Aina ran aimlessly around the city. Her legs could carry her until she became hungry or sleepy, but she didn’t have anywhere to go. Not in the city, anyway. In her bitterness, she briefly considered escaping to the Soviet Expedition. She would find out who had killed her mother and who had ordered the attack that killed her father, and she would get revenge. At the very least, if she escaped from the city, she probably wouldn’t have to worry about Naomi coming after her. But every time she approached the outer reaches of the city limits, she came face to face with the GINZUISHOU, a large crystalline wall which protected her from the outside world, but which also kept her prisoner within.
Before long, her wanderings brought her by Noa’s old hostess club, and she stopped to look at it. It was just a normal restaurant now, its regular customers driven to other queer havens throughout the city. She wondered if the hostess with the physics license still lived nearby. Aina hadn’t thought about her since the night at the bar, but she realized now that she was responsible for that woman losing her job. Another victim of her inept teenage flailings. At least the hostess could find another job. She could get better. Tsukasa couldn’t. Karin couldn’t. Noa couldn’t. Kumi couldn’t.
Her parents couldn’t.
“Aina-san? Are you daijobu?” A voice came from behind her. Mari’s voice.
“Stalking me again?” Aina asked without turning around.
“Naomi-sama called me. She said you needed a tomodachi right now. I’m probably not who you want to see, but…”
“How did you find me?”
“I met you here before, so I figured it might be worthwhile to wait and see if you showed up here. Looks like I was right.”
“Mari-san, that photo you sent me. Was that your… service uniform?”
“Hee? Naze would you ask me that? Are you jealous of my goshujin? I’m jealous of yours, you know.”
“Don’t fuck with me. I’m not in the mood. Answer my question.” Aina was still facing away from Mari.
“It wasn’t mine. I borrowed it from my kohai.”
“Have you ever worn one, for real?”
“You are jealous!”
“I’m not. Answer.”
“Iie, I haven’t. I’ve been lucky.”
“Demo, you knew about them, ne?”
“Arigatou,” Aina mumbled. “Sayonara.”
Without so much as a glance in Mari’s direction, Aina began running again, and Mari followed close behind. Unlike Sena, Mari could almost match Aina’s pace as she ducked around corners and through alleyways in an attempt to shake her. Finally deciding that these detours were slowing her down too much, giving Mari a chance to catch up, Aina turned for the countryside at the outskirts of the city. They ran for a while. Mari was past her normal breaking point, but she kept going anyway. The last buildings gave way to a field, and Aina sped up, but so did Mari, who was now falling more and more behind, but who could still keep sight of Aina in the open.
They were quickly approaching the GINZUISHOU, and Aina jumped for it. She planned to kick off the wall, sail over Mari, and run in the opposite direction. She never got to execute that plan, however. As she flew towards the GINZUISHOU, it moved, as if liquid, opening a hole through which Aina exited the city, and which closed behind her.
Aina was momentarily disoriented by the colder air outside the GINZUISHOU. She spun to find the other side of the wall behind her and panicked. What if she couldn’t get back in? She walked up and placed her hand on the wall, pushing slightly. This time, a tunnel opened in front of her through which she could see Mari’s shocked face. Before Aina could think to withdraw her hand, Mari dived through the tunnel, joining Aina outside.
“Sugoi,” Mari gasped, looking upwards at the open sky above them.
It was a sky neither of them had seen before, and Aina followed Mari’s gaze up to it. It was so vast. She had seen pictures, but they didn’t do it justice. Its infinite expanse made Aina’s problems momentarily feel very, very small.
“Anou, your face healed,” Aina finally said. It was the reason she had avoided looking at Mari earlier. “You look ii.”
“Arigatou,” Mari thanked her, still gasping for breath, before returning her attention to her immediate surroundings.
There were no military patrols in sight, but even if there had been, they knew better than to disturb meido on missions outside the GINZUISHOU. In front of them, the field continued, rolling into small hills. Aina was still transfixed on the sky, and Mari gently took her hand and lead her towards one of the hills in the distance.
“Hoshi,” Aina whispered after a time. “They’re so kirei. I promised Momo I’d see the hoshi with her someday.” She could only see a few stars, but they were enough to leave Aina awestruck.
