This novel is a partially modified version of the series of articles published in Sankei Sports between 21 November and 10 December 2003.
"Minakami Village. It certainly existed."
No one has actually seen it, and the few remaining tales about it are very rarely heard. No one knows where it is, but once, that village existed somewhere in Japan. In the research notes of a certain folklorist, it's said that the village suddenly vanished from the mountains on the night of a secret ritual no one was permitted to witness.
Amidst the trees, enshrouded by fog, the only remnant of the vanished village was a single girl, standing there in a daze. The girl, who had lost her memories, would say nothing of what happened to the village, or why she was the only survivor, and the whole thing remained shrouded in mystery, until finally the village vanished from people's memory. And now, a dam is being constructed in those mountains, and no one will ever know of Minakami Village...
"...We'll always be together. We promised..."
The older sister, Mayu, walking as if dragging one leg, speaks to her younger sister Mio. The twins, who wandered here along the mountain path, strain their ears in the quiet forest, but the air is unmoving and enclosed, and there isn't a sound to be heard.
"I've heard about this place. It's said that long ago, a village vanished from this area..."
As Mayu whispers this, a dim light abruptly begins to cover the mountains, and a wave of uneasiness floods over Mio, making her heart feel as though it will never return from the other world.
"Mayu, maybe we should be getting back after all..."
Mio turns, and Mayu is no longer standing before her. A sparkling crimson dust glitters in the darkness. Mayu runs as though possessed by from beyond the darkness which beckons to her, and deep crimson butterflies flap their wings which look as though they are burning.
"Mayu! What's wrong!?"
Although there is no way a single crimson butterfly should be able to light the surroundings, it shines brightly in the darkness. Appearing to emit its own light, it scatters a dust that glitters as though phosphorescent. The older of the twin sisters, Mayu, appears as though being beckoned by the strange butterfly, continuing to rush forward into the forest.
"It looks like Mayu... is still being pulled in by something I can't see..."
Pushing her way through the undergrowth, desperately pursuing her sister, Mio's hair flutters in a sudden tepid breeze. The sound of taiko drums from somewhere rides on the wind. She also hears incredibly sad-sounding bells.
"What... is this...?"
From the distant mountain ridge, she can see a countless number of torches in a row, and a girl in a white kimono running desperately to the head leaps into Mio's field of vision. Why was the girl running through these mountains?
"You mustn't stay here any longer."
Mio instinctively hides herself, and searches for her sister, of whom she has lost sight. She lays her eyes on a decayed torii gate that straddles the mountain path and sees Mayu's figure standing below it.
"Thank goodness..." she says as she rejoins Mayu and holds onto her shoulders. At that moment, Mio's breath is taken away. Mayu's shoulders are overlaid with the hazy form of a girl in a white kimono.
"You're not my sister!"
Mio felt it. The soft texture of the kimono... Just then, a repulsive image flashes through Mio's head.
The form of a girl hanging by the neck over a pit... a twin girl with a red cord tied to her... laughing madly in the midst of a sea of corpses...
Mio returns to her senses as the impact penetrates her body, and finds herself standing alone on the fog-shrouded mountain path.
A thin silence spreads out. The people who had been carrying torches had disappeared along with everything else. She was the only one there, standing by herself in the deep black dark. Was that an illusion, or maybe...? Rather than being afraid of having seen an "impossible thing", who on earth had she seen just now...? Mio can't understand it, and the inside of her head is numb from confusion.
"Crimson... Crimson Butterfly..."
A single crimson butterfly brushes past Mio's face. As a sparkling dust falls from its deep red wings, a wriggling swarm of countless butterflies joins it. In the void at the centre stands Mayu. Mio moves closer to Mayu as she tries to catch her breath.
Mayu turns in response to being called, and as she does so the crimson butterflies flutter away as one. Then, empty-sounding words come from Mayu's mouth.
"The Lost... Village..."
As she speaks, the butterflies fly away and leave the area the twins are standing in enveloped in unpleasant-feeling darkness. Mio grips Mayu's arm tightly, wanting leave this place.
"It's too dark here... when did it become night...?"
The girls have not a single source of light between them, and it is too dangerous for them to venture out into the mountain forest after sunset, when they can't even see what's right in front of them.
If it wasn't Mayu who grabbed me just now, then who...?
"Mayu, look... at me..."
