We didn’t play for too long, but that was because we had forgotten to put on sunscreen, which we hadn’t realized until Kaoru mentioned it. Alicia, Yūgure, and I waded out of the water and found an empty pair of lounge chairs. There were quite a few of those. Lounge chairs, that is.
“The sunscreen is in my bag,” Alicia said. “I’ll be right back. Just wait here.”
“We’ll be here,” I said as Alicia hurried off.
It was kind of funny how none of us had remembered to grab the sunscreen, but I guess that was because none of us had ever been to the beach. We were probably all so excited that it had completely slipped our minds. That wasn’t good. We might not be human, but the sun could still damage our skin if we weren’t careful.
“Erm… Yūgure?” I asked as, immediately after Alicia left, Yūgure plopped her head in my lap. The lounge chairs were quite long, so I was sitting across its length. On the other hand, Yūgure’s legs were leaning off the edge. I looked over and down to see her toes idly gripping at the sand.
She held up her notepad again. Seriously. Where did she pull that thing from.
Pet me, it said.
Pet? Huh? She wanted me to pet her? I assumed she was asking me to pet her head. It seemed kind of strange at first, but when I thought about it, Yūgure was a nekomata, which were cat yōkai. This must have been something she enjoyed thanks to her cat-like nature.
“Erm… well, okay,” I muttered, placing a hand on her head and rubbing it. “Is… is this okay?”
Yūgure did not answer with her notepad, but from the way she nuzzled against my hand, and from the purrs that emerged from her throat, I assumed I was doing a good job.
“What the hell are those two doing in public?”
“What does that girl even see in him?”
I tried to ignore the harsh voices of the people around me. I told myself that this was how it had always been, but I couldn’t help but think it was different this time. It took me a second to realize why.
Before now, when someone talked about me, they were usually talking about just me. There were times when Alicia had also been a recipient of ridicule, but she took care of that before I could even blink. Yūgure was different. She couldn’t speak, so she couldn’t defend herself like Alicia could.
“If you people have something to say, then say it to my face!” I shouted while glaring at the people who were talking about Yūgure and I. Everyone looked at me, startled, but then they decided there were better things they could be doing and left.
Not longer after the other vacationers left, I realized what I had done and clamped a hand over my mouth. I couldn’t believe I had just said that. I was only copying what I had heard Alicia say several times, but still, I never expected myself to really speak out like that. It was easier to accept cruel words with a smile. Better to not provoke others into anger by speaking out. That was what I had always believed.
But I couldn’t stand how those words weren’t being directed at just me.
I looked down at Yūgure, who was rubbing her head against my leg like an overly affectionate housecat. I caressed her hair, which was soft to the touch, more like fur than actual hair, running my fingers through it and enjoying the feel.
I wanted to protect this girl who couldn’t speak. If she couldn’t talk, then I wanted to be the voice that stood up for her.
It was weird. I didn’t feel this way about Alicia, but I guess that was because Alicia didn’t need me to stand up for her. She had no issue taking others to task and verbally abusing them.
“You two look like you’re having a good time,” Alicia said behind me.
I squawked and turned my head. Alicia was looking down at her, the sunscreen in her hand spilling out as she gripped it far harder than she needed to.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, not quite understanding the question, though realizing that she was somehow angry at something.
I am having a very good time, Yūgure admitted with her notepad.
Alicia’s face turned the same shade of red as her hair. “Is that so? In that case, let me help you have more fun by putting this sunscreen on you.”
There was barely a split second for me to realize what she meant by that before, like a tigress, Alicia leapt onto the lounge chair with us. Before I knew it, Alicia was trying to rub sunblock all over Yūgure. Of course, Yūgure had sensed her intent before me. Seconds before Alicia leapt, Yūgure had interposed me between herself and the incoming red-haired missile. What this meant was that, when Alicia pounced, it was me she pounced on instead of Yūgure.
I had a moment of absolute rapture as Alicia’s breasts touched my face. I didn’t want to admit it, but I had sometimes thought about how they felt. It was actually worse for me because I knew what they felt like. I had those breasts on my back before. That made it hard for me not to think about them.
The rapture only lasted for a moment. The moment soon ended, and Alicia’s breasts were suddenly smashing into me with the force of a train. I found myself being smothered by them! I tried to take a breath, but I couldn’t! I couldn’t breath!
“Hold still, Yūgure!!” Alicia shouted.
