The small shrine in Himuro Mansion's courtyard is called the Moon Shrine, and is where the souls of the shrine maidens used as sacrifices are enshrined. Inside the Moon Shrine there is a dry well called the Moon Well, to the bottom of which moonlight shines on the day of the ritual.
Before the ritual, the Rope Shrine Maiden would purify her body by bathing in the moonlight at the bottom of the well. The bottom of the well is connected to the underground, and the maiden alone would go to the underground this way. According to legend, the body of the first Rope Shrine Maiden is enshrined in the Moon Shrine, but nothing of value was inside. I wonder where the first Rope Shrine Maiden is enshrined...
The Moon Well in the Moon Shrine is hidden by a mechanism in the zushi cabinet. When operated in a certain way the mechanism in the zushi begins to work, opening the entrance to the Moon Well, but at present I have no idea what the method is.
I have examined the documents left by the Himuro family, but with regards to the solution found only the descriptions below:
Obtain the symbols of the four tearers
Show the Himuro family master's seal
It would seem that the symbols held by the four priests who perform the ritual and the seal of the Himuro family master are required. But now that the line has ended, there is no longer a way of obtaining the symbols or seal.
It is said that the aim of the Strangling Ritual is to close a "gate". Since "gate" is a word that signifies the boundary between "inner" and "outer" worlds, it seems as though the Strangling Ritual has some connection to beliefs in the spirit world that have been passed down in this area since ancient times.
Since the olden days, this area has had strong-rooted beliefs in worlds called "Tokoyo no Kuni", the underworld across the sea, and "Ne no Kuni", a spirit world in folklore. These beliefs in other worlds can be observed nationwide, but the other side of a gate often refers to "Yomi no Kuni" - in other words, the land of the dead.
Gates can be thought of as a door connecting the world of the living to the world of the dead. The disaster known as "The Calamity" in legends is said to occur when that door opens. At that time, it is said that miasma pours out from the land of the dead and the dead return. Perhaps in the Strangling Ritual, in order to stop the Calamity, the power of the shrine maiden's death is used to seal the gate.--From the research notebooks of Ryozo Munakata
"If you sleep in a place like this you'll catch a cold, Yae," someone said, and Miku opened her eyes.
She was in an eight-tatami Japanese-style room. There was a doll stand, upon which stood handsome hina ningyou dolls.
"Why am I here...?"
As she shifted slightly, she heard the voice again. "What's wrong, aren't you feeling well?"
Looking up, she saw an unfamiliar man standing there. He was perhaps around forty years old. His hair was parted to the side with hair oil, and he wore a grey three-piece outfit. He was smartly-dressed, but his image seemed somewhat outdated. Perhaps because of the round, old-fashioned glasses he wore.
"Who are you?" she asked, and the man's face stiffened momentarily, but returned immediately to a kind smile.
"You're tired. You should rest. I'll lay out a futon for you."
The man opened a closet and began to set out a futon in the room. Miku stood and watched his face vigilantly as she took a few steps.
"W-what are you doing?"
"What am I doing? What do you mean, Yae? By the way, you're wearing strange clothes. I didn't know you owned Western clothing," he said, looking Miku up and down.
With one hand she gripped the hem of her skirt, covering her chest with the other. She noticed that at some point she had dropped her scarf. She wasn't overly exposed, but she did it reflexively when being stared at. That said, the man's gaze didn't seem perverted in any way. On the contrary, she felt something like love and affection from him. To look at him he seemed quite scary, but maybe he had a kind heart.
"I'm sorry, but where exactly am I?"
"'Where'...? Nevermind. Rest a little. No need to worry about preparing Mikoto's meal. I will make it for her. I'll make some porridge for you, Yae."
The man spoke sadly yet compassionately, and left the room. Not knowing what to do, Miku stood there. She calmed herself down and thought about what had happened so far. As she had been walking around the mansion looking for her brother, she met a child in a white kimono. The child asked her to help Kirie, so she went to the shrine. There she met Kirie, and passed out due to her intense rage. Then she woke up here.
What about the Camera Obscura?
