Chapter 3: A Date Between Two Girls.
Shino stood silently at a loss of words in the midst of the ever so luxurious dormitory bathhouses. Maihime, who had just fallen down to the water right in front of him, stared back at him in shock.
Shino slowly looked down at his own body. He had the scars of battle along with very visible muscles packed around his core, but she realized her cover was blown when she could see her own breasts.
There was no hiding it now— Shino was in fact, a girl. One boy and one girl infiltrating Kanagawa would lead to better results, so she and her partner Hotaru decided to do it. Naturally, since Shino was taller and more suited for boy’s clothes, they decided she would be the one to swap genders.
Yet that in itself was a double-edged sword. The consequences of someone finding that out were huge, even worse if that person was their target.
Shino knew this, so she had to assess the situation— Maihime was completely wet and dripping water everywhere. What was more intriguing was that she was holding onto Shino’s uniform. Shino took another look at her own basket to make sure and then everything began to form a picture in her mind.
There were two reasons why Shino brought the basket in with her. First, she wanted to quickly get her clothes on and bail if it ever came down to it. Second and more importantly, she feared that Maihime and the others might sneak some sort of wire into her clothes so they could listen in on her anytime they wanted.
It seemed that her worries were right on the mark. Maihime couldn’t find Shino’s clothes in the changing room, so she had to resort to these tactics.
Of course, there was also the possibility of Maihime stealing her clothes so she wouldn’t be able to escape, but that in itself was naive. Shino would have no problem running out of there naked if it came down to it. After all, letting embarrassment cloud one’s judgement was the ultimate mark of a fool.
In any case, it wasn’t a good situation for Shino right now. The fact that Maihime and crew used such a roundabout method meant that they didn’t know what she was up to. However, it did mean that had their doubts about her. Even worse, when they saw that Shino was pretending to be a boy, their doubts would further—
Maihime’s sudden sneeze put a stop to Shino’s thoughts. Perhaps she caught a cold after getting soaked in the water.
Soon, others came running from the shadows of the rocks, yelling out to Maihime.
“Are you okay?”
It was Aoi, Ginko, and Zakuro coming from the bushes off to the side. As Shino had expected, they served as the lookout for this whole operation.
“I’m okay, but at this rate I’m gonna catch a cold,” she said, “but hold on a second, Shino.“
She neatly folded up Shino’s uniform and headed back to the changing room, dragging her coat along the water.
After a while, Maihime popped back out completely naked.
“Thanks for waiting!” she said, but the others probably couldn’t register her words. They were just in awe and overwhelmed that Maihime would take off her clothes and come back to the baths. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for them.
She leapt at the baths, but suddenly went, “Oops!” and got out and took a shower first. Even though she already plunged once into the water, her good manners kept her from breaking the rules. With her clothes neatly folded up and her shoes placed off to the side, she was raised right as a child.
“Nice, it’s warm!” she said as she dipped into the water.
It took a while, but the others finally composed themselves and ran up to her.
“Maihime, what are you doing?” asked Ginko.
“Exactly why did you suddenly take off all your clothes isn’t Shino here?”
“I guess,” she replied, “but at that rate I would get super cold. Besides, Shino’s a girl, so it’s fine… Why don’t you three come in too?”
Without saying a word, the three looked at each other, quickly ran to the changing room, and came out completely naked as well.
It wasn’t long before the four were in the baths Shino had just been in, but there was an air of awkwardness around everybody. They couldn’t help but just stare at Shino’s body silently. Shino wasn’t embarrassed per say, but she certainly didn’t feel comfortable, so she slowly submerged herself back in the water.
Once they realized they were starting to much, the four quickly averted their gaze.
“Ummm, Shino?” Maihime asked timidly.
“What is it?”
“You’re a girl… right?”
Shino knew there were no excuses to get her out of this sticky situation, so her best bet was to be frank with everyone.
But Maihime wasn’t convinced. “Ummm, can I make sure?” she asked again.
“Go for it.”
Maihime slowly moved closer to Shino. With a nervous gulp, she reached out her hand to Shino’s breasts.
“Wow… They’re real…” she said excitedly, feeling around.
That seemed to prompt the others to confirm for themselves as well. Zakuro went all over feeling her skin, Ginko took in her scent, and Aoi just hesitantly felt her fingers.
Shino let this go on for a while before brushing them off.