Yūgure said nothing back.
I, on the other hand, screamed.
“What are you doing, Jacob?! Stop squirming around so I can put this on Yūgure!”
“Aahhhnn!! S-stop that, Jacob! Your mouth is on my nipple!!”
“Feff ff ffff ffeee!!!”
“No! Wait! Wha—what are you doing?!”
Being trapped between two gorgeous women wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. On the one hand, it felt pretty amazing when I wasn’t being asphyxiating by a pair of breasts. Alicia’s soft pillows pushed against my front, while Yūgure, who wasn’t flat but didn’t have as much to offer, rubbed against my back. On the other hand, it was basically mindless torture—and more often than not, I couldn’t breath because Alicia was trying to reach over me.
By the time she had exhausted herself, I was pretty much done. I was spent. I didn’t think I could do anything anymore. I just wanted to close my eyes and fall asleep.
Alicia and Yūgure, who lay beside me on their backs, breathing heavily as though they had run a marathon, seemed to be of like mind. Yūgure had already closed her eyes.
“There you three are!” a voice said suddenly.
Alicia, Yūgure, and I turned to find a familiar face behind us. It was Chinami. The fox yōkai was wearing a traditional red bikini that went well with her orange hair. She’d also added a skirt of the same color and plain sandals.
“I’ve been looking for you three,” she spoke again.
“Chinami,” Alicia said, lifting her head to look at the woman. “Did you wish to speak with us about what happened last night?”
“Actually,” Chinami began, “I was hoping to convince you to speak with Mistress Kumiho.”
While Yūgure stiffened as though she’d been shocked, Alicia remained calm, composed. Unlike myself and Yūgure, she knew how to keep a straight face during situations like this.
“Would you mind if I asked why you want us to speak with her?” Alicia asked. “I’m afraid there’s not much we can tell her that you don’t already know. You might know even more than we do.”
Chinami, for whatever reason, looked shocked by the sudden declaration. She stared at us for several seconds. Not a word was spoken before, with a slight shake, she said, “but Kuriyama was working for the Yamata no Orochi! How could you not know anything?!”
“Kuriyama was the person we fought last night, wasn’t he?” I asked.
“I’m guessing you know Kuriyama somehow?” Alicia deduced.
“It’s more than that,” Chinami said. “Don’t you know? Kuriyama, Kuro, and I all lived in the same village several years ago before it was destroyed.”
Kuro? That name had come up several times already. Not only had Kuriyama called Yūgure that, but now it sounded as though Chinami was calling Yūgure that as well.
“Is that your original name?” I asked Yūgure.
There was a hesitant pause before, slowly, with great reluctance, Yūgure nodded.
“Wait, you mean you’ve been spending all this time with Kuro, but you don’t even know her name?” Chinami looked about as shocked as I felt, though I suspected they were for very different reasons.
“She doesn’t talk much,” I said. “Since she’s so quiet, we never learned her real name. We’ve been calling her Yūgure, which she seemed to like.”
Yūgure?” Chinami blinked. “Well, in either case, what happened last night is big. I need to speak with Mistress Kumiho to let her know what’s going on, and I was hoping that you three would come with me to corroborate my story?”
What she basically wanted was more eyewitness accounts who could confirm her report, or that was how it sounded. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with that. The issue was two-fold. For one thing, we were on a school vacation, so we couldn’t just go gallivanting off for no reason. For another, it wasn’t my decision.
Neither I nor Alicia were given a chance to speak. Yūgure stood up, glared at Chinami as if she’d done something wrong, and then ran off. We watched her go for a second, but then I stood up.
“I’m going to catch up to her,” I said before taking off.
Yūgure had something of a head start, but that didn’t mean she could travel very fast. It didn’t take me long to catch up. I grabbed her by the wrist once I had caught up, keeping her from going any further.
“Hey, hold on just a second, Yūgure,” I said. “Why did you run off like that? Was everything that Chinami said true?”
Yūgure said nothing.
I sighed. This wasn’t going to get us anywhere.
“How about some shaved ice?” I asked upon looking at the food vendor several meters away. It was a small building made of brick and surrounded by several tables. There were quite a few people eating there.
Yūgure looked at the vendor. Then looked back at him. She nodded.
I led her by the hand to the vendor, walking up to the small hole in the wall, where a woman was standing, ready to take our order.
