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[x] "Why were you so keen to avoid the subject?"
You sit there, biting down lightly on your bottom lip, gazing intensely at the pair of gods seated at the table. There’s more than this. There’s more to this story than what they just told you, and you know that. It doesn’t matter what it is that they’re trying to hide, but rather, the reason behind the secrecy is what’s caught your interest right now. Why...? Are they doing it for themselves, or are they simply trying to hide the truth from their priestess? Are they doing it for their own sake and interests, or because they’re care about Sanae...?
“And so...” you slowly begin, your voice barely above a whisper. It’s very hard to keep your voice from shaking, but you take a gulp of air and carry on regardless, even though your throat is screaming in protest against you. “...Why is it that you wanted to dodge the subject?”
“Eh?” the frog goddess raises her brows, surprised by the question.
“Ah...” Sanae gasps slightly. “Oh, that’s right. Why were you so keen on trying to avoid telling me all this, Lady Suwako...? I don’t really get why you would do something like that...”
“Ah, um, well, uh... it’s nothing, really,” she says, nervously scratching her cheek with one finger. “It’s just, y’know, complicated and long, you see? It... it would have been a pain to explain everything like this, but we were gonna tell you eventua—”
“Gods also have things they would rather not remember,” Lady Kanako interrupts gravely, turning her head away. “...Those times hold painful memories for both of us. Just as a snake sheds its old skin and leaves it behind to grow larger and stronger, we decided that we would let go of those times and always look forward to building ourselves a better future.”
...Yes, that’s a very understandable sentiment. The desire to forget the painful events of the past and walk on a new road to a brighter future, lest you be halted in your tracks and become unable to take even a step forward, the shadows of what happened long ago wrapping its dark tendrils around your limbs to trap them and leave you unable to move on...
“Um... then, did I bring up something unnecessary...?” Sanae says, looking concerned.
“No,” Lady Kanako shakes her head, reaching out across the table to place her hand on top of the girl’s head, affectionately messing up her hair. “Sorry we kept it from you for so long. It was out of our own selfishness that we didn’t tell you, even though you’re the closest human to us.”
Out of the corner of your eyes, you see Lady Suwako biting her lip.
They didn’t lie to the two of you or anything like that.
“Then, I’ll get right to preparing tonight’s dinner,” Sanae says, clapping her hands together enthusiastically as she stands up from the table. “The kappa gave us some fish the other day. Um, how would you like it prepared? Um... let’s see, I think we have enough ingredients to make a stew, but maybe I could try grilling it...”
What they didn’t tell the two of you is...
You look up from the horizon, finding that Miss Aya has landed down on the same tree branch you’re seated on, her ever-present fan gripped tightly in her hand as she looks down at you with a friendly grin. Hopping off the branch, she seats herself next to you, the sturdy branch shaking only slightly from the sudden weight.
“It’s already the end of spring, huh?” she muses to herself as she looks down at the scenery of Gensokyo spread far out before her, bathed in red by the setting sun behind the two of you. She fans herself in a slightly annoyed manner. “Sure does feel like summer already. Even up here where the wind never stops, it’s getting pretty hot.”
“I think the weather’s pleasant enough,” you say with a far-off smile, enjoying the breeze. “I’ve always handled the heat better than the cold.”
“So, it’s almost been a whole season already since you’ve been staying at that shrine,” Miss Aya casually change the topic, though it’s easy to see that that’s what she wanted to talk about from the moment she approached you. “Have you been let in on any juicy secrets? Like, for example, a hidden torture room built underneath the shrine or something like that, the walls and the wooden tables covered in bloodstains that are over a few centuries old...”
“Of course something like that doesn’t exist,” you say with a small laugh.
She frowns somewhat disappointedly, taking a moment to click her tongue to express her dissatisfaction. However, she quickly regains her enthusiasm, and a grin returns to her mouth as she gets ready to fire off her next question. “So then, how’s your progress with the wind priestess going?”
“Progress...?” you turn to look at her inquisitively.
“Y’know,” she says, jabbing her elbow against your arm a few times as though she’s suggesting something, “A forbidden romance between a human god and her tengu bodyguard, living under the same roof? That would be quite a scandalous story if it got out, I’d say.”
“It’s not anything like that,” you say directly.
Miss Aya deflates again, her shoulders sagging a bit as she lets out a sigh. “...Well, it’s not like I would have been allowed to write about it anyway,” she says, shrugging it off. “But you know, Miki, girls like a sense of humor. You should just play along with it sometimes when I ask something like that.”
“If I did, you would have taken me seriously.”
“Geh,” she makes a noise like she’s just bit down on her tongue. Somewhat embarrassedly, she places a hand behind her head. “Well, not gonna deny that at all. It’s kinda hard to tell what your expressions are like, what with that mask in the way and all, so I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not.”
