This is just a little "what if?" AU fic - well, more of a fic summary really - I put together for my own amusement to go with the Deep Crimson Butterfly OST. Some of the tracks seemed to make the frame of a story in my head, so in the end I just went with it.
When she’s 17, Mio Amakura attends the Shadow Festival at the Kureha Shrine (#1, Shadow Festival), near the village where she spent her early childhood. She hasn’t lived in the region for a long time, but in a few months most of the valley will be inundated by a dam being built nearby. This is Mio’s last chance to see the places where she played as a child, and during the Shadow Festival, she hopes to say a final goodbye to her father, who disappeared in the forest when she was very young, and her sister Mayu, who fell from a cliff while they were playing in the woods and died.
Soon the festival will reach its climax as hundreds of lanterns are released into the sky, but Mio wanders away from the crowd and into the woods (#2, Lights between the Trees). As the sounds of music and chatter fade behind her, she senses something calling to her from deeper in the forest (#3, Trance). Before long she has left the festival far behind, but she doesn’t realise it: ahead of her, in the distance, she can make out the glow of fire, and someone is chanting a slow, sad song (#4, Lost Path).
Thinking she has circled back to the festival once more, she follows the path and comes out in an unfamiliar place (#5, Misono Hill), a hill overlooking a cluster of houses that she doesn’t recognise. Apart from the braziers burning on the hilltop, the place looks ancient and derelict, but the path she followed to get here has disappeared, so she has no choice but to go down into the village (#6, Deserted Streets).
Mio wanders from house to house, but everywhere is empty. She’s about to turn back when she sees a figure disappearing into one of the dilapidated buildings. For reasons she can’t explain, he makes her think of her father, whom she only knows from photographs. She follows, but immediately senses something wrong in this house (#7, Distortion). The air is stale and heavy, and there’s the sense of a powerful and sinister presence.
As it turns out, that sense was not in the least exaggerated. Mio is pursued through the house by a series of hostile spirits (#8, Ayako; #9, Blind Demon; #10, Broken Neck; #11, Hospital Patient). Mio tries to make her way back to the exit, but panic and disorientation set in (#12, Iron Heart); she loses her way, and the ghosts close in around her (#13, Taboo).
But the end never comes. Mio opens her eyes to find herself back on the street, all alone (#14, Open Air) before a grand gateway. Was it just a hallucination? Did she imagine everything, including her father’s spirit? Or did he help her somehow, at the last minute?
Whatever the truth may be, she decides to trust in whatever force brought her to these gates, and goes through (#15, Whisper Bridge). She finds herself in a much grander house than any of the others. The quiet in this house is almost as unsettling as the overwhelming malice in the last one; as she explores (#16, Bloody Handprints; #17, Empty Rooms; #18, Footsteps in the Hall; #19, Flickering Room; #20, Grand Hall) she sees no one, and yet she never feels completely alone (#21, Sixth Sense).
Nothing attacks her, though, and in this house she manages to find out a little about the history of the village, and a possible way out. Armed with knowledge, she makes her way out (#22, Descend; #23 Cellar) and begins to explore the village with a new purpose (#24, Tachibana House; #25, Heaven and Earth). Once again she hears the sad song that led her to this place (#25, Distant Song), but it’s far and faint, and she can’t tell where it’s coming from.
The documents in the grand house spoke of the family crests of the village priests (#26, Family Crest), and Mio collects them one by one. Her explorations disturb the spirits of the village streets, and in the cemetery (#27, Cemetery) she’s ambushed by the ghosts of three children (#28, Children Playing Tag) playing a local variation of the game of demon tag that Mio vaguely remembers from her own childhood in this area. She evades the children and escapes to a candelit chamber in the bole of a hollow tree (#29, Old Tree), where hundreds of crimson pinwheels turn in the wind.
She uses the family crests in the mechanism, and goes to the shrine at the top of the hill (#30, Kureha Shrine), thinking her escape is near at hand. Another spirit attacks her there (#31, High Priest), speaking cryptically about the pain of the Remaining, but the door at the back of the shrine is open, and Mio escapes.
Behind the door she finds a staircase leading down under the earth, and a tunnel stretching into the dark. She follows the path as well as she can, but the web of passages is complex and labyrinthine, and rather than emerging into the forest, she finds herself in a great cavern. Moonlight shines down through a natural chimney in the rocky ceiling, and far at the back of the cave a few braziers burn, but her eyes are drawn by the darkness in the centre of it all. It could be an old mineshaft, its shape is so regular, but somehow she knows it’s nothing any human created. It both repels and draws her, and from within, she can almost hear voices (#32, Abyss).
She approaches the pit, reluctant to get any closer but unable to resist its call. There’s a flat slab of stone placed before the abyss as if intentionally, like an altar, and as she passes it she senses someone behind her (#33, The Bird in the Cage). She turns in alarm, and the girl staring back at her is like a mirror image of herself. It’s impossible, but Mio recognises Mayu, the sister who died more than ten years ago. She should be just a child, but perhaps twins are different; perhaps Mayu never completely let go of life, because she never let go of Mio.
I’ve been waiting so long, Mayu says (#34, In a Dark Place). You won’t leave me now, will you?
From all around, Mio hears the song of the priests, the sorrowful chant that drew her to the lost village in the first place. She is backed up against the stone altar, with nowhere to go. Mayu stretches out her hands.