“What do you think I would do if I found out, Mme Chikako?” Naomi asked.
“N—N—Naomi-sama,” Chikako stammered, “I don’t know where she learned to do that. I certainly didn’t teach her that!”
“You certainly didn’t,” Naomi smirked. “You learned it from our master’s books, didn’t you, Mme Aina?” Aina nodded. “It shows. Your movements were clumsy and unpracticed. You only won because you managed to surprise your opponent.”
“You were watching the whole time?” gasped Aina.
“I know everything that goes on in this doujou,“ Naomi said. “I thought you had realized this by now. Or was what happened this afternoon an accident?”
“Iie, it’s just that I thought you were asleep. You didn’t say anything the other times I used the doujou at night.”
“Nani happened this afternoon?” Chikako asked.
“Mme Aina surreptitiously informed me that our guests weren’t using the usual training spell. Though I never did ask, how did you know the spell’s secret, Mme Aina?”
“Another one of goshujin-sama’s hons.”
“I should have known,” Naomi smiled. “I really ought to monitor what you’re reading more closely.”
“Like wushu manuals, for example,” Chikako inferred.
“Which brings me back to my question. What did you think I would do to Mme Aina, Chikako?”
“Punish her… Or worse. Your reputation would be tarnished if word got out that one of your students was using an inferior art.”
“Is this that protoculture nonsense again?” sighed Naomi.
“It’s not nonsense, Naomi-sama,” Chikako insisted. “If word of this got out, it would bring shame to goshujin-sama. At the very least, he would order you to commit seppuku. That goes for you as well, Aina-san.”
“Ha, that’s a good one. But you needn’t worry. If using wushu is as dangerous as you say, Mme Aina knows better than to leave any witnesses.”
“I wasn’t joking,” Chikako sulked.
“Come now, you know the direct approach isn’t that man’s style,” Naomi smirked. “He hasn’t got the guts.”
“You don’t understand the politics involved, Naomi-sama,” Chikako said. “He wouldn’t have a choice.”
“Oh, but they’re his books, aren’t they? And he gave Mme Aina permission to read them. If anyone were to be in trouble, it would be him.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that wushu is an inferior technique,” Chikako shifted tactics. “She could be killed if she tried such a stunt in battle. You really ought to scold her.”
“Absolutely not. She is just doing what any good meido should do. Even if wushu were an inferior art, by learning what makes an art bad, she can also learn what makes it good. She might even be able to incorporate some of the good parts back into her meidou.”
“Bakana,” Chikako scoffed. “Anything of worth from protoculture arts would have been incorporated into meidou centuries ago.”
“Oh, it was,” Naomi said, “before you Weebs banned the use of all non-Japanese arts. Meidou used to be all about experimentation and improvement. Nothing was inferior if it helped you protect yourself and your master. Now all that’s left are win-at-any-cost techniques designed for disposable assassins.”
“And look at how well that kind of naive martial art worked for you,” Chikako retorted.
“Both my former master and I are still alive,” Naomi shrugged. “I would say it worked pretty well.”
“You lost,” Chikako gloated. “Don’t drag Aina-san down with you.”
“Has it occurred to you that wushu might be a better fit for her?” Naomi asked.
“Iie, I can’t say it has.”
“Think about it,” Naomi said. “She has problems wielding large weapons because she’s not heavy enough to counterbalance them with her weight. There are wushu techniques where that doesn’t matter as much.”
“If it’s a problem with her weight, she’ll grow out of it,” Chikako pointed out.
“Not in this case,” Naomi informed her. “Mme Aina only weighs five kilos.”
“Uso!” Chikako gasped.
“Uso ja nai,” Aina confirmed.
“Of course, she doesn’t really weigh that little,” explained Naomi. “She would be dead. Perhaps gravity does not affect her as strongly, or perhaps the spiritual energy flowing from her body creates a force which counteracts gravity. Regardless, the scale says she weighs five kilos.”
“Jya, have you tried pushing yourself down with your spiritual energy, to make yourself heavier?” Chikako asked Aina.
“I tried,” Aina said. “My body can’t take the pressure.”
“Robot, your mop,” Naomi demanded, walking towards the middle of the doujou. Sena handed her the mop and stepped out of the way. “Mme Aina, come at me with your wushu.”
Aina raised up her own mop, knowing she didn’t stand a chance against Naomi, but determined to do her best. She slid the mop forward, baiting a defensive response, pulled it back, and extended it again quickly a few centimeters to her right. Naomi easily parried the blow and swept her own mop along the ground, forcing Aina to jump over it. Aina twisted her mop in mid-air, bringing it perpendicular to her body to block Naomi’s followup blow. It would have been a good idea, had she been standing on solid ground, but Naomi’s mop smacked into hers from above, sending both Aina and her spear crashing to the ground.
“You lack a connection with the ground, Mme Aina,” Naomi said. “Never forget that is a weakness, not a strength,” She thrust the mop back into Sena’s hands and turned to Chikako. “I think she’s learned her lesson, don’t you?” Chikako nodded.
“Oh, and Mme Aina,” Naomi continued, “next time you’re having a problem with your lessons, come to your sensei before you reach for a book.”
November 23rd, U.C. 0046, 7:25 AM
“Hey, Aina-chan, I heard you got some pussy last night,” Karin joked, slapping Aina on the back. A collective wince propagated through the dining hall. Of course, everybody had already heard what had happened, but they weren’t talking about it openly. Aina didn’t have the energy to formulate a witty reply, having not gotten much sleep. She was just glad that none of the nekomimi—including Mimi—were present to hear that comment.
