an English translation of the novel

Page 65-66

I just recently learned about a phenomenon called poltergeists that was recorded in ancient literature.

In my hands, I’m holding some books salvaged by the library my mother works at. Stamped on the cover was the character 「訞」.1 Those of us in Harmony School and Sage Academy are allowed to read class one books stamped “recommended”, “excellent”, and “good”. But class four books like this one are unavailable to most civilians. By a twist of fate, it had escaped biblioclasm by being buried deep in an underground storage room.

According to this book, during a time in the past when not everyone had cantus, there were often reports about ghosts knocking on the walls, silverware dancing in the air, furniture moving by itself, creaking sounds in an empty house, and other strange phenomena.

But in most reports, there always seemed to be adolescent children in the household. One analysis of this is that most children are going through a lot of emotional struggles during that time, and their sexual energy is unconsciously manifested as psychokinesis.

In other words, poltergeists are actually events of recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK), and it goes without saying that the Spirit of Blessing that visited me was not a spirit, but an instance of RSPK.

 

A lot of things happened in the three days that followed the events of that night. Representatives from the Board of Education came to our house shortly after my parents notified them that I had acquired my cantus. There was an elderly woman in white robes, a young woman who looked like a teacher, and a middle aged man in what looked like a monk’s work robes. The old woman in the middle wasted no time in questioning me about my health and emotional condition in minute detail. I thought that I would be admitted to Sage Academy after that, but this was just the beginning.

I was taken away from my home for a while. The older lady said that this was part of the procedure to enter Sage Academy and not to worry. My parents sent me off with a hug and a smile, and didn’t voice any misgivings they might have had.

I boarded a windowless houseboat and was given a bowl of something they said was anti-seasickness medicine. It was sweet, like brown sugar, but the aftertaste was incredibly bitter. My mind went blank right after drinking it.

It’s not a character used in modern times, but is the same as 「妖」, which means something like “bewitching”.

Page 67-69

I could feel the boat traveling at a good speed, but had no idea which direction it was headed in. From the way the waves hit the boat and the sound of the wind, I guessed that the path we were traveling was not very wide. Maybe we were on the main current of the Tone river. I wanted to ask, but thought it was probably better not to talk more than I needed to, so I didn’t. The younger woman accompanying me questioned me incessantly the entire time. There wasn’t a theme to what she was asking, and it didn’t seem like she was writing down my answers.

Three hours later, after many twists and turns, the boat stopped. The harbor and the surrounding area were well covered, giving no view of the outside.

And just as I expected, as we walked up the stairs into a temple-like building, no part of the outside world was visible.

A young monk in black robes and a recently shaved head came out to greet us. The trio from the committee appeared too. I was led to an empty, traditional-style room. On the wall was a scroll with freshly written calligraphy. I couldn’t read what it said, but it looked similar to the one hanging in Harmony School.

I knelt down on the tatami, but at the monk’s directions, switched to sitting in the lotus position, with the tops of my feet on my thighs. He seemed want me to meditate and collect myself. Since we had to meditate every day at Harmony School, I was used to this, but secretly wished I had worn a more comfortable pair of pants.

I breathed deeply into my stomach and tried to settle my mind as quickly as possible. But I needn’t have hurried, because I ended up waiting for two or three hours anyway. During that time, I realized that the sun had set. Time seemed to pass at a different speed that it usually did. I was only half-heartedly trying to calm my mind. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on just one thing.

As the room darkened, I started feeling a little bit uneasy. At first I couldn’t figure out why, then I realized that even though it was near sunset, I couldn’t hear “Going Home”. No matter where you are in Kamisu 66, you can always hear that melody. If I was far enough that I couldn’t hear it, then it meant that I was outside the Holy Barrier.

Was that even possible?

Nature called. I spoke aloud asking if anyone was around, but there was no answer. I had no choice but to step outside. The corridor had nightingale floors that screeched with every step. Thankfully, the bathroom was right around the end of the hall.

When I came back, a lamp was lit and an old bent-backed monk with a white mustache was sitting in the room. Even though I was only twelve at the time, I was already taller than him. He looked ancient. He was wearing rough, heavily patched robes, and even without saying anything gave off an air of affability. I knelt before him.

“How are you? Are you hungry?” he asked, smiling.

“Yes, a little.”