“Never mind,” Aina sighed, pulling her hand free from Mari’s and sitting on the side of one of the hills. She lay back so she could look up at the stars, and Mari joined her. “Naze did you have to follow me out here? I can’t ditch you now. I have a responsibility to return you to the machi.” She couldn’t believe she was worrying about something so trivial.
“Jya, perhaps this is a good chance to talk. Do you still need a tomodachi? A shoulder to cry on?” Aina didn’t say anything for a long time, so Mari tried another subject. “It’s peaceful out here. I thought this was where the sensou was going on. But the grass is healthy, and the landscape isn’t scarred.”
“The sensou happens a little farther out,” Aina explained. We’re not just surrounded by the GINZUISHOU, but also by the Futarchy. The war doesn’t come here because there’s no point. The GINZUISHOU is impregnable, and any of the major powers would take losses fighting the Futarchy on the way…” Aina trailed off. Mari had gotten her to start opening up, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
“Demo, you can get through the GINZUISHOU. How did you do that?”
“Shirimasen, but that makes me feel less safe. Come on, let’s go back.”
“Iie, you won’t go back without me, ne? Soshite, I won’t go back until you’re feeling better, so talk to me.”
Aina inhaled deeply, slowly let it out, and then she told Mari everything, starting from the night of the festival. Once Aina started talking, she found she couldn’t stop. She even surprised herself—and Mari—when she relayed the part about how she had discovered she found Mari attractive. For her part, Mari knew it would be wrong to take advantage of that confidence, especially when Aina was so vulnerable, but she nevertheless found herself trying to make herself look more appealing while lying on the grass.
Mari didn’t flinch when Aina told her about killing Noa and Kumi, nor when she told her about Tsukasa’s suicide, and this disturbed Aina. Was Mari dealing with these kinds of things on a regular basis? As she reached the end of the story, she felt like a small weight had been lifted from her, only to be replaced by the weight of Mari’s presence.
Her feelings towards Mari were complicated. On the one hand, she wasn’t sure she could ever forgive Mari for bullying her when they were younger. On the other hand, Mari’s bad behavior had caught the prime minister’s attention, and she had been forced to become a meido because of it. Some would call that justice, but not Aina. Still, she couldn’t deny that she had misjudged Mari and had been unable to overcome that misjudgment. Part of that was Mari’s own fault, but surely, hadn’t Mari already paid for that by suffering in a much worse household than Aina for all these years?
On the other hand, so had a lot of others, and while Mari wasn’t a terrible person, she wasn’t a good person either. Certainly not as good as her parents, Tsukasa, or Karin, and possibly not as good as Noa and Kumi. And yet, they were all dead, while Mari was still alive. They all deserved to live, and Mari deserved to die in their place. This thought may have never entered Aina’s head, except that Mari was right there next to her, making her feel things, and she definitely wanted to stop feeling things for a while.
“Ne, is that true what you said?” Mari asked. “You find me attractive?”
“I know you want to have your way with me out here,” Aina told Mari.
“Iie! Hontou! I just—”
“It’s fine. I don’t care anymore. I won’t stop you.”
“Hai, just afterwards, do me a favor and kill me.”
“Nani?! I would never.”
“It’s the best choice. You get what you want, and I… I couldn’t protect some of my closest tomodachi, and I still don’t have full control over my chikara. With my parents dead, I probably never will have full control, and if I break again, they’re not around to fix me. I could end up hurting more of my tomodachi, or worse. Best of all if I die, he will feel guilty.”
“You’re not a gynoid. You won’t ‘break.’ Come on, let’s go back. You’re depressed. You shouldn’t make any rash decisions right now.”
“I broke when I killed Kharmats, and again when I killed Zakharchenko,” Aina said to no one in particular.”I would have caused so much damage if it weren’t for my parents.” Her eyes refocused on Mari. “If you won’t kill me, I’ll kill you. I can’t stand the sight of you any more.”
“Don’t be silly,” Mari laughed nervously.
“I’m serious. Killing you tabun won’t make me feel any better, but it will make me stop feeling things about you, and I need that right now. Kakugo.”
Mari jumped up, away from Aina.
“Nani the hell, Aina-san?! That’s not how feelings work. Look, just calm down. Let’s go back, and I’ll leave you alone.”