Quickly looking around her, she saw it lying near where she had been collapsed. Gripping it tightly, she got closer to the door the man had left through, held her breath and peeped outside. She couldn't sense anyone's presence. Cautiously, she opened the door. Through the gap, she could see outside of the room.
At some point, dawn had come. Beyond the latticed door, she could see the sakura tree garden. She could see young children in the garden. They seemed to be playing demon tag or hide and seek. Miku quietly closed the door before someone saw her. She returned to the centre of the room and was once again trying to get a grip on the situation when she noticed something.
Something about the room was strange. It was new. The night before, while searching for her brother, she had definitely looked inside this room. She seemed to remember that then, too, the same doll stand had been there, but she had noticed a layer of dust and cobwebs.
It wasn't just the dolls. When she had seen this room last night, the whole thing looked like it hadn't been used in a long time. And yet looking at it now, it seemed to have been carefully cleaned. The lighting, too, had been different, not just in this room but all over the mansion, like it had never been touched by electricity. But now, even though the devices were old, electric lights were lit.
As she wondered why this could be, she looked down and noticed a bag lying by the side of the doll stand. It seemed like the man from before had forgotten it and left it behind. Maybe there might be some kind of clue. Even while thinking about how rude it was to do as she wanted with it, she couldn't stay baffled like this.
Mentally apologising, Miku approached the bag. It looked to be well-used, but was a fine bag made of black leather. She undid the clasp. Several books and notebooks were inside. From amongst them, she took out the notebook nearest her hand. Written on the cover in fountain pen was "Ryozo Munakata". It seemed to be the name of the man from before, but she had no idea who he was. She opened the next page. It seemed to be a diary.
20th of May
We finally managed to move to Himuro Mansion. It was tough getting permission from the locals, but just as I had thought, the air around here is good, and it should be good for Yae's body here, too. Our daughter Mikoto seems to have taken a liking to the place, and making friends with the local children so quickly has put her in high spirits.
Yae seems to find an old mansion like this unpleasant, but once I have made progress with my research I plan to do some work to make the house more habitable. Best of all, being in this mansion means I don't have to go out to work. Everything is somewhere in this house. I can be with Yae all the time.
2nd of June
Since we moved to Himuro Mansion, my research is bearing more fruit than I had thought. The other day, I found some documents left by the last Himuro family master, saying that he passed from this world after a massacre.
There are many mechanisms in this mansion, and there appear to be rooms not shown in sketches. There must still be lots of hidden documents.
5th of June
This has always been an insular area, but the local people are even less willing to talk than usual when it comes to the ritual. The Rope Shrine Maiden, the Holy Mirror, the Calamity - the ritual must hold the key to all of these legends.
13th of June
Mikoto picked up what seems to be a strange camera. She appears to have found it while playing demon tag in the mansion. I tried to ask her where in the mansion she found it, but she answers only that a girl in a white kimono gave it to her, and I can't get anything clearer than that out of her.
14th of June
I examined the camera from yesterday, but couldn't find anything particularly strange about it. It was probably left behind by someone who came to investigate the mansion.
15th of June
The weather was good today, and Yae also seemed in good health, so the three of us went out for a stroll in the mountains. Yae seemed to enjoy being outside after such a long time. She has taken a shine to Mikoto's camera, taking pictures with it all the time.
18th of June
These last few days, Yae has been taking Mikoto's camera around with her and taking pictures of all different places in the mansion. I tried to ask her what she was taking pictures of, but she would only mumble incoherently that she could "see" something, and wouldn't give me a clear answer.
19th of June
Since the day we went into the mountains, Yae seems to have been in poor health. Today she was so ill that she was confined to her bed.
The account ended there. The "Yae" mentioned in the text seemed to be Ryozo Munakata's wife. He, his wife and their daughter Mikoto appeared to have been living together at Himuro Mansion. But however she thought about it, she hadn't sensed a single presence in the mansion since she arrived there the night before.
Now that she thought of it, the man from before - Ryozo Munakata - had called her "Yae". Had he confused Miku with his wife? She was getting more and more confused. She suddenly looked up at the wall, upon which was a single photo.
