Chapter 48

“Not that I believe in such superstitious nonsense,” continued Naomi. “I’m still French, after all.”

“There are still some French Roman Catholics left, even these days,” Aina informed her, standing back up. “Mari’s family… My parents used to call her ‘that Catholic girl.’ As in, ‘That Catholic girl bullied Aina again today.’ Demo, I never got the feeling Mari was particularly religious herself.”

“Catholic parents, huh? That’s rough. You think they’ll skip her funeral? After all, Catholics don’t approve of homosexuality.”

“They will still bury those they believe are sinners, but I don’t think her parents know. Arigatou, by the way, for providing a distracting conversation.”

“Think nothing of it.”

“Demo, naze are you here?”

“Keeping tabs on you,” Naomi answered. “Pushing you to your limits. Testing you. Catching you when you fall. All the things a good mentor is supposed to do.”

“If you care about me that much, please put me out of my misery.”

“Not after all the work I’ve put into you,” Naomi said. “Not now that you’ve shown so much promise. Of course, you could prove me wrong. I won’t stop you if you want to off yourself. It will just prove that you were weaker than I expected, like Mme Tsukasa.”

“Tsukasa-kun wasn’t—” Aina began to protest, but she remembered how she felt that Tsukasa’s problems were trivial next to her own, and yet Tsukasa had been unable to deal with them. Was not the same true of her and Naomi? Naomi had lost more—had killed more—than Aina. From Naomi’s perspective, Aina wanted to die over trivial issues. “Unlike Tsukasa-kun, I’m dangerous,” Aina changed her approach. “I keep making mistakes, and hito keep dying because of them.”

“That’s true,” Naomi agreed, “and I suspect this won’t be the last time. Making mistakes is part of growing up. I certainly made some doozies in my day. But if you’re so eager to throw your life away, at least do it constructively. Take your penchant for dealing death to your enemies.”

“So you can mock me for following in my foolish okaa-san’s footsteps?” Aina spat.

“Akira was wrong to belittle your mother,” Naomi said. “She may have failed in her attempt, but she had the good sense to leave you in relative safety. She didn’t make you suffer for her personal hatred.”

“Another Eva reference,” Aina realized aloud. She was surprised she had noticed something so trivial. “You make them occasionally. Naze?”

“It’s a good test,” Naomi explained. “You learn a lot based on how people react. Eva is a fundamental anime, no? But even in this so-called anime society, you would be surprised to learn how many don’t recognize the references. It’s a good way to separate the real otaku from those who are just going along with societal norms.”

“I’m not an otaku,” Aina pointed out, “and I understood the reference.”

“That’s because you’re good at studying. You, like most people, don’t watch anime because you enjoy it, but rather because it’s part of your curriculum.”

“You didn’t need to test me to know that.”

“I was testing to see if you still had your wits about you.”

“I do,” Aina said, “and because of that, I can’t help but wonder why you know those references, Naomi-sama.”

“How many times do I need to quote Sun Tsu before you’ll take a hint? I’ve had fifty years to learn about my enemy, Mme Aina. At this point, I speak Japanese almost as well as I speak French.”

“And yet you hide it. Because you want to fool them? You’re planning something.”

“Your gynoid friends really didn’t clue you in?”

“I had no idea,” Aina admitted. “If they didn’t tell me, that must mean it was for my own good. You’re not the kind of hito to reveal their hand like that, Naomi-sama. If I told anyone… Are you going to kill me after all?”

“In this case, I’m trying to gain your confidence by sharing a secret with you. You’re right that I’m running a risk here, but it’s calculated. I doubt anyone would believe you if you tried to spill the beans. It’s inconceivable to them that I have anything but disdain for anime.”

“I should care about this, but I don’t,” Aina said aloud. “It’s funny, my mind won’t stop thinking through the implications, even though it doesn’t matter to me anymore. Tell me, Naomi-sama, do I control my thoughts, my emotions, or do they control me?”

“They control you,” Naomi told her, “just like your power controls you. Your entire nature controls you.”

“That just makes living all the more meaningless,” Aina said. “Naze live just to serve the thoughts and feelings inside me? And yet, if that’s the case, why are they driving me to suicide? Nothing makes any sense anymore.”

