“Kesuke-sama, ohisashiburi,” Aina greeted the goshujin without moving.
“Oh? Have we met?” Kesuke squinted to get a better look at Aina. “Ah yes, you’re one of Akira-dono’s. Naze did you attack my hito?”
“Forgive me, Kesuke-sama, I did not realize these… hito were yours.”
“Ima you do, so keep your hands off them.”
“I can’t do that. Meirei da.” Aina’s mind was racing to try to come up with a way to save Mari’s sister.
“Of course,” Kesuke sighed, “naze else would you be out here? Demo, I can’t imagine your ninmu is to stop me.”
“It wasn’t, but I need to mamoru that komusume.”
“This French gaki?” Kesuke laughed aloud.
“The meido whose death started this whole sensou, that’s her imouto,” Aina blurted out.
“Wakatta. We must keep up appearances. If I give you this onna and her kazoku, will you leave?”
“Iie,” Aina informed him. As much responsibility as she felt towards Mari’s family, she couldn’t trade their lives for the lives of the other French citizens of this ward. “You should withdraw, Kesuke-sama. Akira-sama would not approve of you being outside your home right now. You could be attacked by the defense minister here.”
“Sou ka na…” Kesuke trailed off. “I feel perfectly safe amongst my hito, but if you insist, I will return home soon. I’ll even send this onna’s kazoku to Akira-dono. You may leave and go about your business.”
“I can’t let you do this.”
“Naze not? Have you been ordered to stop me?”
“This is a hanzai against jinrui.”
“Those are big words for a maido,” Kesuke said, the smile fading from his face.
“Don’t underestimate the education minister’s meido. I know that I have a moral duty to intervene. Akira-sama would say the same.”
“Perhaps. It’s true that he’s a foolish idealist, but he needs my bloc’s votes if he wants the defense minister’s job. Knowing that, will you still stand against me?”
“Zannen desu. Sayonara.”
Kesuke stepped back and twenty oni-masked thugs surged around him, closing in on Aina. They rushed to cudgel her from all sides, but she sliced them open before they got the chance.
Aina lowered her voice to sound more threatening. “Kesuke-sama, onegaishimasu, put a stop to this.”
“Oh-ho,” Kesuke said dryly. “I see you have some fight in you. Gunsou!”
A tall man who had been standing guard nearly ten meters away started running towards Aina, a double-headed battle-axe in his hands. He was not wearing an oni-mask, but a full-body suit with a thin powered exoskeleton and a helmet that covered his face. Its design was anime-inspired, but it was not stolen from any specific anime. It hailed from an era when the confederacy’s technology was not as advanced, and the laws of physics did not allow aspects of anime to be faithfully recreated. Those suits had been used in the annexation of Paris, but their use had been banned by the SDF in the later stages of the war, after an entire platoon equipped with them had been wiped out by Naomi. Aside from atomic weaponry, it was the only weapon ever to have been banned in the confederacy.
When Aina had learned this, she suspected that Naomi had figured out a weakness of the suits, something that could be turned against their users, but Naomi had declined to confirm that suspicion. Now, Aina wished she had pressed the matter further. What she did know was that the suit functioned semi-autonomously, connecting to the user’s brain, using it for image processing and analysis, and sending impulses to the user’s muscles so that they moved in tandem with the robotic exoskeleton. The suit also contained a large energy pack on its back, so that it could fire extremely powerful beam weapons.
Even with such a heavy suit, the sergeant closed the distance quickly, raised his axe while just out of Aina’s reach, and swung it down hard. Aina easily sidestepped the strike, but just before it hit the pavement, the man twisted the axe and, removing his right hand from the handle, swung it horizontally towards Aina. Jumping over the handle as it swung by, Aina stabbed her sword at his unprotected chest. Upon making contact, the blade bent, unable to pierce the armor. Pulling it away, Aina aimed her rifle at the man instead, but he grabbed the barrel with his free hand and tried to pull it away from her, causing it, too, to bend. At the same time, he had dropped the axe with his left hand, and was now retrieving a rifle holstered behind his left shoulder. This gun was tethered to the suit’s power pack via a cable connected to its stock, and he only managed to fire one shot before Aina grabbed this cable and snapped it with her gloved hands.
The shot missed Aina by half a foot and bore into the street just behind her. As it passed her, Aina felt it tear through her spiritual energy in a way no shot had ever done before. It didn’t slice through as cleanly as the prog knife, but Aina was sure it would have done serious damage if it had hit her. Almost as quickly as her spiritual energy was ripped away, however, it was replenished, allowing her body no respite as it continued to pull at her.
She gave the sergeant a push, and he stumbled backwards but did not fall. Now too far away to grab the axe without making a dive for it, he brought his fists up, and, for the first time, assumed a defensive position.