“Okay, we’re good here, right?”
Maihime drew her hand back. “Y-Yeah! Sorry.”
Shino silently breathed a sigh of relief. Honestly, she didn’t feel comfortable after that— Not because of the embarrassment of having her breasts touched, but because Maihime was just inches away from crushing her heart. Given her suspicions of Shino, it wouldn’t even be too far fetched for her to do so right there and then.
“Wow, you’re really as girl…” whispered Maihime.
“So what’s going on, here?” snapped Shino.
“Umm…. something is…”
“Huh?” Shino threw her a dirty a look. “What were you all doing?”
“S-Something….” said Maihime, clearly shaken up by the question. “I wanted to uhh… wash my back.”
“With my uniform?”
“Oh, I… I got it mixed up with a towel…”
Shino narrowed his eyes hearing such an obvious lie, but she knew it was futile to push on. After all, the conversation could easily change to why Shino was pretending to be a guy. Ultimately, she nodded, pretending like she understood.
Maihime and the others couldn’t believe their ears. “You believe that?!?” they all thought to themselves.
“N-No, nothing… So, why were you wearing a guy’s uniform?”
She knew it was coming, but she still didn’t know how to answer to that, especially since the four were so eager to hear her response. If she made a mistake with the response, her life would be forfeit. There was no way she could let them know the true reason why she pretended to be a guy. Her excuse had to be all about her.
“Well, you see…” she explained after thinking about it. “I come from a long line of samurais. Each generation passed down its secret arts to one person, but unfortunately my father couldn’t get a son to pass these arts to, so I was always raised as a boy.”
It was true that Shino was part of a long line of samurais, but she couldn’t remember one instance where she was raised as a boy. Besides, her father wasn’t some dojo master— he worked for the government.
Spitting out these lies made Shino a bit dizzy. She never really read any manga or short stories that she could draw inspiration from to make her story more believable. She just braced herself for the inevitable “what the hell are you talking about?” that was about to come her way.
But, today was her lucky day.
“I see, so that was it!”
“That’s why you’re dressed as a boy…”
“Shino, you’ve had it rough, huh?”
There wasn’t a single person who doubted her story. Well, maybe not Aoi since she made a bit of a troubled face. The other three believed her completely. The fact that everything worked so smoothly made Shino feel more confident.
Yet she couldn’t let her guard down. There was no turning back now. She had to keep her story straight, especially in front of them from now on.
“But now that I think about it that was way before the war ever happened right?” asked Zakuro. “You don’t have to follow it now…”
“I guess so,” replied Shino. “Maybe I just feel embarrassed since I’ve never worn a skirt, so I’ll like to keep it that way if I can. Besides, the Administration Bureau was kind enough to get me a boy’s uniform.”
Of course, that wasn’t entirely the truth. Shino had worn a skirt before (albeit before the war), and she just requested clothes that were easy to fight in. But it was true she wasn’t used to wearing one.
Hearing this, Maihime couldn’t help but blurt out, “That’s terrible!” with a pout.
“Making you do boy stuff, even though you’re a girl…”
“It didn’t bother me too much,” replied Shino. “Besides—“
“Terrible indeed!” interrupted Aoi. “Even at this age you haven’t enjoyed a lot of the things we have! It’s time for you to do a 180 and get you some new clothes!”
She gave Ginko and Zakuro a nod and immediately they understood what she was up to.
“I agree with Aoi completely Shino there are a lot of different outfits that you need to try after this I’m free so let’s do this.”
“Wow Zakuro, that sounds amazing!” exclaimed Ginko. “We also have to get you new girl uniforms! And for that, we just need your measurements!”
Maihime finally understood what was going on and joined in the fray. “Ah, I see, right! After you finish your bath, let’s go shopping! I’ll pick out some good clothes for you!”
“Wait a second, I’m—”
Shino tried to get a few words out, but no one else was listening to him any more.
It wasn’t long before Shino headed to downtown Kanagawa with Maihime and the other Divine Pillars. Shino’s clothes were still wet from the incident earlier, so she wore a spare jersey on top. She pleaded so many times that this trip wasn’t necessary, but Maihime wouldn’t hear another word from her.
“It’s okay!” Maihime would say, pounding her chest triumphantly. “Leave it to us!”
Maihime’s clothes were also wet, but she wasn’t wearing a jersey on top like Shino was. Instead, she was wearing the clothes she had bought during their date. Zakuro was kind enough to rush to her room to grab it for her.
