Kashino, as much as she'd hated to admit it, was known for her radical ideas. She liked to think it was because she was the only student in her friend group that was admitted to True Cross Academy on an academic scholarship. Most students' parents bought their way into the high-class school—but not Kashino. She was driven and had nothing to lose. Despite the financial barrier, she clawed her way to the top and scored a place in several advanced courses at True Cross Academy.
It was in those courses that she met her best friends, Nishiwaki and Omoto, and became infatuated with a reserved medical student, Okumura Yukio. Not long after she decided to pursue Okumura, Nishiwaki and Omoto shared similar sentiments of love.
Friendship soon became a casual rivalry.
Kashino attempted to win Okumura's affections by making him a lunch he couldn't resist! She'd noticed that he often didn't have one and sat with some scruffy, loud-mouthed boy instead. However, it was hard to hide her little idea from Nishiwaki and Omoto. By lunchtime, all three of them presented Okumura with food! And he'd refused to choose!
That didn't matter, though. Kashino was persistent.
Well, at least that's what she'd thought. If she was telling the truth, the days she spent pursuing Okumura were a bit blurry. She remembered spotting some blonde ditz outside of Okumura's dorm and deciding to camp outside until she left the building. Kashino, Nishiwaki, and Omoto waited all night and then…
Everything went blank.
Sir Mephisto—the headmaster himself!—told her that she and her friends had entered a restricted building and had passed out due to an unexpected gas leak. Nishiwaki and Omoto accepted his explanation, but Kashino knew that something about the headmaster's explanation was wrong.
There was no gas leak.
Something else had happened and she had a sinking feeling that Sir Mephisto was covering it up. He was definitely the type to do something like that. He dressed like a real-life clown. Besides, what kind of reputable headmaster dyed his hair purple?
If there was a conspiracy at True Cross Academy, that man was definitely involved.
Furthermore, the likelihood of Okumura's involvement pained Kashino's heart—but she could accept that. Her attraction to men paled to the allure of dismantling a fascinating mystery.
So, with little other clues, Kashino set her sights on Okumura Yukio and intended to uncover whatever secrets he was hiding. She soon discovered that there were many problems with her initial plan.
Whenever he wasn't in class, Okumura just 'poof!' Vanished! He would walk into a room, Kashino would follow moments later, and he'd be nowhere to be found. She couldn't figure out how he was doing it, but she was getting very tired of the phenomenon. She tried subtly asking him about how he spent his time outside of class, but the only thing he would tell her was that he was a tutor for a 'cram school.' When she asked about joining, he became all flustered and said that it was for kids with 'special circumstances' and that she had to know certain people.
If that wasn't a blatant lie then Kashino would eat her own shoes.
She continued to follow Okumura for a few more weeks—taking a few hiatuses for exams, of course—and decided that she needed to change her strategy. Rather than looking to Okumura for answers, she would sneak back into the place where it all went down.
According to Mephisto, the building wasn't even a dormitory at all. Kashino knew that was a lie because she'd seen Okumura and that scruffy-looking boy—who was apparently his twin brother—walk in its direction after afternoon classes.
She didn't know much about the other boy except that his given name was Rin. Oh! That, and he always carried that weird sword with him wherever he went. She could scarcely name a time she'd seen him without it. He'd never pulled it out on anyone, but it was definitely strange that none of the staff members seemed to mind a lethal weapon strapped to some delinquent's back.
Hmm… was it possible that Okumura Rin was a part of this conspiracy, too? Kashino was certain she'd seen him at the dormitory the day she lost her memory. That and he seemed a little too dense and a little too rugged for a regular True Cross Academy student.
Kashino would have to keep that in mind when she was scouring their dormitory for clues.
She settled on a day she was certain that neither of the boys would be near the derelict building. It was a bright, sunny day with moderate heat and a relaxing breeze—nobody sane would stay inside with that kind of weather. Before she left for their dormitory, Kashino ensured both Okumura brothers were in one of the main courtyards with Paku Noriko and a few other students. At a glance, they were an odd bunch, although they seemed to be a close-knit group of friends. Kashino couldn't exactly judge that.
