“This isn’t exactly a secret,” continued Naomi, “but I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it. When you scare people like I do, they don’t talk behind your back as often. You, in particular, should make a note of that, Mme Aina.”
Aina nodded but stayed silent so that Naomi could continue.
“The Weeaboo assault caught the city off guard. There were extenuating circumstances, but it was a complete failure of military intelligence. Within days, they had eradicated most of our conventional forces. All that were left were pockets of soldiers and us meido. We waged a guerrilla resistance that did far more damage to the Weebs than the military had. Even after the GINZUISHOU appeared, and the city was protected from outside attacks, we remained a threat from within. Threat though we were, we were still meido, and still beholden to our masters.”
“And your master sold out the others?” Aina guessed.
“Not quite.” Naomi hesitated, debating how much she wanted to divulge. “This remains between the two of us. OK?”
“Paris was a much, much better city than Neo Crystal Tokyo, but it was far from perfect. Before the city fell, I had served five masters, and, if I’m being honest, some were worse men than Akira. Akira’s grandfather was the absolute worst, though. Regardless, my master at that time was not a wholly offensive man, but there was not much good about him either. He was petulant, owing to his wealth and upbringing, but that was hardly unique. He had one redeeming quality though: He valued his son’s life over his own.
“When it became clear that Weeaboo forces would soon discover our safe house, he ordered a group of us to protect his son and flee the city. Unlike today, we weren’t slaves. We could have disobeyed and stayed behind, and maybe if our little resistance had any chance of winning, we would have, but we abandoned our comrades and escaped. They died in a raid shortly after, my master included. Not long after that, realizing the cause was hopeless, the remaining meido went into hiding within Neo Crystal Tokyo.”
Naomi paused before continuing.
“Life in the Futarchy was not easy, especially for the boy, who had been raised in the lap of luxury. He began to talk about retaking Paris and avenging his father. We payed no attention to his words at first. They were the power fantasies of an adolescent boy, but to our surprise, he began to attract a following within the Futarchy, and before long, had amassed a small army of capable soldiers. We began to take him seriously then. We still felt ashamed that we survived our comrades, and an operation to retake the city would give us a chance to redeem ourselves or to die trying. Even I, old and wise by this point, was seduced by the thought, and I ignored my better judgement.
“In the end, we killed a lot of Weeaboo soldiers, but they were all cannon fodder. We didn’t attain a single strategic victory. At our bleakest moment, I was prepared to die to open a path for him and the remaining soldiers to retreat, but he—damn him—After all of his big talk, he betrayed us all. In exchange for his own safety, he promised my services to Akira’s grandfather. That bastard accepted the deal, on the condition that I slay my remaining comrades on the spot. And so help me, I did it.”
“Naze?” gasped Aina.
“My master’s last order was to protect that boy.”
“A master who was already dead. You owed nothing to him.”
“I made a promise to keep his son safe, and I keep my promises. I am still keeping that promise.”
“You mean he’s still alive?”
“He has grandkids,” Naomi confirmed, a sad smile on her face, “but he’s not in the best of health. He probably only has a few years left.”
“And once he dies, there will be no more promise to keep, and we will become your teki,” Aina said, the realization hitting home. “That’s why everyone says not to trust you.”
“That, and I betrayed my allies. In my first few weeks as a traitor, I was ordered to root out and kill all the meido in this city who had not likewise defected, which is to say, most of them. I let a few escape the city, but I knew their faces, and I didn’t leave any unaccounted for.”
“When he dies, will you kill me? Kill us?”
“If I’m not dead by then, it’s possible. Akira’s not stupid. He knows his control over me extends only until my charge dies, and he knows that he needs but order me to kill myself, and I will obey. He’s scared of doing that though, and I’m not sure why. He’s certainly tried to kill me by other means. Maybe he thinks if he has to resort to that, he’ll have failed in some way. But when push comes to shove, I believe he will do what he must to protect himself.”
“Or you could decide the last few years of an old man’s life aren’t worth the rest of yours before Akira-sama gets to that point.”
“Mmm. To be honest, their meidou wasn’t the only thing bothering me today,” Naomi said, shifting the subject slightly. “I know it’s been fifty years already, but I’m dismayed at how much Weeaboo culture has replaced Parisian culture.”
“In what way?”
“The way those girls squealed when you defended Mme Meri from Mme Otome. I won’t pretend that those girls wouldn’t have gossiped about you and Mme Mari if they were French, but they would have been more discreet. Again, Paris wasn’t perfect, and I won’t claim that it would have been any better. In fact, they probably would have spread some rather nasty rumors behind your back. But still, they wouldn’t have been so weeb.”
“I didn’t defend Mari-san,” Aina pointed out. “If anything, I was defending Otome-sama.”
“You might not be aware of it, but you glared daggers at Mme Otome. Afterwards, she even remarked that, between your spiritual pressure and your expression, her legs almost gave out in fear.”
“I knew how Mari-san was going to react, but I didn’t know anything about Otome-sama. I wanted to intimidate her so she would back off and I could deal with Mari-san.”
“I would have done something similar in your position. You actually didn’t hesitate as long as I expected.”