The four were so close to Shino that they looked like her bodyguards protecting her walk to town. Of course, the whole thing itself was quite a spectacle. Not only were the four Pillars gathered in one spot, the city head was also with them! The people around them couldn’t help wondering why they were all gathered together like that.
As an infiltrating agent, Shino didn’t feel good about drawing this much attention, even though by now even her target knew who she was, so most rules were already thrown out the window.
After a lot of squirming around, she finally made it to the row of shops downtown. Most clothe shops had mannequins on display modelling their flashy products. Even the shop that Maihime and Shino visited together back then was on this street.
“Alright, this is a good place to start off!” said Maihime, walking into one of the shops.
The shop owner immediately noticed their presence and shouted, “Oh my god!” in surprise, but no one paid any attention back.
“Yup, you need a skirt…” contemplated Maihime. “Hmm… what clothes here would suit you…?”
“I’m not used to wearing any skirts, so maybe something not too short, like—”
“No, no, no! We must get you the perfect clothes regardless of what they are!”
“Exactly, hmm… But before that we need to do something…” agreed Zakuro.
Maihime understood exactly with a nod and brought out a tape measure from her pocket. She had a sharp look in her eyes, sharp enough to kill, and was ready to finally do this.
“We have to get your measurements first, Shino,” she said. “Can you take off your clothes in that changing room over there?”
Aoi smiled bittery, but Zakuro and Ginko were nodding in anticipation. Shino felt this and took a step back unconsciously. For some reason, she had a bad feeling about this.
“Wait a second,” she said. “We don’t need to have things specially made, so there’s no need to measure. Besides, even if we need to measure, shouldn’t the shop do that instead? There’s no—”
“Alright! Let’s do this!” interrupted Ginko.
“Indeed the faster we do this the better,” agreed Zakuro.
Before Shino even finished her sentence, the two were dragging her by her arms right into the changing room. The changing room itself was surprisingly large. It was probably made to do this sort of thing, as it had more than enough room for multiple people.
“Yeah, just do as we say!”
“No need to be embarassed weren’t we just in the baths together?”
Maihime, Ginko, and Zakuro pulled no stops. Only Aoi seemed a bit apologetic as she said, “Sorry about this, Shino…”
“Ughh….” Shino sighed. They sounded like villains luring her in, not to mention she was highly against letting them gather data on her body. Even so, if she resisted, they would surely use force. She knew there was no other choice but to do as they said.
She slowly took off her jersey, and the others turned beet red.
“I feel like we’re doing something wrong here….”
Shino narrowed her eyes. “What are you all saying?”
“N-Nothing, it’s just a joke…”
After taking off her jersey, Shino was only left in her underwear. Her underwear, however, wasn’t like any other girl’s. She had wrapped her chest area with a cloth and was wearing boxers, all remnants from when she disguised herself as a boy.
“Huh? You aren’t wearing a bra?” Maihime shouted out, surprised.
“Maihime’s right. And why are you wrapping a cloth around your boobs?!” said Ginko. “It’s true they aren’t very big, but that’s not good for them!”
“Yeah at this rate they aren’t gonna look too good,” said Zakuro.
“Why do you guys care?”
“Because we do!” shouted Ginko. “We better get you some proper underwear alongside the clothes as well, which means more measurements!”
“Exactly!” nodded Maihime. She eagerly started to use the measuring tape on Shino. “I’ll go bit by bit… So let’s start with your height… Hmm… 164 centimeters, upper arms 29.5 centimeters, forearms 23 centimeters… How about from your neck to your fingers…”
“Wait a second. These measurements aren’t necessary for clothes, right? Why do you need to measure my arms?”
“Uhh… for some gloves, you know!”
“Oh, some gloves?”
“Yeah, some gloves! So we also need to get the size of your fingers as well as your grip strength.”
“Grip strength? For some gloves?” questioned Shino.
Maihime simply brushed off her concerns. Eventually they finished, and all of Shino’s measurements were written down in Aoi’s little notebook. The whole time Ginko and Zakuro couldn’t help but smile creepily off to the side. They were honestly a huge distraction.
“Everything’s done!” said Maihime, putting her measuring tape back into her pocket. “We’re gonna get you some new clothes now! Let’s do this, everyone!”
