“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 second part, the end of the story. 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 can survive beyond this point, but young Noi can 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 II a)
When he opened his eyes again, it looked like his uncle was still drifting in and out of sleep. He called out through the darkness, and his uncle responded somewhat sleepily.
After a ready-to-eat meal, his uncle suddenly said in earnest, “Was it really only that you couldn’t stand the teasing?”
When asked if the teasing was the only reason he came this far, he was speechless at first. But the silence between them was too heavy, so he finally opened his mouth, giving into that weight.
“Jeiri?” his uncle asked; Noi hung his head.
“Jieri went to the other side of that wasteland.”
Noi still remembered those words his mother whispered, hoarse from crying.
One day, Noi’s brother suddenly disappeared right before his eyes. It had been a long time since then—many tens of moons ago.
Noi had great pride in his brother. Everyone depended on him, and he always lent a hand to others whenever he could. Every time Noi looked up at his calm expression, he thought of how great it would be if he turned out to be only half the man his brother was.
“Jieri got sick and died,” whispered his uncle bluntly.
His voice resonated with grief. Even now he lamented the loss—a farewell much too soon.
“That’s right…you never saw his body did you? Because his sickness was contagious.”
It was a serious illness for a child, not uncommonly fatal, so Noi’s mother wanted him by no means to see the body of his brother. And if that weren’t enough, his brother’s body was burned and buried without even the semblance of a funeral.
“That makes sense. He just disappeared one day and you were told he had died. How could you believe that without seeing him with your own eyes?”
Noi, tucked into a ball, buried his chin in his knees and grappled intently with his turbulent emotions.
Noi had such pride in his brother. The one and only person who would believe what he said.
“I wonder what’s on the other side of that wasteland.”
Noi still remembered his brother’s face as he strained his eyes towards the southern sky and uttered those words.
“Jieri isn’t here,” said Noi’s uncle.
After a long pause, he whispered, “This is not the ‘Land of the Dead’. After seeing it yourself, I guess you can understand that, right?”
Noi tried to say that’s not what he meant, but he swallowed his words. It’s not like he was childish enough to truly take his mother’s words at face value and believe that if he crossed the wasteland his brother would be there.
His uncle was looking at him, but not to rush his answer. Urged by his uncle’s glare, he began to speak.
“It should have been me…” said Noi, ashamed of his quivering voice. “It should have been me who died…instead of my brother.”
He noticed his uncle’s eyes slowly growing wide.
“Did someone say that to you?”
Noi shook his head in silence.
He knew it without being told. Everyone thought it would have been better if Noi had died instead of Jieri. Noi was not clever like his brother, nor was he as well liked by the people of the village. He was short and weak, and barely any use working in the fields. Without being told, Noi could understand that quite well on his own.
“You just try and say something like that in front of your mother!”
Noticing the shock in his uncle’s voice, Noi raised his head.
“I wish you could have seen it. That look on your mother’s face when she came to shake me awake. Yeah, you’re really going to get it when we get back.”
Partway through speaking, a laugh slipped into his voice. Listening in a daze, Noi swayed his knees uncomfortably. His body began to ache here and there from sitting on the stone floor for so long.
Everyone thought it would have been better if Noi had died rather than his brother. Noi was confounded as his deeply-rooted belief was shaken: his mother no doubt thought the same. Was his uncle really telling the truth? He wondered if his mother was in the midst of a sleepless night, worrying about him, at that very moment.
No matter how much he thought about it he would never arrive at an answer, so Noi decided to change the subject. “Hey uncle.”
“Where do dead people go?”
His uncle pondered the question with no indication of answering right away.
“Well, people say that the souls of the dead turn to wind and rise up into the sky but…”
Noi had never heard that story. His uncle let out a short laugh, perhaps because of Noi’s dubious look.
His uncle said he heard it from a traveller—someone who helped him in the neighboring village where he went to acquire salt. Someone who never settled in one place, bouncing from one land to the next—the life of a nomad. That was the first Noi had ever heard of such a person.
The traveler said that bodies of the dead turn to dust and their souls turn to wind, then they fly carefree throughout the skies of the whole world.
“The whole world?”
“Yes. Even to places that no one has ever been.”
“Even the edge of the world?”
His uncle gave a short laugh. “I guess so.”
After filling his stomach, a light drowsiness came over him and he rubbed his eyes. In the darkness, there was no way to know how much the day had progressed, but before Noi woke, his uncle had gone to look out the door and see how bright it was. He informed Noi that the timing would be perfect for departure after another quick nap.
The moon was a bit brighter than the night before but cast a light that was somehow cold over the wasteland.
Noi tore a cloth his uncle had brought and tied it to his feet for protection, but even then, the cracked earth was still hot enough to singe his feet.
When he turned around to look at the structure where they had taken refuge, it was weathered and crumbling, amazingly maintaining its form after all this time, and the outer wall, made by cut and stacked stones, had several gaps that had fallen away.
He took in the ruins of a few structures nearby that had completely collapsed and even saw something like a well in an area that appeared to be the town center. When he peered inside, it was as if the well had completely dried out long ago—nothing but a deep hole, black like it would swallow one up—and even if he listened carefully, there was not a sound to be heard. Nor was there anything resembling moonlight reflecting from the surface of water.
As he left the ruins behind and began walking through the wasteland towards the village, Noi looked back quite a few times.
“I wonder what life was like for the people who dwelled there? In a place so scorching hot.”
“Well…” said his uncle, appearing to think for a moment.
“Maybe they had the know-how to withstand the heat. But if that were the case, you would expect that they’d still be living there. Or maybe this area was cooler long ago.”
Noi’s uncle asked him if he had seen the skeleton of the large animal on the way over. Noi gasped in surprise. He was talking about that weathered rock that looked like the jaw of a gigantic beast.
“Assuming the wasteland used to be much cooler than today, maybe people were able to migrate to lands even further south. As the heat gradually increased, they would have retreated back to the area around our village.”
As Noi listened to his uncle, he had a thought and spoke up. “Maybe you have it backwards.”
“Backwards?” echoed his uncle, puzzled.
Noi nodded vigorously and added, “Maybe they didn’t come here from Edgetown at all. Maybe people originally from the south migrated back where they came from.”
It was just an idea, but his uncle didn’t laugh it off. Rather, he seemed impressed and muttered, “That’s an interesting idea.”
That phrase, reminding him of his brother, gave him a lump in his throat.
His uncle stayed silent with Noi for a while, then said, “Do you want to try coming to the neighboring village with me when you get a little older?”
Noi gasped and looked up.
His uncle stopped walking and looked Noi right in the eyes. His expression was serious. Noi realized that it wasn’t just an idea his uncle was throwing out at the spur of the moment.
Noi looked up, not answering right away. There was no way he could really see his brother, having turned to wind and crossing the sky, but instead, he stared intently at the stars, determined to outshine the moon—signposts in the sky to help cross this untrodden wasteland.
He had thought his brother would probably inherit the role of the “Guiding Eye” from his uncle someday. Loved by everyone and always happy to help. The cleverest and kindest, Jieri.
His uncle didn’t press him for a quick answer and soon began to walk again. Noi followed. Regardless, they must now hurry onward.
The two continued on in silence—from the wasteland where shadows were cast by the pale blue moon, to the world of the living.