Trembling, Aina raised her sword, still slick with Mari’s blood, to her throat. Naomi reached out and pinched the back of the blade between her right thumb and forefinger, preventing Aina from moving it.

“Don’t be so hasty, Mme Aina. I don’t want to leave any evidence next to Mme Mari’s corpse.”

Aina could tell that Naomi was trying to delay and distract her. It was a good strategy. Aina now knew from experience that her strong emotions would fade over time, just as they had with Fumiko, but she didn’t want that to happen. She didn’t want to feel OK with being a murderer, or that her parents were dead, and so, releasing her grip on the sword, she attempted to punch Naomi in the gut. Suicide by Mari hadn’t worked, but suicide by Naomi might.

Naomi didn’t take the bait. She grabbed Aina and tossed her away, where she landed on a nearby hill. Illuminated only by the glow of the nearby GINZUISHOU, Naomi swung the sword in an exaggerated arc, flinging Mari’s blood from it. Even in her current state, Aina had to admit it looked cool, but she wasn’t finished yet. Unholstering her duster, she charged at Naomi. This time, Naomi turned the sword on Aina, and Aina closed her eyes, not wanting to see when the blade pierced her. But Naomi sidestepped Aina and sheathed the sword in the broom handle strapped to Aina’s back.

“You can’t beat me with meidou,” Naomi told her, “not with the techniques I taught you. If you want me to get serious, you’ll have to fight me with your real power.”

“I can’t do that,” Aina said. “Whatever I may have been in the past, I am a meido now.”

“A meido,” Naomi scoffed. “You’re a monster, Mme Aina, same as me. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. The way your spiritual energy flows is so twisted. It’s wound around at least eight spiritual seals. I assume your parents placed them on you? Maybe you don’t realize it, but you test them from time to time, pushing them close to their breaking point before pulling back. Does it reassure you to know you can break them, or are you just looking for confirmation they’re still there?”

“The latter, tabun. Those seals keep me safe, keep everyone around me safe.”

“You could probably break two or three without much risk. You’d easily become stronger than Mme Chikako. But if you want to have any chance against me, you’ll need to break them all and fight me at your full strength.”

“There are actually kyuu seals, if I remember correctly,” Aina said, “each holding back exponentially more energy than the last. I can’t even control the fraction of my power they let through. There’s no way I can risk breaking any of them.”

“You give yourself too little credit,” Naomi said. “Here, let me help you.”

She placed her hand on Aina’s head and began to force her spiritual energy into the girl. This time, however, she didn’t use it to bring Aina pain. Instead, she reached deeper, forcing her energy against the currents of Aina’s until she came to the first seal. Aina tried to fight it, but Naomi was too strong, and she was helpless as Naomi tore the seal to pieces. Aina immediately felt more energy flow into her, and she used it to push against Naomi, but Naomi was unfazed by Aina’s new strength, and once Aina stopped struggling, she released the girl.

“That was dangerous!” Aina shouted. “If I lose control of my powers, not even you could stop it.”

“Now you’re giving yourself too much credit,” Naomi said. “I’ve slain kami. I’m not worried about you after breaking one of your seals.”

“You don’t get it,” Aina said. “My parents were never able to determine the extent of my powers. For all I know, if my spiritual energy ran wild, it could destroy a machi, maybe more than that. I wouldn’t just be a danger to those around me. I would be a danger to the sekai. Governments would try to wield me against each other, and I promised my parents I would never allow myself to be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Can you imagine it, Naomi-sama? I was only ni-sai when my parents showed me footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not just the bombings, but the aftermath. I’m sure they didn’t want to, but they had to know that the little girl they brought into the world wouldn’t end it. They made me promise, but even then, for years afterwards, they argued over whether to kill me. That kind of stress… It’s a miracle that they were able to maintain functional lives, let alone stay married.”

“They must have loved each other very much,” Naomi remarked sarcastically. “Fine. Let’s assume you’re as dangerous as you claim. If that’s really the case, why are you afraid of any government? Surely, you would be strong enough to resist their armies if they tried to abduct you.”

“At what cost? The collateral damage would be almost as bad. Besides, it would only take one mistake. As smart as people tell me I am, I’m not shrewd like you, Naomi-sama. I can’t see the consequences of my actions ahead of time. They could trick me into accidentally unleashing my power on their desired target. They could use drugs to alter my perceptions, or make me susceptible to suggestion. I wouldn’t even know it was happening. They could sneak them into my food, or into the air I breathe.”

