Originally posted on 26 July 2012
Zero Novel: Chapter 2-1

"The Forbidden Rituals of the Himuro Family"

Since long ago, many rituals and customs have been passed down through the Himuro family, who govern the area's Shinto rituals. However, most of them have been lost, and all that currently exists is a portion of the writings documenting the traditions.

Barely anything remains of oral traditions. The Himuro line is no more, and even the few people closely related to the Himuros refuse to even mention anything to do with the rituals, which I assume to be the cause of this.

Amongst the rituals, one that was said to have been performed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month has many mysteries surrounding it. The legend still remains that on that day, the people of neighbouring villages would not leave the house, and even today windows are not opened on that date.

I would assume that such a tradition remains is due to the ritual's brutal nature, but the details are shrouded in mystery.

"Mysteries of the Rope Shrine Maiden"

Looking through the few documents about its traditions, I have come across many descriptions of a person related to the ritual, a shrine maiden called the "Rope Shrine Maiden". The descriptions mention that her left and right arms, legs, and her neck would have ropes tied to them, but there are few hints as to what her role was, and the finer details are unknown.

One theory purports that she was a human sacrifice, but I find it difficult to believe that such a cruel ritual as that actually took place.

"The Disaster Called 'The Calamity'"

Long ago, this area was struck by a great disaster. Some legends tell of this disaster using the name "The Calamity", but there are no remaining records detailing it.

According to the remaining legends, "When all of the mirrors kept in the five shrines shatter, the dead will return." However, could there really be such a strange disaster?

--From the research notebooks of Ryozo Munakata

Mafuyu Hinasaki

The ride on the Tohoku shinkansen from Ueno station took about two hours. From there we changed over to a branch line, and after roughly a further hour we disembarked at a station called "M-gawa". Then there was another hour on a swaying bus. We arrived in a mountain village. It was the village where the mansion we were to research was located.

Three of us went out for research - myself, Mr. Ioka, the editor in charge of the novelisation, and the creator of 'Zero ~zero~', the man who had come up with the concept for and was in charge of the scenario of the game, Mr. Shibaguchi. I had spent whole of the ride there solely asking Mr. Shibaguchi about the story and plot of the game.

During that time, Mr. Shibaguchi spoke about strange phenomena that had occurred during the game's creation.

"I'm not the kind of person who believes in ghosts and things like that, but weird things happened. In the middle of the night, while I was writing details of the scenario down in my room, the air conditioning suddenly broke. I'd only just bought it, so it shouldn't have stopped working like that.

"The next day I right away called someone to get it repaired, but the electrician flicked the switch and it started working again, like nothing had happened. I guess perhaps that may have been a coincidence, but when I went to the office, Kitaike told me that at about the same time his air conditioning seemed to have broken, too. Under the exact same circumstances, but it was back to normal in the morning before he could call anyone to have it fixed."

Mr. Shibaguchi kept talking.

"Things like this also happened. I was writing up the end of the plot, and stayed at the office overnight to work. While I was working, from the other side of a door that been left open I saw someone's face peeking in and out. My eyes aren't too good, but I thought it was just one of the staff members joking around, peeping in at me, and ignored it. However, even after almost an hour had passed, I looked up and saw that they were still doing the same thing. I thought it was really strange, and when I took a look in the next-door room it was empty."

"Didn't you go to a purification ceremony or something?" asked Mr. Ioka.

"No. Like I said before, I don't believe in ghosts or anything. And the producer, Kitaike, said that we didn't need anything like that, so..."

"Did any more strange things happen after that?"

"There was a scream in there which we didn't remember recording, and though we hadn't begun the programming yet, you could see a foot in a part of one of the cutscenes."

"Perhaps it was cursed. What do you think, Mr. Hinasaki?" Mr. Ioka said, rubbing his arms with both hands.

I didn't want to get involved in anything like that. Pushing quite hard to change the subject, I turned to Mr. Shibaguchi and asked, "Is the mansion we're going to be visiting much like Himuro Mansion in the game?"

"The construction and atmosphere are similar, but the floor plan and the finer details of the rooms are fictional."

"How about the family's fate and all that? You know, like, how it was the Himuro family who were burdened with the role of protecting and sealing the Hell Gate, or the Ceremony of the Ropes, or the ritual that created the tearing rope using the Rope Shrine Maiden?" asked Mr. Ioka.

Momentarily, Mr. Shibaguchi's face stiffened, but he quickly hid his confusion by speaking with a bitter smile. "Naturally, I created that."

"Of course you did. It would be really bad for a custom like that to still exist," Mr. Ioka said with a smile, but what bothered me was the look of confusion Mr. Shibaguchi wore. It wasn't the time to ask about it, though, and even if I did get a chance I wouldn't know how to ask, so I stayed quiet and pretended not to notice.

According to what Mr. Shibaguchi told me... For generations, his house had belonged to prosperous landowners, and even now they owned many fields. But the mansion in question was even larger in scale. It housed the owner of 455,000 square metres of land. They had fulfilled the role of head landowner since the beginning of the Edo period, in the early 17th century. These things had been considered fact.

It was close to dusk when we arrived in the village.

"Let's find somewhere to stay and rest for the night, and then set out early in the morning," Mr. Ioka said to break the silence. I, however, was of the opposite opinion. Rather than wanting to go to the mansion, I wanted to go and look for Miku without a moment's delay. Even as we travelled there, as we talked, Miku's face had been in my head the whole time and wouldn't go away.

Sometimes, it seemed like a photo that would be put up at a funeral, seemingly surrounded by a black frame. I quickly shook my head to clear away the ominous feelings, telling myself I was just misinterpreting things due to being sleepy, but Mr. Ioka laughed at me.