They promptly left the changing room and didn’t even bother closing the curtain back up. Shino locked eyes with the shop owner when she went to do it herself. The owner gave her a weird look seeing that she was in her underwear, so she quickly put her jersey back on.
She waited a while before Maihime slammed the curtain back open with her cheeks blushing and her eyes glittering.
“Here you go!” she said, handing Shino a bunch of underwear. “Try this out first! Wear the ones you prefer!”
“Wait, try this one!” said Ginko.
“No don’t listen to Ginko try this one instead…”
Aoi shook her head. “Umm… Maybe we should get some plain ones?”
Maihime nodded and went back to get some more, while Shino was left with the big pile of underwear dropped on her. She was starstruck by all the choices since she had never done this before. In fact, even when she wasn’t wearing boy’s clothes, she wore a plain sports bra and boxers. She never needed anything fancy like what she was looking at now.
That’s why she was so troubled. The one Ginko recommended seemed to go with some stockings that was too erotic, and Zakuro wanted her to wear a low key goth style, which didn’t make her go crazy as well. Aoi’s was more her style, but it had an underwire bra that she didn’t really like.
Nothing seemed to fit her when she saw herself in the mirror. Looking at all the choices only made her dizzy.
Among the mountains of underwear, there was a sports bra that was similar to the one she was currently wearing. Perhaps Maihime chose it because of that very reason. She quickly unwrapped the cloth around her breasts and put it on. The size was perfect due to having her measurements done as well.
“Shino!” Just as she put it on, Maihime came back once again. If she had opened the curtain a few seconds earlier, Shino’s breasts would be completely exposed to the whole shop.
Maihime wasn’t fazed. This time, she plopped a stack of clothes next to Shino. “This time try these on!”
Hey I’ve got my hands full…”
“Once you finished changing let me know!” interrupted Maihime. “I look forward to it!”
At least she had the decency to close the curtain. Once she left, Shino finally noticed that she had also taken all the underwear she didn’t choose, her cloth wrap, and her jersey. With no other clothes to wear, she had no choice but to choose one. Unless, of course, she walked out in her underwear, which she didn’t mind too much. It just wasn’t good to draw all that attention.
Shino sighed and looked at the clothes. There were a variety of different tops to choose from, but as for the bottom there were only skirts. These were not the clothes she wanted to wear.
She had to wear one, though. She avoided the Ginko chosen leather tight skirt and the Zakuro chosen goth style, and instead opted for a plain white turtleneck and a black skirt.
Once she was done, she called out to them.
Immediately, the curtains swung open. They had to have been waiting just outside.
“Wow!!! That’s so cute, Shino!” shouted Maihime.
“You’re a real girl now!”
“I wouldn’t even recognize you from afar with those clothes.”
“Yeah, Zakuro’s right, but it does suit you!”
But that wasn’t all— Before Shino knew it, there was a crowd around the dressing room. Maihime must have done something to draw their attention.
“Who’s that girl? She’s cute…” said a person from the crowd.
“Wait a second… isn’t that Shinomiya, the Divine Pillar?” answered another.
“Does he have a fetish for dressing up as a girl?
“It’s definitely not a he… that’s a girl.”
Of course, everyone in the city was under the impression that Shino was a guy. The shop was filled to the brim with students, and even the gossiping girls she saw the other day were there. This time they were shocked to see her in a skirt.
Shino had a bad feeling about this. This was going against her vow of keeping a low profile, even though there was nothing she could do about it right now.
“What’s wrong, Maihime?” she said, noticing that Maihime wasn’t as cheery as before.
Maihime shook her head. “N-Nothing…”
That didn’t seem to be the case. Shino could see that Maihime was staring intently at her from head to toe.
After a few seconds, Maihime finally spoke. “Umm… can you do me a favor?” she asked.
“What is it?”
“Can you try tying up your hair?”
“My hair?” asked Shino. She just realized that she left it untied after washing it in the bathhouse.
“I guess I can,” murmured Shino.
She didn’t know what Maihime’s game plan was, but there wasn’t a good reason to refuse. She tied her hair together at the end like she always did.
“No wait, not like that.”
“Then like what?”
“Like a ponytail! You tie it so low.”
Maihime grabbed a portion of her own hair to show Shino what she meant.
“Okay…” said Shino, as she did as instructed. “Is this good? Why are you even… Tenkawa?”
