an English translation of the novel

Page 69-70

 

“-ki. Saki?”

Satoru’s voice brought me back to the present.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just spaced out for a moment.”

“Oh. …let’s go that way. There’s some sort of show going on there.”

I took his hand and started clip-clopping down the street in my clogs.

Although the wide streets lining the canals were brightly lit with braziers, blackness extended into the distance on either side of us. It was as if we were walking on a bridge suspended above the land of the dead. The illuminated path was safe, but if we ventured off into the darkness, we would never be able to return.

As far as I can remember, I had never missed the Summer Festival, and I’ve experienced this strange feeling each time.

Along the path were other people heading to the festival. Everyone was wearing yukata and clogs, and holding paper fans. Happy sounds of talk and laughter echoed all around, but to me they just seemed as meaningless as the rustling of the wind.

I saw the monsters ahead. Both wore straw hats and had covered faces, and one wore a tengu mask that completely hid their identity.

The two monsters offered the passersby wine. We took the paper cups and drank the wine in one swallow. It was sweet sake. I began to feel a little tipsy just from that.

“Look, the lanterns are coming.”

He pointed at the clusters of lanterns being carried on long poles. In the ancient civilization, each pole was carried by one person, but the ones we had now weighed over a ton, making that was impossible. Every summer, each of the seven towns design and build their own lantern, but Withertree had not participated since the disaster twelve years ago, so Hayring usually built two lanterns to make up for it. This year, the town of Withertree was making a comeback, and there were eight lanterns in all.

The giant lanterns came slowly down the path. The one right before me was from my own town of Waterwheel. The lanterns were decorated with pictures of various waterwheels. Overshot, backshot, undershot, breastshot…


Page 71-72

A number of monsters ran behind the lanterns. They were all short, almost child-sized. All wore hats and animal masks instead of the usual cloth masks.

“Look, the child-monsters.” I pointed, but they had already run out of Satoru’s sight.

“Children? Weird, since when did they have children dressing as monsters?”

“But they just went by. Over there.”

A loud bang announced the arrival of the first fireworks of the night. A brilliant flower of light bloomed in the dark sky. Then came the second, and the third. The colors and shapes reminded me of chrysanthemums and peonies. A cheer went up a twinkling golden lights fell like cherry blossoms. These were done with pure pyrotechnical skills, no cantus involved.

“…beautiful,” I whispered.

“Yeah.” Satoru put his arms gently around my shoulders.

Following the fireworks, a traditional band struck up a tune that echoed all around us. The unique sounds of the flute, drums, and gong brought forth the heady ambience of the Summer Festival.

What was I doing here?

I asked myself this as we continued to walk.

It hadn’t even been a week since I learned of Maria’s death. In that time, I had kept myself busy with work and the festival had hardly crossed my mind.

Still, everyone attended the Summer Festival. Apart from those who were sick or looking after children at the day-care centers, no one shut themselves in on this day. I couldn’t bear the thought of spending this time alone.

There was another reason I had accepted Satoru’s invitation to the festival. The seasonal festivals in Kamisu 66 all followed a theme. For example, the Demon-chasing, Planting, and Illness-dispelling festivals during the spring dealt with plentiful harvest and health. The summer festivals were to worship our ancestors and pray for happiness in the next world. In other words, this was the night when the worlds of the dead and the living were in close proximity.


Page 73-74

If Maria wanted to see me again, I was sure she would show herself somewhere at the festival. That subconscious thought was probably the reason I decided to come.

As I got closer to the open square that was the center of the festival, the performance tower and stage decked out in red and white banners came into view. Although there was still some time before the main event, most people were already tipsy on wine and having fun catching goldfish or throwing darts at the game booths. These games were difficult without cantus, but there was an unsaid agreement among everyone not to use our powers on this night. The performers and lantern bearers were the only exceptions.

“Hey wait, I want to get some cotton candy,” Satoru said as he headed toward a booth.

I looked around aimlessly and spotted a little girl wearing a yukata.

