“Shousa, she’s coming to.” Aina heard a voice that she didn’t recognize, but she couldn’t see anything. She was unaware of where she was, or why she was alive, and her entire body still ached, but she didn’t feel like she was about to be ripped apart.
“Already? I thought you said it would be a full day before she was up and about.” That voice was familiar. Aina tried to say something, but only a soft gurgle came out of her mouth.
“Take it easy,” the unfamiliar voice cautioned. “You’re not ready for that yet. You’ll bite your tongue”
But Aina wouldn’t wait. She continued to move her mouth, and slowly, she could feel control return to her. “Kekkai… around me,” she managed to enunciate.
“Hai, I remember. You’re very good at shattering my kekkai,” Koharu replied.
“Iie, I’m going to bakuhatsu.” The words were coming easier now. “Use the kekkai to contain it.”
“Is she really going to explode?” Koharu asked the unfamiliar voice.
“I don’t think so,” the voice replied, “but none of our spells worked on her, so I have no way of checking.”
“Could it be a drug-induced hallucination?” Koharu followed up.
“Iie, the drugs were not hallucinogenic. More likely a bad dream.”
“Drugs?” croaked Aina.
“You were drugged,” Koharu informed her, “and poisoned.”
“As far as we can tell, the doses weren’t lethal,” the other voice added, “but the combination appears to be tailored to inflict a massive amount of pain. We were able to give you antidotes, but it will take you a while to recover.”
While the voice spoke, Aina began to regain her vision. A woman, a few years older than Aina, was sitting next to the bed, conversing with Koharu. Both were dressed in khaki fatigues, but the unfamiliar woman’s uniform was accented with pink frills, and she had small white wings sprouting from her back.
“Your wings are pretty,” Aina complimented the woman. “Tenshi mitai.”
“Oi, are you hitting on my medic?” Koharu asked. “That’s something an oyaji would say.”
“Just grateful to be alive,” Aina smiled weakly. She wasn’t lying. Now that her head was clearing and her pain diminishing, Aina felt that she was thinking clearly for the first time in days. The idea that her body would tear itself apart had been plausible, but there were more probable explanations for the pain her body was in, including poison. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? It was tempting to blame the drugs, but the reality was that she had trusted Naomi too much. No, it wasn’t Naomi she had trusted. “Could you please hand me my keitai?”
“You received san calls while you were out,” Koharu said, grabbing Aina’s phone from a nearby nightstand and handing it to her. “A gynoid wanted to know where you were. We told her we were taking care of you.”
Aina checked the time on her phone and then dialed Sena, who picked up on the first ring. “Moshi moshi.” As always, Aina could detect no emotion in Sena’s voice. She knew that Sena couldn’t be worried about her, but she also knew that, if Sena had learned what had transpired, she would be doing everything she could to find, and if necessary, rescue, her.
“Doko are you?” Sena demanded.
“I’m safe, but I can’t tell you where I am. I need to ask you a couple questions. Does goshujin-sama know what happened?”
“He went to sleep early tonight, and everyone is covering for you, even Chikako-sama, so no one has woken him. Demo, there are pictures all over nctchan, and lots of conflicting information. It would be better if you told him what happened directly, before he has a chance to get angry.”
“I’ll come back as soon as possible. Did you take a blood sample from me a few days ago in the infirmary?”
“Hai,” Sena answered immediately.
“Soshite, did you find anything abnormal in the results?”
“Iie,” this answer came almost a tenth of a second later than it should have. Anyone else wouldn’t have noticed.
“Yurusanai Naomi-sama,” Aina growled.
“Do not do anything rash,” warned Sena.
“I won’t,” Aina sighed. “I need to go now. Shitsurei itashimasu.”
“I need some time to debrief her,” Koharu told the medic. “Alone.”
“Call me if she gets any worse,” the medic said, standing up and walking to the door. Once she had left, Koharu cast a number of spells and erected a barrier around them. “Are you crazy?” she finally asked Aina. “You had no way of knowing if I could saimin-jutsu his bodyguards.”
“I could tell you were already hypnotizing the crowd. I took a chance that you could do it.”
“You took a chance that I would do it,” Koharu corrected. “I broke our contract to save you.”
“Iie,” Aina replied after thinking for a few seconds. “You agreed to stay neutral in the sensou between goshujin. Kesuke-sama’s actions were unrelated to that sensou.”
“Demo, I—we killed—”
“Kesuke-sama was killed by an assassin who infiltrated his guard. I avenged him.”