Tsuyoku naritai. Aina banished the thought as soon as it entered her mind. For her, that desire was off limits. Her parents had made that very clear. Still, while she was busy tussling with this man, the other oni masks were continuing to round up and categorize the citizens of the ward. If she were stronger, she could have ended this by now. She needed to finish it soon, and in a way that would strike fear into the thugs around her. That suit, however, was too well shielded to damage quickly. Sure, she had been able to break through its shields to grab the cable, but only because she had focused her spiritual energy on her hands. That suit was impervious to weapons.
Impervious to weapons? What did that remind her of?
“Gunsou,” Aina addressed the man. “You are a worthy opponent. May I have your namae?”
“Ta—” his voice was muffled by his helmet.
“Chigau,” Aina announced loudly. Quicker than the man could react, she rushed under his arms and jumped onto his back, grabbing hold of his left trapezius with one hand and his shoulder with the other. “It’s Grendel.”
Metal buckled, cloth tore, ligaments snapped, and bones cracked as Aina pulled the man’s left arm from his socket. It was over in a matter of seconds, and the man screamed so loudly that, even through the noise and chaos, the entire block could hear it. With his remaining hand, he clutched at the socket where his arm had been, trying in vain to stop the blood loss. As he fell to the ground, Aina held his large arm above her head, and she could feel thousands of eyes on her. At least for now, she had brought things to a halt. She threw the arm down in front of her, and was about to make a pronouncement, but her voice caught in her throat as she noticed the logo printed on the arm: Hideaki Heavy Industries.
Had Hideaki created this suit from scratch, or had he merely repaired a banned weapon? Either possibility was troubling, especially if he knowingly sold it to Weeaboo supremacists.
“Oh, ho, ho, ho, ho!” Aina was brought back to reality by a shrill laugh. “She’s quite the senshi, chichiue. You won’t beat her with brute strength.”
“I suppose that’s why I have you, daughter,” Kesuke sneered. “Here’s a chance for you to show that you’re the one worthy of inheriting my title.”
A young woman, about Aina’s age, stepped forward from the crowd. Her short hair style was similar to Aina’s, but her dark red hair was wild and untamed. That, along with her elegant white dress, gave Aina the impression that she was looking at her evil twin.
“Oi, kimi,” she addressed Aina. “I’m not in the mood for this. How about we flip for it? If I win, you leave, and if you win, my chichiue and I leave.”
“Sounds ii,” Aina agreed. “If I can avoid it, I’d rather not hit someone who may one day become a goshujin.” She had no intention of leaving, even if she lost the coin flip, but she knew that was beside the point. The coin flip was a challenge to see whose spiritual energy was stronger. Whoever could overpower the other would be able to influence the coin with their spiritual energy.
“Have you got a coin?” the girl asked.
“Tashikani,” Aina said, tossing over a 100 yen coin. “Demo, are you OK with that? An ojou-sama borrowing okane from a meido? Nani would your tomodachi say?”
“Daijobou. I suggested the flip. You wouldn’t trust any coin I produced. Call it in the air.”
Aina kept her eyes on the coin as it sailed a foot above their heads. When it began to fall, she said, “Tails.”
“Henshin!” the red-haired girl yelled, grabbing the coin out of mid-air as it passed in front of her face. Although this caught Aina by surprise, she managed to shield her eyes from the bright flash caused by the transformation. She couldn’t help but be impressed that this magical girl had used her transformation offensively, taking advantage of the fact that Aina’s eyes were locked on the coin. By the time Aina opened her eyes, the magical girl was almost finished casting her first spell. Glowing with a blue aura, the axe began to float above the ground and took aim at Aina. At the same time, thick ribbons shot from the magical girl’s sleeves, attempting to ensnare Aina.
Seizing the initiative, Aina ran towards the axe, grabbed it by the handle, and used it to cut through the ribbons. She didn’t bother to break the spell controlling the axe, instead relying on her superior strength to wrest control from the magical girl. This proved to be a mistake, as the magical girl commanded the axe to fly higher, and it pulled Aina into the air. Letting go of the axe, Aina dropped onto the magical girl, punching as she fell. The girl easily avoided Aina’s punch and attempted to circle around behind her. As she moved, she left a trail of magical energy behind her. This energy formed into afterimages, which Aina knew from experience would be solid. Aina had witnessed Chikako practice this technique a few times, but Chikako’s afterimages were cobalt, being formed from spiritual energy, while these afterimages were formed from magical energy, and shimmered with every color of the rainbow. Magical energy or spiritual energy, Aina was unconvinced that this technique had any merit. Sure, it prevented her from moving through the afterimages, but they only lasted a few seconds, and could never fully encircle her.
Releasing a blast of spiritual energy in all directions, Aina shattered the afterimages, revealing the magical girl not at the head of the procession, but near the middle. Taking advantage of the girl’s surprise, Aina pounced on her, knocking her to the ground. Her head hit the pavement and she lost consciousness. Just to be safe, Aina quickly pulled the magical energy from her body, undoing the girl’s transformation.
“Kesuke-sama, how about a trade?” Aina asked, standing back up. “Your daughter for sono komusume.”
