an English translation of the novel

Page 66-69

We held each other’s hands and waited for the queerat ship to approach. Satoru’s hand was damp with sweat. Mine probably was too.

 

We stared silently at the scenery of Kasumiga Bay. The canoes sped across the lake much quicker than when we had been rowing them.

The three canoes were tied with thick ropes to the queerat warship. A group of strange triangular sails were raised as the ship sped forward across the water.

“I didn’t know their ships were so advanced,” Satoru said.

“Could it be that they’re more advanced in this area than humans?”

“Well we have cantus. We don’t need sails to propel a ship, right?”

No matter how big your sails are, there has to be a limit on how fast you can go. There’s no such limitation with cantus.

“That’s true…” Satoru crossed his arms and looked off into the hazy mountains.

“Who cares about the queerats. About what we were talking about earlier…”

“Yeah,” Satoru pulled out the charm from his collar.

“Check it.”

Satoru opened it without hesitation.

“Have you looked at it before?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Who hasn’t taken a peek at it?” He raised the disc to his eyes.

“So?”

Satoru’s face went pale.

“Let me see.”

“No,” he said, grasping the disc so hard his knuckles went white.

“Is something different about it?’

“Yeah.”

Satoru didn’t elaborate, but I felt a little better. At least mine wasn’t the only one that had changed.

“Could it have melted because of the heat?” I asked without conviction.

“No matter how hot it is or how weak the material is, it’s impossible. Plus it’s been in the sachet the whole time and hidden from the sun.”

“Then why?”

“I dunno,” his expression darkened. “Whatever it is, it can’t be good…”

He fell silent looking at the opposite bank.

“I guess throwing it away is the best thing to do.”

“Huh?”

Without a second’s pause, he took off the charm and threw it in the lake. Dragged down by the weight of the glass disc, the cotton sachet sank slowly into the water.

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“It’s fine, you did it too, Saki.”

“Why?”

“If they find out when we get back, something bad might happen. The fact that the purity mask is melting is definitely a bad sign. Check Shun and the others. If there’s any change, have them throw it away.”

“But then we’ll have no warning when a karma demon comes.”

“We’ll just have to deal with it when it comes then. We don’t even know what a karma demon really is,” Satoru said, his arms crossed.

“How will we explain it though? It’s easy if it’s just one person, but if a whole bunch of people lose their charms at the same time, it’s too suspicious.”


Page 70-73

“Yeah. You’re right…no, actually, it’s fine! We can just say the Ground Spiders took them from us when we were captured. That way, Shun and them can say that they were captured too.”

As expected of someone who was always up to no good. I complied, throwing the rest of my charm overboard. Come to think about it, there would have been no way to explain why only the glass disc had been thrown away instead of the entire charm. Without anything to weigh it down, my sachet floated on the water until it drifted out of sight.

As it disappeared, the queerat ship was arriving at its destination, our canoes in tow.

A Giant Hornet soldier disembarked and untied the ropes. The ropes were simply looped through a ring on the end of the canoes but you couldn’t undo them from our side.

A remarkably large queerat appeared at the stern of the warship. Kiroumaru had arrived. Although his shoulder and back had been hurt in yesterday’s explosion and were covered in bandages, he still moved around briskly, apparently unaffected by the injuries.

“How do you feel?”

“The trip was quite pleasant, thanks to you,” I said.

Kiroumaru’s wolf-like smiled reached all the way to his ears.

“Look over there. where the sun’s light dances on the water. That is the northern boundary of the Tone River. …I apologize, but we cannot get any closer. ”

“Don’t worry. We can make it on our own from here.”

Thanks to the queerats towing us with their warship, we were able to cross the huge lake in around three hours. It would have been impossible to make it before sundown if we had to row ourselves.

But I wondered why they couldn’t go any farther. Satoru looked a little dubious as well, but said nothing.

“Gods. Gods,” Squealer appeared behind Kiroumaru. “This is where we truly part. I will pray for your safe journey.”

