Yūgure woke up with a start, her mouth opening to scream—except she couldn’t scream because something was hampering her mouth. Panic surged within her as she realized that, not only was something around her mouth, keeping her from screaming, but her hands and feet were also bound. She jerked around several times, but nothing happened. Her arms and legs couldn’t break whatever bound her.
Her eyes quickly adjusted. Nekomata had great night vision, since cat’s were actually nocturnal creatures.
She was in a room. There wasn’t much to it. The room was very basic, about ten tatami mats wide, with a few decorations here and there.
W-where is this?
Was she even still at the hotel? Where was this?
Yūgure remembered what had happened, Kuriyama, the case, and his hand closing in. She couldn’t remember what had happened after that.
I must have passed out.
Trying to calm down, Yūgure looked down. Just as she expected, she was bound by several ropes. They wrapped around her arms, legs, torso, and thighs. Her arms were also behind her back, which made it harder to simply brute force her way out of this. Not that she’d be able to. She wasn’t that strong to begin with.
If I could at least use my nails…
All animal spirits could elongated their nails with yōkai. It was a basic ability. She could do it to, usually. Not this time. Every time she tried to concentrate, her headache, which had appeared slowly, grew steadily worse. It hampered her ability to properly channel her power.
The door suddenly slid open.
A voice spoke up. “Oh, are you finally awake?”
Footsteps approached her, and then a pair of feet with slightly sharp nailed appeared in her field of vision. Yūgure didn’t want to look up. She didn’t want to see Kuriyama’s face. It didn’t matter what she did or wanted, however, because Kuriyama knelt down so his face came into view.
The insane grin that he wore, combined with the gleam in his eyes, made her believe he’d lost his sanity.
“I’m so glad that you are awake,” he said. “Now you and I can talk and catch up.”
Yūgure shivered. She didn’t want to talk to this thing using her brother’s face. The very thought made her body shudder, caused an unpleasant knot to tighten in her stomach, and made her wish she could run away.
“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you saying anything?” asked Kuriyama, his head tilting before his eyes lit up. “Oh, I know. It’s too dark, isn’t it? We can’t see each other very well like this.”
If only that were the case. Thanks to being a nekomata, she could see him too well in the dark, though that did make her wonder.
As Kuriyama stood up and went to turn on the light, she watched him out of the corner of her eyes.
Nekomata could see in the dark. His words proved to her that he wasn’t a nekomata. He wouldn’t have needed the lights on to see. Of course, that also made her wonder who, or what, this person was. How could someone with her brother’s face, body, voice, memories, and even scent, be anyone other than her brother?
“There,” Kuriyama said as the lights came on with a slight buzz. He walked over to her and knelt down again. His lips peeled back in a grin, and Yūgure almost shrieked when she saw blackened teeth staring back at her. “Now we can talk.”
Yūgure struggled to break out of the rope binding her again. She didn’t even care that he was watching her. She wanted to get free and run far away from this man.
Perhaps fortune was on her side. A knock soon sounded at the door. Kuriyama frowned, stood up, and walked over to the door.
“Yes?” he asked the person on the other side. Yūgure couldn’t see what was happening, so she listened in as best she could.
“Lord Orochi is requesting your presence,” a female voice said.
“I see,” Kuriyama, now sounding completely different, completely sane, said. “Tell him I will be there in several seconds.”
The door slid closed again. Kuraiyama came back over to her.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “It looks like that conversation will have to wait just a bit longer. Be a good girl and wait for your brother, okay? Stay out of trouble!”
As the door shut behind Kuriyama, leaving her alone again, Yūgure wiggled her body in an effort to sit up. She flipped over onto her back, and then sat up. With her sharp eyes, she looked around for something she could use to cut these ropes.
There’s nothing here.
Just as Yūgure was about to let despair claim her, the window on her left opened. She looked over as a figure hopped inside. It was a girl probably several years older than her. Her bright orange hair, which reached down to her butt, swished as she looked around, vivid blue eyes roaming across the room. Four fox tails with white tips writhed behind her, and two ears twitched on her head.
She was a fox yōkai. What’s more, Yūgure knew her.
“Kuro!” Chinami greeted with a smile. “It’s so good to see you. It’s me, Chinami! Do you remember me?”
Yūgure nodded, and then gestured to the ropes binding her.
Chinami got the hint.
“Right. I should cut those for you.”
Chinami used her sharpened nails to slice through the ropes. Once she was free, Yūgure stood up and massaged her arms and legs. They were a little numb.
“Okay,” Chinami began, “now we should follow—”
But Yūgure grabbed the woman’s arm and shook her head.
“We shouldn’t follow Kuriyama?” Chinami asked, shocked. “B-but he tied you up and everything? Aren’t you curious to know why your brother did that?” She paused. “Actually, why did your brother chased you, tie you up, and bring you here? I don’t really get that…”
Yūgure would have given Chinami her best, “are you serious?” expression, but now really wasn’t the time. There was no telling when Kuriyama would be back. As curious as she was about how her brother was still alive—and what he was doing here—she believed getting out of there and informing her friends was more important.
She tugged on Chinami’s arm.
“All right. Fine,” Chinami said. “We’ll do things your way.”
Yūgure sighed in relief before gesturing for Chinami to follow her. They left the way Chinami had come, through the window. The soft ground crunched underneath Yūgure’s feet. She looked around as Chinami landed on the ground in complete silence. It looked like this room was in a separate building from the main hotel, which she could spot in the distance.
With another hand gestured, she requested that Chinami follow her.
“By the way,” Chinami started talking as they began to move, “why are you so quiet?”
It wasn’t easy being mute.