Makura Katsuragawa placed her hand over her nose as if to cover up the ravages of frostbite. “You’ve been saved,” she said.
“Saved? What does that mean, saved?” Kayu Saitoh asked.
“Well, this isn’t Paradise, if that’s what you mean.” Makura Katsuragawa grinned. “We’re on the other side. Of the Mountain, that is. The Mountain’s between us and the Village. So the Villagers won’t find us here. It’s a good place. Now isn’t that a comfort?”
Kayu Saitoh had never thought about life outside the Village during the seventy years that she had resided there, so Makura Katsuragawa’s words gave her a new shock. She understood vaguely on a theoretical level that there were places outside of the Village, of course, but the idea that she herself was no longer in the Village was beyond her comprehension, in the same way that she understood that birds could fly but couldn’t imagine flying herself.
“So you Climbed the Mountain too, right, Kayu?” Makura Katsuragawa lowered her face. “I was mighty sorry to see you in the state you were, collapsed in a heap at the top. But everything’s all right now. We dragged you along to Dendera.”
“Den . . . dera?”
“That’s what we call this place. When I was dumped in the Mountain eighteen years ago I was all afeared and cold, the crows were pecking at me, but then the people of Dendera saved me, just like you. Sasaka Yagi and Naki Sokabe and Nokobi Hidaka all Climbed the Mountain that year too, and all of them were rescued as well.”
“This place . . . has been here since before you Climbed the Mountain?” Kayu Saitoh asked. More…