Maria… It couldn’t be. I blinked. But her red hair pinned by a silver barrette looked just like Maria’s when she was young. Even her yukata, white with blue dots and red goldfish, looked exactly like the one she used to wear.

I walked slowly toward the girl. But when I was about four or five meters away, she suddenly took off running.

“Wait!” I shouted, and started chasing after her.

She ran away from the festival center and toward the darkened canals.

“Maria!”

I ran as fast as I could, but in my haste and unfamiliarity with wearing clogs, nearly tripped over. I caught myself with cantus and looked up, but the girl was already gone.

“Saki! What’s wrong?” Satoru’s voice came breathlessly from behind.

“Sorry. It was nothing.” I turned to face him.

“Nothing? Then why did you suddenly take off like that?”

“I…”

I couldn’t say I was chasing after a hallucination. Now that I looked, I had run much farther than I thought, and the area around me was mostly deserted.

“You just shouted ‘Maria!’ didn’t you?”

“You heard?”


Page 75-76

“Yeah. Did you see her?”

I looked silently up at the pitch black sky. In addition to being the night of a new moon, the stars were obscured by a thick layer of cloud.

“…I don’t know. It might have only been a kid who looked a lot like her.”

Still, even just looking at her from behind, the similarities were too precise to be coincidence. But if Maria had wanted to meet me, why did she run away? It was almost as if she were leading me here.

There was a faint buzzing by my ear. I jumped away from it instinctively.

“A mosquito,” Satoru said, sounding disconcerted.

Spotting it in the light of a brazier, he flicked it away with a twanging sound.

“Why is there a mosquito here?”

Usually, there are no flies or mosquitoes inside the Holy Barrier. Especially not mosquitoes, since everyone hated the thought of having their blood sucked and killed them on sight.

“Maybe it came in when someone headed out into the mountains.”

“On the night of the festival?”

Were there people who got drunk enough to go wandering outside the Holy Barrier on this night?

“Um, or maybe Inui and his team are back.”

A week ago, the Wildlife Preservation officers had set out with the grand goal of killing two hundred thousand members of the Robber Fly colony within three days. But it hadn’t happened. Yakomaru’s entire army had vanished, as if they had sensed that the gods of death were coming after them and gone into hiding.

“Could that be it…”

After my experience in summer camp, I knew that sleeping out in the open, eating rationed meals and whatever could be scrounged up in the forest was extremely tough. So they might have come back into town to restock and recharge. But I also got the feeling that Inui’s team wasn’t the type to leave a mission incomplete .

“Well, let’s go back. The firedrawing contest is about to start.”

Firedrawing was using cantus to create beautiful pictures out of fireworks shot into the sky. Every year, the most powerful cantus users competed against each other to the wild cheers of the watching crowd. It was the highlight of the Summer Festival.


Page 77-78

“Okay…”

Thinking back on it now, I still don’t know why I turned to look behind me. It was as if I were being controlled by someone. What I saw made my blood run cold.

“Saki, what’s wrong?” he asked, sounding perplexed.

“Over there…!” I pointed toward the canal with a trembling finger.

“What? I don’t see anything.”

It had only been for the merest second. But I had seen it, clear as day.

“They were standing there. Maria, Mamoru, and the faceless boy…”

The three of them had been standing on the surface of the water, looking intently at us from a distant world. It was a perfect depiction of the phrase “passing from this world to the next”.

“Saki.” Satoru held me in his arms. “…I feel the same way. I want to meet them again if I can, even if they’re just ghosts.”

“I’m not imagining it. Trust me.”

“I know. You saw them. But you were expecting to see them before we even got here, right? You can try to hide it, but I already know.”

“How?”

“Your yukata. It’s so dark and plain it almost makes me look gaudy by comparison.”

His yukata was also dark blue, but with pale stripes.

“You look like you’re in mourning.”

He had hit the nail on the head, and I couldn’t respond.

“It’s okay. You truly wanted to meet them, right? That thought was so strong your mind projected their image on the water.”

“…yeah.”