[x] “Who is this?”
“Who… is this?” you ask in a quiet voice, staring at the photo with a dumbstruck look on your face, your mouth just barely able to move enough to form the words you want to speak.
Sanae raises her head in puzzlement, looking up at the picture you’re holding in your hand. Her eyes widen for a moment as she quickly stands up and snatches it out of your hand. For just a second, she makes no movement, her eyes fixed on the content of the photograph. Remembering your presence, though, she quickly snaps out of it.
“Oh,” she gasps as she looks back at you, the hand holding up the photograph trembling slightly as she speaks. “He’s… just someone I used to know in the outside world.”
“Oh…” you say, slowly lowering your own hand. Recollecting that you’re still holding the picture frame in your hand, you place it back on top of the shelf. “…Sorry,” you begin apologetically, leaning forward to bow your head slightly. “I didn’t mean to poke around.”
It takes her a moment to register what you’ve said, and slowly, distantly, she shakes her head. “…That’s okay,” she says with a faint, barely audible-at-a-short-distance voice.
“Was he a close friend of yours?” you ask, curious.
“Mmm,” she affirms, nodding. “He… well, he kind of had a bad mouth and teased me a lot, but still…” Her lips form a small smile as she beholds the picture in front of her. You stare at the photo, taking a small step to Sanae in order to get a second look at it over her shoulder.
Standing behind her, making a ‘v’ sign just above the girl’s head, is a youthful-looking boy with black hair and dark colored eyes. One end of his lips is curled, his mouth forming a playful, bright grin. By his appearance, you would judge him to be around the age of 14. This is, this boy is…
No no no no no.
You mustn’t remember. You mustn’t remember you mustn’t remember you mustn’t remember you mustn’t you mustn’t you mustn’t remember. You mustn’t remember. You mustn’t remember.
You shake your head, clearing away unwanted thoughts as Sanae reaches for the frame on the shelf, slipping the photograph of herself and the boy behind the one of her mother again.
For a moment, your vision shakes, becoming blurry and impossible to make out. All sound is cut off from your ears except for a low, piercing whistle echoing in your head. As your sight refocuses, so does your hearing, and the sensation is similar to suddenly breaking through above the surface of water after submersion.
“—something wrong?” you recover just in time to hear Sanae ask you, looking up at you with a concerned look on her face.
“…Yeah, I’m okay,” you say, massaging both of your temples with your index and middle fingers. “I should get going now.”
“Eh?” Sanae lets out a sound of surprise. “But what about the man—“
“Another time,” you say brusquely, gently shoving past her as you head for the door. “Sorry, but I need to go.”
You ignore the look of confusion on her face as you make your way to the room’s exit, sliding it open and walking through it as she hurries along after you. She tries to say something, but clams up, frowning as she walks behind you. The gods of the shrine, still situated at the table, stare at you as you pass by. Turning to face them near the entrance of the house, you force a smile on your face, politely bowing.
“I’ll be going now,” you say, maintaining that smile. “Again, thank you for the meal.”
“Ah… sure,” Sanae says, still with that confused expression. “You’ll come by again, won’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” you say with a nod. You look toward the gods; Lady Suwako gives you a parting wave from her sitting position, while Lady Kanako grudgingly acknowledges you with a nod. “Then, see you.”
“Um… goodbye,” Sanae says uncertainly.
Quietly, silently, you walk away from the shrine, your motions stiff and cold. For a long while, you simply walk and walk, mindlessly stepping forward and forward, until you reach a large gathering of trees, the branches blocking out the early moon’s rays.
You grit your teeth, you fists clenched so hard that your nails draw blood from your palms, small drops falling to the dirt beneath your feet. The strength in your legs gives out, and you sink to your knees, overcome by a wave of powerlessness. Your breathing becomes frantic and hard as you raise your bloodied palms up to your eyes. Falling forward, you support yourself with your hands, genuflecting.
