“Make way!” Chikako’s voice echoed over the roar of the crowd. “I understand that you’re upset, but for your own safety, keep the road clear. There is a kuruma approaching.” Only half a mile from the front gate, the mob was in no mood to heed Chikako’s advice. From the watchtower, Aina couldn’t decipher the discordant shouting from the group, but she could hear Chikako’s reply clearly through her headset. “Iie, Akira-sama is not trying to escape. He has a guest, who is innocent in all of this, who wishes to leave.”
Chikako’s explanation was only met with more jeers from the rioters, who tried to push past her, but Chikako stood her ground. Holding them back with her spiritual energy, she tried to separate them and push them to the side of the road, but there were too many of them for her to handle.
“I’m going,” Aina announced. “She needs backup.”
“Iie, this could be a diversion,” Akira’s voice crackled in her earpiece. “I need you here to intercept any attackers. I’ll send someone else.”
“Ha,” Aina acknowledged unenthusiastically. She didn’t think it wasn’t a diversion, but she couldn’t convince Akira of that quickly enough to be of help. Even if she could, she wasn’t sure Akira would let her go.
“Matthieu, what are you doing here? You know better than to get involved in this foolishness.” The question snapped Aina out of her thoughts, and it took her a second to realize that it had come from her headset, and that it was Naomi’s voice. Scanning the area for Naomi, she spotted her next to Chikako. She was the backup Akira had sent. Her tall figure could be seen even from the back of the group of rioters, who had moved back a few steps in response to her sudden appearance.
“I—I couldn’t stop them, so I came along as the voice of reason. I want to resolve things peacefully.” Aina could hear an elderly man’s voice, faintly picked up by Naomi’s microphone.
“Go home Matthieu,” Naomi said with a disgusted sigh. From the watchtower, Aina could see a man near the front of the crowd begin running slowly along its circumference, grabbing a young woman’s arm and pulling her back down the road away from the mansion. He wasn’t able to make it very far, as the woman resisted, and the crowd moved to block him off. “All of you, go home. You have ten seconds.” Naomi announced.
Many in the group turned to leave, but they were repulsed by the majority. A group of around ten bringing up the rear pulled out concealed pistols and pointed them at the group. They were likely agents of the defense minister, and had probably incited the mob to begin with, but with the barrier up, it was anyone’s guess as to what end. Before the crowd could get over the shock of seeing the guns, Naomi and Chikako had made their way around the group and beheaded those brandishing them.
“Go home,” Naomi repeated her order, but it was no use. Panic swept over the mob. A few of those closest to the meido tried to attack them and were immediately cut down. Seeing this, many tried to run in the opposite direction, towards the mansion.
Faster than the eye could make out, Naomi charged through the crowd, slicing through most of them, and ending the lives of those who tried to run. She wheeled around and addressed those still alive. “If you want to live, pull those bodies off the road,” she commanded. Stunned, nobody moved, so Naomi grabbed the closest person and slit their throat. “Do it now, or you’re next. Not you.” She pointed at a teenage boy who had been recording the entire thing on his phone from the sidelines. “You stay where you are, and don’t stop recording.”
“H-Hai, Naomi-sama!” the boy’s voice cracked nervously as he shouted his compliance. Through her binoculars, Aina could just make out “Your waifu is shit.” written on his shirt. Everyone else sprang into action, dragging the corpses into the grass at the side of the road. Only when they had finished did Naomi sheathe her blade. And then, without warning, Naomi laid into those assembled, including the kid recording the entire thing. Her blows were not fatal, or even crippling, but they were painful, and they would leave visible bruises.
“Go home,” she repeated once she was finished, and this time, without complaint, they hobbled back towards the city. Of the 316 that had marched towards Wright manor that morning, only 62 returned home alive.
It was only the first day of hostilities between the goshujin, and already the civilian casualties numbered in the hundreds. Civilian casualties, Aina reminded herself, that were partially her fault. She understood that by sending Naomi to kill them, Akira was making good on his promise to spare Aina from the most morally reprehensible orders, but sitting in the watchtower, looking down on the carnage, Aina knew she was responsible for what had happened.
“Dammit, Akira!” Erika slammed her palms on the coffee table in Akira’s study. “You mean to tell me we’re just going to sit here and take it?!” She was wearing a new suit, but her face and hands were covered in cuts, scrapes and dirt.
“As we all agreed yesterday,” Akira calmly answered. “Once the Diet reconvenes, we can strip him of his title and take control of the guntai for ourselves, seize his assets, and use them both to flush him out.”
“Yesterday, he hadn’t… Dammit, Akira!” she repeated. “He turned her against me. She tried to kill me, and when she failed, he brought the whole apartment complex down on top of our heads, and then used the deaths of those caught in the blast to incite a mob against you. We’re already losing the propaganda sensou. The common opinion among the French is that you started this. Not only that, but they know I’m on your side. That mob recognized me. I’m lucky I got out of there alive!”
“You’re lucky you have competent meido, you mean,” Akira corrected her. “I understand you’re hurting, but we’re not going to change our plans just because you’re a bad judge of character when it comes to picking your mistresses. We also agreed to hole up in our residences until the day of the vote. Nani were you doing out there?”
“The vote is months away, so I was having a little farewell tour. You know, to show my girls that I still love them, even if I won’t see them for a while. I was going to confine myself to my property right after, I yakusoku. I didn’t think he’d strike so soon.”
“A tour? Just how many are you keeping? Matte, I don’t want to know. You’ll have to break it off with all of them. Who knows how many he got to?”
“Damm—” Erika started, but stopped herself before she repeated it a second time.
“Dammit Erika,” Akira mocked. “You need to cool off and think about this logically.”