It didn't take her long to barrel through the dormitory doors and head upstairs. From what she remembered, their room was on one of the upper floors so her best bet of finding any evidence or clues of what had happened would probably be there. After several minutes of opening and closing doors, Kashino found a communal bathroom which had clearly been used. There were two toothbrushes in a cup beside a tube of toothpaste, deodorant, and a can of shaving cream. It wasn't interesting, per se, but it was proof that they actually lived there!
Kashino examined the first toothbrush curiously. The bristles were completely flat like someone had chewed on it for a very long time. She admittedly wasn't an expert when it came to dental hygiene, but that was a bit concerning.
She set the toothbrush back into the cup and moved on to another room. If this was the bathroom the Okumuras used, then their bedroom couldn't be much further. However, before she could find their room she ran headfirst into Okumura Rin himself.
If Kashino was being honest, she didn't know who had screamed louder. Well, she wouldn't exactly call the noise Okumura made a scream. It was more of a howl—a low, guttural sound that ripped through the air and sent shivers down Kashino's spine. Unnatural.
"What are you doing here?" he accused.
Kashino fought her sudden urge to push Okumura back. It was probably just an overreaction but something about his presence was just unsettling.
"I uh—" She picked her brain for a lie. "I was just looking for Yuki-kun! I wanted to return a textbook I'd borrowed."
Okumura's piercing blue eyes narrowed. She'd never realized how sharp his features were—especially those ears, was that normal?—but it made her hair stand on end. Moreover, when he opened his mouth to speak, all Kashino could see were fangs.
Well, that would explain his toothbrush.
It didn't explain much else because those were actually fangs—full-fledged vampire fangs! People didn't just have fangs last time Kashino checked! The real question was why she'd never noticed them until now. She'd never really spoken to him one on one before, so was that it? Maybe something about the dormitory had triggered her epiphany?
Kashino didn't like this. This felt like the beginning of a horror novel.
"Did you tell Yukio you were coming in here?" he finally asked. "We're, uh, generally not supposed to have visitors in our dorms. It's an old building and all…"
"Well, I wanted to surprise him." She gulped. "And if it's such an old building, why do you two live here anyway? There's not exactly a shortage of regular dorms, last time I checked."
Oh god. Why did she say that? Now he was going to know that she was suspicious of them! What if he was the reason she'd lost her memories that night? Out of everything she'd found so far, it didn't seem that unfathomable. Hell, he had fangs and a sword strapped to his back. What was she supposed to make from that?
Was Okumura even human?
"I guess, uh, you could say we're tight with Mephisto and he let us have our own building for the hell of it." He shrugged. "We keep it on the down-low, though, since this place isn't exactly up to code."
Despite her gut telling her otherwise, Kashino decided to go all in. Chances were that Okumura already knew she was suspicious, so it's not like she had much left to lose.
"Oh right!" she laughed mirthlessly. "There was a gas leak last time I was here, I heard. Somehow, I don't remember a thing about that night. Funny, huh?"
The tips of Okumura's fangs protruded from his frown. "You don't? I guess that makes sense… the, uh, gas leak was very dangerous. It's probably a good thing it's not in your head anymore, I mean, that you don't remember what happened."
That confirmed it.
Okumura Rin was definitely—if not directly—involved in the conspiracy.
He knew what really happened that night and was relieved that Kashino didn't remember any of it. And if she had to guess, he was most definitely a vampire.
"Ah," she said. "Alright, then."
Without much preamble, Kashino fled from the dormitory.
She didn't look back on the run home.
In her younger years, she'd yearned for the chance to meet some sort of fantasy creature. She spent weeks with her nose pressed into the pages of vampire romance novels, dreaming that one day an angsty victorian immortal would sweep her off her feet.
Okumura Rin shattered those fond fantasies, post-mortem.
