That same black and itching feeling creeps into my vision again.
“And so are you.” Are the only words that come out of my mouth.
“Kh… hehe! I knew it. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!”
In contrast to the dread around me, Torii Sensei bounces with joy. If I didn’t already know she’s a succubus, I’d have thought she was just a normal human being.
“How come Mio doesn’t sense you? I thought we could all sense each other’s auras?”
That’s what Mio told me. As succubi, we should be able to detect the presence and auras of others. I sensed Yumi’s and Hana’s, too, and they sensed mine. So how come Mio didn’t react to Torii Sensei being a succubus?
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. She must not have told you that this is child’s play for us. You can do it, too.” She wags a finger in my face.
“You are something more. Is it not strange that by a mere command, you can bring others to their knees?”
These past few days… the group of aggressive succubi, Mio during the dodgeball match…
Am I actually stronger than Mio? Than most of the succubus I’ve faced so far? But why didn’t Mio tell me—?
“I cannot fathom why that girl would hide this from you.” Torii Sensei responds as though she read my mind.
“Maybe she didn’t know?” I try to reason, grasping for an answer.
Could she have not known?
“She knew. She merely didn’t want you to know.”
Torii Sensei takes a seat on my desk. Slender fingers reach down to caress my cheek.
“Because Mio’s afraid. Why hasn’t she taught you how to fight? How to fly? The answer is there, and you already know— she’s afraid of you. Now tell me, why is she afraid of you?”
“Be… because I’m a greater succubus.”
The answer rolls out of my tongue, but I feel no prouder or stronger for coming to that conclusion. Instead, I’m disappointed.
Sensei’s eyes are vacant and full of pity.
For who? Me?
“You and I can sense each other since we are a cut above those paltry bats. Yet despite all we are, I must hide. For fear of my life, because they are jealous of me. Just as Mio is—”
“Jealous of me?”
“Of being a greater succubus.”
Torii Sensei’s hands slip into my summer uniform. Her fingers dip into the towel that’s wrapped around my chest.
I strike her hand away, and back off from the desk with my stuff.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“My dear, to lay low of course.”
“As if I can believe that.”
“My, I’m Yorikawa Torii. Your sensei. I’m here to prepare my students for the harsh world that’s waiting after high school.”
Slowly, I back up to the door. Sensei hasn’t moved an inch from my desk.
I can’t let this woman fool me. She’s a greater succubus. She’s on a whole other level compared to the ones I faced in the forest.
“Mio and I aren’t alone. When I tell the others, you won’t be able to hide from us as long as I can sense you.”
“Are you sure it’s me you should be worried about? How do you know your bedfellows can be trusted? Do you think Mio won’t betray you a second time?”
Like the time with the The Blade of the First Temptress. No. Torii Sensei is messing with my mind. Mio stuck with me in the end. She would never betray my trust.
“What do you know about Mio betraying me?”
“Kh… ahaha! I do believe you’re running late for kendo practice. Run along now. If you wish to know more, consider seeing me for a lesson after class tomorrow.”
A gust of wind kicks a stack of papers into the air. The windows are closed, but it’s like someone trapped a tornado in the classroom.
Her voice echoes from behind the debris. “And perhaps you would consider being true to yourself for once?”
When the papers settle, Torii Sensei is gone.
My head is still swirling from everything Torii Sensei told me. There’s a good chance she isn’t friendly. She may even be an agent of the queen. Of course she wants to set a rift between me and Mio.
How do I know for sure Mio won’t go for the sword again when we get it back. She didn’t back down at the baths because I only recently awakened my powers. I wasn’t a threat to her then.
What about now?
I’m stronger now.
“…” I stop in front of the club room thinking about her final words. “True to myself? The heck is that supposed to mean?”
I push open the door to the club room and find Mio no longer surrounded by gyarus, instead there are a bunch of boys orbiting around her. She grins seeing me and ditches the crowd to be by my side.
“What took ya? It was getting stuffy in here.” Mio groans.
“Got caught up doing homework, sorry.”
She leans in to sniff me. “Hmmm. You—”
“Saeko’s here? Good.”
Coach and Gouda enter from the locker rooms. They give me an itinerary for the Hyogo Invitationals.
I’d almost forgotten. Next week is the tournament. With all that’s going on, kendo’s beginning to feel like an afterthought.
“This week is the last stretch, so let’s not waste time screwing around. If we take first, expect a special reward on my treat.”