The photo was quite old. Shown in it was a man. He seemed to be in his thirties, with a bold and confident face.
Who is this photo of?
Miku looked down from the photo as she questioned this. She took another, different notebook from the bag and opened it. The words inside were written in tightly-squashed rows in fountain pen. It seemed to be a memo. It had been scribbled roughly, and so was difficult to read, but thinking it might hold a clue Miku desperately tried to decipher it.
The sentences were about the mysteries of the Himuro family's rituals. The first thing that caught her attention was about the "Blind Demon Ritual". Was the ghost of the blinded woman Miku had met last night the altered form of someone connected to that ritual?
The next thing that interested her was was about "the mysteries surrounding the Rope Shrine Maiden". The shrine maiden had five ropes tied to her arms, legs and neck, which brought Kirie to Miku's mind. Was she, too, a victim of being sacrificed as one of the Rope Shrine Maidens? Perhaps then her malice remained, which she was cursed by until this day.
"Yes, there are some inaccuracies, but she was a victim."
Looking up, one of the dolls was changing - into the girl in the white kimono...
"Hey, tell me. What happened...? Why are there people living in this mansion? The man from earlier... Ryozo Munakata? Who is he? And..." The questions kept pouring from Miku's mouth.
"Kirie used her power to send you back in time. The mansion as it is now is about fifty years before you came here. It wasn't used for a long time, but a folklorist called Ryozo Munakata brought his wife and daughter to live here so he could conduct research."
"If I've gone back in time, does that mean I can't meet with my brother?"
Without answering Miku's question, the child said, "Do you know why you were brought to this time?". She spoke innocently, but also with the stern tone of an adult.
"'Why'? Is there a reason for it?"
The girl nodded deeply and said, "Hey, do you know of someone called Mikoto Munkata?"
"Isn't that the name of the daughter of the man from before called Ryozo Munakata?"
"Then who is Mikoto Hinasaki?"
"Mikoto Hinasaki was my grandmother's name... She died before I was born, so I never met her, but my mother told me about her."
"Mikoto Munakata and Mikoto Hinasaki are the same person."
"B-but... Then, what about the surname...?" Miku was too confused to think properly.
"Read this - it's Yae Munakata's diary," the girl said, holding out a notebook.
It was covered in pretty Japanese paper, with Japanese-style binding. Taking it, she looked inside. Characters were written in flowing rows with what seemed to be a brush and ink.
10th of June
Mikoto seems to like the mansion, and today, too, she is playing demon tag with her friends from nearby. A big mansion seems like just the right place for children to play, but it's maybe a little large for someone prone to illness such as myself.
15th of June
I had such fun today. I went for a stroll in the mountains with my husband and daughter. I seem to be in good health, as we were able to walk until I was a little tired. I enjoyed it very much.
18th of June
That camera appears to have some kind of strange power. It can photograph impossible things. Mikoto came to beg me to let her borrow it. I don't know what it is, but she mustn't see. I don't want her to get involved. I have a bad feeling about it.
24th of June
Mikoto didn't come home. She said she was going to play demon tag with her friends, but she shouldn't have left the house. She had the camera with her. Neither Mikoto nor her three friends came back. It's like they've been spirited away.
27th of June
Three days have passed since Mikoto was spirited away. Everything is so strange, ever since we moved to this mansion. Since she picked up that camera. If I am going mad, maybe it would be easier that way. I can see them even without the camera now.
The diary ended there. Opening the next page, she found an envelope tucked inside. Written on the front of the envelope was "Final Letter".
Miku opened the envelope. A sheet of writing paper was inside.
It... it was my fault. It was all my fault for giving her the camera that day. Because of that, ghosts took her away. It was my fault.
If, like the child had said, Mikoto Munakata was Miku's grandmother, that would make Yae her great-grandmother. And now Miku was looking at her great-grandmother's diary, and her last letter before death.
"That is the camera mentioned in it." The child pointed to the Camera Obscura by Miku's side.
"Because of this camera, my grandmother's mother..."
"It can't be helped. But in this camera..."