“I am thinking logically. If he can do this much damage in just ichi day, we won’t last a month, let alone san.”
“We just have to survive his initial attacks, and so far, I’m not impressed. He hasn’t succeeded in his first few attempts. Once he’s run out of easy targets, his pace will slow and he’ll become even less effective. Ima, we just need to wait him out. If you don’t want to risk returning to your own mansion, you can be my guest here for the next few months.”
“We both know we’d make each other miserable. I’ll go back,” Erika sighed.
“If you want to take a bath first, help yourself, just don’t lay a hand on any of my house staff.”
“There it is, the famous Wright hospitality,” Erika joked. “I have one more matter to discuss before I leave. A personal matter.” she flicked her eyes towards the wall where Diaho, Chikako, Naomi, and Aina were standing.
“You can talk in front of them. I trust them.”
“It’s not a matter of trust… You asked me to set up a miai for you.”
“Ladies, please excuse us,” Akira said, changing his tune. “Diaho, you stay.” Akira didn’t actually believe Chikako, Naomi, or Aina would be jealous of a prospective marriage partner, but it never hurt to be safe, or to keep up appearances.
“I have some things to see to,” Chikako announced once they were out in the hallway. “If you will excuse me.”
“Certainly,” Naomi nodded. “Good work today.”
Without acknowledging Naomi’s comment, Chikako walked down the hallway in the direction of the kitchen, and Naomi and Aina entered the waiting room across from Akira’s study.
“The video’s already been posted on /mei/,” Aina informed Naomi, after checking her phone.
“You read that garbage, Mme Aina?”
“I’ve got my reasons. Besides, you can’t tell me you don’t. ‘Know your enemy’ and all that.”
“Let me guess, he’s bragging that I ordered him around and hit him.”
“Almost word-for-word, and people are jealous. They’re saying some really disturbing things about you.”
“I’m used to it,” Naomi shrugged. “There is a small but persistent number of people who see me as some kind of yandere idol. It’s been that way ever since the beginning of nctchan. I figured that boy was one of them. He started recording as soon as I arrived.”
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Of course it bothers me. I never wanted that kind of attention, but there isn’t anything I can do about it. It has been socially-acceptable to treat celebrities this way for most of modern history, and I doubt that will ever change. No one has ever been able to put an end to it.” Naomi recited that speech as if she had given it many times.
“You make it sound like a much bigger problem than it is. We’re talking a few hundred people here. If you wanted to make them stop, I’m sure you could.”
“And I’m sure they’d enjoy that, but it would be a temporary reprieve at best. Others would eventually take their place. It’s an odd thing, Mme Aina. To this day, teenagers still post photographs of women I worked with decades ago, many of whom died long before they were born. They treat real people, people I knew, as abstract concepts—as jokes. I’m sure you’ve experienced some of this yourself, Mme Tsun-Tsun Loli Meido.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Aina did understand somewhat how Naomi felt. After meeting Ruri, she had been checking /mei/ periodically, and on more than one occasion she had come across the photo of her taken by the two men on her first visit to Chichibu shrine, the one where she had been glaring at the camera. It had always been posted in response to another post, with the text “Tsun-Tsun Loli Meido disapproves.” They had been using it that way for years. “Still,” Aina ventured, “there ought to be a law against such behavior.”
“Even if there was, it wouldn’t make much difference. Law only has so much of an effect on culture. Just look at the current government’s track record integrating the Parisian population into their Weeaboo culture. They’ve made strides in some areas, but there remains a distinct French sentiment.”
“They will eventually get there though, and they’d probably be doing a lot better without such a strict caste system separating them from those they’re trying to convert.”
“Even if it wouldn’t change things, naze not murder the denizens of /mei/? You clearly had no qualms killing those civilians today.”
“I was ordered to kill them, Mme Aina. I didn’t want to.”
“You didn’t care about their lives one way or the other. Except maybe for Matthieu. Dare is he anyway?”
“Who was he,” Naomi corrected. “He was an errand boy we used during the resistance. And no, I cared about their lives more than you may expect.”
“Jya, naze did you kill some of them? If you had just taken the time to explain the situation—”
“I was ordered to enforce Akira’s authority, and that is how authority operates. It issues orders, and those orders are obeyed. It does not broke questions or disobedience. It kills because it has the power to do so. It beats because it has the power to do so. That was the message Akira ordered me to send, and I would have been derelict in my duty if I had delivered it in any other way.”
“That is a baka way to wield power.”
“It’s effective in driving a wedge between the rulers and the ruled, and it’s effective in separating the population into ni groups: those who break under the threat of violence and those who rebel against it. If the second group is small enough, then there’s not much to worry about, but a population is stronger when there is a bond between the rulers and the ruled.”
“An interesting theory, Mme Aina, even if parts of it are naive.”
“You wouldn’t possibly be trying to foster that kind of resentment, would you, Naomi-sama?”
“I was merely carrying out my orders, but it’s encouraging that you’re learning to ask those kinds of questions.”
“Speaking of hidden agendas, I’ve been thinking about why the defense minister’s moves so far have been so ineffective. Nani do you think he’s trying to accomplish?”
“I can’t read the man’s mind. As far as I’m aware, he wants to kill Akira as quickly as possible, and his execution is just poor.”
“Nani if there’s someone advising or interfering with his plans, someone with their own agenda?” asked Aina, bluffing a knowing look at Naomi.
“I prefer not to speculate, but if you come up with anything concrete, do let me know. It could be helpful. And keep asking those kinds of questions, Mme Aina. Akira’s a fool of he thinks that he’s just going to be able to sit this one out in safety. Things are only going to get worse from here on out, so prepare yourself.”