Beatrice's shrill laughter cuts through the otherwise tranquil forest. The echoes play a terrible cacophony that makes my eyes and ears bleed just listening to it. She descends to meet us and stops short of touching the ground.
"Are you having fun yet," Beatrice asks, lips curled like the Cheshire cat. "Because I'm having the time of my life. Watching you scramble across the city searching for a shadow when I was right in front of you— kahaha! Can't even call that a game of cat and mouse!"
I try to keep my voice from trembling as I confront her. "So you already knew about me and Selene. You just let her blatantly betray you like that?"
"Dangle a cube of sugar in the air and the ants will climb over each other to take it. That turncoat is no different than the rest of the bottom-feeding wretches at my feet. Selene has outlived her usefulness, so I've come to spice things up with a counteroffer: kill her for me."
"From where I stand, you're the bigger threat."
Beatrice shrugs. "The time limit has run out. You have already lost. The least I can do is offer you a place by my side. I'm only doing this because I rather like you, as does my little sister."
"What do you mean I've lost?" I ignite my fists, channeling the magic deep within me to prepare for another fight. "The sword is useless to you. Sooner or later I'm going to take it back, and we're going to stop you—"
Time freezes. Beatrice teleports in front of me and lifts my chin to meet her face.
"There are other ways to make use of the Blade, and you really can't stop what's coming. But if you truly insist that I stop you here—" Beatrice's attention is taken away by a hand glowing with black energy pressed against her chest. "Oh, my."
Hitomi scoffs. "Screw off, Sensei."
An explosion sends the three of us flying in every direction. Beatrice retreats back into the air to avoid the blast. I underestimated Hitomi. To think she still had enough energy to cast magic that powerful is a credit to her endurance. Thanks to her, we've put some distance from our aggressor.
"I give that a C for effort. Your teacher will show you how it's done." A large black orb shrinks to the size of a marble in her palm.
My aura goes crazy with warning bells.
I pick her up and fly away as the orb sinks into the ground where she was just standing. A pillar of light shoots into the sky and then explodes, creating a crater in the earth the size of a house.
More orbs are shot at us, but I manage to avoid each one. It's weird. Despite being so worn out, I'm able to keep going. There is a well of power that I can tap into, but it feels detached from me.
"What's wrong? What's wrong? Didn't you say you were going to stop me? Let's have some more fun! Kahahaha!"
She really is Mio's sister…
Running forever isn't an option. Beatrice is going to level the whole mountain at this rate. However, just as I think to face her head on, the explosions stop. I turn around to see Beatrice clutching her head.
She sighs heavily and blows me a kiss. "Our time together was short, but I had a lot of fun."
"You think messing with my friends is fun? Don't you dare leave until you change Hitomi back. She has nothing to do with this!"
"Oh, a change of heart? You wish for me to turn her back but not yourself?" She asks, tapping her lips.
"It's true I didn't want anything to do with being a girl or a succubus at first. But the me now doesn't change the fact that I'm still Saeko. The precious people in my life remind me what's really important."
She embraces her own body. "I love it. I'm so glad it was you who Mio turned into a succubus. As much as I'd like to talk, work calls. Remember, the prerequisite for joining me is Selene's head. Ta-ta~"
Beatrice flies through a portal of her own making, leaving us in the smoking ruins of burning trees. Once she's gone, Hitomi's body goes limp in my arms.
"Sorry, that's all I got."
She passes out on my back, but fortunately I have enough strength to carry her to Yumi's place. I don't know why Beatrice spared us. It looked like she had a headache or something.
More importantly, what did Beatrice mean 'work calls'? Isn't she the one calling the shots?
Fire truck sirens begin to blare in the distance. That's my cue to turn us invisible and get out of here. I fly in the direction towards Yumi's apartment, keeping my eyes open for any more surprises.
All the while I'm dreading the inevitability of telling Mio that Torii Sensei was Beatrice all along. There's no way she's going to believe that I didn't know. As a greater succubus, I sensed her, kept it a secret.
We come through from the window on Yumi's balcony. She, Hana, and Mio have been patiently waiting for our return.
Yumi rushes to my side. "Give her to me."
I pass Hitomi off, and they lay her on the sofa. Yumi's hands glow with green energy which takes effect immediately. Hitomi's surface wounds are beginning to close up and disappear.
"Where's Rika?" I ask, glancing around the apartment.
Mio points to a room in which the door is slightly ajar. "She's in there. Yumi's the expert in healing magic, she did all she could but Rika's gonna need to rest. What about you?"
What is it that I want to say, right now? I've been delaying all this time because I'm scared. But keeping quiet is what got Hitomi and Rika hurt, roped us into Selene's game, and worse— played right into Beatrice's hands.
"What's wrong?" Mio asks. Even now she has a look of worry on her face. Worry that I don't deserve.
I have to say it. I have to tell them.
