d tightens as we come face to face with a large number of succubus right at the entrance. She glowers, bearing her fangs at them, yet none of them respond in the same aggressive manner.
"What the fuck is this?" Mio growls.
She raises her fireball and is about to fling it when a dreadful presence fills the room, stifling the spell in Mio's hand.
"Now, now. We can't be making a mess of the establishment."
A tall succubus with dark red skin strolls past the other succubi. She's dressed like a bartender, a black vest over a white collared shirt and an apron wrapped around black pants. Short side-swept crimson hair is brushed to one side of her face, while the other half is blemished with a scar in the shape of three claw marks.
Strangely, and just like the other succubus in the room, none of them are hiding their features. Their tails and horns, as well as the wings for those wearing open-back dresses are in public view for everyone to see.
This succubus gives off the same dreadful sensation as Torii Sensei when we first met. Everything about her makes my skin crawl, and my mind screaming one thing— greater succubus.
Just like me.
Yet, this one doesn't terrify me as much anymore now that she's the second one I've met. Third, if I include myself.
She smiles, revealing sharpened incisors, and then does the unthinkable.
"I am Selene. Manager of Coliseum, at your service."
In every battle we've fought so far, even when it comes to friendly banter, Mio's never backed down before. Against the one before us, she takes a step back for the first time. I feel her hand shaking.
Is Mio… afraid of the succubus named Selene?
If she's that big a deal, should we run? We would be leaving Yumi and Hana behind.
The door slides shut behind us, dashing any plans we have of escaping. Suddenly we're trapped like rats in a cage.
I can't count on Mio right now that she's scared frozen like a statue. I take a step forward to put myself between them.
"A bunch of succubus openly operating a business. Pretty bold of you." Is all I can say on short notice. My face starts getting red, embarrassed by the attempt to act cool and brave.
Selene puts a gloved hand to her chest and with the other gestures inside the club.
"I would prefer not to obstruct the entrance. Perhaps we may speak inside over drinks? On the house, of course, since it is by my invitation." She smirks, and bows once again.
Selene heads in first, seemingly content that we won't attempt to run off. I tug at Mio's hand to shake her from her daze.
"Do you know her, Mio?" I ask.
By the way Mio is reacting, I almost assumed Selene was her older sister come back to life. But if I recall correctly, her name was Bea.
"I know her alright." Her words come out annoyed and full of hate.
Her resistance fades and we both head inside, keeping our eyes peeled for anything suspicious.
Jazz music plays from every speaker in the room. The gentle voice of Mariya Takeuchi singing her signature Plastic Love almost lulls me into a sense of complacency.
Hostess clubs' main demographic are older men with more money than they know what to do with. Second are lonely men who don't care how much they need to spend to get some attention. It only makes sense the club is almost filled to capacity, even if it is early in the evening.
Some of these patrons I recognize on television— some of Tsukiji City's more influential members of society. Several members of the National Diet are lounging around with a succubus in their arms as they share drinks.
Selene stops in front of a booth and waits until we're seated before she takes a seat across from us. Immediately, another succubus procures three glass cups and a bottle of wine.
"I'm not old enough to drink." I say, pushing my glass off to the side.
"My apologies. Fetch us a carbonated beverage." She orders the succubus, and then takes a sip of the wine. "I've taken a liking to human wine. Your kind— or rather, the kind you used to belong to enjoys quite the varied flavor."
The way she speaks tells me she's aware that I was originally human. Despite the hospitality and her easy going demeanor, I'm not letting my guard down.
"You didn't invite us in just to talk about wine, did you?"
Selene looks down at her drink and frowns. It's as though what I said put a bad taste in her mouth.
"I used to be like you. Like her. Impatient, cutting to the chase, getting the job done quick." She says, pointing to Mio. Then she points to the scarred side of her face. "That's how I got this."
"What? You get mauled by a tiger?"
"Haha!" Her laugh bellows over the already loud atmosphere. "You spoke in jest, yet you are a lot closer than you think. I fought a fierce battle against the Pridemother, couldn't so much as lay a scratch on her. What you see on my face isn't even half of it."
"You went from talking about wine to reminiscing about your past. I still don't see why that should matter to me." I say indignantly.
"What I'm trying to say is, I may not be the Lioness herself, but I know true strength when I see it. Do you? Having walked into the lion's den as a group of four. Two, now."
I don't even want to know what she's done with Yumi and Hana. I just know that I need to protect Mio.
"Okay, then. Why haven't you torn us to shreds yet?" I ask, leaning in to humor her.
"Because we can talk. Wouldn't you like to talk if you're at a disadvantage."
"And, exactly which one of us is at a disadvantage?"
Selene's lips slowly curls into a wide grin.
I know very well who's got the upper hand here, but I can't let myself show weakness. If I'm going to be a greater succubus, I need to at least play the part. And if she's on the side of the queen, I need to be extra careful in choosing my words.
Selene finishes her glass and then pours another, all the while grinning from ear to ear. Then, as though reading my mind, she says, "My allegiance is to the queen succubus. However, circumstances may call for a change in… bedfellows."
