[x] I can forgive him.
For a moment, you hesitate to answer, unsure of what might come out of your mouth.
“I...” you begin slowly, casting your gaze at the ground at your feet. You find it difficult to continue, hesitant to answer once again, but tearing your eyes away from the dirt, you lift your face up to answer with a much more determined and confident voice, “I can forgive him.”
Hina looks to you, observing your form, almost as though she’s studying you. Then, she nods, and smiles faintly, speaking in a gentle tone of voice, “...Yes, he is a man to be pitied, not hated. But even should you forgive him, instead of condemning him, he will continue to suffer. Even if he were truly blameless, he will continue to be in pain, because he will not forgive himself.”
You walk up next to her, looking down at the flowing river, your eyes following the current as far as it can, though the figure of a man made of straw is already far beyond your sight. With a wistful voice, you wonder out loud, “Will that man ever find peace for himself?”
“I do not know,” Hina responds, standing up. “It is up to himself, after all, whether he will forgive himself and move on, or allow the guilt of what he did to consume him.”
You remain silent, squatting down and lowering your hand toward the river. The touch of the cold water flowing against your outstretched fingers chills your body, sending a shiver throughout it. Beside you, the curse goddess crouches in a similar way to you, also reaching down to touch the water with her hand, disturbing the flow of the river.
“I’m sorry,” she says with a grim smile. “It seems all I do whenever we meet is to talk about things of depressing nature.”
“I don’t mind,” you say, shaking your head and allowing yourself to smile a little. “You can’t live life on happiness alone, as much as you’d like to. Bad things will happen to you, big or small. That’s a fact of life you can’t escape, no matter whether you’re a human, youkai, or a god. That’s why times of peace and contentment are things to be cherished, right?”
“Of course,” she says, nodding. “There would be no value in happiness without sadness. People would not understand that they are happy. If you think about it that way, even the curse gods who bring misfortune to others so hated and feared by humans are a necessary part of the world.”
“That’s certainly an optimistic way of putting it,” you say with a laugh.
“Perhaps,” Hina says, her grim smile growing into a much more cheerful and brighter one. “But, even if you accept that misfortune is a necessary aspect of life, you still shouldn’t actively seek to be miserable, don’t you think?”
You reply with only a smile.
While returning from your outing to the forest, flying above the trees back in the direction of the mountain, you see a familiar figure in the distance, a somewhat short woman with black hair. She seems to see you as well, as she immediately changes directions and begins heading toward you. Slowing down in your flight, you watch as the figure grows larger, coming closer and closer.
“Hey!” Miss Aya greets, raising her fan as she slows down to a stop, floating in the air. “Out for some sun, Mikio?”
“Something like that, I guess.”
Her eyes wander to the mask hanging from your sash before returning to your face. With a look of curiosity, she asks, “What’s wrong? You’re not wearing your mask anymore?”
“Well, it’s a bit complicated,” you say, trying to laugh it off.
“Hmmm...?” Miss Aya leans in closer, her eyes narrowed into a look of suspicion. A playful grin seems to creep onto her face as she sidles closer, conspicuously elbowing you in the gut as she continues to speak. “You weren’t wearing it yesterday, either. You know, when you were acting all huggy with that wind priestess.”
“Oh, so it was you.”
“Geh,” she backs off. “You noticed me?”
“I noticed your camera, anyway.”
She winks. “Weeeeell, I didn’t really want to intrude or anything, but that just seemed like a good moment to take a picture of. Don’t worry. I’m not going to publish it as a scandal in the papers or anything like that. If you want, I can have the picture printed out in secret.”
“That’s okay,” you say.
“But it’s kind of a relief, honestly,” Miss Aya says, sighing as she fans herself. “You know, for a long time, every now and then, I wondered if maybe you were actually a ho--”
“Miss Aya,” you interrupt her in a serious tone, looking at her with equally intense eyes.
“H-huh?” she stumbles on her words, looking somewhat flustered. “What? What’s wrong?”
“The memories that I’ve lost,” you begin, biting your lower lip before continuing. “...If I was someone very different, before I ever woke up here, and those memories of being that person returned to me, what do you think would happen to me? What would you think of me?”
“Um...” she starts, seeming at a slight loss for words. “Well, er... I’m not really good at answering questions like that, so, uh... I mean, I’m a reporter, so normally I’d be the one to be asking questions, and I don’t really know what to say to that. Momiji could probably give you a better answer, if you’re looking for one...”
“How would you feel about it, though?”
Backed into a corner, she has a difficult expression on her face. She folds her arms together, still fanning herself with one hand, and takes a few moments to collect herself and think of a response, knitting her brows together in effort.
“I don’t think things would really change that much,” she finally says, though still seeming somewhat unsure. “I mean, if you started acting differently it would probably stand out to me, but just because you’ve recovered your old memories it wouldn’t mean that all the memories we share would be gone, right? Or something like that, I dunno.”
“I see,” you say, feeling some small relief.
“You’re being weird,” she says, frowning slightly. “Are you starting to remember something?”
“A bit,” you say with a smile.
Miss Aya still looks at you with suspicion, but gradually, her expression becomes gentler as she floats a little closer to you, raising a hand to your cheek and touching it, “But you know, it really was a waste, wearing that ugly mask all the time. You have such a cute baby face. I bet you’d have been pretty popular with women if you’d shown your face more.”
“Hahaha,” you chuckle, shaking your head. “...It’s alright, I wouldn’t want that.”
“Eh?” she blinks, confused. “Why not?”
Because I’d only hurt them.
“It’s just how it is,” you say with a smile.
The sun is beginning to set now.
[ ] Head back to the shrine.
[ ] Stay outside for just a bit longer.