Mio moves her face closer to her twin sister's, the exact same face as hers, so close that she can feel her breath, to confirm it is her. Taking hold of Mayu's hand, who has now regained her consciousness, Mio moves to retrace their steps back beyond the torii gate, but where there should be the mountain path, not even a trace of it remains.
"The path has... vanished..."
Having wandered around through the dark mountains, twin sisters Mio and Mayu end up coming to a stop at the entrance to a village. From here they have an impressive view of the village, which they can faintly see down below through the darkness. From the thatched rooftops, covered with blue-green algae, a white mist, like a silk thread, ebbs and flows. The twins' continuing sense of unease is especially exacerbated by this scene.
"Could this really be... Minakami Village? No way..."
There is no breeze in the village. The whole area is enshrouded in gloomy, unrelenting darkness that is heavy and seems to have covered the place since many years before. There is no sense of other people, and the only audible sound is the frail chirping of pine crickets, which seem to be the last traces of life in this world.
"Mio... There's a path over here... look..."
Mio and Mayu briefly exchange glances, in the way that twins have a strange bond, conveying their intent to each other, and walk towards the path to the village. The rotten boards of the eaves surface through the dim light. The melancholy forms of the houses of the village gradually appear. Among them, Mio sees a house with an incredibly sad look about it.
(I wonder if it's really alright to go into the village like this... Maybe we should turn back now...)
Mio stops, searching for an excuse. This is when it happens.
"...It's still flying around."
Hearing Mayu's words she turns around, and sees the crimson butterfly still fluttering. While drifting in and out of sight between the trees along the edge of the path, the single crimson butterfly flutters around, as though watching over them, shining as it maintains a constant distance between them.
As Mayu vacantly watches the butterfly, for some reason the image of herself strangling a woman in a white kimono to death surfaces in her head.
Bang... bang... bang...
"That noise... what is it?"
In the stillness surrounding twin sisters Mio and Mayu, conveyed through the darkness, hear from far away a faint vibration in the air. Little by little the reverberation grows, getting closer until it sustains a certain rhythm. Their legs are paralysed, as though stuck to the ground, and they can't move.
...Bang! Bang! The sound gets even stronger.
Someone seems to be banging a taiko drum as though possessed, and imagining a ferocious stare, Mayu's body stiffens.
"Mio... someone's... coming!"
Mio's heart begins to pound even faster than the sound of the taiko. A countless number of swaying pine torches illuminate the shadows of people on the path.
"The twins are here!"
"You can't escape!"
The black shadows holding torches call out to them. There can be no doubt about it - the men have noticed them. Mio and Mayu feel as if their blood is running backwards inside their bodies.
"Mayu! Hurry and run away!"
Mio notices her sister slowly trying to escape, impaired by her dragging foot, and turns around. The moment she sees Mayu, desperately trying to escape, and the innumerable ghastly, black-stained people chasing after her, Mio's body freezes. The shadows pursuing Mayu finally grab onto her limp arm, and as they clutch it shout, "The ritual must continue!" They drag Mayu away with incredible power.
"No, it's not us!"The scream jolts Mio back to her senses, and she rushes back to Mayu, pulling her arm away from the black shadow. Grabbing her hand they run through a gap in a fence covered all over with moss, and hide themselves in the darkness of the shadowy undergrowth. Mio wraps her arms around her sister's shoulders, whispering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" as she stares at the black marks of fingertips eating into Mayu's white arm.
Mayu's body trembles unceasingly. The blood has left her face, she is so weak that she is slumped down on the ground, her body temperature has dropped, and the arm that was grabbed by the villagers has a painful black bruise on it.
I'm sorry, forgive me... I'm sorry..."
As Mio pats Mayu's cold body, she regrets her actions. If she hadn't succumbed to fear, then she could have helped Mayu, with her bad foot, get away right away... She continues to apologise from her heart.
However, perhaps not hearing her, Mayu suddenly opens her eyes and stares up into space, seeming to mutter incoherently.
"Because they ran away together, because one escaped from the ritual, the village vanished..."
"The "ritual"? ...Mayu? The ritual..."
Mio remembers the stories about the "Lost Village". Once, Minakami Village suddenly vanished, on the day of a secret ritual no one was allowed to witness. In the spot where it vanished, only a single girl remained... that is the story.
"Those people, they were searching for the twin girls who escaped... To do the ritual again, and bring back the village..."
