Around the time people stopped talking about the “Devil’s Bone”…
A military vehicle was heading to the northernmost part of this country, the Valley of Gondoa.
Even the waves of the Industrial Revolution had not reached this land.
Under the endlessly vast blue sky, the steep mountains covered in snow all year round stretched out into the distance.
Even in such a place, people clung to life in hollows shaped by glaciers, living in ancient stone houses, planting potatoes between the rocks left by glaciers, keeping livestock resilient to the cold, and enduring a long winter with just a little stockpile of food.
At this time, there’s no snow in the valley.
“Lord Muska, we are at the entrance of the valley.”
After passing through the town of Gondoa and traveling for hours on the northernmost highway, which was scarcely traveled, and then further along a mountain road just wide enough for a vehicle, they reached the valley’s entrance.
Even though it’s called an entrance, cars can’t traverse the steep slope carved into the ridge.
From the military vehicle, four men in civilian clothes, all wearing black glasses, disembarked.
The ground is rough with sparsely grown withered grass. Even with the sun still up, it’s chilly.
Leaving Muska behind, the three carefully spread out to ensure there’s no one around. Two hours later, they regrouped at the vehicle.
“Was there a lake?” the man called Muska asked.
“Yes, sir, on the left.”
“And the Giant’s Face?”
“Yes, it seems to be the rock formation on the right side of the valley. It looks like a human face.”
“It seems we are in the right valley. Hide the vehicle. One of you stay on the lookout. We’ll move when it gets dark.”
Muska quickly gave his orders and took cover behind some rocks near the valley’s entrance. The lookout returned when the sun was behind the mountains.
“A girl entered a house. It appears she lives alone.”
They extinguished their campfire, buried their trash, and started the vehicle, all movements being efficient. Their actions were well-trained.
Leaving one person in the running vehicle, the three approached the house where the girl was.
Then, placing two more people on the lookout outside the house, Muska silently entered inside.
From deep within, the faint sound of dishes touching could be heard.
Muska slowly looked around the room.
In the center, or rather, taking up most of the room, was a huge fireplace reminiscent of medieval times. Only a chair and pot were near it; there wasn’t much else of note.
A faint flame burned in the hearth.
The sound from the back stopped, and the light of a lamp approached.
Almost simultaneously, as the lamp’s light illuminated Muska, the girl let out a short scream and dropped her bowl of milk.
She stood dazed, her mouth slightly open.
Muska approached the girl and took the lamp, which hung from a gold ring on her arm.
“You’re Sheeta, aren’t you? I’ve been looking for you. I’m Muska, from the government’s investigative agency. I need your cooperation on something. Come with me.”
Sheeta remained silent.
Into the home of a 12 or 13-year-old girl, he had entered silently, and although he spoke gently, his demeanor was undeniably oppressive.
It was unbelievable.
“Come on, there are clothes ready for you where we’re going.”
When Sheeta realized she was truly about to be taken away, a deep fear welled up within her.
“I need to tell my neighbor, the old lady!”
She darted past Muska, pushing the door open, and rushed outside.
The abrupt motion startled the yaks in the livestock shed, causing them to start bleating.
Muska didn’t bother to chase her.
The neighbor’s place was quite far, and his men were waiting outside.
Muska calmly and deliberately approached the hearth.
On one of the bricks, an emblem of a bird was engraved.
When Muska pulled out a small wooden box from behind that brick, the men who had been with Sheeta entered.
“Lord Muska, she seems to have given up; she’s calmed down now.”
“Is that so? Finally willing to cooperate with the government? Well then, miss, shall we go?”
As Muska tried to put the wooden box into his pocket, Sheeta, noticing, began to struggle.
“Give that back!”
Both her arms were seized by two of the men, and she writhed in apparent pain.
“…That… No one should see that… It should never be handed over to anyone…”
“That’s why I’ll take good care of it. Now, let’s go.”
With Muska’s sharp voice as a cue, the men exited the house and began walking briskly.
Then, Sheeta spoke to the men.
“Please, open the livestock shed. If you don’t…”
She wanted to say that if they didn’t, the yaks and goats would die.
Without waiting for Muska’s order, one of his subordinates went to open the shed’s door.
“You’re too soft,” Muska remarked with a smirk.
In the dark valley, the voice of the yaks echoed.
Sheeta thanked the man who had returned, but his expression was cold once more.
The car started moving.
Instinctively, Sheeta felt that she might never return to this place.
At the moment, she didn’t care where the car was heading or why she was being taken away.
The sheer sadness of having to leave the place filled with memories of her deceased parents weighed on her.
And also, having her mother’s only keepsake taken away…
Sheeta looked back at the valley from the car’s window.
The valley was no longer visible.
On the breeze descending from the mountains, it seemed to her as if she could hear the calls of the yaks and goats.
Sheeta whispered to herself.
That night, the sky was filled with shining stars.