She couldn't name it, but there was something unsettling about him beyond his physical features. Something predatory, perhaps? Oddly enough, she didn't get the same feeling from Yukio even though they were supposedly twins. Maybe Rin had been turned as a vampire sometime before coming to True Cross Academy? Or maybe they weren't twins at all and were just 'posing' as siblings? Or what if they were related, but Rin was immortal and one of Yukio's ancestors?
The options were mind-boggling.
The real question was why Okumura Rin was even at True Cross Academy in the first place. Was he just trying to live a normal life as a supernatural entity or was there some greater scheme in play? After all, what did Mephisto have to gain by keeping a vampire on campus that could potentially pose danger to the students? Protection from something worse, maybe?
Her mind couldn't handle all the rampant speculation.
Did she even want to know more at this point? Yeah, she knew it was dangerous before but now it was life-threatening. Okumura Rin had the aura of a killer rolling off of him and she did not want to cross him. Though, as much as she hated to admit it, Kashino was curious.
She had a feeling that tailing either Okumuras would get her hurt, so she opted to do some less risky investigation that could shed light on Okumura Rin's past: his school records. It wasn't hard to get a copy of them since she was easily a teacher's pet and teachers felt comfortable leaving her in empty classrooms with a spare keychain to the school archives.
It wasn't hard to sneak into the archives either, since she was pretty unassuming. Nobody spared the plain girl with glasses a second glance.
When she finally skimmed through a little less than a hundred manila folders (seriously, was it too hard to alphabetize these?) she found both the Okumuras'. Yukio's was clearly well put together, including an outstanding record of middle school accomplishments and a letter of recommendation from his school's vice principal. Rin's on the other hand… wasn't even a manila folder. It was an anime folder that looked like it was bought at a discount store and she had no idea how it ended up in the official records.
(Actually, she did have an idea. Mephisto was a fucking clown.)
Rin's folder didn't include a middle school course transcript at all, but it did have several truancy forms. Mephisto was listed as his primary guardian and his home address was a monastery. His medical records indicated no allergies except pollen and... holy water?
How the fuck did this get processed? Did everyone just blindly obey Mephisto?
Furthermore, how did a supposed vampire with a 'holy water allergy' live in a monastery? Did anything about Okumura make sense?
Before she left the archive room, Kashino took photos of both brothers' folders before she left in case she wanted to review them later. It was a tedious task taking pictures of every single document—it might have been easier to steal—but she finished the task within ten minutes.
The next few days left her in a daze. She wanted to do more, but what else could she do without risking her safety? She could always snoop around Mephisto's side of things instead and try to unveil his corrupt little operation, but Kashino had no way of telling what tricks he had up his sleeve either. After all, she was almost sure he'd wiped her memories that night. So, if she was going to continue her pursuits she needed to tell someone what she knew.
She didn't like to think about it, but if worse came to worst, she might lose her memories again. Sure, she could always write it all down, but paper could be destroyed. She needed a confidant, any confidant.
The more she pondered who she should choose, the less she trusted Nishiwaki and Omoto. Sure, they were her best friends but that also made them a liability. Everyone would expect her to tell them! So who did that leave?
She mulled it over for a day or so, but in the end, the answer came to her unexpectedly after her advanced world history class.
"I'm telling you, Paku-chan, that Kamiki girl you hang out with is so cold. Hell, her entire entourage is weird. I mean, what's up with the religious emos?"
"Eh, yeah. I guess they can be a bit eccentric but they were good company in cram school! It wasn't right for me, I guess."
Kashino glanced at the group of girls two desks over, crowding Paku Noriko's desk. She'd almost forgotten that she and the Okumura brothers were friends, apparently through that suspicious cram school. She still hadn't figured out how the cram school tied into the grand scheme of weirdness, but maybe Paku had some answers? She was pretty popular and normal. It was also a good sign that she'd left the cram school. That meant that if there was something strange there, she'd had enough sense to back out.
