My own voice had returned. At some point I'd once again taken on Miku's viewpoint and wandered the mansion. But I now remembered the room, the place where Miku had picked up Hirasaka's notebook. It was the room she had got to by going into the hallway from the entrance and turning the corner.
Relying on my memories, I ran towards the fireplace room. Maybe Miku was there. The thought made my heart quicken. It was dim inside the mansion, and to make matters worse the batteries in my torch seemed to be running out, emitting only a very unreliable beam of light. As I stepped carefully, I called out to Miku.
But Miku wasn't in the fireplace room. Even still I kept shouting for her, searching the room. I stood in the place where Miku had been earlier, when she picked up Hirasaka's notebook. As I reached the same spot, I thought I saw a notebook there - but it was black, not red. Just by picking it up and opening it to the first page I knew to whom it belonged. It was Mr. Takamine's notebook. I knew this much just by glancing at his distinctive handwriting. I brought the torch closer, and read the writing in the book like I was devouring it.
Investigation into Himuro Mansion
Himuro Mansion was once the house of the owner of a large area of land. Not only that, but it had some relation to the area's rituals, said to be a mansion with special meaning. (I have not found any documents detailing these rituals further.)
There is a legend that tells of the final master of the Himuro family massacring all of the family members. There are further cases, such as one of a family going missing, and no one visits anymore, the building now abandoned.
Perhaps this is why I can find no descriptions of the rituals, or find any data about the place itself.
24th of July - About Himuro Mansion
Himuro Mansion was the home of the owner of the family that governed the region, owners of vast amounts of land, but in the area it's said that the place was originally built as a Shinto temple for the performance of a certain ritual. However, at that time the people kept the ritual secret, so that it was forbidden even to speak its name. These days, except for a few legends, barely any descriptions of the ritual remain.
20th of August
It seems as though a folklorist by the name of Ryozo Munakata was researching the various rituals of Himuro Mansion. He appears to have left behind a research book, but however hard I look I can't find it. Maybe there's a copy in a library somewhere.
30th of August
I still haven't found the book. I'll put in a request to Mr. Ogata of the editing department about it. Though even if I ask, I don't think even he'll be able to find it.
13th of September, 9:30AM
We discovered Ogata's body. All of his limbs - his feet, hands and head had been torn off. Looking at him, there could be no doubt that it was just the same as in those strange deaths that occurred in the region long ago. I wanted to notify the police right away, but the mansion's door was sealed by some sort of power, and wouldn't open. It looks like we're trapped here.
In the photo Ogata had with him, there was something like rope on his limbs. Could it have some connection to the "Rope Shrine Maidens" of this region's legends, who had ropes tied to their limbs?
13th of September, 12:10PM
Something is strange about Tomoe. Earlier, she began constantly speaking nonsensical, meaningless words.
But maybe it's only natural for her to be upset, after seeing Ogata in that state.
13th of September, 3PM
Tomoe's condition continues to worsen. She trembles uncontrollably, muttering the same words over and over, constantly. Whether it's some kind of supernatural phenomenon or not, I think it would be best to get out of this mansion as soon as we can. Tomoe can't move, so I will go back to searching for an exit by myself. Even if we stayed here and waited, I doubt anyone would come for us.
But we still can't get out of here. The whole mansion is shut tight.
14th of September, 10AM
The appearance of that woman, the one Tomoe called "Kirie", is an exact match with that of the Rope Shrine Maidens of legend. The way Ogata was killed also resembles the legends. So that woman is the Rope Shrine Maiden?
14th of September, 8PM
Amongst the data Tomoe collected, there is a passage about the five mirrors passed down through the Himuro family. The mirrors warded off disaster from the region, and sealed the gate to the other world. Perhaps the cause of this abnormality is those mirrors.
In a small earthquake a few days ago, the sacred mirrors in the five shrines of this region all broke. Learning of that incident was what inspired me for this work.
Though these days there are five sacred mirrors, some legends say that one more mirror, the "true" mirror, exists. There was a description to that effect in the folklorist's research notes I found here in the mansion, too. (Though I think I dropped the book somewhere while fleeing from that woman.)
Here are my deductions.
The five mirrors, apparently destroyed in the recent earthquake, served the role of "guarding" the true mirror. Perhaps the cause of the mirrors' breaking was not the earthquake, but a sign of the true "Himuro Sacred Mirror" seal breaking for some reason, and they were sounding the alarm bell.