“I thought perhaps you were upset that I ruled in Mme Otome’s favor, and that you might have tried to assist Mme Mari.”
“No way. Why would I want to help her? I daikirai her.”
“I know,” Naomi sighed, “but she’s quite fond of you.”
“She’s more than fond of me.”
“Oh? You finally realized?”
“She confessed to me a few nights ago.”
“And yet, she saved you last night, and she invited you today. I take it you didn’t reject her?”
“She hasn’t given me the chance to. Naomi-sama, may I ask why you’ve helped her so much? It sounds like you’re still rooting for her.”
“Because, believe it or not, Mme Aina, I remember love, and that girl’s love for you is the real thing.”
“You remember love? Sounds like there’s a story there.”
“Not really. I was done with romance decades before the Weebs invaded. I had some partners—men, mind you—but nothing worked out long-term. Maybe I’ll tell you about it some day, but I don’t want to discourage your young love.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. I’ll never give up on my love.”
“You’re that serious about the priestess?”
“I am,” Aina said, almost defiantly.
“In that case, I shall give up on matching you with Mme Mari, and I shall advise her to give up as well.”
“Just like that?”
“I gave up on Paris. Giving up on the two of you will be easy. It’s like Sun Tzu says, ‘Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being.’”
Noa Renard was putting a the finishing touches on her makeup when she heard footsteps crunching the gravel along the side of her house. She might not have heard them if her bathroom window was closed.
“I’m not baka,” she heard a young woman’s voice proclaim. “She won’t talk to me, and she won’t take off those ridiculous sunglasses. I know what’s going on.”
The voice was interrupted by a sharp knocking on her front door. Noa ran to the door before they could knock again. Kumi was still sleeping, and Noa didn’t want these unexpected visitors to wake her. She pulled open the door and stuck her head out, but she didn’t like what she saw. It was the two meido who had visited her bar, along with the meido she had yelled at when she visited the Wright estate. Behind them was a meido she had never seen, who was wearing sunglasses. She quickly tried to slam the door, but Chikako pushed her way into the house. The others followed behind.
“Fuck!” Karin gasped when she recognized Noa. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Hontou? Fuck!”
“Doko’s Kumi Garnier-san?” Chikako asked.
“Dare’s that?” Noa feigned ignorance.
“Hit her,” Chikako ordered Karin.
“I really don’t want to,” Karin protested.
“This is your punishment. Hit her,” pressed Chikako.
Karin stepped forward and slugged Noa in the stomach. It hurt, but Noa got the feeling that Karin could have hit a lot harder. She slumped to the ground, feigning more pain than she felt.
“Doko’s your partner? Doko’s Kumi Garnier-san?” Chikako repeated her question.
“Not here,” Noa lied. “Is this about the table? You’re really going to rough me up over a couple Yukichis? I thought Akira-sama was above that.”
“Ah yes, the table,” Chikako said, as if she just remembered it. She gestured for Karin to pull Noa back on to her feet. “We’ll pay for the table, but you’re going to pay for disturbing the peace of the Wright residence. I think one finger should suffice. I’ll even let you choose the hand.
Noa bolted for the open door behind them, but she was caught by the meido wearing sunglasses. She tried to push the meido out of her way, and in the struggle, the sunglasses fell to the floor. She gasped in shock as she came face to face with two glowing red eyes. Sena pushed Noa back into the room and closed the front door behind her.
“Onegai,” Noa pleaded. “I didn’t mean to. Moushiwake arimasen! I won’t do it again.” She looked at each of the four meido in turn. Chikako and Sena wore blank expressions, though Sena’s was far more eery due to her glowing eyes; Karin’s face was grim; and Aina’s mouth hung open in shock. “Onegai! I let you in to my bar. I did everything you asked. Please grant me this one favor.” Noa repeated her plea, focusing on Aina.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Aina ventured.
“This is your punishment too,” Chikako told her. “Goshujin-sama’s orders. We need to return with a finger. Though I suppose he may be satisfied if we return with one of yours.”
Aina pulled her hands to her chest and shook her head.
“Very well,” continued Chikako. “Masa-san, you’ll do the honors. You may choose whichever hand you want. Afterwards, we’ll ask her about Kumi-san again.”
“What did she do?” Noa asked, trying to buy time.
“She posted seditious messages online, some of which were personally insulting to Akira-sama,” Chikako explained.
“Half the city does that,” Noa asserted. “That’s practically what nctchan is for.”
“Enough stalling,” Chikako announced.
“Gomen,” Karin said quietly, grabbing Noa’s left arm. “I never expected anything like this to happen.” She pressed Noa’s arm up against the wall with one hand and held her other hand out, palm up. “Give me something to cut her with.”
“On second thought,” Chikako said, handing Karin a knife. “Take it from her right hand.”
“Bitch,” Karin swore, dropping Noa’s left arm and quickly grabbing her right.
“Hey, we’re not really doing this, are we?” interrupted Aina.
“We are doing this,” Chikako confirmed.
“Naze?” Aina pressed. “Look how scared she is. We’ve made our point.”
“Because this is your punishment,” Chikako answered, “not hers.”