Shino noticed that Maihime had turned a ghastly white, so she stopped in her tracks.
“Uhh, Shino… Before the big war and stuff… have we ever met?” Maihime asked slowly.
Her odd state also drew the attention of the other Divine Pillars. “Before the war?” they asked simultaneously.
Shino raised his eyebrows. The war, also know as the Great Calamity, had already raged on for twenty nine years against the [Unknowns]. It had been a while, but Shino and the others were still young due to the cold sleep, so they slept through a number of years. To them, it had been only ten years since the war started.
“Yeah…” nodded Maihime.
Shino thought long and hard about it. For some reason, her facial expression stiffened up when she did so. Something seemed to be tugging at her brain, giving her a small headache.
“Shino? You alright?”
“Ah, yeah… Sorry, I can’t remember.”
Maihime stared back at him and replied, “I guess so, huh… Sorry, I must have gotten things mixed up. Forget I said anything.”
She sounded a bit lonely and down about the whole thing.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it’s nothing… I just thought you were kinda similar to my old friend, but I’m wrong. Besides, your names are different.”
Maihime took a pause to compose herself, and in an instant she was back to her smiling self. “Besides,” she said, changing the topic, “you just finished changing, so let’s take a walk outside!”
She paid and stepped outside.
“Hey what’s going on?” she said to the others who were still in the store. “If you don’t come now, we’re ditching you all!”
The Pillars shuddered at the though of being left behind by Maihime. “Yes, we’re coming!” they shouted out.
But Shino wasn’t paying attention at all. Somehow, she got a small headache when she was trying to think of her past earlier. It was odd to say the least.
“Shino, let’s go!”
“I’m coming now.”
Luckily, the pain subsided after she said that. She put her shoes back on, grabbed her katana, and went out to meet her. This time, the other Pillars weren’t surrounding her and Maihime wasn’t dragging her along like before. Now would be the perfect chance to escape if she wanted to, but it wasn’t the right time. It didn’t seem like Maihime was up to anything at the moment, and even if she fled now she would still eventually have to meet her again anyway. The best course of action was not to do anything suspicious and draw attention. Plus, she didn’t have a good feeling about the odd headache she felt earlier too.
“Alright, let’s go!” smiled Maihime. She took her hand and dragged her forward.
“No waiting! Time to go!”
Shino followed along with a sigh and just went along with her.
“Hey Shino,” sneered Ginko from behind. “You sly dog… Why do you get to hold hands with her…”
“Yeah if you’re gonna hold her hand why don’t you go the distance and hold her closer…”
They just weren’t having it, while Aoi being the voice of reason noted that it was Maihime who initiated everything.
Shino opted to ignore them since she just didn’t want to start anything, and Maihime wasn’t even paying attention. She was too busy humming to herself and enjoying the walk downtown.
Shino did not feel comfortable as they were walking downtown, however.
“What’s wrong, Shino?” asked Maihime, still dragging her along the road.
“Yeah, need to go use the bathroom or something?” Aoi asked as well.
Shino shook her head. “No, not that.” She gently pressed down on her skirt. It felt weird for her to wear a skirt after all these years of not wearing one, especially when she was walking. She was not used to her skirt fluttering around.
She wasn’t embarrassed about showing her underwear. Instead, she felt unbelievably uncomfortable having her thigh exposed. By looking at the bare skin, enemies would have a much easier time striking the vitals.
She couldn’t help but awkwardly keep her legs tight together at the thought of someone slashing at her vitals. As she did, she heard a snicker from behind.
“Ginko Ginko is this what I think it is?”
“I think you’re right, Zakuro.”
The two snickered once again before mischievously lifting Shino’s skirt up. The move was so unexpected that Shino reacted with a gasp, which caused the people around her to look in her direction.
“… Get away from me.” Shino knew what they did even without looking. She readjusted her skirt and turned to face the culprits with her hand on her katana. However, the two had already distanced themselves from her.
“Wow I did not expect that reaction from you Shino,” said Zakuro.
“Sorry,” Ginko added on. “It’s just a prank!”
Shino wasn’t having it. She took a good look at their skirts, drew her katana, and swung. A faint light illuminated the area around her.
She cut the skirts off of both Ginko and Zakuro even though they were a ways away.
“Woahh!!!” they shouted in a panic. They picked up their skirts and tried their best to cover up their underwear. Ginko was wearing some boxers, while Zakuro’s had a panda print on it.