"I know who the queen succubus is," I say. The others look at me with incredulous expressions. "We ran into her in the forest. It's Beatrice. Your sister, Mio."
Mio's fist comes down hard on the coffee table. Hana and Yumi scowl at the name. It seems their former queen isn't well-regarded by any of them.
"I fucking knew it," Mio growls.
"But we all saw her die. Mio, it was you who pushed her into the void," Yumi remarks.
"Maybe I shoulda pushed a knife into her heart instead."
"Where the heck was she hiding this whole time?" Hana asks, scratching her horn. "I feel like we searched everywhere when we first landed. She's either hiding her aura or living outside the city, right?"
"Because she was right under your noses the entire time." Hitomi regains consciousness and sits up on the sofa.
"Wait, I'll tell them." Hitomi defers to me. I take a deep breath and resolve to admit everything. Even if they hate me for it. "The succubus we've been looking for— the one who turned Hitomi into a succubus was Torii Sensei. She was Beatrice all along."
"You're telling me that teacher is Bea?" Mio bursts into laughter. Her two old succubus friends shift uncomfortably where they're sitting.
"It's true. I was with Saeko when she admitted to it," Hitomi says.
"Psh, no way. If that was true, Saeko would have told me. Wouldn't ya?" Mio asks me. The room falls quiet. Mio waits for an answer that I can't give, and realizes the truth of my silence. Her playful look darkens. She glares at me, eyes wide and mouth agape. "You knew… this entire time…?"
"I did. I'm sorry—"
Mio grabs me by the collar of my shirt and lifts me off my feet. The twitch in her eyes, the grinding teeth, and clenched jaw can't even begin to describe her anger.
"Mio!" Yumi and Hana spring from their seats, but I put a hand up to stop them.
"It's okay," I tell them, and then turn back to face Mio. "You're right to be angry with me, and I deserve it. I just…"
I'm thrown onto the couch across the room. Mio pushes open the balcony door, climbing onto the railing.
"I thought you were my friend," she remarks, before flying off.
"Hana, go after her." Yumi says.
"Au revoir, mes amis!" Hana salutes us and dives off the balcony.
Yumi slides the door shut after they leave. It's a whole lot quieter now that they're gone, but my head keeps echoing Mio's last words before she left.
The pangs in my chest are growing more intense. I thought the weight on my shoulders would lighten as soon as I come clean, but it just became a whole lot heavier. Maybe things would have been better if Hitomi and I kept quiet.
But… that's what got me here in the first place...
"This was my fault," Hitomi says. "I'll go explain everything to Mio."
Yumi pushes her back onto the sofa. "You're not going anywhere. Not in that condition."
"She's right," I say, taking Yumi's side. "You're a succubus now. If you exhaust yourself without having sex, you could harm a lot of people."
Hitomi chuckles. "So that's what it means to be a succubus, huh?"
Rika hobbles out of the room, leaning against the door frame. "I heard everything."
Yumi goes to help her keep standing. "You shouldn't be up yet either!"
"I'm not sure what's going on. I'm probably better off not knowing, but I want to help Hitomi. If… a sex partner is what she needs, I volunteer."
Hitomi climbs to her feet on her own. "I can't do that to you… you're already injured and…"
Rika frees herself from Yumi's grasp and walks to Hitomi herself. She holds Hitomi's face in her hands, smiling. "You're my best friend. I know you'll be gentle with me."
Hitomi glances at each of us as though asking for permission, but it's Yumi who answers her hesitation. "The most you can hurt Rika is giving her a headache in the morning. I'll make sure to stop you if it gets out of hand."
The two friends take each other's hands and walk into the room together blushing from ear to ear. Yumi closes the door behind them. She comes back to take a seat next to me, and waits patiently until I'm ready to talk.
"Do you think I was wrong to hide it from Mio?"
"You already know the answer to that," she says, her words coming out like a disappointed mother searching for a way to turn this into a lesson. "What you really want to ask is, how you will make this up to Mio. All this time she's been looking for a friend who could be honest with her. You should have seen how happy she was talking about you. How do you think all this makes her feel?"
"She probably feels like shit," I answer, burying my face in my hands. "I feel like shit, too. Mio did so much for me, but I hid the truth about Torii Sensei because I thought she'd betray me again like when the sword appeared."
A warm hand falls on top of my head. "Do you know why you were afraid of Mio betraying you?"
"Tsk, tsk. Once again, you know."
My face starts heating up. "Because I… like Mio, and… I want her to continue liking me."
Yumi has the goofiest smile on her face. She pulls me into a hug, suffocating me between her breasts. "You're just the cutest. If only you were a boy, I'd eat you up! Oh, young love is a wonderful thing."
"So what should I do?" I ask, peeking out between her breasts.
"Ara, Saeko. You have to come up with that on your own, but first…" Yumi lets me go and slides open the balcony doors. "How about you and I have a night out of our own?"
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