“Since you came all the way here, I would like to treat you to our vegetarian cuisine, but unfortunately you have to fast until tomorrow morning. Can you do it?”

I was disappointed, but nodded anyway.

“By the way, I am the preceptor of this ravaged temple. My name is Mushin.”

I straightened up reflexively. There was no one in Kamisu 66 who didn’t know the name of the holy priest. Like Shisei Kaburagi who was revered for his powerful cantus, Mushin was loved and respected for his character.


Page 70-72

“I’m…Saki Watanabe.”

“I know your parents well,” he said, nodding. “They were outstanding as children, and I expected them to become people the town could depend on. And they did, just as I thought.”

I didn’t know what to say, but it wasn’t unpleasant hearing my parents being praised.

“But your dad really liked practical jokes. He used to throw fake haythatcher eggs at the bronze statue every day. The smell was terrible and we didn’t know how to get rid of it. That was my statue, by the way. Ah, at that time, I was the headmaster at Harmony School.”

“Oh, really?” It was my first time hearing that Head Priest Mushin had been a headmaster. I also found it hard to imagine that my father’s personality used to be the same as Satoru’s.

“Saki, you’ll be entering Sage Academy soon and becoming an adult. But before that, you must seclude yourself in this temple for the night.”

“Um, where is this temple?” I knew it was rude to interrupt him, but I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer.

“This is the Temple of Purity. Usually I preside over the Pure Land Temple at Hayring, but I come here to burn cedar sticks for coming of age ceremonies.”

“By any chance, are we outside the Holy Barrier?”

Head Priest Mushin looked faintly surprised. “Yes. It’s the first time you’ve been outside the barrier since you were born. But don’t worry. There’s a barrier that’s just as powerful as the Holy Barrier around this entire area.”

“I see.”

Head Priest Mushin’s calm voice alleviated my uneasiness.

“Well then, it’s time to get ready. The lighting of the cedar sticks itself isn’t so special; it’s just a normal ceremony. Before that we’ll have a short sermon. It’s not a very formal one, so relax. Also, it might make you kind of sleepy, so it’s okay if you fall asleep.”

“But that’s…”

“No, no, it’s okay, really. Insomniacs have come to my temple for this exact purpose, though that was a long time ago. Anyway, spending an entire night not sleeping, but not doing anything else either is a waste of time, in my opinion. Once, there was a sermon I had to give, but no one wanted to listen to it, so I found a bunch of insomniacs and made it a kind of gathering for them. Within the first ten minutes, everyone was soundly asleep.”

Head Priest Mushin’s speech wasn’t slow and stagnant like most people of his age. He had an ability to charm his audience. I laughed and talked with him easily.

Speaking of the sermon, it wasn’t so boring that I fell asleep, but it wasn’t particularly riveting either. It was about the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Basically, to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about how you would feel.

“…this seems simple, but is hard to truly understand. Take this for example. You and a friend are hiking up a mountain and get hungry along the way. Your friend brought a rice ball and starts eating it, while you have nothing. You ask if she’ll share it with you and she says ‘no, it’s not necessary’.”

“Why?”

“Because I can endure your hunger.”


Page 73-77

I was shocked. Even as an allegory, this was too unreasonable.

“I don’t think there’s anyone like that.”

“Of course not, but what if there was? What would you think? What part of what they said is wrong?”

“Which part…” I was at a loss. “I think they’ve violated the Code of Ethics.”

Head Priest Mushin shook his head, smiling slightly. “Something so obvious probably isn’t in the Code of Ethics.”

Of course, if they had written down every little rule like that, the Code of Ethics would have so many volumes that if would overflow from the library all the way to the Holy Barrier.

“The answer to this isn’t something rational; it’s emotional.” High Priest Mushin thumped his chest.

“My heart?”

“Exactly. Can you feel your friend’s pain in your own heart? If you can, you’d want to help them somehow, right? This is the most important thing to humans.”

I nodded.

“Can you feel another’s pain?”

“Yes.”

“Not just hypothetically. Can you really take someone else’s pain and perceive it as your own?”

“Yes, I can,” I answered confidently. I thought the oral interview was over, but Head Priest Mushin’s reaction was different from what I expected.

“Then why don’t we try it out?”

While I was pondering what he meant by “try it out”, Head Priest Mushin took a knife out from inside his robes and unsheathed it to reveal a dully glinting blade. I was shocked.