I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. Of course, he appeared to be worried about us. But I suspected that he had been on Kiroumaru’s orders all along. First to lead us through the forest, and then to disclose our location.

“…you too. Take care. It’ll be great if you can rebuild your colony,” I squashed my suspicions and tried to reply sincerely.

As we set off, I heard Kiroumaru’s voice behind me.

“I have a request.”

“What is it?” Satoru asked.

“Once you return, please do not divulge that I towed your canoes.”

“Why?” It was an honest question.

“I can’t say, but if this were revealed then I would be sentenced to death,” Kiroumaru said, his eyes glinting with a seriousness he had not shown even in battle.

“I understand. I’ll keep it a secret,” Satoru said quietly.

I didn’t know whether it was because we had rested and regained our strength, or due to the swift currents, but the canoes traveled steadily down the river. When we looked back, the warship was already a speck in the distance.

“Kiroumaru risked his life to help us,” I said more to myself than to Satoru.

“Yeah. I’m sure he received orders from the Committee to restrain us,” he sounded rather proud that his theory had been correct. “That’s definitely also the reason he turned back where he did. The ship’s sails are visible from far away, so if there happened to be someone watching, they would know that he had his ignored orders and helped us.”

“But why…?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Satoru smiled as if mocking me for not understanding something so simple. “Because we saved him yesterday. If I hadn’t dealt with the blowdogs, Kiroumaru would be as dead as Rijin right now.”


Page 74-77

“Hey!” Shun shouted in front.

“Hey! We’re leaving now!” Satoru shouted back.

Hearing his voice suddenly opened a dam inside me. It was as if the past three days were no more than a dream, and we were just rowing down the river to in summer camp.

“Hey, Saki! What’s wrong? Hey…” Satoru sounded confused as I continued to cry, and then started laughing at the same time.

My meltdown went on for ten minutes. We soon reached the other canoes and it spread to Maria as well, turning into uncontrollable mayhem.

When I had finally cried to my heart’s content, I felt much better (though the boys seemed rather tired). We entered the northern reaches of the Tone River and started going downstream. After that it was smooth sailing all the way back to the village…or that’s what I would like to say, but in reality all sorts of troublesome situations kept popping up. First, we had no experience navigating down a river without our cantus. And as our mental and physical fatigue reached its peak, the sun started setting making it hard to see. And the straw that broke the camel’s back was our canoe sinking from smashing too often into the rocks and each other. It was a miracle that no one died.

 

When the dark curtain of night fell, the river changed again. The starlight shimmered on its obsidian surface, giving the illusion that we were frozen in place, but the roar of the water made it seem like the gentle current was becoming more violent.

I felt this instinctive discomfort. It was a feeling going back before I was born, an ancient memory left over from our cave-dwelling ancestors.

Exploring this feeling more carefully, I would say that it was a need to return home as soon as possible. Satoru and I both felt a strong anxiety toward something that awaited our return. Be that as it may, given our physical conditions right now, it would be suicidal to continue down the river at night. We had no choice but to make camp, but couldn’t find a good spot for a long time. I remembered a dry riverbed we had passed by right before the sun set and felt a flicker of annoyance. Everyone had wanted keep going as far as we could, so we continued on without stopping even though we already knew that it was impossible to get back to town even if we rowed nonstop. We should have stopped then.

We were exhausted when we finally found a place to set up the tents. It was so close to the river that if the water rose just a little we would be immersed, and the rocks were too uneven to make a nice bed. So needless to say, it was not a great spot.

We used the last of our strength to set up the three tents by hand. We dug holes for the tentpoles and covered them with canvas, tying it in place with leather straps. Somehow we couldn’t get it to look as good as it did on the first day of camp.

“Weird. Why can’t we get it right?” Satoru grumbled tiredly.

“We used our cantus that time,” Shun said, still struggling with the tent.

