Part 18: UPDATE 18
Karuwari / Church at Irazu Valley
Alternately known as Female Night Wanderer, Sky Princess, and Bird Mother, she is considered a type of shade or ghoul who consumes human souls. She is said to shroud herself in her own hair and take the form of a bird, but to appear as a woman when the hair covering is removed. According to legend she is the incarnation of a woman who has died during pregnancy, and thus is usually depicted with a voluptuous body. She also steals the children of other women and takes them as her own. As a result, families who have children should not hang their clothing to dry outside at night. The harpy will fly over, dripping blood on the clothes as a mark, causing the child to fall ill with an incurable sickness.
No male harpies exist, only female, and they are most active in the summer months.
-Compendium of Materia Medica
The Found Children
The light in the darkness flickers.
An enormous stone rises from the Mana River and a black-robed figure stands beside it.
--Something is wrong.
The realization that a vital part is missing overwhelms him with anxiety.
(What should I do...?)
He trembles with fear.
Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and his vision wobbles.
A sound like a woman screaming - but also like the wail of a siren - begins to ring all around.
Harsh lights dance in the air.
He collapses to the ground, twisting and shaking in agony, feeling as if his body is being torn apart.
The world appears drenched in red, and then he is tumbling into the darkness.
Down in the darkness, those hidden deep underground...
He struggles to free himself from their binding, climbing up toward the light in the sky.
(Doesn't it want to take me away?)
Makino wakes up in the deserted church.
His face is emotionless, and his robe is covered in dirt.
While carrying out the secret ceremony, the village was shaken by an earthquake.
The continuous rain in the past few days had loosened the soil, causing landslides and killing many villagers.
The bride's secret flight, and the the disappearance of the body of God, led to such catastophe.
Makino thinks over the events of the previous night.
While preparing for the ceremony, he was informed of the bride's escape.
He could not hide his reaction to the shocking news, and that news had spread swiftly amongst the villagers.
That was the word used. Panic soon took hold. He himself had never been more terrified.
--There is no vessel for God.
The village was wracked with despair.
Sniffing the air, he had noticed an unpleasant odor.
(Is this... the beginning of a flood?)
But his realization had come too late. The ground shook uncontrollably, followed by a loud thud. Then the landslide.
--There was a wail, like a siren.
That is the last thing he can remember.
His survival in the landslide was a miracle. Someone must have carried him to the church while he was unconscious.
--The villagers must still be busy with the recovery effort.
Makino is completely alone here, causing him to feel even greater unease. Even the priestess is nowhere to be found.
--Hopefully she is still alive...
Despite his prayers, in his heart he understands the chances of survival in such a catastrophe are slim.
Perhaps she was buried in the landslide.
Makino shakes his head to clear it of the gruesome image.
--Why, did it have to happen in my time?
A hidden ceremony held once every few decades; a sacred wedding kept secret from the villagers.
If he fails then the spiritual guide must be replaced.
--Being replaced because of such bad luck...
The thought pains Makino.
He cannot imagine life as anything other than a priest.
His entire life had been dedicated to guiding the village as its spiritual leader.
If he could have completed his duty his most important role would have been fulfilled. But...
The sun is setting and darkness begins to settle inside the church. Makino lights a candle.
The bitter yellow light reveals the shape of another person nearby.
In the corner of the church a woman in a kimono sits quietly.
Makino waits for his eyes to adjust, and notices his younger sister, Ryoko. The one who married village physician, Dr. Miyata.
"I'm here on behalf of the Kajiros. Miyata is busy with his patients, so I came instead."
--It must be about my replacement.
Makino hides his anxiety and speaks to his sister.
"I see. Is everything alright at home?"
In the dim light Makino cannot make out the expression on Ryoko's face.
"Shiro's dead. Last night I left him at the nanny's. Her house is in Arato, and..."
Makino remembers someone telling him about the extreme damage done to Arato.
Words fail him as he thinks about the devastation Ryoko has suffered.
"Let's go to the Kajiros'."
Makino drives the church car along a local route, flanked on either side by rising terraced fields, with Ryoko beside him.
The headlights light up the rural roads, revealing not a single other vehicle or villager along the way.
The torrential rains and recent earthquake have deposited boulders and fallen trees everywhere. Makino surveys the debris with a heavy heart.
"It's terrible. The flooding must have torn apart the very foundation of the village."
Ryoko remains silent. Unmoving.
She married into the Miyata family when she was 23, and ten years passed before she gave birth to her first child.
Makino well understands the suffering she must have endured for failing to provide an heir for so long.
And as her brother he felt immense relief upon hearing the news that she had delivered a son earlier this year.
But there were complications and Ryoko was rendered unable to bear any more children.
Even from his distant position Makino can see the suffocating care, attention and pressure put upon that child by the Miyatas.