You raise one hand, beating it against the ground. Thump. Thump thump thump. THUMP THUMP THUMP. Taking a deep breath, you raise both of your fists, pounding the earth with all your might. WHUMP! The dry surface of the earth below breaks under the force of your blows, deep cracks opening up in the ground.
Not breathing, you weakly stand up, staggering over to a nearby tree for support. You feel lightheaded. Your arms are numb; you dare not look at them to affirm their condition. Turning your back to the tree’s trunk, you let yourself fall onto it, slumping against its base.
A laugh escapes your lips as you sit there, your head leaning against the rough surface of the trunk behind you.
It’s a broken, desperate sound.
You’re not sure if you’re laughing or if you’re sobbing anymore. Maybe you’re doing both.
You bring your hand up to your face; it’s cut up badly, bleeding from the marks your own nails left on the palm, as well as several rough lacerations. As you stare at it, your vision is filled with an indescribably unpleasant scene. Something, something, something creeps around your legs and up your body coils around your arm and around your hand and eagerly licks at the blood and fits its mouth around your wounds and—
And then, just like that, the cuts disappear. Your hand is as though it was never injured at all.
You let it fall to your side as you look up at what little of the night sky that’s visible from your place, speaking softly to the evening’s air…
You let out a sob/laugh.
“Why can’t I escape?”
“Did… did you get him?”
“Y-yeah, I think so. I—Uggh!”
Your blade cleaves cleanly through the left shoulder of the humanoid youkai, ripping through flesh and bone alike as it cuts through his ribcage and spine, emerging from the other side of his body. His eyes, widened in fright and shock, roll up to the back of his head as he falls to the ground in two pieces. You coldly turn to stare at the remaining target.
“S-shit!” he says, alarmed.
In his panic, he attempts to take a swing at you. How stupid. You stand your ground as the youkai’s hand, travels at you, sharply clawed nails poised to stab into you. And they do. Your blood splatters on the ground and on the attacking youkai as his hand pierces through your body, forcing an entry just beneath your ribs.
For only a second, the youkai smirks smugly, believing to have made a decisive attack. For only a second, because it quickly becomes an expression of horrification, as he notices that your expression remains unchanged. With your free hand, you grab the arm pierced through your body, preventing the youkai from pulling it out.
“You!” he cries out, tugging on his own arm, frantically trying to free himself from your grasp. “You aren’t human…!”
His useless efforts to escape your grip are soon cut off, as a dark flame travels your hand to his seized arm. He lets out a yelp of surprise as the fire spreads to his entire body, engulfing him in those dark flames. You let go of his arm, and he immediately retracts it from your body as he stumbles back, blindly waving his hands around. When the fire leaves his body, burning out completely, he stands there in dumb shock, unmarked.
“Wha…?” he gasps as he looks at himself in confusion. “Ahhh…ahhhhhhh!” he starts to cry out in pain, staring at his hands with wide open eyes. The skin on his hands begins to darken drastically, becoming completely black. It peels off, falling to the ground in disgusting chunks, forming a discolored goop on the grass below and leaving the red muscles underneath exposed.
“What have you… what have you done to meeeeeeee!?” he blubbers and wails as he looks back at you, trying to walk toward you. But as he takes a step forward, his legs snap off, and he falls to the ground, the discoloring and melting spreading to the rest of his body, until all that remains is dust, soon blown away by the wind.
You place a hand over the gaping hole in your body, and after a brief moment, it is whole again. Slashing your naginata through the air, you flick the blood off its blade and onto the ground. These small fry were unsatisfying but necessary nourishment. It’s time you moved onto your true target.
There is someone tracking you. He has been, for several days now, following your movements. He likely doesn’t realize that you’ve noticed him already. For the last few days, you had tolerated his presence, because while you were aware of his presence, you could not pinpoint his exact location. Until now. He made a careless mistake. Made too much noise this time. Foolish. Stupid.
You don’t act as though anything is wrong, feigning ignorance. If he were to catch you taking a glimpse at his location, he would be immediately alerted to your knowledge of his location, and would flee.
Now, what to do with the sneak.
[ ] Drag him out.
[ ] It doesn’t matter.