Some of the members start whispering amongst themselves wondering what it could be. Hayato raises his hand to ask, “Tell us what it is. Maybe it’ll give us more motivation.”
“No deal. Want to know what it is? Earn it.” Coach says, standing his ground. “With that out of the way, begin practice!”
While they practice, I take a look through the itinerary.
It details the two-day event beginning on Saturday morning and ending Sunday noon, hosting thirty teams from a number of schools in the Hyogo Prefecture. There are over a hundred and fifty high schools in this prefecture alone, but the Invitationals’ committee picks thirty teams based on the preceding year’s municipal performances. Since Gouda, Yuuto, and Hayato slaughtered the local competition around Tsukiji last year, it guaranteed us a spot this year.
Due to the awkward method of selection, some school teams never see an opportunity to participate. That also means kendo members who begin in their first year, may never get a chance to compete in a tournament.
Tsukiji High almost didn’t make it either. Our senpais from when we first joined lost all motivation, and turned the club into a disgrace. Gouda took the reins and became captain in his second year, kicking everyone into high gear. It’s not an exaggeration to say they’ve been preparing for the tournament for two whole years now.
From what I understand, Hyogo Invitationals pits its competing members through a random draw. Members from the same school cannot begin facing each other until the quarter-finals, or under extenuating circumstances like if a single team sweeps.
Our club has eighteen members in total, but we can only select twelve to represent us. Four spots are guaranteed to our third years, and the remaining are decided by Coach and Gouda based on performance.
I make a note of our twelve members’ names on the tournament bracket. Thirty teams, twelve members… that’s a lot of matches to get through. Fortunately, ten matches will take place at any given time to speed things along.
This is a lot to go through. Especially since I have to organize the bus schedules for both days going to and back from Port of Kobe. Fortunately, I’m able to get through all of it by the time practice ends.
Though, I would much rather be participating than doing bookwork.
Mio and I head home as soon as the club ends. Most of the stuff is tidied up with the help of the members this time around.
As thanks for being a good manager, Coach said.
If he really wanted to thank me, just make me an active member already.
Mio is walking a few paces ahead of me, obnoxiously chewing into her bubble gum. Her back reminds me when she almost left me for the sword. Watching her from behind feels lonely.
The bubble she’s blowing pops. She waits for me to catch up and even walks a little slower.
She’s by my side now.
But for how much longer?
I should tell her.
“Earlier today, uhm… in the classroom…”
“Spit it out already. You sound like you’ve got a c*** in your throat.”
“Torii Sensei… she…”
Why are you hesitating? What are you afraid of, Saeko? What happened to being more active?
What’s going to happen if I tell Mio?
“Today, after class, Torii Sensei…saved me from Kameshiro’s group.” I feel my heart wrenching, but I can breathe easier. “They think I’m a girl.”
Huh? Am I relieved in not telling her? Why should I be relieved… that I kept a secret from her?
“Huh…” She mutters indifferently. But when I think that was it, a fist taps me lightly on the head. Mio has a sad look on her, almost as though… she looks ashamed. “I should’ve been there for you. My bad.”
For the rest of the way home, I neglect to say a single thing about Torii Sensei. But just to be sure…
“Mio, how’d you feel at school today?” I put my hand on the doorknob but refrain from opening the door yet.
“Oh, I came buckets today! At some point after school, you started jostling the onahole in your backpack or something. One of the girls, Emi, thought I was having a seizure. Kahaha! You should try it sometime.”
So Mio genuinely didn’t sense Torii Sensei’s succubus aura. Then it really is possible to hide my aura from succubi weaker than me.
“We’re home!” I call out as we enter the house. My hair stands on end as I feel two distinct yet familiar auras tickling my neck.
Two additional voices join Hatsumi in the response. I head into the kitchen to Hana and Yumi setting the table, and my sister cooking nikujaga in the pot.
“Ara, it’s a pleasure to see you again!”
Mio rushes over to join them at the table. “Oohh! Yumi and Hatsumi’s combined cooking. I can’t wait!”
“Saeko!” Hatsumi leaves the counter and comes running up to me. She’s never looked more excited, and her sweaty face reminds me of the night before. “Why didn’t you tell me our cousins Hana and Yumi were visiting?”
“Cousins??” I cough out.
I look over Hatsumi’s shoulders to Hana throwing me the peace sign and Yumi giggling into her hand.
“Is it just me, or is this family suddenly getting bigger?!”