“Iie, I will kill you out here, and no one will ever know.”
“First you proposition me, then you tell me to kill you, then you say you want to kill me? Are you yandere? Have you been reading too many yuri manga? ‘Their feelings keep missing each other, when will they finally meet?’ That kind of crap?”
Aina unsheathed her sword. She didn’t need her duster to kill Mari, and her signature weapon would only serve to implicate her. She lunged for Mari, slowly. Mari dodged and pulled out her own blade. Aina’s strike was forceful, but had no chance of hitting Mari. Nor did the next three. It was obvious that Aina wanted Mari to win this fight.
“I won’t kill you,” Mari shouted.
“Then you’ll die.”
“Ii?” Aina stopped. “Iie! Kill me!”
Mari reversed the grip on her sword, and pointed the tip to her stomach.
“If one of us has to die, I’d rather it be me. I daisuki you, Aina.”
Although Mari didn’t flinch as Aina stepped up and placed her hand on Mari’s pommel, Aina hesitated. This would really make her a murderer, wouldn’t it? Yes, she had killed Noa, but it was Sena who really pulled the trigger. There was always that doubt she could fall back on to protect her ego. If she did this, that excuse wouldn’t exist any more. She could never go back. On the other hand, it might make her feel better, and Mari’s life was worthless compared to those who had already been killed.
She pushed on the sword hard, impaling Mari, who fell to the ground.
Aina didn’t regret her action at first, but as what she had done sunk in, and she realized it made her feel worse, she dropped to her knees next to Mari, crossing one palm over the back of her other hand as she had once seen Naomi do. She knew the healing spell, and she had read the research that allowed spiritual energy to be converted to magical energy. Mari was losing a lot of blood, but if the spell worked, she could remove the sword, and Mari might survive.
It didn’t work. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Mari gurgled in pain, and a sharp sensation ran up Aina’s arms, causing her to reflexively pull back.
“I didn’t think you’d actually do it,” groaned Mari. “Before I die, let me have one last kiss.”
Tears fell from Aina’s cheeks on to Mari’s. She didn’t care that they were DNA evidence, or that the kiss would be. She leaned down to grant Mari’s last request.
“Live a long life,” Mari whispered, “a happy life, in my stead.” Aina pressed her lips to Mari’s, and Mari stopped talking, tears now running down both their cheeks.
What a terrible curse. Aina thought, and then the life passed from Mari’s body.
Only then did the weight of what she had done fall on her all at once. She was no better than Shiori from Revolutionary Girl Utena. No, she was worse than Shiori. Shiori hadn’t killed Juri, but just as Juri had loved Shiori, so had Mari loved Aina, and just like Shiori, Aina couldn’t return that love. They both hated the ones who loved them. They were so, so petty.
Aina’s vision swam, and when she regained her composure, she could see a Java Sparrow standing on Mari’s corpse. She looked around, finding that the field was full of the birds, all watching her intently.
IIE! IIE! IIE! I won’t be like Shiori! Aina’s thoughts screamed. I’m a murderer. I’m cold. I can handle my feelings. I just need to kill this bird, then the next, then the next, until I have no feelings left to crush. I’m tsuyoi. I can do this.
The bird bent its legs and began to flap its wings. Aina caught it in her right hand and brought it close to her face. It didn’t struggle or try to free itself. With a sickening snap, she broke its neck. Another hopped on to Mari’s corpse and repeated the process. This time, Aina caught it with her left hand and again broke its neck. She put them down next to her, those birds that didn’t really exist, and prepared to catch the next one. She would be here all night, she knew, but it would be worth it. She would feel nothing afterward.
The third one struggled as soon as she caught it, thrashing around and letting out frightened squeals. Aina began choking the life out of it, but the squeals became more frantic. Aina couldn’t bear to see it suffer so, and released it. It quickly flew out of her grasp.
“Come back!” she yelled after it, but it was too late. The Java Sparrows of Aina’s heart fluttered away, and she was powerless to stop them. Just like Shiori, she screamed. It was a long, frustrated howl that echoed into the night for miles, and she continued screaming for what felt like hours. When she finally stopped, she didn’t feel any better.
“Took you long enough,” came a voice from behind Aina. “I expected you to kill her years ago. Honestly, you have the patience of a saint, Mme Aina.”