Now, I'll head for the shrine inside Himuro Mansion where the Sacred Mirror is enshrined. My four limbs are bound by the curse, and I can't escape from it - all I have is the faint hope to cling to of restoring the broken seal. I have already found four of the Buddha statues required in order to obtain the mirror, and I've already discovered an old document about the location of the remaining one.
"Pray to Buddha at the foot of the great bird,
So that the pitiable maiden's soul may be delivered unto the gods."
If all goes well no one will ever read these notes, and I will use them for the plot of my next work. Finally, I would like to thank my assistant and partner, Tomoe Hirasaka. Without the words she left me, I probably would not even have been able to leave behind this last work.
As I looked through Mr. Takamine's writing I felt discomfort in my jelly-like legs. Mr. Takamine had come to this mansion. But did these things happen to the real Mr. Takamine, or the one in the game? These kinds of doubts themselves wee unconscious. It was because when I came to this mansion, Mr. Takamine no longer existed in reality. The "me" in the game - no, the youth called Mafuyu Hinasaki had come here searching for his mentor, Mr. Takamine. But I had visited to do the novelisation of 'Zero'.
Then what about Miku? Even the existence of Miku, my only relative in the real world, hadn't been erased, had it? No, I still believed that Mr. Takamine and Miku were both still alive in reality. If they weren't, everything in the life I had led would be gone.
"So this is where you've been. I've been looking for you," a voice suddenly said, shocking me so badly I jumped. I looked to where the voice had come from, and standing there was Mr. Ioka.
"Ah, sorry, did I scare you?" Mr. Ioka quickly bowed his head.
"Where on earth were you?"
"'Where'...? It was weird. I thought I was walking along with you and Mr. Shibaguchi, but suddenly noticed that the people I was with were totally different people."
"Who do you think it was? I was walking around the mansion with Junsei Takamine and Tomoe Hirasaka from the game."
"W-wait a second. Mr. Takamine and Hirasaka in the game are with an editor called Koji Ogata, right?"
"Right. At some point, I became Koji Ogata," Mr. Ioka said, looking at me.
Just his casual gaze made my back tremble. It wasn't Mr. Ioka before me. He had taken on the appearance of Koji Ogata, the way he looked in the game. But he looked at my stunned self and spoke.
"You're Mafuyu Hinasaki after all. Hey, we've met before, right? Mr. Takamine introduced us. Have you forgotten? I'm Mr. Takamine's representative in the magazine, Ogata."
"What are you talking about, Mr. Ioka?" I said, barely managing an insincere smile.
"Hey, stop calling me Mr. Ioka. You've got the wrong guy."
"But, just a minute ago, you..." The words stuck in my throat.
If I said, "Just a minute ago you were someone else," he would have thought I was insane. But then what should I say? The editor called Koji Ogata didn't exist. I was acquainted with Mr. Takamine and Hirasaka, but Ogata was nothing but a character in the game. It was impossible for us to have been introduced by Mr. Takamine.
"But how did you get here?" asked Mr. Ioka - no, was he really Ogata? - ignoring my bewilderment.
"What do you mean 'how'? I came here for the novelisation," I said, following the facts.
"Huh, that's weird. But your role is to come here searching for the missing Mr. Takamine and his party... which I guess includes me." In response to my question, he bit his lip.
"We vanish at this mansion, and then you come to save us and go missing, too. That's how your little sister, Miku Hinasaki, gets here, and proceeds towards the climax of the game." I instinctively sensed something strange in his behaviour.
"I get it - you're Mr. Shibaguchi, right?" I was sure that Mr. Shibaguchi was dressing up as the Ogata character from the game and toying with me. But he tilted his head, mystified.
"Mr. Shibaguchi? Ahh, the man who created this game. Did he come here, too?"
"I came here to conduct research with Mr. Shibaguchi of Tecmo, and the head editor, Mr. Ioka. But we got separated..."
"Actually, I have a grudge against him," he said, forcibly interrupting me.
"A grudge? Against Mr. Shibaguchi?"
"But it's only to be expected, right? After all, you get to be a main character right until the end, but I only get a teeny tiny little role. And besides, do you know what happens to me?"
He frowned at my silence and took a notebook from the pocket of his denim vest, holding it out in front of me and saying, "Take a look at this." I took the notebook and looked down at it.20th of August
It seems as though there is a description of Himuro Mansion in a certain folklorist's book, and he wants it for his next work, so I've been asked to find it. It's a book about rituals and legends from all over the country.
