Heat coursed through Aina’s body as Fumiko leaned in to deepen their kiss. Although Aina felt her chest tighten, she didn’t resist as Fumiko gently pressed her down onto the blanket. The heat was coming in waves now, throbbing from her core, outward towards her extremities. It was a very, very comfortable feeling, but there was always a dull pain in the background, a burning which could not be extinguished, but which heightened the pleasure even more.
That pain was desire.
Fumiko and Aina both gasped for air as they broke their kiss, but quickly drew back together, Aina’s arms now weakly clutching at Fumiko’s back. They both became dimly aware that their spiritual energies were swirling violently around their bodies. Though they had always allowed their spiritual energies to intermingle when they were together, it had been careful, gentle. Now their energies raced, crashing into each other, but instead of scattering upon impact, they began to fuse together, melding into a single energy.
As Fumiko pressed her body on top of Aina’s, neither of them were terribly concerned by this. The intimate merging of their spiritual energies was heightening their pleasure. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Aina knew that this was unprecedented and possibly dangerous. What would happen if their energies merged completely? Would they ever be able to separate them, or would they be forced to spend the rest of their lives in close proximity? When it was complete, would their physical bodies merge as well, and could they survive that process? She thought of these things, but she didn’t care. She would give herself completely to Fumiko no matter what the result.
Aina nearly winced from the heat as Fumiko placed her hand on Aina’s right shoulder. Fumiko’s face blocked Aina’s vision, but to Aina it felt like the hand was pressing against her bare skin. At first, she wasn’t sure if Fumiko had slipped her hand under the yukata or if the material had simply burned away under her touch, but as Fumiko’s hand began to trail down Aina’s side, she could feel the soft pull of the fabric.
“Matte,” Aina moaned, jerking her head away as Fumiko’s hand reached her waist. Fumiko, however, quickly found Aina’s lips again, not wanting to give up the kiss. With her right hand, Aina grabbed Fumiko’s left, while at the same time carefully pushing Fumiko up with her free hand. “Ki wo tsukete, there’s a buki stashed there.”
Fumiko withdrew her hand, and Aina removed a large dagger from her obi and stuck it into the ground next to the picnic blanket with a violent thrust. Free of the weapon, her hand traveled up to Fumiko’s cheek, intending to draw her into another kiss, but the sight of the weapon had shocked Fumiko back to her senses, and she pulled back. As she did so, the two of them felt their spiritual energies begin to separate.
“Naze do you have that?” Fumiko asked quietly.
“It’s just for protection,” Aina assured her. “I’m not looking to use it.” She was now beginning to cool off as well. a “Anou,” Fumiko continued, “a few days ago they delivered a corpse to the shrine for purification. They said you killed her…”
“Sou ka? They told you that?” Aina breathed a heavy sigh and put her hand back on Fumiko’s cheek. “It wasn’t because I wanted to. I had to. I don’t really want to talk about it, especially when we’re alone on a night like this.”
Now it was Aina’s turn to press herself on Fumiko. She leaned forward to kiss Fumiko, breaking through Fumiko’s weak resistance and reigniting the flames within them. After guiding Fumiko to the ground, she slowly, nervously, inched her fingers under Fumiko’s collar, trembling as she caressed Fumiko’s neck. This experience was completely new to her, and she didn’t know what she should do next. She briefly considered trying to slide her hand towards Fumiko’s obi, as Fumiko had done to her, but she didn’t get the chance.
A loud metallic thud sounded inches away from Aina, and, opening her eyes, she saw the dagger wobbling in place, still stuck into the earth. This mysterious occurrence took her mind off the kiss long enough for her to hear the sound of quiet footsteps making their way towards them. They were difficult to pick out over the booming and hissing of the fireworks, but they were unmistakable.
“Someone’s coming!” she informed Fumiko.
Fumiko scrambled to an upright position as Aina crawled off her. They both hurried to straighten their yukata, which, despite Aina’s imagination, had not burned away. Their skin, on the other hand, was completely flushed, a fact they hoped would be hidden by the darkness of the night.
