an English translation of the novel

Page 81-82

I have to move the air.

I saw that I had to move the heat haze around the flame. The clear shimmering current of hot air.

I deepened my concentration.

Flow. Flow… Faster.

The movement of the heat haze sped up abruptly.

In the next instant the fire was whipping from side to side as if blown by gusts of wind.

I did it.

It was a brilliant moment of success.

I didn’t believe that I could do it. That I could move something at will, without using my hand.

I took a big breath and once again reached out to the flames with my consciousness.

“That’s enough. Stop.” A severe voice cut in.

My concentration collapsed like a house of cards, the image I had in my mind swallowed by darkness.

“Your last desire is your cantus.”

I wasn’t able to comprehend what that meant right away.

“Cast away all your desires. In order to be enlightened, they must be purged by the flames.”

I couldn’t believe it. I just got my cantus. Why did I have to give it up again?

“You must return to the gods the power granted to you by heaven. From now on, your cantus will be sealed in this human emblem.”

Disobedience was not allowed. A doll made of two pieces of folded paper was placed in front of me. On the head and torso were mysterious Sanskrit-looking characters.

“Control the emblem and make it stand.”

This task was considerably harder than the last. In addition, my heart was too conflicted for me to concentrate.

But eventually, the emblem fluttered and stood up.


Page 83-84

“Put all your emotions into the emblem.”

Paper head. Paper body. Paper limbs.

An unmistakably human figure.

I felt my own body merging with the paper emblem. I sent strength into its legs, balancing like a daruma doll.

The paper figure stood up gently.

Once again, feelings of happiness and power flowed through me.

“Saki Watanabe, your cantus is sealed!” His voice rang through the temple, shattering the shining image I had in my mind.

Six long needles whistled through the air, piercing the emblem’s head, body, arms and legs.

“All your desires have been burned away. Let the ashes return to the vast, wild earth.”

The praying monk tossed the emblem into the fire.

The fire flared like an explosion, almost scorching the ceiling.

“Your cantus has been eradicated.”

Stunned, I could only stare at the events unfolding before my eyes.

“Look at the flames,” Head Priest Mushin commanded me again. “You can no longer control them anymore. Try it.” His voice was emotionless.

I looked into the fire, but this time, I couldn’t see anything. No matter how hard I tried, nothing changed.

Would I never be able to grasp that feeling of power again? Tears ran down my cheeks.

“In your devotion, you have abandoned your cantus,” his voice was suddenly warm and gentle again. “By the compassion of Buddha, you will receive a pure mantra, a new spirit and a your cantus, once again.”

He hit me on both shoulders with a Zen stick. I hung my head, and the sound of chanting grew louder.

Head Priest Mushin leaned in close so that only I could hear and whispered my new mantra.


Page 85-86

Having written up to here, I’m extremely perplexed.

No matter how I try, I can’t write down my mantra.

Even now, our society puts a lot of importance on the meaning of our mantras. They’re words offered to the gods that are the keys to activating our cantus. We are warned to never use them in vain lest the power be lost.

On the other hand, these are just the words to the spell — sounds without meaning. So revealing it here shouldn’t cause any harm.

I want to understand the reasoning behind that. In the deepest parts of my subconscious is a natural defense against exposing my mantra. Even now, I can feel the hand holding the pen being restrained every time I try to write it down.

So for those who want to know what a mantra is, I’ve written an example below.

 

Namo ākāśagarbhaya oṃ ārya kamari mauli svāhā.

 

Incidentally, this is the mantra of the Akasagarbha bodhisattva given to Satoru.

The rest of my initiation dragged on for a long time, so I won’t write it all down. When it was finally over, the sky was brightening in the east, and everyone was exhausted.

I slept like a log for a full day afterwards. When I woke up, I spent a day in service with the studying priests, and the day after that I was allowed to go home.

Head Priest Mushin and the other monks in the Temple of Purity wished me good luck and bid me farewell under the leafing cherry trees. I got into the window-less houseboat once again and traveled back to the village — the journey only took two hours this time.

My parents hugged me tightly for a long time. There was a celebration that night; the table was filled with all my favorite dishes. There were oven-warmed yam dumplings, raw altered-protein flounder filets, savory tiger crab soup…

With that, my long childhood had come to an end. The next day, I would start a new life.

The food names sound strange. I don’t really know how to make them sound more appealing

Page 87-90

Sage Academy, like Harmony School, is in Hayring, but much farther to the north, near Pinewind. My teacher from Harmony School accompanied me into the stone building, but told me to enter the classroom alone. My mouth was dry with anxiety.

Immediately to the right of the open door was the podium. On the wall in front of me hung the academy’s motto. On my left were amphitheater style seats, where thirty or so students were sitting quietly.

Mr. Endou waved me toward the podium and I felt my legs shaking as I approached. Never before had I been the focus of so many people; I felt naked and defenseless.

I couldn’t even muster up the courage to look up at the class as I stood at the podium. I chanced a fleeting glance and saw that everyone’s eyes were averted. That instant reminded me of something. Not Harmony School, but definitely some place I’ve been to before. What was it? The same ambience hovered over the class like a fog. It was a strange sense of deja vu.