Author: Ryozo Munakata / Title: unknown
22nd of August
I've not found the book, but I have done a bit of investigating about the folklorist. He appears to have gone as far as to move into Himuro Mansion to continue his research. But after a certain incident his whole family vanished. Even though I didn't find the book, I was able to find a newspaper article from back then. As it's about a disappearance it's quite understated, but it might be some material to go on.
10th of September, 11AM
The earthquake last month and the strange deaths that occurred in the village at the base of the mountain seem to have some connection to Himuro Mansion. It'll probably be used in the next novel. Mr. Takamine is putting quite a lot of effort into his research. If he stays like this, maybe he won't have to worry about being in a slump anymore.
10th of September, 4PM
At some point, the entrance door broke. It won't open. We'll have to find another exit.
11th of September
I've not been feeling so great since the night before last. Actually, it's probably more correct to say that it's since Hirasaka took a photo of me. I wonder what the ropes in the photo mean...
12th of September
Now there's another rope.
"'Ropes'...?" I looked up from the notebook.
But no one was there. Where a man should've been standing was a small tape recorder. I picked it up. The tape inside seemed to be nearly half used, and was in the middle of playing. I pressed the rewind button and the tape rewound with a squealing sound. I went to press the play button, but was perplexed.
Koji Ogata was just a character in the game. If I played the tape I thought was left by him, maybe I would be dragged even further into the world view of the game. But then what should I do?
It was no longer a question of whether I listened to the tape or not - my reality had already begun to collapse. When I took on the novelisation job... after that, there had been no way back. Then I had to get a grasp on the situation, and more importantly, figure out what the cause of all this was. It was my mission to find Miku. Repeating this to myself, with trembling fingers I pressed play.
I immediately felt nauseous. A faint staticky noise that couldn't be called sound came out of the tape as it played. They were ghostly sounds, characteristic of things not of this world. The sounds, simultaneously like scraping metal but a soft whisper, continued, and then a man's voice began to play.
9th of September, 5:40PM
"We couldn't find the mansion on any maps, so we asked the people of the village at the base of the mountain, and finally managed to locate it. Stories I heard say that no one has lived in Himuro Mansion for several decades. The people we asked about the mansion's location kept their mouths shut, telling us we shouldn't go there, which left quite an impression on me."
It was the voice... of Koji Ogata. After Ogata recorded that he seemed to have finished, because after a few seconds there was a "pop" and playback ended. I rewound, and listened to that part again. I repeated this two, three times, fear seemed to grip my very bones.
I could only hear it faintly, but I wasn't mishearing; I knew that it was definitely there. When Ogata finished talking, during the several seconds before the recording ended, there was a woman's voice. The voice was frail, like the swaying branches of a willow tree, but froze the listener's heart to the core.
"You shall feel the same pain as I... No one... will escape... from this mansion..."
I listened to the words, unable to press stop.
That wasn't the only recording. I again readied it to play, and Ogata's voice was overlaid with an even more intense noise than before, like shattering glass.
9th of September, 9:40PM
"It's dangerous to walk through the mountains at night, so we're going to stay the night here and continue researching. I've taken a look around a few rooms already, but it looks like the mansion's interior is in better condition than I'd thought. Earlier, I saw something like the shadow of a woman in white in the hallway near the entrance. I'll keep researching, and use these details for my own article."
In the time between the recording ending and Ogata pressing stop, again, there was a woman's voice.
"No one... can leave this mansion... We'll be together forever... Together... Forever..."
The voice was even more tinged with madness, and just listening to the sheer malice in it made my blood run cold. My hands trembling with fear, I took out the game data, and picked up reading the plot summary where I had left off.
A phrase popped into my head: "Such a silly sheep for relying on the manual... Can't figure out a single thing independantly."
Back when I was doing research for a magazine, a report on the youth of today, I had written this phrase. Even as I was tortured by this phrase, I kept reading the plot summary.
"The ghost of Ogata, the editor killed by the Rope Curse"
Editor Ogata died by having his limbs and head torn off. It was inflicted by the Rope Curse of the woman in burial costume, "Kirie".
Both hands. Both feet. And the head.
When rope marks show on these five places, the curse is complete. All the living cursed by it turn into ghosts and wander the mansion.
Ogata becomes a ghost, and attacks Miku...
"Miku is in danger." I was hit by this cheerless thought, pushed down to the depths of my anxiety.