"I hate this rain..." Utsuki murmured. She still obeyed her father's strict orders, never leaving the shrine, and the clouds from the incessant rain filled her heart.
"We can't get to the manor like this, Utsuki. Let's wait for the rain to stop..." her older sister, Kureha, said, gazing up at the sky.
"Alright, Kureha," Utsuki said softly, looking at the soaked shrine grounds, the sound and sight of it filled with old memories.
The home of the sisters, who lived at a shrine that took care of silkworms, was deep in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes their father, Ashiya Douman, would go down the mountain and not return for a few days, and the sisters, too young to do anything for themselves, would go everywhere and do everything together.
"Utsukii! Hurry, hurryyyy!"
She turned back, waving vigorously.
The cowardly Utsuki was always just barely keeping up with the bright and energetic Kureha, and that day they had gone out into the nearby mountains to pick flowers and create ornaments out of dried leaves.
"Huh? In a place like this..."
Kureha had spotted something on the edge of the path. Utsuki caught up from behind, panting.
"Kureha... What's the matter?" she called out to Kureha, who was clearing the tree leaves that covered whatever it was. Little by little, a mass began to emerge from within the pile of dried leaves.
The lump that appeared from within seemed to be a dosojin statue, with what looked like a pair of twins on them, standing happily side by side.
"It looks like jizo statue..." Kureha said, looking at the statue with the twins on it.
"Yes... But why...?" Utsuki replied, confused.
Time passed as they stood there together in silence staring at the strange-looking statue, depicting slightly odd-seeming girls with their hair in pigtails. They both knew that there was no way that it should have been there, in this place they had known since they were young.
"Why had we not noticed this before...?" Kureha muttered, as though to herself, baffled. A moment later, however, she let out a sigh as if she gave up on thinking, plucking two flowers from the bunch she held in her hands and setting them down before the statue one at a time.
"I don't know how lonely you must have been here, without anyone noticing you, but perhaps this will make you feel a little less lonely."
Smiling warmly at the statue, she closed her eyes and pressed her hands together.
Utsuki agreed, feeling something that wasn't discomfort at not having noticed this before, but something else. A drop of rain plopped onto her cheek.
Looking up at the sky, she saw that it had at some point filled with black clouds, and a steady rain had begun to fall.
Normally, when she was outside she would have noticed right away that rain was coming, but due to the thick growth of trees that seemed to cover everything behind the statue she had been too late.
Noticing Utsuki's interest in the sky, Kureha stood and followed Utsuki's gaze. As she did so, a black dot came through the black clouds, increasing in size, and something fell to the ground right next to the upwards-gazing sisters.
Bang! Crunch crunch!
Though frightened, Utsuki and Kureha looked around for the sound's source. It was a crow, missing one wing, covered in dead leaves. Perhaps it had exhausted itself and fallen, maybe it hit a tree branch somewhere... She couldn't explain the wound that would cause it to lose its wing.
"How did it get that injury...?" Utsuki said, breaking the short silence.
"Poor thing..." Kureha added, suddenly jerked back to consciousness of her surroundings.
The bird's movements, writhing in pain, gradually began to get weaker in front of the sisters, who watched it worriedly.
She wanted to save it, but it was clear by its pained state that nothing could be done, and the moment seemed to stretch on forever. Pained by their helplessness, Kureha and Utsuki watched it silently until it finally stopped moving.
"Rest in peace..."
Kureha set the last flower she held upon the mound of earth with a branch stuck into it and prayed. Utsuki, unable to hide her trembling, put her hands together, but her eyes were empty.
"But why mulberry fruit...?" Kureha said softly, recalling the strange appearance of the now-buried bird.
The bird's corpse was so soft it didn't seem like a living thing. When she had picked it up, it seemed to curl up in her palm. Its oddly-swollen stomach was so full of mulberries that they spilled from its eyes and mouth as she carried it. They came out of its eyes and mouth with their pained yet determined expression. It was so strange that just looking at it made her feel uncomfortable.
"There are no mulberry trees around here, even, are there...?" she said, peering at Utsuki's face as she finished the sentence.
"N-no..." Utsuki replied weakly, confused.
Seeing how pale her face was, Kureha, not wanting her to be frightened any more, stood quickly.
"Alright, Utsuki. It's quite late. We should return home," she said, speaking with a slightly exaggerated smile in an attempt to cheer her up as Utsuki looked like she was about to cry, taking Utsuki's hand and pointing towards the mountain path.
Even as she held onto her sister's hand as they began to walk, Utsuki could barely take her eyes off the mound of earth.
The area all around them was completely dark. How far had they walked? They had surely gone far enough to have reached the shrine by now, but the scenery didn't appear to be changing. Their tired footsteps and no longer joined hands told them how far they had gone.
Everything seemed suspicious on the darkness-shrouded mountain path, and the sound of the dead leaves under their feet as they walked made everything seem creepier still. Utsuki continued on, enduring the pain in her feet. And then suddenly, she heard a voice right beside her.
She felt a small breath linger by her ear. Feeling discomfort down to her waist, Utsuki spun around in reaction. Distressed, she looked around her, but no one was there.
But she could hear something nearby.
It was a tiny, tiny voice, seeming to intermingle with the rustling of the trees in the breeze, singing in a child's voice.
Utsuki pricked up her ears and listened. The singing echoed strangely, evoking a pressurised feeling of fear with its haunting melody.
"It's dangerous here... We have to go back, now..."
Instinctively sensing that she was in danger, she felt sweat begin to pool under her arms.
Utsuki, succumbing to anxiety, could no longer see her sister, who had only just been walking ahead of her, anywhere.
She injected some force into her voice, trying to distract herself from the terror. But however many times she called out, her sister's usual kind reply never came. As soon as Utsuki took a step forwards, with the intention of searching for her sister, something tugged with intense strength on her kimono.
Shocked by the unexpected force, Utsuki fell to the ground.
Utsuki looked up at the sky, and four young eyes peered back at her.
"Will you play with us?"
Utsuki was paralysed with fear.
"Shall we play?"
Their two white faces were within touching distance of hers, the breath that made contact with her face so cold it didn't seem alive. Clinging to her waning consciousness, Utsuki's closed in nonresistance.
Someone grabbed her shoulder.
"Whatever is the matter...?"
The terrified Utsuki heard a familiar, gentle voice.
Opening her eyes timidly, she saw her kind sister before her. Utsuki, having no idea what was going on, looked around her over and over.
"What happened, Utsuki?"
Kureha looked at her worriedly. She took several deep breaths to calm herself down.
Kureha lifted Utsuki into her arms, brushing her off gently. But the next instant, Kureha opened her eyes wide and gasped.
Kureha was looking at the spot on Utsuki's kimono she had been brushing off. Beside her hand was a small handprint and a mulberry seed stuck to her clothes.
"But how...?" Utsuki followed in a despondent voice.
Looking ahead from where her sister had lifted her up, she saw the twin jizo statue decorated with two small flowers.
It seemed as though Utsuki had dropped off at some point as she watched the rain-soaked garden.
"How long will this rain last?"
She smiled at Utsuki. It hurt her to see Kureha's smile, the same as it always was.
"After that, I... Because of me, you..." Utsuki said, remembering the continuation of the dream and being filled with self-blame. Kureha extended her hand curiously.
"Look, Utsuki. The rain is finally beginning to lift. At this rate, it should stop by the time we reach the manor."
Utsuki looked up at her sister and nodded.
There was a large wound on the beautiful white arm her sister reached out, and in the wound was a deep red fruit that even now seemed as though it would fall out.