an English translation of the novel

Page 15-16

Kamisu 66 consists of seven villages spread out over a fifty kilometer circumference. It’s separated from the rest of the world by the Holy Barrier. A thousand years from now, the barrier may not exist anymore, so I’ll briefly explain. It’s a thick straw rope hung with paper streamers1 that acts as a shield preventing impure things from entering the town.

Children are warned to never step outside the barrier. Evil spirits and monsters roamed outside and any child who ventures out alone would suffer terribly.

“But exactly what kinds of scary things are there?” I remember asking my father, albeit less fluently, one day when I was around six or seven years old.

“A lot of different kinds,” he looked up from his documents. Resting his chin on his hand, he looked at me affectionately. Those warm brown eyes are burned into my memory to this day. Never once has my father looked at me sternly and only once did he raise his voice. It was because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and would have fallen into a gaping hole in the ground if he hadn’t warned me.

“Saki, you already know, right? About queerats and copycats and blowdogs.”

“But mom says those are just made up.”

“The others may be, but queerats do exist,” he said so nonchalantly that I was shocked.

“Lies.”

“They’re not lies. Queerats were recruited to help construct the town recently too.”

“I’ve never seen them.”

“We don’t let children see them.” Father didn’t say why, but I imagined that it was because queerats are too hideous to be seen.

“But if they listen to humans, then they’re not that scary, right?”

Father put down the documents he had been looking over and raised his right hand. As he chanted a spell in a low voice, a thin fiber of paper transformed, like invisible ink being revealed, into a complicated pattern woven into the paper. The seal of approval from the mayor.

1 The rope is called shimenawa, and the streamers are shide

Page 17-19

“Saki, do you  know what ‘false obedience’ means?”

I shook my head quietly.

“It means appearing to obey someone, but actually thinking the opposite underneath.”

“What do you mean by ‘the opposite’?”

“Deceiving the other person, and secretly planning to betray them.”

My jaw dropped.

“People like that don’t exist.”

“You’re right. People betraying other peoples’ trust is impossible. But queerats aren’t people.”

For the first time, I felt the stirrings of fear.

“Queerats worship and obey us because we have cantus.1 But we don’t know how they will behave toward children who’ve not yet awoken to their cantus. That’s why we have to prevent queerats and children from meeting no matter what.”

“But when you give them work to do, don’t they have to come into town?”

“During those times there’s always an adult supervising them.” Father put the documents in a filing box and raised his hand again. The lid shimmered and melted into the box, forming a hollow lacquered block. Because no one else knows what he was visualizing as he used his cantus, it’s hard for anyone other than father to reopen the box without breaking it.

“Anyway, don’t ever go outside the Holy Barrier. Inside, the strength of the barrier makes it safe, but if you take one step out, you won’t be protected by anyone’s cantus.”

“But the queerats…”

“It’s not just the queerats. You’ve learned the stories about fiends and karma demons at school, right?”

My breath caught in my throat.

Fiend and karma demon stories are taught repeatedly during our early years of development. It becomes imprinted in our subconscious. Even though the versions we learn at school are made for children, they still gave us nightmares.

“Are there really fiends…and karma demons and stuff like that outside the Holy Barrier?”

“Uh huh,” father smiled slightly to comfort me.

“Those are old legends, they don’t exist now…”

“It’s true they haven’t been seen for the past hundred and fifty years, but it’s better to be prepared for the unexpected. Saki, you wouldn’t want to suddenly meet a fiend like the herb-gathering boy did, right?”

I nodded silently.

Here, I’ll summarize the stories of the fiend and the karma demon. However, it isn’t the fairy-tale children’s version, but the full, adult version everyone learns when they enter Sage Academy.

1 The name “cantus” used by the fansub group UTW comes from the word “incantation” which is one of the kanji in ‘juryoku’.

Page 19-23

Tale of the Fiend

 

This is a story from about a hundred fifty years ago. There was a boy gathering herbs on the mountain. Engrossed in this activity, he came to the Holy Barrier. He had picked just about all the herbs inside the barrier when he happened to look up, and saw that there were still plenty of herbs outside.

He had always been warned never to step outside the Holy Barrier. If for some reason he absolutely had to, he must have an adult with him.