--Now the child is dead.
And it is all his fault.
He cannot imagine what kind of life awaits his sister in that house now.
Makino is overwhelmed by depression. The silence lingers.
Just as he opens his mouth to speak-
Something heavy suddenly strikes the roof of the car, and a dark shadow slides down the windshield.
Makino slams on the brakes, skidding to a stop.
As soon as the vehicle is at rest it begins to shake and sway as if something is climbing on top of it.
Not knowing what else to do, Makino turns off the engine.
Ryoko is staring straight ahead. Makino follows her line of sight.
A man is lying on the ground in front of them.
His body is completely covered with mud, save for the fresh clean tire marks on his back.
Makino climbs out of the car and advances toward the man hesitantly.
He can see the man's mouth moving, as though he wants to communicate something.
Makino lowers his ear closer to listen.
"It's... com... ing..."
The man exerts his last remaining strength to point up at the sky, then instantly collapses, dead.
Suddenly an incredible clash issues from the heavens. Turning his head, Makino sees a mud-covered car, partially functioning, resting at the side of the road.
The car, having seemingly appeared out of nowhere, slowly slides along a small stream that has formed running down the terraces and comes to a stop in the road.
Still rather confused, Makino stares first at the body of the man and then the car that appeared like phantoms.
--Am I dreaming...?
Ryoko leaves the car, paying no attention to Makino, and makes her way toward the other vehicle.
--That was the sound of a baby crying.
Makino runs after Ryoko and stops in front of the half broken car. It is almost completely enveloped by mud.
On the passenger seat is a woman, clutching two infants tightly in her arms.
Sensing someone approach, the woman raises her head, bright rivulets of blood coursing down her face. Some of the blood drips on one child's forehead.
"It's so... so bright! Such bright light..."
The woman turns her head, a joyous smile on her lips, her eyes shining with uncanny brightness.
The woman hands the two babies to Makino, who accepts them anxiously.
--They have the exact same face.
As Makino takes the children, the woman's smile fades away.
Handing the pair to Ryoko, he climbs inside the car in an effort to save the injured woman.
But he sees that the lower half of her body is pinned tightly under the twisted metal.
"I can't get you out myself. Wait here, I'll go get some help."
But the woman's eyes have grown empty and she gives no response. Makino returns to his car with Ryoko and the twins.
"We have to notify the fire department, the hospital..."
Perhaps due to the inexplicable nature of the incident, Makino finds his hands shaking so hard he is unable to get a grip on the wheel or start the car.
In contrast, Ryoko quietly and calmly stares at the faces of the twins.
"I'm going to take this baby home in place of Shiro," Ryoko whispers.
She speaks as if in a trance.
"Ryoko? What did you say?"
Makino realizes how unnaturally calm she has been throughout the entire incident.
"Brother, the Kajiros need someone to take over for the next generation. Why don't we let this baby carry on that duty? That way you can train him as the next village priest until he grows up."
Ryoko smiles at the faces of the peacefully sleeping infants.
"Besides, you wouldn't like to be known as a murderer, would you?"
"Murder? No, this was an accident! The man fell from the sky!"
Makino's voice is shaky.
"A story like that... Who will believe you?"
Ryoko looks at Makino coldly.
"Wouldn't it be better to save a child? We'll say he was abandoned at the church..."
Suddenly, one of the babies begins to cry. Ryoko skillfully calms and quiets the baby, whispering to him in gentle tones.
"The people won't accept a murderer as priest. And besides, everyone will soon begin looking for someone to blame for this disaster."
"Are you saying all this is my fault!? No, I didn't do anything wrong! I..."
"This baby is a gift from God, in place of my dear Shiro..."
Ryoko hands the sleeping baby to Makino and climbs out of the car with the crying child in her arms.
Clutching the infant tightly, Makino gets out and chases after his sister.
--A priest... and a murderer.
Remembering those words stops him in his tracks. He watches her running form, getting smaller and smaller in the distance.
--In the growing darkness, the sleeves of Ryoko's kimono seem to open wide, flapping and dancing like the wings of a bird.
Makino turns around. The body of the man and the odd car are still there.
(What should I do...?)
Cold sweat drips down Makino's forehead.
He stands quietly, holding the baby in his arms.
Misumi Daily Gazette
August 4, 1976
-Corpse Discovered at Site of Landslide-
The search resumed in the village of Hanuda in the early hours of August 4th, after catastrophic landslides devastated the region. Around 8:30am, near the tributary of the Mana River, two bodies were discovered. Their identities were confirmed to be Toshio Yoshimura (31) and his wife Satoko (26) from Harayadori, Yabay Settlement.
It is presumed that they were driving through the area when the landslide struck, sweeping their vehicle into the floodwaters.
The total of dead and missing now rises to 31.