“This is your new classmate, Saki Watanabe.” Mr. Endou wrote my name on the whiteboard. Unlike the Harmony School teachers, he didn’t actually write on the whiteboard. Using his cantus, he somehow made black particles gather on the board in the form of words.

“You’re already friends with students from Harmony School, right? Please get along with those from other schools as well.”

Applause rippled through the class. I realized that everyone was as nervous as I was.

Feeling slightly better, I looked up at the class and saw that Maria, Satoru and Shun were waving at me.

Upon closer inspection, I saw that roughly a third of the students were in the same grade as me in Harmony School. Although students entered the academy separately, it made the most sense to group them according to age. Realizing this alleviated my worries considerably and for the first time I wondered what I would be learning here.

During recess, the other Harmony School students gathered around me like they had been waiting for me for ever.

“Took you a little while, didn’t it,” were Shun’s first words. If Satoru had said the same thing, I would have snapped at him, but I just smiled.

“Sorry for making you wait.”

“Seriously, I was almost tired of waiting,” Maria said, turning my head to face her and rubbing her forehead against mine.

“I’m just a late bloomer. It’s not like the Spirits of Blessing that come earlier are better, right?”

“True, but you’re the last from Harmony School. Whatever the reason, your Spirit of Blessing was too lackadaisical,” Satoru said, completely oblivious of his own shortcomings.

“I see you haven’t changed at all…” as I said this, a question popped up in my mind. “Wait, last? That’s not right, there were still some people left after me.”

Everyone fell silent and their expressions went as blank as a shinshi’s purity mask.

“…we don’t study just theory here, we learn practical skills too. Did you know, I’m the top of the class at surface water manipulation.”

“You suck at force exchange though.”

“The teacher said that what’s important at this point is just the mental image.”

Everyone started talking at once. It all sounded like gibberish to me. They were discussing the classes, as if showing off the knowledge they had learned before me. I didn’t like this feeling. But I fell into the habit that had been ingrained in us, namely, to pretend that certain forbidden topics never existed in the first place.

Since I couldn’t really follow the conversation, I listened intently, and formed a rather strange first impression of the class. Unmistakably, I had felt the same thing at some time, somewhere.

When the bell rang and everyone was heading back to their seats, I suddenly remembered.

“Lotus Farms…”

Only Satoru’s sharp ears heard my murmur.

“What was that?”

After a moment of hesitation, I answered.


Page 91-93

“This class reminds me of that farm. Remember? The one we went to in Harmony School.”

Hearing the word Harmony School, Satoru’s expression became shrewd.

“Sage Academy is like the farm? What are you talking about?”

“Just the overall feeling is the same.” There was an unpleasant feeling I couldn’t quite pin down.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Satoru also seemed to be in a bad mood all of a sudden, but our conversation ended there as class started.

 

Lotus Farms, where we had gone for a social science field trip, is in Gold village. As the graduation period got closer, we were suddenly taken on numerous field trips. It seemed like they wanted us to think about what sort of job we wanted in the future. The sight of the production sites amazed us and made us want to hurry and grow up. The products made at pottery and glass workshops that were part of the craft guild were extraordinary. When we saw them using their cantus to create incredibly strong ceramic pieces and glass as clear as air, we all declared that we wanted to apprentice there after graduating from Sage Academy.

But the thing that left the deepest impact on us was on our last field trip to Lotus Farms.

Lotus Farms is a series of experimental farms spread out over the villages and the biggest collective farm in the town. The first one we went to was a saltwater rice paddy in Whitesand. The rice we eat comes from the paddies in Gold, but here were fields of rice immersed in saltwater. Using something called reverse osmosis, they’re able to filter out the salt in the water. We sampled the rice, and to our surprise, found it completely edible, with only a hint of saltiness.

The next time, we went to a sericulture facility, where a lot of the silkworms spun rainbow cocoons. Not only did the fabric made from these silkworms not need dyeing, they also didn’t fade or lose color when washed.

In the neighboring building were foreign species used for reference in selective breeding. Silk worms from Indonesia were known for their golden silk, Tasar silk worms from India made threads ten times thicker than usual, hundreds of silk worms from Uganda spinning cocoons the size of rugby balls, and more.

The best were the Hitachi silkworms kept in an isolated, airtight room. The two meter long, three headed worms were feasting on copious amounts of mulberry leaves and simultaneously spitting out silk from one of its three mouths. It was as if they had forgotten that they were supposed to be making cocoons and were just spitting silk in all directions. The inside of the observation window had to be cleaned off often to stop the silk from covering it completely. The tour guide explained that since the insects were so big, they had trouble breathing, so oxygen was pumped into the enclosure. The concentration of oxygen was so high that if there were an open flame near, the whole thing would blow up, which is why the worms were kept in an air locked room.

Next to the sericulture farm were fields with potatoes, yams, onions, radishes, strawberries and other plants. This time it was the middle of winter and some of the fields were covered in snow-like bubbles. Potatoes and yams are susceptible to frost damage, so when the temperature dropped too much they used the bubbles produced by an insect called a seedbed froghopper to keep the plants warm. These bugs were originally a type of harmful pests known as froghoppers, but were mutated into a useful type with cantus.