Ryuunosuke rounded the hill to find his daughter exactly where he expected her, but he frowned upon seeing who she was with. It was the meido with the inexhaustible supply of impure energy, and she was holding hands with his daughter as they looked up at the sky together. He had feared he’d find her alone with a boy, but somehow, this felt worse.
“Konbanwa, Ryuunosuke-sama,” Aina greeted him. “Aren’t the hanabi kirei”?
“Fumiko,” he said coldly, “you’re needed at the shrine. Let’s go.”
“Can it wait?” asked Fumiko. “I’d like to watch the hanabi.”
“Let’s go,” her father repeated.
After exchanging a small glance, the two girls stood up and folded the picnic blanket together. Aina retrieved her dagger and watched helplessly as Ryuunosuke led Fumiko away.
Aina wandered the thinning crowds of the festival in a daze, processing the events of the evening. She had read that intimacy was pleasurable, but she didn’t expect it to be nearly that intense, and neither, she suspected, did Fumiko. But although the experience had cleared a lot of things up for her, it also left her with many questions. Was it like that for everyone, even those without strong spiritual energy? Had Momo felt the same strong urges when she propositioned Aina that night, all those years ago? If so, Momo’s actions were more forgivable, though Aina resolved not to let herself frighten anyone else the way Momo had frightened her, no matter how bad her urges got.
Most importantly, would it be the same with someone else? It was supposed to be done between a man and a woman. Could it possibly feel better that way? Aina tried to imagine it, but it was too embarrassing to think of kissing any of the men she knew. She looked around the crowd to see if there was a man she could imagine kissing, but that felt too creepy, so she quickly stopped. Finally, she decided to imagine kissing a famous celebrity. Girls did that all the time, so that should be acceptable, right? She closed her eyes and imagined it, but it did nothing for her. She tried a female celebrity, and… perhaps her imagination just wasn’t up to the task.
So absorbed was Aina in her own thoughts that she almost didn’t notice the meido leaning up against a torii near one of the entrances to the festival.
“I warned you,” Mari’s voice croaked. “I told you that miko was a seductress. Look at yourself. Look at how weak she’s made you.”
“I am not weak,” bristled Aina.
“You are,” Mari insisted. “You almost walked right past me without noticing. If I were a teki…”
“Even if you were my teki, you’re no threat to—You saw us? Were you peeping? kimochi warui.”
“Shitsurei! I’m on duty here. It’s my job to be on the lookout for suspicious people, and that miko certainly fits the bill. I even warned you that someone was coming, and this is how you thank me?”
It took Aina a second to realize what Mari was talking about, but then she remembered the vibrating dagger. Mari must have hit it with a rock to warn Aina.
“So you were just looking out for me?” Aina asked skeptically.
“Sou da yo,” Mari answered with a smug look on her face. She leaned closer to Aina and spoke in a softer voice. “That miko will never understand what it’s like to be a meido. She will never understand the pain that comes with being forced to kill, and that will create a gap between you that you will never be able to bridge. She might be good for a fling, but a relationship with someone like her could never last. You should be with someone who understands you. With a meido.”
“With you, you mean,” Aina inferred, as Mari leaned closer.
There was no chance of a romance between them, Aina knew, for she still despised Mari, despite her best efforts. But her body was still throbbing from earlier, yearning for release, and so she didn’t resist as, blocked only from the sight of the crowds by the torii, Mari planted a forceful kiss on Aina’s lips.
Mari’s spiritual energy was not as strong as Fumiko’s, but it was definitely stronger than most. And yet, it did not merge with Aina’s as Fumiko’s had. Perhaps their energies were physically incompatible, or perhaps, despite whatever gap Mari perceived between Aina and Fumiko, the gap between her and Aina was wider. For whatever reason, the kiss did not enrapture Aina the way Fumiko’s had, though she had to admit that it felt nice.
Mari broke the kiss, expecting to see the same blissful look on Aina’s face that she had seen when Aina was with Fumiko. When she saw that her kiss did not have the same effect, she fled into the night.
“Tadaima,” Aina called out quietly as she entered through the servants’ entrance. It was late, and she wasn’t expecting a response.
“Okaeri,” Chikako greeted her coolly. “I just had a very unpleasant phone call from Ryuunosuke-sama.”