"Then they must have thought that we were the twins who ran and chased after us...? What will happen to us? What on earth is the "ritual"?"
Mayu's consciousness suddenly wanders back into midair, and in response to Mio's frantic questions opens her mouth vacantly.
"Mio... you won't leave me and run away alone, will you? You promised. That we'll always be together..."
Mio, blaming herself for her faults, deviates her eyes from Mayu's clinging gaze her heartbreaking childhood memories return.
"We promised. That whatever happens, we'll be together..."
Mio watches Mayu as she murmurs this, her sister seemingly suffering with her impaired leg, and walks closer to the stone on which Mayu sits. Mayu feels the coldness of the stone, covered in moss untouched by sunlight, damp on her thighs through her skirt. Mio, sitting quietly down beside her, recalls her childhood memories as she worries about her sister...
It was back when they had only just become elementary school students. The two, who had been playing by the same mountain stream as always, were running down the twilit mountain path, hurrying home. Mio, halfway down the path from the slow-footed Mayu, occasionally turns back and calls out to her.
"If you don't hurry up I'll leave you behind! You'll be all alone!"
Haunted by the fear of being left behind, Mayu runs desperately, but her foot leaves the narrow mountain path and she slips down below the stream. When she did so she sustained a lifelong injury to her right leg that would never heal...
"I wish... that what happened back then was just a dream."
But it was reality. Since then, because of her injured leg, Mio and Mayu haven't been able to run together. Now, neither of them speak of it, but they will never forget that memory - Mio vows this.
"I'll never leave you again, Mayu. I promise. We'll always be together."
...Mio awakes from the reminiscence of her childhood days.
"Mio, look at this..."
Mayu points at the face of the stones they have been sitting on. Standing up and taking a long, hard look at the front of the stone, she realises that it isn't a stone for sitting on at all, but rather an old Jizo statue, sunk into the earth and leaning. On the Jizo are the same twin design as from the shrine, depicting two people, one of whom is smiling; the other person on the Jizo has everything from the neck up chiselled off...
Mayu calls out inside her mind.
Mio hadn't mentioned it, so as not to worry her sister, but for a while now she has been hearing the deep voice of a man echoing around, as though seeping out of the earth, chanting Buddhist prayers.
The voice fills her ears, not pausing for a second. Mayu, whose consciousness gradually begins to drift in and out, strongly warns inside her heart as though trying not to lose herself.
"Don't listen to this voice..."
She sees single crimson butterfly flutters over the wall of the garden of a run-down house. Suddenly, a strong shock runs through Mayu's helpless body, and she feels miserable, as though she would when yielding to a desire.
"I've... got to go."
Muttering this, Mayu steps onto the village road that had been hidden in the shadow of the house. From behind she faintly hears her sister's voice, saying, "Mayu, no, don't go..."
As though charmed by the crimson butterfly she passes through a large gate with "Kurosawa House" written on it, where those villagers with black, sooty shadows face the wall and bend down, their empty voices coming from here and there.
"The twins have returned..."
"They have returned..."
Mayu, not resisting the power that has been manipulating her the whole time, continues into the heart of the house, until she comes to a stop in the darkness of the Great Hall, which is roughly 40 tatami mats big.
Someone is standing in the darkness. ...That someone is a woman wearing a white kimono. The woman's who body is covered in bright red blood splatter. She extends a bloodstained hand as she watches Mayu, and a bold smile appears on her face.
Suddenly Mayu turns around, and finally notices that she is standing amidst a sea of bloody corpses.
Mio uses her entire body strength to push open the doors of the gate with "Kurosawa House" written on it, and the flame from a stone lantern illuminates her face.
In the black haze, she can see a large house towering above her, as though to intimidate visitors.
"Is Mayu in here...?"
Timidly, she enters through the front entrance and steps over the threshold, walking inside the house, the smell of mildew floating through the warm air. While progressing further in, passing through the tattered entrance curtain with the family crest on it, Mio calls out to her sister in a small voice, "Mayu, where are you?", but her only reply is silence.
"Please... Mayu, answer me!"
At that moment, she hears a girl sobbing... could it be Mayu? Or maybe...
Mio moves her face closer to a hole in a sliding screen with large rips in it. On the other side of the hole, in the heavy darkness, she vaguely spies a stained folding screen. ...Pitter patter, pitter patter. Sudden footsteps!
