Local villagers still avoided the mansion and the surrounding forest.
Whatever supernatural force had held it together for so long was gone, and the mansion had simply begun to fall apart. The earthquakes that had collapsed the caverns beneath had also caused parts of the mansion to collapse. Time made its mark, and it was now being reclaimed by the forest.
Wind swept through the trees. Birds trilled back and forth to one another, and animals crept through the fallen leaves. Water flowed beneath the bridge. The quiet afternoon lingered.
The breeze playing in her hair, Miku sat on the steps leading to the front door.
“I wanted to see how you were,” she had explained. “And I thought... it might help.”
Miku couldn’t enter the building; the door was ajar, but she couldn’t fit through the gap, and she didn’t have the sheer strength it would take to force it from its warped frame. She wouldn’t, anyway. Sitting here, this close, was enough. The woman who sat beside her, still as a held breath, was almost as if from a dream.
She talked of the outside world. Of how life had been, since she had left the mansion. Of how life went on, even when it felt like it wouldn’t. The words poured out of her, bridging one topic to the next.
“I found someone, who...” Miku sighed. All at once the river of words ran dry. “Someone who I... He understood. They both... I... Anyway, I like to think Mafuyu would have approved.”
Somehow, she felt he would.
Footfalls echoed down the path, turning to distant thunder as her daughter broke from the forest and came running across the bridge. With an alarmed gasp, Miku rose to catch the girl before she could be pulled into the mansion.
But her fear was unfounded; the curse was gone, and Miu was running only for her mother. Rei appeared after her, having been unable to keep up on the forest path once the child had slipped away from her.
“I’m sorry,” Rei said. “She got scared without you.”
“It’s alright.” Miku smiled. Her gaze followed Rei’s towards the eave of the roof. Cradling Miu in the crook of one arm, she gave her friend’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “She would have been okay.”
As they spoke, Miu stared over her mother’s shoulder at the woman in the white kimono. She reached her tiny hand out; the woman reached out, likewise, to touch her fingers.
Miku turned to look behind her, and Kirie was gone. Smiling at her daughter, she started back across the bridge with Rei. Miu’s gaze remained fixed behind them.
“Shall we go?”
Miu looked up at her mother, and nodded decisively.
Kirie bowed as they left.
Bound to the Hell Gate, she could project herself no further. Perhaps, one day, her strength would fail, and the Gate would open. Until that day, Himuro was at peace.
Smiling, Kirie stood in the sunlight like the memory of water.