Usagi watched with a frown on her face as Inara left the kitchen.
Four tails, again. She must be in sync with Inu's heat, Usagi thought. And that means I'll have to hear them going at it again tonight…
She was frustrated and lonely, but most of all jealous. She stopped chopping vegetables and stabbed the knife into the cutting board to vent a little steam and get it out of her hands. She was in no state to be handling sharp objects. She went to the fridge instead, taking inventory and building a mental shopping list. It looked like the shrine was set for meals for at least another day or two, but Akari would need to go shopping soon.
Akari… she thought. I don't care if she's nice to have around, she's been grabbing up more and more of Inara's time. She stomped from the refrigerator to the sink, then froze. A pile of dirty dishes had been abandoned in the sink, and she could guess who had left them.
Usagi rolled her eyes. Such a slob. That cat acts like she's never lived in a house before. She hasn't done a single thing to help around here, and yet she's been getting some of Inara's attention too.
She scowled at the dishes, but they weren't really what she was upset about. All these new arrivals, don't they realize I was here first? That I'm the most devoted, the deepest in love? How dare they take my Inara from me! Usagi was fuming now, breathing hard and pacing around the room.
Then she felt her stomach tighten into a nervous knot, the familiar sensation of guilt. She flopped down on a cushion by the table and hung her head. No, Inara isn't mine. She's wild and free, and I'm privileged just to know her. My time with her is a precious gift, not something she owes me. If she would rather spend her time with the other girls, who am I to question it? I'm no one. I'm just a dumb bunny who thinks that just because I love Inara, she will love me back, and love only me…
She stared blankly at the table's surface for a long moment, letting the emotions overcome her. Then she looked back up with a determined look in her eyes. She hopped to her feet, brushed the wrinkles from her skirt and sweater, and marched out of the room.
I've been petty, greedy, jealous, and lonely. And there's a perfect solution for all of that. Usagi's cheeks went pink as she thought of what she needed to do, who she needed to see.
She slipped into her room to get her extra-private duffle bag, the grey one with a combination lock securing the zipper, then she made her way as quietly as possible to Hebi's bedroom door. It was the room nearest to the workshop, and Hebi could almost always be found in one or the other.
Usagi knocked gently, then waited. After a few seconds that felt like an eternity, the door opened.
Hebi stood there, tall and slender. Her pale grey hair was in a loose bun, held up by black and red ornamental chopsticks, and she wore a black pencil skirt, black pantyhose, and a scandalously transparent white blouse with no bra beneath. It was a look that no one else could have pulled off, and she knew it.
"Oh?" Hebi said, already noticing the familiar bag in Usagi's right hand. "What brings you to my door, Usagi?"
Usagi frowned, but she was smiling on the inside. "I've been a bad girl, mistress."
Hebi's lips pulled back into a very snake-like grin. "How disappointing. I'll have to clear my afternoon schedule." She stepped back from the door and pointed into the room with one hand. "You know what to do. Get changed, quickly," she hissed.
Usagi hurried inside while Hebi closed and locked the door. Usagi sat on the floor, unlocked her bag, and started withdrawing her outfit and tools. Pastel pink fur, glossy black latex, and polished chrome: Usagi's preferred aesthetic was clear.
Looming overhead, Hebi didn't need to change a single thing about her own outfit. She considered herself a very lucky mistress indeed; even though her two submissives had very different needs and desires, they both appreciated the same stern and classy look that she herself favored. She had few stereotypical dominatrix getups in her closet, but her 'casual' look remained her most popular.
Hebi watched in silence until Usagi had finished stripping naked, then she said, "Stop. Before we proceed, I need to know more about your transgressions."
Usagi dropped the fuzzy handcuffs she'd been holding, then kneeled on the carpeted floor and bowed her head. "Of course. I'm sorry, mistress, for presuming otherwise." Then Usagi went on to explain what she had felt and thought back in the kitchen, how she'd been unreasonably upset at her housemates. In addition to informing Hebi, recounting it served as a way for Usagi to reexamine her own biases and better understand how she'd arrived at those feelings.
Hebi, still standing tall over the nude Usagi, listened carefully to every single word. She needed to parse Usagi's story, cross-reference it with her own knowledge, and devise a plan. After all, it wouldn't do to punish Usagi for anything that wasn't actually her fault, or to needle a touchy subject that would only worsen Usagi's mental state.
For over a hundred years, Hebi had been learning and refining her art. She was a therapist of sorts, using the framework of domination and submission to work through issues, to help others understand themselves, and of course, to bring both parties some sensual pleasure.
Finally, Hebi came to a decision. She said, "First of all, I will say that your emotional state is quite understandable."
