“You saw that, right? The way the fire burned was unbelievable. It had to have been created by cantus, I think. But who did it?”
When we heard the answer come from a voice behind us, we all jumped.
It was someone in dressed in priest’s clothes. He was astonishingly tall, with sharp, hawk-like eyes. His head looked freshly shaved, and beads of sweat covered his forehead.
“That was a demon whose words beguile the mind and ensnare the spirit. It must be incinerated on sight. What in the world are you doing here?”
“We were…” Satoru made to answer, but was at a loss for words.
“Traveling up the Tone River for summer camp,” Maria finished the sentence.
“Did the school give you permission to come this far?” The priest crossed his arms, looking grimmer by the second.
We didn’t dare lie any more.
“…sorry. We did not receive permission. We did not mean to come this far.” Shun said deferentially.
“I see. You didn’t mean to? So you trapped some crabs for fun, accidentally caught that demon, and then accidentally got on the subject of fiends.”
None of us said a word. There was no way to explain our way out of the situation.
“I am Rijin, a priest emeritus serving at the Temple of Purity. I know very well who all of you are.”
The priest emeritus held the highest position of the educational division at the temple. I suddenly remembered. He had been standing beside Head Priest Mushin as [second in command] at the initiation ceremony.
“You will now come to the temple with me. You will not be allowed to return to the village until Head Priest Mushin has been informed of this.”
“Please wait a moment. Before we go, I have just one question,” Shun pointed at the false minoshiro’s remains. “Was everything it said a lie?”
Our hearts pounded painfully in our chests as we listened. He shouldn’t have asked, I thought. Just as I expected, Rijin looked at us with a strange glitter in his eyes.
“Do you believe it?”
“I don’t know. It’s very different from the knowledge we’ve learned in school. But there was a consistency to what it said.”
Shun’s words exposed what we were all feeling. But in situations like this, honesty may not be the best policy.
“You have broken the rules coming to a place you do not belong. Furthermore, you have been swayed by the words of a demon. That alone is a grave sin, but the real problem is much greater.” Rijin’s voice was so cold it froze our blood. “You have violated the very foundations 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 canti immediately.”
Rijin reached into his robes and brought out a sheaf of papers. Two folded half-sheets that formed a human shape. He put five in front of us.
The head and trunk of the figure were covered in strange symbols that looked like Sanskrit. I remembered the ceremony at the Temple of Purity when Head Priest Mushin had temporarily sealed my cantus.