“You’re not shrewd, I’ll give you that, and yes, everybody makes mistakes, but you won’t be tricked into unleashing your power so easily. Look at how hard you had to be pushed just to kill a worthless bully. Your lover left you, some of your closest friends are dead, you ran from the only friend who supports you unconditionally, your career is on the brink, Mme Chikako hates you, your closest father figure turned out to be a sociopath, and, speaking of family, your parents are dead. And yet, after all that, you still almost didn’t kill a girl who has been a thorn in your side for most of your life. You even had the temerity to feel bad about it after you killed her!”

“I didn’t kill her,” Aina responded emphatically. It was her final attempt to salvage her ego. If she could convince herself of this lie, she could still see herself as a good person.

“That’s good. I would have believed you, if I hadn’t seen it for myself.”

“And Fumiko-chan didn’t leave me. We’re just taking a break.”

“Oh, please. I’ve read enough Dear Jane letters in my life. Even if that’s her intention, you’re both still teenagers. You’ll grow apart. She’ll probably meet someone else. That might be for the best, since you seem so intent on throwing your life away.”


“It’s possible,” Naomi shrugged, “but there are many things I’m right about. You don’t really want to die. You just said it yourself: you and that miko are just taking a break. It would be hard to end that break if you were dead. Besides, you still have things you care about, people you care about. You want to protect the gynoids and put an end to those barbaric service uniforms.”

“As if I could do that,” Aina sulked. “It’s been go-jyuu years and even you haven’t been able to accomplish that.”

“Not alone,” Naomi said, “but together we may be able to affect change. I am not convinced that your powers are as great as you fear, but they are considerable, and I need strong allies.”

“You mean strong pawns.”

“It might look that way from your perspective,” Naomi agreed. “If I have to sacrifice you to attain political hegemony, I will, and I won’t share that power with you once I have it, but I intend to restore democracy—real democracy—to this city, with constitutional guarantees of individual liberties. Is that not worth fighting for?”

“In an ideal world, yes, but there hasn’t been a functioning major democracy in decades. Here and now, I don’t see how we could make it work.”

“You may be right,” Naomi admitted, “but we must try. If we give up, what future we have left will be unfathomably bleak. If it helps, you can think of it as a way to get revenge on Akira, rather than a plan for political revolution.”

“I’m in,” Aina said immediately.

“For this to work, you must never admit to killing Mme Mari.”

“I already told you, I didn’t do it.”

“Good. Remember, you must always deny it. Only you and I will know that you’re the real Gavrilo Princip of the upcoming civil war.”

“Are you trying to say Mari is Archduke Franz Ferdinand?”

“She will be, yes. She’s the second-in-command of the prime minister’s meido. Killing her without cause will be seen as an act of aggression.”

“We’re going to sensou with the prime minister? I thought Akira-sama was allied with him.”

“He is, and he will continue to be. We’re going to war with the defense minister and his allies. We’re going to blame this on one of the defense minister’s girls. That’s why it’s important that you not accept responsibility for this.”

“And you think the prime minister will believe that?”

“He will. He’s already inclined to believe the worst of his political adversaries, and I have taken extra measures to ensure success.”

“So there are others involved,” Aina guessed. “How many?”

“It’s better that you don’t know,” Naomi said. “For your own protection.”

“Fuck,” Aina shook her head. “Mari-san was really the lynchpin, and you expected me to kill her years ago? The timing is so loose that you can afford to wait years? Just how long have you been planning this?”

“Since before you were born. It actually worked out better to wait longer, but I was losing patience. If I needed to, I would have killed her myself before long, but I didn’t want to deprive you of your revenge, and to be honest, you’re more useful to me if I know I can trust you to kill in cold blood. Of course, if you don’t think you can handle it, you can always take the coward’s way out. I won’t stop you now that you’ve heard my offer. Better to lose an ally than take too big a risk.”

“Let’s do it,” Aina said, holding out a hand to Naomi. “Let’s start a sensou, Naomi-sama.”

“War it is,” Naomi said, grasping Aina’s hand.