She hesitated upon seeing me. Her eyes widened as the fear that came from being close to a nephalem engulfed her. I thought she might tell me to leave, but she shook herself out of it, and presented me with a fixed, twitching smile.
“H-hello, what can I get for you… two?”
I pretended not to notice the way her voice shook. “What flavor would you like, Yūgure?”
Yūgure looked at the menu located on a boarding hanging above us, then scribbled on her notepad and showed me.
“We’ll have one large strawberry shaved ice, please,” I said.
The woman rang me up with shaking hands. “T-that will be… one-thousand yen.”
I paid her the yen, she rang me up, and then she moved into the back, scooping up some shaved ice into a paper cone before liberally dousing it in strawberry syrup. She came back and handed the cone to me. She almost dropped in because she let go before I could grab it, though I luckily had some decent reflexes and saved the treat before it fell.
Because I didn’t want to make her anymore nervous, I quickly walked away from the vendor. With Yūgure’s hand in my left and the shaved ice in my right, I led the nekomata, not to the seats by the vendor, but to a small bench shaded by a palm tree. As we sat down, I handed her the shaved ice.
Neither of us spoke. I watched as several people walked past, giving us a wide berth—well, giving me a wide berth. The sound of Yūgure crunching ice in her mouth was the biggest source of noise for some time.
“You know, everyone has something in their past that they don’t want others to know about,” I said at last. “That’s why I won’t force you to talk if you don’t want to, but if you do want to tell me about it, you know I’ll be here to listen.”
Yūgure stopped chewing on her shaved ice. She looked at me, then at the beach, and then she sighed and held her shaved ice out to me. I took it from her. Once the cone was out of her hand, she pulled her notepad out of somewhere, along with a pen, and began scribbling on it.
My original name is Kuro, the notepad said.
“Then that guy, Kuriyama, he really did know you?” I asked.
Yūgure nodded, scribbled in her notebook, and held it out. Kuriyama was my brother.
“Was?” I asked. “Not is?”
With a shake of her head, Yūgure wrote some more. He died during the attack on the village. I saw his body, so I know he should be dead.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. Should I apologize? I felt like I should, but I didn’t think Yūgure was looking for apologies.
The attack on the yōkai village was something that I remember well. I had been stopping there during my travels, but I’d only been there for about a day or so before the Catholic Church had shown up. My first thought had been they were searching for me. I realized that wasn’t the case only after they started murdering yōkai without a care.
“You mentioned before that I saved you,” I said.
Yūgure nodded. I was being attacked by an exorcist when you came along and fought him. You drove him back, and then told me to run away.
I didn’t remember saving a nekomata, but while the attack remained fresh in my mind, the details of my exploits were blurred together in a haze of blood. That had been the second time I had used my powers, and the first time I had consciously used them. After the battle, I had been exhausted and collapsed in a nearby forest. It was during that time that Azazel found me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish I could say I remembered you.”
Don’t be sorry. After showing him the notepad, Yūgure scribbled on the next page. I don’t mind if you don’t remember.
But I did mind. Their meeting had been important enough in her life that after it happened, she had traveled across Japan to find me. How could I not feel bad knowing this?
I shook my head. It would be so easy to wallow in guilt, but it wasn’t the time for that, and it wouldn’t be productive. There were more important issues than my own self-deprecation.
“What do you want to do, Yūgure?” I asked. “If you say that you don’t want to have anything to do with this, if you tell me that you don’t want to meet with this Kumiho, just say the word and I’ll tell Chinami not to bother you.”
In the end, this was all I could think of doing. I didn’t know enough about this situation, or of Yūgure’s problems, to help in any other way.
Yūgure looked at me with her big yellow eyes, her head tilted as though I were a puzzle she was trying to solve. Then, finally, she wrote something on her notepad and showed me.
I’ll go visit Kumiho.
I let out a deep breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. This was the best course of action, from what I could see.
“Then… why don’t we go back to Alicia and Chinami?” I suggested.
Yūgure nodded, hopped off the bench, and held out her hand. I stared at her for moment before remembering that I was holding her shaved ice. After giving the treat to her, Yūgure grabbed my hand with her free hand and pulled me back to where Alicia and Chinami were.
As we walked, I wondered if this was what it felt like to be an older brother.
Then again, I couldn’t help but think that an older brother wouldn’t get aroused by his sister.
And just like that, all thoughts on being sort of like an older brother to Yūgure—who was actually the same age as him—were ruined.