Usagi blinked up at her. "It is?"
Hebi nodded. "But it is nonetheless detrimental and in need of correction."
Usagi looked almost relieved at that. "Yes, mistress."
"So I'll start with a punishment of restraint, limiting your movement so that you will be forced to reconcile your feelings with reality." Hebi's tail to picked up two pairs of fuzzy pink cuffs and tossed them onto Usagi's lap. "Put these on your wrists and ankles, then lie down on your stomach."
As she followed Hebi's orders, Usagi felt better already. She had resigned herself into Hebi's care for the near future, trusting that she would emerge on the other side with a new perspective and a stabilized emotional state. And if she was lucky, Hebi might bless her with sexual release as a reward for a job well done…
"Sorry for showing up unannounced," Hanako said when Akari came to the shrine's front door. The younger woman wore a bright pink t-shirt with a character from an amusement park on it, along with simple jeans and tennis shoes.
"It's fine, don't worry about it," Akari said. The shrine was a public place, at least during daylight hours, and it often received visitors outside of worship services. Hanako's visit wasn't a problem at all. What was a problem was how Hanako looked. "Umm, are you feeling okay, Hanako? You look… tired."
That was a severe understatement. Hanako had visible bags under her eyes and her shoulder-length black hair was frazzled and messy, like she'd dried it with a leafblower and forgot to comb it out afterwards.
Hanako said, "Just been having a hard time sleeping. Got a lot on my mind. Which is why you're here. I mean why I'm here." She tried to smile but it looked very fake indeed.
"Wanna talk? Sit with me." Akari sat down on the wide wooden steps and patted the spot next to her.
Hanako smiled more genuinely. "Thanks, Akari. I knew you'd come through for me. Not sure why I knew that, though…"
"Huh? What's that mean?" Akari asked.
The smile faded. "I have memories of talking to you about relationship stuff, but it's like pieces of it are missing. Why would I ask about relationships? I didn't even have anyone in my life at the time."
Oh no, Akari thought, already forming a guess at what had happened. Inara erased her memories of Neko and it wiped out the context for other memories too.
Akari decided to deal with that tangled issue later. For now, she changed the topic, "No one at the time? So there's someone now? Tell me about her!" She clapped her hands together in genuine excitement. It was great seeing friends find love.
Hanako's eyes lit up, almost overpowering the look of sleepiness. "Her name's Ayumi. She just moved to town, and she came to my shrine almost every day for the last week. She's beautiful and fun and I want to get to know her better. But…"
"What if she's… what if she isn't, uh, like you and I." Hanako took a breath. "What if she doesn't like girls? How do I even tell?"
Ah, the age-old dilemma, Akari thought. She was acutely aware of her own lack of experience with the subject, but she did have some useful advice nonetheless, something she'd gleaned from TV and high school gossip and general life experience. She said, "There's a simple method to find out, and it's one that isn't unique to lesbians."
Hanako blinked at her. "What? What is it?"
Akari shrugged and grinned. "You can ask her directly. Ask her if she likes you."
Hanako shook her head frantically. "No, uh-uh, no. What if that scares her away?"
Akari shrugged again. "Then it wasn't meant to be. But if you want, you can spend some time with her first. It's okay to be friends before you become lovers."
Hanako blushed brightly at the word 'lovers'. Since she no longer had any memories of her wild night with Neko, she was practically a virgin again. Then her face took on a serious expression. "Yes, I like that plan. Even if she isn't into girls, I would still like to be her friend. I need more offline friends."
Hanako quickly bowed her head, and apologized, "Sorry, I didn't mean to devalue our friendship. It's still very important to me. You helped me when I was sick. Um, I think. It's all a bit of a blur."
A dark look appeared in Akari's eyes, and she was glad Hanako was bowing and missed it. Akari was not pleased at all with the way Inara had handled Hanako's memories. The poor girl was a mess because her head was full of holes and remnants. It was as if Inara had gone in swinging a machete when she should have been performing careful surgery.
Sure, Inara had to wipe the memories of a half-dozen people in a single night, and I have zero idea how her memory powers actually work, but she should have done a better job!
Akari calmed slightly and said, "No problem. Now for this Ayumi girl you like, just talk to her again next time you see her. And ask if she'd like to join you for something simple and low pressure, like shopping or coffee. Be her friend, since she probably needs friends too, if she just moved here." Akari felt good about the advice, but she wasn't sure it would be enough. Asking a girl out was far from Hanako's only problem. She'd also been having trouble sleeping and her memories were a mess.
Hanako listened closely, then nodded. "Alright. I think I can do that. But, um…" She trailed off, her face flushed red.
"Hmm? What's up?"