The girl waddled over and picked up the camera. And then a moment later, slammed it forcefully against the wall. The camera's lens broke, its bellows torn.
"What are you doing?"
"Look, is there something inside?" the child said.
Miku, although not satisfied without an explanation, picked up the broken Camera Obscura. she could see something glittering from inside the ripped bellows. Taking it out, she saw it was a mirror fragment.
"Why is a mirror piece in a place like this?"
"It's one of the five pieces of the shattered Sacred Mirror."
"The Sacred Mirror..."
A special mirror called the Sacred Mirror was placed before the Hell Gate. The mirror reflected the Hell Gate, repelling the miasma, and weakening its power. In other words, the mirror was essential to keeping the Hell Gate sealed. But the mirror shattered due to the Calamity's impact, breaking into five pieces. Four pieces are already in place, but the final one was missing. It was hidden inside the camera."
"Who would do something like that?"
The voice was not that of a child. Miku's head shot up. Standing there in the girl's place was Kirie.
"Why... why did you do that?"
Kirie watched Miku with stern eyes, but soon silently dropped her gaze.
"Tell me why the disaster called the Calamity, which Ryozo Munakata wrote about in his notebook, occurred. I'd like to hear it from you."
Starting there, Kirie began to talk at length with detachment about the sorrowful events of the past.
"Below this mansion, Himuro Mansion, there are ruins that have existed since time immemorial. They surround an imposing stone gate called the Hell Gate."
"A stone gate?"
"Yes. It was said to be the gate to the underworld. When the gate fully opened, the worlds of the living and dead would become joined and all of the dead would return."
"The dead..." Miku held her tongue.
"Since the olden days, the people of this region have feared and worshipped the Hell Gate. The role of protecting and sealing the gate fell upon the Himuro family. The Himuros performed a ritual called "the Ceremony of the Ropes" to keep it sealed, needed for which was a shrine maiden with no impurities. She was known as the Rope Shrine Maiden, and wasn't allowed to step outside of the mansion, raised in a cell, so as to sever all of her worldly ties. This was repeated over and over.
"Along with her growth, ropes were tied to her arms and legs. When she reached the age of seventeen, a rope was also tied around her neck, and the Strangling Ritual was performed."
Miku kept talking as she looked at the shocked Miku with sad eyes.
"The ropes wrapped around the Rope Shrine Maiden's limbs and neck were pulled by a special mechanism. These ropes were used to create the "tearing rope". Using those ropes is the only way to seal the gate. In an unbroken cycle, shrine maidens of the Himuro family were sacrificed in order to keep the gate sealed. But at the time of the last Rope Shrine Maiden, the incident occurred."
A sad smile appeared on Kirie's lips. She continued in a more grief-filled voice than before.
"At that time, the rigid customs had been relaxed, and she was able to walk around outside the mansion. When she did, the final Rope Shrine Maiden saw a young man as she was coming and going around the mansion, and fell in love with him...
"Since she still had attachments to the world of the living, the rope created when she was torn apart in the Strangling Ritual failed. And then, the Calamity... People who made direct contact with the miasma seeping out from a gap in the gate were gravely wounded and left on the verge of death. And the family master, who went mad after inhaling the miasma, took the family master's duty of keeping those bathed in the miasma from leaving the mansion to another level, beginning to massacre everyone in the mansion. It is said that in the end, the mad family master wiped out the entire family."
"Could the final Rope Shrine Maiden possibly be..." Miku asked, and Kirie looked down, tears flowing from her eyes.
"My fate was to never be with the one I loved. But even though I was supposed to be the only victim, even the man I loved was killed. Because he became involved with me, he was killed. My pain from that time, along with my profound loneliness, created my strong hatred, and turned me into this..."
Kirie fell silent. Feeling as though her heart was being torn apart, Miku naturally began to cry, too. For the first time, she felt as though she could understand Kirie's grief, and the depth of her hatred. And somehow, at the same time, she also felt as though she knew why she had come to this mansion. It wasn't just to look for her brother. She had been led there. By her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. And by Kirie...
"Is there nothing I can do?" Miku said to Kirie.
She intended to do whatever she could.