She sees the image of a girl disappear behind the folding screen.
Her faint whisper of "Help..." as she is swallowed up by the darkness certainly seems like Mayu.
...It's Mayu! Confident of this, Mio flings open the sliding screen and without hesitation steps behind the folding screen.
Mio stops mid-sentence. What she sees there on the tatami, staring up at her, is an old-looking Japanese doll.
The young child's emotionless voice makes the pores on her entire body open up. Mio runs from place to place inside the house, and as though adding insult to injury this time she is attacked by the sooty black villagers, who shout, "There she is!". They corner her in a dead end room, and Mio, who has nowhere left to run, instantly hides herself, for what feels like decades, inside a pitch black closet.
"Where is the other twin...?"
Mio hides in the closet as the villagers wander around the house, passing her by. By peeping through a gap in the sliding screen, she realises by the villager's dim, translucent black face that however she looks of it there is no way that he is of this world. Mio, in the darkness of this expansive Japanese house, hugs her knees and reflecting upon her loneliness. The promise she made to her sister Mayu that she will never leave her again is the only thing keeping Mio going.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Suddenly, someone begins knocking on the sliding screen outside of the closet.
"I've finally found you..."
Mio, having nowhere to run, can only hold back the wooden frame of the sliding screen from inside the closet.
"I can't do this anymore..."
Mio speaks with a tearful voice, and that's when it happens. There is a boom of thunder in the sky, intense, heavy rain begins to pour from the sky, and the villagers attacking Mio simultaneously flee the area.
Mio pokes her head out of the closet, and through the latticed window she looks up at the dark sky. A flash of gold lightning shoots through the sky, as though tearing through the curtain of dark clouds. The continuous lightning is so bright that it hurts Mio's eyes, that have grown used to the darkness. The thunder booms. Mio covers her ears, letting out a deathly shriek to erase the angry voice of the bolts of lightning. Inside the dark house, the flashes of lightning conspicuously brighten the place, and at that moment she sees the villagers running out from deeper inside the house.
"They're running... What on earth from?"
Mio slowly continues towards the room further in that the villagers had run from. Mio, jumping each time the thunder peals, and before long she finds herself staring at the front of a beautifully-decorated sliding screen, which confirms something.
Mayu is there... But this is the only place she can't go... The only place...
Mio puts a hand on the screen in the Great Hall. Slowly, slowly, so that she won't make a sound, she opens it approximately 15 centimetres, and while exhaling backs up as far as the lantern behind her. The gently-blowing breeze licks at her hair, which has been plastered down by sweat and warmth, accompanied by a sudden unpleasant feeling, wrapping about the shoulder straps of her camisole. It is a horrible breeze. The air is somehow lukewarm. It is like something she has never felt before - no, like something she will never experience again after this, the stench of blood seeping through the five openings in the darkness of the Great Hall, attacking Mio's white skin and glossy black hair, dirtying and polluting them.
Mio's body is conflicted in deadlock - she has to go in, but doesn't want to; even though she feels nauseous and senses pressure on her stomach, she gathers her courage and takes long breaths to calm herself down, trembling gently. ...I am here to save Mayu.
Telling herself these words, from somewhere inside awakens the courage that she had lost.
With a big tug, Mio throws the sliding screen open, and immediately throws herself into the darkness of the Great Hall that stinks of blood. The roughly 40-tatami space is enclosed by tattered paper screens. In the darkness, she can clearly see someone standing there through a hole in the broken screen.
Mayu stands in the centre of the tatami area, hanging her head.
Mio rushes over to her, grabbing Mayu's trembling hand. She tries to hold her cold fingers and blow on them, but at that moment the scene of a bloody massacre that occurred here long ago plays out before Mio's eyes like a memory, as though she is watching a black and white film.
Blood clings to the surface of the ceiling, telling the story of the circumstances of the massacre that occurred in the past. On the walls and tatami clearly remain the marks of fingers scratching at them, seeming to convey the regretful thoughts of the people who tried to escape from here but couldn't.
"What happened here...?"
Instantaneously there is a flash of light, illuminating the sea of corpses piled up on the tatami, like nothing Mio has seen before. The warped expressions on their bloodied faces are unmistakably those of the shudder engraved just before they were massacred by someone. Crying, screaming, yelling... Their screaming, begging for help seeps out from below the ground. The villagers, running from something, who met their end in this room. Every single one of the corpses is miserable and sorrowful, crying tears of blood.