“I’m being serious here. What if someone figures out what really happened?”
“I’m being serious too. If you can’t lie to yourself, you won’t be able to convince others. You didn’t saimin-jutsu anyone. They acted on their own will. Sore yori, what did you do with the rest of them? Are they gathered somewhere where they can be arrested?”
“That would make it too obvious that they were hypnotized. I put tracking spells on them, and I have pictures of their faces. That’s my alibi. I was too busy casting those other spells to hypnotize them. No one else would believe I’m powerful enough to do both at the same time. My people are already rounding them up, but you have a mondai. One of them knows you.”
“Dare?” Aina asked, surprised. Koharu held her palm out and an image of Ruri appeared above it.
“We’re holding her separate from the others.”
“Please take me to her,” Aina requested.
“Sure,” Koharu agreed, taking Aina’s dress from the closet and tossing it onto the bed. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
When Aina emerged from the room, she found Koharu and Mari’s mother conversing quietly.
“You’re leaving already?” Mari’s mom asked when she saw Aina. “Are you well enough? You can stay as long as you need—”
“I’m daijoubu,” Aina cut her off. “Arigatou for your concern.”
“Can I get you anything before you go?”
“The longer I stay, the more danger I put you in. You never should have agreed to take me in.”
“How could we not? We owe you so much for saving our daughter.”
“Soshite, I’m telling you, if you want to keep her safe, you should pretend I was never here and that you don’t know me.”
Aina reached for the doorknob, but Mari’s mother placed her hand over Aina’s glove. “Matte, there’s something I need to ask you… about Yuriko-san.”
“She looks like me,” Aina acknowledged. “Bikkurishita.”
“My husband and I want to adopt her, but the orphanage says children are better off with their living relatives…”
“As far as I know, we’re not related. I am an only child, my parents and grandparents are dead, and I never met any oji-sans or oba-sans.”
“So it’s possible,” Mari’s mother pointed out. “If you want, we could have a DNA analysis done.”
“Would you excuse us?” Aina asked Koharu.
“You can say it in front of me,” Koharu told her. “She already told me who you are, Aina Dufort-san. I must say, it explains a lot about you.”
“I didn’t!” Mari’s mom gasped.
“Don’t blame her.” Koharu smirked. “She didn’t give you up willingly. She doesn’t even remember doing it.”
“That’s underhanded,” Aina complained.
“It was,” Koharu agreed. “Demo, after learning who your parents were, I wished I hadn’t. They’re infamous in the mahou shoujo community, and there are many who would have just left you for dead, especially given your attitude towards us. I’ll admit, I was tempted, but in the end, I decided the sekai was better with you in it. I even let you know I had learned your identity. You should be thankful.”
“How generous of you to gain leverage over me,” Aina rolled her eyes. She turned back to Mari’s mother. “The Soviets are still looking for me, and they have lots of spies in this machi. If you submit my DNA to any laboratory, there’s a good chance they’ll come to ask you about me, and they won’t ask nicely. I also have a lot of allies who could tip me off, and if I learn that there’s a chance the Soviets may target you, I’ll have no choice but to silence you, permanently. Wakatta?” Mari’s mom nodded. “Soshite, I’d hate to have to do that. I’m not very fond of you or your husband, but Mami-san doesn’t deserve that. In fact, if it wasn’t for her, I would have killed you after Mari-san’s funeral. You’re too large of a risk.”
Mari’s mother retracted her hand from Aina’s. “Wakatta,” she eventually managed.
“Sayonara,” Aina bade her, opening the door.
The blindfold was yanked violently from Ruri’s face. She blinked, adjusting to the light, as she was pulled to her feet.
“Nani the fuck is this?” demanded Aina, thrusting the homemade duster into Ruri’s hands.
“It—It’s my—” Ruri stammered. “I didn’t use it!” She was frightened, not just by the thought that she might end up in jail, but by Aina, who looked extremely intimidating with her clothing covered in dried blood.
Aina pulled the duster out of Ruri’s hands and snapped it in two. “Nani the fuck were you doing there?”
“There’s a senpai I’ve been trying to get into bed. She’s big into American exceptionalism.”
“American exceptionalism?!” Aina scoffed. “Is that what you kids call genocide these days?”
“I thought it was just going to be another rally,” Ruri sobbed.
“You have shit taste in girls,” Aina spat.
“She’s hot!” Ruri argued before she could stop herself. Aina opened her mouth to retort, but she actually understood how Ruri felt. She had felt the same way about Mari.
