A shiver went over my skin as yet another wave of cold air hit my face. I wrapped my arms around my body, trying to warm myself up at least slightly, but that did little to nothing. The icy wind still blew over my skin, threatening to deprive me of the little strength I had left.
The trees and shrubs surrounding me tried to enchant me with vivid colors ranging from yellow over an orange to a bright red, but I didn't even once stop to take a better look at them. My eyes were glued to the battered roof I could make up afar. I was close, too close to let myself be chased away by a few gusts of wind.
It was only two months ago that I had first heard about the shrine hidden in this forest, about the supposed blessings it would give you and the telltales surrounding its abandoning.
Normally, I would not have believed in any of that. Gods, to me, were beings only existing in books, anime or people's heads, but as time passed, I had grown far too desperate to not at least try it out. So I cycled to the village at the foot of this mountain, left my bike behind and climbed up its slippery slopes.
There were still traces of a paved path leading up to the shrine, and mossy stairs to help me pass the steepest parts, but that was all. There were no signs left nor handrails to hold onto, only brittle remains of wooden posts that could be found every now and then. I could only hope for the shrine to be in better condition.
My legs felt far too weak to continue, making me curse at my lazy self that didn't spend its days better than with gaming, but somehow my determination or rather stubbornness won over again and again. So I pushed myself forward while fighting off all of the tree branches trying to slap into my face and the thorny veins that tried to make me fall.
When I finally reached the summit, the sun was already close to setting and in its red shine stood a building which was as small as it was shabby. Not only was the roof missing a third of its black tiles, the wood it rested on looked brittle, too! In the walls of the shrine, there were holes the size of a fist, and paint was falling off from everywhere.
«It's so run down...»
Even though it looked like this, I couldn't just turn around and stroll away, not after I had fought my way through all of that greenery! It was just a single coin anyway, nothing much when compared to the chance of Mira accepting my confession.
That was the reason I had come here: love. I had loved this girl ever since I had moved into her hometown a year ago. And I had been too shy, too weak, too everything as if I had ever been close to asking her out. She was out of my league, and us being friends didn't exactly help either. If anything, it made confessing to her even harder.
Sure, I wasn't ugly nor was I fat, but I wasn't a hunk either. Dark brown hair, glasses, skinny... If anything, I was average, in both my body, my grades and even my name, Riku. Mira had no reason to raise our relationship on the next level, to become more than just friendship. So in order to at least have a chance, I had to step up my game before it was to late!
Reading love guides and books or watching videos on how to confess obviously didn't fix my insecurity. They only showed me how to do it, which could be described in thousands of pages worth of books or many hours of video material, or in three words instead: just do it.
At the end of all of that, I stood here, in the ruins of a shrine I had used the whole day to reach to, despite not believing in gods at all. Why? Because I hoped that after doing all of this, confessing was a small deal. I had made my way here, facing the cold and ignoring the protests of my aching legs and feet, so what was saying a few words compared to that?!
It wasn't about the gods or some silly rumors. It was about a symbol to set for myself. I would leave my offering at that shrine, together with my prayer, and could always think back to the little coin I had brought here after facing this whole ordeal.
I had made my resolve. There was no need to think twice. So I pulled forth the coin I had selected before, the most pristine and shiny one I owned, and made my way towards the shrine.
Upon reaching the building, I quickly realized that there was no offering box left, nothing I could toss the coin in. So I just placed it next to its stairs, on one of the slats that were slightly less weathered than the others and into the sunlight, which made it glow as if it was red hot. It was perfect.
Contrary to the offering box, the prayer bell was still hanging where it should, though the rope connected to it had moss growing all over it and there was more rust to be seen than metal.
Hesitatingly, I pulled at the rope, only to be greeted by two dull sounds. It was as I had expected. The bell was far too old and rusty to bring forth the beautiful ring it undoubtedly had produced in the past. Slightly discouraged by his failure, I pulled again, harder this time.
"That damn thing! Why won't it ring?!"
I pulled a third time, this time using not only one hand to pull at the rope, but both of them at the same time. The bell gave in immediately. It was created to look and sound beautiful, not to be sturdy and forgiving, so when it received this last attack of mine, it just came down, broken off from the hook that had held them in place for decades.
The bell crashed onto the ground next to me, before shattering into dozens of pieces. This one time I heard it rang, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. And at the same time, there was a sharp pain and a feeling of wetness running down my legs. A metal shard had embedded itself deep into my flesh.
Blinded by the pain, I hit a nearby pillar, while cursing out loud. "DAMN IT!"
This last attack was too much for the weathered shrine to handle. There was a loud rumble, then hell broke loose. Wood and Stone began falling down, Iron hooks and even tiles. I cried out in shock, but my legs won't move. I couldn't even react to the large wooden bar that was making its way down the roof.