...Mayu stands frozen in the centre of this red sea. Mio forgets even to breathe as, dumbfounded, she watches Mayu, and hears a faint murmur in her ear.
"Kill me... Kill me..."
In Mayu's eyes, she can see a sad gaze, as though she is again on the verge of losing her human vitality.
The moment she calls to her, Mayu's form changes into that of the woman in the kimono stained with deep red blood splatters. The kimono woman's mouth seems to boldly lift, and patrolling amongst the corpses she raises her voice in a loud, insane laugh. As Mio wonders whether the scene before her eyes is reality or a hallucination, a crimson shadow crawls up to her.
Mio feels the downy hair on her body stand up as she stares. The crawling woman drags herself across the tatami, the hinges of her arm and leg joints bent the other way around, her back rubbing against the tatami as she drags herself along while lying flat on her back, and, lifting her gaze from the tips of Mio's toes, she opens her bloodstained mouth and laughs in a dry voice.
Through the open sliding screen in the Great Hall, Mio grabs Mayu's hand, and breaks into a run as though tumbling. Without looking around her, while considering the pace of the slow-footed Mayu, they descend the stairs one at a time, and though it feels like an age passes, all she can think about is getting Mayu away fro the madness of the "impossible beings".
"Don't look behind you, just run!"
Repeatedly climbing and descending the rotten stairs, twin sisters Mio and Mayu finally exit into the house's back garden. Villagers with torches still prowl along the village path, and the woman in the white kimono waits somewhere inside the house. As she thinks about staying here until morning, Mio suddenly intuitively realises that morning will never come to this village. Disheartened by this realisation, even though just for a moment, Mio is assaulted by a sense of despair that makes her feel like dying.
"It hurts... Mayu, it hurts..."
...The force of her sister's hand that she has been holding on to wraps tightly around her fingers. Enduring the pain, Mio tries to untangle herself, when more fragmented images from Mayu's consciousness flow through Mio's mind.
...Standing in a space surrounded by countless candles are twin girls in white kimonos. Eventually, one of the twins slowly begins to wrap her hands around the other's neck.
Kill me... Kill me... Don't kill me... Don't kill me...
"A ritual in which the older sister kills the younger..."
Mayu mutters aloud in a daze, and Mio forcibly removes her hand from Mayu's.
"...Why... back then... did you run away by yourself?"
That moaning is no longer Mayu's usual soft voice.
"Why did you run away by yourself?"
The deep, distorted voice comes from Mayu's mouth. Again, Mayu's face begins to turn into one that isn't her own.
"Mayu... what's wrong?"
Worried, Mio walks up to her sister, speaking in an uneasy voice. Her body again appears to have been taken over by some being. And this time, anxious about not knowing what her sister might do to her, Mio lets out an instantaneous scream and backs away.
"Mio, don't come! Don't come near me!
Under the pressure Mio momentarily flinches, shuddering as her sister again appears to turn into the woman in the white kimono. Her fair skin is grey, and her eyes are beginning to cloud over. Even still, Mayu desperately resists. On the inside, she continues rejecting whatever is controlling her.
However, in the end, the moment comes. That pleasant sensation, like her body is floating in the air. Understanding that she is no match for the darkness controlling her, Mayu, as though having resigned herself to this, focuses on Mio, and speaks.
"Run away... by yourself..."
Mayu uses all of her strength to do this. Even if only Mio, she wants to help her get out of here.
"Whatever happens, I'll forgive you, Mio..."
As she says this, Mayu runs away, her sights set on the inside of the house.
"Mayu! No, don't go!"
Mio calls for her to stop in a tearful voice, but Mayu vanishes as she passes through the house's wooden door.
"Run away by yourself..."
As she says this, Mayu vanishes from in front of Mio. ...But there's no way she could really do it.
"We'll always be together. I promise..."
The vow they exchanged echoes inside her head.
I've got to save her...
Mio begins to walk towards the house Mayu vanished into, but after taking a single step she freezes. Like an iron bar is blocking her path, Mio questions herself, dumbfounded.
...Do I not want to save Mayu...? Then, from the garden behind the house, the voice of a boy calls out to her.
"Yae... Yae, is that you?"
Though his voice is small, like a whisper, it was a transparent voice that seemed to reassure people. Taking only a few steps she enters the garden to the right, where she sees white fingers waving from between the firmly-barred window of the storehouse in the garden.