“Demo, this is wrong!” Aina shouted.
“So what?” snapped Chikako. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not ai to seigi no bishoujo senshi. We’re hired thugs. Goshujin-sama’s not running a charity for the good of the city, he’s paying us to further his own interests, and that occasionally means we need to do some unsavory things. It’s well past time you experienced that firsthand.”
“It’s been a good few years,” Karin chimed in. “We haven’t had to do anything this nasty in a while.” She turned back to Noa, who was looking down at the floor, resigned to what was about to happen.
“Matte!” a voice yelled from down the hallway. All five looked to see a burly woman pointing a pistol in their direction.
“Iie, Kumi, run!” Noa called out. But it was too late. With a flick of her wrist, Chikako sent three coasters in Kumi’s direction. The first smashed into the pistol with enough force to knock it from Kumi’s hand. The other two found their targets at the side of her neck, slicing into her jugular veins with their razor-sharp edges. It took Kumi a few seconds to realize what had happened, then she placed her hands over her cuts in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding.
“Oh dear, that looks nasty,” Chikako commented, picking Kumi’s gun off the floor. She gestured for Karin to step back, and then caught Noa when she tried to run to Kumi’s side. “She’s going to bleed out, but it’s going to take some time, and in that time, she’s going to be in pain.” She grabbed Noa’s right hand and pointed it towards Kumi. She placed the pistol in Noa’s hand, closed her fingers around it, and moved it so that the barrel rested against Kumi’s forehead, but Kumi was dizzy from the blood loss, and fell to the ground. Chikako adjusted their aim. “Put her out of her misery,” Chikako whispered, “and then we’ll cut off the sinful finger that pulled the trigger and be on our way.”
“Do it,” Kumi groaned.
“Oh, you can still talk?” Chikako feigned surprise. “Any last words?”
“Viva Neo Paris. Now do it,” Kumi grunted.
“Iie, I can’t,” Noa said, shaking her head.
“Shame,” Chikako said evenly, grabbing the gun back from Noa and tossing it to Aina. “You do it.”
Without hesitation, Aina stepped forward and performed the mercy killing. Chikako released Noa, who fell to her knees, crying, next to Kumi’s body.
“Naze?” Noa finally managed to sob.
“You should have kept your head down,” Chikako explained. “We would have paid you for the table, with extra for the trouble. You didn’t need to come to the Wright estate. Even so, if you had been polite, if you had asked for the money, you might have gotten away with a warning. But you demanded it, and nobody demands things from Akira-sama.”
“I thought he liked me,” Noa protested. “He said I had spunk.”
“He does like you,” admitted Chikako, “but he’s a goshujin, and a goshujin can’t let their personal feelings get in the way of what must be done. Your death will serve as a warning to others who would emulate you.” Chikako stood up and stepped back, gesturing to Aina. “Shoot her.”
This time, Aina hesitated.
“Can’t we just take her finger?” Aina asked.
“Iie, can’t leave anyone who would seek revenge,” Karin explained. “Here, give me the gun. This is my fault, so I’ll do it.”
“Iie, you will not,” Chikako informed her. “She needs to experience this firsthand. Help her,” she gestured to Sena.
Sena grabbed Aina’s hand much in the same way Chikako had grabbed Noa’s earlier. Aina could have resisted, but she let the gynoid guide her hand towards Noa’s head. Aina twisted around to look into Sena’s eyes, they were still glowing red, but she couldn’t think of a way to stop it. Even if she could disable Sena without hurting her, she couldn’t take on Chikako, let alone Chikako and Karin. And even if she could, she couldn’t go back to the mansion. She’d be a renegade for the rest of her life. They might even send Naomi to hunt her down. It wasn’t worth it, just to save the life of a woman she had only met once.
Except, killing this woman would make her a murderer. Sure, she had killed before, but they had all been justified. Even her mercy killing from a minute ago had been justified, but Aina wasn’t sure how she could live with herself if she took a life without meaning.
“This is your best option,” Sena said in her ear, as if she could read Aina’s mind. She placed her finger over Aina’s and began to squeeze it onto the trigger.
“Don’t pull the trigger for her,” Chikako ordered.
“Ha,” Sena acknowledged, but she continued her pressure. Aina stopped resisting and allowed Sena to pull the trigger. For the first time, but not the last, Aina was thankful she had given Sena the ability to ignore orders. She knew that she was still partially responsible for the killing, since she didn’t fight against it, but she did what she had to do, and she could live with that, probably.
Sena released Aina’s hand and took the pistol from her, placing it in one of her pockets. She enveloped Aina in a hug from behind, holding her tight. Too tight. Something was wrong, but Aina didn’t know what.
Chikako stepped aside to allow Karin to step in front of Aina. She placed a hand on Aina’s head and rubbed it gently.
“Gomen,” Karin apologized. “It’s my fault.”
“Demo, I broke the table,” Aina said meekly.
“Only because I got you—”
Karin’s words were cut off as Sena fell backwards, pulling Aina down on top of her. When Aina looked up she saw Karin standing over them, a shocked look on her face and a blade protruding from her abdomen, covered in her blood. Chikako had run her through from behind.