But there were no adults around. The boy was tempted and thought stepping outside for just a little bit was okay. He poked his head out first. He just needed to duck under the barrier, pluck some herbs, and come right back. That’ll be okay.

The boy slid quietly under the rope. The streamers swayed and rustled. 

At that instant, he suddenly had an unpleasant feeling. In addition to the guilt at disobeying the adults, there was another feeling of unease he had never experienced before.

Reassuring himself that nothing was wrong, he approached the herbs.

Then he saw a fiend coming toward him.

Even though it was about the same height as the boy, it had a scary appearance. Its anger swirled like a fiery halo, burning everything around it. As the fiend approached, it mowed down everything in its path and made the foliage burst into flame. 

The boy went pale, but he forced himself not to scream and stepped back. If he could just slip back under the rope, the fiend should vanish.

But a branch underfoot snapped.

The fiend turned its head, face completely devoid of emotion. It stared at the target of its anger.

The boy ducked under the rope and took off as fast as he could. Everything would be okay as long as he entered the protection of the barrier.

But when he looked back, the fiend had also ducked under the rope!

In that instant, the boy realized that he had done something irreparable. He had invited a fiend into the barrier.

The boy cried as he ran down the mountain path. The fiend chased him relentlessly.

The boy ran along the edge of the barrier, toward the stream in the opposite direction of the village.

When he glanced behind him, the fiend’s face was hidden by the underbrush. Only its glowing eyes and leering mouth were visible.

The fiend was seeking a path to the village.

He couldn’t let that happen. If the fiend followed him back, the entire village would probably be destroyed.

As he cleared the last of the underbrush, a sheer cliff appeared before him. The roaring of the river at the bottom reverberated up the walls. Across the gorge hung a new rope bridge.

The boy didn’t cross the bridge. Instead, he headed upstream along the edge of the cliff.

When he looked back, the fiend had arrived at the bridge and was looking around for him.

The boy ran determinedly.

Shortly, another bridge appeared in the distance.

He neared the bridge silhouetted against the cloudy sky. Worn out by years of exposure to the elements, it swayed eerily as if beckoning to him. 

The bridge could fall at any time. No one had used it in over ten years and he had always been warned not to.

Slowly, the boy started across the bridge.

The ropes made a disturbing creaking sound. The planks were made of oak, but looked ready to break at any moment.

When he was about halfway across, the bridge lurched suddenly. Looking back, he saw that the fiend had also stepped onto the bridge.

The bridge swayed more and more wildly as the fiend came nearer.

The boy glanced down at the bottom of the valley. It was dizzyingly far.

He looked up. The fiend was already closing in on him.

When he could clearly see the fiend’s unpleasant face, the boy brandished the sickle he had been carrying, and in one movement, cut through the ropes holding the bridge.

The bridge swung down and the boy almost slipped off but somehow managed to grab onto the rope.

Did the fiend fall to the bottom? The boy looked. Somehow, the fiend was also clinging to the rope. It slowly turned its murderous gaze toward him.

The sickle had fallen into the valley. He couldn’t cut the ropes anymore.

What should he do? He prayed to the heavens. It doesn’t matter if I die; please don’t let the fiend get into the village.

Did the boy’s wish reach the heavens? Or was it that the ropes could no longer bear their weight?

The rope snapped, sending them down into the valley. The boy and the fiend disappeared from view.

Fiends have never appeared since then.


Page 23-26

There are a couple of lessons in this story.

Kids can easily understand that it’s teaching you to stay within the Holy Barrier. For slightly older kids, it’s probably trying to tell us that we should be more concerned about our village than ourselves, and be prepared to sacrifice our lives for it.

But the smarter you are, the harder it is to understand the real lesson.

Who would have thought that the real aim of the story is to let us know that fiends really do exist?

 

Tale of the Karma Demon

 

This story is from about eighty years ago. There lived a boy in the village. He was an incredibly bright child, but had one flaw. As he grew older, this flaw became more and more obvious.

He was extremely proud of his intelligence and looked at everything else with disdain.

He pretended to accept the teachings in school and from other adults, but the important lessons never really reached his heart.

He began to sneer at the foolishness of adults and laugh at the laws of the world.

