“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. This is the second half of the first part. The beginning of the story is posted here. 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 b)
As he continued, the chill in the air was clearly growing. The blazing heat of the daytime now seemed only a dream. He felt fine while walking, but it was cold enough that he felt chilly if he stopped to rest.
Lifting his eyes, he could see countless stars spread across the heavens, as if silver dust had been scattered throughout the sky.
Noi remembered his uncle’s words, “If there were people, someone probably would have come to Edgetown by now. Am I wrong?”
He was suddenly overcome by a vague dissatisfaction but then hurriedly shook his head.
Is it possible that the people living over there are saying the same thing as we are in Edgetown? “This wasteland is the edge of the world, and no one is north of here. Someone would have come here by now,” they would say.
Noi’s uncle, who is respected by everyone, holds a special role in the village where he knows many things that no one else in the village knows. That said, it’s not like he knows absolutely everything in the world.
The “Guiding Eye” was his special role, passed down through generations.
Near Edgetown, salt could not be acquired. Someone had to procure it for the people and livestock from one of the distant neighboring villages. Noi’s uncle was the one who inherited that role from the previous generations.
Besides salt, most of the necessities for living were available in Edgetown.
A river ran down from the mountain, and there were bubbling springs. There were enough fields to feed the people; there were pastures and just enough cotton raised to make thread. There was even a little mine providing minimal iron and copper, but not enough to sell in far away lands.
So they took the woven cloths and animal products, bound them on the back of a four-legged bird, the boy’s uncle leading it by the bridle, and set off to sell them in the neighboring village. For the return trip, they piled on a bundle of salt and made their way home.
Barely anyone traveled by that pitiful excuse for a road because any unseasoned traveller would find their journey fraught with difficulty. It is said that there are also places where monotonous surroundings stretch on for miles.
For that reason, one must have the endurance to walk long distances and a good pair of eyes, plus the wisdom to avoid being deceived by the smooth talk of the worldly merchants to become the “Guiding Eye”. It’s not a job fit for everyone.
Like everyone else in the village, Noi respected his uncle. But even his uncle gave him a wry smile and told him that no one lives past the wasteland.
The other adults all laughed off his remarks without thinking twice. If children who didn’t know any better began to take him seriously, the adults would undoubtedly scold them into line, and the children watching would catch on as well. The more obstinate Noi became, the more they ridiculed him.
There was only one person who would take Noi seriously: Jieri, his older brother.
Jieri would say, “Yeah. It’s not like anyone’s ever really gone over there and made sure it was truly deserted.”
Noi’s brother looked at him intently and placed his hand on his head. Jieri, born much earlier than Noi, was on the verge of becoming one of the adults at the time, and his dry palm was large and bony.
“Sometimes you really have some interesting ideas. You’re clever. Maybe it’s because your mind works a bit differently than everyone else’s,” Jieri told Noi.
When Noi came home with stories of the neighborhood children making him cry, Jieri would stare mindlessly into the distance. His gaze was directed towards the southern wasteland, which shouldn’t have been visible.
No one else ever called Noi “clever” besides his brother.
Jeiri called Noi clever, but he himself was far more clever than Noi. He didn’t say much, but since he was the kind of person that would carefully think things over, unlike the quick-tempered Noi, even the adults relied on him. His mother had the habit of saying, “If only you had half the composure your brother has…”
Noi’s brother would try to put an end to the conversation by saying, “Just don’t do anything dangerous,” with a wry smile, but they would still talk about the other side of the wasteland from time to time.
Jieri was the only one to never once outright reject Noi’s assertions. His knowledge of the world outside the village, gained by tagging along to neighboring villages as his uncle’s helper, may have made him that much more open minded relative to the other adults.
At some point Jieri would probably take the place of his uncle as the “Guiding Eye”. That’s what Noi thought, and it seemed the adults thought the same.
Around the time the moon had risen high in the sky, Noi came across a strangely-shaped boulder in his path.
As he approached the sun-weathered oddity, he realized the object’s height surpassed his own. He looked up at it intently; it was the shape of some kind of bone. The jawbone of a giant creature.
He tried gently touching the strange boulder, but half of it crumbled away, unable to withstand even the miniscule amount of pressure.
As bone dust pelted his forehead, Noi stepped back a half step.
If this really was the bone of a living creature, its body would be much larger than the biggest water buffalo in the highlands. Exactly like—that’s right—the dragons that appear in tales from foreign lands.
It seemed that the stories from faraway lands his uncle told him were always some kind of absurd fairytale. Could there possibly be such a beast? Noi tried to convince himself it couldn’t really exist, but judging from the object’s sponge-like structure, he couldn’t imagine it as anything but bone.
Noi instinctively suppressed his breathing and scanned his surroundings. Fortunately, there was no sign of any large beast. Neither did he see any other similar rocks.
He cautiously made his way around the side of the strange rock and continued on his trek, occasionally glancing back.