“Agreed,” Kesuke said hesitantly. He put down Mari’s sister, who, sobbing, ran to Aina and threw her arms around the meido. At the same time, two masked people lifted the magical girl off the ground and carried her towards a car behind Kesuke. Instinctively, Aina reached down to pat Mari’s sister’s head, but stopped when she saw the bloody handprints on the magical girl’s white dress. Instead, she wiped her hands on her apron and scanned the area for any other threats.
All around her, people had stopped moving and stood staring in her general direction. A few wore expressions of fear and disgust, but most seemed dazed. Even those wearing oni masks were just standing around listlessly.
As she continued wiping her hands, she bumped her phone through the fabric of her apron. Pulling it from her pocket, she noticed that the call was still connected, though it took her a few seconds to recognize the number.
“Kesuke-sama,” Aina addressed him, still holding the phone in her hands, “I apologize for handling your daughter so roughly. Since it appears that your most powerful bodyguards have been incapacitated, may I suggest you return to your home? For your own safety, of course.”
“This again?” Kesuke spat. “I already told you I’m perfectly safe right here, and I’ll thank you to mind your own business.”
“Are you saying the safety of my goshujin’s ally is not my business?”
“Touzen. A meido should only show concern to her own goshujin. Unless… Akira-dono’s not into NTR, is he? Gomen, but I daikirai that kind of thing.”
“Did minna hear that?” Aina shouted. “Kesuke-sama says I am under no obligation to mamoru him.”
“Is this some kind of trick?” Kesuke blinked.
“Anshin shinaide, Kesuke-sama, if anything does happen, I’ll avenge you.”
“Nani could possibly—”
“You say you feel safe among your hito,” Aina said, making sure her voice was picked up by the phone. “Demo, if they’re all wearing kamen, how can you be sure they’re yours?”
As if on cue, the thug closest to Kesuke clubbed him over the head. The other thugs watched, partly in shock, as he bent down, scooped up Kesuke’s pistol, and delivered three shots into the goshujin’s back. Before he could fire a fourth, Aina delivered a powerful punch to the side of his head and, taking the pistol from him, finished him off.
“Kesuke-sama has been murdered,” Aina announced, “and I have killed his satsujin-sha. You are all witnesses to that fact. To those of you wearing oni kamen, drop your weapons and flee. You have go minutes to leave this ward before I start hunting you down.”
At first, no one moved, but as Aina’s words sank in, weapons, and more than a few oni masks, were thrown to the ground, and hundreds of people fled in all directions. As they left, the citizens of the ward cheered, many of them crying in relief. Mari’s parents ran towards their daughter, the father lagging behind as he struggled to run with broken ribs. Aina nudged the girl towards her mother, who, after embracing her daughter, pulled out a handkerchief and began wiping the blood from her daughter’s face.
“Domo arigatou gozaimasu, Aina-san,” her father said, holding his hand out for Aina to shake. “Gomen for how I treated you before.”
Removing her bloodied glove, Aina shook the man’s hand as gently as she could manage. No sooner did she let go than she was surrounded by other grateful residents, French and American alike, all eager to shake her hand.
“Mami! Mami!” Aina heard an oddly familiar voice call out over the cacophony of voices all around her. “Mami, daijobu?” Aina pushed past the crowd to see a young girl with short blonde hair run up and hug Mari’s sister from behind.
“Matte,” Mari’s mother tried to warn, “you’ll get blood on your clothes too.”
“Hai, daijoubu.” Mari’s little sister answered, pulling the girl’s arms away and turning to face her. “Aina-onee-san okage de.”
“Mami-chan,” Aina addressed Mari’s sister, “dare is this?”
“Kochira wa Yuriko,” Mami beamed. “She’s my tomodachi.”
“Yoroshiku, Yuriko-san,” Aina said hesitantly.
“Yoroshiku,” Aina’s clone returned the greeting. “I saw you fight. You were so kakkoii!”
“Ne, ne, Aina-onee-san, my parents are going to adopt Yuriko. We’re going to be shimai.”
“Mami, that’s not a sure thing yet,” Mari’s mom reminded her.
My clone and Mari-san’s imouto are tomodachi? They’re going to be shimai? Soshite, you named her Yuriko? You have a truly twisted sense of humor, Naomi-sama.
Aina’s thoughts were interrupted when the pressure on her body intensified. “Gomen, but I have to leave. It’s an emergency.” The crowd parted, and Aina ran as quickly as she could.
She should have had at least another day. Perhaps her body was exhausted from fighting, or perhaps her emotions were running stronger. Either way, it felt like this was the end, and if her body was going to be torn apart, there was a chance it would be accompanied by a large explosion of spiritual energy, which could obliterate all around her. It was probably too late to prevent it now. The best she could do was try to get outside the GINZUISHOU, where there would be few, if any, casualties.
She only made it a few meters before she collapsed. Just before she passed out from the pain, her vision went red.