[x] Grab his hand.
For a moment, you lower your gaze, staring at the crumbling floor of the train compartment beneath you, ignoring the hand held out toward you. You’re hesitant to take the boy’s hand—to accept his request. However, the cracks only continue to grow as you idle in your seat. All of it. Everything. It’s all crumbling away, falling apart into countless little specks.
Is this really a decision that I have the right to make?
Even if it’s to help that girl, it’s not something that I can accept so easily.
I don’t want to make a mistake and end up all alone again, with no one—absolutely no one at all—left to turn to. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I should be allowed to take that request. I always mess everything up. I can’t do a single thing to help anyone. I can do nothing but cause pain and misery. If I’m the one to do this, I might only end up hurting her again.
At the same time, I don’t want him to disappear.
I want to help him.
I don’t want this boy in front of me, who has lost everything, to disappear. I don’t want him to be forgotten. I don’t want him to crumble away and be lost to complete oblivion, with no one left to recall him and think of him because of what I’ve done. By helping him, I can at least soothe that girl’s pain… and his…
And my own.
I’ll be able to do it, and leave behind all my regrets and mistakes and finally free myself from this endless cycle.
But even so, I’m afraid…
I’m afraid that this might only end in disaster…
In light of that, can I really continue? Am I… willing to go through with it even though it may rob me of what hope I still hold?
You slowly lift up your hand, closing it around the one extended to you by the boy standing in front of you in a lose grip. A small grin forms on that boy’s face as he looks down at you, the world around him continuing to break down and vanish into nothingness. His fingers tighten around yours, and a warm sensation travels from his clenched hand through your fingertips, running up your arm and filling your body with that warmth.
Yes… maybe… running away… wasn’t a bad idea after all.
Maybe there are things that are best forgotten. Maybe there are things that are best left forgotten. From those things, I will turn away, and walk on without looking back. If those things catch up to me and cause me to falter and fall, then I will fully shoulder the burden of that forgotten past and do what I have to. If… I can cast off its shackles and chains, and finally free myself, then… I will embrace the future with open arms.
Even if by doing so, I am changed forever.
The world shatters completely, extinguishing any light left in the world and casting everything in absolute darkness.
But I can still feel the warmth in my body.
He’s still here.
You open your eyes as sunlight shines through the uncovered window. Feeling sore all over, you take your time in sitting up on your futon, rubbing your eyes. Stifling a yawn, you reach to the side for your mask, fitting it on yourself before forcing yourself to stand up. Grabbing hold of the blanket that covered you during your night’s rest, you hasten to neatly roll up your futon.
Once that’s done, you wander over to the window, staring out at the morning sun. Shaking your head, you turn away from the opening, walking over to a table nearby, on top of which there are assorted bottles of different sizes and colors, though the fact of what they are eludes you. However, there is a large mirror standing behind those bottles, directly set against the wall opposite you.
You stare at your masked reflection, your hand wandering over to the back of your head on its own. Your fingers undo the strap, and with your other hand, you touch the tips of your fingers to its smooth, cold surface. Gripping it tightly, you close your eyes as you pull the mask away from yourself.
And then, slowly, you open your eyes.
The reflection of a dark eyed boy stares back at you.
You tie the straps around your head just as several knocks rattle the door to the room, followed shortly by the sound of your benefactor’s voice.
“Are you awake?”
Turning to face the door, you open your mouth to speak, “Yes, I am.”
“Good!” the voice says as the door slides open, revealing Sanae standing behind it wearing her usual smile. She’s already changed out of her sleepwear, clad in what you assume to be her casual outfit: a shirt and a pair of shorts. “I wasn’t sure what your sleeping schedule was like, so I didn’t know if I should cook now or cook later, but I just ended up doing it at the regular time while worrying about it.”
“I’m an early riser.”
“Maybe,” you say, letting out a single laugh.
Following behind her, you walk into the living room, where all the dishes and food are neatly set out. The shrine’s gods are already present, seated at opposite sides of the table, though they haven’t so much as touched the chopsticks yet. Lady Kanako, by the looks of her, seems to be really out of it, blinking dazedly at the bowl of rice in front of her. Lady Suwako, on the other hand, seems to be as energetic as ever.
“’morning, you two!” she greets enthusiastically as the two of you approach, raising her arm up.
“Sanae, didn’t you set out an extra bowl today?” Lady Kanako says sleepily as Sanae seats herself. Lifting her gaze, her unfocused eyes meet yours, and almost immediately, she points a finger in your direction. “…hey, what’s he doing here so early in the morning?”
“He’s staying here for now, remember, Lady Kanako?”
“…oh right,” she says, nodding slowly as she studies you with an uncomforting expression on her face. “That happened yesterday. Wait, was it yesterday? Doesn’t seem like it was yesterday…”
She continues on in an incomprehensive muttering, looking like she’s ready to nod off at any moment.
“Forgive her. She’s not a morning person,” Lady Suwako says to you in an aside, giving you a wink.