“Sou ka?” Aina asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “Nani did he want at this hour?”
“I’m not going to play this game, Aina-san,” Chikako explained. “You know exactly why he called. Ima, I’m going to explain what happens next, and you are going to go to bed without a fight. Ryuunosuke-sama has proposed, and I have agreed, to keep you and his daughter separated. You will not see each other again.”
“You can’t do that. Only goshujin-sama can give me an order like that.”
“I can, and I did. Besides, do you really want me to tell him about this?”
“Chikako onee-sama, I didn’t mean for—”
“Save it,” Chikako sighed. “I’ll listen to whatever you have to say tomorrow. For now, just go to bed… Soshite, perhaps you shouldn’t call me ‘onee-sama’ any more.”
“Demo, I don’t mean it like that!” The suggestion stung, not just because it revealed that she had lost Chikako’s trust, but also because it was the first time Aina had been on the wrong end of a prejudiced statement. Even when they had been joking about her harem, nobody had ever implied anything negative about her alleged sexual orientation.
“I know. Gomen. It’s been a long night, and we should both get some sleep. Just… Tell me, after what happened with Momo, for all these years, have you been deceiving me?”
“Iie! I promise, I never had those kinds of feelings before tonight. Hontou.”
“Oyasumi nasai, Aina-san,” were the only words that came from Chikako, who walked out of the room before Aina could give her reply.
A mere half an hour later, Aina dropped down from the window of her second-story bedroom, landing on the ground without a sound. She didn’t care what Chikako or Ryuunosuke said. She was going to find Fumiko, and then they’d run off… somewhere. Aina wasn’t quite sure where they could go, but she kept that thought at bay by convincing herself that she shouldn’t make a decision that important without consulting Fumiko.
Chikako’s reaction had felt like a punch in the gut, and had made Aina remember how she had reacted to Momo’s advances. She didn’t regret telling Momo that she was too young—because she was—but she did wonder if telling Momo they couldn’t share a bed for a few weeks felt the same to Momo as when Chikako told her she shouldn’t call her “onee-sama” anymore.
It had also made her think about how she had responded to Mari’s feelings. It had been obvious for years that Mari had a crush on her, but she had always pretended not to notice, and she was now unsure whether or not that was too cruel. She had also neglected to thank Mari properly for finally admitting her own feelings back at the festival, and so before she had left, she had sent Mari a one-word email.
“Going somewhere, Mme Aina?” A hissing whisper, seemingly right next to Aina’s ear made her jump. She spun around to see Naomi standing tall behind her.
“I just needed some air, Naomi-sama,” Aina bluffed. “Figured I’d get some late-night training in. If you’ll excuse me…”
Aina turned to leave, but Naomi reached down and grabbed Aina’s shoulder hard enough to cause pain.
“How many times have I told you never to turn your back on a potential opponent, especially me?” Naomi’s voice was louder now. Less scary and more authoritative.
“Gomen,” Aina yelped. “You’re right, I wasn’t thinking. Please, let go.”
“I don’t think so. I heard about what happened from Mme Chikako… and from Mme Mari.” Naomi held her mobile phone in front of Aina’s face. On the screen was a picture of Aina on top of Fumiko, her hand about to reach under Fumiko’s yukata.
“Are you disgusted with me too?” Aina spat, the pain evident in her words.
“Hardly,” Naomi scoffed. “Such things weren’t uncommon in Paris,” she sighed. “Not the norm, but not unheard of. We didn’t have this ridiculous expectation that servants were supposed to love only their masters either. And who knows? I may be partially to blame for the way you turned out, so I can’t really complain about who you fall in love with.”
“Jya, you’ll let me go?”
“If I let you go, and you escape, they’ll force me to hunt you down in the morning. You’re one of the most promising students I’ve had in decades, even more promising than Mme Chikako. It would be a tragedy if I had to kill you, so no, I’m not going to let you go.”
“Come on, Chikako-onee-sama is much stronger—” Aina was interrupted by a buzzing in her pocket. She extracted her mobile phone to see a one-word reply from Mari.
It was the last thing Aina saw that night, as Naomi delivered a quick blow to her temple, catching Aina in her arm before she could slump to the ground, unconscious.