Table of Contents
ALSO BY HIROMI GOTO
Chorus of Mushrooms
The Kappa Child
The Water of Possibility
ALSO BY JILLIAN TAMAKI
(with Mariko Tamaki)
Published by Penguin Group
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First published in slightly different form by Puffin Canada, 2009. This edition first published in the United States of America in 2010 by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Text copyright Â© Hiromi Goto, 2009, 2010 Illustrations copyright Â© Jillian Tamaki, 2009
All rights reserved
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eISBN : 978-1-101-17175-2
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For my mother, Kyoko Goto, for showing me that soft power endures, has the wisdom and capacity to bend . . .
LONG, LONG, LONG
ago, before mortals began to inscribe mortal religions onto stone tablets and parchment, there was a time of the Three Realms: the Realm of Flesh, the Realm of Spirit, and Half World.
For eons it was a time of wholeness and balance; Life, After Life, and Half Life were as natural as awake, asleep, and dreaming. All living things died only to awaken in the dream land of Half World. Mortals awoke to the moment of the greatest trauma they had experienced during their time in the Realm of Flesh. In Half World they relived Half Lives, until they had worked through their burdens of mortal ills, through trial and tribulation. Wrongdoings, doubts, fears, terror, pain, hatred, suffering, all the ills of mortality had to be integrated and resolved before they could rise from mortal fetters into light and Spirit. Once in the Realm of Spirit, all physical cares disappeared. Spirits existed freely, unbounded by mortality and suffering, untroubled by Flesh, in a state pure and holy. Until eventually their light began to grow dim, and they were called back into Flesh once more. For without connections to Life, Spirit, too, shall pass away.
Thus, the cycles were in balance.
There is no account left of what led to the severing of the Realms. No one knows if it was the work of Spirits who grew aloof and righteous, if it was a trapped Half Worlder maddened into perpetual pain with no hope left of light. Perhaps it was a mortal who dreamt of becoming a Spirit without ever leaving Flesh. But the Three Realms that were once balanced and entwined were ripped asunder and locked into isolation.
Mortals, caught in perpetual mortality, died only to be born again into Flesh. Trapped in this unchanging cycle, they grew bleak and despairing. Violence, wars, environmental destruction accreted as time passed. When they died, the mortals' Half Spirits could not move on to Half World. Instead, they were born back into Flesh without ever transcending their suffering. With no Half World to work through their troubles and no Spirit to raise them, mortals descended ever deeper into suffering. Atrocities proliferated and hope began to fade.
Half World, locked into ceaseless psychic suffering with no chance of redemption, spiraled into madness. There was no life in Half World and no death. None were born and no one died. Never meant to be fixed into perpetuity, the transformative powers of Half World morphed into nightmare proportions.
The Spirits, cut off from mortality and Flesh, began losing all memory, all knowledge of the other Realms. Growing cooler and more distant, they forgot they were part of a greater pattern.
Their lights are beginning to fade, slowly, one by one. . . . They have not enough left to them to even care.
The Three Realms are in great peril. The Realms are very close to dissolution. It is said that when the impossible happens, when a living infant is born into Half World, only then will the fate of the Realms be altered. In a Realm without birth or death, where none are truly living, the cycles of perpetual suffering have shaped monsters. From this unchanging nightmare can anything be born?
The birth of a living child is the doom and hope of Half World.
But millennia have passed and this child has yet to be born.
âa fragment from what has been called
THE BOOK OF THE REALMS
THE WOMAN, HEAVY with child, clasped a desperate arm around the curve of her belly as she ran along the fragile black bridge. Her male companion kept pace slightly behind her, one hand extended in case she should stumble. The woman's breath rasped with terror, pain, exhaustion. Icy air numbed their senses. They ran, refusing to look downward at the great empty chasm below. So very deep, if they fell they would never reach the bottom. A few wisps of clouds trailed beautifully far below them. The insubstantial surface bridged the gap between the Realms, and they could see the cliff that was purported to hide the Gate to the other side. So close. A world away. They ran, breath choking their throats, pain stabbing their sides, emptiness yawning all around them. With each desperate step they took, the rail-less bridge undulated and wobbled, swayed and fluttered.
The terrifying plummet one misplaced foot away.
“Faster,” her male companion pleaded, casting a look over his shoulder. The pursuers were gaining on them, sly, chortling, hopping, creaking.
“Be careful!” a sticky voice shouted. “Don't slip and faaaallllll!”
The woman made a harsh sound and somehow increased her pace.
“Oh, wait,” the sticky voice wheedled, like a younger brother. “Wait for meeeeeeeeeee!”
They reached the rocky ledge, the gray of stone. Panting, sobbing with relief at feeling solid rock beneath their feet, they didn't notice the crunch of dry little sticks snapping under their weight.
“What must we do now?” the woman gasped. Patting the cliff face with desperate hands, she stared fearfully over her shoulders. Their enemies were almost upon them.
The man just shook his head, incapable of speech.
The pregnant woman smacked at the wall of rock. “Open!” she shouted. “Open!”
Something creaked with the slow weight of granite. With a great groan a giant wrenched free of her mountain prison and the cliff ledge shook, small stones tumbling, as the Gatekeeper stiffly stepped out of the wall. Over ten feet tall, she gazed across the great divide with gray stone eyes the same color as her entire body. “You must pay the toll in order to pass,” her low voice rumbled.
The woman and the man looked up to stare upon a timeless stone face, cracked and dry. She did not look down, but only continued gazing across the chasm.
“Your time wanes.” Her voice was expressionless. Neutral.
The woman fell to the giant Gatekeeper's feet. “Please. I beg you. Let us pass!”
The Gatekeeper remained silent.
Something white, gluey, and elastic smacked and adhered to the rock face, a long strand stretching, intact, from the point of origin.
The woman and man looked back.
“Ehhht. Aiii hahheiiiii,” the gluey man garbled as he strode the last few steps toward them, his elongated tongue growing shorter and shorter as he drew nearer. He stopped, and the tip of his tongue popped off the rock face with a wet sound, snapping back into his mouth. He fastidiously spat out little shards of rock.
Tall, thin, and reeking acrid and moldy, their enemy grinned at them with a mouth loose and elastic. His tiny pinprick pupils were black beads in the large whites of his eyes, and his tangled white hair stunk of vinegar. He was dressed in an overlarge raincoat, his thin legs sticking out from the bottom and large rubber boots rattling around his skinny calves. He opened his raincoat and fluttered the lapels, a wet, sour cloud billowing outward.
The man and woman each clamped a hand over their mouths as they began to cough.
The stinking man shook one boot, and putrid fumes rose upward. “I do so hate running in these things,” he whispered. “I'm so hot I'm melting!” The inside of his mouth dripped downward, gooey and soft, threatening to spill from his thin lips. He sucked the gluey whiteness inward with a squelching slurp.
The man and the woman shuddered as the last of his gulping and gibbering friends stepped off the path to crowd upon the twig-strewn ledge. A fish-headed child, too close to the edge, windmilled thin arms as vertigo pulled her backward. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” she cried.