I was shocked. Even as an allegory, this was too unreasonable.
“I don’t think there’s anyone like that.”
“Of course not, but what if there was? What would you think? What part of what they said is wrong?”
“Which part…” I was at a loss. “I think they’ve violated the Code of Ethics.”
Head Priest Mushin shook his head, smiling slightly. “Something so obvious probably isn’t in the Code of Ethics.”
Of course, if they had written down every little rule like that, the Code of Ethics would have so many volumes that if would overflow from the library all the way to the Holy Barrier.
“The answer to this isn’t something rational; it’s emotional.” High Priest Mushin thumped his chest.
“Exactly. Can you feel your friend’s pain in your own heart? If you can, you’d want to help them somehow, right? This is the most important thing to humans.”
“Can you feel another’s pain?”
“Not just hypothetically. Can you really take someone else’s pain and perceive it as your own?”
“Yes, I can,” I answered confidently. I thought the oral interview was over, but Head Priest Mushin’s reaction was different from what I expected.
“Then why don’t we try it out?”
While I was pondering what he meant by “try it out”, Head Priest Mushin took a knife out from inside his robes and unsheathed it to reveal a dully glinting blade. I was shocked.
“The experiment is, can you feel my pain when it is presented to you like this?” Without warning, he stabbed himself in the leg with the knife.
I stared, dumbfounded.
“With enough training, we can endure any pain inflicted on our bodies. Plus, at this age, I don’t bleed as much anyway…” he mumbled disjointedly.
“Please stop!” I shouted, finally coming to my senses. My voice cracked and my heart thumped madly in my chest.
“This is for you. Can you really, truly feel my pain? If you can, then I’ll stop.”
“I can feel it, so please stop!”
“No, you can’t feel it. You’re still only imagining. Real pain comes from the heart.”
“That’s…” What was I supposed to do? My legs wouldn’t move.
“Is it okay? Until you feel the pain, I have to keep doing this. This is what I must do to guide you.”
“B-but, how can I…”
“Don’t imagine it. Recognize it. You. Did. This. To. Me.” High Priest Mushin’s voice was full of pain. “Do you understand? You. Are. Making. Me. Suffer.”
I thought my heart was going to stop. What in the world was I supposed to do to save him?
“Please, help me,” he said in a low, hoarse voice. “Stop this, help me.”
How should I explain the atmosphere then? It was completely irrational, but I gradually believed that I was actually torturing the head priest. Tears flowed unceasingly from my eyes.
Head Priest Mushin groaned in pain. The hand holding the knife in his leg was twitching slightly.
Then something unbelievable happened. My body stiffened and I was unable to move, my field of vision narrowed and there was a huge weight on my chest, leaving me breathless.
“Please. Don’t. Kill. Me.”
Those words triggered something. A sharp, stabbing pain started from the left side of my chest and ran all the way to the top of my head.
I lost my balance and fell sideways onto the tatami.
My heart. My breath, I couldn’t breathe. My mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.
I saw Head Priest Mushin peering down at me like he was observing a lab specimen.
“Please get a hold of yourself.” His voice came from far, far away. “Saki, it’s okay. Look, nothing happened to me.”
Through blurry eyes, I saw him stand up like nothing had happened. There didn’t seem to be a wound anywhere.
“Look carefully. I don’t have any wounds. The knife is fake. It’s made to not pierce anything.”