“If you’ll excuse me, Karin-sama, I have parlor duty today,” Aina said, standing up from her seat and walking out of the room. It was still early enough in the day that Akira was still asleep, and she hoped that nobody would catch her if she took a short nap in the den.
Unfortunately for her, that was precisely where Diaho was waiting for her.
“Diaho-sama!” gasped Aina. “Go—”
“Iie, me first,” Diaho interrupted. “Gomen nyasai!” he almost shouted, bowing very low. “My behavior last night was unbecoming of my position, and unyacceptable for any sentient being. Even if Momo was in heat, I should have controlled myself.”
“Go—” Aina tried again.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” said Diaho. “You were put in a very difficult position, and you handled it well.”
“Demo, I left you to struggle against those restraints all night. Are you hurt?”
“Mostly just my pride,” he sighed, sitting down on a nearby couch. “It gave me a lot of time to think. I’m afraid I’ve made a bad impression on both you and Momo. Soshite, last night didn’t help things.”
“In what way?” Aina asked, sitting down in a chair across from him.
“I don’t know why you think I am so proud as to lie about what happened last night.”
“Then you’re going to tell goshujin-sama what I did?”
“I won’t. Demo, if you did not have a good reason to do what you did, I wouldn’t hesitate to, even if it meant being the butt of all the jokes around here for a few weeks.” Aina relaxed upon hearing this.
“You’re always so aloof, Diaho-sama. You don’t even take your meals with the rest of us. At the same time, it’s obvious you take pride in your position. Every time goshujin-sama praises you, you grin that self-satisfied grin of yours.”
“That’s not pride. I just… I like to be praised. It makes me feel good.”
Aina could relate to both the sentiment and his hesitation. She too couldn’t help but feel happy when Akira praised her, although her feelings about him were complicated. She admired him as a highly-educated man and a teacher, and he was the closest thing she had to a parent in this mansion. At the same time, she had developed a distaste for how the goshujin caste pushed everyone else around, and Akira was one of the worst offenders.
“I think I understand how you feel.”
“Jya, will you help me apologize to Momo?” asked Diaho. Aina’s heart sunk at the mention of Momo.
“I don’t know how she feels about what happened, but if I were her, I wouldn’t want to see anyone right now,” Aina said. “Truthfully, if I knew you were here, I never would have come.”
“Sou ka? You would shirk your duty just to avoid me?”
“I would have traded with Jin-chan. At least until goshujin-sama awoke.”
“Jin-chan has not been approved for parlor duty.”
“Chikako-sama said she wanted to give her a shot on a trial basis.”
“Why that scheming…” Diaho mumbled.
Cooking and parlor duties were the only domestic responsibilities of human meido in the Wright mansion. Meido would only be assigned to one of these duties if they showed an aptitude for it, and would be given a higher status, with additional perks to go along with it. Parlor duty was considered the more prestigious of the two duties, but to get assigned to it, a meido needed to have excellent manners, good interpersonal skills, a bit of feminine charm, and most importantly, her master’s favor. Parlor meido were expected to be the human interface through which the goshujin controlled the mansion. They were always nearby their master, ready to relay his orders to the rest of the staff. They also were responsible for answering the door and entertaining guests. In short, if a job required human interaction, it was a parlor meido’s responsibility.
Only Akira could assign someone to parlor duty, but Chikako was trying to convince him to devolve that responsibility to her, so that she could exert more control over the rest of the staff.
“In any case,” Aina said, “I’m glad that I got to hear your apology sooner rather than later.”
“And I’m glad you didn’t involve any outsiders.”
“Outsiders, Diaho-sama? You mean like me?”
“I’m not an aho, Ainya-san. I know how close you and Momo are. It didn’t escape my attention that she came to you last night instead of me.”
“You’ve got the wrong—”
“Ki ni shinaide. I know you two aren’t like that… yet. You’re too young, for one thing…” Diaho trailed off, unsure of how much he wanted to divulge. “Listen, Ainya-san,” he said, his vertical pupils narrowing as he focused his gaze on her,” don’t let this go to your head, and definitely don’t tell Chikako-san, but you’re probably one of the few meido in this country who could get away with something like that. Goshujin-sama thinks of you like a daughter. Soshite, I think he wants you to be shiawase. Demo, never forget that he owns you. As you grow, his feelings towards you might change, and he commands your affections. If he were to order you to break it off, you would have no choice but to obey. You might save yourself a lot of pain if the two of you remain just good tomodachi.”
“Mou, Diaho-sama! Like I said, you’ve got the wrong idea. I don’t like Momo that way, and she didn’t exactly confess her love to me last night either.” But, Aina knew, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
“If you say so,” Diaho chuckled.
“I do,” she huffed, standing up. “If I see Momo, I’ll convey your apologies. Now if you’ll excuse me…”
“Please tell her that, if she really doesn’t want me, I won’t try to take her again. If she appeals to the committee, they will assign her to someone else. Soshite, if that’s not acceptable either, there are… artificial options available to her. Demo, make sure she knows this: she will not be allowed to shirk her ninmu. She will become a mother. Keep that in mind if you do decide to get involved with her.”
“Is that all you have to say?”
“Iie, there’s more. Ainya-san, I want you to know that Momo was right about a lot of things last night. I let myself be controlled by my body because I was trying to prove to myself that… Well, it’s not true that I daikirai being nekomimi. Momo’s hyaku percent wrong about that. Demo—”
Diaho was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.
“Gomen, Diaho-sama. I’m on duty right now. Sumimasen.” And with that, Aina rushed out of the room and made her way to the front door. She opened it to find Hideaki on the other side, a wide grin on his face.
He pulled a pistol from his pocket and held it to Aina’s forehead.
“Welcome to this crazy time,” he recited.