“Was that you, Shino?” asked Maihime, noticing the commotion.
“They got what they deserved.”
Maihime nodded and continued to whistle. The two seemingly then disappeared for a bit, but appeared holding spare skirts they somehow had laying around.
“Sorry Shino I won’t do it again,” huffed Zakuro as she quickly put hers on.
“Yeah… we couldn’t help it…”
They finished with an apologetic bow, which Shino accepted by putting the katana away. Maihime couldn’t help but laugh from the sidelines.
“So anyways, where are we going, Tenkawa?” she asked.
“Ah, we’re just gonna walk around a bit and then head back to my room,” she replied. “I actually just got some good snacks. I’m sure we’re all getting hungry, so we should eat that with some tea!”
“Sounds good!” shouted everyone else but Shino.
“Nice, let’s go!” shouted Maihime, but before she could say anymore, she noticed an ice cream truck parked alongside the road. Like all other shops, it was also operated entirely by students. While in the old days you would have to be eighteen years old to drive, now was different. Anyone could operate a vehicle as long as he or she completed the necessary paperwork.
“Hey… how about some dessert as well?” asked Maihime.
“Sounds good!” shouted everyone once again but Shino.
“Nice, let’s go!” shouted Maihime once again. After running up to the ice cream truck, she asked, “Can I get two scoops of vanilla?”
“I also want two scoops of vanilla!” said Ginko.
“Uhhh… I guess I’ll take it too…”
Shino sighed and begrudgingly walked with to them.
“Shino, what flavor do you want?” asked Maihime.
“Actually, I’m good, since—”
“Hmm, well you are a strange person… So perhaps you like strange flavors. Wasasbi? Curry?”
“How about seaweed?” suggested the shopkeeper.
Shino’s had enough. “I’ll take strawberry,” she said adamantly. She wasn’t about to eat some weird flavor of ice cream.
Maihime paid the bill and handed Shino her strawberry ice cream and soon they were off. This time, Maihime was eating her vanilla ice cream while humming.
“Eating this together with everyone makes it infinitely times better!” she said happily.
“Agreed and the weather is great today too,” added Zakuro.
“Infinitely is right, Maihime,” said Ginko.
Shino took a small bite of of her ice cream hearing them in high spirits. It was delicious as they had said and eating something cold like that felt refreshing.
Seeing that, Maihime ran up to her. “Hey, Shino, you’re the only one who got a different flavor! Can I have a bite?”
Despite asking that, she didn’t even wait for a response and leaned her head in to take a bite.
“Wow, it’s amazing! Strawberry tastes just as well as vanilla!”
She smiled, completely satisfied.
“Are you serious, Tenkawa?”
“Huh? Oh, right. A bite for a bite! Here you go!”
She handed her own cone to Shino, but Shino didn’t know how to react to that.
“What’s wrong? Don’t like vanilla?”
“No, no, I do.” A refusal now would only cause more suspicion, so she went for a bite… only to be stopped as Ginko and Zakuro went in before her and gobbled all of Maihime’s ice cream.
“What are you two doing?”
“That’s my line, Shino!” replied Ginko. “You sneaky bastard. Was that why you got a different flavor?”
“Seriously just as Ginko said we really can’t let down our guard…”
“What?” Shino wasn’t even trying to understand what they were trying to say.
“My ice cream….” sulked Maihime. She peered into the now empty cone and collapsed.
Both Ginko and Zakuro shivered.
“Sorry, Maihime… You can take mine instead. Come on, take as much as you want!”
“Please take mine too…”
Maihime backed away from their persistence. “I don’t think I can eat both of yours… Wait, why’re you two’s eyes so scary?”
Shino sighed. As usual, they were a rowdy bunch.
“Here, you can have mine,” she said, handing hers to Maihime. “The wind’s getting stronger, so let’s get going.”
“Okay thanks, Shino!” said Maihime. She had the biggest grin on her face.
On the other hand, the two in question had the biggest scowls on their faces, but Shino paid them no mind.
They continued to walk until they weren’t in downtown anymore. After going through a park, they finally arrived at Maihime’s temporary room deep inside the fifth floor of another dorm.
“Come in, come in!” she said after unlocking the door.
“Ah I’m back…”
“It feels like home!”
Ginko, Zakuro, and Aoi all said their respective thanks and entered.
