an English translation of the novel

Page 100-102

The house of cards rose in the blink of an eye.

I snuck a glance at Satoru sitting next to me. Looked like it was going well. He was already on the fourth layer. Satoru sensed that I was looking and spun the four of hearts card he was levitating with a smug expression on his face.

Determined not to lose, I focused on the house of cards before me. It was a simple task — stacking playing cards into pyramids — but actually doing it involves a lot of discipline in using your cantus.

First and foremost was concentration. The slightest touch or breath of wind would knock the house down. Next was spatial perception. Third was multitasking — you had to be able to pay attention to all that while looking out for signs that the house was about to fall and correct it in time.

Incidentally, there’s a story saying that when Shisei Kaburagi tried this assignment, he was able to complete it instantly by imagining a pyramid made of eighty-four cards. But no one else has ever been witnessed doing such a thing, so it’s probably just an exaggerated tale.

In Harmony School, we were instructed to build card houses on many occasions. I never thought that it would have been in preparation for Sage Academy.

“Saki, hurry it up,” Satoru said, unnecessarily.

“This isn’t a fair game. But don’t worry, I won’t lose to you.”

“Stupid, competing amongst ourselves isn’t going to do anything. Look at team five, they work really well together.”

I looked over and saw that all the members of team five were moving at the same pace, moving steadily toward the tip of the pyramid.

“And like always, our ace is in top form.”

As Satoru said, Shun was undeniably the best in our class. He had already built it up seven levels and was working on the eighth. No one else in the class could control cards the way he did, like the gentle flapping of butterfly wings. It was fascinating to watch.

“…but there’s also someone holding us back,” Satoru sighed, looking over the group.

Next to Satoru, Maria was working at almost the same speed as Shun, but her technique was sloppy and she had knocked over some of her cards twice already. But since she managed to fix it quickly each time, her pace was the same as ours on the whole. Next to Maria, Mamoru was almost the exact opposite. He worked almost unbearably carefully, but the result that his house was extremely stable. However, his slow pace meant that he was just barely above average in the class.

The problem was Reiko, sitting the farthest end. She hadn’t even completed one layer yet.

It was depressing watching her work. Her cards were shaking the same way a child’s hand would shake if they were bad at building card pyramids. Reiko was from Gold village, so I’d never seen her in school before, I have no doubts that she was also bad at making card houses back in Morality School.


Page 103-104

Even so, her clumsiness was astounding. When it looked like she finally got the cards to stand up, it would collapse and she would have to start all over again.

“It’s so bad it’s almost funny,” Satoru shook his head and turned back to his own cards. “As long as she’s here we’ll never win.”

“So what? Reiko’s a good person, she just hasn’t had a breakthrough yet.” Even as I said that, I knew it was a lie. Reiko Amano couldn’t use her cantus well. No matter what task we were given, her results were always different from the dictated goals.

Earlier, we were playing a game similar to telephone in order to hone our image replication skills. Each group sits in a line and the first person is given an oil painting to look at. They then reproduce the picture as a sand drawing using their cantus and show it to the next person in line. That person only has a few seconds to look at the drawing before they have to reproduce it as accurately as possible. The team whose final drawing is the most faithful to the original wins.

For us, team one, I thought our image construction and transmission techniques were exceptional. Shun especially stood out from the rest of us. His pictures were so good they looked like photographs. The next best was Maria. Unfortunately, I was not as skilled as she is in producing accurate and artistic images.

If Satoru were first, he might not be able to do it, but he was great at copying sand drawings. I was the exact opposite; I was able to create sand drawings based on the originals. Mamoru was quite artistic and could produce beautiful pictures, but they weren’t always accurate.

Out of the six of us, Reiko was always the one messing up. If I were to be perfectly honest, her sand drawings looked like marks in the sand left by the torturous struggles of a dying crab. No matter how closely I looked at her pictures, I had no idea what she was drawing. No matter what position she was placed in line, her drawings never looked like anything other than random scratches.

In the house of cards competition too, her slowness was a deciding factor in our loss. The team with the highest number of cumulative layers wins, but before that, each member must build at least seven stories.


Page 105-107

And this time, Reiko made a fatal mistake.

I was concentrating so hard on my own cards that I’m still not entirely sure what she did. Her cards suddenly flipped through the air and smacked into Maria’s.

Unsteady as it was, Maria’s card house was the second tallest of the group. It was flattened in an instant.

“Ah, I’m s-sorry!”

Needless to say, Reiko was panicked. Maria sat stunned for a few moments before she began rebuilding her pyramid twice as quickly as she had been doing. But given how little time we had left, even if both Shun and Maria’s pyramids were complete, it wouldn’t have been enough. Before she could even complete the third layer, a whistle blew, signaling the end of the competition.