Arrogance sows the seeds of karma.1

The boy gradually drifted away from his circle of friends. Loneliness became his only companion and confidant.

Loneliness is the seedbed of karma.

In his solitude, the boy spend a lot of time thinking. He thought about forbidden things and questioned things better left alone. 

Unclean thoughts cause karma to grow unchecked.

The boy unknowingly built up more and more karma, and transformed into something inhuman — a karma demon.

Before anyone knew, the village was empty; everyone had fled in fear of the karma demon. It went to live in the forest, but all the animals there disappeared too.

As the karma demon walked, the plants around it twisted in all sorts of unimaginable shapes and rotted.

All the food it touched instantly turned into lethal poison.

The karma demon wandered aimlessly through the dead, deformed forest.

Eventually, it came to realize that it shouldn’t be living in this world.

The karma demon left the darkness of the forest. Before his eyes, he saw it, wreathed in a glittering radiance. He had arrived at a deep lake nestled in the mountains.

It walked into the lake, thinking that water as pure as this would surely cleanse him of his karma.

But the water surrounding it instantly became dark and murky, and started turning into poison.

Karma demons should not exist in this world.

It understood that, and quietly disappeared into the bottom of the lake.

1 Although the kanji he uses is “karma”, I think he actually means sin, because it seems to only be used negatively in this book. “Karma” itself doesn’t have any good or bad connotations; it’s simply the culmination of actions committed in former lives.

Page 26-29

The lesson here is probably more straightforward than in the fiend story.

But of course, that doesn’t mean we understood the real meaning behind it. At least, not until that that day, where in our endless despair and sadness, we saw a true karma demon before our very eyes…

 

Sorry, sometimes as I’m writing, a flood of memories threaten to suffocate me and I can’t control it. Let’s go back to my childhood.

Like I wrote before, Kamisu 66 is made up of seven villages. In the center is where the town’s administration is gathered. On the eastern bank of the Tone River is the village of Hayring. To the north, in the middle of a forest dotted with big houses, is Pinewind. East of that, the forest opened up to the coastlands, where Whitesand is. Adjacent to Hayring in the south is the village of Waterwheel. On the other bank of the river toward the northwest is the village Outlook, whose name comes from its location. Lined up with the rice paddies in south is Gold, and Oakgrove is the westmost.

My hometown is Waterwheel. This name probably needs a bit of explanation. Dozens of canals leading off of the Tone River wind through Kamisu 66 and people come and go by boats. Despite that, the constant movement of the water meant it was clean enough to bathe in, though you might think twice about drinking it. In front of my house, in addition to a lot of brightly colored red and white koi swimming around, there were also a lot of water wheels, which is where the name comes from. Every village has water wheels, our village has quite a number of them, and they made for a magnificent sight. Overshot, backshot, undershot, breastshot… Those are all the ones I can remember. There might have been more. A lot of them were used to relieve us of mundane tasks like hulling rice and milling wheat.

Among them was a kind of water wheel only some villages had, with metal blades used to generate electricity. The valuable energy is used to power the loudspeakers on the roof of the public hall. Uses of electricity outside of this was strictly prohibited by the Code Ethics.

Every day just before sunset, the loudspeakers would play the same melody. It’s called “Going Home” and came from a part of a symphony written a long, long time ago by a composer with the strange name of Dvorak. The lyrics we learned in school go something like this.1

 

The sun sets over the distant mountains

Stars stud the sky

Today’s work is finished

My heart feels light

In the cool evening breeze

Come, gather around

Gather around

 

The bonfire burning brightly in the darkness

Now dies down

Sleep comes easily

Inviting me to disappear

Gently watching over us

Come, let us dream

Let us dream

 

When the song plays, all the children playing in the fields had to return home. That’s why whenever I think of the song, sunset sceneries reflexively appear in my mind. The town during twilight. Long shadows on the sandy soil of the pine forest. Dozens of grey skies reflected in mirrored surface of the paddy fields. Groups of red dragonflies. But the most vivid memories are of watching the sunset from the top of the hill.

When I close my eyes, one scene comes to mind. It was some time between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, when the weather had just started getting cooler.

“We have to go home now,” someone said.

1 I translated the lyrics, but the original English can be found here