“Right, right,” Lady Kanako says, massaging her temples with two fingers on each hand. Letting out an exasperated sigh, she throws a sharp glance across the table at Suwako full of resentment and envy. “Ugh… Why is it that you’re such a bad drinker and yet you never suffer from hangovers? That is too unfair.”
“Heheheh,” Lady Suwako snickers, gloatingly showing her grit teeth at the other god. “That’s why you’re still a fledgling compared to me.”
“I’m the fledgling, you little midget?”
“Hey! Height has nothing to do with this, you—!”
“Ahem,” Sanae clears her throat, silencing the noisy gods. “Since everyone’s here, let’s just eat, okay? No fighting.”
You can’t help but smile at the scene. They’re really strange, aren’t they?
“That’s one of the rules at this house,” Lady Kanako says as she picks up her pair of chopsticks, looking over at you. “No one starts eating until everyone is here. That way, everyone eats together. It’s a good rule, is it not?”
You nod, picking up your own set of chopsticks.
Soon after finishing up breakfast, a knock comes at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Sanae says, standing up from the table.
She hurries on over to the door, sliding it open. Not long after, she returns with a somewhat heavy look on her face, seating herself at the table again. Looking over to you, she says, “…Um, they want to talk to you. You know. Those two.”
Understanding immediately, you push yourself up off the ground, nearly stumbling and falling over on your way to the front door. There, standing at the opened doorway, you see Miss Momizi and Miss Aya.
“Good morning, Miki!” Miss Aya greets you in a high spirited way, excitedly waving your hand. “So, you’ve spent the night at the Moriya shrine! How was it like? Were you privy to any of the shrine’s darkest secrets? Was there an underground torture chamber hidden in any of the rooms? ‘A First Hand Account of the Moriya Shrine’s Unscrupulous Activities, Revealed!’ or something like that, if we run it.”
“Miss Shameimaru, save it,” Miss Momizi says sternly, letting out a grunt that sounds almost like a snarl. With a concerned expression, she looks over to you. “…I’m sorry, Mikio. It must have been hard…”
Miss Aya frowns, staring at her subordinate for a few seconds before glancing back over to you with a pleasant smile on her face. “Excuse us for a sec, Miki.”
With that said, she links her arm with Miss Momizi’s before dragging her off, presumably to where she thinks they’re out of your earshot, though you can hear them just fine. A frown returning to her face again, she speaks to Miss Momizi in an almost berating tone.
“...Look, Momi, I know you’re worried about him and all, but if he sees us walking on eggshells around him, he’s just going to feel worse. Try to loosen up a bit, okay?”
“Oh,” Miss Momizi replies, her face flushing a bit. “…I’m sorry. I thought you were just being thoughtless again.”
“I’m offended!” Miss Aya says in a mock-hurt voice.
You stand silently, watching the pair return to you. Miss Aya is wearing that bright smile full of energy again, and while Miss Momizi doesn’t smile, she at least seems less tense than she was before.
“So, did they feed you alright?” Miss Aya asks.
“They didn’t make you sleep in the shed or anything?”
“No, I slept in a room.”
“Mm,” Miss Aya nods, satisfied. “…So you’re probably wondering what’s the situation on our end, huh?”
“Well, the official temporary cover up is that you’re here to act as a live-in bodyguard to the mountain’s shrine maiden,” Miss Aya says, leaning back on one foot as she keeps her fingers busy playing with her pen. “…That’s what they’ve decided to tell the others, anyway. As you know, the tengu can’t show any signs of internal turmoil to the others at any cost, even if it only concerns a single member of the clan.”
Of course, the tengu were always cautious.
“…Basically, the daitengu council’s stance is to maintain the current status quo—that is, your stay here—until they’ve determined exactly what you are and what you are capable of. So… unless you have some stuff to tell them, this situation might end up a little more permanent than it should be.”
You avert her gaze, not saying anything.
“….I’m really sorry, Mikio,” Miss Momizi says apologetically. “But we don’t have a voice in the council. If it were left up to us, you’d be back with us immediately, but…”
“Why don’t we go to Lord Tenma?” Miss Aya suddenly says.
“Eh?” you blurt out, looking up at her.
“We’ll go over the council’s head and straight to Lord Tenma,” Miss Aya repeats with a small, mischievous smile. “The chief will understand, right? He’s a big guy with a big heart. Plus, he was a pal with Ogata. I think he’ll grant you a favor if you ask for it.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” Miss Momizi says doubtfully. “…Lord Tenma’s rule is no dictatorship. Even he has to follow the will of the council, if that’s the will of the majority. Many of the council members are jaded and old. They opposed his acceptance into the clan to begin with, and without both Master Ogata’s and Lord Tenma’s influence, I don’t think they could be convinced a second time.”
“Well, it’s really up to you to decide though, Miki,” Miss Aya says, winking. “If you like it here, then I guess that’s fine too, though we’ll be a bit lonelier. But hey, it’s not like we’re not going to see each other again.”
[ ] Go talk to Tenma.
[ ] You’ll stay here.