Well, here was an opportunity to ask.
"So what's up with the cram school anyway?" she asked. "Don't take this the wrong way, but not all those kids, uh, seem cut out for college."
That was a subtle jab at Okumura Rin. If Paku picked up on it, that was a great segue into deeper conversation.
"Yeah, it's an unorthodox program for kids with special interests. Kamiki roped me into it and I tried to support her, but that's her thing! It got me into True Cross Academy at least."
Kashino blinked. "What, are you telling me anyone who's in the cram school gets automatic admission or something?"
Tadashi, a slender girl with bulbous hair, grabbed Paku's shoulder. "Girl, are you telling me I didn't have to take the entrance exam? I studied for three months only to get one point above the benchmark!"
"I uh… I guess not? There was also a grant but I lost it when I dropped out of cram school. Seriously though, it's a really intense program and the entrance exam was probably the better option."
"I would've rather spilled my guts than take the entrance exam. I had stress rashes for weeks after!" Tadashi insisted.
Paku shrugged. "We're all here now, right? It doesn't really matter how we each got here…"
"It doesn't," Kashino agreed. "I got in on a scholarship by the skin of my teeth. We've all had difficulties and that's what makes us good students."
It was hard not to notice the way Paku's eyes glazed over when she mentioned their difficulties. If Kashino had to guess, something from the cram school was haunting her.
Maybe literally, if her deduction about Okumura was right.
When Tadashi and the other girls slowly edged out of the classroom, Kashino not-so-subtly blocked Paku from leaving. From the looks of her, she knew that Paku was a straightforward and benignant girl. She would probably spill faster if Kashino was upfront with her.
"What is the cram school, really? I know there's something different about True Cross, I just can't figure it out. Okumura Rin too, he's… he's not normal."
For a moment, Paku didn't move a muscle. "I—I uh, it's just a cram school? I don't really know what you're getting at..."
She shook her head. "No, the cram school is involved. Okumura is some kind of—well I don't know! Maybe a vampire! Something weird happened to me at his dorm, this creepy old building and I can't remember anything. Now, he has these fangs and sharp ears and from what I can tell most people don't notice them nor the motherfucking sword strapped to his back! Mephisto too, he's the mastermind behind it all and—it's super weird, alright!"
She sounded like a rambling lunatic. Paku was gaping at her now and there was no taking back all the nonsense she had just spouted. Nonetheless, there was still a chance that she was right! Kashino knew she wasn't crazy—she just sounded crazy!
"Please… just tell me I'm right."
Paku didn't speak for a good half-minute. "That's, um, a lot to unpack there. What was that bit about, uh, Okumura?"
"I'm almost certain he's a vampire because of the fangs and teeth. His medical form says he's allergic to holy water—like what? He's always cooking for his brother, but does anyone ever see him eat? Plus, he's so pale! His eyes have this weird otherworldly glint, I don't know how to describe it. Oh and he growls a lot when he talks! If he's not a vampire, then I don't know what."
"Oh wow. I don't think I've ever noticed that." Paku glanced between Kashino and the door. "Are you sure you're okay, Kashino-san?"
"Well, I'm not crazy. I wouldn't say I'm great or anything. I'm paranoid that something will happen again and I don't know who to trust."
"Oh," she said again. "I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
Kashino leveled her gaze. "You can tell me the truth, for starters."
Paku sighed. "I wish I could, but it's tricky. I signed an NDA."
Kashino's heart dropped into her stomach. "A non-disclosure agreement?"
She nodded. "Mephisto has lawyers and I can't risk expulsion. All I can say is that the cram school is… 'unconventional.' It's for kids with special interests. I don't know the whole deal behind Okumura, but I know he's on the right side of things. He's a good guy, Kashino."
Paku left the classroom without saying much else but Kashino didn't take her word for it. Okumura still gave her chills whenever he looked her way and she listened to her gut-instincts. Good or not, there was something otherworldly about him.