"D-Do you know who the queen is?" Mio suddenly perks up and asks.
"Then why do you follow her?" I ask.
This isn't the first time, and Selene isn't the only one. Both Yumi and Hana, as well as the succubi we've fought expressed they've never seen the queen. They only know to answer to her orders.
"Because we believed she was strong. After all, sending nearly a third of the hive to this world is no easy feat. However, despite stealing the Blade from you, she is still afraid to make her move in the open." She answers, shrugging.
"You don't need to say anymore. I get what you're trying to tell me."
I'm beginning to understand the succubus hierarchy. It's no different than the animal kingdom, the alpha rules and leads the pack. As soon as the leader shows any weakness, the others start to bite and vie for the top.
"You want to be queen." I say accusingly.
Selene swirls the red liquid and tips the glass up to her lips. "You're not wrong, but neither are you correct. I want to propose a partnership. Carve out our own slices of the city, if you will."
"So you need my help in eliminating the competition?"
"Our current monarch is a despot, unwilling to share. You are a rogue and unwilling to side with her, and I am an opportunist."
She finishes her second glass, but doesn't pour herself a third.
Selene proposes an alliance on the offer of ruling alongside each other. I don't want that offer, I want my city to be free, and have a way to turn back into a boy.
That doesn't mean I can't play along for now. If I help Selene defeat the queen succubus, that will take care of our biggest problem.
"I accept, on the condition you leave my school out of the in-fighting."
"You like your education. Admirable. A piece of intel you may find useful, a gift in our new alliance— the moment I landed here, I detected no more than four greater succubus residing in Tsukiji City. Two sit at this very table, the other two have since gone silent, and I've lost the trail on where they've gone."
One is Torii Sensei, and the other…?
One of them is the queen. Do I give Sensei up? No. Information is key, so I should hold onto this info for now. It wouldn't be outrageous to believe Selene is withholding, too.
"I haven't come across another one of us until today." I lie as convincingly as possible.
My soft drink arrives just as we conclude our discussion. Selene rises from her seat and nods. "I expect great things from you, Saeko, bearer of The Blade of the First Temptress. And, Mio. It is an absolute pleasure to see your terrified expression again. We should play next time we meet."
"Wait!" Mio shoots up from her seat before Selene can leave. "Do… do you know if my sister is the queen?"
Selene shakes her head. "Beatrice is dead, Mio. Good riddance at that."
Mio slumps into her seat relieved.
"Is there anything else?" The manager of Coliseum asks politely.
Mio remains unresponsive, so I ask instead, "What exactly did you do to Yumi and Hana?"
Selene guides us to the back of the club where the private rooms are located. She opens one of the doors. Inside, Hana is drunk out of her mind flirting with succubus and human patrons alike. Yumi is nursing her in her arms and keeping the pink-haired trickster from getting too handsy.
"Uwehehe… you's a little cutie, ain't'cha? How's about you's an' I go back to my apartment for a— hic… fun?"
"Ara, ara? You two took your time.
"So much for going in guns blazing." I say, putting a hand to my face.
It's not even 6PM when we finally leave Coliseum. We stop by the convenience store to pick up a gallon of milk before heading home. Mio remains quiet the whole way, but by the time we get through the door…
Mio dives through the kitchen and latches onto my sister the same way she used to do to me.
"Oh! Welcome home, you two."
Hatsumi returns the hug and strokes the back of Mio's head like the kind sister she is.
After dinner, Mio shrinks off to her room with the excuse that she's tired. For her to retire so early, something is definitely up.
"Did you and Mio get into a fight?" Hatsumi asks as we're washing the dishes.
Come to think of it, if there was anyone to ask, Hatsumi would be the best person.
"We ran into someone that Mio's had a bad history with. Am I wrong to make friends with that person?"
"Hmmm. I guess that really depends on who you care more about, doesn't it?" She says as a matter of factly. "For me, if it ever came down to you or anyone else, of course I would choose you every time."
"But we're family, though."
"And, Mio isn't?"
I almost forgot Mio and the others are masquerading as our cousins. But Hatsumi is right, Mio is pretty much like family.
Hatsumi puts the last dish away to dry and then digs into the fridge. "Mio might be feeling a little betrayed, so you just need to remind her who's more important. The new friend, or her?"
She pulls out two bowls of homemade pudding and gives both to me.
"What am I supposed to do with these?"
"Geez. My little sister may be a girl now, but she still has a lot to learn about girls. One is for you and the other is for Mio. Just giving her pudding is to get you through the door, then you need to use your words once you're inside."
I stare at the glistening pudding in my hands and all I can think is I don't deserve my sister.
"Thanks, sis. I'll make sure your pudding won't go to waste!"
Hatsumi leans down and points to her cheek. "If you want to thank me, show your big sister some love!"
It's embarrassing, but I yield and lean in to kiss her cheek. However, Hatsumi turns her head just in time for our lips to meet instead.
I jerk back in surprise.
"Wha— what was that for??"
"Hehe. Nothing wrong with an innocent family kiss." Hatsumi says, and then ushers me out of the kitchen. "It's your turn now!"
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