“The experiment is, can you feel my pain when it is presented to you like this?” Without warning, he stabbed himself in the leg with the knife.

I stared, dumbfounded.

“With enough training, we can endure any pain inflicted on our bodies. Plus, at this age, I don’t bleed as much anyway…” he mumbled disjointedly.

“Please stop!” I shouted, finally coming to my senses. My voice cracked and my heart thumped madly in my chest.

“This is for you. Can you really, truly feel my pain? If you can, then I’ll stop.”

“I can feel it, so please stop!”

“No, you can’t feel it. You’re still only imagining. Real pain comes from the heart.”

“That’s…” What was I supposed to do? My legs wouldn’t move.

“Is it okay? Until you feel the pain, I have to keep doing this. This is what I must do to guide you.”

“B-but, how can I…”

“Don’t imagine it. Recognize it. You. Did. This. To. Me.” High Priest Mushin’s voice was full of pain. “Do you understand? You. Are. Making. Me. Suffer.”

I thought my heart was going to stop. What in the world was I supposed to do to save him?

“Please, help me,” he said in a low, hoarse voice. “Stop this, help me.”

How should I explain the atmosphere then? It was completely irrational, but I gradually believed that I was actually torturing the head priest. Tears flowed unceasingly from my eyes.

Head Priest Mushin groaned in pain. The hand holding the knife in his leg was twitching slightly.

Then something unbelievable happened. My body stiffened and I was unable to move, my field of vision narrowed and there was a huge weight on my chest, leaving me breathless.

“Please. Don’t. Kill. Me.”

Those words triggered something. A sharp, stabbing pain started from the left side of my chest and ran all the way to the top of my head.

I lost my balance and fell sideways onto the tatami.

My heart. My breath, I couldn’t breathe. My mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.

I saw Head Priest Mushin peering down at me like he was observing a lab specimen.

“Please get a hold of yourself.” His voice came from far, far away. “Saki, it’s okay. Look, nothing happened to me.”

Through blurry eyes, I saw him stand up like nothing had happened. There didn’t seem to be a wound anywhere.

“Look carefully. I don’t have any wounds. The knife is fake. It’s made to not pierce anything.”


Page 78-80

When he pushed on the blade, it retracted into the handle.

I remained lying on the floor for a while, utterly confused.

The pain faded away and I could move again.

I got up, seething quietly at this prank. Before I could open my mouth to complain, the changes in my body took me by surprise.

“Shocking, isn’t it? But with this, you’ve passed the final test,” Head Priest Mushin’s face had returned to its usual benevolent expression. “If you can feel another’s pain as your own, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s time to grant you your own mantra.”

My body felt normal again, but I still could do nothing but nod.

“But please don’t forget the pain you felt. Remember it every once in a while and make it a part of you.” His words went deep into my heart. “This is what makes humans different from beasts.”

 

The monk who was praying threw some pill-shaped things and poured fragrant oil into the altar and the flames flared.

The sound of the monks chanting sutras behind me sounded like the echoing chirps of a thousand crickets.

After washing myself, I put on white clothes like those used to dress a corpse. I sat behind the praying monk and put my hands together.

The ritual continued without end as my fatigue peaked. It had to be close to morning. Scattered thoughts floated up and vanished like bubbles. I could no longer think straight.

{Every time something was thrown into the flames, it was as if my sins and worries were being burned away, but the ritual was taking so long that I thought I must be a person with particularly deep sins and worries.}

“Now, your heart and body have been sufficiently cleansed. From here, let the last of your worldly desires be burned away,” Head Priest Mushin said from behind me.

I bowed once. Finally, I was being released.

“Look at the flames.” The voice I heard from the darkness sounded like it was coming from the heavens. “Look at the flames.”

I fixed my gaze on the fire dancing above the altar.

“Try to control the flames.”

“I can’t.” Ever since the Spirit of Blessing came, I hadn’t once tried to use my cantus.

“It’s okay, you can do it. Make the flames sway.”

I stared at the fire.

“To the left, to the right. From side to side…side to side.”

It was hard to concentrate, but after a while, my focus suddenly sharpened and the flames flared up. The inner flame grew brighter and the heart of the flame was almost transparent. The outer edges of the flame flickered.

Move. Move.

No, it’s not the flame, I realized all of a sudden. Fire is made of a bunch of shining particles, but they’re too spread out to have much substance.