"Well, I've been having these dreams… weird ones. And I was wondering if you…" She shook her head. "Nevermind. Now that I have a plan regarding Ayumi, I'm sure they'll clear up."
Akari could guess what the dreams had been: remnants of her real-life sexual encounter with Neko. And considering what Akari knew about that mind-blowing encounter with an experienced seductress, she could see why the dreams were disrupting Hanako's sleep.
Then Hanako changed the subject. "Hey, while I'm here, do you think you could give me a tour of the place? It's a beautiful shrine, and you live here too, right?"
Akari tensed. Who knows what Inara and the others would do if I parade another human through the shrine. In theory, she wouldn't be able to see them, but what if she sees their animal forms? How would I explain it? And Inara and Neko would both recognize her, and after what they both did to her, I…
Akari cut off that thought and said, "Ooh, I'm sorry, but I can't give a tour right now. The place is a mess and I need to get ready for this weekend's ceremony." She was only partially lying. The shrine was actually quite clean, between Inara's magic purification ability and Usagi's fastidiousness, but Akari really did have prep work to do. These early weekends were vitally important to the shrine's success, especially with winter approaching, which was sure to bring down attendance. "But I promise to show you around another time, alright?"
Hanako smiled. "That'd be great. Thank you yet again, Akari. Good luck with the ceremony. Jin and I can't make this one, but maybe next weekend."
As Hanako got up and started down the shrine steps, Akari replied, "Sounds good. See you around!" Her voice was cheerful, but her thoughts were dark. She needed to have a talk with Inara about how she handled people's memories. And Akari felt empowered by how well the last time she'd confronted Inara had gone. Inara wasn't a bad person, she just didn't know the consequences of her power.
"Inara-sama, can I have a moment of your time?" Akari asked. Inara's bedroom door had been wide open and the goddess was just sitting on a cushion in the middle of the room, wearing yet another beautiful kimono. Her back was turned to Akari, and her four fluffy tails waved idly through the air.
Inara glanced back over her shoulder, then went back to whatever she was doing. "Sure. I'm listening."
"Um, it's about my friend Hanako."
"Oh, the girl that came to visit. So what's up?" Inara kept looking down at something in her lap, occasionally moving her hand slightly.
"She was one of the people that you visited, to erase her memories of Neko. I'm worried about the side effects of that. She's having trouble sleeping and she can't make heads or tails of what happened to her."
"Ah, yeah, that's pretty normal."
Akari didn't appreciate Inara's casual dismissal. "How can you think that it's acceptable to leave her memory in such a bad state?"
Inara finally turned to face Akari, using her hands to spin the pillow she was sitting on. There was a large touch-screen tablet on her lap, which must have been what she'd been fiddling with. She looked up at Akari and said, "It'll clear up with time. People normally gloss over the patchy memory by assuming they dreamed it."
Akari said, "I think Neko made a really big impression on her, life-changing in a way. I don't think her mind will accept 'it was a dream' as the entire explanation."
Inara smiled and Akari couldn't help but feel comforted. "No worries, your friend just needs another big memory to overshadow what's left of her memories of that night."
"You're saying she needs to get laid again?" Akari asked, her lips moving before she'd even finished the thought. And what she'd said was far more casual than she wanted to be around her goddess. What's going on here? Is it Inara's aura again? Which one was four again?
Inara let out a small chuckle. "That would probably work, but it's far from the only way. Just a really fun day should be enough. I recommend spending a day with her, 'hanging out' as people are saying these days. And it'd be good for you to spend more time with other humans, to stay grounded in reality. Part of your purpose here is to be a voice of reason, to be grounded, and you can't do that if you get swept up by us spirits."
"Oh, alright. That sounds great. Thanks for the help, Inara-sama." Then Akari stepped forward a few feet, trying to get a look at Inara's tablet. "What's that you're looking at?"
Inara flipped the tablet around and brandished it for Akari to see. "Oh, it's artwork I found on the 'internet'. There are entire communities devoted to this stuff, just sharing it with each other for free. It's great!"
Akari glanced at the tablet and felt her heart stop. It wasn't just any artwork. It was an entire gallery of pornographic drawings, and there were several common themes: all the images were of women, most of them featured furry ears and tails, and greater than half of the characters had dicks. Huge ones. There were black bars or pixelated areas censoring them, but it did very little to hide what was going on.
That was when Akari remembered what four tails meant. Hebi had called that mode 'Fertile', but it seemed 'Horny' was more accurate.
"Uh, that's nice. Thanks again for the talk. Bye!" Akari said before turning and jogging out of the room. She took the time to close the door behind her on the way out, thinking, Some things should be done in private!