an English translation of the novel

Page 345-346

“You are all very special. Most students are regularly hypnotized from a young age so that we can control their minds. They are unable to even think about bad or potentially harmful things. However, we did not, by and large, take the freedom of thought away from you and your friends.”

“Why us?”

“Because docile lambs alone cannot protect the town. Leaders must be broad-minded and tolerant. Their convictions must be strong enough to even do dirty work from time to time. To match the changes in the town over the years, the leader needs to be a highly adaptable individual who strives to survive no matter what.”

“So I was put into team one for that?”

“Yes,” she said simply.

“What about Satoru? Was he chosen because he’s your grandson?”

“My grandson…” Tomiko smiled inscrutably. “The name Asahina is just a string of syllables Satoru and I happen to share. Team one was a group of students with special qualities. Having all of you together made things much easier to manage.”

She stood up suddenly and went to the other side of the hearth. Crouching next to the orange-striped cat, she rubbed it behind the ears. It purred delightedly.

“But unforeseen incidents kept happening. My biggest regret was having to dispose of the boy we had the greatest hopes for…” She glanced at me then resumed talking normally. “This time too. It would have been impossible for any other children to consider running away from the town and living on their own. They would have been paralyzed with fear at the thought of crossing the Holy Barrier. But those two are different. Threatened with death at home, they chose instead to live alone in the wilderness.”

I was speechless. Somehow, she had seen through everything.

“A very rational decision, if you ask me. It is the result of free thinking. But right now, it threatens the fundamental safety of the towns.”

Page 347-348

“Is their departure really such a big problem to the towns?” I asked. “I don’t believe Maria or Mamoru will ever return. So I don’t think they will be a negative influence…”

“You don’t see the true nature of the problem,” Tomiko said sadly.

“What do you mean?”

She stopped petting the cat.

“Do you know the state of the population in the Japanese archipelago?”

I was confused by the question. “Not really…”

“In the past, it was the first thing taught in geography classes. But now, such basic information is treated as highly confidential.  …at present, the population of all nine districts combined is estimated to be between fifty and sixty thousand.”

“That many?” I said, surprised.

“In the ancient civilization, this would be a startlingly small number. A thousand years ago, there were over a hundred million people in Japan alone.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Hundred million” was a unit used to count fish eggs, not humans. For one thing, it would be difficult to secure food for that many people. And if everyone were to live in the most accessible areas, there wouldn’t even be room to breathe.

“Did you know? The ancient civilization had something called nuclear weapons. Through fission of radioactive elements, or nuclear fusion of deuterium, one bomb had the power to wipe out an entire city.”

“An entire city…?”

I couldn’t imagine why on earth anyone needed a weapon like that. Just for argument’s sake, even if they wanted to conquer and gain wealth, destroying the city protecting it would make the victory completely meaningless.

“Managing such a weapon was incredibly stressful. Which country had the most bombs, which country was developing new ones…but perhaps the situation we face now is even worse.”

Page 349-350

“I don’t understand. I mean, those weapons don’t exist anymore, right?”

“Correct. Now, the world is filled with something that is potentially far more fearsome.”



Tomiko tickled the orange-striped cat under its chin and its purr rumbled through the floorboards like thunder.

“Think back to what I told you before. A single fiend could easily kill an entire district. Moreover, unlike nuclear bombs, a fiend slaughters for as long as its body permits. …and as for karma demons, the mental imbalance of one individual could mean the end of life on Earth.”

“…but those are special cases, so if we guard against them properly-”

“No, that’s not how it works. You are too preoccupied with the processes by which cantus can go out of control. The real problem is that cantus is unlimited energy. Right now, there are fifty to sixty thousand people living on the Japanese archipelago, and you must imagine that each one has the destructive potential of a nuclear weapon. …so when two of these weapons go missing, how would you deal with them?”

The tortoiseshell cat, twice the size of a lion, got up and stretched. It yawned, showing long saber-like teeth. It paid me no attention as it walked lazily away, making the floorboards creak under its weight.

I would be lying if I said Tomiko’s words didn’t come as a shock to me, as I had never looked at humans that way before. Those in power probably looked at everything from that perspective so as to be prepared for the worst. But at the time, I thought it was simply the paranoid fears of an old woman.

“Bring them back,” she said. “If you want them to live, you must bring them back. I will vouch for their safety. If they continue to hide, they will not live long.”

Page 351-352

“How come?”

“The Board of Education will devote all their attention to their disposal. The nearby queerat colonies would all receive orders to kill them. And that’s not all. All the neighboring districts they might come into contact with, like Shiroishi 71 in Tohoku, Tainai 84 in Hokuriku, and Koumi 95 in Chuubu would all receive letters asking for help in their disposal. They all have their own methods of dealing with threats, which they will naturally use to defend themselves.”

“That’s so cruel!”

“Yes, so bring them back before it happens. I will give you three days. I’ll delay the Board of Education for three days. In that time, find them and bring them back even if you have to tie them up and drag them with you. Don’t worry, I’m sure you can do it.”

I sat up straight and took a deep breath. There was no room for doubt. I had already decided.

“I understand. I’ll leave immediately.”

“Good luck.”

I stood up, bowed and made to leave. My eyes fell upon the black and grey striped cat. Its eyes were narrowed and its tail was waving slightly from side to side. It appeared to be bidding me goodbye, but the look on its face was similar to that of a cat stalking a bird.

“I would have been prey for those cats had you not come, am I right?” I turned from the doorway and looked gratefully at Tomiko.

“I’m not too sure,” she smiled faintly.

A new question arose in my mind.

“But why do you hold so much…influence?”

Tomiko didn’t answer for a moment. Just when I was starting to regret that I had asked something rude, she stood and came over to me.

“I’ll take you to the dock. Afterwards, I’ll tell your parents where you’ve gone.”

“Thank you.”

Page 353-354

We left the Board of Education’s office together, like a granddaughter accompanying her grandmother on a walk. It was still snowing slightly, and tiny flakes danced around us. Through the white fog of my breath, I looked back at the evil building. It was no small miracle that I had made it out of there alive.

“Your question earlier…” Tomiko held her hand up to catch the drifting snow.

Her hands were unexpectedly youthful. There were no wrinkles on her wrist, and no veins showed under the skin. Flakes of snow melted in the palm of her hand.

“I think this is a good chance to tell you about some things.”

I swallowed and waited for her to continue.

“It’s true that I hold a lot of power in the district. Possibly enough to be a dictator or absolute monarch if I wished.”

I didn’t think she was bluffing. After all, she had dealt with the fearsome Board of Education like they were children.

“Do you know what the source of power is? You were not taught much about the history of mankind, so the question may be a little difficult. In the past, men used violence, fear, wealth, religious brainwashing, and so forth to obtain power. I didn’t use any of that. All I had on my side…was time.”

“Time?” I didn’t get it.

“Yes. I’m completely unremarkable as far as humans go, but I had a lot of time.”

We arrived at the dock. The boat Tomiko prepared for me was already there. When did she give the order for that? It was wedge-shaped, meant for quick travel, and was equipped with skiis like the ones I had used a few days ago.

“Saki, what age do I look like to you?”

That was a difficult question. It would be rude if I guessed older than she actually was, but I couldn’t come up with a good guess anyway, so I told her the truth.

“About sixty…seven?”

“Good guess, I’m surprised. …you got the last two digits right,” she grinned. “I’m 267 years old.”