The owner of the voice speaking comfortably to her comes from inside the storehouse jail, a boy of about the same age as Mio. What horrible things must have happened to this boy watching her from the barred window in the past that his hair had turned white like an old man's?
"Yae, why did you come back? If you don't hurry and get out of the village... Everyone is desperately searching for you."
As he stares straight ahead, watching her, for some reason Mio can't tell the white-haired boy that she isn't Yae.
"The path out of the village is the hanging bridge behind the houses. You have to escape through there, now!"
The boy telling Mio of an exit and scolding her, shouting "Run!", gave her hope to cling onto. His desperate pleas feel as though they convey special feeling, and at that moment save her from the bar from earlier that had stopped Mio's legs from moving, and she spontaneously begins to walk towards the hanging bridge.
Creak... Creak... The hanging bridge quietly creaks as Mio crosses it. The white handkerchief she carelessly drops swirls down into the ravine and is swallowed up by the jet black mist. Mio hears the sound of the wind, which resembles a woman's wailing, and feels as though it engulfs her.
"If I pass over this bridge... Nearly there..."
On the other side would be the the path leading back to the world where humans live.
The sound of the drums being struck by the villagers is still distant, but on the mountain ridges surrounding her the watchfires begin to squirm.
"They're searching for me..."
On the mountain path she runs out onto Japanese ivy grows thickly, acting as a natural tunnel. The thorny plants that extend towards her cut at her soft exposed skin. Eventually her field of vision opens up and she can see the mountain path, where the black mist is thin and she senses morning finally beckon; she is saved, brightening Mio's heart - she has won! But... suddenly, her feet stop.
What about Mayu? Had she thought about what her twin sister would do? Had she wanted to be parted from Mayu?
All of a sudden, Mio feels pain like being torn apart when losing an irreplaceable person. Like killing Mayu, or herself. She and Mayu are twin sisters. They have a bond that only twins can understand.
"We are... connected..."
Her voice comes out. Her crimson heart beats loudly. If she continues like this and runs away, if she truly loses Mayu, could she keep living...? No, there is no way. Mayu will die when Mio dies!
Mio turns on her heel, retracing her steps up the path back to Minakami Village. She sets her sights on the house where Mayu and the woman in the white kimono wait...
The time for the ritual in Minakami Village draws nearer. The village, which had until now been in a long slumber, has awoken with a stir, and places to do with the ritual, such as the houses, the cemetery and shrine, are overflowing with the dead, carrying torches.
Mio, returning to the village using the hanging bridge, sees this scene and senses that it is beginning - the curtain is rising over the secret ritual that no one has seen. As she holds her breath she passes through the gate to the Kurosawa house, and from even the front the dark black miasma is increasing. Mio enters the house it emits from.
The contrast between the inside and outside of the house is drastic. Mio sets her sights on the corpse-filled Great Hall and proceeds inside, not yet hesitating. Believing that she will live with Mayu, and return to the underworld with her, she pushes open the last sliding screen. Standing still in the centre of the tatami, unblinking, is Mayu.
"Mayu, let's leave together."
Even as Mio calls out to her, without reacting, Mayu begins to giggle. Before Mio's eyes, Mayu's clothes become stained with sticky red blood, and occupying her body is the woman in the white kimono.
"Why...? Why...? Why...?"
This isn't her sister anymore. She speaks like a messenger from the realm of the dead.
"Why did you run away by yourself back then!?"
A deep, distorted voice comes from her mouth, and the woman in the white kimono's fingers wrap around Mio's throat.
Will I, too, will finally be drowned in the sea of bodies in the Great Hall...?
As Mio thinks this, about giving her life, without strangling her Mayu's consciousness seems to return, calling out again and again.
"Sis...ter... we'll be together forever..."
Her courage, and her sister's desperate wish, are the last measure to get Mio to face up against the enormous darkness.
"Yae... Because you ran away, everyone died."
"No, I'm not Yae!"
Surrounded by the countless arms of the villagers, as they grab at her wrists and ankles Mio is struck by the impact of a flash through her head.
"The ritual must continue!"
"The twins must not escape!"
Exhausted and breathing hard, Mio finally runs out of willpower to resist, and without noticing a crimson obi is wrapped around her body. Where on earth is she being taken...? She sees the "impossible beings" that had so far hidden around the village gather before her eyes when she opens them; her eyes are dry, her eyelids cramping repeatedly.