Come to think of it, he was right. That was just three days ago but it felt more like an eternity.

“Satoru, you still can’t use your cantus?” I asked, grasping for a ray of hope.

He shook his head. “Umm. I’m too tired to concentrate, but if it’s just a little, I think i can manage.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?” Maria interrupted, completely lost.

I told them about how I remembered Satoru’s mantra and managed to hypnotize him and restore his cantus.

“I see! So if we know our mantra, we’ll be able to get our power back,” Shun said excitedly. “That monk completely got us with his bluff. His hypnosis was no big deal! Even Saki could undo it.”

Saying ‘even Saki’ was unnecessary.

“But do you guys even know your mantra? I only happened to know Satoru’s by chance,” I looked around at them.


Page 78-81

It was dark but I could still make out their expressions.

“I know mine,” Shun said.

“Eh? How?”

“I remembered it using various methods. But no matter how many times I chanted it in my mind, my cantus wouldn’t come back. I guess you still need the hypnosis to release it.”

Our mantras had been stolen; in other words, the goal of the hypnotic suggestion was to make us forget it, so the fact that Shun managed to remember it on his own is astonishing. Shun’s explanation was that he had various mnemonic devices so that if he ever forgot his mantra, he would be able to rediscover it.

“I can’t remember mine though,” Maria said dejectedly.

“Did you write it down anywhere?”

Maria, Mamoru and I looked at each other.

“I did.” I remembered that I had carved it on a charm and hidden it under the floorboards.

“Me too.”

“Me too…it’s in my diary.”

Each syllable of our mantra was sacred, so we were forbidden to let anyone else know what it was. Strictly speaking we weren’t even supposed to write it down. But the three of us didn’t trust something so important to just our memories and had all recorded it in some form. And Satoru and I showing each other our mantra was so egregious as to be unthinkable for any other team. In hindsight, this was further proof that our group was made up of special students.

“Then we’ll be fine. When we get back to the village, Satoru and I will show them that we can use our cantus. That way they wouldn’t think that we had it sealed. The rest of you can say you’re too tired and go back home. Then after you’ve found your mantra, find Saki and she’ll restore your cantus.”

Shun’s words cleared away all my worries in an instant. Although I wasn’t happy that Rijin had been killed by the queerats, I couldn’t deny the fact that dead men tell no tales.

We cheered up considerably at this. With Satoru levitating the canvas, we set up the three tents. We gathered dried branches, built a fire, and cooked a meal of rice gruel. The food was even more tasteless than the dinner we had made the first day we arrived, but it seemed like the most delicious thing in the world.

After we ate, we sat around the fire and took turns talking about what happened while we had been separated. Shun, Maria and Mamoru’s story was completely unexciting. After Satoru and I had been captured by the Ground Spiders, they followed in an attempt to rescue us, but soon realized that there were too many guards and decided to go back to the village for help. They tried to travel during the day, but were so startled by the sounds of war that they spent most of their time hiding in the bushes. When everything fell silent at night, they crossed hurried toward Kasumiga Bay. When we caught up with them, they were so overjoyed that, in Maria’s words, “I thought I was being tricked by a tanuki.”1

In contrast, our story kept them mesmerized the entire time. They questioned us relentlessly about when we were in the Ground Spider’s cage and the part where we killed the sentry, but fell silent when we started talking about the Robber Flies being attacked and how we wandered through the underground tunnels. They cheered when Satoru miraculously recovered his powers at the last minute and launched an all-out counterattack, but went fell silent again in mute amazement as the situation evolved beyond their wildest imagination.

Since Satoru was the storyteller, I was left to correct and supplement his story. Satoru prided himself on being a talented storyteller, but he usually bluffed so much that I thought I would have to retell half the story. It was a needless worry. The three of them listened like a group of children, with their mouths half open and eyes shining with amazement.

