[x] I have to set things right.
“Something you have to do…?” Miss Momizi repeats, not knowing what to make of what you said.
Impatient, Miss Aya speaks again. “If there’s something you have to do, then just wait until you’re rested up to do it—”
“No,” you quickly cut her off, your voice remaining flat and calm. Behind your mask, your eyes remain open, unfocused and unblinking, and your lips barely move as you give voice to your words. “I have to do it now. I’ve waited a long time to do it. I’ve been putting it off as far as I could. Not anymore. It has to be today. It has to be today… I have to end everything tonight. So please, don’t stop me.”
“E-end everything…?” Miss Aya says, completely puzzled. “What are you even talking about, Mikio?”
Without giving her an answer, you smile. A smile, just like the one you always wore. A smile that does not reach to your eyes—eyes that were always hidden away behind your mask. Wearing that fake smile on your visage, as easily as though it were the natural state of your face, you continue to walk forward, stopping when Miss Momizi approaches, blocking your path.
“Mikio, you—” she starts, half-cross, half-worried.
You don’t let her finish, cutting her off yet again. “Thank you.”
Without warning, you rush forward. You bury your fist into her stomach. You hear a sharp intake of air at your ear and feel the warmth of a body over your arm as Miss Momizi loses strength, doubled over your hand. She falls to her knees, and you step back and look down at her. Her eyes are only half-focused, and her head swings back as she struggles to stay up – she clutches up at you with her hand, but it soon falls short, and she collapses to the floor, lying on her front.
“Wha…!?” Miss Aya says in shock, her eyes wide open and pointing down at the fallen figure, “Mikio, what are you doing—”
“And, I’m sorry.”
Her frantic eyes dart back to you, but you’ve already made your move. Your hand, held out like a blade, cuts through the air, chopping at her pale, delicate neck. Almost immediately after it makes contact, she goes limp, losing the strength in her limbs—her still-wide eyes are still fixed on you, even as she falls to the ground. She hits the floor, her eyelids slowly drooping down as she loses consciousness, the words she was forming dead in her throat. She had time to react. She should have had time to react. But she couldn’t.
You turn away from their bodies, and begin to walk down the long, long hallway.
You trudge up the long stairway, breathing in the chilling night air. You’re being watched. You’re certainly being watched. Even before you laid a single step on the bottom step, before you passed through the gate of the shrine, they have been watching you, you’re sure. Of course they would. They have every reason to, after all. They know. They must know already. But, they haven’t confirmed it yet, and that’s why they’re staying quiet, and out of sight. But they’re there, and they’re watching. That’s good. That’s perfect. After all, they were here. From the beginning of this long, painful cycle, they were always here. Always, always, always.
After what seems like an eternity, you finally reach the top. The shrine stands up ahead, but that’s now where you’re going. That’s not where she is. You continue walking, past the shrine, toward the lake that sits adjacent to the building. You walk, facing the graveyard of those children, who died with so much regret and hate in their hearts, the markers of their demise standing erect in the middle of the lake. You slow your pace, deliberating between each step.
She is there.
She sits at the edge of the lake, curled up, her arms wrapped around her knees. She stares out into the body of water, seemingly in deep thought – a trance, almost. She doesn’t hear your footsteps until you step off the stone flooring, your feet shuffling through the blades of grass around the lake. Her steady breathing freezes, and slowly, she turns her body around. When she lays her eyes on you, they quickly widen, and she scrambles up to her feet.
She opens her mouth hesitantly, but she closes it without a word after a brief pause, unable to say anything. You’re not sure what she’s feeling now, in regards to you. There is anger. There is definitely anger within that visage of uncertainty, no mistake about it. But at the same time, there’s more. Something that conflicts with the feelings of hatred she holds. Is it because of the past? Is it because of her memories of Hoshuu…
“You’re wondering why… I’m here, aren’t you?” you finally raise your voice.
The girl doesn’t respond, her lips remaining sealed. She raises a hand to her chest, fidgeting with it in obvious discomfort, gripping and releasing the front of her priestess garb. She doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know how to react. She remains confused, unsure of everything, feeling a mixture of emotions that she can’t even begin to comprehend. She is lost, without even a single marker to help her find herself, without a single person to believe in. Yes, this is what must be done. This is what you have to do. At the least, you can help her sort out her feelings.
“I came to tell you the truth,” you continue on, keeping your voice flat and calm. “The truth behind what happened, ten years ago.”