“I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did something like that…” Reiko kept apologizing incessantly.

“Don’t worry about it. I knocked it over a bunch of times myself, anyway,” Maria said, smiling, but her eyes were empty.

Here, I’ll give a brief introduction of team one. The six members are Shun Aonuma, Maria Akizuki, Satoru Asahina, Reiko Amano, Mamoru Itou, and me, Saki Watanabe. You might have noticed that the names are in alphabetical order, so it would have made sense for me to be in team five, but I somehow wound up in team one. Since three of my good friends are in the same group, I thought it was done as a special consideration to help me get used to Sage Academy.

 

After class that day, Maria, Satoru, Shun, Mamoru and I walked down a small path that ran along the canal near school. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to be friends with Reiko, since we did hang out with her pretty often, but that we felt it might be awkward for her to be around us after messing up so badly.

“I wanna be able to use my full power already,” Satoru said, stretching.

Everyone felt the same way. Since we were still students, we couldn’t use our canti in public. Unlike the classes in Harmony Schools, the lectures at Sage Academy were long and tedious, but we had to go through them before our canti would be unsealed for the practical course at the end of the day.

“When you get to use your full powers, I have to be sure run away as far as I can,” I teased.

“Why?” said Satoru sullenly.

“No particular reason.”

“I already have perfect control. But you’re clumsy as a drunk.”

“I think you’re both really good,” said Shun, trying to placate both of us.

“Hearing this from you, I can’t really be happy,” Satoru kicked a pebble into the canal.

“Why?” Shun asked, genuinely confused. “I’m not lying. I really think that both of you are good. Your cards didn’t go flying the wrong way or anything.”

“Aah, stop it already,” Maria sighed, covering her ears.


Page 108-109

“Hmph, Shun’s unconsciously looking down on us. Don’t you think so, Saki?”

To tell the truth, I agreed with Satoru, but I didn’t say that.

“Don’t lump me in with you. You’re the only one being looked down on.”

“What? No I’m not,” Satoru grumbled, then suddenly fell silent.

“What’s wrong?” Maria asked.

Satoru pointed to an area of the canal six or seven meters ahead of us. “Look at that.”

There were two humanoid shapes shrouded in dirt-colored robes.

“…queerats?” Maria whispered, twisting a lock of red hair between her fingers.

“Yeah. What are they doing?”

Shun was fascinated, as was I. This was the first time I had ever been this close to a queerat.

“We shouldn’t stare,” Mamoru warned. His curly hair always made it look like his head was exploding. “In Friendship, if we saw queerats,we were told not to stare or get close. Didn’t they ever tell you in Harmony School?”

Of course we had been, but it’s human nature to want to do things you’ve been told are forbidden. We advanced slowly, keeping an eye on their movements.

I remembered what my father had told me when I was younger. As we got closer, we saw that the queerats were in the process of cleaning the trash that collected in the bends in the canal where the water flowed slower. They were diligently scooping up leaves and twigs with nets on bamboo poles.

Something like this could be done in an instant with cantus, but no doubt humans find it too boring to be worth their time.

“They’re working pretty hard.”


Page 110-111

“But it looks hard to hold a net with hands like that.”

I was thinking the same thing as Maria.

“It sure seems like it. Their skeletons are structured differently from ours, just standing on two legs is hard enough.”

It was just as Shun said. Even though we couldn’t see their bodies covered by the robes, the arms holding the nets looked rodent-like, and they balanced unsteadily on their hind legs.

“…we shouldn’t be watching them,” Mamoru took a few steps away from us and turned his back to the queerats.

“Come on, nothing’s gonna happen…hey, watch out!” Satoru ran forward shouting.

One of the queerats had tried to lift up a net laden with leaves that was heavier than it had anticipated. With a huge wobble, it pitched forward.

The other queerat tried to catch it, but was a second too late. The first queerat fell headfirst into the canal.

There was a huge splash. We rushed forward.

The fallen queerat was struggling under the water about a meter away. It couldn’t swim very well. In addition, leaves and twigs were tangled all around it, preventing it from moving.

Its companion dashed back and forth in a panic — it didn’t seem to realize that it could hold out the net for the queerat to grab.

I took a deep breath and concentrated.

“Saki, what are you trying to do?” Maria asked, surprised.

“Helping it.”

“Huh, how?”

“It’s better not to have anything to do with them!” Mamoru shouted in a cowardly voice from behind.

“It’s fine, I just have to lift this part to get him back to shore. It’ll be easy.”

“You can’t be serious…”

“You can’t just use your cantus whenever you want.”