There was silence when Satoru finished his tale, filled with only the sound of the crackling flames. Then someone opened their mouth and the dam was released. Among all the questions thrown at us, the one everyone was most interested in was why we had been so keen on running away from Kiroumaru when he had protected us.

1 Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) are known in folklore to be devious shapeshifters

Page 82-86

Satoru explained again. I was prepared for a violent response to the news that we had probably been marked for elimination by the Ethics Committee, but they took it rather well. It helped that Shun seemed to agree with me that Satoru was over-thinking the whole thing. Plus, we were all in such a good mood right now that the shock was diminished. If everything went as Shun said, we would be able to hide everything about Rijin sealing our cantus. The most we would have to endure was a scolding from our teacher.

“Saki, I’m counting on you,” Shun passed me a scrap of paper. “Please restore my cantus.”

I took a deep breath and nodded.

I unfolded the paper and read it by the light of the campfire. It was a rather long mantra, a total of eight phrases, or thirty-six characters. I had planned on burning the note as soon as I read it, but with a mantra this long, I wasn’t positive I could remember it. I crumpled the note in my hand.

It’s okay. I can do it. I just have to repeat what I did to Satoru. I tried calming myself with these words. In reality though, there are three major differences in these two instances. For one, Shun was completely conscious. Furthermore, he’d be fully aware that I would be hypnotizing him, and he already knew his mantra. But I didn’t think of any of this at the time.

“Look at the flames.”

I called up my memories of the initiation ceremony, and directed Shun’s attention to the campfire. Head Priest Mushin had told me to imagine moving the flames, but it probably wouldn’t have the same effect on someone whose cantus had been sealed.

“Look at the flickering flame. Right. Left. Swaying…flickering,” I whispered.

Shun kept silent. The other three watched me with bated breath.

I stirred the fire with a long branch, scattering bright sparks. I wasn’t expecting it to replicate the same effect of the flames in the altar, but the sparks left traces in the air, creating a dreamy mood.

“Shun Aonuma.”

He didn’t move an inch. I couldn’t tell if he had been hypnotized or not.

“Shun Aonuma. You have broken the rules coming to a place you do not belong. Furthermore you have been swayed by the words of a demon. However, the real problem is much greater.”

There was no response.

“You have violated the foundation of the Code of Ethics, the last of the Ten Precepts, ‘do not desecrate the Three Jewels’. You have fallen for the words of a demon and questioned the teachings of Buddha. Therefore I must seal your cantus.”

I thought I heard Shun sigh. It seemed to be working. I continued a little uncertainly.

“Look at the flames once again.”

No answer.

“Look into the flames.”

There was still no response, but I could see the fire reflected in his eyes.

“Your cantus is sealed in that human emblem. Do you see it?”

A much louder sigh this time, then, “Yes.”

“The emblem is cast into the fire. Everything is burned away. All your worldly desires are burned away, and the ashes return to the vast, wild earth.” I took a deep breath and said loudly, “The emblem has been eradicated. Your cantus is now sealed!”

A small choked sound came from the back of Shun’s throat. His breathing sped up.

“Cast aside your worldly desires. To reach nirvana, cast everything into the cleansing flame.”

It was time. I stood up and went closer to him.

“Shun Aonuma. In your devotion to Buddha, you have abandoned your cantus. By the compassion of Buddha, you will receive a new mantra, a new spirit, and your cantus will be returned to you!”

I hit him on the shoulders and whispered the words written on the paper, “Oṃ amogha vairocana mahāmudrā maṇipadma jvāla pravarttaya hūṃ.

Later I found out that these words came from the Buddha himself; it was the Mantra of Light. This alone was a clear indicator of Shun’s talents. He was born with the expectation of becoming a future leader.

Suddenly the fire flared up to three times its previous size and fanned out like an eight-headed serpent, twisting and meandering through the air like some strange dance.

Shun was smiling, looking up at the fire. We broke into applause, clapping, stamping, and whistling. The cheering didn’t stop for a long time. Shun had recovered his cantus.