Unconsciously, you reach up with your fingertips to meet the cracked and battered surface of your pure white mask, running your hand over the many fractures in the material. You lower your hand and shake your head. Though you would also like to take off this mask, for right now, it would be best if it stayed on.
“So, you haven’t been having any difficulties adjusting to that place, have you?” she asks with one eye closed, looking somewhat concerned for your well-being. “They don’t bully you over there or anything, do they? If they do, just tell me about it and I’ll write up a bunch of articles to damage their rep.”
“You don’t have to do that,” you say, once again letting out a weak laugh. “...They’re very kind, all of them. Lady Yasaka might always act extravagant, but she’s actually straightforward when it comes to matters other than just appearance, and Lady Moriya is carefree and very fun to be around.”
“...You don’t really look like you’re happy, though,” she says, studying you. “You seem a little down, even.”
“Really...?” you say a bit curiously, turning your head forward to stare out at the scenery dyed in the radiant glow of orange, pausing as the breeze picks up for a moment and brushes across your body, whipping your sleeves about in the air. “...I’m just wondering if I really do belong there.”
“Huh? Why wouldn’t you?”
“They seem so happy, to be living together like that. They... really seem like a very tightly knit family. I... feel like an outsider sometimes, watching them,” you say with a sigh, turning your head away and placing a hand over your forehead. “I wonder if I can really be a part of that.”
“Sounds to me like you hate being happy or something,” Miss Aya says with a scoff, and as you turn back to her, she reaches out, jabbing you in the chest with a finger. “Listen, if you keep thinking you don’t belong, then you won’t ever be able to fit in like that, and you’re just going to end up getting in weird funk like this, so keep your chin up!”
You give her a brief stare before chuckling, looking out in front of you again. “...You’re right, Miss Aya. If I feel unhappy now, then that’s because I’m putting myself through that. It’s a silly thing, isn’t it...?”
“Of course it is,” she says, fanning herself a bit more furiously now.
A comfortable moment of silence overtakes the two of you, as the sun slowly sinks behind the top of the mountain, gradually filling the sky with less light. Shifting your body slightly, you turn your head to the side to look at Miss Aya again, deciding to interrupt the silence.
“...Say, Miss Aya, the black-white witch was here just now, wasn’t she?”
“Eh?” she lets out a surprised gasp, flinching slightly. “Uh, well, no! Of course she wasn’t. If she did come here, I’d chase her off right away!”
“You don’t really have to try to cover it up like that. It’s not like I’m going to report you to the daitengu.”
“Er... well, I guess you wouldn’t. Honestly, that burglar thinks just because we let her be around once she can drop by whenever she wants to and I’m the one who has to hide her from the other tengu whenever she visits. It’s a bit of a pain to be a part of an organization like this, isn’t it?”
“Do you resent it?”
“Uh... well, sometimes I don’t get my way because of it, but I don’t mind too much, I guess. Why?”
You shake your head. “...It would be terrible if you were made to do something you hate, wouldn’t it? If you weren’t given a choice to refuse.”
“Now, now, what’s this?” she says, crossing her arms together. “Is that idiot Inukawa pushing all of his work on you still? Or... are you talking about those times when I would drag you along to interviews?”
“No, no,” you say, shaking your head once again. “I just... wanted to ask, that’s all. It’s nothing like that, Miss Aya. I had a lot of fun, going around Gensokyo with you, even if I did end up in some trouble every now and then.”
“Oh,” she says simply, seeming a little embarrassed somehow, a very slight flush blooming at her cheeks. “...Well, you want to go out tonight?”
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” she says, grinning as she withdraws a pen from her breast pocket, twirling it around between her fingers. “So, why don’t you go on a little date with me? You look like you need a bit of cheering up, anyway.”
“Well, let’s see,” she says, nibbling on the end of her pen. “...Tonight’s a full moon. You’ve never been to the human village at night on a full moon, have you?”
“Um, is something different about it tonight?”
“Hah, well, let’s just say it gets a bit more festive than usual,” she says, cackling somewhat evilly. “If not there, we could just go for a drink and some food, too. I know a place. It’s a food cart a bit of a ways away from the village, but the food there’s pretty decent and the booze is good too. The owner never shuts up, though.”
“Oh, wasn’t that featured in one of your articles?” you say, vaguely remembering the piece in question. “A food cart run by a sparrow youkai...”
“Right, right, that. The business’s gotten unexpectedly popular. We might run into some interesting faces there, even. So, how ‘bout it, Miki?”
[ ] Let’s go to the village.
[ ] Let’s go eat.
[ ] On second thought, you don’t really feel like going out tonight...