She reflexively steps back, clutching tightly onto the front of her garb now, shrinking away. It’s obviously still a hurtful topic to her, but that doesn’t matter right now.
“Ten years ago, on your birthday, Kuromugi Hoshuu died.”
She looks down at the ground, her eyes remaining still. Her body gives a small shiver, and her lips part only slightly, a faint whisper escaping from them. “…my fault,” she says, barely audible. Her body shakes again, giving off another shiver before she takes a deep breath and continues. “It was my fault… it’s my fault he died. If I hadn’t—if it weren’t for me he wouldn’t have, he wouldn’t have…”
She looks up. “What…?”
“That’s wrong,” you repeat yourself, smiling, “You’re not the one at fault.”
Finally, something inside of her seems to snap, and she steps forward, her face lit by her anger. “What are you talking about!? Are you—are you trying to comfort me, after what you did—”
“It’s not like that,” you cut her off. “I’m saying that it really wasn’t your fault that he died.”
She’s stunned into silence, her rage forgotten. She stares at you, her mouth hanging open slightly. Finally, she stammers a response, “W-what are you… what do you mean?”
“The one at fault,” you begin, pointing a finger at yourself, “is me.”
“I’m the one who killed Kuromugi Hoshuu.”
She doesn’t understand. Of course she doesn’t understand. You step forward, closer to her, keeping that fake smile of yours plastered to your face.
“And, I was the one who killed your mother, as well.”
That finally elicits a response from her. “What…” she says, breathless, struck with confusion, “Why… what are you… but they…”
“They died in an accident?” you finish for her, before shaking your head, “Is that really what happened? Were they really accidents? Your mother died in a bus crash, and Kuromugi Hoshuu was struck by a car. Yes, to anyone, their deaths might have looked like simple bad luck. Misfortune. But what if those accidents were caused by someone—something. Then, they wouldn’t just be accidents, would they? No, it would be murdered. I murdered them both.”
“Misfortune…” she repeats, until comprehension finally dawns on her. She steps back, and steps back again, her hands clamped over her mouth in disbelief. “Oh… oh my god, you’re—!”
“That’s right,” you say, your smile sickeningly wide now.
“But…” the priestess says, her legs shaking, threatening to give out under her, “But… why?”
“Everyone who betrays me should die,” you say, your smile wiping itself off your face. “You hate me, don’t you? Of course you do. You should hate me. I killed them. They died, and it’s my fault. It’s my fault that you were miserable for so long. It’s my fault that you were delusional for so long. I killed them. I killed them. I killed them both. I watched them die with a smile on my face.”
She stares at you, unable to get over her shock. Her fist keeps clenching and unclenching, and her wide-open eyes stare straight ahead, seeing nothing but you. You smile again, pleasantly, and walk closer to her once more, taking slow, small steps, with your feet trudging through the grass underneath you, making only the barest of sounds.
“Hey,” you say, as you approach, “Can I take off this mask now? I’ve been wearing it for so long. For ten years. For ten long years, I’ve been wearing this mask. I’m tired of wearing this mask. But when I took it off, I found that underneath it, I was wearing another mask. I’m tired. I’m tired of wearing these masks. I want to take them off.”
She steps back, frightened, unable to do anything but back away.
“Hey, can I finally take off this mask?” you repeat your question. She’s backed against the lake now. One step back and she’ll fall in. You continue to advance. “Do you want to see it? The true face behind this mask. Not the face of Kuromugi Hoshuu’s; my real face. Do you want to see the face of the person who killed the people you loved?”
“No, stop, get away!” she says, desperately.
Your head is jerked back, a heavy metal ring striking against your face. It flies in an arc, returning to its thrower’s hand. Behind Sanae, you see the god of the earth floating just above the water, her iron rings held in both hands. Her silhouette is lit against the light of the moon – but hers isn’t the only one that’s there. The god of the sky is there as well, standing next to her fellow god with her arms crossed together. Slowly, you straighten your body, renewing your smile as you look back to Sanae.
“Well,” you begin, with an almost cheerful voice, “It looks like now you won’t have a choice.”
A small crack runs down the middle of your mask. Then another appears. And another, and another, and another; the cracks continue to spread down the chipped white surface, past the scars of its previous battles, all the way down the bottom of it. Finally, finally, finally, after ten years – ten long years, ten years pretending to be someone else, something that you're not, you’re finally free from this mask. You’re free, free, free.
The mask shatters, and the pieces rain down on the ground.
[ ] I can finally be me now.