“Your senpai is going to prison,” Aina said quietly, “and if I didn’t owe your cousin big time, you could share a cell with her for the next jyuu to ni-jyuu years.” Aina knew that obtaining convictions for most of the participants, based only on magical evidence, was unlikely, but Ruri didn’t need to know that. “Come on, we’re going to go pay her a visit, and you had better hope she’s feeling generous towards you.”
Ran pulled opened the door before Aina could knock and aimed a double-barreled shotgun directly at Aina’s face.
“You can’t hide out here, not this time,” Ran said evenly. “I’m not going to become their teki.”
“Oh?” Aina raised her eyebrows. “How are you going to stop me with the safety engaged?” Ran rotated the gun to inspect the safety switch, and as soon as it was no longer pointed towards her, Aina grabbed it, holding it firmly in place. “I’m not here to stay. Ruri-san was caught with an oni mask and a weapon, and since I owe you, I figured I’d let you decide whether or not she goes to jail.”
“Hey, coz,” Ruri said weakly.
“OK, I’ll take her,” Ran said.
“Are you sure?” Aina asked. “We’ll be even if I do you this favor.”
“Fine by me. I want as little to do with you as possible.”
“You’re not upset that she was participating in an attempted genocide?”
“Not particularly, and I owe her parents.”
“But you’re licensed. You’re educated. You should know how horrid ethnic cleansing is.”
“They don’t cover ethics in my physics classes. Besides, the licenses are conferred by the Chief Cabinet Secretary.”
“Not the education minister?” Aina asked.
“The education minister makes a formal recommendation, but the Chief Cabinet Secretary conducts interviews and has final approval,” Ran informed her.
“Omoshiroi. Demo, what does that have to—”
“Kesuke-sama is—was—the Chief Cabinet Secretary,” Ruri cut in.
“Ah,” was all Aina could think to say.
“Hey, did you really rip that guy’s arm off?” Ran asked, “or was that one shopped?”
“What happened to you?” Akira asked, taking in Aina’s blood-soaked appearance. He was seated in the dining room, taking his breakfast earlier than usual, a coffee cup in his hand.
Dropping to her hands and knees, Aina bowed to him. “Gomen nasai for appearing before you in this state, but I have urgent news. Last night, a militant group known as Neo Crystal Tokyo for Weebs attempted an ethnic cleansing of Sumida ward.”
“Attempted?” Akira asked, placing the mug back on the table.
“Hai. I snuck out and confronted them.”
“Hai. I knew we couldn’t divert any more resources from your defense, so I went alone.”
“You should have woken me,” huffed Akira. “We could have come up with a plan that wouldn’t have compromised my security.”
“Gomen nasai,” Aina repeated. “There was no jikan. Soshite, if I woke you, you might have ordered me not to go. I had a moral obligation, goshujin-sama. Please understand.”
“And you didn’t want that obligation to conflict with your obligation to me,” Akira mused. “I can see why you did what you did, but I can’t approve of it. Still, you must have found a weakness in our security in order to sneak out, and you did do a good thing. If you can figure out a way to fix our security issue, I suppose I won’t have to punish you, this time.”
“I’m afraid there’s more, Goshujin-sama. In the chaos, the Chief Cabinet Secretary was killed.”
“Nandato?! Naze was he there?”
“He was leading the ethnic cleansing.”
“That aho,” Akira mumbled. “Jya, that blood all over you is—” His heart began to race.
“Iie, he was assassinated by someone who took advantage of the chaos and infiltrated his security detail. I avenged him. Demo, it could be said that I caused the commotion that allowed this to happen.”
“I need some time to take this in,” Akira said. “I want you to confine yourself to your quarters for the time being. I’ll also need you to—”
Akira was interrupted as Chikako opened the door to the dining room and strode in. “Gomen for interrupting, goshujin-sama, but there is an otoko at the gate who is very insistent on speaking with you.”
“Dare?” Akira asked, thankful for the distraction.
“He wouldn’t tell us his namae. He said he would only speak with you directly. Demo, he was wearing nice clothes and drove an expensive kuruma.”
Akira removed his phone from his front pocket and dialed into the front gate’s intercom. “This is Akira. To whom am I speaking please?”
“Shokun! Ware wa Shin Neo Zeon. Chikyuu—“
“Let him in,” Akira told Chikako, hanging up the phone. “Aina, go get changed and meet us in my study. You can explain yourself to our guest.
“Dare is it?” Chikako and Aina asked simultaneously.