“Oh yeah, you haven’t seen my room yet right, Shino? Welcome!”
“Yeah,” muttered Shino.
Maihime’s living room area was even bigger than Shino’s, but somehow it felt much more cramped. Well, perhaps it was because there were currently five people in it, or the fact that it was full of Maihime’s cute stuffed animals and little accessories. It was hard to even walk around without stepping on something.
“I’ll make some tea, so just sit tight!” said Maihime, heading off to the kitchen.
Aoi was the only one who listened to her and sat down. Zakuro couldn’t waste this opportunity and snapped a few photos around her room, while Ginko went on an uncontrollable sniffing spree.
What a dreadful sight. Shino looked away to avoid seeing them any more. As she did, she caught a picture of a young Maihime along with two other girls on the shelf. Maihime couldn’t have been more than ten years old when that picture was taken.
“This is Tenkawa, huh…” Because she was so young, she looked almost unrecognizable, though Shino noticed her classic white hair and pure skin that she still had to this day. The picture must have been taken before the war.
Upon a closer look, Shino noticed something strange— something that took her breath away. She recognized the person to her left.
“What’s wrong, Shino?” asked Maihime, just as she returned with some tea and snacks.
Instantly, Zakuro stopped taking pictures and Ginko stood back up. Maihime put everything on the table and took a peek at what Shino was holding.
“Oh that!” she said. “That’s an old picture of me. The other two girls are…”
“Hotaru,” interrupted Shino.
Maihime couldn’t believe her ears. “Wait, what did you say?!?”
Indeed, the girl was none other than Shino’s partner and fellow agent of the Adminsitration Bureau, Rindou Hotaru.
“How did you know her name? Wait, I mentioned her before, didn’t I? But yeah, that girl’s name is Hotaru, my friend.”
“What in the world…” pondered Shino. Maihime had uttered the name Hotaru before, but when Shino asked Hotaru about it, Hotaru claimed she knew nothing of it. Yet despite all that, the girl in the photo was undoubtedly the Hotaru that she knew.
“I know right? She kinda looks like you, but she’s definitely more cheery!”
“Say what?” Shino said, pointing at Hotaru. “She looks like me?”
Maihime shook her head. “No, no… That’s not Hotaru. That’s Itou Marika! Hotaru is the other girl, here.”
Shino took another look at the picture. What in the world was going on? She did kind of look like herself, though…
Shino was on her way home from Maihime’s room. The sun had long set, so there weren’t as many students around. On her left hand was her katana, while on her right was her yet to dry clothes.
She was so deep in thought that she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and almost fell. She knew she wasn’t in a good mental state, so she took a deep breath to compose herself. She knew she was letting her guard down. Any surprise attack she took on now would have double the effectiveness.
Of course, her mind was still thinking about what Maihime had said earlier today. Maihime knew a girl called “Marika” who looked like Hotaru. Yet at the same time, she also knew a girl called “Hotaru” who looked like Shino.
Shino could say for certain that she never took such a photo with her, so this “Hotaru” girl had to be another person who coincidentally shared the same facial features as her. There was something else, too. When Shino heard the name Hotaru, she experienced the same headache she had in the clothing shop. Thanks to that, the snacks and tea that Maihime had graciously prepared tasted like sand.
“Damn it,” she murmured to herself. She felt something unpleasant, almost like there was something crawling in her head.
A few moments later, she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She was able to make out a shadow on the sidewalk, and just as she was about to get a closer look, the person walked up to the light.
“Hotaru…” Shino muttered. Calling out her name actually made Shino’s heart skip a beat, and just for a split second she lost her composure.
“Huh? Shino?” Hotaru called back, but not in her usual cheery self. Her eyes were wide open, her face was scrunched up, and her lips were trembling. She was, quite frankly, in shock. “What’s up with that outfit?”
“Outfit? Oh, this is…” For a second Shino didn’t know what she was talking about, but one look at what she was wearing and everything made sense. Even her hair was tied up in a ponytail, something she’s never done before.
Shino was about to explain everything, but she suddenly stopped. Hotaru was acting too strange. Sure, it was expected that she would be in shock from what Shino was wearing, especially since they decided that Shino would pretend to be a boy for the mission.
Everything began with an observation.
She could tell that there was something else going on from the way Hotaru was acting. After all, her senses had been sharpened to a tee.
