time he was a small child, he ran around high in the mountains almost every day, pitching in when there weren’t enough adults to gather plants and herbs that could be eaten or used for medicine. He was sure that with these legs he could make it to the end of that wasteland if he had a whole night to do it.
Gathering non-perishable food and hiding it would be the most difficult part. He could pretend to eat and stash the food away, or perhaps swipe it from the cupboard in his house. He could get a decent amount somehow, but he needed to avoid drawing any attention. His mom would surely find it if he hid it somewhere in the house. So he snuck into an abandoned hut and carefully hid it away along with some water.
Now, carrying his provisions, Noi hurried under the moonlight. Once he was far enough away from the village, he took off with more spring in his step.
From time to time his view was uninhibited, and he could see the wasteland sprawled out below. Noi held his breath and gazed at his destination in the distance. The mountain, barely visible in the distance on a clear sunny day, was now completely swallowed by the depths of the night.
Noi found this discouraging. He thought he might be able to clearly make out the shape of the mountain by the stars it concealed, even if it were dissolved into the night.
But now he could see that there was a source of light along the horizon and no stars visible low in the southern sky.
It wasn’t light from people’s homes. It was red light emanating from molten rock.
From the peak, rising above the highlands of Edgetown, there was a volcanic vent spewing out flames and smoke at its whimsy. The villagers rarely approached this holy peak of fire. Instead, they built a temple to the fire god in the middle of the village and dutifully swept it clean day and night to avoid provoking its wrath. It seemed there was a similar volcanic vent on the other side of the wasteland as well.
But he had no intention to lose his nerve and turn back now. Noi picked up his pace and began to descend the slope, heading towards the edge of the world, where no one dared to go.
The intensity of the grade helped speed along Noi’s small frame. He ran as he breathed in the cold air of the still night. Disturbed stones tumbled down the slope, frightening rats out of their rocky dens.
When he reached the bottom he was enveloped by the steamy night air. Noi slowed his pace and grimaced. Beyond this was the blazing wasteland—the land of death where no soul may enter during the light of day.
Surprisingly, the lowlands teemed with life.
Bugs made a low chirp somewhere. Little lizards and snakes slithered up from cracks in the ground, slowly lifting their heads and swaying in the moonlight. Apparently, they hid underground during the day to avoid the sun.
Suddenly Noi had a thought: what if, like the animals, people lived beneath this ground. He muffled his voice as he laughed at his own idea. Now that’s a childish fantasy. If such people existed… Not to parrot his uncle’s words, but surely they would have come to Edgetown at least once.
However, the idea still made his heart race. Above ground is like a frying pan during the day, so if anyone were hiding below ground they would need a deep hole. How would they dig that? A pickaxe seemed out of the question.
His uncle once told him that people sometimes bore holes in rocks using explosives in faraway lands. Could that explain it? No, perhaps if they snuck out to the lowlands every night and dug persistently for years, they really could do it with a single pickaxe.
Noi slipped deeper into his fantasy. What was this underground world like? If the hole was deep enough to avoid the heat on the surface, most likely it would be pitch dark. It might even be cold.
What about water? The surface was bone dry but habitable enough for snakes and things to come slithering up. There must be water somewhere.
After taking a sip from his goatskin canteen, Noi realized he was more thirsty than he thought. Even in this heat, he didn’t sweat. The air was drier than in the highlands—another possible reason his body felt like it was on fire.
But he still wasn’t tired. Noi wiped his mouth and resumed his trek.