The person who presided over Minakami Village was a man called Ryokan Kurosawa, head of the Kurosawa family. We greeted him politely. Standing beside Mr. Kurosawa were identical sisters who must have been twins. They seemed to be acquainted with Munakata. They seemed somehow embarrassed as they exchanged words.
"...Then that means that you came all the way to the village for your folklore studies, Mr. Makabe?" Mr. Kurosawa enquired, and in a fluster I looked back at him.
"Yes. I'm interested in faiths and legends from all over the place. I heard that Minakami Village has the unusual custom of worshipping twins as shrine maidens, and wanted to investigate further. I was informed that the ceremony would take place this year and, wanting to at least get a glimpse, pushed Munakata into bringing me along."
Mr. Kurosawa's brow seemed to furrow for a moment, but he quickly smiled.
"And that is why you came all this way into the mountains? You must be tired. Please stay with the Osakas tonight. They are not able to provide you with any considerable hospitality, but you may investigate most of the village freely. Perhaps the documents in my home's library will be of some use in your research. Please feel free to come and peruse them at your leisure."
I was frankly overjoyed at the unexpected offer. The Kurosawas were the ceremony masters of the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual, and the family with the longest history in the village. I was truly grateful that not only could I come and go as I pleased, but that I was even permitted access to materials for study. His slightly grim expression from a moment ago bothered me, but perhaps I had made too much of it.
We spent several days in the care of the Osakas. Each day was a productive one. The Kurosawa family's document were, of course, ideal for researching the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual, and I made several discoveries just by strolling around the house. One of these was the passage leading from the altar room out to the back of the house. Circling around to the back of the altar room, with its symmetrical sides, I saw two long, narrow passageways. I went to take a look, but they appeared to be locked and I was unable to go any further. Wondering if there was some way to unlock the door, a woman appearing to be a servant chided me.
"This is a sacred place. You may be an important guest of the master's, but he would not be impressed if you were to go inside."
I quickly apologised and left, but I am sure that the answers I am seeking lie there. I must take another look later.
As I investigated, with the Kurosawa house at the centre of it all, I learned the lay of the village. First of all is the Osaka House at the entrance. They do, after all, appear to serve the role of watching over outsiders who come here. They even seem to keep an eye on those who try to leave. Someone is always peering through the latticed window, and even when I am simply heading to Misono Hill, they always ask where I am going and when I shall return. It also seems to be this family's duty to entertain guests.
Next are the Tachibana House and the Kiryu House. They are situated in the centre of the village, the two houses joined by a connecting corridor. It appears as though these are the houses in which the Twin Shrine Maidens live in order to prepare for the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual. One twin lives in each of the houses, constructed identically, supposedly performing rituals of prayer and purification. The Tachibana House is the home of a young man called Itsuki Tachibana, but unfortunately it appears as both he and his younger twin brother succumbed to illness. Perhaps it was right after he sent that letter to Munakata. The Kiryu house was the home of a dollmaker who created the mechanisms and dolls that can be found all over the village. Once upon a time there were Twin Shrine Maiden sisters called Azami and Akane, but due to their derangement the family line died out for a time, and apparently a member of a Kurosawa branch family later took on the Kiryu surname and continued the line.
Finally, there is the Tsuchihara House. This is a family that has managed places connected to the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual, such as the shrine and Misono Hill, generation after generation. There is a storehouse on the premises of their home where village criminals are detained, and, on some occasions, they also seem to have been granted the authority to judge cases. (I tried to take a look inside the storehouse, but was stopped by a man who appeared to be a guard. The man told me that it was no longer in use, but I was sure that I felt a human presence.) Homes are dotted around these larger houses. Each house is built facing the Kurosawa House, as if the villagers are constantly watching over the Kurosawas. What is it that the villagers are trying to look out for?
On the outskirts of the village is a smal lshrine called Kureha Shrine, a large tree called the Old Tree, and a graveyard. There is a large hole in the Old Tree, forming a kind of grotto, and peeking inside I saw countless spinning pinwheels. Was a breeze flowing in from somewhere? This is where one half of the Twin Shrine Maidens, a maiden known as the "Remaining", is said to be worshipped after having completed her role in the ceremony. But according to what I secretly listened in on a person saying as they visited a grave at the graveyard, the Old Tree once had a path leading out of the village, and Twin Shrine Maidens who attempted to use it to fleethe village were killed by the villagers; so that this would never happen again, the ceremony master blocked the passage and, as a warning, turned the place into a cemetery for the Remaining. What is the Remaining? If Twin Shrine Maidens tried to get away, does that mean that the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual is something dangerous after all? I became more curious, and as I investigated the Kurosawa family's books the truth of the terrible ritual emerged.