The highlands he had left behind, now far in the distance, had become a vague shadow sinking into the depths of the night. Returning his gaze ahead, he could definitely see the black silhouette of a mountain peak.
“I was right,” thought Noi.
The peak on the other side of the wasteland, which the others had said they couldn’t see… It actually existed.
All that remained was to cross the wasteland before dawn.
As he walked, Noi sensed a figure moving in the edge of his vision and turned around in surprise.
But it was only a tall rock protruding from the ground, about the size of a person. Noi’s relief was soon followed by a rush of shame for his cowardice.
The pale blue moon was now at the sky’s zenith, casting a white light in the vicinity. A thick shadow fell short at his feet.
Ahead he saw the flicker of a red light. It seemed to be the same light he had seen in the distance when departing on his journey, generated by molten rock overflowing from cracks in the earth.
From far away it looked like one tall mountain, but as he approached he could see that there was a plateau in front of the mountain. On top of the plateau were many small cracks from which emanated red light pulsing like a heartbeat. And although still some distance away, the radiating heat reached Noi.
It didn’t look possible to get too close. It seemed he would have to find some way around the plateau blocking his way.
Could he make it around before dawn? He was gripped by a vague uneasiness and stopped cold. But there was nothing else he could do.
Once Noi was shown a blacksmith in Edgetown. The lead blacksmith gripped the rugged tool with viscous and pure red iron melting away from the tip with a hiss. The red light in the distance looked a lot like that molten iron.
Beyond the wasteland lies the “Land of the Dead”.
He thought of the story told by the elders and shivered, despite the heat pressing in on him.
Is this already the “Land of the Dead”? Maybe he had already stepped over the border without realizing it.
Right then, he thought he heard a person’s voice in the distance. Surprised, Noi looked around. But of course, there was no way anyone else would be in a place like this.
His strange thoughts caused him to hear things in the wind. At least that’s what he told himself, before his motionless feet continued forward.
Looking up to the sky, he saw the moon as clear as ever, without even a single cloud, and a star occasionally shot across the sky. This was no different than the ordinary sky that he had gazed up at from Edgetown. This was not the “Land of the Dead” but the wasteland he had often looked upon from the southern hill. He hastened his footsteps as he tried to believe this.
The mountain before him—his goal—now looked as if it were closer, but it still looked like nothing but a featureless, black shadow.
As he continued walking, his sense of time gradually eroded. He thought he heard voices again on several occasions, but listening closely he realized it was only voices of people in the village echoing in his mind—of those who laughed at his ideas, saying there was no way anyone could be on the other side of the wasteland. Or the voices of the adults who scolded him.
Noi shook his heavy head and took a sip of water. He had to get to that mountain some way or another before dawn.
But no, he had to do more than just get there. He had to climb up to a certain height. If the sun rose while he was still in the lowlands and the light of day beat down upon him, it would be all over.
“If it happens, it happens,” said a voice in the corner of his mind.
But before that, he wanted to get a look with his own eyes—a look at what lay beyond the wasteland on the edge.
By any measure, he was well past the point where he could turn around and make it back before dawn. The moon was descending slowly in the sky.
As he walked, he closed his eyes for a moment and thought of the stately magnificence of the four-legged bird prized by his uncle. “I really wanted a shot at riding that thing,” thought Noi.
The four-legged birds were large—about the height of a person. Despite being birds, they were unable to fly; however, they were strong and useful creatures. They could navigate challenging terrain while deftly carrying heavy loads. They could be ridden, but no one has ever let Noi ride one. He was told they are ill-tempered and impossible to ride unless you spend the time to train them.
He had seen off his uncle’s silhouette many times from the north edge of the village. Even if it were only one time, he had wanted the chance to ride on that beautiful bird across the highlands.
The edge of the sky was already becoming pale when Noi, shaking his dazed head, reached the foot of the mountain.
He intended to bring plenty more water than he needed but had almost finished it before making it this far. It turned out he had underestimated the route through the lowlands.
He knew he must run, but his body wouldn’t obey. As Noi dragged his feet along, he looked up at the slope before him: a bleak view, strewn with sharp boulders. Nevertheless, looking up around the peak, he could see a few small patches of green.
If he could make it up there, the air would probably be cool like in Edgetown. But it looked like there was no way he would make it in time.
Even so, Noi kept moving. He kept his eyes on the ground and walked on silently. He intended to keep on going as high as he could. Even if he didn’t survive, he wanted to try looking down on the wasteland from on high.
Before he could get very far, the light of morning shone down.
The light cut through the atmosphere, repainting the landscape before his eyes. The bluish surface of the mountain was colored with pure white.
He heard the voice of a bird somewhere far overhead.
Are there even birds in a place like this? As he raised his head in surprise his eyes went dark. He could do nothing but observe as his body fell forward.
The hot gravel dug into the side of Noi’s face. Everything went white.
At a remote corner of his fleeting consciousness, Noi thought he could hear someone’s footsteps.