“I… remember…” Hotaru said softly.
Something was definitely up. “Remember? Remembered what?”
“N-Nothing!” said Hotaru. Her shoulders were shaking and her lips trembling. “Anyways, what’s up with your clothes? What happened to your uniform?”
“You see,” replied Shino. Hotaru was definitely acting suspicious, but if she said something about that she knew she wouldn’t get a straight answer. So Shino went ahead and explained the whole situation.
“Oh, I see,” said Hotaru as Shino finished his explanation. “That’s unfortunate. At least you got them fooled, right?”
“Did Tenkawa say anything odd?”
“Say what?” replied Shino suspiciously.
Hotaru looked away. “Nevermind, forget I said that. As long as they don’t know anything it’s all good then.”
“But I actually have something I wanna ask.”
“You? What is it?”
Hotaru held her breath the moment Shino uttered that name, which would have gone unnoticed if Shino hadn’t been so familiar with Hotaru by now. Years of watching her made Shino perceptive about what was normal and what was off about her. She was sweating a bit more, her eyes shifted around too much, and her fingers were too wriggly. Her actions painted a clear picture for Shino to see— that she knew something about that name.
“Itou Marika. Have you heard of that name before?”
“Nope. Who is that?”
Shino knew that was a lie. She narrowed her eyes in an attempt to find out the truth, but Hotaru noticed her change in demeanor. She cleared her throat in an attempt to throw Shino off and turned away from her.
“In any case,” she said with her back turned. “Don’t say anything unnecessary.”
She then disappeared back into the darkness with that short warning.
Shino didn’t have a word to say back to her. She only stood there in awe.
Damn it, Shino. Damn it, Shino. Damn it, Shino. Damn it, Shino. Damn it, Shino. Damn it, Shino.
With her empty eyes staring down at the ground, Hotaru mindlessly whispered some things to herself.
Hurry. You better hurry and do it...
The situation was getting grim for her. It wasn’t like Shino completely forgot the mission, but she was no longer the same person after coming here. The more Shino came in contact with Maihime, the more Shino grew to like her.
Damn it, Shino. Hurry and kill her. Kill her before you become unable to.
Hotaru was hell bent on having Shino kill Maihime for her. It just had to happen, yet it was getting harder for her to control what was going on from the shadows. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. She had to avoid the worst case scenario at all costs.
Maihime’s death. As long as she could accomplish that, she didn’t care about anything else.
Maihime was undoubtedly strong. In fact, only Shino could take her in a head on fight, but that didn’t mean she was unbeatable. Nabariya Kurisu exposed her vulnerabilities and a way to take her down.
I must get things ready. I must get things ready. I must get things ready.
Carefully. Scrupulously. Delicately. She had to finish things before Shino changed his mind completely. Before this goes on any more.
“Shino. Shino. Shino!” she yelled out loud while biting her fingernails. She thought of the Shino she just saw moments ago. The Shino who was dressed in girl clothing after all this time. That beautiful Shino… She couldn’t handle herself thinking about it.
“You were so beautiful… Yeah, beautiful!”
Her face melted as she cracked into a mischievous grin. Her face was so distorted from her twisted expression she couldn’t even see straight.
“Hehehe… Hehehehehe…” she couldn’t stop giggling as she kept walking with her head down.
However, that came to a stop as she suddenly bumped into a group of boys. She had inadvertently walked right into their cluster.
“Oww. What’s your problem, man?”
Hotaru looked at him silently, but the other boys seemed to take interest in her.
“Hey, whats up with you?” One of them said grinning. “Yo, you wanna play with us? Let’s get to know each other real well.”
Despite one of the boys even wrapping an arm around her, Hotaru didn’t flat out reject them. Instead, she thought of something that made her chuckle. She gave a big hug to the boy, which was so unexpected he didn’t know what to do.
“Wow, you were serious? I was just joking, you know…” but at that moment his voice trailed off. It wasn’t only that— it was like his body just stopped working. His arms dropped to his sides and he nodded off.
Of course, that didn’t sit well with the other boys. Their laxness quickly turned into fear.
“H-Hey what’d you do?!?!” said one, while another said, “Don’t joke around like that…”
Hotaru caught them backing away in her peripheral vision, so she released the boy she was hugging and faced the others.
“Don’t be scared,” she said with a twisted smile. “I thought we were getting to know each other real well!”