"That's crazy. Hey. The mansion's in the middle of nowhere, up in the mountains, and it's abandoned. We can't go on up there at your whim, and certainly not in the middle of the night."

"I understand that it's a bit much, but I'd just like to get there as soon as possible," I said stubbornly.

Mr. Ioka looked at Mr. Shibaguchi, bewildered. As he did so, Mr. Shibaguchi, who seemed to have been seeking approval, said something unexpected: "I think it's alright. Last time we came for research, the landlord said it was fine to come without asking permission each time. I spent several nights there all night long, too."

"I-is that... for real?" Mr. Ioka, who had been the most cheerful of us on the way there, made an face that was abject from the bottom of his heart. I didn't think he would allow it. He was probably tired from the long trip, and I wanted us to spend the night at an uninhabited mansion that served as the setting for a game based on ghosts. It was usual for even ignorant kids on a dare to feel scared.

But my concern for Miku was persistently on my mind. I eventually got my own way, and we stopped off at Mr. Shibaguchi's house to pick up food and daily necessities before heading straight for the mansion. We started off down the rice paddy road, walking towards the mountains. Since there wasn't a single outdoor light, we relied on the glow of the evening sun as we continued along the narrowing path.

The sunset was truly brilliant. The western sky appeared to be stained by a large amount of fresh blood splattered from a torn-apart corpse. Naturally I didn't mention such a sinister thing, but Mr. Shibaguchi, leading at the head of the group, and Mr. Ioka, following behind, were silent, wearing firm expressions.

Not only was I seemingly fatigued, but I was feeling uneasy. By the time we arrived at the mansion, the sun was already setting. We had torches, but thankfully it was a moonlit night, so we could see clearly. As I stood in front of the mountain mansion, towering over us, I suddenly felt something cold crawling up my legs.

Although it was a quiet, breeze-free evening, the whole of the mansion that rose up above us was seemed to burst into flame in a heat haze. Its fierceness was due to its intense aura. The aura emitted by the whole mansion was harsh, like a sea lashed by a storm. It felt like it was even enraged by our visit.

"What's the matter?" Mr. Ioka asked me. Not having a sixth sense, he didn't appear to sense anything.

"Nothing," I replied, as my mother's words came to mind. Just as she'd said, in this world there exist places that should be avoided, and places that you should hurry away from. The mansion was a prime example of this. But this time, just once, I couldn't run away. There might be a clue there about my sister Miku's disappearance - no, her erasure from existence.

Until I had gone there, there had been no positive proof, but as I stood before the mansion I understood clearly. These events weren't simply some kind of synchronicity with 'Zero ~zero~'. The beginning of it all was the intense aura that was violent enough to deviate from normality.

I had unconsciously been staring at Mr. Shibaguchi with a grim look on my face. Why would you base something on such an evil place...? But before I could utter the words, Mr. Shibaguchi looked away from me and began to head for the mansion. As I watched him leave, he didn't seem to simply be trying to hide something. Suddenly, the word "puppet" entered my mind.

Mr. Shibaguchi was being controlled by something. Somehow I knew that, but the moment it crossed my mind I began to become more confident about it. Then, what was it that was controlling him? That was when the answer became clear. He was being manipulated by the aura dwelling within the mansion.

Each time Mr. Shibaguchi took a step closer to the mansion, the heat haze-like aura and its heatless flames engulfing the house became clearer to my eyes. Rather than the seemingly oft-mentioned ghostly rapping sound, the creaking sounds produced by ghosts echoed from places throughout the house. It was overlapped by laughter which I felt directly in my nerves rather than hearing.

"Guess it's the mountain birds." Mr. Ioka, looking frightened, surveyed the area.

There is no point in taking the time to explain it. But maybe I'd not even got to the prologue yet. In any case, we were about to enter the aura-enveloped mansion. And furthermore, it was nighttime, the time you couldn't escape from it.

"Maybe it's best for you to go back," I said to Mr. Ioka.

Mr. Ioka looked disgruntled. "All by myself?"

"Yeah. We'll come and get you tomorrow morning." I had said it with him in mind, but maybe what I said wounded his self-esteem.

"I can't come all the way here just to go back by myself."

I had no reply for him. However much I explained, I didn't think that someone like Mr. Ioka, not having a sixth sense, would understand. Wouldn't understand just how dangerous the place we were going into was. If not for Miku, I would never have gone near it. It was one of those places I should have fled home, purified my mind and body with salt and sacred sake, and resolve never to go near again.

And then, when we entered the mansion, my strong sixth sense might allow me to sense some kind of accident. But Mr. Ioka was completely defenceless. If anything happened, he was unlikely to have any way of dealing with it. And moreover, something weird was going on with Mr. Shibaguchi.

"What are you going to do?" Mr. Shibaguchi, who had been walking forwards, turned and said to us. Before I became aware of them, countless airy white hands had reached out from the mansion and were grabbing Mr. Shibaguchi's body tightly.

In an unconsciously frightened voice, glancing back, Mr. Ioka said, "Let's go. We've come this far, after all. Doesn't bother me." He squared his shoulders and walked off.

It seemed as reckless as crossing a highway without looking first. I wished I hadn't suggested we come here for research. But that was just a contradictory thought. Even now, inversely proportional to the evil presence coming from the mansion before me, I was worried about Miku, and wanted to run headlong into the mansion and save her right away.

With each second that went by, the danger Miku was in grew. She was still trapped inside, completely shut off from the real world, and could only be caught in glimpses inside 'Zero ~zero~'. While apologising in my mind, I kept walking with Mr. Ioka.