Paku didn't like to think about her time in cram school whenever she wasn't with Izumo. She knew it was what her friend was passionate about it, but it just felt like a horrible fuck-up on Paku's part. She should have stayed in her own lane instead of trying to follow Izumo everywhere, doing the same thing she always had…
Exorcism wasn't something to joke about.
She understood that the moment she received her temptaint, which now that she thought about it was after Rin trashed their entire classroom having some kind of family argument with Yukio. It was a hell of a first impression on Rin's part and now that Kashino pointed it out, he was sort of odd. Even for one of the exorcist kids.
Admittedly, she'd noticed the fangs thing after she got her temptaint too and since no one else seemed fazed, she just went with it. Although, Izumo said once that there were some people who were more attuned to demonic attributes, so maybe that's what Rin had going on. He was raucous and scruffy, but still nice when it mattered.
Though, what concerned Paku was that Kashino—an outspoken yet normal girl—could see the world of demons. She mentioned something about an incident at the Okumuras' dorm, and after her own crisis, Paku knew for a fact that it was not as safe as the staff let on.
This regular student had gotten a temptaint and it seems that no one explained anything to her. Paku wanted to reach out and console her, she wasn't heartless after all. However, Mephisto had batshit rules about not mixing True Cross Academy students with the world of exorcism if they could help it. Sure, she could always void her dumb contract but then what would that do? Kashino would just have more questions Paku couldn't answer and then Mephisto would find out that Paku told her! Game over, no more True Cross Academy!
She should probably let someone else from the cram school know so they could help Kashino. Probably not Kamiki, given her headstrong demeanor, and definitely not one of the temple boys. Konekomaru was nice but timid, Shima was far too flirtatious, and Bon was… well, Bon. Rin was also out of the question since Kashino was scared of him and Moriyama didn't even go to True Cross Academy. Yamada (well, Kirigakure-san now, apparently) and Takara weren't viable candidates either.
That only left Okumura-sensei. Well, Okumura-san, now that he wasn't her teacher anymore. Even though she didn't have a key to the cram school anymore, he wasn't that hard to track down since Paku already had plans to meet with Kamiki after cram school classes. Kamiki was a bit impatient when she explained why she wanted to talk with Okumura, but waited outside of his classroom.
"Hey, do you have a minute?"
Okumura looked up from his stack of papers, surprised. "Paku? What are you doing here?"
"I'm hanging out with Kamiki today, but I wanted to tell you something that happened today. I, uh, don't know if you know Kashino-san, but I think you have a class with her. She's this girl with short black hair and glasses. She approached me today and I'm pretty sure she has a temptaint."
Okumura's eyes widened. "Oh. Uh… I might have an idea when she got it. I didn't even think that Ukobach..." He shook his head. "What did she say to you? Is she seeing demons?"
"Well, not yet. I figured it out when she mentioned your brother. In retrospect, it's actually kind of funny because she thinks he's a vampire since he has fangs. Then, I sort of remembered that I couldn't see Okumura's fangs until my temptaint so I put two-and-two together."
Okumura sputtered. "She thinks Rin is a what?"
"Vampire." She mimed having fangs. "You know, like Dracula."
He pressed a hand to his forehead. "That is not an image I wanted to see, but now that I have I can't unsee it."
"What's up with his fangs anyway? And his ears?" she asked.
"Oh it's uh, genetics. Weird mutation. Probably demon related, but not a big deal."
His answer sounded a little too rehearsed to be true, but Paku didn't push it.
"Anyway," he resumed, "thanks for letting me know about Kashino. We don't really have a good protocol, but I'll try to see if I can explain some things to her in case she starts seeing more demons."
Paku crossed her arms. "What if she doesn't believe you?"
Okumura shrugged. "Then she doesn't. Can't really help that, I guess. She's probably better in denial anyway—this life takes a toll on you."
"Yeah," she said softly. "It does."
It was too late for Paku, but maybe Kashino would be able to find peace of mind.