"It's your fault, it's your fault..."
"Why did you run!? Why did you run!?"
Tears flow from Mio's eyes, a blush spreading through her cheeks. At that moment she felt miserable from the bottom of her heart, powerless to save her sister. Mio hangs her head in despair, and the woman in the white kimono laughs madly, reaching out her hand to her.
"This will finish it..."
Mio closes her eyes.
...But that's when it happens. Suddenly, when the woman seems about to let out an anguished moan, for just a moment the madness vanishes from her face, and the kind eyes of Mayu return.
Mayu, called back to consciousness, removes Mio's crimson obi and says, "Now... Hurry! Run!" As she does so, she pushes Mio in the back out of the Great Hall.
"Mayu, come with me!"
Mio immediately turns around, but... Ahh, was the sister she saw just now a momentary illusion?
The blood had already drained from Mayu's face then, her eyes were cloudy and sunken, her cheeks were sunken and her hair stood up, and a ghostly smile showed on her face - she was turning into the woman in the white kimono.
"Why are you running away!?"
Mio wastes no time screaming and runs out of the house.
"Run, escape by yourself. I'll forgive you, Mio..."
Mio continues to run down the ruined mountain path as she thinks Mayu's words over inside her heart. Innumerable braziers are lit, from the village to the valley, the lake to the mountains, and a gathering seems to be on the path, like a group of countless poisonous snakes hunting their prey. Mio immediately loses feeling in her legs, her mouth dry and her lungs almost bursting; she can't run any more, and has no control over her body. Looking down the mountainside she sees a woman in a white kimono running up the path, who doesn't appear to be of this world, attacking and aiming for Mio's throat.
Mio runs. She pushes away the branches, passing through the brook and kicking away a wasp nest, she runs as though a wolf in a gale. Before long, two crimson butterflies dance in her field of vision. At that moment, a flash shoots through her head, along with a crimson-stained memory.
...The scene of the day of the ritual when this village vanished. The sound of taiko drums. Lit braziers. A girl in a white kimono, lost while escaping through the forest.
"Sae has been captured."
"Yae got away. Look for her."
The villagers chase her while calling this...
"No... Those twins aren't us!"
Mio, without taking another step, crouches down on the mountain path while calling out, abandoning herself to the memory of her childhood.
"Don't leave me!"
Desperately chasing after Mio, Mayu falls from the cliff, sustaining an injury that will never heal. And then...
"I'm leaving my sister again..."
Turning around, Mio sees faint sunlight before her. Just a little further... Behind her, in the writhing black mist, is the woman in the white kimono, approaching her. Along with her distant consciousness, Mio staggers and her foot leaves the mountain path. With an unvoiced shriek, Mio falls far below the cliff.
She wakes up. Mio is lying on the bank of a sunlit brook. Sitting up she gazes up at the sky, the sun peeking out from between the new green leaves as though looking down at her.
While looking around her for Mayu, Mio slowly tries to stand up.
Her right knee is covered with blood. A dull ache also lingers in her foot, and she grits her teeth for a moment as she endures the pain.
While dragging her sore leg, just as Mayu drags hers, Mio searches for the village. However deep she goes into the forest the bamboo thickets spread out before her; the mountain path cuts off upstream of the brook, and downstream all she can see is the construction work being carried out for the dam. Minakami Village has vanished.
Mio's voice echoes through the quiet forest.
However deep she goes into the bamboo thicket, all she can see are the trees of the forest spread out around her, and she thinks of the sister she left in the village. The sister who, until yesterday, had been smiling beside her, was now sealed away inside that village, in eternal darkness, waiting for Mio to save her. If she was able to, Mio wishes that she could return to Mayu's side once more, even if it meant losing her life in that village.
Gently closing her eyes, she feels as though she can hear Mayu sobbing, deserted within the darkness of the mountain path. Mio understands. Mayu is still alive. However, she can't return to that village. Minakami Village. That village certainly exists. And in there, Mio's twin sister Mayu continues to be pursued by "impossible beings"...
"Didn't we promise... that we would always be together..."
The vow Mio exchanged with her twin still repeats in her heart, while picturing the phantom of Minakami Village in her head. However much she chases her, however much she calls for her, she cannot catch up, and her back sinks into darkness.